Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo’s collection The Wait and Other Stories, translated by Xavier Cota into English, stands out for its simplicity. One might expect it to be about Goa, the region in southwestern Indian where Konkani is spoken. However, the canvas of the storytelling is far wider.
Each story is a meditation upon someone stuck in a dilemma, waiting for a dilemma to be resolved and things to make sense, or just wanting out of a situation. The characters have realities constituted by the fabric of worry. “The Wait” is the opening story, but wait is also the larger theme of the stories: not literally but in the sense of observing what happens as a character (or the reader) sees as events unravel.
In “The Wait”, a young man hides as he waits for a couple making out in a public place to leave the premises. That wait is also a wait to be reunited with his girlfriend whom he wants to marry. In “Burger”, the adolescent girl, a Christian, dreads what will happen to her friendship with a Hindu girl whom she has accidentally fed a beef burger. These are characters going back and forth in their heads obsessing over what has happened and what it will lead to. In “I Haven’t Tied My Shoelace”, the writer recalls his previous love-interests as he ties his shoelace while he thinks about composing a short story due to his editor. The adulterous wife in “The Next, Balkrishna” suffers because she is not sure whether the new born baby is her husband’s or not.
Readers wait as well to see what happens to characters seemingly unaware of the consequences of their actions. For instance, in “Yasin, Austin, Yatin”, readers wait for the protagonist, the driver going around with three names (and thereby donning the three religious identities and affiliations depending on the religious identity of his client) to see if he ever gets caught in his own trap. In another story,the only educated person in his village goes around saying that other villagers’ personal lives and even the rising communal tensions among people are none of his business. The story ends with a horrible turn of events: his indifference to society, symbolic of everyone else’s, has led to a murder of an innocent Muslim character wrongly accused of slaughtering a cow, sacred to Hindus. The readers can see it coming:
I understood everything perfectly. I don’t know what had happened. I don’t know if Ghani had taken the cow to tend to her wounds… Ghani… Shaba.. They are both the same to me… Truly, I must say, I do not interfere in anybody’s affairs.
It’s not my business.
One of the more interesting stories is “Gentleman Thief”. A writer is visited by a burglar. The thief steals his manuscript and the writer has go back with him to have it back:
‘Tell me now. Do you have the file or no? And what business do you have here?’
‘I teach here.’
‘What do you teach? Burglary?’
‘But … you are a …’
‘Can’t writers and teachers be thieves? So what is wrong if thieves teach literature?’
Mauzo’s stories are a pleasure to read. Barring a couple of stories, the volume makes for light reading,- sometimes with a little bit of the cultural world Goa in its background, but generally with a preoccupation with the mental world dwelling upon everyday reality.