Monday, May 19, 2014

Tony D'Souza And His Novel "The Konkans"

Christal Cooper  1,663 Words

“When the sun goes down”
“I only write once the sun has gone down.”

Tony D’Souza

         When Tony D’Souza was a child he and his Uncle Stan gardened, cooked, and hunted together.  They also participated in that great tradition of telling stories – Uncle Stan the storyteller and Tony the captivated listener.  Uncle Stan’s stories were not the typical stories you told a young child; but rather detailed stories about the family’s experience in their home country of India and of migrating to America.
         D’Souza remembered his Uncle Stan's stories and has incorporated some of those stories in his novels:  Whiteman, The Konkans, and Mule.  Perhaps the most biographical novel to date is the The Konkans (

         “It is very close to the actual events of my family, my mother’s service in the Peace Corps in India, her marriage to my father, and their coming to the United States and the issues of race they faced in Chicago.  It’s also historically accurate about the political changes that went on in India when the British left.”

         The Konkans is told through the eyes of Francisco D’Sai, and is about three main characters who are searching for identity:  his American mother Denise, who yearns for India; his Indian father Lawrence who yearns to be American and posses the American dream, which is outside his reach; and his Uncle Sam, who is dissatisfied with life, but the most healthy of the bunch.  Uncle Sam accepts reality, and finds pleasure in the most minor of things such as cooking, drinking, and sex.  He also finds fulfillment in his relationship with his sister-in-law and lover Denise (the affair between Francisco’s mother and Francisco’s Uncle Sam is fiction) and his nephew Francisco.

 “We see how three different people confront life in this book; for Lawrence, working hard and keeping a stiff upper lip are how he deals with the ups and downs of life. His approach is not nearly as sensual as the other characters' and he clearly suffers because of it. He simply doesn't find a way to enjoy life as they do, even if what they do hurts themselves and those around them.  Sam has the least opportunities of anyone in the book and still finds ways to really have a good time.” 
One could argue that the two brothers are denied the identity they crave due to racism, which D’Souza himself has experienced.
I know what racism is. Being mixed race and being able to pass for white made me acutely aware of how America perceived and treated the Indian half of my family as opposed to my white mother.”
When D’Souza started writing The Konkans he was certain of one thing:  he wanted to write in the same style as March Behr’s The Smell of Apples, which he credits with giving Francisco’s voice.  

         “The opening of Behr’s book begins right away with the very strong voice of a child. You feel like you can hear that child talking to you and he becomes such a rich character.  That’s the same style I use in The Konkans.”

A long time ago, my uncles bought a pig.  I was a few months old at the time.  I’d like to say that my uncles bought the pig to herald my birth, but no, it was instead to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier, my namesake and our family’s patron saint, the man who had brought Catholicism and the roots of Konkani, my uncles’ language, to the western coast of India, where they and my father were from, in the early sixteenth century.
                           First paragraph of The Konkans
                           Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

He wrote the first 200 pages of the novel in pen and paper while living with his girlfriend in Phoenix, Arizona.
         “I was a younger writer when I wrote this book and relatively new to the novel form.  Moving in these episodes helped me pace myself through the book. I started this book with the first lines and no real plan.  I just had these stories and told them one at a time.  They built on each other and made a timeline.  I wrote everyday during that time, had a messy manuscript and then revised it relentlessly. The revisions continued through the year long editing process.”
         After the 200 pages were written, and 4 ½ months had passed, D’Souza moved to London where he rented a small apartment off the Kensington Gardens.  It was in London that he wrote directly on the laptop due to time constraints.
         “I only had six weeks in London and wanted to be finished before I left. I wrote all day and took walks in the park when I needed breaks.”
         At first D’Souza was writing seven to eight hours a day, from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., but soon The Konkans consumed his every hour and he was writing all day and night.   The writing process took six months.   

         During the writing of The Konkans, D’Souza was at his most emotional when he wrote the scene about an intruder in his mother’s apartment.
         “There is a scene before she goes to India when Francisco’s mother is a young teenager in her apartment in Chicago and a man breaks in and stands above her in the dark.  She’s terrified.  That did happen to my mother when she was 19 years old and she still feels the terror of that keenly, though she’s now 74, more than 55 years later.”

