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The Gift Of The Holy Cross

Written by Peter Nazareth for World Literature Today, Vol. 74:2 on no date provided

After three collections of short stories (see e.g. WLT 52:4, p. 695), Lino Leitão has now published his first novel. The Gift of the Holy Cross begins in Goa during Portuguese colonial times. The land is suffering from drought, which ends when Mario Jacques is born; people believe that he is a messiah. But what kind of a messiah, when Goans are divided, Hindu versus Catholic? When the landlord class, Catholic and Hindu, oppresses and exploits the workers and peasants? When Goa has been colonized for over four centuries, physically and mentally, while India is ending a hundred years of British colonial rule? Mario becomes a political figure, an unsuccessful one except that he is made a scapegoat for the antinationalists. When he escapes to India, he is disillusioned by politicians, for they want to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. 

Mario fell in love with a nationalistic Hindu girl, through whom he grew to spiritual and political consciousness; but her parents would not permit love with a Catholic, and she committed suicide. In Bombay, he has a sexual affair with the wife of his political mentor, who refused to have sexual relations with her because she had been raped by Portuguese supporters on their wedding night. Out of this sexual awakening, she becomes attractive to her husband again. Mario teeters on the edge of becoming a Woody Allenish messiah who dies in a parody of the crucifixion - but he does not fall over. He discovers through his experiences that he must penetrate anticolonial, religious, class, and caste politics to get to a deeper spiritual possibility. 'You’re nothing but a bunch of hypocrites,' he says to the politicians. 'You can preach Gandhi, you can preach Buddha and you can preach Christ, but none of you want to act according to the principles of these masters.' He heeds the words of Jozin-Bab, a centenarian: 'Always remember this, Mario: A nation that doesn’t aspire to be an industrial giant may be exploited by the others. But a nation that doesn’t grow spiritually will be in worse trouble.'

The political and personal intertwine. Two brothers blame Mario for the death of their father, who suffered a heart attack after being attacked by nationalists. 'He thinks he is some kind of Christ, so let’s see how he would like to hang from the cross,' says one of them. There is a new drought created by the new breed of politicians. What will save the people? Awareness and acceptance of responsibility will. Mario becomes a beacon, his dying words being in Sanskrit, thus indigenizing the lesson of the Crucifixion. Leitão is a fine storyteller with a satiric political consciousness and a spiritual vision of a people’s awakening.

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