Book review | Remo Fernandes bares it all, from confessions on adultery to being blamed for death of fellow band members
There are some things Remo Fernandes is embarrassed about but he wants to acknowledge in his memoir they did happen. The sexual repression that resulted from his Catholic upbringing is a big theme in this book.
Remo Fernandes, the Goan singer-musician-songwriter who gave us memorable songs like 'O Meri Munni,' 'Dekho Dekho Yeh Hai Jalwa,' 'Maria Pitache,' 'Hello Rajiv Gandhi,' and 'Ode to Graham Bell,' has written an autobiography titled REMO.
He is now in his late 60s, and ready to look back at a lifetime made up of bittersweet memories. The book has been published by HarperCollins India, and is undoubtedly a must-read for his fans.
The author follows a chronological order while narrating the events that he chooses to focus on. The first part of the book is about his childhood in Goa, which used to be in a Portuguese colony. The second part tracks his college education in Mumbai, and his travels in Europe. The third part revolves around his return to Goa. The fourth part looks at his present life. Fernandes has taken up Portuguese citizenship; he likes to divide his time between Goa and Porto.
Did you know that Fernandes was born in 1953 at an “erstwhile Panjim hospital” that now houses offices of the Entertainment Society of Goa and the International Film Festival of India? He is glad that the Government of Goa’s attempt to “turn the grand old heritage hospital building into a commercial mall” did not materialise. He writes, “I would have hated having to tell my grandchildren one day that I was born somewhere between McDonald’s and KFC.”
This book shows how unconditional support from parents can nourish the artistic talents of children who discover what they love at an early age. Fernandes' father was a huge source of encouragement as far as his musical career was concerned. Before he turned 10, he had learnt to instruments such as the mouth organ, ukulele, banjo, piano, accordion, and Spanish guitar. He enjoyed singing, and also playing music at family get-togethers and birthday parties.
When his father signed him up for piano and solfeggio classes, Fernandes had an important realisation. He recalls, “I just could not go through the exercise of turning beloved natural music into a chore, which is how I viewed the deciphering of black and white dots imprisoned between five straight lines. The written, seen note was not music to me; the played, heard note was.” Fortunately, his father did not push him to continue.
The search for a teacher continued, and good advice came at the right time. Eloy Gomes, who was considered the best guitarist in Goa back then, asked Fernandes to play something on his banjo. He listened attentively for a while, and then told Fernandes' father, “Don’t find this boy a teacher. Just buy a guitar, and put it in his hands. He will explore, and learn it on his own.” Fernandes performed well academically, so his father did not dissuade him from pursuing music.
This changed when he grew up. Both his parents wanted to ensure that he had an alternative career to fall back on in case music did not turn out to be financially viable. Fernandes ended up studying architecture in Mumbai. This book offers a glimpse of how frustrating it was after a certain point because he was absolutely sure that he did not want to design buildings. However, he did see some value in his father’s insistence, so he completed his education.
Fernandes comes across as a man who is deeply proud of his Goan roots. He did not like Mumbai. He writes, “I wouldn’t exchange the joys and pleasures of growing up in a quiet, blissful paradise like the Goa of those days for all the success, fame, and money in the world.” However, Mumbai taught him some important lessons. Until he moved out of his family home in Goa, he did not know how to make his bed, boil an egg, or even brew a cup of tea.
This autobiography has many other revelations connected to romance, sex, and love. When Fernandes was desperate to lose his virginity with a girl in Mumbai, he rented a room in a shady hotel named 007 James Bond. He writes, “Despite both of us being architecture students, we somehow simply couldn’t get our foundations and elevations in sync, though both of our young bodies and minds were every bit as ready and willing and able as required.”
Writing this autobiography was “therapeutic” for him. He seems comfortable opening up about aspects of his private life that public figures often like to hide. The writing comes across as honest because the author is not trying hard to make himself likeable.
There are some things that he is embarrassed about but he wants to acknowledge that they did happen. The sexual repression that resulted from his Catholic upbringing is a big theme in this book.
A girl from New York who was in Goa on a Rotary Club exchange programme taught him new things about his own body. He writes, “I had highly erogenous nipples but had always thought it was an aberration, perhaps a freak fact resulting from my having more female hormones than I ought to. I had treated it as a shameful secret to be kept from everyone.” The pleasure that he experienced with her is a prelude to the adventures he later had in Europe.
Some of the most enchanting descriptions in this book are of a time when Fernandes had not stepped into the big league, flying across the world performing at big concerts. He hitchhiked with a woman he loved, and he paid his share of the travel costs by singing in the streets and passing his hat around. From being a church-going boy who thought that he must treat his girlfriend like Mother Mary, he was now an adult with raging hormones eager to experiment.
He writes about his "weakness for women," and his struggles with monogamy. He used to consider himself a free spirit," who wanted to have multiple lovers without any strings attached. When a friend in Paris commented that Fernandes was being rather immature, Fernandes came up with the explanation that he was exploring “universal love.” It is odd, however, that Fernandes feels the need to clarify in this book that he was “strictly and fully heterosexual.”
Why would a man who enjoys wearing kajal, dressing in an “androgynous” manner, and expressing his appreciation for well-groomed Italian men, worry about people mistaking him for a gay, bisexual or queer man? This question is not for Fernandes alone. Heteronormativity is so hardwired into the society that we live in that even people who push boundaries and question stereotypes have to be cautious and tentative, measuring the words they utter.
Fernandes shares many significant moments from his life’s journey in this book. They made him who he is, beyond the fame, money, and ancestral property. It must have been hard to write about being unfaithful to his first wife, his messy divorce, the death of his fellow band members, and the people who unfairly blamed him for these deaths. He seems to have taken everything in his stride. It takes guts to bare it all, and invite the world to see you as you are.
Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist, and book reviewer.
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