Monday, June 16, 2008

e pori konachi

Do you understand the title? If yes then you are the Konkan, the author seems to be referring to in his novel 'The Konkans', though the title and relevance to the story is a tad contentious.

Who are the Konkans? According to definition, the people who live on the Konkan coast right from Raigad in Maharastra to Mangalore in Karnataka all along the western coast of India are referred to as Konkans. Non Konkani speaking populations in these regions too such as the Bunts (with tulu as their mother tongue) are considered Konkans by this definition, even though the term seems to exclude them.

Now that we have settled on who are the Konkans, let me explain why the title is not so appropriate. The characters, historical and generational references in this semi-autobiographical novel lean towards one religious group among the Konkans – i.e. the Catholics. Hence the title should have been Konkan Catholics or Goan Catholics or something like that, anyway the reasons of the Author to appeal to a larger audience rather than a restrictive one seems justified to an extent, after all it is a work of fiction, he has the creative license on the title too.

I came across this book while googling my own last name, no not egosurfing, but that's something I could be good at too! A single bid on ebay and I was the proud owner of the book 'The Konkans', the author with whom I share the same 'predictable' last name.

'The Konkans' is primarily a work of fiction narrated in the first person by Francisco D'Sai but resembles the author Tony D'Souza's own life and hence is considered semi-autobiographical. The story mainly dwells on the lives of Francisco's American mother Denise, who traveled to India with the Peace Corps and literally and figuratively fell in love with India, his father Lawrence who desperately seems to be trying to alienate himself from anything Indian and his uncle Sam (too obvious to be a freudian slip!)who seems lost in an identity crisis of his own.

It starts off with the arrival of Sam and Les, the brothers of Lawrence into the US and follows their trials while assimilating everything about the American culture. The pig episode was hilarious though ridiculous; however the story took a turn for introspection and historics from then on leaving no place for humor. Denise in trying to forgo her own loathsome upbringing and while preparing to lead a life in the country she fell in love with, had her plans quashed when circumstances forced her to return to Chicago along with her Indian husband. It toys with racial discrimination and focuses on the very real identity crisis faced by immigrants.

Character wise, the trials and triumphs of Asha, Sam's wife were refreshing while the adulterous relationship between the leading lady and Sam and the fact that it was not addressed is surprising given that they are Catholics and this story is set a more than a couple of decades ago, but then this story is narrated by little Franco!

I found some sections of the book repetitive, especially the spinning yarns of the customs and traditions of the Konkans of Chikmangalur. However the outcome of the author's research reveals some interesting facts and customs of our ancestors.

I did say my ancestors, but I cannot identify with the characters in this novel, considering my upbringing in Mangalore, the identity crisis never happened. Here in the US, only on the basis of my last name, I've been asked if I am Italian (I think they mean Portuguese!) and this has sometimes resulted in fascinating conversations. I get asked if Christians are persecuted in India, and they are surprised by the fact that there are a sizable number of Roman Catholics in India and also that I have no qualms about eating any sort of meat. Their surprise is a result of stereotyping in society, be it to genders or even countries.

If you want to know more about the origins of your konkan roots, this book will not provide answers, it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction with some easter eggs and ends up being an engrossing read. Historical manifestation is appealing at best, facts have to be researched, I have not read the account of Vasco da Gama and St. Francis Xavier's journey to India before and so its hard to imagine how that went down compared to what is portrayed in the book.

While on the subject, the Portuguese were the longest invaders of India, it is but natural for the locals to have imbibed and inculcated some of their traditions and along the years made it their own. No history of Mangalorean Catholics is complete without talking about the influence of the Missionaries, their persecution by Tipu Sultan and their subsequent allying with the British. This is a subject for another post, but there is no doubt that we are proud to be Indians. Never heard of us being referred to as the Jews of India before though.

'E pori konachi' is like a catch phrase in this story, however it appears as 'e puri konachi' in the book. For lack of its own script, Konkani is often scripted in English or Kannada or could be written in any other language for that matter. It can sometimes be hard to read! I admit I had to google the phrase as it appears to figure out what it meant. This review is what I was led to, fascinating link for the age old konkani videos. The literal translation of this phrase is 'Whose daughter is she/Who is that girl '.

The title of the post, is a konkani song made popular by the movie Dil hai ki mantha nahin. There is a popular konkani version too which talks about drunk(something like bewda and bewdi) parents, I was unable to locate it, so here goes the hindi version.

1 comment:

Bini said...

Nice Post! Will read this one soon:)