Saturday, August 27, 2011


The lush Goan landscape is dotted with many spectacular and magnificent churches. The whitewashed façades of the churches makes it impossible for any of us to pass by and not notice them. However, many will not know the history of the architectural evolution of these churches – the when, how and why. Since the day I started contributing articles to newspapers on some unique historical events and monuments of Goa (mainly churches), the problem of locating reading material that would provide some details and improve and augment my understanding of Goan churches has been frustratingly scant. However, I have consulted with fruitful results, Fr. Moreno de Souza’s four volumes in Konknni (in Romi script) featuring the churches of Salcete, Tiswadi and Bardez.
         Whitewash, Red Stone by Dr. Paulo Varela Gomes, a professor at the University of Coimbra, Portugal and who formerly was the delegate of the Fundação Oriente, Goa, was a welcome addition to my personal library. I feel this book will forever change our understanding about the architecture of Goan churches and also function as a harbinger, altering in the process, our understanding of Goan social history as well. The crux of Dr. Gomes’ book is to emphasize the ‘Goaness’ of Goan churches. The first line of the first page of this fascinating book makes this abundantly clear: “The Catholics of Goa and other former Portuguese possessions in India created churches and houses that are unique in the world history of architecture.”
The story of the architectural evolution of Goan churches begins in the City of Goa in the 16th century. From there Dr. Gomes takes us on a guided tour throughout Goa, picking some of the most spectacular and magnificent churches for his discussion and shows us how they represent watershed moments in the history of the church architecture of Goa and how Portugal is not the only region to have influenced the architecture of Goan churches. “But apart from its European origin, the European inputs that influenced Goan builders and patrons from the 16th to the 20th centuries did not originate from Portugal alone and sometimes did not originate from Portugal at all. Certain essential typological traits in Goan churches simply do not exist in Portuguese architecture. They bring to our memory places like northern and central Italy (exterior side elevations, niches along the interior of the naves), or Flanders (vaulting systems). This is hardly surprising considering that the religious orders within which most architects of Goan churches were trained in the 16th and 17th centuries were multi-national bodies with priests of pan-European origin or who had travelled extensively throughout Europe,” he says.
            Speaking of the non-Portuguese and sometimes even non-European influences on the Goan churches, Dr. Gomes mentions the Islamicate influence (social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims) from the court of Bijapur. The octagonal towers employed in the façade of the St. Francis of Assissi church comes from Bijapur “…due to the influence of the architecture of the more important political and cultural centre of the Deccan in the second half of the 17th century: the Sultanate of Bijapur. European ambassadors, merchants and artists travelled to Bijapur frequently. The Bijapuri court was highly cosmopolitan, cultivated and open to people of all creeds.”
            Dr. Gomes also tells us about the role of the caste system in making the decision as to where a church should be located and also shaping the architecture of the Goan churches. The European priests, shrewd as they were, did not want the churches they were building to identify with any particular caste group which inhabited a particular area and hence they chose locations that were far from the settlement. The churches also left an impressive mark on the sylvan landscape of Goa. The ganvkars who took over the churches that the Jesuits and Franciscans had built and later enlarged and renovated them make interesting reading.
            The distinctly Goan church did not evolve overnight. Dr. Gomes after extensive travelling and sifting through centuries-old documents and architectural styles and influences, informs us, “The cupoliform-façade churches, a Goan ‘invention’ if ever there was one, constitute the climax of the evolution toward a characteristically Goan church…”
The last major development in Goan church architecture is the influence of the Gothic architecture from 19th century onwards. These are called neo-Gothic churches because there were some Goan elements in it. This type of architecture developed chiefly in Bardez and Marmugão and the reason Dr. Gomes gives is that, “…all neo-Gothic Goan churches of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and all the neo-Gothic transformations of existing churches, took place in Bardez and in the area of Marmugão. [As] Marmagão was a hub of British economic activity since the Anglo-Portuguese economic treaty of 1878, which determined the building of a railway between British India and the harbour of Marmugão. Bardez, on the other hand, was a region from where thousands of people migrated in the second half of the 19th century to Bombay, establishing in that city a number of burgeoning Goan colonies.”
            When I first saw this book, I wondered why a history of Goan church architecture should be named Whitewash, Red Stone. Reading through this book, I realized that since the whitewash was unique to the Goan churches and has become the hallmark of contemporary Goa and the red laterite stone being widely used in Goa, the title was not only apt but also very smart. The neatly bound and printed book has as many as 200-odd photographs and illustrations and they not only help the reader in understanding the case that Dr. Gomes is making but also aid in understanding the various architectural terms and features.
Lastly, what I liked about this book is that the voice of Dr. Gomes is not one from the patronizing West. Dr. Gomes is Portuguese and the fear that the biased world-view of Portuguese Orientalism or Luso-tropicalism might have slipped in his work can be very real. But Dr. Gomes has moved beyond such isms and has opened new avenues for contemplating our own history and heritage.

