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Two cousins battle to save the soul of Goa against corruption and plunder in this evocative novel

By April 11, 2018No Comments

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‘The Baptism of Tony Calangute’ is set in Aparanta, a mythic, idyllic Goa of old.


In the manner unbridled piracy in business is often transformed into respectable legitimacy in a few short years, Winston Almeida continued to prosper. He breathed into a brand of give-and-take impetus so profound that practitioners of gentility had no antidote except to hope their lives and land would not lie on the map this feasting man had drawn. And, as with many good men of present-day Aparanta who must claim their place in history, Winston one day decided at a peremptory meeting with his brothers at the now too-small six- bedroom house they shared that he would like to own a football club.

“What peoples in Goa love?” he asked rhetorically early one Sunday evening, after he had done his putting with Lumena.

He guessed Iosif had put Carla, because the fool had a smile on his face that would not come off. “How bugger can enjoy putting with wife too much?” briefly entered Winston’s head as a thought before he batted away craven sentimentality as he would a pestering dragonfly. But Franklin, who for all his naming after an American president was both unmarried and unaffected – “If for putting only why to get married?” he had once asked with complete sincerity and Winston had seen wisdom in that thought – mistook Winston’s query as meriting an answer.

“Fish curry and rice,” Franklin said, eagerly.

“Id-jut,” Winston thundered. “Dat like blood to we Goan peoples, no? But what you love like putting only?”

This time Franklin wisely kept quiet, allowing Winston to finish the thought, as a true leader should. “Football, no?”

“Aaaanh,” Iosif and Franklin had intoned. They realised instinctively, in the manner of a band of brothers entwined in the peculiarly coded double-helix of Olimpio and Fatima Luisa, that something truly impressive was on its way.

“What-appened, no, what all we do in Goa we are still son-of- a-schoolmaster.” Winston’s dismissive tone made it a curse. “Dis big house, all dese places we are owning, nutting for dese old families and all. You see dem, no, sitting on balcão in Altinho with all dat lace-lace curtains, same like peoples in Aldona, Verna, Loutolim, Raia, nort, sout, dis-dat, sitting all day, like dey all owns perfume company and when dey are doing fuski, dey tink perfume only is coming from bum. But dat perfume is used by fodrechea mens, all real mens use Brut. So like dat we need to do big-people tings.”

He dug out a stubborn shred of oyster from his teeth with a finger and flicked it away, past Franklin’s ducking head. A small army of red ants mysteriously appeared to carry away their trophy. Winston looked around for effect, because what he would say next required a stage of gravity.

“Football is respect, and respect is football.” He blinked. “What you tink? I make football team, no? Den all dis old family peoples will kiss my bum. Bugger what dey put under armpit. What matters?”

“What matters,” agreed Iosif. “What you call team, boss?”

That pleased Winston, for in that moment he knew he had earned true admiration from his family, his place in the hierarchy secure for all time. “Almeida United, no? Like Manchester and all. How it sounds?”

“Sol-lid, brudder,” Iosif was ecstatic. Franklin, already struck with a premonition of fame, remained smilingly silent.

Then Winston outlined the design for the club flag and jersey. It would be split vertically in fluorescent green (“Dis richful cover of mudder eart”), red (“Eart of Goa only”) and blue (“Like sea, no?”). At the centre of the red slash there would be a deeper red-and-white football. And so the grand enterprise was formed.

Fuelled by Aparanta’s limitless talent that thrived in every vaddo of every near and far-flung village and nurtured in the grounds of every municipality, Almeida United took wing. Each year it steadily moved up, from the ranks of village tournaments to the taluka. Finally, just a dizzying four years after it was formed, Almeida United was rechristened Al U by the adoring public of Varca and entire Salcette taluka after it gained a place in Aparanta’s premiership. The club earned respect even in areas north of the Zuari River – a chasm claimed to be as great as the global north-south divide, or at least the “Catlick-Indu” divide by some among Aparanta’s intelligentsia.

At any rate, Almeida United earned a place as contender among Aparanta’s biggest clubs.

Winston’s rules were simple in the manner a shark might lull a dolphin into believing it had no interest in the puny human floundering in the border of shallow and deep, only to pounce once the dolphin, resplendent in delusion, had disappeared after playfully planting a kiss on the human’s nose.

He followed utmost professionalism at Al U, taking care of his players, never once breaking the legs of a centre forward or a left or right winger if he missed a goal, or the hands of the goalkeeper if he let one in, or feed the boy-child of the opposing team’s star player to crabs even if he scored the winning goal against his team. Iosif and Franklin urged him often enough, and Winston too wished it, but he knew he would cross that bridge if he ever came to it. Meanwhile, he took out his disappointment in other ways. A slap or two to Lumena; taking Tojo’s head and playfully hitting it against a wall; or going to the cemetery at night to urinate on the gravestone of former panchayat member Arvind Colaco – among a silly few who would not be coerced by Winston into signing papers to fraudulently convert village land, farm or forest for commercial use for one of Winston’s apartment houses or shops.

Self-control with football players added a winning gloss to Winston’s respectability, as he had known it would. He didn’t have to build great industry or schools – that could come later, if needed.

All he required to gather public sympathy was give the people football, and now and again sponsor the church fest. Meanwhile, he could loot, rape and pillage in the glorious tradition of Aparanta and, alongside, ensure Al U won a few tricky matches with the impressive talent of his players enhanced by creative spontaneity of the referee – purchased outright with a handsome payment of rupees and the grand arts of coercion perfected by Iosif. For those who were steadfast in their support and performance for Al U, there were shopping-and-putting trips to Bombay and Bangalore complete with banknotes to throw at dancing girls.

By diligently pursuing his goal, Winston built a reputation that soon spread far beyond Salcette. Old businesses grudgingly began to acknowledge him. Community leaders looked to his support to win elections. Principals of schools flocked to him to be guest of honour at a singing competition or an art exhibition. “Be strong, no?” he would urge little children. “What matters what peoples say? Be strong only.” If they didn’t love him, many enthusiastically applauded him. Even successive Number Ones took note of Goa’s newest bandit – and, hence, possible ally – on the make.

It was at this time that Winston took to wearing all-white clothes, down to underwear and socks, by day, and all-black clothes, underwear and socks included, after nightfall. He brokered a truce when it came to shoes – two-toned, imported from Madras – to add a rakish streak to the ensemble. He briefly toyed with the idea of taking to cigars, but unlike the First Sea Lord he could not establish a reliable channel for the supply of Romeo y Julieta. He gave up on it for good after a minion visited Bombay and mistakenly brought back a copy of a play about doomed lovers by someone called William Shakespeare. This led Winston, after the ritual rapid blinking and eyes turning crimson, to push the book down the throat of the hapless underling. And he, barely into the ranks with tight T-shirt, slim moustache, fat gold chain and big motorbike, was permanently cured of tonsillitis.

Noval goa

Excerpted with permission from The Baptism of Tony Calangute, Sudeep Chakravarti, Aleph Book Company.

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