Read

A menagerie of people who wither away

P Anima | Updated on April 06, 2021

In festive spirit: The only get-together of sorts the residents of Obrigado Mansion manage is on Christmas Eve   -  AADESH CHOUDHARI

Lindsay Pereira’s debut novel ‘Gods And Ends’ is a stark and fearless portrayal of the Roman Catholic community in the Bombay of yore

* It is set in Obrigado Mansion in Orlem — a ghetto of Roman Catholics, largely from Goa

* Pereira has woven into the tapestry of Bombay the stories and backstories of a community that has been part of the metropolis for long, but has clung to the fringes

* The mansion is a bleak place, yet it hardly feels so for the prose is never bereft of humour

***

‘Kill him, Lord,’ she prayed, echoing a wish that was offered by so many of the women in her parish. ‘Take him away. Take him away soon.’Angelina D’ Souza prayed rather fervently in Room 104.

Brigette Sequeira in Room 108 shared a similar prayer: “Twelve years, five months and three days after the day she was married, Brigette woke up one morning and decided she would prefer it if her husband was dead.”

Gods And Ends / Linsday Pereira / Penguin Random House / Fiction / ₹599

 

Next door, in Room 103, Gracie Vaz had prayed desperately too, when her husband Peter lost his job in the ‘Gulf’ and returned to Bombay . Eventually, she left with her son Gavin.

Mumbai-based journalist and editor Lindsay Pereira’s debut novel Gods And Ends is stark and fearless, and pulses with a wicked humour that gilds even the most poignant passages. It is set in Obrigado Mansion in Orlem, a ghetto of Roman Catholics — largely from Goa — in Bombay, which is how the author refers to the city, denoting perhaps an age.

In Obrigado Mansion, the women desperately wish their husbands dead. The men beat their wives up on a whim and purge their failings in bottles of cheap liquor.

In a city that is decidedly multicultural and multi-ethnic, Pereira unwaveringly focuses on the occupants of the crumbling mansion, tenants bound together by little else than their faith. In a recent interview to GQ India, Pereira hoped the book would be in time recognised as a Bombay novel. Gods And Ends is one rather effortlessly; Pereira has woven into the tapestry of Bombay the stories and backstories of a community that has been part of the metropolis for long, but has clung to the fringes.

Quite like Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s Bombay, it gently dissects identity and belonging in the metropolis. If Rohinton Mistry explored relationships in a Bombay-based Parsi family in Family Matters, through a handful of families enmeshed in a similar destiny, Pereira creates a microcosm of the city’s Roman Catholic community. Pereira writes against the type; the city of dreams, struggle and success is anything but that here. His novel is peopled by those who merely wither away.

In Pereira’s Obrigado Mansion there are no struggles to succeed. The ageing landlord Francisco Fernandez and his tenants are caught in a warp, a state of painful decadence. The occupants have failed to make sense of the city, or even Orlem, that had changed ever so rapidly. As the bungalows around the mansion fall to make way for multistorey residences, Obrigado stands, the sole refuge of those who have ceased to give a damn. As much as the tenants of Obrigado will not leave — few places in Bombay are as cheap, and Orlem is where their past is — the mansion is also their prison. The exit doors are firmly shut, for living outside of Obrigado translates to doing better in life, a prospect out of bounds for most of them. The ones who make it out are the young.

Though Pereira doesn’t frame the novel into a particular time period, he drops enough hints to relate it to Bombay of the 1970s. The men have migrated in hordes to West Asia in search of work; in the Orlem market, affluence is measured by the way ‘Gulf wives’ splurge on pomfret. India’s participation in the Bangladesh war as well as the Emergency are casually discussed by women during their market sojourns. Video libraries are a norm, as are jobs of receptionists and stenographers for women.

Obrigado Mansion is a bleak place, yet it hardly feels so for the prose is never bereft of humour. Pereira turns it into a potent tool to amplify the absurdity of his characters. His men and women revel in their rough edges, and the author makes no attempt to smoothen them into acceptable tropes. For neighbours who have spent most of their adulthood in a single-room tenancy, a sense of togetherness and brotherhood is still hard to conjure. The only get-together of sorts they manage is on Christmas Eve; that they remain almost civil to each other comes as a surprise. Pereira evokes more than once the metaphor of crabs in a tub — each pulling down the one attempting to climb out and escape.

The eight rooms of the double-storied Obrigado Mansion are as much a character in the novel as the people who inhabit them. Room 106, for instance, is the mansion’s haunted room, the only one that has had multiple tenancy over the years. Pereira lists, among its various occupants, Jesus Christ — age unknown, son of God.

Each chapter serves as a character sketch, and with each episode Pereira gives deeper insights into their frailties. Peter Vaz spends his time watching porn and survives on bhurji-pav after his family leaves him. For factory worker Jude Sequeira, wife Brigette and daughter Philomena are the living repositories of the wretchedness of his life; he hurts and taunts them at will. The parish priest Father Lawrence Gonsalves is battling a crisis in faith. Women are largely trapped in broken marriages and the only one who appears to be in control is, ironically, a widow. The irreparably damaged and flawed Philomena binge eats to fill the emptiness within and engages in acts of casual cruelty as well as serious crimes.

The narrative swings between first and third person accounts. Sequeira, for instance, slips into the colloquial to speak of life in Orlem: “Dese Orlem buggers are fatted men. Solid dey crib, dis is not working, dat is not working…” In the first-person accounts, the author expertly deploys the spoken language to take readers closer to the community, reminiscent of how Toni Morrison used it to communicate the African American experience in the US.

Gods And Ends is an assured debut and one wishes that a solid novel as this was fine-combed for silly, technical errors, such as the age difference between Sequeria and his wife, which doubles by the time the novel moves from the character index to their individual stories. That, though, is a mere niggle, and doesn’t take away from Pereira’s fresh and honest voice; his quirky and visceral stories, and that sharp humour.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on April 06, 2021
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.