Herald: Last lunch of the Luso-Goans?

Last lunch of the Luso-Goans?

30 Jun 2019 05:26am IST

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Leopoldo da Rocha

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30 Jun 2019 05:26am IST

Report by
Leopoldo da Rocha

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This occurred in Vila Franca de Xira, in March 2019, in a restaurant of the region (Portugal). Those who I consider the last survivors of India as Luso-Goans lived in beautiful moments. To be fastidious, not all Goans there present in my concept could be called ‘Luso-Goan’. Can one consider ‘Goan’, he who does not speak Konkani just because he has a few drops of Goan blood in the veins derived from the father or mother or grandparents? Or even simply because the parents were born in Goa ‘in illo tempore’ (in those times)? Among those present, there were those who had been born and lived until decolonization in Portuguese Africa, but Portuguese Goa had not taken away the taste of their cuisine. They were assimilated with the Portuguese, in everything. But interestingly, at this stage of the story, something drew them to the roots of the ancestors. At that lunch, an ‘assimilated’ from this generational period had a conversation with me.

‘Are you from Goa? Then you should know Konkani!’ I answered yes, but now for lack of practice, I had difficulty in holding a conversation because the words did not easily occur to me and also because there were no speakers.

It turns out that I had contacts with Goans from my county with whom I met in the parish fair here, and I started by talking to them in Konkani.

Those brief moments of conversation were magnificent because I longingly missed my Konkani that earlier I used to speak well. In addition, I had studied the language in the Seminary. Oddly enough, I noticed that these Goans avoided using their mother tongue, preferring instead to speak Portuguese. There will be sociological motivation for this type of behavior.

Returning now to the lady, she asks me in a professorial tone:

‘Did you eat ‘kaji’?’ This last word, spoken with a typical Portuguese accent, caught me off guard.

‘Kaji, kaji’ I stammered.

Answer from the matron of Goan origin: ‘Kaji! Kaji!' And seeing my air of ignorance, she said in a tone of voice, ‘Arê tum mataró zala (sic, instead of 'zalai') (‘you’re already old, man). I kept mulling the word ‘kaji’ with an air of oblivion. Then the woman said you did not eat any orange-colored candies ... and she made a drawing with her dry, dark knotted fingers, and there was light in my spirit, and I answered gently:

‘The patrician is mispronouncing the word: The word is ‘khajim’, with ‘k’ well aspirated. It is plural of ‘khajem’. They are jaggery sweets or sugar based on flour, traditionally served at litanies. Sweets are cut into diamond shapes.

At the same table, but almost at the end of the row, I saw the figure of our Tucha, the ever jovial, with a captivating smile, a universal, chirping spirit, which in conviviality among beers and tinto stood out like a living flame in conversation. It was necessary to provoke this conversation – which I did – leading it to fields of abstract philosophy in the way of a ball for shredding. Tucha was a great one, with eyes touched by the cups, he would lecture, in defiance, answering any provocative question. The singularity of these encounters in which Tucha marked with the presence of other Goans consisted precisely in this aspect, which, for me, was the sign of the ineffable Luso-Goanness. Tucha – his real name Tucharkanta Gaunenkar, brahmin of Ponda – was pure Hindu and before graduating high school in Goa, had taken the fourth class of Marati - which was usual among Hindus. In one of the meetings in which he took part, together with his Portuguese wife Ze, I asked Tucha what the meaning of the name ‘Tucha’ was. He answered thus: ‘Tucha means in Portuguese lotus flower.’ And with my linguistic craze, I asked if the etimel was morphologically and grammatically masculine. He thought for a long time, repeated his name, and said: It must be gender neutral.

In this last meeting, as in the previous one, Tucha was no longer the same. It is true: ‘empus edax’ - the patina not only affects things, it affects humans as well. Tucha was very fat, and spoke little, almost nothing, the captivating and malicious smile had disappeared. Was that the Tucha I had known? 

It was not normal for the Hindus to live in the manner of the Tucha. But in Goa, this happened. At the level of the villages, I would say, the coexistence was strong, because I lived my childhood in a predominantly Hindu area. When looking for the elements that integrate the so-called Goan identity, a concept of great complexity – identity is already collapsing – we must not forget this link that united the Christians and Hindus of the time when Goa was a Portuguese colony, regardless of the membership or political sympathy.

I refer here, incidentally, to the English-language Goan writer Victor Rangel-Ribeiro, author of the iconic novel Tivolem (1998). The narrative of this book is based on the classic style of romantic epiphany. But it results from an immense, lyrical panel, replete with melancholy nostalgia and that recreates Goa from the 1930s of the last century (‘tempus lusitanum’). The scene where the action takes place is a fictional village of the Old Conquests (Bardez) and not one of the New Conquests, where, as I said, I lived my childhood. Precisely because I had framed the brotherhood that united the Hindus and Christians of Goa at that time, I gather an episode of Victor Rangel’s quoted novel as a comprehensive counter-proof: not only of New Conquests, but also the Old Conquests like Bardez.

At that time, beginning of the decade of the ’30s, the phase of social transformation of the structure was already outlined, in the old rural Goa. Those who had emigrated, returned to their land wealthy, encouraged by new ideas and with a different view of things. Simon Fernandes was one of those who, coming to his village ‘Tivolem’, soon thought of building a large house. For this he needed to buy the land adjacent to the old mansion of the old Dona Esmeralda, who lived alone in this highly degraded dwelling. Her companions and family were her tenants (manducars), mostly Hindu families. She was the mater-familiares of them all. She had helped and followed successive generations of many of them. Now Eusebius wanted to buy her land. His house needed urgent works and the money Eusebius offered was tempting. Yes. But what about the Hindu family: Govind and Amita and their five children, the eldest of whom was only six? When they learned that they would have to leave the house where they lived, they had been afflicted by old Dona Esmeralda. The children threw themselves at his neck in tears, they did not even know why. The ending ends well. The piece of land where the Govind-Amita family lived was not sold, and good-natured D Esmeralda went on like a generous grandmother and good soul.

Perhaps in this behavior of the old D Esmeralda, a typical paternalism of a ‘batkarn’, feudal landowner to the Goesa, is revealed. I do not think so. Here was a gesture of fraternal brotherhood that overcame class sectarianism.

Already at the close of that Goan luncheon, someone had noted, in a melancholy tone, how the primitive nucleus that had formed that Goan cell in diaspora had faded. Some were no longer among the living. It was massive the vacuum left by (Antonio) Menezes, an authentic Goan patriarch in Lisbon. After the usual farewell hugs, I saw Tucha leave the restaurant and get in the car, supported by his loving wife Zé. The memory of the late Menezes came to me, of the festivities he organized in cafes, and even in his own house where he became head of the kitchen, for he was an expert in Goan cuisine. Menezes was a big hand and in these ‘events’ he was not much of an orderly man. His Portuguese wife, Conceição, kept the family afloat in its proper course.

In such encounters Tucha was not lacking. I found the annoyance of Menezes to be comical when Tucha, after being euphoric, took the initiative of ordering the waiter at the coffee table, this and that for snacks. Menezes felt exasperated in his category of chief of clique. And he would be grunting, whispering in my ear in Konkani and mixed Portuguese, calling Tucha names. This one was smart. As if it had nothing do to with him, he’d send his ‘dazzling smile’ to both of us, and a disarming explanation. Those were good times.

(This was originally written in Portuguese. It has been loosely translated.)
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