Goa has many stories to tell. It is an island in more than one ways. Maria Aurora Couto is someone who was born in an elite Christian family in Goa and grew up in Dharwad in the neighboring Karnataka. She lived for a while in Patna before returning to Goa at a crucial junction in time when Goa had just liberated from a long rule of Portuguese.
This book Goa A Daughter’s Story is a part memoir and part a search for history and roots by Maria Aurora Couto. Her narrative meanders between childhood memories of growing up in Dharwad as her father lived in Goa. Her visits to Goa and finally her return to Goa as the wife of an IAS officer responsible for handling the newly integrated state of Goa with India. In between, she tries to uncover the history of Goa, especially of its two communities Hindus and Christians.
Being a Christian herself, who is aware of the fact that they were Hindus once, there are a lot of layers that you can see her words. She begins with the elitist aura, where the elite Christians from their big bungalows revel in speaking only Portuguese. There is a sense of being on top of the hierarchy. She then talks about how the Christians were the working class in the Portuguese Government, while the Hindus who refused to convert became the business class. The fact that wealthy businessmen were invited back as any state needs traders who fund them.
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Her feelings towards the Hindus of Goa are ambivalent. Maria Aurora Couto knows her ancestors once belonged there as she tells you that some people still associate her family with the temples they belonged to. At places, she feels they did not have to go through conversion and the pains that came with it. At other places, she says they were smart enough to keep their businesses and did not have to work in the office. I learned that for a long time Hindus in Goa did not send their children to Christian schools, they would home school them or the Gurus would come home to teach their children.
You also learn about how the converts carry their castes to Christianity & continue to abide by the rules of it even now, after centuries of conversion.
In defense of Portuguese rulers and church, she keeps repeating that Christianity came to India and Goa way before Portuguese landed on its shores. It almost feels she is justifying the violence and mass conversions, when she says, no one decided to convert on their own. Village heads decided to convert and the whole village followed.
Her insights at the time liberation say that ‘Catholics once socially dominant and secure felt pushed into a corner’. She laments the loss of privileges that the community had to go through. She talks at length about Goan Christian identity born from the exemplary service of missionaries, benefits of education, work of charitable institutions and in 18th CE confidence of citizenship.
The author digs into the history of the state going back to the Kadamba kingdom. Maria Aurora Couto takes you through the sights and sounds of Goa as she takes you on ferry rides across its rivers or she tells you about the music that is integral to the life of a Goan. She tries to take you through the Goan home, especially those that belong to rich and mighty, and you know she is discovering a lot of Goa as part of writing this book.
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Overall, Goa A Daughter’s Story is the story of a Catholic Goan. No unexpected, as not only she represents the community but also she was funded by the Portuguese to write this book. However, what comes across is a dual identity where the converts want not to let go of the privileges of both the before and after conversion status. She is oxymoronic at many places like at one place she says – Portuguese were not racist though they rarely shared positions of power with Goans. She is confused if Christians are privileged in Goa who had important Govt positions before liberation, big houses and did not have to pay any taxes like Hindus. Or, the Hindus who stayed true to their religion and though had to leave the state but came back with a band as traders and businessmen.
She calls Hindus smart for this strategy, never even touching the trauma they would have gone through as their temples were destroyed and converted into churches. Or, when they were uprooted from their fields or when they had to pay a tax for being a Hindu.
One thing Maria Aurora Couto tries to tell us hard, as any Goan or anyone living in Goa would say, Goa is not what the tourism brochures of Goa tell you it is. It is not just Portuguese heritage or the catholic caricature that you see in films. But an old living civilization that was a part of India but was isolated for a long time under Portuguese. It is still a Hindu majority state with thriving temples and temple festivals.
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I hope some Goan Hindu would tell their side of the story too.
The language is that of a well-read person, controlled and well framed. The narrative moves between Goa’s story and the author’s story. It is an easy read that introduces you to many facets of Goa. It does open up many windows for the layperson to explore more about this little sunshine state.
Take your call.