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Return of the native

Return of the native

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Stanley Coutinho reminisces over his many diverse journeys before he came back home to his roots in Goa.

To mark their return home from their wanderings people often resort to draw a parallel with Thomas Hardy’s title of his 1878 novel Return of the Native. But I would dare to liken my own homecoming to Shelley’s lines: The desire of the moth for the star, of the night for the morrow…”

Born exactly four hundred years after the death of St Francis Xavier, I moved out of this land of Tambdi Mati barely conscious of what was happening around me at that time and I cannot say that I am conscious of much now. We moved out from my mother’s ancestral home, where my late grandfather had practiced medicine in a more philanthropic manner than was justified under the circumstances to Karwar where my paternal grandfather had, by the turn of the 20th century, established himself as judge, president of the municipality, a proficient advocate and owner of a rather large estate. But with his untimely death in 1929 I had little more left than his DNA – and a house which stood at the head of a road dedicated to his contribution to the bustling little town.

From Karwar (with its ‘Up Church’ and ‘Down Church’ inflexibilities) we moved to Bombay – where we shifted ten houses and four schools. I pulled bravely through college and then appeared for the Civil Services. For all my efforts, I was assigned the Department of Defence Production – from which I happily retired in August 2012.

During those long years in Bombay (it was still Beautiful Bombay’ then until it became nondescript Mumbai), Goa was always a connection, faraway and yet so near. For instance, news of the action by the Indian forces in December 1961 was keenly awaited with strong, mixed feelings in the house, palpable even to this 9-yearold.

The family was huddled around the old Bush radio, afraid, worried about the paradise they had left behind undergoing a blockade, a paradise that had to be regained. Despite the passing years, that level of angst has always remained at the back of my mind. Later, with the building of the coastal highway, Goa became a passage to go on to Karwar where property matters held my attention for some time. But I remained the original romantic: when the old State Transport bus entered Goa in the early hours of the morning, the quality of sunlight seemed to be different, the air more pleasant.

The Civil Service took me to the National Academy in Mussoorie where there were no Goans, (yes, I checked). Next came the first posting in Jabalpur. There apparently was a Goan community which had flourished there once: the D’Souza Compound in the heart of the city; abandoned bungalows with desolate places where children had once played: vestiges of past glory. And the Mass was in Hindi. I learnt a few hymns in Hindi and moved on to Calcutta with its Loreto Convent off Park Street and stray residences in Dharamtolla with their Goan connection. Later, Bhandara, in east Maharashtra, was my home for eight years. This was where the Department of Defence Production had introduced electricity, plumbing, sanitation–and civilisation. It was a wonderful little place, this production unit for chemicals and explosives amidst pristine forests on the banks of the Wainganga. Picturesque and serene Nagpur was just 60 kms away and a frequent weekend destination. A strong Goan population had grown there around the Church of St. Francis de Sales. And there’s where my quest for a proper Goan girl ended – hooked good and proper.

Then, having modestly added to the local Goan population (two kids who were baptised with a string of names in the Goan tradition), we moved to Katni, back in the district of Jabalpur. It is a small dusty town that was dominated by the Defence production unit, the railway and dust contributed by innumerable lime kilns on every side. From Katni, we moved to Ambarnath, near Bombay. The Church of Our Lady of Fatima, run by the very Goan Pilar Fathers, was hub to a large Goan community. We celebrated Christmas 2000 in Ooty.

Then, four years in Bhusawal – a century-old railway town, with a defunct Reserve Petroleum Depot of the British Army. This was another Goan stronghold. Christmases here were jolly gatherings with Portuguese songs and the spirits flowing with peace to all good men! Truly, in every sense, it was a little Goa. From the heat and dust of Central India we enjoyed the cool “English” temperatures of Ooty for the next four years. A warm combination of the Badagas and Anglo-Indians made for some pretty merry Christmases. We visited St George’s Church and so many others that we came to be known as the Roaming Catholics.

Our next stop was at Avadi in Chennai. This was originally the Armoured Vehicle Depot and the first syllable of each of the words was converted to rename the place. It was here that we felt the pangs of the call from Goa.

We went about setting up an association of Goans, and found that there had been one several years ago which had gone defunct. But my wife took the lead in its revival and we were delighted to connect with stalwarts like Luis Menezes from Divar (whose impressive residence in Annanagar is significantly named Casa Goa), Dr. Ida Lobo from Curtorim, a family of musicians who had played with and for the best in the film industry, including A. R. Rahman, a young lady at the World Bank and several medical students interning with Apollo and other hospitals. Most of them had left their mansions back home where good employment opportunities were absent. A mere telephone call for a meeting was sufficient to draw the 60-odd families thronging to the get-togethers which we simply called Viva Goa!

Our two children, fresh engineers from Anna University, decided to visit Goa on their own. And they came back all starry-eyed about Goa, stoking our own memories. My wife whose great grandfather had left these balmy shores for service in the Army Medical Corps towards the end of the 19th century had made up her mind to get back to Goa as soon as I superannuated. That was yet five years away. But three generations of life across the Ghats …we could not morally hope to get any of our ancestral property back! So the search began for a place that would be rural and idyllic but with modern amenities. After some 40- odd sites over a period of ten years, our present abode was thrown into our lap…

So from my last posting in Mumbai, we came home to Goa – the stars still in our eyes. The land with that special sunlight and that nostalgic air…Of dreams of serving the land our fathers in whatever way we could and too make new friends, Goan friends.

But where are the Goans? Some prophecies that there will be no Goans left here after a few years. With the corruption and the cheating, one can only recall the learned observations of the Supreme Court of India in a case around September 2013: “…the State of Goa and its functionaries have allowed ingress of systemic anarchy, throwing propriety to the winds, possibly harbouring the attitude of utter indifference and nurturing an incurable propensity to pave the path of deviancy.” Need I say more?

And yet in spite of all this, Manohar Malgaonkar’s famous words reverberate through my mind: You can take a Goan out of Goa but you cannot take Goa out of a Goan. And about the question of my coming back to Goa? I never really left.

This article was first published in Timeline GOA Magazine: Issue 1 Vol. 1 (Page 80).

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