2018-08-31 06:59:26 UTC
Goans and many other Indians had in leaving the only country
we had known as "home"
By Francis Noronha
Dear Mr. Ben Antao, I have just read your diatribe titled
'The Literary Maladies of Diaspora Goans' attacking author
Cyprian Fernandes and the many other Goans "who immigrated to
Canada from East Africa in the 1960's and 1970's who still
hearken back with nostalgia to the good times of the
so-called paradise they basked in under the British colonial sun."
I am one of these Goans that you are so disappointed
with because they have failed to live up to the lofty goals
that you have apparently achieved in that your fiction and
non-fiction "embraces" your experiences in Goa and Toronto.
Bravo! You point out to all of us lesser beings that "a
writer has to draw upon his lived experiences if he seeks to
create literary fiction." Thank you for this original and
inspiring insight into the art of creative writing. Your
encouraging words to aspiring writers fills me with the
desire to put pen to paper in an effort to emulate the
sterling example you have set us in your own literary
creative fiction. I confess, however, that I am confused.
Even a cursory reading of Cyprian Fernandes' two books,
"Yesterday in Paradise" and "Stars Next Door" would reveal
that they are not meant to be "literary fiction". Unlike you,
Cyprian, (whom I have yet to have the pleasure to meet), is
an unpretentious writer who sets out in "Yesterday in
Paradise" to give a personal insight from the perspective of
an investigative journalist into events at a particularly
interesting and turbulent period of Kenya's history.
During the 60's and 70's, Kenya was emerging from the cocoon
of colonial rule and taking its first faltering steps as an
independent nation. During these transitional years, I was a
student at the first multi-racial college in Kenya (later the
University of Nairobi) and then away for three years as a
student in Britain. I found Cyprian's account of the
political in-fighting and intrigue of those early years
absolutely enthralling and enlightening and it filled the
gaps in my own knowledge of the events that eventually led so
many of us to decide that, much though we loved Kenya and its
peoples, we had to take what was for most of us a painful
step to emigrate to other countries where we could make a
more secure future for ourselves and for our families.
From your account I gather that you were born and raised in
Goa and immigrated to Canada when you were 25. You probably
had little knowledge or interest in Kenya. I don't say that
in a negative way because there was probably no reason for
you to take more than a cursory interest in an African
country. You are probably not aware of the deeply personal
struggle that Goans and many other Indians of my generation
had in leaving the only country that we had known as "home"
to venture to an uncertain future in countries such as
England, Canada and Australia.
A closer reading of Cyprian's book may inform you
of some these personal struggles. I myself, for
instance, left a comfortable and secure job as a
teacher in Kenya and arrived in Lethbridge,
Alberta, in 1975 to start a new career at the age
of 38. I have no regrets and Canada has been a
wonderful home to me, my wife and daughter. Most
Goans I know who immigrated from Kenya to Canada
have not spent time in wistful musing about the
paradise we left behind as you seem to think. We
have moved on, forged new careers, made many new
friends and contributed to the communities we
became an integral part of, as, I am sure, you
have, Mr. Antao. That does not mean that we have
erased our memories of the past whether we "basked"
or toiled under the "British colonial sun".
I have happy memories of growing up in Kenya, of travels in
East Africa, of climbing Kilimanjaro, Kenya and Elgon, of
playing hockey with my friends, no less than six of whom were
destined to become Olympians, of teaching in some of the fine
schools in Kenya including historic Allidina Visram High
School in Mombasa, of great holidays spent at the coast and
visiting several wonderful beaches. I have memories of dear
classmates, students and friends. I was thrilled when I
browsed through Cyprian's second book, "Stars Next Door", to
find that it recorded the achievements of many Goans for
posterity. I knew many of the people who are mentioned as
classmates and friends and reading about them brought back
many happy memories.
