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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
A funny, heart-warming piece of nostalgia
Sin, Saints and Settlers
A novel set in Goa and Kenya
For four hours at a medical centre in Sydney, Australia, I
was a skinny runt of a kid back in Nairobi, Kenya, Eastleigh to be precise. My
guide was a young Goan boy, Orlando aka Lando, who is the hero of Braz Menezes’
charming contribution to Goan historical fiction. While I have no doubt
whatsoever that it is historical fiction, I am somehow fixated that it is an
autobiographical work. It has all the hallmarks, but it isn’t.
Braz’s attention to detail in both Kenya and Goa had me smiling
a lot. I knew Plums Lane where Lando lived with his family. I also visited the Nairobi
Museum, St Francis Xavier’s Church in Parklands and a myriad sights, sites,
sounds, and people who were a part of both our childhoods. What is more, this
is a very important contribution to the historical record of growing up in
Kenya from Braz’s own perspective and he paints a detail rich portrait.
There are some great moments and I will only provide you with
the entrée and you will have pick up a copy of the book to enjoy the main
courses. For example, I almost fell out of my seat when Lando went to the
confessional and blurted out that he had committed adultery. Hey, hang on a
minute, this kid is only 10 years old, barely old enough for sex, let alone
adultery. As I said, it is a juicy story and the explanation is worthy of the
This is a “like” kind of book about a generally happy boy,
growing up in a generally happy family surrounded by generally happy kind of
people and places. Utopia? Not really, it was that kind of a life for the
middle class family whose breadwinner was a middle class white collar of some
note. They made no waves, political, economic or social and went about their
lives dedicated to church, work and family. It was also a generally happy kind
of place. The late 1930s and early 1940s was a time when everything in Kenya
was at its happiest. African nationalism had barely raised an eyebrow and
colonialism flourished with an abandon that is only the stuff of paperback
It was also a time when each of the participants of this
cosmopolitan country went about the business of separate development. There was
some contact, at the lowest possible social level: the personal friendship level.
The Roman Catholic Goan showed equal empathy with the Hindu, the Sikh, the
Muslim, the Parsee, the Ismaili and a variety of minor players. Sure we loved
the Hindu vegetarian thali, the Sikh chicken curries, the Ismaili samosas and
bhajjias and Muslim kebabs. Our fathers had the odd scotch or two with the
other Indians or they went to get their car fixed, get some work done on the
house or a new dining table or wardrobe built.
Just as Lando does in this story, the friendship is sublime
yet true as such innocence does allow.
It is this same innocence that grapples with life in ancient
Goa where Lando has to endure and taste life without many of Africa’s luxuries.
For a young non-resident Goan, life in Goa is challenging in all its aspects
and perhaps it was the same for the thousands of young boys who were forced to
go to school in Goa by their well-meaning fathers. This is the year of the
sublime Goa where life is susegaad and nothing more but the coconut harvest,
the cashew harvest, the mango harvest and there is a harvest for every season.
Green paddies pocked marked the whole country and there were coconut groves
everywhere. There were very few cars if any and the bicycle was king.
“What is that makes Dad yearn for the day he can retire back
in Goa? How could he possibly go backwards and give up all this progress? Could
I ever live in Goa at that incredibly slow pace of life? Where do I belong? It
would take me a lifetime to learn how to cope in Goa. Those are Lando’s
thoughts and similar to the questions that tore apart thousands of real young
Lando returns from Goa with a head and heart full of
experience but delighted to be back in Kenya just as the first wafts of the
winds of change as kissing beautiful Kenya. Soon life will never be the same
but a memory. Perhaps that is the stuff of another book!
For a copy of the book click on //www.matatabooks.com