Sunday, February 25, 2018

Stars Next Door: A review by Iris Gomes

Stars Next Door: A Review

Iris C F Gomes

Stars Next Door by Cyprian (Skip) Fernandes is a compilation of the stories of East African Goans who shone as sportspersons and musicians. The book, which is a tribute to the prowess of this section of the Goan diaspora, carries contributions from other authors like Hartman de Souza. It is interesting to learn how Goan talent was nurtured to the extent it was, bringing in international recognition in some cases. The Goa, 1556 published tome is admirable in its efforts to keep alive the memory of these impressive men and women who achieved much with fewer facilities than we have in these times.

The making of Seraphino Antao, a record-breaking ace sprinter from Kenya, is quite a tale. From a barefoot sprinter, he rose to become a double gold winner at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. His retirement from athletics was a follow-up to a heart-breaking loss at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Albert Castanha was an all-round sportsman, excelling in soccer, hockey, cricket, badminton and so on. He was also Seraphino Antao’s closest competitor. Politics rears its ugly head in Norman Da Costa’s story of Roland Collaco, the man whose skill as a goalkeeper took the Ugandan hockey team to the 1972 Olympics in Munich, but he was prevented from participating himself.
Hartman de Souza’s musings of his love affair with football as a child growing up in Kenya are interwoven with stories of Feisal, the best team in Mombasa in the late 1950s and the 1958 World Cup with Brazil’s triumph. Through his writings, Hartman, the adroit wordsmith, nonchalantly takes jabs at India’s corrupt governance, the seeping in of capitalist culture in sports and racism.

The Goan cricket team in Uganda was a formidable one that had dominance in the latter half of the forties and boasted of players such as Michael Texeira and Celly Dias, as John Noronha recalls. Hilary Fernandes, or the ‘wizard of dribble’, was an astute hockey player. His accomplishments are recorded as being selected thrice for the Olympic Games and having earned the most medals of all Goan hockey players.

Bertha Fernandes is one of the hockey players mentioned in the book with the highest number of international appearances as a Goan representing the Kenyan hockey team. Sisters Astrid and Mitelia Fernandes make an impression, with each having won the Dr Ribeiro Goan School track and field championships four years in a row and having excelled in hockey as well. Mitelia continued to bring pride to her homeland by winning the Premier of Ontario Award for Contribution in Sports to Canada twice, after she had migrated to the country.

From the realm of sports, the book moves to musical stars. Edmund Silveira acknowledges the recording of a jazz CD with well-known bassist James Woode as the height of his career as a jazz pianist. The multi-talented Jack Fernandes finds a place in the book. As a singer, song writer, drummer, tiatrist, sprinter, football player and so on, he seems to represent a one-man microcosm of abilities most associated with Goan culture. Henry Braganza, who was also a sportsman in multiple fields, was privileged to back US Country and Western singer Skeeter Davis.

A picture paints a thousand words and Stars Next Door is dotted with them, bringing to life a bygone era of superlative Goan sportsmanship and music. The book does not follow a single pattern of writing, moving from reportage to narrative essays to interviews in the question and answer format. Though the style may not consistently appeal to all readers, Stars Next Door, with its feel of a magazine, does work as a refreshing change from the usual monotony of a non-fiction novel.

To be an academic work, far more research and writing would be required and most general readers steer clear of academic works, in my opinion. Therefore, as it is, the book is readable because of the simple language and would definitely appeal to avid sports and music fans, as well as contemporary history buffs.

Stars Next Door serves its purpose in capturing moments in the history of the Goan diaspora that might have died with the authors or the sportsmen and musicians mentioned in it and could surely act as an inspirational volume to generations of young Goans to come.

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