Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa, edited by Helene Derkin Menezes and José Lourenço, when released a few months back, did grab a lot of headlines. Much of the publicity was due to the inclusion of an essay by the noted novelist and partly Goa-resident, Amitav Ghosh. According to an internet forum message, the book did well, as immediately after its launch, nearly 650 copies were sold. When a celebrity writer of the stature of Amitav Ghosh is associated with a book that is published from a place more known for matters and things other than literary, there is always a fear that the writings of the other contributors may not receive the attention they deserve. But, I can assure you, nothing of that sort has happened here.
All the writers in this anthology are members of a diverse and vibrant group called the Goa Writers, launched in 2005. All were given a very vague and abstract theme: Inside Out, which they had to interpret in their own way. The result: a very beautiful and immensely satisfying collection of writings that we can all be very proud of.
Like any good anthology, this book has an abundance of short stories, poems, memoirs, photographs and essays. Amongst them, Walking as Art is a free verse poem by Isabel de Santa Rita Vas which reminded me of Ogden Nash who is known for his free verse poetry. Isabel, like Nash, writes with a lot of wit and humour and at the same time gives us much to munch over. I am not someone who enjoys poetry but Isabel’s keen eye and deft words surely made me realize that walking is not just a simple act. There is a philosophy about walking and I found this extremely amazing. Similarly, Mario Coelho’s poem, written for children and peppered with lively and amazing characters, is also a treat to read.
The contributors in this book are Goans, expat Goans, non-Goans or foreigners. Most of them, after spending a childhood or sometime outside Goa have now made Goa their home. So, for many of these contributors, the interpretation of the abovementioned theme narrows down to writing about their memories or experiences in the land that they were formerly living in.
There is an interesting essay penned by Vidhyadhar Gadgil. He first came to Goa as a teen along with a few friends and confesses to drinking as if there was no tomorrow during that particular holiday. Gadgil was domiciled in Goa before moving to Kathmandu. He discusses the dynamics of who is an ‘insider’ and who is an ‘outsider’. I find this interesting because Gadgil is giving a call to all Bhailes to come under an organization called Bhailyancho Saad (The Voice of the Outsiders) and gives them the slogan: Garv se kaho hum ghanti hain. On one hand he makes a case for the ‘outsiders’ while on the other hand he confesses to calling (not loudly) some bunch of smelly labourers on a bus “Bloody ghantis”, thus taking pleasure in ethnic and class superiority that only ‘insiders’ can enjoy (according to him). Such a statement, I guess, reveals that not all non-native people can come under the all-encompassing identity of ‘Outsiders’. There is definitely a difference amongst various ‘outsiders’ and a hierarchy by which the natives and the affluent and educated ‘outsiders’ try to keep the poor and powerless ‘outsiders’ at the lowest levels of the access-to-valued-resources chain.
As a student of history, I always look forward to personal stories: the stories that our parents and grandparents tell us and which now the children put on paper. Veena Gomes-Patwardhan’s Granny’s Goa does exactly that. She tells us how her great grand-parents would travel all the way to Caranzalem so as to run a bakery there. Fatima da Silva Gracias tells a personal story as she tries to find out some facts about an old family photograph in The Unresolved Mystery of a Family Portrait.
Aimee Ginsburg’s One Still Here is an interesting tale of three Jewish women: herself, her grandmother and Catarina da Orta, the sister of Garcia da Orta who was burned at the stake, all linked together in different times and spaces.
Amitav Ghosh has written a small essay called Anthony Vaz. Anthony Vaz, we are told, had compiled a dictionary of nautical terms that would help the English officers to communicate with the native sailors. Ghosh writes about the importance of preserving such dictionaries, “With the vanishing of wind-powered merchant vessels, this entire apparatus (of words as well as things) has more or less disappeared from the face of the earth. This is precisely the values of books like Vaz’s: they give us a glimpse of a way of life that is now extinct. …I am convinced that there are many yet undiscovered manuscripts languishing in Goan houses. Let us hope that they will soon come to light.”
I am a big fan of the writings of Amitav Ghosh. Reading his many books and essays, I am always stumped by his mastery over words. Although I found this essay important, I was a little disappointed as I was looking forward to be blown away by Amitav Ghosh’s unique style of writing. But maybe I was just expecting too much.
The pains that the editors and Aniruddha Sen Gupta (design and layout) took to pack a beautiful collection between the covers are clearly visible. The photography of Vivek Menezes for the cover is sure to attract attention. All the contributors are introduced in a novel way at the beginning of their writings. It is a short and perky introduction written in a lighter vein and is sure to bring a little smile on one’s face.The blurb of the book claims to “challenge and destroy the stereotypes” about Goa and to a great extent the writings lives up to that claim. Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa is definitely a world class product from Goa1556.
Name: Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa
Edited by: Helene Derkin Menezes and José Lourenço
Published by: Goa1556, Saligão
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: August 8, 2011)