Whitewash, Red Stone: A History of Church Architecture in Goa by Paulo Varela Gomes (New Delhi: Yoda Press), 2011; pp. 248, Rs. 450/- [ISBN: 93-80403-00-3]

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: August 27, 2011)

Thursday, August 18, 2011


In 2007, Dr. Savia Viegas, a Senior Fulbright scholar, published her debut novel Tales from the Attic, a story set in the village of Carmona around the time when the last vestiges of the Portuguese colonialism in South Asia were about to come to an end. Self published under the banner of Saxtti Foundation, Savia’s novel was a welcome addition since not much fiction was published from Goa. But times have changed, it seems, for the better, with a lot of books, including fiction, being published and forums on the internet actively engaged in discussing various topics pertaining to the written word from Goa.
            The novel opens in a hospital, with the protagonist Marri (who was baptized as Maria Dominica Viegas) recollecting her past during a delayed return to consciousness after a surgery to remove her infected uterus. The story is written with gentle and subtle humour and wit. The eccentricities of the Goan catholic life are brought out in very broad and prominent outlines like the invocation of a plethora of saints by Marri’s Xamai, is one such example. 
              Marri was a child who was born after many years of marriage, and many prayers later, to Tito and Preciosa Viegas. Being the only child and falling frequently ill, she was pampered and could have her way any time and any how she pleased. Her Xamai, grand-aunt and Coincao, the maid were always ready to look after her every ailment and need.
Marri spends her entire childhood with the support of medicines. Due to her frequent illnesses, she is only dressed in petticoats (64 in all!). When Marri is around 10, a migrant family from Karnataka comes to Carmona. The migrants were lovers, who had eloped because the man was low caste and the woman the wife of a Brahmin. The priest and some villagers take it upon themselves to bring these non-believers into the Christian fold. Coincao, the maid, at the behest of the village priest, agrees to be a godparent to Jose, one of the children of the migrant couple.
            Jose is a young boy with a powerful physique and equally powerful sexual urges. In the course of games with Marri (as Marri had no company of children of her age), he molests her. Marri suffers in silence. Then a few years later, while cleaning the attic with Jose, Marri, tired of the abuse and unable to take it anymore, pushes him off the ladder, thus killing him. (Although, everybody thinks Jose slipped and fell off the ladder.)
            The Konknni and Portuguese words and phrases in this novel are not italicized or indicated in some other way. Why is this so? It is simply because this novel is written for the people who are already familiar with such words. This is a novel which Savia has written for her own people; which means for us! The text in some of the pages is arranged in a way that reminded me of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. For instance, on pp. 17-18, rather than the normal paragraph, a big list is given about the various diseases that plagued Marri. The narration is also as delightful as that of Arundhati’s novel.
            Marri is also a girl who is born with grey-green eyes. The question of the Aryan migration is discussed, one day, in her class. Marri feels that she too is an Aryan owing to her grey-green eyes, her fair-skin and aquiline nose. Shanta her friend gets were angry and says, “All Catholics come from the lower jatis. The pr-o-s-el-y-t-i-s-i-n-g priests gave land to the shudras and m-le-ch-h-a-s and converted them to Christianity.” The grey-green eyes, it is revealed, resulted from the miscegenation of a distant relative of Marri and an Arab trader who had grey-green eyes. When I had first read the book four years ago, it occurred to me that the genetic pool of Goans possibly may have many more influences than the Aryan and Dravidian and Portuguese.
            Turning around 20, Marri finds her parents’ ploy to marry her to a distant cousin of hers (the ‘Kissing Cousin Plot’). She refuses much to the chagrin of her father. The conflict and tension in her house makes her withdraw to the attic. Finally, she realizes that she has to get away from her house and everybody and everything. So she moves to Bombay where attending college she falls in love with Azad, a student involved in organizing unions for the working class. Azad flushes an idol of Ganapati in the commode to fully imbibe the ideology of the political party he is associated with. They get married and two kids later (Swapna and Suraj), Marri divorces Azad because she feels stuck in the marriage.
            It is in the final few chapters that the narration seems to end abruptly. I felt that Marri’s years in Bombay could have had more details thus augmenting the novel some 20 or 25 pages more. The decisions that Marri makes and the emotions that she experiences while in Bombay are not exactly explained, leaving the reader groping in the dark.
The attic in the novel is a symbol for the physical as well as the mental and/or emotional place. Just like the things that are stored in the attic, emotions and secrets too are tucked away in it. Whilst I was reading this novel a thought struck me. Since many of the details (social and religious) of catholic and village life are so well portrayed, this novel could well be made into a film. I guess a film on the lines of Poltoddcho Monis by Laxmikant Shetgaonkar on Savia’s novel will be a treat to watch!

