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Mamma don't preach

Anita Pinto's colourful book of stories for children bubbles with Goan wit and wisdom without thrusting morals down young throats, says Meher Marfatia

The shenanigans lighting up the colourful cover illustration itself make you grin, then giggle, whatever your age. More quirky images await readers of the 21 delightful adventures in Espi Mai is Stuck Again and other Goan Tales. Beach-bordered towns to paddy field-studded sleepy hamlets, every Mumbai family's favourite holiday spot comes alive with vision and verve when Anita Pinto describes it.


Yakira fishes with her friends while Joaquim tells them to be silent,
"or the fish won't bite" in the last story in the book


It isn't just the flamboyant lady of the title, who succumbs to Goa's slow charm and flavourful landscape. The author also creates identifiable situations with local Christian and Hindu characters, distilling Goa's valuable oral history tradition -- something that every ethnic corner of the country enjoys -- while weaving completely credible narratives that thrum with natural rhythms of speech.

Rustic and real, the stories bounce along believably, never thrusting dreadful morals down young throats, yet spiritedly conveying what ideas they can. Beneath the froth, human and animal characters live and let live, proud of their individualism and identity.

Fix-It Fareeda has an astute father that says, "Make time for everything you love to do." The ailing matriarch of Raia feels less sorry for herself when her lacemaker skills dress the village children's dolls and teddies. An only daughter is helped by her brothers to break gender stereotypes. Masu, the fish who longs to thrive on land finally finds contentment in accepting who he is. One episode recaptures old cine magic in 75-paise seats at Mapusa's Central Talkies, its full house undeterred by the rain leaking through the tin roof, as a projector screens The Ten Commandments upside down!

Translated Portuguese and Konkani words explain rich original allusions to vernacular dialogue peppering the pages. Pinto pitches spot-on when it comes to expressing what 'Attachim bhurghim' -- 'these children of today' -- want.



"The mother tongue is important to retain culture," Pinto tells Sunday Mid day in a chat. Excerpts from our conversation:

What aspects of Goa's heritage does your writing highlight?
In my stories, children aspire to be musicians. Music is the life blood of any Goan, a talent to encourage and nurture to perfection. Warmth and hospitality find space too. Goa nurtures the family spirit and values passed on over generations.

Who were the storytellers you grew up with?
They began with my grandfather. A forest officer in Mangalore, he insisted his were not stories but facts about animals and spirits he encountered in the jungles. My father, a professor, brought books from Sweden, Norway and China. My mother made up excellent stories, even changing her voice while narrating them. A cousin told horror stories at family gatherings, keeping us awake all night.

How can we retain dialect differences?
My Muslim mother spoke Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Kutchi and English. My father, who was from the south, spoke Konkani, Kannada, Tulu and English. The common language was English. All these gave a colour of phrase and culture. I urge friends and my own children who live abroad to speak in languages they know. A half Burmese daughter-in-law throws in Burmese words. I like that.

In Singapore, my children often speak in Hindi or Konkani, and my granddaughter has picked up those words. English is becoming a global language; it's difficult but important to retain Indian languages.

How do you suggest children keep up the habit of reading?  
If kids see their parents come home and relax with a book, they pick that up. Let them read what they want, when they want. In this fast moving 'Just-tap-to-download' electronic world, I wish parents and teachers all the very best.

Espi Mai is Stuck Again! and other Goan Tales.

By Anita Pinto. Illustrations by Alexyz.
Published by Goa 1556. Rs 150.
Available on www.Flipkart.com & with Serena D'Sa, 305 Lou Paul (B Wing), John Baptist Road, Bandra.
Tel: 9819319305

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