Sunday, November 16, 2003

Time and history stand still in Mrs Braganza’s house
Rajbir Deswal

The ambience of the dining hall takes one back to the bygone era
The ambience of the dining hall takes one back to the bygone era

Planning a visit to Mrs Braganza’s House, located at Chandor in south Goa, is the next best thing to do (after exploring the beaches), while sight-seeing in Goa. That is where most of the traditional Goans, particularly the Christian community, live. The place is a real connoisseur’s delight.

It is only after interaction with the locals that you come to know about this must-see place. No tourism blurb or pamphlet promotes the Braganza House.The Menezes Braganza Memorial Committee, has undertaken the task of preserving a treasure house of articles. Nestled in beautiful surroundings with a small church nearby in a tiny hamlet in Chandor, Mrs Braganza’s House is a major landmark 10 km in east of Madgaon.

We were ushered into the house through a creaking staircase leading straight to the waiting lounge. It was a meticulously kept and well-maintained museum of art and artifacts. Anxious to explore, we tried to hurriedly sneak into another chamber, when we noticed an octogenarian dressed in a Goan attire. This was Mrs Braganza.

She signalled us to wait since she was busy with another group of visitors. No guides have been employed for taking you around the house because it is the eightysix-year-old lady of the house who herself undertakes the task of introducing her heritage home to the visitors. Courage and fortitude epitomised, she stands erect with her tiny frame at that age. Her voice is shrill but she speaks in a sober and balanced manner.

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She turned to us and it was as if a tape-recorder had been switched on. She started introducing the articles kept, with due regard for their antiquity and place of import. Chinese pottery as old as 250 years old was kept in the waiting lounge itself with the portrait of Menezes Braganza adoring the side wall. With a sparkle of admiration in her old, stony eyes, she introduced the man, once upon a time the owner of the house. He was a journalist, a man of many parts, who belonged to the landed but benevolent aristocracy of Goa.

Mrs Braganza and her showcased silverware
Mrs Braganza and her showcased silverware

Mrs Braganza then accompanied us to the library which has a huge collection of classical works and other books on varied topics of interest. The laboriously polished wood-and-glass almirahs have been maintained till date. 

"My father-in-law was quite fond of entertaining guests and throwing parties", she recalls with nostalgia. 

I felt as if she could bargain everything she has for yet another such junket. For a second, her mind went back to the times when the parties were frequently organised in the Braganza’s house. 

Then she moved on to the big hall adorned with chandeliers of which the pendants had gone missing during the family’s forced flight due to the Portuguese regime. 

She expressed her inability to have them re-fixed since it involved a huge expenditure.

Mrs Braganza does not do much of talking with the visitors and goes about her work in a matter-of-fact manner but since we were the last group that evening, she opened up: "After the land laws were introduced in Goa, the family’s entire property and estates were no more with us. 

The Portuguese persecution of Menezes Braganza by way of stopping his by-weekly journal Pracasha and employing other lowly means couldn’t put down the patriotic fire in the man. We had to flee to Nagpur where we stayed for several years and many articles from the Braganza House were stolen away." She explained and painfully recalled the loss of her jewellery.

The impressive facade of Mrs Braganza’s house
The impressive facade of Mrs Braganza’s house

The furniture, lined up exquisitely in rows near the sidewalls, laid out for over decades still poses a challenge to any interior decorator since there seems to be no better alternative. 

The beauty of these residential chambers is such that they speak of their antiquity and you can feel the ambience of a live gathering pulsating. The decor and seating arrangements can still make the best maintained houses look inferior, when contrasted with the precious little that is left of the Braganza House. Portuguese stamp on windows and curtains is discernible, as is a Chinese stamp obvious on pottery items and furniture.

‘Till recently, there were 14 attendants employed permanently only to look after the house. Now I cannot afford more than two", says Mrs Braganza while passing by a small kitchenette. I cast a look at the utensils and find that most of those were made of aluminum. My noticing the pans in the cooking area, made the situation an ironical one, because Mrs Braganza was then referring to a time when butlers and handmaids in attendance, served the family with food in silver cutlery, now showcased in almirahs.

After the tour of the house concluded, I put the silliest question to the Lady of the House, "How about selling all this and leading a more comfortable life? It should fetch you plenty of money." She cut me short flashing an uneasy smile on her wrinkled face, "Money flies. Antiques preserved with an emotional touch do not. Until of course taken away or stolen." A sheepish me put a hundred rupee note in her contribution box. She thanked me for the gesture and wished us good evening and Godspeed. Our visit was a real treat for the evening.