Monday, January 9, 2012

Letters from Portugal: The Governor-General and I

How does one respond in a situation when faced with the statement, ‘Ah, you are from Goa? My grandfather used to be the Governor of Goa.’ The responses it turns out, can be varied, depending on the situation one encounters this phrase in.

The first of such scenarios was when ensconced in the home of a friend, who had spent the day creating scenarios within his plush home for a commercial. As we reviewed each of these sets, our eyes fell upon an oriental looking bird-cage. ‘This cage,’ the friend announced ‘was made in Goa.’ I looked incredulously at the object. A wooden bird cage built to look Indo-Saracenic, there was no way it could have been made in Goa. ‘But it is’ he insisted ‘it was a baptismal gift to my grandmother, who was, along with her father and family, in Goa at the time.’ ‘In Goa?’  I asked all excited; ‘what was her father doing there.’ ‘He was the Governor-General’. This to my mind did not settle the provenance of the bird-cage, but that bit of our conversation ended there.

A second such situation occurred at the birthday party of a colleague’s daughter. At some point in the afternoon I was introduced to the child’s grandmother, who flashed me a most wonderfully warm smile and indicated that she had always wanted to visit Goa, but had as yet not managed to do so. For good measure she also indicated to me, with the same level of warmth, that she also had a cousin, General Craveiro Lopes, who had been the Governor of Goa. 

Perhaps in both circumstances the conversation stopped short on the Governor thread, but continued on others, since I did not know my Goan history well enough to be able to have an intelligent and cultivated conversation on the Governor in question. This lack of history was however filled in rather interestingly when reading some of the works of Ravindra Kelekar. In this one particular essay Kelekar wrote; “People in Goa knew this man (Francisco Higino Craveiro Lopes) very well, as his father General Craveiro Lopes was the Governor of Goa. He would often create a ruckus in Panaji in those days and many people have been involved in altercations with this 'white-skinned ruffian'. Rajabab Hedo threw him down on the road during a fight. His father got so fed up of his ways that he sent him off to Daman as Governor. This man was now Head of State.”

Had I known this little tidbit of information, perhaps the conversation with this good lady at the birthday party would have been somewhat more animated than it had. The fate of that conversation is not the point however (it concluded sweetly enough) but the response when informed that the persons’ relative was once Governor of Goa. While I personally find it hard to bristle with nationalist indignation, the fact that I flounder for words would indicate a somewhat nationalist conundrum lurking deep within.  The fact perhaps is that there is no need for this nationalist drama. As is often the case when Goa-Portuguese stories are narrated, the sentiment involved when indicating that one’s relative from the past was Governor, is one of deep, almost familial, bonding.  The attempt is to cull out a personal memory to share with you, and to draw you into that memory, to make you family.  In any case, all too often, as the story of Higino Craveiro Lopes, and the even more famous story of Bruto da Costa’s famous fisticuffs with the Governor illustrate, relations were also fairly unconventional. It would not hurt though, if the average Goan knew a little more about our own history and did not have to flounder for words or emotions.

(A version of this post first appeared in the O Heraldo dated 11 Dec 2011)

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