Giselle Mehta's 'Blossom Showers' - Gem of a Debut Novel
By Kishoo, Barkur
Nov 9: When I first set my hands on the book at the mall in Mangalore, I had no expectations, or rather, being skeptical, I just glanced at the intro on the back cover and bought it. I wanted to read it, just to know what has been written as I had read about its release in the portal www.daijiworld.com and was curious.
When I bought 'The White Tiger' at the Mangalore Airport a few years back it was already a Man Booker winner and Aravind Adiga was an instant celebrity. Having followed the Booker and Pulitzer winners for the last couple of years, from Arundhati Roy’s semi autobiographical ‘The God of Small Things’ in a language of her own, to Monica Ali’s musings in ‘Bricklane’ and Jhumpa Lahiri and our own Adiga, I used to pester my friend Edwin J F D’Souza, a great literary talent in Konkani, to try his hand at English. I felt he had wasted his years writing in Konkani, as he is at ease equally with both languages, and argued with him with the same vigor that a character like Ijja-Akai can never be rendered in English as effectively and brilliantly as he did it in Konkani.
Giselle Mehtha must be a North Indian, I thought, and then realized she is a Mangalorean and is the daughter of the late Dr Louella Lobo Prabhu, who I used to listen in our very own Aakashavani Mangalooru in my childhood days on every Sunday afternoon. Having finished the daily dose of the Chithrageethe and Varthegalu as there was no other station to tune in to, I used to listen to these strange sounds of piano emanating from the radio, though I could not make out a single note or understand a word she was saying while introducing the numbers she was playing. Well, it was just English to me, back then.
But that somehow made a connection with the author again as our own, and when I started reading the first few chapters of 'Blossom Showers', should I say I was hooked? Mesmerized, would be a better word for the incredible and immaculate language and the well-chronicled account of the life of Chevalier Rex Edward Cordelio of Manjooran, as our beloved Mangalore is disguised throughout the novel for reasons unknown, and the parallels between the coffee plantations owned by Mangloreans in the Western Ghats to the coastal Canara. And the comparison spans through the generations as the story is woven into three parts, through the first person narratives of Chevalier, the protagonist, his daughter-in-law Anjalika and grandson Jayden from the year 1902 to 2010.
In doing so, the author cleverly tries and succeeds in articulating a meticulously researched rise and decline (!?) of Konkani Christians of coastal Karnataka in general and coffee estate brigade in particular. The beauty is, nowhere can one feel the intelligent language forced upon for an instance throughout the novel. It's all there, from the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa which prompted our ancestors to escape southwards, captivity in Srirangapatnam during Tippu’s rule, dramatic transformation of coffee estate owners post Independence, mass exodus of the working class to the Gulf countries turning the tables of the economic equations, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and its impact on the society, the eco tourism flaunted by the estate owners, to the recent real estate boom, and the media revolutions caused by the web portals. Even the World Canara Catholic Convention gets a mention and all this is done so beautifully with insightful perspectives, wonderfully bridging the past and the present.
What marvels the reader is the mastery of the art of storytelling, as the author touches both the mind and the heart which is no less than an emotional roller coaster ride. The complex and intrinsic story line unfolds to the reader in first person narrative of the main character itself in all the three parts with an elaborate usage of italics for snide but humorous personal reflections (with a generous dose of the f words), of the narrator himself or herself. The pure and unique Canara Catholic essence is perfectly caught with a subtle humor created in the social settings, with a fair dose of Konkani words thrown in, be it the use of nasty nick names like London Lennie later transformed to be Loonie Len, or the hilarious English of Kuwait returned maid, Thekla, or caustic analytical dissection of the events and gossiping of society circles reaching to a vitriolic crescendo in the third part at the funeral of Anjalika. I particularly enjoyed the reference to the dance form Bylas - with a newly discovered fetish for one’s roots - remark. It is a sheer reading delight and keeps one glued throughout the intricate maze of events as the strong and complex characters in search of an identity, grow on reader, disturbing and emotionally draining too.
Throughout the narration, the author succeeded in staying aloof from the proceedings, the turmoil and turbulence in the lives of the characters as well as the socio-cultural settings, which keeps the reader wondering.
Everything has been touched in an attempt to bring the essence of the land in the book, and I felt the author slightly lost her grip on the storyline in doing so, in the last 100-plus pages of the 440 page novel, but nevertheless keeping her brilliance par excellence over the language intact consistently to the last word. With an overdose of chronicling the recent developments (!?), the engrossing storyline somewhere suffers in its focus and turns very dramatic just like a typical ‘and they all lived happily together’ Manglorean drama in Konkani - the very language, I felt, is mocked throughout the book.
Apart from this minor hiccup, a wonderful book, result of a lot of painstakingly taken up personal research and reflections and sense of keen observation and attention to the minute details. Just heard that it is listed in top ten of the October 3, 2011 issue of Mumbai based Afternoon Dispatch and Courier. I don’t know how it’s being handled, and it’s like raining cats and dogs for Indian writers in English in the market out there, but if done correctly and put into the right hands, I predict a Man Booker or the Pulitzer for this gem of a debut novel. Amen.
From Daijiworld Archives:
By Giselle Mehta: