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CULTURE & SOCIETY    Photo feature



Myth and Memory, an exhibition of photographs on Catholic Goa by Prabuddha Dasgupta opens in Delhi this month. Panjim-based poet Manohar Shetty previews the show, writing of the receding culture preserved in these haunting images

Click on the picture below to see a photo-essay on the subject

‘What was beguiling in the homes that I visited was the sense of suspended time, almost as if you could interchange the real people with the photographs of their ancestors on the walls, and nothing would be altered, nobody would notice’

Prabuddha Dasgupta

The roman catholic community is a major minority in Goa. Though their numbers here have fallen from 38 percent of the population in 1960 to 26. 6 percent in 2001, they are still a vibrant and influential presence. Contrary to popular notions of the susegado — laid-back — Goan, they are an industrious, politically active, enterprising community, with a long history of migration to East Africa, Portugal, Canada, the UK and the Middle East. Together with Goa’s low birth rate (the lowest in the country), this departure for better opportunities abroad has led to their numbers dwindling back home. But Goa would not be Goa without their combative, effusive spirit, their robust tiatr (from the Portuguese teatro, for theatre) and their enigmatic and chequered political leadership.

Portuguese proselytism and zealotry flourished in the years following the conquest of Goa in 1510 in what are known as the Velhas Conquistas (Old Conquest) territories of Salcette, Bardez and Tiswadi. It was only more than 200 years later that the other areas of Goa, known as the Novas Conquistas (New Conquests), came under Portuguese domination. By then, under the reformist Marquis de Pombal, proselytism had waned considerably. Thus, in present day Goa, the Catholic community is a more dominating presence in the Old Conquest areas. It is mainly here that we find the Old World, gracious, urbane, ‘Western’ order. However, there is no such thing as a Catholic aristocracy (a common misnomer) insofar as there are no descendants left here who can claim any genealogical link to Portuguese royalty.

Dasgupta’s sentient images mark a gentler past, away from the beaten track of fun, feni and swaying palm trees
Though Goa was ruled by the Portuguese for 450 years, there was very little miscegenation. Mixed Lusitanian bloodlines are very rare and only a few such families of mesticos (meaning those of mixed descent) now live in Goa, most having migrated to Portugal and other Western countries. The serenades have long faded from the so-called Latin Quarter of Fontainhas in Panjim, and despite what the tourism brochures — and learned travellers — say, there have never been any cobblestone streets here. (Only low-grade tar.)

A devout and tolerant community, church-going is very much in the air, having reached its apogee during the bjp regimes at the Centre and in the state. The seminaries are full and, trance music apart, among Goa’s lesser-known exports are the scores of ordained priests sent to clergy-starved parishes across Europe.

The abandoned homes and the overwhelming senescence in these sombre images by Prabuddha Dasgupta speak sadly of the many young Goan Christians who have left these shores, never to return. Ancestral roots are falling apart with the invasion of fatcat developers from within the state and across the country, as well as foreigners on frenzied ‘Portuguese-style’ house-hunting sprees. Dasgupta’s sentient pictures mark the forfeiture of the future — and a gentler past. The introspective studies of simple Goan folk within their homes and kitchens move tellingly above the beaten track of fun, frolic, feni and swaying palm trees.

Exhibition on view at the Visual Arts Gallery,
India Habitat Centre
New Delhi, between September 16 and 19, and at Bodhi Arts,
Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi, from September 22 to October 28

Sep 09 , 2006

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