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Thursday, August 30, 2018
An attack on Cyprian Fernandes and Eastern African Goans in the diaspora
A rather silly waste of trees
I had not planned to respond to the pathos of the excerpt below, however, the attendant clinical examination of the story in question by Francis Noronha is, in my view, quite brilliant (even if I say so myself) and should be shared with fair-minded thinkers everywherw
An excerpt from a piece by Ben Antao:
Maladies of diaspora Goans
I find it astonishing that so many of the Canadian Goans who immigrated to Canada from East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s still hearken back to the good times of the so-called paradise they basked under the British colonial sun. The term ‘paradise’ to describe life in East Africa comes from Cyprian Fernandes, a journalist born and raised in Kenya who, like most of his generation, was forced to abandon the paradise following the end of colonial rule, and the introduction of Africanisation policies by the newly independent countries of Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania.
In his memoir Yesterday in Paradise (2016), Cyprian recounts his rise from humble beginnings to the position of a fearless journalist until death threats force him to leave East Africa in the 1970s. He has since lived and worked in Sydney, Australia, for over 40 years, more time outside than inside of Africa. Naturally, I was astounded, not having lived in colonial East Africa myself, that Cyprian would call Africa ‘a paradise’ . The critical reporter that he comes across as in his book, I thought he’d be more inclined to be objective, judicious and rather circumspect than eager to pander to his compatriots in the diaspora. They, wholeheartedly not only approved but celebrated his descriptions of life and times, as if a messiah had sprung with spring water to quench their thirst and longing for bygone days.
In Toronto, the Goans received the book with praise and wistfulness.
Antao then goes to chronicle his rather sad experiences with books in Canada.
A RESPONSE TO “THE LITERARY MALADIES OF DIASPORA GOANS” BY BEN ANTAO
Dear Mr. Antao,
I have just read your diatribe above attacking author Cyprian Fernandes and the many other Goans “who immigrated to Canada from East Africa in the 1960’s and 1970’s who still hearken back with nostalgia to the good times of the so-called paradise they basked in under the British colonial sun.” I am one of these Goans that you are so disappointed with because they have failed to live up to the lofty goals that you have apparently achieved in that your fiction and non-fiction “embraces” your experiences in Goa and Toronto. Bravo! You point out to all of us lesser beings that “a writer has to draw upon his lived experiences if he seeks to create literary fiction.” Thank you for this original and inspiring insight into the art of creative writing. Your encouraging words to aspiring writers fills me with the desire to put pen to paper in an effort to emulate the sterling example you have set us in your own literary creative fiction.
I confess, however, that I am confused. Even a cursory reading of Cyprian Fernandes’ two books, “Yesterday in Paradise” and “Stars Next Door” would reveal that they are not meant to be “literary fiction”. Unlike you, Cyprian, (whom I have yet to have the pleasure to meet), is an unpretentious writer who sets out in “Yesterday in Paradise” to give a personal insight from the perspective of an investigative journalist into events at a particularly interesting and turbulent period of Kenya’s history. During the 60’s and 70’s, Kenya was emerging from the cocoon of colonial rule and taking its first faltering steps as an independent nation. During these transitional years, I was a student at the first multi-racial College in Kenya (later the University of Nairobi) and then away for three years as a student in Britain. I found Cyprian’s account of the political in-fighting and intrigue of those early years absolutely enthralling and enlightening and it filled the gaps in my own knowledge of the events that eventually led so many of us to decide that, much though we loved Kenya and its peoples, we had to take what was for most of us a painful step to emigrate to other countries where we could make a more secure future for ourselves and for our families.
From your account I gather that you were born and raised in Goa and immigrated to Canada when you were 25. You probably had little knowledge or interest in Kenya. I don’t say that in a negative way because there was probably no reason for you to take more than a cursory interest in an African country. You are probably not aware of the deeply personal struggle that Goans and many other Indians of my generation had in leaving the only country that we had known as “home” to venture to an uncertain future in countries such as England, Canada and Australia. A closer reading of Cyprian’s book may inform you of some these personal struggles. I left a comfortable and secure job as a teacher in Kenya and arrived in Lethbridge, Alberta in 1975 to start a new career at the age of 38. I have no regrets and Canada has been a wonderful home to me, my wife and daughter. Most Goans I know who immigrated from Kenya to Canada have not spent time in wistful musing about the paradise we left behind as you seem to think. We have moved on, forged new careers, made many new friends and contributed to the communities we became an integral part of, as, I am sure, you have, Mr. Antao. That does not mean that we have erased our memories of the past whether we “basked” or toiled under the “British colonial sun”.