To use your own terms, Mr. Antao, I was astonished and filled
with anguish that you so casually and superciliously
discredited the efforts of a fellow Goan whose two books have
put on record events and persons that needed to be recorded
by a writer who had a unique opportunity as a reporter to get
the inside scoop in a way that the rest of us didn't. Neither
of Cyprian's books has anything to do with the colonial
period or with discussing the merits or demerits of British
You thought "he'd be more inclined to be objective, judicious
and rather circumspect than be eager to pander to his
compatriots in the diaspora". Frankly, I don't know what you
are referring to and I am inclined to believe that you had
some preconceived notions of what the book was about and were
upset when your cursory perusal revealed nothing in the book
remotely related to a bitter indictment of British colonial
rule in Kenya.
Why should it? That is not what Cyprian set out to do.
If you truly are interested in appraisals of British colonial
rule in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, there is a whole body
of writing that covers every aspect of policy and
implementation as, indeed, there is on the rule of the
British Raj in India and the Portuguese in Goa. But then, you
as a journalist, teacher and writer would know that. So why
do you go looking for that in Cyprian's book that has nothing
to do with that branch of study?
As for the term "paradise" that you seem to find so
offensive, nowhere in Cyprian's book do I find any
reference to British Colonial rule as paradise.
Rather it is clear to me that in retrospect,
Cyprian sees his youth and life in Kenya as a happy
and exciting time. To me, this is quite remarkable
as he grew up in circumstances so different to my
own comfortable and conventional upbringing;
Cyprian came from a family where his mother had to
leave an abusive husband and raise her family
working a variety of menial jobs to feed her clutch
Then there came the traumatic ending to his formal education,
an early indication of his stubborn resolve to stand up for
his principles regardless of consequences. At the age of
fourteen (at which age I was still learning to tie my shoe
laces), he set out with determination to make it as a
reporter in spite of his lack of qualifications. All things
considered, I saw much to admire in Cyprian's survival in his
career as a reporter and his courage in exposing the dark
underbelly of Kenya's politics -- I know that I would not
have had the intestinal fortitude to do so.
Fortunately, his dear wife's insistence that that they leave
Kenya when he began to receive death threats almost
definitely saved his life. We know that there were others who
probed too deeply and did not live to tell the tale. Sadly,
Mr. Antao, you dismiss all Cyprian's extraordinary life
experiences with a sneering remark about "a messiah (who) had
sprung with spring water to quench their (East African Goans)
thirst and longing for the bygone days."
As you are a writer and would wish your work to be judged
fairly, I would suggest that you read "Yesterday in Paradise"
over again, this time more carefully. You will discover that
it is not a work of literary fiction, nor is it an evaluation
of British colonial rule. Rather it is a factual and highly
personal account of a young boy growing up in Kenya and
overcoming the obstacles of life in his own resourceful way.
Most of us Goans who grew up in Kenya had caring parents
whose hard work, middle class values and sacrifices enabled
their children to lead happy lives with opportunities for
sports and other recreational activities. Cyprian did not
start off with many of the advantages that many of the rest
of us enjoyed. The fact that he succeeded in making a life
for himself, marrying the love of his life and achieving many
of his goals is a remarkable testimony to himself and his
He looks back to his life in Kenya and considers that he was
living in Paradise. I think that in itself is remarkable, Mr.
Antao, and I admire Cyprian all the more for it. I hope that
you too can feel the same about your origins in Goa, a
homeland that is dear to me in spite of the colonial power
that held sway there.
As a Goan who immigrated from Kenya to Canada, I
don't really care what you think of me -- and I
think most other Goans in my category would agree
with me. However, you have made some highly
questionable and uncalled for criticisms of Cyprian
Fernandes and his books and I really think that you
owe him an apology for judging him too hastily.
While you are about it, you may also consider
apologising to Juliet Rebello and J. D'Souza for
the patronising and condescending manner in which
you treated their well-meant remarks. You may be a
very accomplished author but that is no way to
treat your friends.
I rest my case.