It has been demonstrated time and again that the human mind is capable of producing innovations and solutions that can be considered as almost miracles. Every once in a while, in every field and walk of life, there comes a person whose talent, intelligence and ingenuity produces results that can leave a lasting impression on the world. This profound spirit that drives breakthroughs in innovations is the subject of a recent Konkani novel, Kallzache Kholayek Thaun by Epifanio Valadares.
Epifanio Valadares is a Gulf-based engineer, who took to writing because he had a lot of free time or leisure. Punching the keys on his laptop, Epifanio Valadares says that slowly the pages accumulated into a full-fledged novel. Kallzache Kholayek Thaun is conceived as a tale of a boy from humble origins who goes on to do many great things – some nothing short of a miracle. Kudov, the protagonist, is a person whose innovations and inventions take him across the Indian sub-continent as a fugitive on the run from the arms of law. Kudov is the pet name of the protagonist given by his villagers – as it happens in many Goan villages – after a bird which never stays in one place.
Losing his parents very early in life, Kudov is forced to fend for himself. The characterization of Kudov can be paralleled to those heroes from folklore stories. I am specifically referring to the Goan folklore where the boy of a poor and humble background goes on to perform many heroic feats and in the bargain, also winning a fair maiden (generally of a wealthy and powerful king or person). Sometime these heroic feats are solely meant to win the fair maiden. Hence, it can be claimed that Epifanio Valadares’ novel is folkloric in its aspirations.
Just like a folk-hero can receive a magic mantra or any other such charms, Kudov has the immense ability to acquire knowledge and use it to invent technology that could possibly change the face of the world. He invents a cure for a very deadly disease that is poised to wipe out the whole population of his village. Next, he invents a thermo-dynamic engine which can run on water. When he elopes with his lover – who later becomes his wife – to Bombay and reaches the Taj hotel, it is that fateful day when this hotel is attacked by terrorists. Kudov and his wife were on a run from the police (and also on their honeymoon) and in the crossfire of the security forces and the terrorists, Anushka, his wife meets an untimely death. This moves Kudov to invent a device that would detect the locations of explosives that could potentially pose a threat to national security. Kudov anonymously tips-off the police about the whereabouts of terrorists. Since Kudov is unwilling to share the secrets of his innovations and because such innovations can be deadly in wrong hands, the security forces are constantly on the lookout for him. As a result, Kudov is on the run again and he lands up in Nepal. It is here in Nepal that he finally gets arrested and is brought down to Goa.
The plot has many twists and turns and these do not seem to be forced or out of place. There is an easy flow to the novel. However, the innovations that the protagonist of this novel comes up with need an elaborate comment. Epifanio Valadares portrays these innovations as being based on scientific knowledge and reasoning. It is here that the novel suffers, becoming a bit tenuous and laboured. In order to explain the scientific base of the innovations of his protagonist (and hence make them credible or authentic), Epifanio Valadares goes to great lengths to make them believable and this exercise leads to oversimplifications. For instance, this ovixkar or innovation about a vehicle or an engine, that can run on water. This idea has been floating around our world for quite sometime. Using hydrogen as combustion fuel has its own problems and if it was as easy as Epifanio Valadares makes it to be then surely our own vehicles would be running on water by now!
What I want to emphasize is such imagination and its integration into a novel is not silly in its conception but the way in which it is portrayed – with its apparent emphasis on scientific rigor – deny the reader a possibly delightful reading experience. One is writing a novel and not a paper for a scientific journal and hence other ways could have been used to make this idea work. By way of a suggestion, I would like to propose that the use of the literary device of magic realism, which took its birth in Indian literature in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children could have been useful. For instance, when Kudov tries to stop terrorism he invents a device which displays the locations of terrorist hide-outs and activity. This section of the novel could have been effectively done, again, on the lines of how the midnight’s children across India could communicate through their own minds. My emphasis on this point is for the only reason that the innovations of Kudov form the linchpin for constructing the plot of the novel and there needed a serious consideration of whether the current way in which it is portrayed really worked for holding the novel together.
As a young writer with his debut novel, Epifanio Valadares has clearly demonstrated that he is capable of stretching his imagination to unknown territories. He is definitely cut-out for this craft of novel-writing which, in my opinion, will be further enriched with a deeper engagement with a wider literary world. As his introduction states, Epifanio Valadares has ample leisure or “mekllo vell” (and by that implication no work related pressures!) to carry on his writing. In such a happy and almost-utopian state of existence, Epifanio Valadares should seriously consider writing another novel, one better than what he has come up with.
Kallzache Kholayek Thaun by Epifanio Valadares (Penha de Franca: Happyfun Prokaxon), 2012; pp. 239, Rs. 100/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: December 29, 2012).