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Understanding the Goan village… in print

Frederick Noronha

Village loyalties run deep. That’s true in Goa, and it is probably true in many other parts of the globe too. I once met a techie from Lebanon who was trying to get expatriates to support development initiatives in their villages through an online initiative called Baldati. Like the Goans, the Lebanese too have migrated in great numbers.

Some villages in Goa tend to celebrate that pride and loyalty by way of the written word. A few Goan villages, strange though it may seem, have one or more books devoted to it.

Cuncolim has three to four books in two or three languages, both by Dalvi and Fr Plankton Faria. Tiny Arossim, in Mormugao taluka, has at least two. Aldona has a book. So do Anjuna and Margao, though someone might point out that the latter is not a village. Santa Cruz was written on by the late historian Teresa Albuquerque. She has also penned the Rachol Legacy, as Leroy Veloso reminds us.

In an earlier listing, I unfairly overlooked the late chief electrical engineer Jose FF de Albuquerque’s book on Divar. Goa Remembered has a lot of information about Sangolda. Late Joel D’Souza, the journalist, has a book on the Nagoa Church, which also touches on life in the Arpora-Nagoa belt. One of the earliest books focussing on villages is Village Goa, on Chandor, by the bureaucrat-turned-academic Olivinho Gomes.

It is quite possible that some might be missed on this list. Plus, the Goa Today monthly has had a long-running series on Goan villages, and some newspapers have also followed up on this.

Other books tangentially cover the lives and times of certain villages. Aloysius D’Souza’s Homeward Bound touches on Nachinola. Brig Ian da Costa’s memoirs has a chapter on what could even be described as an entire Goan village situated in Nagpur. The colourful days of the East Africander Goans is a growing genre in the past decade in particular. Siolim has a book by Sebastian D’Cruz, Aldona has The Last Prabhu by Bernard de Souza (now out of print), while there’s also Bannavli: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

For some reason – maybe I’m just biased – the village of Saligao in Bardez has more than its share of books. Since the first book came out during its church centenary celebrations came out in 1973, there has been quite a flood of such titles. That first title was called Saligao: Focus on a Picturesque Goan Village, and, understandably, was a crafted-in-Bombay enterprise. It was authored by Patrocino de Souza and Alfred D’Cruz, then a desk journalist with the Times of India in Bombay.

Only relatively recently, I came across Floreat Saligao, by C Hubert de Souza, a book that focuses on the greats and the achievers of the village. Late Fr Nascimento J Mascarenhas has written a charming book on the village, Land of the Sal Tree, as have other authors – the octogenarian Mel D’Souza (in Canada, author of Feasts, Feni and Firecrackers) and Melody Vaz (in her twenties in Dubai, Aida’s Ever After). Joseph St Anne, the Mumbai-based ad man and photographer, also has his Echoes.

Clarice Vaz’s A Song for Saligao is the latest on the village. As a keen reader would note, given the rich diversity of the village, especially in Goa, there’s always space for one more book!

Unlike many others, it is a Made-in-Saligao product (pun intended). Again, unlike the earlier books, this one is largely pictorial. It has tonnes of pictures printed on quality paper, and hardbound. Under its A Song for Saligao title, its cover carries the subtitle: ‘…and other villages, where the real Goa lives’. No doubt this could extend its appeal.

Clarice Vaz’s 250-page book covers many faces of the village. From the widely noticed village church (the rare, Gothic-styled Mae de Deus) to its green fields, quiet lanes and festivals. These too are captured from charming angles at various times of the day, depicting varied village moods.

There is a section on Saligao’s mansions ‘and the tales they tell’. Vaz traces this story to migration, bringing back ideas (and money, one should think) from distant lands, and how this all resulted in some grand homes being set up in the village. But the continuing cycle of migration, maybe especially disputes within the families, has resulted in many grand homes falling into a ‘state of disrepair’ (p 63). Some of these have been rescued, either by recent settlers or by descendants with more disposable incomes.

Besides giving a colourful introduction to the village, Clarice Vaz also does well to go beyond the stereotyped cliche of what the Goan village is all about. She tackles problem areas like the disappearing local heritage (pp 74-121), people and professions on the endangered list (pp   122-155), and farming scenes (pp 156-173). The last might seem glamorous, but it is the hard life, with local fighting the high input costs, the lack of markets, and now even bizarre weather patterns.

The book has a depiction of diverse sides of the village: the grand and the prominent; the humble and the endangered. This is a strength. But because the literally hundreds of colour photographs needed to be aptly reproduced, the print-on-demand format of the book means it doesn’t come cheap. Its cost is a significant `2,000 per copy.

With each set of photographs, comes a brief essay by the photographer herself. These are narrated in a catchy, conversational style, not academic or pedantic. This obviously is a book that can be read, bought or borrowed by anyone who wants a quick understanding to ‘village Goa’, or a village from the coastal ‘Old Conquests’ which is also reflective of other villages of its kind.

Clarice Vaz’s own personal story is interesting, and worth sharing here. A qualified nurse and daughter of Moira, she was married in Saligao. Tragically, the village woke up one morning to find that one of her grown-up sons, just out of his teens and studying at a professional college, had died while in his sleep. For awhile it was a mystery. It later turned out to be an undetected heart ailment. To overcome that sorrow and loss, Clarice Vaz took to painting – including creating artworks with a syringe. She got involved in a long-term village graveyard improvement project. In times when even villagers tend to lead lives isolated from each other, one thing lead to another. This all obviously put her in close contact with the village life and its many, multiple faces.

Photography is her recent interest, one which she obviously merges with her earlier work in art, and also her training in tending to people through nursing. This has led her to reach out to all sections of the populace, rich or poor, Catholic or Hindu, educated or skilled-in-the-fields.
Today, villages like hers face unique problems and pressures. Building awareness about their reality and background might be one way out. It would not be wrong to say that migration-oriented villages like Saligao are well known and admired across the globe (largely because of the brand created by their diasporas), but this very out-migration has led to a vacuum back home.  In turn, the loss of people from an active age-group has led to some of the problems faced locally today, including a garbage dump sitting atop and alongside the village hillock.

 But, where there is life there is hope. Despite the pressures of urbanisation and concretisation, the Goan village still has a lot of life throbbing in it. Sometimes, just below the surface. Clarice Vaz’s book more than makes this obvious.

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