Just Matata - Sin, Saints and Settlers by Braz Menezes

Just Matata – Sin, Saints and Settlers by Braz Menezes

Goa is today, India’s prime tourist destination and projected to grow. It has been an integral part of India for over 50 years, yet most Indians are unaware of its special culture, that now forms part of the greater Indian mosaic.

Just Matata

On December 19, 1961, Indian Armed Forces invaded Goa, and liberated this tiny territory from its Portuguese rulers, who had overstayed their welcome by 451 years since 1510, when Afonso de Albuquerque first stepped ashore and claimed the territory in the name of the Portuguese Throne. During this period of occupation they imposed their own religion and culture on people creating a distinct blend of Indo-Portuguese.

In the early 20th century, thousands of Goans were recruited by the British to help the colonization of East Africa following the massive effort by thousands of Indian skilled technicians and labour, who went out to build the railway line from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. The Author, Canadian, Kenya-born architect and planner has now penned a book that brings this fascinating story together.

A recent review by Aamera Jiwaji of ‘Just Matata- Sin, Saints and Settlers’ – tells us about the book’s relevance.

“When I was a child, I would play with a group of 8 colorful barrels, each marginally smaller than the next, fitting one into the other in sequence, starting with a tiny pink one and ending with a large blue one.” Reading Just Matata by Braz Menezes was like playing with the barrels.

Just Matata is book one in the Matata Trilogy. Each chapter can stand alone as a short story. And within each chapter there are beautifully phrased extracts that capture a facet of human nature in a gentle and insightful manner. One barrel fitting into the next, and then the next …

Discovering these small gems was just one of the delights in what is a truly enjoyable reading experience.

In looking back to the arrival of Chico Menezes in Kenya and tracing his family’s life through the eyes of his eldest son Lando, Just Matata speaks to being a Kenyan of Indian or South Asian origin. It offers the opportunity to look back and reflect on what Kenya was like nearly 100 years ago, critically examine, what has and has not changed in the country, and compare it to our contemporary lives and routines.

This is the broad stroke of Menezes’ book and it communicates the overarching theme that is the coming together of two cultures that are joined by the Indian Ocean.

The idea is captured by Menezes in his opening extract taken from The Tree of Life:

When cultures fuse Together
We call it the Tree of Life
The Tree that nurtured You
Has been transplanted in a new Land
Each sapling will send out its own Roots
And adapt in order to Survive
’.

The merging of cultures is an experience that can never be the same for two people or two families but reading Lando’s story allows us to reflect on how our own Indian cultures have been moulded by our host country, regardless of whether we live in Kenya or elsewhere in the world.

The smaller insights developed by the narrative are just as poignant, such as the short, simple sentence at the start of chapter 9: ‘In 1948 I can walk to the ends of my world in just minutes’ which offers an extraordinary glimpse into the life of young Lando.

Menezes also engages with all five of the senses when he is writing and the combined effect by the end of a chapter, let alone the end of the book, is vividly intense.

My personal favourites are the car ride to Nakuru and Kericho, and the sea voyage to Goa. These enhance the relationship that is built between the reader and Lando, and we are encouraged to see and experience everything as he did, down to the tangy taste of the mango masala that he and his best friend Jeep enjoy at Ali’s kiosk.

Just Matata is Lando’s story – that doesn’t change. But because Menezes builds a strong relationship between the reader and the narrator, we are able to vicariously engage with the different social scenarios that Lando experiences, and his growing up, his awareness of the country of his birth and the country of his cultural roots, and his journey of self discovery, gradually become our own.”

*Aamera Jiwaji’s full review appeared in Awaaz Magazine, April 2012 – Nairobi, Kenya

Bio of Author

Just Matata

Braz Menezes, architect and urban planner, Commonwealth Scholar, studied Creative Writing at George Brown College and attended the mentorship program at Humber College, in Toronto. His work has previously appeared in various anthologies including; Canadian Voices, Volume 1&2; Goa Masala; Indian Voices; and Canadian Imprints.

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