Stories from Assagao, Salvador-do-Mundo, “Ponchivaddy”…

FOR A CHANGE, last night, one was really in a mood to read out bedtime stories to my five-year-old. In advance, one warned her that there were enough stories coming up to surely tire her out. She was game, and the festive school holidays for Ganesh allowed it; till her mum reminded all that Riza had been getting insufficient sleep over the past few days.

Anne de Braganca Cunha’s *Goan Whoopee: Goan Tales For Children* was responsible, of course, for just one night of sleeping late. After picking it up from Mapusa on Friday, one wanted to kill two birds in one stone — give a child a dose of Goan stories (even in these Internet-savvy days, so few are actually available), and also check out a book for a possible brief review.

Of course, we stopped exactly half-way through the 80-page book, which terms itself a “charming collection of fascinating tales, adopted from ancient folklore and retold with a modern touch”.

From the author’s writing, it becomes clear that she’s an expat Goan (“when my world was very new, Goa meant summer holidays, frolicking on the golden sands and surf-trimmed waves”) and that she comes from an affluent Catholic background (“then I was married and inherited this 350
year old fairy-tale mansion lit with shimmering chandeliers, dark carved furniture and pictures of stern faced ancestors on the walls”). .

Her experience probably parallels that of others of the old world Goa, the Goa that some still hanker for, even if its feudal times are fast changing: “I met people too. From my family retainers, ancient aunts, and landed gentry, and field workers to the children from the local school. They made me proud to be a Goan. They taught me about Goan culture and customs, parted with cherished recipes, treated me to songs that were haunting and rhythmic. and more than anything else, they told me stories that had been handed down generations by word of mouth.”

Her stories are indeed interesting. And, with what a twist…

This one is sure to cause bewilderment for those struck by Lusostalgia among us: A poor couple lacks a child, has their prayers heard by God Parasurama. He flings an arrow, which lands into the sea near the fertile Konkan. The arrow reaches the belly of the woman, and the child born is called Govapuri. In short, the young girl grows up “spritely and slim”, rejects many suitors, till she falls for the Portuguese prince Adil Shah. (“He sang a beautiful ‘fado’ that brought tears into Govapuri’s eyes and they turned into
glistening pearls.”)

Then, the travails of married life. The prince makes Govapuri change her name to Giovanna “and she wore frilly gowns and curled her hair and spoke only Portuguese and she roughed her cheeks and outlined her eyes, powered her face and painted her lips, which could laugh no more.” Bharat comes, along the way, to the rescue. But freeing the damsel is no easy task. Politically-correct for some; at least some of the strident voices on the Goa might consider this a book fit for a public burning 😉

Surprise, surprise. This actually read like a fairy tale, and ended like one. My five-year-old was actually enjoying it. (One day, it might help her to understand the politics on Goanet… even if it’s going to probably leave her very confused when she has to start learning the history of Goa — rather, the different version of it!) Myth, history, caste, politics… all rolled into one, and done quite entertainingly, one might say.

The other three fairy-tales we read that night were less ‘heavy duty’. A rich lady from Assagao who mistakenenly poisons her son to avoid him moving about with the poor beggar’s daughter…. A mango tree who saves a girl from a tiger while her job-seeking brother goes from Salvador do Mundo to Mapusa to desperately seek some work… And the usual inter-village boundary dispute (this time, with Macasana being fought over between Chandor and Curtorim), and how the gods cursed ‘Ponchivaddy’ for it, leading it to be a barren hillock in the locality.

These stories echo the Goa one recalls. Not a place of the good-old-days which some on the Net harken to, but a place of poverty (we easily forget how difficult money was to come by, for most here, just a generation ago), hierarchy, intrigue, and fear. Still waiting though to encounter that compulsory ghost in the book… but having done with this review, wonder if the five-year-old is going to retain her enthusiastic storyteller!

The author writes nimbly. She has published a great deal. Besides a children’s page for the “once popular Eve’s Weekly” Braganca Cunha has written a book called ‘The Little Lute Player’ for teenage girls, and three read-act-and-do books for pre-schoolers (‘The Singing Cockroach’, ‘The Greedy Monkey’ and ‘Silly Billy Willie’). Like most Goan authored books, these seem to be hard to locate. At the time of publishing the book (1999) she wrote for the youth mag *Upbeat*.

The author describers herself as “not your run-of-the-mill white-haired Grandma, sitting on a rocking chair knitting booties”. Says she: “They call me ‘Thoroughly Modern Granny’ because I’m slim ‘n’ trim, don trendy clothes and make up, party a lot, am a busy full-time writer, and know the words of the latest pop songs”.

Whether we like it or not, expat Goans and the (rather derogatorily-termed) ‘non-Goans’ have added a lot of vibrancy to Goan society. (Resident Goans have sometimes felt that they’ve been distorting our priorities.) But writing in English is one field that has surely gained. If you have a kid who every night badgers you for bedtime tales — or even if you don’t — and you’re keen to keep up with a tradition we’re fast losing, then go for this moderately priced, neatly-written book. 06SEP2003

Goan Whoopee: Goan Tales For Children
Anne de Braganca Cunha
1999, Pp 80. Rs 50.
Neve Publishers, Gurgaon Mumbai b…
Available from: OIB, Mapusa


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