In my very first review of Reginald Fernandes’ writings, I had made the suggestion that to know what animated the works of writers like Reginald one had to know the range of influences on them. In this article I will discuss one such influence on Reginald with reference to his novel Sat Chavieancho Darvontto (1964).
When translated, the title indicates that the novel is about a door that can be opened by seven keys. A quick Google search revealed the existence of an English crime fiction novel named The Door with Seven Locks (1926) by Edgar Wallace. This was later made into an English movie called Chamber of Horrors (1940), followed by a German remake in 1962. Wallace is also credited with being the co-creator of King Kong, providing the screenplay and story for the film. Reginald’s title which appears to be an exact translation of Wallace’s, would make us think that Reginald had lifted the plot wholesale from the prolific British crime fiction writer. However, upon comparing Wallace’s book and the movie that was subsequently made, one can say with certainty that as far as Sat Chavieancho Darvontto is concerned, only the motif of the door with seven locks and the dead man’s tomb can be noticed in both the works.
Reginald’s Sat Chavieancho Darvontto rather than being in the mould of a regular crime fiction novel, shows more similarities with the structure of his previous writings. There is Rudolfo, who is a doctor/scientist by profession and who has the ambition of inventing a drug that would bring the dead back to life. To that extent, he spends long hours in his laboratory. This experiment, however, goes horribly wrong. The drug that he manages to create causes others to be poisoned if they come in contact with Rudolfo. Soon Rudolfo’s daughter, Inez is also ‘poisoned’ in a similar manner. Inez is in love with Valento, who is aspiring to be a doctor and has returned after spending five years in Europe. He decides to find a cure or an antidote to the ‘poison’ that is now coursing through the veins of Rudolfo and his beloved Inez.
When Valento decides to take it upon himself to find a cure for Rudolfo and Inez the story takes an interesting turn and Reginald introduces the Jesuits and their College of St. Paul that was operating from Old Goa. The link in the novel is that since the Jesuits were known for their extensive knowledge on various matters, they would best be in a position to help Valento to find an antidote. Accordingly, a Jesuit and a much learned man, Fr. Vasco Amorin directs Valento to the forest of Colem. There is also another way Reginald makes use of history. He tells Valento that the Cadanbas, who were in Goa before the Portuguese, had devoted themselves to finding cures and antidotes. Thus, Valento sets off on his quest, armed with the knowledge provided by Fr. Amorin.
What is significant here is that Reginald is not inventing a simple yarn, but is drawing from known historical facts. It is a well-known fact that the Jesuits had devoted themselves in reporting about the flora and fauna, as well as the customs and manners of the people amongst whom they worked. Their letters today are a major source for historians working on the period that roughly stretches from 1540s-1800s. The Jesuits had access to knowledge about curing diseases and providing antidotes against poisons and this is the reason why many of them based in Old Goa were in demand in the courts of the neighbouring polities.
Further, I would suggest that when Reginald uses a term like the “Cadanbas” (which is very close to Kadambas) as well as the Muslim presence in Goa, he is probably drawing on a history that places the role of treachery in the transfer of political power at the center of its narrative. This ‘treachery’ actually is the horror that is locked behind the Sat Chavieancho Darvontto. Apparently, an ancestor of Rudolfo and Inez belonging to the Cadanbas had committed treason against his Goa “ganv” (homeland or kingdom) by selling it to the neighbouring king who happens to be a moor (or moir zaticho). Thus, a curse is placed on this particular ancestor and it now comes to haunt Rudolfo and Inez. This use of ‘treachery’ as a trope to bind the stories of the Cadanbas, moors, and Portuguese with an afterlife of this ‘treachery’ allows us to see how history writing influenced the writing of Romi Konkani novel in general and Reginald’s corpus in particular. Interestingly, the moors are not the ones who commit this treachery being the usual suspects, as it were. Nonetheless, such strands in Reginald’s works need to be carefully and critically studied.
So in the end, how much can we say that Reginald borrowed from the work of Wallace? In my view, only the motif of the door with seven locks can be clearly seen as borrowed either from the book, or the movies, or both. This is because the cemetery or the tomb, or the resting place of the dead is very much part of Reginald’s plot and imagination. Further, the miracles or magic that is produced by special plants and the almost mythical, dense and dark space of the forest is part and parcel of Reginald’s corpus. The bringing of the dead to life and the fear that is associated with it is something that Reginald time and again exploits. So what now emerges is that, a Reginald romans has (obviously) romance, it has magic (or the willing suspension of disbelief), it has crime and adventure, it evokes fear, it has life and afterlife, it borrows from other sources and reworks it in a Goan cultural milieu, and at the end there is a ‘happy ending’ in vaguely keeping with norms of Christian morality. Where else do we find so much packed in one small book?
For more Reading Reginald, click here.
(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 10 December, 2014)