Tales from the Attic by Savia Viegas (Carmona, Goa: Saxtti Foundation), 2007; pp. 129, Rs. 200/- [ISBN: 81-85569-74-6]

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: August 18, 2011)

Monday, August 8, 2011


Frederick Noronha
Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa, edited by Helene Derkin Menezes and José Lourenço, when released a few months back, did grab a lot of headlines. Much of the publicity was due to the inclusion of an essay by the noted novelist and partly Goa-resident, Amitav Ghosh. According to an internet forum message, the book did well, as immediately after its launch, nearly 650 copies were sold. When a celebrity writer of the stature of Amitav Ghosh is associated with a book that is published from a place more known for matters and things other than literary, there is always a fear that the writings of the other contributors may not receive the attention they deserve.  But, I can assure you, nothing of that sort has happened here.
            All the writers in this anthology are members of a diverse and vibrant group called the Goa Writers, launched in 2005. All were given a very vague and abstract theme: Inside Out, which they had to interpret in their own way. The result: a very beautiful and immensely satisfying collection of writings that we can all be very proud of.       
Like any good anthology, this book has an abundance of short stories, poems, memoirs, photographs and essays. Amongst them, Walking as Art is a free verse poem by Isabel de Santa Rita Vas which reminded me of Ogden Nash who is known for his free verse poetry. Isabel, like Nash, writes with a lot of wit and humour and at the same time gives us much to munch over. I am not someone who enjoys poetry but Isabel’s keen eye and deft words surely made me realize that walking is not just a simple act. There is a philosophy about walking and I found this extremely amazing. Similarly, Mario Coelho’s poem, written for children and peppered with lively and amazing characters, is also a treat to read.
            The contributors in this book are Goans, expat Goans, non-Goans or foreigners. Most of them, after spending a childhood or sometime outside Goa have now made Goa their home. So, for many of these contributors, the interpretation of the abovementioned theme narrows down to writing about their memories or experiences in the land that they were formerly living in.
            There is an interesting essay penned by Vidhyadhar Gadgil. He first came to Goa as a teen along with a few friends and confesses to drinking as if there was no tomorrow during that particular holiday. Gadgil was domiciled in Goa before moving to Kathmandu. He discusses the dynamics of who is an ‘insider’ and who is an ‘outsider’. I find this interesting because Gadgil is giving a call to all Bhailes to come under an organization called Bhailyancho Saad (The Voice of the Outsiders) and gives them the slogan: Garv se kaho hum ghanti hain. On one hand he makes a case for the ‘outsiders’ while on the other hand he confesses to calling (not loudly) some bunch of smelly labourers on a bus “Bloody ghantis”, thus taking pleasure in ethnic and class superiority that only ‘insiders’ can enjoy (according to him). Such a statement, I guess, reveals that not all non-native people can come under the all-encompassing identity of ‘Outsiders’. There is definitely a difference amongst various ‘outsiders’ and a hierarchy by which the natives and the affluent and educated ‘outsiders’ try to keep the poor and powerless ‘outsiders’ at the lowest levels of the access-to-valued-resources chain.
            As a student of history, I always look forward to personal stories: the stories that our parents and grandparents tell us and which now the children put on paper. Veena Gomes-Patwardhan’s Granny’s Goa does exactly that. She tells us how her great grand-parents would travel all the way to Caranzalem so as to run a bakery there. Fatima da Silva Gracias tells a personal story as she tries to find out some facts about an old family photograph in The Unresolved Mystery of a Family Portrait.
