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Friday, March 24, 2006

The Upheaval (Acchev) by Pundalik N. Naik

The Upheaval (Acchev) by Pundalik N. Naik. Translated from Konkani by Vidya Pai. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages 144, Price Rs 295

TRUTH is stranger than fiction they say. In Pundalik Naik’s The Upheaval, it is difficult to say which is which. Published originally in Konkani in 1977 Acchev is the first Konkani novel to be translated into English. It fills a major lacuna in Goan literature. The novel, by virtue of its felicitous translation by Vidya Pai, also succeeds in bridging the gap of 25 years to infuse in its central themes an immediacy which is deeply disturbing, if not horrifying, in its reality. A reality which continues to be lived out in Goa even today.

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.

The introduction by Maria Aurora Couto reflecting Naik’s deep anguish and a useful glossary accentuate its deep significances for us all, wherever we are, whatever we do—-"These were two villages. Mine was Volvoi and across the river was Maina where mining took over the life of my friends. To my child’s eye it was incomprehensible, the sea changes that transformed a dream into a nightmare, the river where we fished and played, the countryside we roamed and the life we once shared but which Maina had irretrievably lost."

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