The sharp turn down Majorda road leads to deep Nuvem, and to my childhood, buried no win nostalgia. But the story of Nuvem is not one of burial but rather one of resurrection. It is an obscure village, not known for any heroic endeavour or greatness of accomplishment, although M. Boyer did perform his debut play there, and it is where early 20th century Margao gentry retreated to for the summer. But in its small ways, it has risen to the challenges of modernity. Its sons of the soil are born of bakers; now they ply the seas, work in Kuwait or have emigrated to London. They are flush with money, their houses are brand new bungalows shaded by orchard trees, some with shiny ceramic bathtubs with no running water, and almost all, with state-of-the-art music systems heard in the stillness of a dense night across the paddy fields.
The Mae Dos Pobres Church is central to Nuvem pumping blood into the arterial veins of its social and political life. Its coffers are bursting with benevolent donations, its velvet collections yielding rich bounties every Sunday, its festas celebrated with brass bands and seven-day fayres. Some 350 years old, to its right, it looks on to paddy fields, slushed with grey concrete from which arises a monstrous looking flyover or bridge of sorts, its exact role in the village and projected traffic numbers, as yet undetermined. Yet, there it squats amidst fields, which for centuries, have been the fulcrum of sustainability, and beside it are placed blue plastic wreaths of rotting garbage.
The church itself stands neglected and worn, its winged extensions hacked off and its clergy house razed to the ground to make way for a new construction which coils like a serpent in the shade. The baroque façade of the old church has not seen a lick of paint in months; lined with brownish moss, its interior is crumbling and its exterior in need of repairs. It resembles a ruin rather than a functioning Church from whose gilded pulpits and latticed confessionals, one can still hear parochial sermons and pedestrian sins.
The idea of constructing new churches to accommodate growing parishioners, is a mindless and savage attack on our heritage. For the numbers of the faithful will not rise. In the coming years, the faithful will dissipate, to spend Sundays with family watching TV. And soon, the churches of Goa will go the way of Europe, abandoned, disused, turned into music halls or museums if they are lucky, or serving as sanctuaries for a few loyalists who will come in occasionally for a solemn mass. Perhaps this change won’t come as quickly as Europe, but come it will, and in the interim the more prudent thing to do, is find viable ways to tend to parishioners: increases in weekly Masses conducted, better use of nearby chapels, or open-air masses on occasions where attendance is to bursting. But to those with tunnel vision, there is nothing to be gained by preserving heritage churches, and so these solutions are scattered like seed, to fall on rock and never take root.
To the right of the church is a looming mass of hillocks, flattened to bloom with bungalows and ugly buildings, huddled together indiscriminately, lacking what settlements actually need proper planning of dwellings and public spaces where aspiration is fermented, shared humanity is discovered, and a moral community is built. Yet none of this is a priority to builders or town planning authorities. Licences are granted without village consultation and any dissent is culled by local governing authorities.
The traditional Goan village is an artful (or perhaps fortuitous) masterstroke of planning. At its centre is a place of worship and nearby, at into or market square, a primary school, a pharmacy, a healthcare provider, a football ground, a fishing lake, a hall to stage local theatre, dances or weddings. Around this, the village grows, consciously building a sense of community; easily connected to larger townships and yet distanced from them.
Everywhere, in Nuvem, is a betrayal of graceful tradition, the dismantling of the village to make room for storied buildings and tourist hotels in the midst of houses owned by families who can trace their descent down generations. We have myopically claimed land which belongs to agriculture, to wildlife, to public histories of monuments, and built instead a place which is aesthetically unforgiving and environmentally punishing.
And yet, the real modernising that a village needs, the upgrade in health services, the investment in local schooling, electricity and water supplies, and Internet connectivity, all these go unheeded. There is no conscious will or vision to lead Nuvem or indeed Goa into the 21 century whilst preserving its environment and its heritage. What Goa is doing, is mauling itself, and those small imprints of modernity which villages like Nuvem had forged, mostly by foreign remittances, will fade away quickly once the hills are decapitated, the rivers silted and the fields poisoned with greed. Like all prophets crying in the desert, I hope I’m proved wrong.
(The writer is the Author of Goan Pioneers of East Africa)