Dylan code deciphered
Amarinder Sandhu

Viva Santiago
by Colin Fernandes. Penguin. Pages 137. Rs 199.

Viva SantiagoVIVA Santiago tells the story of Alonso Gonzalez and his family settled in Goa. Alonso’s maverick grandfather is the central character and the story revolves around him and his doings. The opening sentence of the book sums up grandpa’s philosophy: "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving in a well-preserved body; rather, to slide in sideways, Mojito in one hand, Mary Jane in the other, screaming Whoo! What a ride!" The young at heart gramps is unconventional, who brings home a bevy of grannies, enjoys country-made liqour and with his wild ways sets tongues wagging.

Maternal grandfather Santiago bulldozes into the life of the Gonzalez family after losing his daughter to cancer. Often, the never-say-die old man does the vanishing act and was once escorted home by the police when they found him sitting naked on the beach. Grandpa seems an odd character when he sings "Charlotte, Charlotte ... Oh my little harlot" on seeing his little granddaughter, though he is remembering some other Charlotte. He even rolls out a joint for his little grandson and spins a good yarn. Grandfather’s funeral is attended by family, friends, hippies and an unknown attractive woman who has come on an Enfield.

The book gives an insight into the life of the Goans living around the Mandovi River. The community is close knit celebrating temple feasts as well as births, marriages and deaths. All are known to each other and scandals abound. It is a breezy`A0entertaining novel written with joyous wit. The reader is taken on a roller coaster ride while reading. The book is fast paced and easy to read. The writer has caught the sights, sounds and smells of Goa.

Viva Santiago is a vivid story that takes you on the ferry down the Mandovi, warns you of the crocs in the river, introduces you to the pig-killing ritual and offers recreation in the form of fishing lunches. The book captures the complex emotions of a dysfunctional family and delves into the healing that comes from love and understanding. It touches the predictions of Nostradamus and draws an interesting`A0parallel between the Trinity and the Magi.

Alonso goes on to study at Delhi University and the novel moves onto the buoyancy of a student’s life. Alonso lives with three other students in a rented accommodation and enjoys a decent view of the all-girl Jesus and Mary`A0College, through a telescope. Alonso along with his friends meets Yvette`A0at a seedy bar, not knowing what destiny has in store for him. Yvette crashes with the students at their accommodation and goes off to Goa, leaving her laundry behind. The whacky humour of the writer is evident as he describes the maid’s reaction on spotting Yvette’s pink lace and`A0Alonso’s housemate’s obsession with Yvette’s clothes.

Yvette returns from Goa revealing a link between herself and the dead`A0old man Santiago. The plot moves at a quick pace as a map is discovered along with hidden messages in`A0Bob Dylan’s songs.`A0Yvette, Alonso and his boisterous, sardar roommate Sartaj goes to Goa in an attempt to decipher the messages. The trio has their set of adventures as they dig at a public beach posing as a National Geographic team. They find more Dylan songs and one clue leads to another. Soon all three of them are gallivanting all around Goa. Visiting Shantadurga temples, various lighthouses and the Bom Jesu basilica; the three comrades are in hot pursuit of grandpa’s clues and what they will lead them to. What has Santiago left behind? Read on to satisfy your curiosity. The book is full of hope and is all about following a dream. All the characters are exuberant and highly vibrant. Once you pick up this book, it will be difficult to put it down till you have finished it.