In the microcosm of Kolamba village, "which nestled in the curve of the river Mandovi as snugly as a water pot fits against a woman’s hip", Pundalik Naik sets out his characters on their paths of destiny cataloguing their fall from grace from a composite rural society to one ravaged by the modernity of mining and industrialisation. The idea of the microcosm—a defined space in Goa where characters play out their lives—to depict Goan society has earlier been seen memorably in Victor Rangel Rebeiroro’s Tivolem set in the village Tivolem and more recently Remigo Bothelo’s Elsa’s Joint set in Panjim. However these two have been written originally in English and not Konkani.
As Naik writes: "The protest in my novel Acchev (Upheaval) against the destruction of humanity and nature is a cry from the heart. It therefore had to be written in my mother tongue Konkani." Upheaval’s richness lies in the ability of the translation to capture the nuances, the smell of the original Konkani in English without appearing affected. The novel, set in Ponda district in north Goa, pulsates with Naik’s rich descriptions of the cyclic rhythms of village life and the sacred ceremonies entwining the sowing and reaping of paddy with the growing-up years of the village children and the shy onset of their adult needs. The scene between Kesar and Narshinv at Malni Punav, the full moon night in the month of Poush at the dhalo, where married women and unmarried girls join in a highly stylised dance is replete with Lorcaesque (Bloodwedding) overtones of the rites of initiation. The verses of the phugadi—the ritualistic dances of women—heighten the effect. It is also what gives the first part of the novel its sense of eternity and timelessness akin to peasants going about their simple lives in a Breughel painting.
This canvas of characters moves beyond the confines of a medieval/feudal morality play yet retaining the archetypal qualities of the characters which transcend time and space. Babuso the lecher, for example, recalls Gor-gor in Margaret Mascarenhas’ novel Skin and Pandhari and Rukmini could well be the parents in Damodar Mauzo’s short story Mingueliliche Ghorchim (Minguel’s Kin) on the breakdown of a Goan family. And when the centre cannot hold Abu the wise old man of the village, Tiresies-like uses the metaphors of the wasted land on his deathbed, "This isn’t an eclipse that will pass… leaving everything as pure as it was before. Everything has been defiled. Our food is impure…the work we do…who knows whose seed grows in whose field these days…only the Spirit of the lake sees everything". The breakdown of the Goan family in Mauzo is pushed to its savage conclusion where Nanu discovers, through the mediation of Manuel, his sister catering to the needs of the mining workers—-an indulgence which was once his own.
In its raw energy the book is unputdownable. And if read at one go, one emerges caked in the soot of the mines of Shenori, the dust on the begrimed leaves on the route of the tipper trucks, and the blood red waters of the once blue river. Upheaval churns you in a way that only a good translation can.