Ten years before hippies put Goa on the international map as the bohemian capital of India in the 1970s, the tiny state had witnessed a tense few decades leading up to the liberation of the region by the Indian armed forces. Sophia Lorena Benjamin's novel 'Claudia' is set in the era just before liberation in 1961, when Goa was experiencing fierce pangs of nationalistic resurgence.
It had been more than a decade since mainland India had wrested independence from British rule and the Lusophonian empire in Goa was finally facing the heat in the tropics, with the Indian government breathing down its necks.
It is in this tense and tentative year of 1961 that the novel opens.
The political exertions, murmurs of a regime change and invasion have begun playing on the minds of inhabitants of the household as well as countryside.
For a native working in a paklo's (white man's) house and her family bordering on perennial financial ruin, Claudia holds her own as an intelligent, discerning young woman.
Her guile and charm and her romantic dalliance with the Damiano, her employer's son, is the personal narrative in the story which plays out parallel to the larger and escalating socio-political developments around them.
The story peaks with tough choices presented to Claudia. One involves leaving Goa for Portugal with her departing employers and to continue working as a maid in Damiano's household and carry on with their affair on the quiet.
The other is to wed an "eligible" and financially well-off suitor her anxious grandmother has picked for her. She has to make a decision, with hardly any time on her hands.
The novel is rich in descriptive value and goes in great lengths to paint a picture of Goa of the 1960s, so wistfully remembered by those who've seen the era.
A picture postcard replete with green paddy fields, fringed by arched and swaying coconut palms, facades of churches, well-dressed senors and senoritas, modest but ever-present taverns.
Despite the interesting plot and romantic sub-plot, the book fails to grip the reader adequately -- which is surprising given the obviously tense and exciting atmosphere in which it is set.
However, for those interested in rich socio-cultural and historic detailing of Goa, also known as the Rome of the East, in the throes of colonial transition, "Claudia" may do the trick.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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