(“The Naked Liberal, an Anthology of George Menezes”, edited by Selma Carvalho, published by Cinnamon Teal Publishing, Goa, pages 209, price Rs 295/-)
Naked, liberal, George Menezes, Goa – enough to get most men salivating! The last time I saw a cover page of naked, liberal Goa it was when that “dirty old man” Khushwant Singh was the editor of “The Illustrated Weekly of India” way back in the 1970s. The full blown cover had a young firangi couple adorned with a minimal display of flowers that revealed more than they concealed! The image endures to this day.
George Menezes (GM) is also an old man now, but not dirty. He is Goan, speaks the naked truth and is unabashedly liberal in his thinking. There are several photographs in the book, but not of Khushwant’s genre. Nevertheless, there is enough to tempt, tease and titillate. One has to sometimes read between the lines to bare the truth, as in his relationships with Klaudia in Germany and Helena in America, or to understand his observation about the refugee woman with the “small firm breasts” bathing outside his apartment window.
This book though is far from voyeurism. It is a voyage, taking one back to GM’s early days on a little island called Divar in Goa’s halcyon days. It talks about his father, Professor Armando Menezes, a rationalist cum nationalist, a renowned professor of English literature, who made poets like Shelley and Keats come alive. It talks of his diminutive and devoted mother, and the incompatibility of his parents’ marriage. “My father was a six-foot something, a towering intellectual with an equally towering temper. My mother was five-foot-nothing, patient, soft spoken and gentle as a dove”. But then, isn’t incompatibility the spice of life? And GM has had more than his share of “Sugar & Spice”, nasty and nice; as so often portrayed in his columns over the years.
This anthology of GM’s writings is edited by Selma Carvalho, head of the British Goans project in the U.K. Pardon me for saying that I am seldom enamoured of NRI commentaries on Indian culture or ethos. This is what the editor says, “It is in the dark, dank recesses of family vaults which have long been neglected … that rich treasures are to be found; where the apocryphal can be weeded out and replaced with the truth of a livid experience”. Ouch, is this some kind of a journey into Roman catacombs or Egyptian tombs? Fortunately not. The editor, however, redeems herself by quoting Armando Menezes that “behind all the books, there is a man, and the man is worth more than all the books”. She adds that, nevertheless, “We are reticent to pry into the lives of our authors”.
GM dispenses with this reticence by himself allowing us to pry into his life – to go beyond the words, to the man himself. That is what I like most about GM, his world beyond his words. He has obviously inherited from his father a mastery over language, both poetry and prose. Infact, even his prose is poetic, and he uses poetic licence to score quite a few points, but without being licentious. His is a unique genre of words, verbs and verse; rhyme and reason; a flavour for every season.
The book itself has various sections on the family roots, colonial and liberated Goa, Bombay, his poetry, and an all embracing section on “Man, Politics and Religion”. My personal acquaintance with GM, for 27 years, falls in the last category, which I thought would interest me the most. It didn’t, perhaps because I already knew what was being articulated. But it would still be of abiding interest to those who aren’t so familiar with GM.
For me, the really endearing part of the anthology was being privy, without having to pry, to GM’s personal relationships – be they with his parents, his wife Thecla (so beautiful even in suffering), his children and grandchildren, and even with his mysterious lady friends! It is here that he truly merits the title of The Naked Liberal.
The experiences in France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S.A. are enthralling – his mistakenly standing in the wrong line, and getting free bread from a soup kitchen; or the corruption that he encountered when posted as the Airforce Attaché to France.
At a personal level I share a wee disappointment. GM was elected National President of the All India Catholic Union in 1986, and hand-picked me to be his successor in 1990. But the book is strangely silent on this eventful chapter of his life. In a future edition I do hope that another chapter will be added.
GM’s self-deprecating humour, something that endears a writer to his readers, is evident in his epilogue “Watching my own Passing Away”. It depicts his imaginary funeral. There were only three persons present – a frustrated money-lender, a jilted lover and a cop looking for the dead body! Great men are those who can belittle themselves, and yet extract a laugh, not a sigh of sympathy.
There is much more that I could write in this review. But it would be better if you got your own copy and read this anthology for yourself. It’s worth the money honey, or sonny, as the case may be. I conclude in George Menezes’ French idiom, that “The Naked Liberal” is indeed au courant.