BOOK EXTRACT: How Much Gold Does a Goan Need?


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By FATIMA M NORONHA

smbTHE GUN, if that is what it was, was held to my third thoracic vertebra. I did not have the curiosity to look round into the gunman’s face. He may have noticed my heirloom earrings swinging rhythmically as I walked briskly ahead of him, but he made no attempt to snatch them. His attention was elsewhere.

That is how you may yet see me, on very special occasions, sporting my grandmother Luisa’s filigree earrings. Exquisitely worked gold chrysanthemum petals surround a tiny sapphire in the open flower which dangles an inch below the delicate bud on the lobe.

Nowadays even my middle class friends and relations go in for diamonds and platinum and bank lockers, but a few decades ago we all believed in gold: gold with pearls, gold with cameos, gold with corals, gold with the ubiquitous green stone, gold toned down with silver and revved up with marcasite chips. Goans have always been particular about their jewellery. Workmanship counts for much more than the material. It is not as elsewhere in India, “The dowry was three kilograms of gold.” Thanks to the brilliant Marquis of Pombal, women in Goa inherit a share of family land, so gold is almost only decorative.

In those days I was so fond of the metal that I carried my entire hoard of it on my fatimanoronhaonly visit to my brother in California. Two delicate bracelets, the harp-shaped studs my musical Aunty Ninette gave me, my parents’ gift of thick gypsy rings, Avòzinha’s sapphire-punctuated danglers, all accompanied me around the Wild West.

“Twenty-two carat, wow!” raved our American friends. “Here it’s all fourteen carat.” Many of the women wanted to know more about my gypsy earrings with the embossed money plant round the edges. They asked about the traditions that produced such ornaments. They wanted to know how much such jewellery cost. How would I know? Gold was always a gift, its price unknown. Like a jet black dress, it was always classy, regardless of price.

On weekends my brother drove me around the magical countryside or to a musical performance in San Francisco. During the week our lifestyle was austere. Since Des worked late at the lab, I used the Santa Clara County transit system and got to know Palo Alto and Stanford on my own. I admired the efficiency of the bus drivers who could count the fare as each passenger dropped coins into the transparent box, and hand out a ticket and a greeting without missing a beat.

It was cold and sometimes scary walking home from the bus stop those winter evenings. My way led down a bright street lined with pretty houses and gardens, then over a humped bridge across a creek and suddenly along a darkened lane. Struggling students and petty criminals could afford the rents in those apartment blocks on our side of the creek. Continue reading “BOOK EXTRACT: How Much Gold Does a Goan Need?”