Following three generations of the Viegas family from the small Goan village of Carmona, Let Me Tell You About Quinta is a socio-historical account of Goan society between the19th century and the present day.
Through the Viegas’ the writer — Savia Viegas — has traced the history, social dynamics, and culture of this once quiet Portuguese enclave in India.
The narrative bounces back and forth through time, starting from the present day with Quierozito (Tito) Viegas just having won back his family home, Quinta, after a protracted legal battle.
Tito recalls the glory days of Quinta which appears to be symbolic of Goa. He recollects his mother Mariquinha’s dictatorial rule over the household and her struggle to retain power over her property and her tenant farmers at a time when the social and economic dynamics of Goa were rapidly changing.
Through the characters Viegas explores the nuances of Goan society. The main theme is the shifting social dynamics between the wealthy, powerful bhatkars, the landlords, and their tenant farmers, the mundkars. Tito’s maternal uncle and aunt, with their insistence on speaking Portuguese and wearing European dress, are the embodiments of the old, feudal system.
With the departure of the Portuguese in 1961 and Indian laws liberating tenant farmers from the oppressive feudal system, Goa’s social dynamics rapidly changed, leaving bhatkars like the Viegas family with less power, respect and property.
The novel traces the consequences of this chain of events: the creation of a new class of Goans — the freed mundkars — who amassed “new money” by working on ships, in Africa and in the Gulf. It talks about the arrival of European hippies, who spread “amorality,” and the commercialisation of Goa which, the novel argues, stripped the land of its purity.
Let Me Tell You About Quinta is also an interesting look into the Goan religious life. There is significant reference to Catholicism while mysticism and superstition are rife. Visions, predictions and dreams come up several times during the course of the book. Tito’s neighbour, Milagrosa, aka Miracle Aunty, is the main psychic character in Quinta. She’s a bit ridiculous but her predictions are spot on.
Viegas has painted Goa as a quaint, almost magical place; amidst historical references and social commentary there are also surreal occurrences: a car filling up with amniotic fluid when a servant girl delivers her baby on the way to the hospital and dentures chattering on the table are only a few examples.
Throughout the novel, Viegas uses a generous sprinkling of Portuguese and Kokani words. While these are probably meant to enhance the flavour of the land, those unfamiliar with the language (most readers) will no doubt miss out on the intended meanings since translations are not given everywhere.
This, along with several characters who seem unnecessary to the plot, make the novel confusing and at times tedious to read. However, even if the Goan detailing confounds you and the history takes a while to get a handle on, Viegas has spun a poignant story about relationships and change that is true to any part of the world and any culture. It is the universal human emotions and experiences that make Let Me Tell You About Quinta worth reading.
Let Me Tell You About Quinta (NOVEL) By Savia Viegas Penguin India, New Delhi ISBN 9780143415220 264pp. Indian Rs299