I had read Reflected on Water: Writings on Goa about a year ago and had completely forgotten about it. A few months back, Jerry Pinto, the Bombay-based journalist who has edited this book, came down to Goa for the Goa Book Club meet. This rekindled my interest in the book and I said to myself, I must read it again with greater scrutiny.
The book contains essays, excerpts, short stories and poems of many personalities and on diverse topics that are related to Goa. Jerry Pinto says that the pieces in this book are like mirror images of each other; offering contrasting images which at times are true and sometimes are false. This book in a way gets us to rethink about the images and perceptions that are generated about Goa. Some of the pieces genuinely tried to look at Goa afresh, while others were seen entirely from racist and casteist frameworks.
In At Donna Georgina’s, William Dalrymple describes a visit to a landowning, upper caste Catholic lady. He begins by skimming over the history of the Portuguese in Goa. One gets the impression that Dalrymple is subtly trying to poke fun at things Portuguese. Britain (England) has always assumed a superior status over Portugal for over many centuries. Why else would Dalrymple describe the portrait of a viceroy as “…he looks as if he is on his way out of a brothel,” as well as point out the “accent heavy with Southern European vowels”? Elsewhere, in this particular essay, Donna Georgina in response to Dalrymple’s remark about the liberation of Goa gets visibly miffed and says, “Did you say liberation? Botheration more like! (emphasis in the original)” and that Goa was invaded by the Indian army rather than liberated.
Misunderstanding Goa is an excerpt taken from Prabhakar S. Angle’s Goa: Conceptsand Misconcepts. It is an attempt to do away with the many wrong ideas that got circulated in the media regarding Goa. Prabhakar Angle tries to say that Goa is a place that was devoid of any Portuguese influence. In an essay titled “Some Contrasting Visions of Luso-Tropicalism in India” [(1997) Lusotopie: 377-387], the noted Indo-Portuguese historian Teotonio R. de Souza has this to say about Angle’s Concepts and Misconcepts, “Obviously Prabhakar Angle is on a war-path against ‘lusotropicalism’ and exudes strong prejudices against the style of living and behaving of the Goan Christians. Such an attitude takes him to easy generalizations, and to close his eyes to obvious realities, even though they may affect only a minority of the Goan population, namely about 35% Goans who profess Christianity and had closer cultural-religious contact with the Portuguese… Angle and several others [like him] need to be understood as part of the cultural resistance against the disturbing effect of the Portuguese colonial and missionary policies, and as such they are not without foundation. But it would be ridiculous to close one’s eyes to the reality and refuse to admit that the Portuguese presence did not leave deep traces in India for good and for bad.” Angle’s bias is clearly visible when he wrongly spells Percival Noronha’s name as Perceval Narona (I wonder why it was not edited in this book).
On p. 9 and p. 16, there is a quote which William Dalrymple attributes to Donna Georgina (p. 9) while Prabhakar Angle says that William Dalrymple is quoting Percival Noronha (p. 16). Who exactly said it? The extract From Goa and the Blue Mountains by the 19th century British traveler, Richard Burton is also a repetition of biases as his racist world-view is well known.
The reader would find many articles or essays that reminisce (or rather is it Saudades?) about the “good old days”. Take for instance Laxmanrao Sardessai’s The Goan Bread Vendor. In this essay, Sardessai laments the extinction of the unddo (or oondo as the translator of this essay spells it) from Goa. The Konknni aphorism Te poder gele ani te undde-i… is frequently used. “Look at his bread – all the paos are the same colour and shape, like all citizens who are ‘equal’ in today’s democracy,” as he observes regarding today’s bread. What does a statement like this mean? Laxmanrao Sardessai is not wrong to lament the loss of a delicacy which as a child he cherished but should the poders (bakers) stay in the same economic position they were always in? Shouldn’t they and their children have a shot at a better life?
Naresh Fernandes writes about his tedious and winding search of the elusive humerus of St. Francis Xavier in Macau in Tomb Raider: Looking for St. Francis Xavier. Naresh is an awesome writer and every time I read his work I say, “Damn, when will I write like him?” In this essay Naresh also discusses the problems of contemporary Christians in India, how they are perceived and after so many centuries of contact, is Christianity really foreign to India? Of course, the essay ends with Naresh finding the elusive humerus, although quite fortuitously. An interesting piece on tiatrs by Cynthia Gomes James and one on Konknni cinema by the late Andrew Greno Viegas is a must read.
The celebrated George Menezes asks, Where has all the Culture Gone? George Menezes in his characteristic finesse gently pokes fun at the absence of basic etiquette in today’s Goa. The familiar theme of how good Goa was in the “good old days” and how it should never change resonates here.
Goa reflects in the myriad pieces of this collection. But which Goa are we talking about? Reading through this book, I couldn’t help but feel that the Goa in this book was not the Goa that I live in. Then again it might just be me. But exactly how far can this book lead us to a fresher and more nuanced perspective from the oft repeated epithets (or rather stereotypical clichés) like “Kashi of the South, Rome of the East and the Pearl of the Orient” is something that you should decide.
Name: Reflected in Water: Writings on Goa
Edited by: Jerry Pinto
Published by: Penguin, New Delhi
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: July 25, 2011)