I have happy memories of growing up in Kenya, of travels in East Africa, of climbing Kilimanjaro, Kenya and Elgon, of playing hockey with my friends, no less than six of whom were destined to become Olympians, of teaching in some of the fine schools in Kenya including historic Allidina Visram High School in Mombasa, of great holidays spent at the coast and visiting several wonderful beaches. I have memories of dear classmates, students and friends. I was thrilled when I browsed through Cyprian’s second book, “Stars Next Door”, to find that it recorded the achievements of many Goans for posterity. I knew many of the people who are mentioned as classmates and friends and reading about them brought back many happy memories.
To use your own terms, Mr. Antao, I was astonished and filled with anguish that you so casually and superciliously discredited the efforts of a fellow Goan whose two books have put on record events and persons that needed to be recorded by a writer who had a unique opportunity as a reporter to get the inside scoop in a way that the rest of us didn’t. Neither of Cyprian’s books has anything to do with the colonial period or with discussing the merits or demerits of British rule. You thought “he’d be more inclined to be objective, judicious and rather circumspect than be eager to pander to his compatriots in the diaspora”. Frankly, I don’t know what you are referring to and I am inclined to believe that you had some preconceived notions of what the book was about and were upset when your cursory perusal revealed nothing in the book remotely related to a bitter indictment of British colonial rule in Kenya. Why should it? That is not what Cyprian set out to do. If you truly are interested in appraisals of British colonial rule in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, there is a whole body of writing that covers every aspect of policy and implementation as, indeed, there is on the rule of the British Raj in India and the Portuguese in Goa. But then, you as a journalist, teacher and writer would know that. So why do you go looking for that in Cyprian’s book that has nothing to do with that branch of study?
As for the term “paradise” that you seem to find so offensive, nowhere in Cyprian’s book do I find any reference to British Colonial rule as paradise. Rather it is clear to me that in retrospect, Cyprian sees his youth and life in Kenya as a happy and exciting time. To me, this is quite remarkable as he grew up in circumstances so different to my own comfortable and conventional upbringing; Cyprian came from a family where his mother had to leave an abusive husband and raise her family working a variety of menial jobs to feed her clutch of children. Then there came the traumatic ending to his formal education, an early indication of his stubborn resolve to stand up for his principles regardless of consequences. At the age of fourteen (at which age I was still learning to tie my shoe laces), he set out with determination to make it as a reporter in spite of his lack of qualifications. All things considered, I saw much to admire in Cyprian’s survival in his career as a reporter and his courage in exposing the dark underbelly of Kenya’s politics – I know that I would not have had the intestinal fortitude to do so. Fortunately, his dear wife’s insistence that that they leave Kenya when he began to receive death threats almost definitely saved his life. We know that there were others who probed too deeply and did not live to tell the tale. Sadly, Mr. Antao, you dismiss all Cyprian’s extraordinary life experiences with a sneering remark about “a messiah (who) had sprung with spring water to quench their (East African Goans) thirst and longing for the bygone days.”
As you are a writer and would wish your work to be judged fairly, I would suggest that you read “Yesterday in Paradise” over again, this time more carefully. You will discover that it is not a work of literary fiction, nor is it an evaluation of British colonial rule. Rather it is a factual and highly personal account of a young boy growing up in Kenya and overcoming the obstacles of life in his own resourceful way. Most of us Goans who grew up in Kenya had caring parents whose hard work, middle class values and sacrifices enabled their children to lead happy lives with opportunities for sports and other recreational activities. Cyprian did not start off with many of the advantages that many of the rest of us enjoyed. The fact that he succeeded in making a life for himself, marrying the love of his life and achieving many of his goals is a remarkable testimony to himself and his wonderful mother. He looks back to his life in Kenya and considers that he was living in Paradise. I think that in itself is remarkable, Mr. Antao, and I admire Cyprian all the more for it. I hope that you too can feel the same about your origins in Goa, a homeland that is dear to me in spite of the colonial power that held sway there.
As a Goan who immigrated from Kenya to Canada, I don’t really care what you think of me – and I think most other Goans in my category would agree with me. However, you have made some highly questionable and uncalled for criticisms of Cyprian Fernandes and his books and I really think that you owe him an apology for judging him too hastily. While you are about it, you may also consider apologising to Juliet Rebello and J. D’Souza for the patronising and condescending manner in which you treated their well-meant remarks. You may be a very accomplished author but that is no way to treat your friends..
I rest my case.
August 29, 2018, Lethbridge, Alberta.
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