Set in 1945, Braz Menezes’ debut novel ‘Just Matata: Sins, Saints and Settlers, a novel set in Goa and Kenya’ tells the story of Francisco (Chico) Menezes of Raia as related by his son Lando. For the average reader the book will read as a son’s biography of his father. To the astute, will be revealed a son’s tribute and homage to his father, and to the astute and discerning only, will be revealed a deeper and clearer attempt made by the author at understanding the history of the people of Goa in an attempt to define that very elusive quality that sets the Goan Christian apart, no matter where he goes, his quirks and his idiosyncrasies that verily arises from his historic destiny.
In fact, Braz Menezes sums up the ethos of the book in an introduction of sorts in which he explains why the mando, dulpod, lancer, waltz and foxtrot dancing, English-speaking Goan Christian, in his western attire was the British of East Africa’s trusty handler of purse strings, his bartender and baker, his engineer and tailor, his cook and clerk, his doctor and doormat…
… “they stay with their faith and never stray into politics. They do what they are told and are always loyal and docile. Above all, when compared to the cost of British labour, they can be had cheap – very cheap indeed. They flock to East Africa by the hundreds.”
“You see, Goans were labelled and treated differently because they came from a Portuguese colony. They spoke English, danced the waltz, drank whisky, spent their time in prayer, were honest and, above all, the poor economic picture in Goa meant they were more than willing to migrate to earn money. They were British colonisers dream employees…westernised, honest, matata-avoiding, god-fearing, cheap labour,” says Menezes, who has dated the back story of this novel to 1928, the year his father, eyes full of optimistic dreams of a better economic future, boarded a steamer headed from Goa to Mozambique, but through strange twists and turns of fortune landed in British Kenya instead.
Braz Menezes is a man of intelligence given to deep introspection of the social history of his people, both in Kenya and Goa. He does not question the destiny that took his father to Kenya, his own birth in a foreign land and brief return to Goa for higher studies which entailed years of lonely, often hungry, estrangement from the family, his father’s pining for the brother from whom he has been separated for decades due to their mutual economy-driven migration, or his parents ultimate dream to returning to spend a retired life in the land of their birth.
Instead he makes an attempt at understanding the Goan people and the book will touch many a Goan from that generation and their children, who have known the pain of separation, the bewilderment of aligning the Goan-British-Kenyan culture and the Goan-Goan culture, which though similar had developed dichotomy that comes naturally to cultures after being exposed to generations, races, customs and societies.
Braz also makes his observation about how the Goan were a part of the colonial process and yet not consciously so, how racial discrimination set in the colonies, and why the Goan was so docile (a key factor that endeared him to the colonisers).
As he candidly puts it, and laughingly threatens to deny if questioned later in his soft slow drawl: “The Goans were docile, probably because of the inquisition that left them mentally castrated. As long as they were praying, singing and dancing all was fine. But if they had the audacity to think, they would be in trouble. This was what was beaten into the Goan over 250 years. And sing and dance and pray and build churches is what they did in Kenya too. They were no matata.”
The book is the first of the trilogy that the author has planned. From the past to the present, he plans to trace how, though the essence of the Goan personality remains the same, it has evolved over generations and history from naive to almost naive to street-smart. From the old world colonisation to the new world colonisation where exploitive money is the coloniser in the contemporary setting, Braz Menezes presents the Goan story to the Goan, wrapped in the story of Chico Menezes of Raia, who left his motherland for alien shores in search of a better life.
[The Consul-General of Portugal in Goa, Dr Antonio Sabido Costa, released the book on February 24, 2012] at the Chitra Foundation, Benaulim