Messenger: When Jerry met Sujata

Sep 17, 2022 | 05:36 IST

When Jerry Met Sujata

Vivek Menezes

Exactly twelve years ago, in September 2010, Bombay-based writer Jerry Pinto showed up at Bookworm Library’s fifth anniversary celebrations. books– “and Jerry watched it all very closely. There was a spark of trust and immediate recognition between us. It was like kindred spirits meeting. Shortly after he returned home, there was a check from him to support our activities, and another the following year. Books, art supplies: not always grand gestures, but that warm, cohesive presence that means so much. Each has racked up unique records of achievement, but they have also come together for the visual arts program Mehlli Gobhai, which is to be celebrated at two Bookworm locations today: Panjim’s main library at 11 a.m., and later in the evening at the brand new Vinay & Jean Kalgutkar community center in Saligao. Visitors are welcome to both – and will also have the chance to purchase Pinto’s new book Yuri’s education – but only the latter includes an exhibition of 70 works. “I am in exile from Goa. I am flying from Goa. Both of these statements are equally true,” Pinto writes in his introduction to Reflected in the Water: Writings on Goa, the Penguin Books India 2006 compilation (disclosure: I am a contributor). “Mahim ka Jerry” – as he was once known on Twitter – explained that he was part of the diaspora who only visited Goa during summer holidays, but that changed in adulthood: “choosing to go there, instead of coming back instinctively. I know that each time Goa has surprised me a little. I know that each time I leave, I feel like I have left a little of me behind me. And I know that when I get home, back to the sleek looks of my hometown, it’s a part I can do without. So much so that when he turned pro for the first time, his prose was in such demand that he was asked to operate under several pen names, in an astonishing range of publications, including financial newspapers and women’s magazines.Even while brewing this journalistic tsunami, his caliber was still obvious, and the only question was when the breakthrough would come. It was the deeply moving 2012 novel Em and the great Hoom, who won the Hindu Literary Prize, the Crossword Book Prize, the Sahitya Akademi Prize, and the Windham-Campbell Prize for Literature (one of the richest literary prizes in the world). Salman Rushdie accurately described it as “one of the best books to come out of India in a long, long time”. Since then, Pinto has further distinguished himself as one of the invaluable cross-cultural literary giants of our time, most notably through his series of groundbreaking translations: cobalt blue by Sachin Kundalkar and I Baluta by Daya Pawar (from Marathi), I Haven’t Seen Mandu: A Fractured Soul Memory by Swadesh Deepak (from Hindi). Coming soon is his first translation of Konkani, by 2022 Jnanpith Award winner Damodar Mauzo. of the dust jacket aptly calls it “a fascinating, often harrowing exploration of loneliness, greed and unlikely solidarities in the great metropolis – and now there’s Yuri’s education to look forward to, said to be “among the best ever written on urban adolescence in India. At the same time, with a happy consequence, there has been a growing relationship with his ancestral homeland. Pinto explains it very well in Reasons for return, in the catalog of Aparanta: The Confluence of Contemporary Art in Goa, the groundbreaking art exhibition organized by Ranjit Hoskote in the old building of the Goa Medical College (which I also helped organize). He said his eyes had been opened by a guide from the Archaeological Survey of India: ‘I was standing there, a Goan in a bookstore in Mumbai, learning about my condition. I stood there, reading the measurements of the naves of the churches of old Goa, the laborious descriptions of the ruins of a monastery, an old pier and the remains of an arch built by a king, and I wondered if I had done my native work. place of justice. Aparanta aimed for exactly that: to understand the magnificent cultural heritage of Goa, in the unmistakable presence of paintings depicting the “invisible river” (in brilliant Hoskote phrasing) of generations of Goans who have profoundly enriched Indian art. Pinto noted that “My Tamil friends, my Bengali friends, my Andhra friends, their parents, all told me that we were lovely people, so kind, so easy going. They never talked about culture. It was their turf. Ours was to dance well and speak English with some cadence – “so nice, say it again” and to manage schools, switchboards and surgeries. As all Goans know, this leaves us in difficult situations: “I didn’t want to play the numbers game. I didn’t want to count the poets and the writers and the editors and the journalists and the others who had contributed to the culture. That would sound stupid. Instead of complaining, Pinto wrote and translated, and never stopped writing and translating. Of his work, I think the Windham-Campbell judges said it particularly well: “Jerry Pinto’s writing is deeply empathetic, humorous and human, drawing on personal experience to tell stories far more vast as the lives they contain.” After reading this recommendation and taking in the news of the largesse that came with it, the award recipient responded equally appropriately: “My first thought was: there is a God. Then there was: the freedom to write. So: this is America for you. Then: I have to sit down. Then me? So: I’m a writer, I have to know what to say. Then: I don’t know what to say. So I think I’m going to say these simple words, which should be worn out but are still so powerful: thank you. as its small team of tight-knit professionals bravely emerged from their Panjim headquarters to spread the impact of literature and good books far and wide. This year they are running 104 classroom libraries in public primary schools and an additional mobile library with over 400 members in 9 different villages, as well as bustling community libraries in Mala (the main branch), Aldona, Chimbel, Cacra and Ribandar , and four public retirement homes. Now – thanks to the grant of 25 lakhs from the estate of Mehlii Gobhai (a prominent Indian artist who died in 2018) of which Pinto is an executor – there is also an ambitious program of arts education, the first fruits of which will be seen at Saligao tonight. Another promising step in a most memorable journey. We can’t help but be excited, with great anticipation for what Jerry and Sujata will manage to accomplish in their next twelve years together.

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