Ben Antao is part of the Goa Book Club in Toronto.
What I found most attractive about the second book of the Matata trilogy by Braz Menezes is the cover that shows a couple of zebras courting in a Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. “The shorter one being the female, tries to jump up and kiss the male on the lips, the male raising himself on his hind legs playing hard to get, staying just out of reach,” writes the author.
It’s a beautiful photo that captures not only the theme of the novel subtitled “Love after the Mau Mau,” but also causes more matata (trouble) to the protagonist Lando and his love interest Saboti, a nusu-nusu (mixed race) girl of Masai breeding who had attracted Lando when he was 10 years old in the first book.
In this second offering, there is more autobiography embellished by memory and imagination than fiction. The reader gets a short history lesson on the Mau Mau rebellion against the British colonial rule that began in secret among the Kikuyu tribes in 1950 and ended in a state of emergency when the Europeans were terrorized and killed by the Mau Mau, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of their leader Jomo Kenyatta in October 1952.
During this uprising, Pio Gama Pinto, a Goan in his 20s who worked for the East African Indian National Congress, lended his support for the Kikuyus and their demand for land reforms. Called a communist by the Goans, Pio is also arrested and imprisoned.
Lando and his friend Savio had first heard Pio address a meeting in Nairobi’s Goan Gymkhana. Pio says, “Inequalities will not exist in Goa if it becomes part of India, but we must first rid ourselves of Portuguese oppression. Everyone — even from the lowest caste — will now be able to hold his head high up in India. Nobody should have to go to bed hungry every night. Nobody should live in slums, nor have to step over shit in open drains outside their front door.”
For Lando, the Goan held as a role model is the lawyer J.M Nazareth, advocate of the Supreme Court of Kenya by 1933, president of the East African Indian National Congress from 1950-52, judge of the Supreme Court in 1953, president of the Law Society of Kenya I 1954, and president of the Gandhi Society of Kenya.
But the book comes to life after Lando graduates in architecture and pursues Saboti who lives in Eldoret. Saboti’s story is an eye opener for Lando who “grew up happily in a segregated society, protected by parents and community, where we accepted the political and social hierarchy as if God ordained it.”
As he learns more of the colonial rule and its abuse of the native Kenyans, Lando’s heart reaches out and he falls in love with Saboti. As he contemplates on the scene of the flirting zebras, he comes to realize the depth of damage caused by the great injustices of religion and colonial practices. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, Lando is “blinded” by the revelation of the human condition. His desire to marry Saboti is frowned upon by his parents.
Still, Lando would not be deterred. After Kenya’s independence in 1963, Saboti moves to London. Now Lando’s sister also lives in London. The lovelorn Lando makes one final try and seeks out his darling with a marriage proposal. They meet at a bistro. He notices a ring on her finger. She’s pregnant. With tears in her eyes, she returns the photo of the dancing zebras that Lando had given her more than five years ago, with an inscription “Saboti – Thinking of you, Masai Mara, 1962.—Lando.”
This story of Lando and his friendship with Saboti moved me deeply. It will move you too. So I recommend this book for your reading pleasure.