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GOAN SAGA

What does it mean to be Goan? Maria Aurora Couto talks to MURALI N. KRISHNASWAMY about her book "Goa: A Daughter's Story".

— Photo: Vino John.

THE IRONY of the prolonged phase of intermittent rain couldn't have been more striking. For the small gathering in New Delhi the other day, it was to be an introduction to Maria Aurora Couto and the ocassion was the launch of her book by Penguin India, "Goa: A Daughter's Story" in the city. Before the evening unfolded, there was just enough time for a rather hurried interview.

Excerpts:

After many years in Dharwar, Patna, Delhi, Madras and London, you set up home in one of Goa's villages, Aldona. It is then that you set off in search of the evolution of Goan society and of the Goan mind. "I've been too busy raising three children and teaching, but the seed had been sown almost 46 years ago," you've been quoted as saying.

My early childhood was in Goa, till I was eight years old. After liberation when the army administration was completed and civil administration took over, Mr. Couto was sent there to oversee the transition. I began asking questions to understand my identity and about the community. Most of my life was in the mainstream and I was trying to relate to it. This was the subconscious process. In those three years I talked to a lot of people.

The historian Pandurang Pissurlekar asked you to write about Goa. Dismissing the idea initially, you soon began to ask what it means to be Goan.

Ours is a layered culture. It has a lot of inheritances and we are not prepared to give up on that. The book was not planned that way. It is not just my personal story. There have been different questions resonating within that sphere and this book talks of a plural identity. Trying to understand why we are/what we are and then having it set finally in an Indian tradition.

You have said, "Goa has been horribly imprisoned in the tourist brochure and Goans caricatured in a manner that the depth and complexity of Goan society has not been seen for the ideal it can present for modern India."

Yes, there hasn't been communal conflict... There have been the ancestral links as well. When synthesis took place and then conversion, there was a kind of bonding.

Have you been anxious that some of the chapters might be misinterpreted? And that history is not converted into a litany of grievances?

I don't think you can be creative if you approach something with a history of grievances. It is important to understand.

It's not an academic or a coffee-table book...

Penguin asked me to write a book. `Give us a book,' was what they actually said. I then told them that it will not be academic but for a general readership. It is also not about scholarship, but about voices. It is actually a book of friendship. I have had someone come up to me and say: `I have information for your second edition.'

Even Goans have responded well, almost as if waiting for someone to lift the veil off a dark past. This book is about educating people and then dispelling stereotypes.

There is a reassuring note in the end where you assert that the forces of divisiveness will not succeed because of what continues to prevail in Goa.

Left to Goa, we will safeguard society. I have absolute faith in Goans, but am not sure of "the other forces" that can manipulate the emotions of Goans.

You took long cruises down the Mandovi and the Zuari to get a direct feel of things. At the same time, other books helped to shape yours.

Well... I have given importance to the human experience. Other sources have been personal narratives and oral history. I was not doing a scholarly work. I was trying to understand society.

On reactions to the book:

"I have been overwhelmed. Ravi, my editor said: `Nobody really expected this kind of book.' I even had this reaction from Doordarshan, Mumbai, on the point of conversion: `Ma'am, did you time this book to coincide with the elections?' "At the British Council, the room was packed.

"Here, though the evening began with this huge hailstorm, the response in general is encouraging. People have also told me how amazed they have been at how people have spoken up."

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