Goa enjoys the kind of popularity with tourists that very few places in India can boast of. A treat in every season, Goan summers can be spent by the sea, the rains paint a pretty picture of the countryside, and since it never gets cold it is completely acceptable to idle away winter afternoons in the water. All in all, Goa is a destination that promises value no matter how much or how little money is spent.

The state has also captured the imagination of Bollywood. Recent examples include Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994), Josh (2000), Go Goa Gone (2013), Finding Fanny (2014), and Dear Zindagi (2016). Barring the one zombie movie on the list (Go Goa Gone), the rest paint an idyllic picture of a Goa that tourists so love.

However, it was perhaps the 1981 movie Ek Duuje Ke Liye that revealed the romantic potential of Goa – it was only here that doomed lovers could find a way to be together forever. Goan characters were not missing in action either. The Braganzas, D’Souzas, D’Costas, and D’Mellos were in plenty – their roles were varied too, ranging from car mechanics, receptionists, to pastors and ministers at churches.

The Goan way of life had been idealised and romaticised to such great extent that it had become a caricature of itself. Though Goa remained a fixture in the movies, one could sense something was unmistakably lacking – where were the stories of Goa? Of its people? Surely not everyone is an “Anglo” who speaks with a distinctive accent? There was a need for an “original” voice – Damodar Mauzo’s The Wait And Other Stories is one such among several.

Rati Agnihotri and Kamal Haasan in 'Ek Duuje Ke Liye' (1981) | Image credit: IMDb

Stories from the corners and crevices of Goa

Mauzo has no interest in the imposing seas or the glitzy bars of Goa – he knows the real stories lie in the corners and crevices that no one bothers to reach, least of all a tourist. In that sense his stories are unrestrained by location – they could be set practically anywhere in the country and not be a misfit. So if you are looking for stories that bring you the “true” feel of Goa, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. Through these stories Mauzo says that Goa is as much a part of India as any other state – here too people lie, cheat, and go about life despite joys and sorrows.

Contrary to the title, the book does not keep us waiting – the eponymous story is also the first in the collection and sets the tone for what’s to come. It gets progressively weird and uncomfortable hereon. Spurned in love, Viraj unwittingly gets involved in a voyeuristic adventure that consumes him until he can longer play the role of only the spectator. Mauzo uses this inside-out approach in “Gentleman Thief” too as a thief and his victim become unlikely friends.

The author continues to explore the strangeness of human nature in “Yasin, Austin, Yatin”, “Night Call”, and “The Lover of Dreams” as the characters tread paths of lust and greed in hopes of getting something unattainable. The shrewd Yatin of “Yasin, Austin, Yatin” is Yatin-da in “The Lover of Dreams” – a migrant worker from rural Bengal who falls in love with “Katrina” and hopes to marry her. These stories were the most delightful in the collection – all the confusion is neatly addressed in the end and the twists have an O Henry-ish feel to them.

But Mauzo does more than delight and impress. He also addresses some biting issues of our times. In “The Coward” and “As The Ice Melts”, Mauzo reminds us how we inherit our prejudices and propagate them – in these stories he examines the evils of caste in a sleepy village of Goa and the apparently secular institution of the Indian Army.

In “Burger”, a beef burger causes many sleepless nights to a Christian schoolgirl who unknowingly shares one with a Hindu friend. This is a sweet story of innocence that forces us to think beyond the ridiculousness of the child’s worries – the simple act of enjoying a certain food item may have disastrous repercussions in today’s India.

In “The Aesthete” and “The Next, Balakrishna”, Mauzo exaggerates our obsession with superficiality of beauty and aesthetics. These two are the strongest stories in the collection. Beauty and youth assume a grotesque quality in “The Aesthete” that blind our protagonist Vishwesh to the fallible nature of ageing. Similarly, the greed of pale skin drives Devaki to betray her devoted husband in the most fundamental way possible. Vishwesh and Devaki put their happiness on stay as they pursue their (literal) cosmetic aspirations. As appearance and youth continue to be centrestage in our society, these stories offer a terrifying glimpse of what unchecked obsession can lead to.

More Mauzo in translation, please

Mauzo’s stories have a cinematic quality to them, in the sense that the characters are fully realised and you can visualise them participating in the settings they have been placed in. Every story in the collection is testament to Mauzo’s wit and astute understanding of human nature – they leave you craving for more; you want to find out what happens next. There’s a desperate need to translate more of Mauzo’s writings into English.

Xavier Cota seamlessly acquires Mauzo’s voice in English. The translation is convincing and journeys without any hiccups. Like any collection, The Wait And Other Stories is also a mixed bag – some are truly hard-hitting, even startling, while a few are entirely forgettable.

The Wait And Other Stories, Damodar Mauzo, translated from the Konkani by Xavier Cota, Penguin Vintage