Herald: ‘A controversial person, with many admirers and detractors’

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‘A controversial person, with many admirers and detractors’

24 Feb 2019 05:41am IST

Report by
MARIA DE LOURDES BRAVO DA COSTA RODRIGUES

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24 Feb 2019 05:41am IST

Report by
MARIA DE LOURDES BRAVO DA COSTA RODRIGUES

The death of Dr Teotónio de Sousa in Lisbon last week came as a shock in Goa. He will be missed, especially in history and academic circles. MARIA DE LOURDES BRAVO DA COSTA RODRIGUES pays tribute to the historian who is held in high esteem by his peers

It came as a surprise when a friend sent me a Whatsapp message asking if it was true that Dr Theo had died. Not having opened my email, I did not know what to say and wrote to some friends to find out if the news was true. Sadly, the message was confirmed. Just two days before his death, on February 18, he celebrated his 72nd birthday and as usual his friends wished him on Facebook, where he used to be active. There he sent a message that for the last three years, every winter, he was hospitalised because of flu and this time it was coupled by a cardiac problem and doctors had advised him not to use the mobile phone.

I met Prof Teotónio for the first time on a visit to the Xavier’s Centre of Historical Research at Porvorim on an official visit. I had joined Central Library, Panjim in 1980, after he had finished his research for his PhD. We got to know each other through the years when he was the director of the Centre. This developed into a friendship and when he left Goa to settle in Portugal we maintained, correspondence online. Whenever he came to Goa, we, his friends, tried to organise a get together with him. It could be a dinner or high tea depending on his convenience. He and his wife Elvira were in Goa in September last year. As was the practice we decided to invite them for tea. Seven of us were present. Some who on earlier occasions were in attendance could not be there for personal reasons. None of us thought that this would be the last time we would meet him.

As always he took the lead in the conversation, which was partly academic and partly centered round his health. Prof  Teotónio had a heart ailment from his young days and a pacemaker was implanted, which he had to replace some years back. He told us that he had implanted into his arm a small device and with an app that was downloaded on his phone he could monitor the circulation of blood which would help him in keeping a check of his heart. He was always interested in encouraging people to work and at one of the meetings with us, he pointed out that dinners is not what he looked forward to, but that we should put in efforts to produce academic papers, organise seminars, workshops, talks where new ideas could be discussed. Taking his advice a small group was formed. We did meet monthly and present papers, but the effort fizzled out after five or six meetings.  

A special volume titled Metahistory, History questioning History. Festschrift in honour of Teotónio R. de Souza, was published on the occasion of his 60th birthday. It had 43 contributors and was coordinated by Charles Borges and M N Pearson. In the preface of the book the coordinators rightly commented that the sheer size of this volume, the quality of the learned articles and the warmth of the personal tributes show how they hold him in high esteem and affection.

He wrote and edited over 12 books and over 200 research articles. One of his biggest contributions to Indo-Portuguese history and Goa was the setting of Xavier Centre of Historical Research in 1979. A visionary, he emphasised the need of an institution of research for present and future generations. I remember his comment in a conversation, when I went to the new building of the Centre. “You need an institution behind you to back your work!” He conducted many international conferences, in particular the ISIPH (International Seminar for Indo Portuguese History) series, and national seminars with focus on the history of Goa and India.  

It was a loss to Goa and the Jesuit community when he decided to leave and settle in Portugal. In 1994 he joined the Lusofóna University in Lisbon where he conducted courses in a variety of disciplines, besides history. He has been recipient of many awards and scholarships. He did not feel demeaned to write for the newspapers and regularly contributed to local press in the Goa Today, Herald and other papers, on matters regarding Goa, Goans and international affairs. 

Teotónio’s many writings offer a unique insight into Goan history. He wanted to show how history must be written dispassionately and objectively. His doctoral thesis Medieval Goa became a bench mark for the future researchers on how thesis should be written. Through his work and research he tried to demystify Goa’s history with courage and objectivity. The two articles: Ranes of Sattari and Church and Goan liberation are two examples, although Rane was the Chief Minister at the time and Teotonio was a Jesuit priest he wrote what he felt was the truth.

He was a controversial person; he had many admirers as well as detractors. In the Goa Research Net as moderator, he did not mince words and always tried to maintain the high objective of the group. His passing away is a great loss to Goa and the Indo-Portuguese history, which lost one of the best historians in the field. Requiem in pace Professor Teotónio.
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