Title: The Permanent Resident
Author: Roanna Gonsalves
Publisher: UWA (University of Western Australia) Publishing, 2016
Price: Rs 200/-
This is a collection of 16 short stories which seeks to ink a new beginning in Indian immigration stories within the Australian literature. A resonance of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work about the migrants in the land of the Green Bucks hums through the work. But the themes, though overtly and deeply-rooted in the Catholic milieu, carry hints of what we have witnessed through news stories emanating from the Antipodes. Gonsalves’ felicity with language takes the lives of their characters to a new level. The characters are all very real, laced with earthiness and humour.
These narratives of ‘outsiders’ aspiring to be ‘insiders’ in Aussie-land speak of the loss of privilege and symbolic power, and the embracing of new identities ‘curried’ and ‘reified’. The issues of race and violence are to be encountered and resolved as rites of passage before the status of permanent resident is achieved.
Old settlers and new arrivals (just a decade old) tell stories of migrant community and their inner dynamics. Migrants essentially take with them their own world as they move and also build a new one even as they adjust to the one that they have moved to. Gonsalves’ stories transmute these experiences to another level.
The book positions very well the predicament of the new settlers and their hopes and despairs as they aspire to become permanent residents in the land Down Under. The experience of Catholics trying to settle in Australia is very different and Gonsalves’ stories nuance this very well. “I can almost taste the barrel this wine was matured in,” remarks Gloria in ‘Full Face’, until Tony, her husband, reveals that it’s a bottle of cheap wine, costing a mere three dollars! Her character beautifully etched epitomises a Catholic trying to blend, adopting airs and attitudes of the white society in an effort to fit in. But the husband, a foil to her own persona, unveils the cracks in perfect image of the resident.
Another story ‘Curry Muncher 2.0’ is about Vincent, an international student and a Vasai Catholic. He works in a night restaurant so as to earn and save money for his sister’s wedding. Vincent is mugged one night at the train station, and loses all the cash which he had withdrawn for a bank transfer to India. Even though he loses all his savings, he refuses to report the offense as he afraid of the aftermath in a white society.
In ‘CIA (Australia)’ – where CIA stands for Christian Indian Association – Gaby the an aesthetist and Candice, a front-office girl in the hospital, strike up a warm friendship till the former uses the thin, fragile thread of Indian identity to strike a difficult bargain with the later.
In ‘The Permanent Resident’ Rekha attends her weekly ‘swimming for adults’ lessons at a suburban pool. Until now, she has been unable to put her head under the water. One day, her teacher greets her, asking if today will be ‘the day’. That’s where readers come to know the tragedy that had befallen on Rekha. Her daughter had died in a freak swimming pool accident some years ago, and hence, the fear.