When my mother was thirteen, her bones ached from her growth spurt, and she had a terrible time sleeping.  So she was awake when a naked man opened the door and stood in it.   He was backlit.  My mother knew her mother was passed out somewhere.  The girls were asleep in their beds; she could hear their breathing.  There was no one in this world that could save her from this man.  He weaved across the room, kneeled on the bed, licked her neck, squeezed her breasts, laid heavily on her, and fell asleep.  When she was certain he wouldn’t wake, she inched her way out from under him.
                           Page 26, The Konkans
                           Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

         “I had the most fun writing the scene where the Peace Corps Volunteer with an attitude problems puts the dead Indian cook on the bus. Again, that really happened and I still shake my head that anyone could have done such a horrible thing and think he could get away with it.”
     Peter carried the cook’s body up the steps of the idling bus to Mangalore.  There was a half hour yet before it departed, plenty of time for a drunk old man to have a heart attack in his sleep.  He arranged the cook’s face against the window, set the bottle against the wall of the bus beside him, put two fifty-rupee notes in the pocket of his shirt.  The ticket wallah had that money in his own pocket moments after Peter left, just as Peter had known he would.  The ticket wallah tilted his hat on his head, smoothed down the creases of his shirt, and his mustache twitched under his nose as he thought about this luck.  Then he sat back down at his desk in the office, and his mind went on to other things.  
                                    Pages 262 – 263, The Konkans
                                    Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

         Both Whiteman and The Konkans have similarities; both books are in the first person, focus on the Indian culture, contain individual short stories that can stand on their own; and focus on characters and their idiosyncrasies.  
The major difference between Whiteman and The Konkans is the setting or location - Whiteman takes place in a small West African Village, The Konkans take place in India and Chicago. 

         There has been criticism about D’Souza’s book The Konkans  - how did Francisco have first hand knowledge of all of these events especially when some of the events occurred before his parents even met, and while he was a baby?
“Francisco learns it all over the years through his mother’s and uncle’s storytelling.  This book is a memoir and it is implied that Francisco is telling these stories through the filters of how they were told to him and how they have been shaped by his memories. I think that Francisco serves as a good set of eyes and ears to the adults around him and is a good narrator since he doesn't understand why his parents are doing what they do, even if the reader does. It allows the events to happen without much judgement or commentary. He doesn't enter the events much because he is a child. The structure of the book is clearly an older Francisco (me) growing up in a vibrant, immigrant household among people he loved.”
         The great question of The Konkans is this – What determine one’s identity – one’s home country; educational background; career choice; perceptions of America; religion; or ancestry?

         “I don't have an easy answer and I wouldn't want a book to offer one. I think that's the goal of a story like this, to leave a reader with lingering emotions and questions to think about after the reading is done.” 
         D’Souza is flexible when it comes to writing – as long as it is nighttime, he has a desk, and is in a quiet environment. 
D’Souza once placed writer as his number one priority.  Now writer takes backseat to his new identity of father.

         “I have two small kids and am a single father so that’s what I do.  And sleep when I can.  I have a few drawings by my kids taped to the wall. My daughter drew one of me in the middle of her and her brother and she wrote I Love Dad at the top. My son drew me a colorful dragon. I like to look at them and remember how much love has come into my life with them.”

Photo Description And Copyright Information

Photos 1, 7
Tony D’Souza
Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

Photo 2
Alice and Walter D’Souza’s wedding , June 3, 1968, Top, and Far Left
Bottom right, Tony D’Souza and his sister Allyson D’Souza in India.
Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza.

Photo 3
Allyson, Walter, and Tony D’Souza at Disney “back in the day”.
Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

Photo 4
Jacket cover of (1) of The Konkans
Tony, Walter, and

Photo 5
Jacket cover of The Smell of Apples

Photo 6
Jacket cover (2) of The Konkans

Photo 8
Tony D’Souza fishing in Grand Lake Stream, Maine
Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

Photo 9
Jacket cover (3) of The Konkans

Photo 10
Jacket cover of Whiteman

Photo 11
Tony D’Souza, middle, in India.
Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza.

Photo 12
Tony D’Souza, son, and daughter on May 3, 2014 in Wisconsin
Copyright granted by Tony D’Souza

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