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The Goan novel is 150 years old

The Goan novel is 150 years old

Francisco Luis Gomes
Long before Aamir Khan could portray Mangal Pandey and bring the revolt of 1857 to the screen, a Goan had touched upon this historical event in a novel. In 1866, precisely 150 years ago, Francisco Luis Gomes published his now famous novel ‘Os Brahamanes’ (The Brahmins). It was undoubtedly the first novel by a Goan, and among the first by an Indian. As Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga in an essay on Gomes says, “The Goan, Francisco Luis Gomes, also published a novel in Portuguese, ’Os Brahamanes’ (The Brahmins), that can claim to be one of the earliest Indian novels.” ‘Os Brahamanes’ is a historical novel set in Faizabad that is in today’s Uttar Pradesh, and weaves a story around the Anglo-Indian community there and the native Indian population. In the novel, Gomes focuses on the caste system, especially untouchability, and joins the cause for justice to those who are discriminated upon. This is not a plot that should surprise anyone who is familiar with the writings of this politician, historian,economist, doctor, writer, who is known also as ‘prince of intellectuals’ and whose ideas were much ahead of his time. Long before socialism could make a mark in the world, he had been propounding the transfer of power from the classes to the masses, just as he demanded freedom for India, years before the Indian National Congress could be formed and take up the cause. Over the decades there has been much praise for the novel. “‘Os Brahamanes’ is a supreme work of art which says much more than what appears on the surface and is of timeless relevance. It is a profound study of the human conditions expressed in the archetypes of European idealism and the Indian tradition,” wrote Dr Maria Aurora Couto. She went on to say, “The greatness of ’Os Brahamanes’ and its author consists in portraying – perhaps for the first time – the tensions and dynamics of colonialism on a country with a culture and civilisation equal – if not superior – to the coloniser; but defeated and conquered because it did not develop the spirit and technology to survive.” But praise for the novel has not been coming only now, it came a century and a half earlier too. Antonio Feliciano de Castilho, a Portuguese writer of that era, wrote of the novel, saying, “The elegance of style, vernacularity of the phrase, originality of thought, easy form and the fine and fluent manner of saying things – these are qualities that bid fair to make this novel a delightful production and the author one of the most brilliant stars in the firmament of our literature.” Everton Machado, in an essay on the Indo Portuguese novel, says, “His novel (theoretical and exotic at the same time) could be considered as being not only the first piece of fiction of modern literature that denounced the abuses of colonialism and ‘suggested’ the withdrawal of a foreign power from the soil it usurped, but also the first that openly attacked the Hindu caste system. Furthermore, the writer had the audacity to promote an interethnic marriage in his book at the exact same time that theories of race began to appear in the West, or more specifically, soon after the Count of Gobineau launched his theory based on a supposed degeneration that resulted from a mixing of the races.” As Adiga said in his essay, ‘This Goan polymath can’t lie forgotten.” In this 150th year of the publication of his novel, Gomes needs to be remembered for his vision and the ideals he advocated through ’Os Brahamanes’, the book that has transcended time. An electronic version of the novel, as published in 1866 in Portuguese, can be found at: https://ia800200.us.archive.org/34/ items/osbrahamanesrom00gomegoog/ osbrahamanesrom00gomegoog.pdf

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