Sunday, June 27, 2004

Wonder and glory of Goa
Kamaldeep Kaur Toor

Goa: A Daughter’s Story
by Maria Aurora Couto. Penguin, Viking. Pages 436. Rs. 495

Goa: A Daughter’s StoryTHE author paints a vivid picture of Goa — evoking memories of the past, citing concerns about the present and anticipating challenges about the future. Maria Aurora Couto describes the psyche of the Goans as it has evolved over a period of 500 years, that saw the fortunes of Goa change from prosperity to dissipation. She delineates the social, economic, cultural and political terrain of Goa through half a millennium. In the process the author tries to negotiate personal memories and simultaneously attempts to give a balanced historical perspective to the narrative.

She addresses some issues that have become very urgent in the contemporary scenario. Primary among these is the question of conversion, one of the most controversial issues to rock the nation in recent times. Here she successfully convinces the reader that the debate on conversion in Goa rests on a paradox as conversion was initially forced by the Portuguese but gradually it led to spiritual enrichment of the Goans. Aurora Couto feels that this positive side of conversion is relegated to the background while the negative side of repression is brought to the forefront. She stresses on the synthesis of Catholicism and the strict Hindu Brahminical order.

Apart from this, she voices her concern about the issue of language and endorses the belief that Goa has a rich heritage of Konkani and Portuguese and must try to preserve both. She advocates tolerance and secularism that are the bedrock of Goan society. She writes, "Although it is true that Goa had the best but also the worst — in the beginning with the Inquisition and in the end with the Salazar regime`85yet throughout these difficult times the values of humanism, equality, fraternity and liberty were never snuffed out."

The book is also a serious attempt to demolish certain stereotypes about Goa. For instance, the myth of the drunk Goan and of Goa as an exotic tourist destination. She deflates the myth of Golden Goa asserting that it is only for a privileged few. She tries to show that Goan culture is much more than beaches and foreign tourists. But as often happens, while she destroys certain myths she unwittingly creates new ones. For instance her remark that Christianity created a more sympathetic landlord makes the reader pause and think.

The reader is drawn into the fabric of the text because Aurora Couto evokes personal memories to authenticate the larger Goan experience. Vibrantly she describes people she has known and contextualises them in the broader historical perspective. This is done with such ease that the individual character and the social milieu become one. The personal and the historical become a seamless whole. The book is written in lucid prose. However, there are times when the non-Goan will find the book difficult to understand as the author takes basic knowledge about the Goan culture and landscape for granted.

The book is well researched and Aurora Couto cites an array of intellectuals, historians, economists, artists, and social scientists to authenticate her assertions. This book is meant for the Goan specifically as it will inculcate a sense of pride in him besides introducing him to the pristine glory that was Goa. For the non-Goan the book is an excellent introduction to the wonder of Goa. The historian and the sociologist will also find compelling insights into Goan culture and society.