Steve Pereira is interviewed by Bent Street Publisher Gordon Thompson
GT: Steve, the story we’re publishing here in Bent Street Cafe is titled A Dolphin in the Ganges, about a young man visiting India. At times it is terrifying. I hope this is not autobiographical?
SP: I wouldn’t describe the story as autobiographical; but, yes, drawn from elements of personal experience. I did have a similar culture clash on returning to the ‘home country’ having being born and raised in Africa and Canada and did have very good looking boatman when I went to Varanasi. But the rest is fiction.
GT: I’m glad to hear it’s largely fictional. It would be dreadful to have an extended family as insular as that of the main character, Raymund. But then Raymund is insular in his own way?
SP: I said it wasn’t autobiographical, I didn’t say it wasn’t true. Those characters, very unfortunately, do exist and I know them. Fortunately my immediate family is much better at having come to terms with the particularities of being Goan Indian. The five hundred years of Portuguese rule over Goa gave it a uniquely European cultural overlay that ‘othered’ it from the rest of India, most of which was under British control, and it didn’t suffer the same form of acculturation. There are still pockets of Goans who identify themselves as direct descendants of the Portuguese and therefore European and not Indian; and there are others, like Raymund’s uncle, who see themselves as AngloIndian with the emphasis on the Anglo not the Indian.
Raymund is insular in his way because he is a ‘coconut’ – brown on the outside, white on the inside. Born in Australia his entire frame of reference is Anglo-Australian because the Australian social construct gives primacy to Anglo British, Anglo American culture and all others are ‘less than’. He sees his family and his community as hopelessly parochial, and where the gay community established the AngloNordic look as a communal fetish he can’t see the erotic possibilities of other South Asians.
GT: But you have a soft spot for Raymund – the fish out of water; or perhaps a re-introduced species?
SP: Parts of me are Raymund and will be forever. I am in lots of ways a born again Indian. But like all born agains, I carry the zeal of my conversion.
GT: Raymund is changed by his ‘Brideshead Revisited’ experience of India. How do you see the changes?
SP: Yes Raymund does have that ‘acclimatising to new environment’ that Charles Ryder goes through in Brideshead but Evelyn Waugh and Graham Green are favourite writers, it’s that Catholic guilt thing and there is a thread of that in Dolphin … When Raymund leaves for India he is a typical child of colonised immigrants. He is embarrassed by his own culture, by the ‘old country parochialism’ of his family and community, embarrassed by his difference from the Australian mainstream, and he survives by trying to eradicate that difference, or exotifying himself to ‘curry’ (pun fully intended) favour and approval as so many children of migrants do.
By the end of the trip he has been awakened to the erotic possibilities of brown bodies and a different sense of self. This narrative has been a popular, and well-worn trope in immigrant fiction and I wasn’t interested really in revisiting it as a major narrative strand in the story. I think readers are familiar enough with it so even though it is a central theme, I don’t dwell too much on it in the narrative.
Instead, I treat it with a certain amount of cynical glibness as in the last paragraph where I list Ryamund’s romantic dalliances as he progressively dates darker ethnicities until he ends up with another Indian. My interest was more in scoping the particular experiences of someone returning to a place that should be home.
GT: So, is postcolonial, or post-postcolonial a good description of how you see your writing?
SP: I don’t think we are in a post-colonial world. We are all still colonised in so many ways, I would go with neo-colonial and yes, I am prepared to be corrected by the consignilari who know better.
GT: You and I have talked in the past about South Asian LGBT writing – fill us in a little on that.
SP: My complaint has been about the relative lack of South Asian LGBT writing given the relative prominence of South Asian writers generally. A standard online search reveals the same Queer South Asian writers who emerged in the late 90s – Sandip Roy, Shani Motoo, Shyam Selvadurai et al.
But there is a whole lot more writing out there, like Neel Mukherjee’s A Life Apart. It is interesting in that though the main character there is a young gay man the book isn’t necessarily identified as a queer text. I suspect that there is a whole lot more out there. I’m looking forward to the discoveries.
Steve R. E. Pereira is a Melbourne-based writer and Creative Producer working on performance and art related community engagement and community development projects.
Gordon Thompson is the Founder and Director of Clouds of Magellan Press, a small publishing imprint that focuses on emerging Australian writers. Since 2006 Clouds of Magellan has published over 30 titles and provided mentoring and manuscript development for a range of alternative writers and artists.