A tribute to a departed friend … Peter Nazareth on Lino Leitao

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Lino Leitao in Goa. Photo: FN

I first heard of Lino Leitao in Missisauga, Canada in 1977 when I was driving to a conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Friends of mind showed me a book they had found in a bookstore, Goan Tales. They laughed at the author, whom they knew, because they said he looked like a beachcomber, not a writer. I got the book and liked it so I decided to write a review for World Literature Today, which published it in Autumn 1978 This is what I said:

Lino Leitao was born in Goa under Portuguese rule, was educated in Goa and Canada, taught for many years in Uganda and is now teaching in Quebec.  The five stories in Goan Tales, his second collection, are all about the Goan community and are set in Goa, India, Entebbe, Nairobi and Mombasa.  The reference point in all cases is Goa, the ancestral homeland, where people return to get married, to have their children educated or to retire. Goans seem to live in a cocoon in Leitao’s stories.  Africa rarely enters the bubble of communal existence, except for one story, ‘The Son.’

A woman who has entered an arranged marriage with an older Goan gives birth to a son — an African son, to everybody’s shock.  The father is the African servant, who had offered her love and understanding.  Returning to Nairobi several years later, she still looks youthful because of an inner peace, and she openly acknowledges her brief but genuine love.  Leitao is generous towards true love, in whose name all can be forgiven, and he is hard on both the ‘gossip-powr’ of Goans and the fact that very few Goans are able to resist what ‘people’ are saying.

Leitao has a sharp eye for Goan behavior.  He sees the Goans as very deeply Roman Catholic, like all Latin peoples, and he does not scorn their faith, while recognizing contradictions and hypocrisies.  In ‘The Miracle’ Goa becomes impoverished during World War II, while the people keep waiting for the Blessed Virgin to appear.  She finally seems to appear twice; the first appearance is not believed because the ‘see’ is not poor but a teacher; the Church ignores the second because it does not want a tourist attraction to rival that of Fatima in Portugal.  The second ‘seer’ ends up rich and believes in Her for She was the one who performed this miracle of a good and rich life for him.

I tracked down Lino Leitao and wrote to him because I wanted to include his stories in two anthologies I was invited to edit: ‘The So’ in Goan Literature: A Modern Reader, an issue of the Journal of South Asian Literature, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, Winter/Spring 1983; and ‘Dona Amalia Quadros’ in African Writing Today, an issue of Pacific Quarterly Moana, Hamilton, New Zealand, July/October, 1981.

I reviewed his next volume of stories, Six Tales, in World Literature Today, Spring 1982.  I said:

Lino Leitao continues to create a sociology of Goans in his third collection of short stories.  The stories are set in Goa and East Africa, the last one with a protagonist who has gone to Goa on leave from Canada.  ‘The Hidden Truth’ is about a woman left behind after her arranged marriage to someone from abroad.  Needing love, she is seduced by her brother-in-law and gets pregnant.  The son survives and is eventually adopted by her husband.  The lover, who abandoned her when she became pregnant, dies.  The story begins with the funeral of her husband.  People expect her, in the traditional manner, to weep over his coffin.  After a damningly long dry-eyed period, she finally weeps hysterically, and people are convinced of her dutiful love for her husband.  What they do not know is that she sees the face of her lover in the coffin, the lover whose funeral she could not attend.

I commented,

Leitao has affection for his characters and implied criticism for the hardness in Goans going by traditional mores.  We see this in ‘The Hindu Goan.’ There were few Hindu Goans in East Africa, and the one in the story is exceptional, more so as he falls in love with and marries, but does not possess, an Ethiopian woman.  He dies in an accident after one of the Goan men jeers that he has slept with the Ethiopian woman, who, the man says, is a prostitute.

Lino and I met for the first time in March, 1991 at the ‘International Conference on Goa: Continuity and Change’, held at the University of Toronto.  We got on very well.

I reviewed his first novel for World Literature Today, Spring 2000.  This was The Gift of the Holy Cross, published by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds, England in 2000.

I said that the novel

begins in Goa during Portuguese colonial times.  The land is suffering from drought, which ends when Mario Jacques is born; people believe he is a messiah.  But what kind of 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.

Jozin-Bab, who has lived for a long time, says to him: “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.” Mario is scapegoated for a murder he did not commit and hanged on a cross. His dying words are in Sanskrit, thus indigenizing the message of the Crucifixion.

Lino began work on a second novel.  I read a portion of it many years ago. It was a highly erotic account of the affair of a married woman and her lover, a womanizer.  However, there was a spirituality from the Vedas underlying this story, which moved between present and past.  I don’t know whether he ever completed this novel, but he did complete several short stories.  Twelve short of his stories were published in the journal Short Story International, the most important journal for short stories. I don’t know of any other writer who had more stories published in this journal.

