Free Press Journal

The Baptism of Tony Calangute by Sudeep Chakravarti: Review


Title: The Baptism of Tony Calangute

Author: Sudeep Chakravarty

Publisher: Aleph

Pages: 183

Price: Rs. 299


I presume many readers have read Mario Puzo’s famous The Godfather. Though the plots of both the novels are different, a mafia-tone is similar. This is known as synchronicity in novel-writing and structural compatibility between two seemingly different but internally identical plots.

Sudeep Chakravarty’s The Baptism of Tony Calangute is one such creative effort of absolute brilliance. There’s a genre of novel. It’s known as ‘Landscapism’. The term defines a plot revolving around a particular place. Sudeep’s choice of ‘land’ or place is his Goa. The narration is concentrated upon the pristine Goa and the retention of its originality. It tells the story of Tony Calan-gute, the owner of Happy Bar, and his fiery cousin Dino Dantas, self-appointed guardian of Aparanta, the mythic, idyllic Goa of yore. Their tale begins in the sleepy seaside village of Socorro Do Mundo, where time holds little meaning.

Those who are aware of Goa’s socio-historical past and also know that Goa got freedom from Portuguese domination only in 1961, despite the rest of India getting freedom from the British rule in 1947, will be able to relate to its ravaging, first by the Portuguese and later by the land sharks hailing from the same region. This is not fictional. Sudeep, being rooted in Goan culture and ethos, is au fait with its history and also of its perceptible depredation and degeneration caused by those having vested interests.

R V Sardesai, a Goan sociologist who was associated with the Gomantak Movement and who briefly taught at Panjim University, wrote in 1970: “Goa, an erstwhile paradise, is on its way to becoming a land of degeneration (literally as well as metaphorically),” further adding, “if anyone could save it, it’ll be the very own people of Goa because friends and enemies both emerge from the same land.” In that context, standing up to the evils are Tony and Dino, who are determined as ever to preserve what they can of their homeland.
Goa’s narrative is not a local narrative. It’s the outcome and tragedy that befall all erstwhile idyllic places. Look at Shimla or Darjeeling or even Assam. All these places are losing their virgin relevance and unadulterated significance, thanks to people with evil and sinister designs. Sudeep has picked up Goa because of his acquaintance with the place. But he conveys a wider and bigger message that the same fate can strike any place that was once known for Elysian Happiness. Those halcyon days must return and the place be emancipated of all cankers is Sudeep’s deeper concern, employing Goa just as a landscape metaphor. The finesse in narrating the saga appeals to the readers and even to those who have never been to Goa. Ezra Pound’s ‘Local relatability turning into global sympathy’ finds a literary expression in this brilliantly written novel. Its every page tells a new story and unfolds an unknown mystery.
Sudeep Chakravarty has a mastery over language, plotting, narration and in medias res (Latin phrase): He always hurries to the outcome and drags the listener into the middle of things.

The Miltonic Paradise Lost becomes a cri de coeur for Paradise Regained in The Baptism of Tony Calangute. In short, Sudeep’s novel, The Baptism of Tony Calangute, is unusual. It’s a macrame (a fringe of knotted thread) which by the time reaches the readers, gets rid of all knots and entanglements.

Lastly, writing a novel of this sort requires total empathy with the people and place, one’s writing on and about. The author has the ethos of Goa in his consciousness and a conscientious attachment with the place. That’s the reason, it doesn’t sound alien, incongruous or out-of-the place. Neither does it seem to have been written by someone who’s not deeply immersed in the socio-cultural ramifications of this magnificent place. Author’s natural ethnicity adds to the novel’s originality.