By Nicole Suares
No fest in Goa is complete without the customary and compulsory visit to the khajem stalls. We’re not offering a culinary delight here, but the author Alexandre Moniz Barbosa offers you ‘a literary taste of a Goa often unsampled’ in his latest book of short-stories, Kaddio Boddio.
The book was recently launched at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF). The stories are set in Goa of the past, some in the present, and a few merge timelines. But, as the author says, “readers may identify with some of the incidents or know somebody who went through something of that sort.”
Excerpts from the interview:
GT: Like the sweet (also the title of your book) Kaddio Boddio, the stories deal with hard subjects like HIV, caste references and land sharks. Each has been coated with sweetness, while simultaneously highlighting the issues. Can you tell us about this?
ALEXANDRE MONIZ BARBOSA: You are absolutely right on the stories highlighting issues and being coated with sweetness. I guess the newsy themes for the stories come from being a journalist and covering the political, social and cultural beats in Goa. When writing about these incidents creatively, one has to sugar-coat them.
The stories are predominantly set in rural Goa, and some concern current issues. I guess many readers may identify with some of the incidents or know somebody who went through something of that sort. But then, in the stories, there is a lot more dramatization and subtext involved.
Tell us about the title.
I was looking for a title that would convey the essence of Goa. Kaddio Boddio was one among several I came up with. I compare the stories to the sweet that has a strong core within, but is coated with sweet jaggery with just a hint of spicy ginger. Besides Kaddio Boddio have got Geographical Indication (GI) and so are truly Goan, as are my stories.
A lot of the stories deal with news stories. Do real-life events inspire you?
Of course! Most stories have resulted from conversations with people, incidents that have happened. Many readers may be able to identify with some situations, but none of the stories are true incidents, though they have been inspired by things that have occurred.
I’ll relate two such.
‘The Goal He Never Scored’ resulted from an interview with the first Goan player from a Goan team to play for the Indian team after Liberation and made me wonder if there was anybody before him that could have missed this opportunity. So I wrote this story. That story has been included in ‘The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told’ published by Aleph and edited by Manohar Shetty.
The other story I want to talk about is ‘Colonial Sunset’. The idea came after I interviewed a couple who came from Portugal to Goa in 2011 to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In both these cases, my stories are just the opposite of what occurred in real life.
How do you select what to write?
There is no selection process to what I write. If an idea pops up, then I mull over it and start writing. There was, however, a selection process on which stories I would include in this anthology.
We know you as a senior journalist. When did you begin to write short stories?
I don’t write short stories too often. These have been written over a period of two decades or more.
‘The Accident’ is possibly the first story I wrote over 20 years, ago but was never published till now. ‘The Outsider’ is the only story that I wrote as I began to select stories for this book. I wrote these short stories at various times and saved them on the computer/laptop until I thought maybe I should publish some.
Does the background in journalism help?
A background in journalism would not naturally help, but in my case, I first started off in a magazine where we did a lot of longform journalism. It involved research and this helped in developing my writing skills. In a daily newspaper, the skill sets are quite different.
Tell us a little about your journey as an author? Do you have a process?
My first book was published in 2004, it was a fiction novel Touched By The Toe, set in 16th century Goa. Following that came two non-fictions – Passionate and Unrestrained a translation from Portuguese; and Goa Rewound, a comment on the post-Liberation Goa from 1961 to 2011.
In 2016, I published Raw Earth a novel and now, Kaddio Boddio.
Where short stories are concerned, there is no process. I write whenever I get an idea and then revise until such time that I think it is worthy to be read by someone else.
Where novels are concerned, I put down the idea of the main plot, then flesh it out into a summary with the central characters and sub plots. After that, I break it into chapter outlines and then begin to write. Of course, as I write a lot more characters and scenes are added that were not in the outline. With every revision, the length of the novel changes, it can grow fatter or leaner and sometimes, entire chapters are just junked.
Is writing a viable career these days? How does one make it work?
Writing is not a viable career, it is, at the most, a hobby especially in Goa, where we do not have major publishing houses. Broadway is one publishing house that helps authors get published.
One needs to have a full-time job or doing other tasks to keep the home fires burning.
How has digital changed the way writers work?
In my case, there has been no change as my creative writing is still for the printed form. Even as a journalist, I have not changed my style, though the digital requires a very different style of writing that leans on SEO or search engine optimisation. So, a writer can be quite constrained by that and also most digital works requires writings to be brief.
In print, journalists need to be concise because of space constraints in digital form because of people’s attention spans.
Your advice to young authors.
There’s only one piece of advice, which is: to read and write. Unless you read various authors and genres, you will not be able to develop your language skills and writing style. You have to keep writing. It also requires a large amount of patience.
Your first draft will not be the best, it has to be revised numerous times until you think it is perfect in plot and in style. If you are the impatient type, writing is not for you.