            Aimee Ginsburg’s One Still Here is an interesting tale of three Jewish women: herself, her grandmother and Catarina da Orta, the sister of Garcia da Orta who was burned at the stake, all linked together in different times and spaces.
            Amitav Ghosh has written a small essay called Anthony Vaz. Anthony Vaz, we are told, had compiled a dictionary of nautical terms that would help the English officers to communicate with the native sailors. Ghosh writes about the importance of preserving such dictionaries, “With the vanishing of wind-powered merchant vessels, this entire apparatus (of words as well as things) has more or less disappeared from the face of the earth. This is precisely the values of books like Vaz’s: they give us a glimpse of a way of life that is now extinct. …I am convinced that there are many yet undiscovered manuscripts languishing in Goan houses. Let us hope that they will soon come to light.”
            I am a big fan of the writings of Amitav Ghosh. Reading his many books and essays, I am always stumped by his mastery over words. Although I found this essay important, I was a little disappointed as I was looking forward to be blown away by Amitav Ghosh’s unique style of writing. But maybe I was just expecting too much.
            The pains that the editors and Aniruddha Sen Gupta (design and layout) took to pack a beautiful collection between the covers are clearly visible. The photography of Vivek Menezes for the cover is sure to attract attention. All the contributors are introduced in a novel way at the beginning of their writings. It is a short and perky introduction written in a lighter vein and is sure to bring a little smile on one’s face.
            The blurb of the book claims to “challenge and destroy the stereotypes” about Goa and to a great extent the writings lives up to that claim. Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa is definitely a world class product from Goa1556.

Name: Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa
Edited by: Helene Derkin Menezes and José Lourenço
Published by: Goa1556, Saligão
Year: 2011

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: August 8, 2011)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


From the 30th of June this year, the Reserve Bank of India withdrew the 25 paise coins from circulation. In the process, they have joined the likes of 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 and 20 paise coins which ceased to be legal tenders a long time ago. It is reported that the cost of minting a 25 paise coin exceeds its actual value and hence was no longer feasible to mint.
            I remember the time when my father presented me a small tin of coins consisting of a few escudos and coins of some other countries. This set me off to pursue this hobby with a lot of interest. I found my first real album, quite accidentally, while on a holiday in Coimbatore. In due course of time, however, other interests took over and the albums remained buried under books and magazines.
            A few days ago I dusted my albums of coins and came across many of the coins that were in circulation when I was young but now have no value in our local markets. From my humble collection, I share with you some of these coins. They would surely remind many of the readers the things they could purchase in exchange of a single aluminium coin. And to the young reader, well, here’s your chance to see the money you will never earn and never spend!

(A version of this photo feature appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: August 2, 2011)