One of the stories in SSI, ‘The Accident’, was originally published in The Massachusetts Review and is the most complex multicultural story Lino ever wrote.  It is set in Montreal during the time the Quebecois were considering quitting Canada.  It covers Goans; Canadians; the Baganda from Uganda; the illusions of white people about Amin’s “nationalism”; the Asian expulsion from Uganda; the question of whether ‘Asian’ had contributed to Uganda (they had, the narrator says, an example being that it was a Goan tailor who designed the outfit that became the Kiganda national dress, known as the busuti or gomisi).  The story ends making a connection in Canada between the three aliens in Canada who are black, brown and white.

Lino was always appreciative of what I did to get his work out.  He expressed his gratitude in many ways. Confluence recently published a story by him which he dedicated to me. Earlier, he reviewed the second edition of my novel, In a Brown Mantle, in World Literature Today, Autumn 1982.  He concluded his review:

“When first published in 1972, In a Brown Mantle was prophetic of both Idi Amin’s coup and his expulsion of Asians from Uganda.  But the novel is also a story of many Third World countries.  Its prose is easy, yet it has an astonishing power to stir the mind.  People who live under the oppression of their own bourgeoisie will find much to ponder in this book.”

In 1998, a Goan from London published a letter to Goa Today disagreeing with a fine interview with me by Fred Noronha a few months earlier.  The writer proceeded to completely misunderstand my novel, The General is Up, concluding that it had no “moral rectitude”.  And the lowest blow: he said I was an unworthy son of my father. Lino phoned me to cheer me up.  “At least you got a Goan to read!” he said.

Lino Leitao was a very good writer of short fiction.  He sometimes needed a sympathetic editor to tighten up what he wrote, and I did it whenever I could, but that is not a reason for concluding he was not a good writer because, in fact, every writer needs and uses good editors. But Goans tended to misunderstand his writing from another angle. They looked for the real life people on whom he based his stories and then blamed him both for gossiping about stories from real life and getting it wrong because of differences from the real life stories. Or perhaps they were really blaming him for revealing secrets that they thought should not be revealed about Goans to the outside word, ‘secrets’ that showed Goans were human. They did not know that every writer uses models from real life, but these models go through the creative imagination before emerging in well structured works of art.  It was his knowledge, his understanding of people, politics and history, his empathy for human beings and his thirst for ending oppression that made him a good writer.  I mentioned earlier that some people thought he was like a beachcomber, not a writer.

Lino Leitao is gone but his stories live.  One of them has been accepted by Professor Ezekiel Alembi for a forthcoming volume of East African short stories.

Lino’s stories are a gift to us.  We must know how to accept the gift. –Peter Nazareth, University of Iowa


Reproduced with permission of the writer. This was first e-published on the New Diaspora mailing list [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newdiaspora] Nazareth can be contacted via PNAZARETH05@msn.com

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About fredericknoronha

Alt.Publishing. Journalism. Books. Cyberspace. Networking.

6 comments

  1. In future we are going to claim Lino Leitao as a Ugandan writer. We are going to imagine a life that had continued without interruption. We are going to imagine that no communities had been compelled to leave.

    A new generation grows up. A new Leitao takes over and conitnues the narrative. In a new environment, unlike yesterday, unlike today. More intagreted, sharply competative and combative. In which Goanness dissoves. Other units too dissove, in a new and complex whole. We already see this beginning to happen, however mildly, in Lino’s Canada based story, in Peter Nazareth’ review and retelling. Hope one day I will lay hands on Lino Leitao’s works.

  2. Jessica

    I have found the entire article very touching and worth reading. I would def recommend it to others to read atleast once 🙂 Best regards, Jessica makemoneykingdom.com

  3. Claire Theresa Antao

    Lino Leitao to me Is more than just a writer. He was a man I always looked up to. I haven’t read his novel or most of his stories. I think I just read one about ‘Xemai’ and enjoyed the bitter sweetness of it.

    Peter Nazareth puts it rightly when he says “It was his knowledge, his understanding of people, politics and history, his empathy for human beings and his thirst for ending oppression that made him a good writer.”

    Tio Lino always encouraged me to talk to people and write stories, which led me to write and to take up Journalism. He always believed in me and pushed me to be the best I could be. We had so many conversations while we munched on ‘Caju Beebe’ cashew nut, in Varca, his native village.

    I miss him dearly and whenever I write something, I believe he is somewhere watching me, smiling:)

    I am his Grand Niece Claire:)

  4. I hadn’t heard of him till today!

    First thing tomorrow, I searh for his books somewhere in Kampala.

    @Clarie, I’d love to hear more about him …

  5. Hadn’t heard of whom, tumwijuke? Lino Leitao or Peter Nazareth? You might find Peter’s books in Africa, but not sure about Lino’s. Best, FN

  6. Claire Theresa Antao

    Hi tumwijuke. You can email me at pen_travel@hotmail.com 🙂

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