Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
The journey from Loutolim to Aldona is not a long one and Dr Maria Aurora Couto possibly crossed those wide rivers and little hills between the two villages umpteen number of times in her lifetime, as one was her childhood home and the other where she made her home. But that journey was also a long one, as for her there were diversions to Dharwad, Delhi, various Indian cities before the ride finally ended in the Couto ancestral house in Aldona, where Aurora and husband Alban retired to. A Goan home she made it, and in the high-ceilinged rooms it was always so easy to slip into Konkani when conversing with Couto. She loved it and let no opportunity that presented itself go waste to speak in the mother tongue. For her, Konkani was what made goenkarponn and kept it alive. “Ravindrabab Kelekar used to say that land and language is what makes Goa what it is,” she told me just last month. She loved Goa, Konkani, Aldona, Loutolim, and wherever in the world she may have been the call of the homeland was always strong. And return to Goa she did and plunged into the social, literary and art circles. It was always a pleasure to sit in the long verandah that ran alongside the house. She in an easy chair, the guests opposite, discussing about Goa and of things Goan. The interviews that were slotted for a quarter of an hour would prolong four times longer and sometimes even more, as the essential matters taken care of the conversation would veer to Goa and where it was headed. She lamented how Goa had changed and hoped that the tide would turn and arrest the transformation taking place. A month ago, when her views on the 60th Liberation anniversary were solicited, Couto hesitated at first but then agreed. It was not possible to meet in person due to the pandemic so the exchange was via electronic means. But she had a perspective that was so different from others, yet it was one that in just a few words brought out exactly how the land had transformed. A writer and an educationist, words never failed her and she succinctly brought out what many others felt but were unable to say in words. She did it so eloquently that we reproduce a short excerpt of it alongside. Couto will be remembered for her writings, the books that paint a picture of Goa that only someone who loves and knows the land and the people can write. Goa, a Daughter’s Story and Philomena’s Journey, two on her books on Goa have been reviewed to critical acclaim. While the first is about Goa, the second told the story of her mother, essentially it was a Goan daughter’s story of her mother’s journey. “Are you shocked that I wrote this book?” she asked me. You couldn’t interview her, without being interviewed yourself. Perhaps many were shocked at the book, as it detailed family secrets that most people would be hesitant to reveal, but Couto was different, and she attempted to understand Goa and goenkarponn through personal histories. Her mother’s story was one such that helped her comprehend that period of time. She was honoured with the Padma Shri, a recognition that surprised her. Unassuming that she always was, she believed that Alban, an officer of the Indian Administrative Services, was more worthy of the honour. Perhaps the biggest tribute one could pay her was to call her a ‘goenkarn’, which she was till her last breath. As news of her passing came, the social media was filled with messages describing her as eminent Goan. That she indeed was, but her eminence didn’t come merely because she was decorated with the Padma Shri. Her distinction is something few in the State will match for though she rose in stature, she remained rooted to the red soil of Goa. Goa has lost a daughter, who was also a rational voice that transcended the cacophony of views that so often dominated discourse. “What is happening?”she would ask, rhetorically, as she didn’t expect an answer but ruminated on her thoughts. In 2015 she was one of those who signed a statement condemning the ‘rising trend of intolerance in the country’.
She will be remembered for what she achieved and also for being someone who defended the freedom of expression and was in tune with the aspirations of the people.