Naked Goa: Do we need ministers for this?
The portrait of Goa depicted in Naked Goa, a collection of satirical sketches, could only have been written by a true lover of the soil, a journalist turned publisher who turns the mirror on his beloved and exposes her, warts and all. It’s not a flattering portrait, but nevertheless one that foreign tourists might howl with laughter, seeing how the natives are aping the West and its mindless mass culture of transient appeal.
I haven’t visited Goa in 20 years and so, like a potential tourist, grew curious to read the book by Anthony Barreto, a high school teacher of English, who makes his home in Galgibaga, in the southernmost district of Canacona. The 37-year-old teacher and journalist, who writes under the pen name of Tony Martin, has drawn upon his experiences to put present-day Goa under a microscope, so to speak, and delight his readers with ironic humor of an exquisite vintage.
Local residents will chortle with recognition as Tony ranges his keen and roving eye over mounds of garbage, drunk driving, child-sex abuse, beggars, Konkani language zealots, fashionistas, sex a la Kamasutra, the famed sossegado lifestyle in government offices and outside, the chaos in education, semi-literates in the legislature spawned by democracy, and ministers with an eye on the main chance, namely, to make money.
It appears to be a surreal world from Canada, 10,000 miles away. And yet, one feels pulled to this ‘naked’ Goa as if the warts somehow possess an inherent beauty that cannot be denied.
Here is a juicy, choice sampling of what I mean:
1. The flaunting of sexuality by young women through the means of under-dress causes the author to declaim: “And it escapes my simple comprehension why the armpits are often left open with deep cut sleeves.”
2. With backward glance as in a rearview mirror, the reader is taken to a bypass at Miramar leading to Dona Paula. Here the bushes as well as car seats are quivering with passion that Vatsyayana, the author of Kamasutra, would have loved to capture for the 21st century edition, we are told.
3. “Today young teenagers quaking with passion drift into marriage like passengers scampering into the unoccupied seats of a Kadamba bus. When it comes to getting married, though, all choice and caution is thrown to the winds. As soon as the embers of passion cool they push each other out like billiard balls.”
The author goes on to say that “if what we see now is an indication of the future, perhaps in a few years adulterous affairs will be too common to be of news value, even for the gossipmongers.”
This brought to mind what I was told during a visit to Varadero, Cuba in 2000. I had spotted the young dancer who had performed the previous night (New Year’s Eve) and said, “I loved the way you danced last night. The rumba must run in your blood stream. Both men and women get high on it.”
“Thank you,” he said with a broad smile. “Cubans love to sing and dance, especially today, our national holiday.”
“I found the dancing and singing quite sexy.”
“Oh, we love it. Every Cuban, though married, has a girlfriend and boyfriend on the side. It’s in our culture.”
4. “It is often the argument of defence counsels that if a person is drunk he is not in command of his senses. So how does he know he will kill someone?”
But it is more than drunk driving. “Some accidents are beyond the control of even sober drivers. Waterlogged potholes, the size of craters, become death traps when a healthy rain turns into a flood for unsuspecting two-wheeler riders. You try to miss a pothole and are knocked from behind. Lucky if you survive, if not mince meat.”
5. “Manners are society’s way of oiling the machinery. It is the best lubricant for relationships. They represent the triumph of civilization over barbarism. But in ours it looks like humanity will gradually go back to square one. They will one day perhaps end up being apes again.”
6. “The ministers of this state are conmen on the prowl. If they do anything, it is to plant saplings, lay foundation stones, light ceremonial lamps, give lengthy bhashan, make stupid comments in the papers and get their photographs published. Do we need ministers for this?”
The 155-page volume is illustrated with cartoons by Alexys and by N.S. Franco.
A. “Could you tell me where I can find peace?”
“Is it urgent?”
“Walk straight, go right. Turn left. You will find a shop. Buy a rope. Go right ahead. You will find a tree. Hand yourself.” (Alexys)
B. “Have you read Shakespeare’s Hamlet?”
“Shakes, pears, omlette! Where? I’m very hungry!! (N.S. Franco)
In holding up the absurd and the ridiculous, Tony seems to hold up a mirror to life in today’s Goa as half the book, he says, was written in 2002. And finally there is a chapter about the Goan trait of wanting to please. I’ll leave that to the reader to find out.
According to Fred Noronha, the well-known journalist who writes a critically penetrating foreword, “This is one book that was just waiting to happen.” Enjoy it.
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