Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa
Translated from Konkani by Xavier Cotta
Rupa Publications. Oct 2014
Pages 198 | Price Rs 250
Short fiction with a Goan whiff
As Peter wheels his bicycle, mounts it putting one foot on the pedal and other on the threshold waiting for his beloved wife Teresa, the reader of Damodar Mauzo’s Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goadrools with the desire to read more. The title story ‘Teresa’s Man’ – earlier translated by Sacheen Pai Raiker in Ferry Crossing (1998), and edited by Manohar Shetty – is a fresh rendering to the creative art of translation in this collection of short stories.
A novelist, short fiction writer, literary critic and script writer, the Majorda-Goa based Damodar Mauzo is a familiar face on the Konkani literary scene. His works include short stories: Chit’tarangi(for children), Ganthan, Zagrennam, Rumadful, and Bhurgim Mhugelim Tim. The last one is translated as ‘These Are My Children’ into English. He has written Sood and Ek Ashil’lo Babulo (for children) and his novels Tsunami Simon and Karmelin have been translated into English. Karmelin made Mauzo the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award (1983). Tsunami Simon (2014), translated by Xavier Cotta, deals with the predicament of the victims of the December 2004 tsunami that hit the Chennai coast and deals with the poignant theme of the ebbing of the traditional ramponn fishing in the wake of mechanised fishing. Mauzo’s Karmelin (translated by Vidya Pai) narrates the fictionalised tryst of a lower middle class woman, Karmelin, in the Middle East where she has to face numerous trials and sexual exploitation at the hands of her Arab master.
Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goabinds together fourteen short stories written over a period of more than four decades. “The present-day reader may find it difficult to envision ‘a four anna tot of feni’ which was even then, paid for with a twenty-five paise coin. That very coin has now been demonetized!” admonishes Xavier Cotta in his Translator’s Note. The days of cycling double-seat, motorcycle pilots, tablam-khel and Kapil Dev cricket matches are all brought alive to tickle the nostalgia in a reader who finds all this not unfamiliar. Mauzo’s short stories portray a tug of war between traditional Goa and the Goa which is embracing the trends of a new century.
In ‘Teresa’s Man,’ the ire of the idler-husband, Peter, reaches its hilt when the snide remarks of his taverna-louts coupled with the verbal lashing from his mother against his stylish working wife Teresa reaches his ears. “I am not going to remain quiet!” (113) he says, and what follows is predictable. The story pictures a patriarchal mind-set which super imposes itself on a woman. The nagging wife, idle husband, a sharp-tongued mother-in-law, the tablam-khel at Caitan’s taverna, an Africa-returned neighbour wearing a ‘colouful kitenge shirt’ – all adds a distinct Goan flavour to this well translated story.
‘In the Land of Humans’ dwells on how outsiders view Goa as a humane place. The central protagonist Halsid’du is a subaltern, a cowherd who decides to sell his cattle in Goa, which according to him is ‘a land of humans.’ Mauzo has managed to be realistic in his portrayal of a Karnataka cowherd with elaborate illustrations of the dargah, appetising garlic chutney, Goddess Yellamma as well as the procedures of transporting bulls to another State like painting their horns and certificates from the vet. The story ends on a poignantly satirical note when Halsid’du’s expectations are ironically betrayed by being treated inhumanly in an apparently human land.
When the book was launched in Panjim-Goa on Oct 24, 2014 at the hands of Amitav Ghosh, Salil Chaturvedi who delivered an introduction to this text had not failed to notice that around five to six of the fourteen stories have an overarching smell of ‘death’ and around five of them end on a note of violence. In the story ‘Bandh’ the character Dattaram, a motorcycle pilot, braces the violence of mobs who attack him and his lady passenger en route a visit to Shantadurga at Fatorpa. This bandh is to support the Konkani agitation. Written in 1987, this story was published after the post-liberation Konkani language agitation in which Mauzo was a leader (Ref. Translator’s Note). Dattaram is the author’s mouthpiece when he quips: “A bandh to support a language? ... A language is meant to bring people together not to tear them apart! ... It is meant to unite, not to divide people” (88). This is the underlying irony we draw from the story, creatively revealed through the final cry of the battered Dattaram: “This is our language! This is our culture!”(93). In the name of language, we support violence and disunity.
