Jerry Pinto is an active and gregarious presence at the annual Goa Arts and Literary Festival. He is a versatile writer. This is his third novel after two books of poetry; a biography called Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb; an anthology of writings on Goa, Reflected in Water; and an anthology (with Naresh Fernandes) on his native city titled Bombay, Meri Jaan. He also writes books for children and translates books from Marathi and Hindi. While I have not read his second novel, Murder in Mahim, I can testify to the quality of his first novel, Em and the Big Hoom, a deeply touching narrative on mental illness and how it affects family and friends.
The Education of Yuri
The Education of Yuri is a very different kind of novel. It centres around the growing pains of a 15-year-old boy, Yuri Fonseca, who lives in Mahim and goes to junior college in upmarket Elphinstone in south Bombay. Set in the 1980s, the novel comes alive with the jargon and situation of the times. Yuri is an orphan, looked after by an avuncular figure, his uncle and guardian, the pious and kind-hearted Tio Julio. Initially withdrawn and feeling out of place among the rich students, Yuri makes friends with Muzammil Merchant, a wealthy man’s son from posh Peddar Road.
Later, he makes many other friends, including one who initiates him into sex with a prostitute in a sleazy movie hall. Yuri opts for the humanities in college as he loves literature and tries to write poetry. There are passing references to the Bombay poets of the 1980s—Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawalla and Eunice de Souza, besides Keki N. Daruwalla—and a few samples of Yuri’s own fledgling verse.
There is also a coming-of-age depth in Yuri as he fights back against a fellow student, Bhavna who, in the fashion of the times, sympathises with the Naxals. He bombards her with this: “Oh and you’re a good one to talk to, aren’t you? You live in air-conditioned quarters while half of India has no electricity. Your father is in the service of the very government that is responsible for the conditions that created the Naxals in the first place. What if the gun in an Adivasi’s hand were pointed at your father’s head?... I may have run back from a place I couldn’t belong, but you’re a fucking tourist outside your fucking South Bombay fucking den.”
This is what one might call a conversational novel, not a narrative page-turner. But it is well told, amusing, especially in the sections detailing Yuri’s encounters with fellow female students, his professors, and friends besides Muzammil. There is an interesting mention of a familiar bar and restaurant in south Bombay where Yuri meets Adil, who offers him his first job in a magazine.
The Education of Yuri does not have the depth and intensity of Em and the Big Hoom, but it is a likeable novel, funny and touching at times. Details, like Yuri’s face turning into a “a bloody pimpled mess” after he tries shaving, are heartwarming. Yuri starts off his career by giving tuitions to rich school kids; the novel ends as he is on the verge of a promising adulthood and possible career in journalism. This pleasant novel makes for good company on a beach or any park bench.
Manohar Shetty has recently edited The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told, published by Aleph.
- Set in the 1980s, the novel comes alive with the jargon and situation of the times.
- There is a coming-of-age depth in Yuri as he attends college and makes friends.
- This is what one might call a conversational novel, not a narrative page-turner.
- But it is well told, amusing, especially in the sections detailing Yuri’s encounters with fellow female students, his professors, and friends.