Age of Frenzy

Mahabaleshwar Sail Harper Perennial

Pages: 324

Price: Rs 399

Within history, there is no place for anything but the truth — better yet, facts. Raw data is collated in order to fortify what we know of the past. This data relies upon evidence for its content, and tampering with such information is, perhaps, a furtive step taken away from history. Guarded by such an understanding of history, where does the author of historical fiction lie? When fiction — simply the made-up — is used as a wrapping around history, it seemsa negation of history and its nature. Sir Walter Scott, the conceiver of the form, took head-on this obstacle until he had mastered it.

Age of frenzy,translation of YugSanvar by Mahabaleshwar Sail, is a work of historical fiction. The author explains it as “a piece of creative writing based on historical events” in an interview that has been added to the text. The text has taken upon the same obstacle as that of Sir Walter Scott and has been translated by VidyaPai quite dexterously.

The book is significant for many reasons: first, since it is a work that aims to take the reader back to the original title that is in the Konkani language — a regional language present in southern states of India like Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The language has a rough history, of which much is conveyed to the reader in this text: its forceful official abnegation during an invasion, the change in the scripts used to express it — it had been Devanagari at first, but today it is written in various scripts including Roman, Malayalam and Kannada. Thus, the work garners value as an artifact that carries forward the weight of a language and its history. This being one of the many ways in which literature has had serious responsibility other than being a source of pleasure.

Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina, built in Goa in the early years of colonisation.

In a world where historical fiction abounds (in many countries it is the wagon that sustains the movement of folklore, cultural history and myths to the progeny)Age of Frenzy asserts its value through its primary duty as well: of reanimating before the eyes of the readers the lush past of a state that has seen complete, ineffable transformation. Goa witnessed an invasion by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century; little did people know or expect that it would change the religious demography of a state that had followed Hinduism over numerous generations. The text opens with a befitting ominous tone — tigers that had never touched cows with bridled rope around their necks suddenly killed two that were tied to the plough — and puts into motion a domino effect of slow and carefully measured disruption.

The author has created the fictional villageAdolshi, which is composed of a population of ardent Hindus, who, in accord with the caste system, are divided into the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and the lower classes. And with the coming of the Portuguese invaders it is religion that suffers the worst blows. The text, quite sincerely, depicts the frustrations and anxieties of the various members of the village as they struggle to keep their faith secured. Around the pillars of some primary themes, such as purity, faith, fear and loyalty, the villagers stifle and hope for some form of saving grace.

Mahabaleshwar Sail, the author of Age of Frenzy.

The Portuguese overthrew Adil Shah in a battle where “six thousand moors were massacred and their blood flowed over Goa.” A shift in power from the natives to the Portuguese King, Joav III, took place. This historical backdrop has Adolshi in the foreground, crowded by Portuguese soldiers. It is made clear from the very beginning, and is the theme as well, that we are reading about what happens when religion and conquest are entwined. The invaders lack all interests but that of winning converts, and most of the time coercing or manipulating people to convert. In a bleak narration that is straight forward, and lacks any biasing colors, the reader witnesses fictional Hindu Brahmins and Kshatriyas that struggle to keep their faith. Some die for it, some cannot help but give in. And there  are those of the lower castes that see hope of being liberated from the inhumanity of their former state. But sadly none really ever enjoy a peaceful conversion — primarily due to the Inquisition that ruthlessly punishes anyone that breaks laws.

The author in his interview, which is added to the end of the text, mentions that he does not believe in organised religion since it breeds intolerance to other religions. It is this belief of the author that gleans through in the work. The laws that are prescribed for the Goan subjects to follow by the Portuguese coloniser leave no space for breathing — no following former rituals of Hinduism nor living like Hindus anymore. The problem is with the forced suddenness of the shift, how does one abnegate or forsake a way of life that has been followed for generations to take up something completely foreign? The white dresses made necessary for female Christian converts lead to jokes of widowhood being showered over them, this is one of the many ways in which this book uses the trifles of living in society to show how transformations can break the pillars that hold society together.  By the end of it, most jokes give way to expressions of pathos as many flea from their villages with their gods, some are killed, some die and some are left with nothing but a foreign master.

The book is significant for many reasons: first, since it is a work that aims to take the reader back to the original title that is in the Konkani language — a regional language present in southern states of India like Goa, Karnataka and Kerala.

The book does not manage to really present any linear plot or any chapters. There is an incessant chain of events and incidents, each telling of a certain character or set of characters and their plight. They maybe Brahmins eating meat by accident or killing themselves when their temple is razed in order for a church to be built or it may be a Kshatriya who,  ironically,  tries to run with his family but ends up being attacked by dacoits. There are only a few characters which stay with you through the whole course of the work, but those that do evoke nothing other than pity, like Padre Simao Peres. He is the only priest who doesn’t force converts but truly wants to win them by showing them the message of compassion and hope in the Bible. But, Simao Peres ends up being burned at the stake on the Day of Judgment by the Inquisition in the final page of the book. He is a humanitarian who sees the evils in both religions, Hinduism and Christianity, and seeks to bring reformation. And, it is his character that really acts at the centre of the work and tries to understand both sides of the colonisation of Goa.

While many temples were razed, some flourish today: Shanta Durga.

Whenever one picks up a book that had been translated, there is the one thought at the back of the head: there is a difference once the work is translated. The author and translator’s words in the afterword try to reaffirm that there is an effort made to maintain the same work. This can only be determined in the comparison between the translations.

Age of Frenzy is a work of effort. The author belongs to an agrarian family from North Karnataka and has grown surrounded by myths and folklore. He conducted two years of research for this work. Mahabaleshwar Sail has worked his best to keep the contents true and to only change the smaller things like names, village setup and the like. This makes it akin to his understanding of the historical novel, of creative writing based in historical matter. The text strives to carry in direct terms the case of a rich history. The Portuguese invasion was a difficult time of hostile contact between two religions and two peoples. It is simply a work of vigor, which hopes to convey very specific themes.

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