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António Gomes

António Gomes

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António Gomes

Please take us through the inception of The Sting of Peppercorns.

Writing a novel set in Goa occurred to me a long time ago, I think in 1982; but soon I realized that I was not yet ready for it. I took it up again rather seriously, sometime in 1998.

It is noteworthy that Joao da Veiga Coutinho, a respected friend, the brother of Fr. Lucio da Veiga Coutinho, and the author of ‘A Kind of Absence’, upon reading the draft of the first three chapters, encouraged me to complete the novel. It took me about a year and half to finish it. However, it was only a preliminary draft at that time.

The rest of the years, until publication, were spent in re-writing, seeking opinions from writers, editors, workshops and the like.

What inspired you to embark on this literary journey?

Perhaps it is an inner calling.

To give you a proper perspective however, I need to go back to my adolescent years in Goa. When in college, I wrote a few poems that were shared with my close friend Nitant Kenkre [now a prominent name in theoretical condensed matter physics and statistical mechanics at the University of New Mexico]; but all that was given up after I entered Goa Medical College and subsequently immigrated to the USA immediately after graduation in 1970.

Till 1989, I was too preoccupied with Medicine, Cardiology, and Cardiac Electro-physiology- building my career, and had no time to read fiction or poetry, although I always dreamed of it. I did publish original scientific and review articles rather extensively in peer-reviewed journals. In 1989, I suffered a great tragedy: the death from cancer of my wife, Marina, also originally from Goa. It was a very difficult time for me, and surprisingly I couldn’t find refuge in medicine despite the fact that my work in risk stratification for sudden death after heart attacks, and other areas of research in the field of heart arrhythmias, was highly acknowledged, and I was being invited to lecture all over the world.

One day, in the December of 1990, I sat down and wrote a poem, ‘An Ode to Her’. After that I immersed myself in writing on a regular basis in my free time, mostly in the evenings and at night or on weekends. I read extensively: works of Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tagore, Camoes, Goethe, Rilke, Neruda, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Gabriel Garcia Marquez among others.

I published a collection of poems in the US entitled ‘Visions from Grymes Hill’. Between 1992-1998 I wrote more poetry, but after that I felt it was time to move into fiction. Fiction offered a different kind of freedom and a new challenge. I subsequently graduated from an advanced fiction writing workshop at New York University a few months after completing the novel.

Could you give our readers a gist of your novel?

Indeed! Roberto Albuquerque, a prominent physician in New York, an AIDS expert, returns to his native Goa, India, with his wife Maria and his 12-year-old son. About a month before his return, he has received a package from Goa, which was sent by his old ayah, Carmina. The package contained his mother’s and sister’s diaries, and a police deposition, the contents of which, take him entirely by surprise.

Yet, after what he reads, and from what he knows, a large piece of a complex story seems to be missing. He decides to return back to Goa to speak to Carmina. As he lands in Goa in December of 1988, the image of the golden sandy beaches revive memories of the mysterious drowning of his brother Paulo, and the simultaneous near-drowning of his sister Amanda.

He visits his old home in the village of Loutolim where Carmina assures him that she will tell whatever secrets remain unearthed, and so begins the tale.

The story dwells into history, Goa’s integration into India after 451 years of Portuguese rule, the opinion poll to decide Goa’s merger into the neighboring state of Maharashtra, the descent of the hippies, the introduction of drugs into Goa, past and new found loves, conflicts of assimilation, the collapse of a feudal society epitomized by the Albuquerque family with legendary, but perhaps apocryphal links to the Portuguese conqueror.

Your novel The Sting of Peppercorns is an allegory on Goa covering issues like politics and history and at the same time provides perspective on Portuguese rule in Goa. Would that be an appropriate estimation?

I entirely agree with your suppositions. It does touch on history and politics. There is always a ‘third way’ of looking at things. Indeed, on a particular given issue there will always be different and opposing perspectives.

Needless to say, we don’t know nor can we surmise or theorize what Goa might have been if not for 451 years of Portuguese rule. The fact of the matter is that Portugal had a profound effect on the Goan culture and psyche whether for good or bad; and history, to some extent, is the judge of all that. Unlike in some colonized countries, where the indigenous culture was wiped out by the colonizers, in Goa, Hinduism, with its deep philosophical and cultural roots, and its caste system, remained strong and survived, when faced by an aggressive onslaught by foreign invaders.

 

 

About the Interviewee:

António Gomes, MD, FACC, FAHA, also known as Anthony Gomes, is a native of Goa. He is a Professor of Medicine and Director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Consultative Service and Senior Consultant, Cardiac Electrophysiology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, NYC, The Zena and Michael Wiener Cardiovascular Institute and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Center for Cardiac Electrophysiology.

He has published extensively on Medicine including a textbook of cardiology. He has also published articles in the Humanities in anthologies, books, newspapers, and magazines.