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The Gift Of The Holy Cross

Written by Alexandre M. Barbosa for Goa Today on no date provided

Having read some of Lino Leitao’s delightful short stories, one dips in The Gift of the Holy Cross with some expectancy of humour and the easy style that he is known for. It’s not so. This book is different. Except for a couple of chapters - chapters VII and VIII - that are vintage Leitao, the remaining bring to the fore a new Leitao.

The story is set in Cavelossim and begins while Goa is under colonial rule. The protagonist Mario Jacques is born bringing at the very moment of his birth rain over parched Goa following a harsh summer and is immediately seen as a demigod by some in the village. But Mario grows up with a mind of his own and rebels against the caste and class system prevalent, is mesmerised by nationalistic talks and joins up with the freedom fighters of Goa. Falsely accused, he is arrested and following his escape from jail is accused of all horrendous crimes in Goa by the Portuguese. In India, seeing what politics is all about, he is disgusted and on his return to Goa is arrested. Liberation brings him back to Cavelossim where he preaches against the corrupt practices of the politicians. He is killed on a cross at the fag end of another arid summer and brings rain once again.

Mario’s misadventures are deftly merged with political happenings in Goa, both before liberation and after. The novel illustrates quaint Goan practices, now dying, of the evil eye and rustic exorcism while being a criticism of how Goans were exploited first by the Portuguese and now by politicians whose actions are determined by their greed. In this scenario Mario’s sane voice is taken to be that of a demented fool who harps on the impossible.

There aren’t too many books of this genre in Goan literature. Aside from Lambert Mascarenhas’ Sorrowing Lies my Land, this is only the second book of caliber that makes foray into this period of Goan life.

Leitao has three collections of short stories to his name and lives in Canada.

This is a review of The Gift Of The Holy Cross

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