Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Teresa's Man and other stories from Goa by Damodar Mauzo, translated by Xavier Cota

Damodar Mauzo
Translated by Xavier Cota (from Konkani)
200 pages, short story, drama
Found: Rupa Publications bookstore, College Street, Kolkata

This collection of ironic short stories covers a wide variety of social and familial issues. Throughout, there is a feeling of frustration: at the oppression of women, at politics, at self-serving protestors, at communalism. While I didn’t enjoy every story (especially "Teresa's Man"), I did appreciate the social messages that the author wanted to communicate. I can see why he is considered to be one of the best authors in Konkani. 

“From the Mouths of Babes”
Mithila lives in Saudi Arabia, where her husband is working for an international company. She struggles with the lack of intimacy forced upon her by the government and the religious police, especially because she has to wear a burka and is not allowed to show any affection for her husband in public. 

“In the Land of Humans”
Halsid’du is driving a line of cattle to Goa to be sold to the butcher when something happens that makes him unable to complete the journey as planned. 

Sulbha is plagued by her lack of children and by a house full of rats that eat her best saris. She and her husband go to the temple to get god’s blessing for fertility.

“The Cynic” 
Baboy is a confirmed cynic of medicine, doctors, and soap. But what happens when his little grandson becomes ill? 

“She’s Dead!” 
Two rival politicians from Goa arrive in Delhi and plan to have a night on the town, as friends. Then one of them receives a call saying that the other’s wife has died, and he must break it to him gently. 

“Coinsanv’s Cattle”
Coinsanv really enjoys caring for her two cows. When an opportunity comes, her husband considers selling them. 

Dattaram, a motorcycle taxi driver, finds himself blocked on his way to work by protesters in support of the mother language. 

“The Vighnaharta”
A proud man finds it hard to prepare for Ganesh Chaturti when he learns that rumors about his debts have gone around the neighborhood.

“Teresa’s Man”
Peter’s wife Teresa is a hard-working secretary at a firm in the city; Peter is a lazy layabout who does nothing but ferry her to the station. Finally Peter’s frustration comes out. 

“For Death Does Not Come”
During a terrible drought, a water-snake tries to find a way to survive. 

“Happy Birthday”
Sick of hearing constant praise of his co-worker’s son, a man tries to make his own son play soccer. 

“Electoral Empowerment”
Durga is forced to do everything that her husband wants her to, including preparing breakfast for the electoral workers on Election Day. 

“Sand Castles”
When a doctor comes down with a terminal disease, he wants to spend as much time with his family as possible. 

“A Writer’s Tale”
A writer goes to a conference in Delhi, where he is accosted by a younger female writer who won’t leave him alone. 

Frustration and Irony

It seems that the author wants to use each story to send a social message about something that makes him angry.

For example, in “Bandh,” the main character, a motorcycle taxi driver, finds his everyday life impeded because of people who are protesting in support of the mother language. The taxi driver won’t make any money today, which is a problem because he needs it to eat. Ironically, one of the same protestors who prevented him from working in the morning later asks him to drive a female relative to another town. On the way, their way is blocked again and they are threatened with violence. This story demonstrates the futility of political protests in favor of some romantic ideal and the fact that the protestors themselves might not agree with the restrictions they impose on others.  

Sometimes the characters’ frustration emerges in violence. In the titular story, “Theresa’s Man,” the main character is frustrated because his wife is more successful than him – even though he does not even try to get a job or to do anything useful. When others tell him to get a job, he decides to physically take his shame and frustration out on his wife, rather than attempting to improve himself. This story is a good psychological profile of a man in this situation, highlighting the frustration, anger, and jealousy that he feels.  

Missing Intimacy

In several of these stories, real intimacy is missing or misplaced, especially between husbands and wives. This is something else that seems to frustrate the author.

The first story is probably the best example of this: Mithila and her husband are living in the extraordinarily restrictive country of Saudi Arabia and any kind of physical intimacy - even getting someone's attention by touching their arm - is banned in public. But worse than this external pressure is the lack of intimacy within their relationship. Mithila’s husband does not know how to be intimate in the way that his wife wants: she wants intense physical intimacy, particularly kissing, and he is not comfortable with that idea. In the midst of intense stress, Mithila doesn’t know how to respond to her husband's reticence, and that is the main source of her discontent. 

Another kind of intimacy is that between children and their relatives. In “The Cynic,” this relationship is challenged as well. A man with a great distrust for any sort of medicine prevents his grandson from being taken to the hospital, and the consequences are his responsibility. And he realizes his error, but only when it is too late. 

This was a good story collection that, if not always pleasant to read, was important and spoke about issues that need to be examined. I recommend it for anyone who likes short stories and wants to read something translated from Konkani. 

Further Reading: 

"Konkani Literature in History: In Conversation with Damodar Mauzo" from Sahapedia (also see the other posts in this series about Konkani literature) 

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