‘Coinsanv’s Cattle’ is a heart-wrenching tale of a farmer couple who have no alternative but to sell their endearing animals or face starvation. Mauzo pictures the rural agrarian Goa, with the deftness of an artist who uses words instead of paint. The cow-dung strewn cowshed, oilcakes, Inas’ puffs of the viddi, the Angelus bells, and the Purument feast at Margao – the story runs in the minds of a reader like an art film which is set in the rustic locale of South Goa. The Hamletian dilemma of selling or not selling the cattle is well dramatised with mental images in the mind of Coinsanv who finally flails her hands at the two dumb unsold animals and curses them. In the story ‘Vignaharta’ too, the theme of poverty is visible when for Shankar, the death of a distant relative comes in as a welcome Sutak to relive him of Chaturthi expenses and debt.
The traces of silent feminism and political game-play are visible in ‘Electoral Empowerment.’ Durga, who is oppressed by her violent dominating husband Ratnu, has even forgotten to vote on the day of election. Forced to slog in the kitchen, disallowed from visiting her parents or even writing to them, she hits out her suppressed energies in the privacy of secret ballot voting. An invalid vote in legal terms, she votes for women’s empowerment. She gains vicarious pleasure by disobeying Ratnu and returns home ‘smiling triumphantly.’
‘Sand Castles’ uses the ingenious metaphor of the sand castle to depict the transience of earthly living. ‘The Cynic’ exposes the tragedy of Baboy who buries his infant grandson and stifles his tears to maintain his idiosyncratic public image. ‘She’s Dead!’ unravels the secret life of politicians who lead clandestine epicurean lives beneath the façade of public service and marital bliss. A novel point-of-view is brought in ‘For Death Does Not Come,’ a story with an eco-critical perspective. The narrator is a water-snake who laments the situation of drought through which she has lost her family and travels a distance to drink from the only water body which is left. The story echoes the philosophy of Death which is welcomed, but does not come. The humans pump water recklessly from the lake and kill the water snake; heightening the pathos of the story and implicitly suggesting a need to preserve ecology.
In the final story, ‘A Writer’s Tale,’ which runs into thirty eight pages (almost like a longish short story), Mauzo’s personal experience as a writer attending a seminar is fictionalised with subtle touches of real-life. Manohar is the chief protagonist (a Goan writer) from whose eyes we see the other characters like the Kannada writer Jalaapa and the Tamil woman writer Jayatha (a name combining Jayalalithaa and Mamata). Stories emerge within this story as the narration shoots off to unveil the inner turbulent life of Jayatha who is a victim of sexual abuse, oppression and uses her writing to sublimate her pent up emotions. The story climaxes with Manohar left speechless to hear that the latest story of Jayatha published in Tamil, which includes him as an unwitting subject of her fiction. Laced with witty touches, this story grips the reader’s attention and makes for an enjoyable read.
All in all, the book under review is a well wrought work of translation which has retained the cultural flavours of the ethnic Goa. Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa showcases the painstaking effort of the translator Xavier Cotta, who took almost a year to complete this assignment. Translation has brought these stories to a wider mainstream audience. Mauzo has dabbled with universal themes and emotions to give them a distinct Goan whiff. The cover page with Mario Miranda-inspired sketches is a vibrant rendering of art by Archana Sreenivasan. The picture of a ‘poder’ selling ‘kakon’ (bangle bread), cats on the roof, Pedru and Teresa on a bicycle, the hustle-bustle of the market place, the chouriço sellers, and the facade of the chapel in the background adds a Goan flavour to the book.
For Mauzo, literature is his lifeline. His characters are chiselled with fine details and the ambience is pictured with realism. Released first at the prestigious Frankfurt Book fair on Oct 9, 2014 at the hands of the German publisher Christian Weiss, Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa is a must-read for those who crave for short fiction from Goa. There are no sub-plots or digressions; descriptions are vivid; and there is a spirit of joie-de-vivre which runs through the writer’s pen. The reader can savour the underlying humane messages and agree with Manohar from ‘A Writer’s Tale’: ‘You should judge a writer by his writings’ (176).