A Dance of God

Last month, we experienced a compulsory internet detox for ten days or so (thank you Gwave!) for reasons that were never disclosed.

I am very grateful to my friend Nigel Britto for informing me that the great Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma would be performing in Mumbai. This would in itself be a milestone concert, on his first-ever visit to India.

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To top it all, he would be playing the entire set of six suites for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1007-1012) by that towering musical genius, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

And… get this… he would be playing them all (from memory, of course!) at one marathon concert, two-and-a-half-hours long, no interval!  Mumbai would be one of only 36 locations worldwide on Yo-Yo Ma’s “Bach Project”, where he would play all six suites “in one sitting”.

Music-lovers will know how rare cello recitals are in Goa. This is a reflection of the relative paucity of cello teaching here, something that Child’s Play India Foundation has been working hard to address. When cello recitals do happen, we’re lucky to get one movement from one of the Bach cello suites. So to have them all performed by certainly one of the greatest living cellists would be a momentous occasion.

As Ma describes it on his dedicated “Bach Project” website, it is a “journey” motivated not only by his six-decade long relationship with the music, but also by Bach’s ability to speak to our common humanity at a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division.”

That struck a chord in me, as it should in all of us, whether in his country, or ours, and indeed in most of the world today, where exclusion and division unfortunately have so much greater currency and state, political and societal backing than inclusion and harmony.

It is noteworthy that Yo-Yo Ma, at sixty-three, is the exact same age that another great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) was when he in 1991 first “plucked up the courage” to record all the Bach cello suites (although Yo-Yo Ma did do it once before, in 1983).

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Rostropovich too, in the DVD introduction admitted that he’d been “closely linked to them” all his life, with “nothing in the world more precious” to him. “These compositions always allow you to discover something new. Each day, each hour, each minute you reflect upon them, you reach deeper.”

There is something prayerful, spiritual even, that one experiences, when one plays or listens to them. English music critic, musicologist and composer Wilfred Mellers called it “Monophonic music in which a man has created a dance of God.”

With the internet still down, I had to call a friend in Mumbai who got us tickets. In the run-up to the concert, I read (and re-read) as much as I could about them. One fascinating book is the lovingly-written “The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals and the search for a Baroque Masterpiece” by Canadian musician and writer Eric Siblin.

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A former pop music critic for the Montreal Gazette, he began a voyage of discovery after listening to a recital of the Cello suites, taking him to the backstreets of Barcelona, to interviews with master-cellists; to archives, festivals and conferences; and even to cello lessons – “all in pursuit of answers to the mysteries that continue to haunt the music more than 250 years after its composer’s death”, and around three centuries after the Suites were written (around 1717-1723).

Rostropovich said that “the hardest thing to achieve, in interpreting Bach, is the necessary equilibrium between human feelings, the heart which undoubtedly Bach possessed, and the serious and profound aspect of interpretation. Bach has no shallow or transitory emotions, no momentary anger, no bad words, no fleeting embraces. His emotions are on as vast a scale as Shakespeare’s. These are emotions common to all people on earth. We all weep when we suffer, we all know tears of joy. It’s these fundamental emotions that Bach transmits in his Suites. They demand more than a lightweight approach. But you can’t automatically disengage your heart from the music. This was the greatest problem I had to resolve in my interpretation.”

This absence of anger in Bach’s music is something I have often remarked upon as well. Perhaps this is also why Ma thought it apt for our time.

Like him, Rostropovich too thought of the Suites as a “cycle”, one that increases in intensity and complexity, each Suite’s Prelude increasing in length, until the final Suite is, as he terms it, “a symphony for solo cello.” He gave titles to each Suite: ‘Lightness (Suite no. 1, G major); ‘Sorrow and Intensity (no. 2, D minor); ‘Brilliance’ (no. 3, C major); ‘Majesty and opacity’ (no. 4, E flat major); ‘Darkness’ (no. 5, C minor); and finally, ‘Sunlight’ (no. 6, D major).  His views on key-colour relationships of the Suites are quite fascinating.

He chose to record the Suites in a church whose “severity of line and rhythm of architecture” so powerfully reminded him of Bach’s music. These considerations may not have been on Ma’s mind when he played for us at the NCPA’s Modernist-style Tata theatre, but we got lightness, sorrow, intensity, brilliance, majesty, darkness and sunlight all the same.

Ma strode onto the stage with a spring in his step, sat down, waited until latecomers had settled down, and proceeded to play the entire cycle, with barely an intake of breath between movements, and a brief pause between Suites. He seemed to be having an intimate conversation with the Universe, and we were mere eavesdroppers. If he did pause at “half-time”, after the third Suite, it was to make an emphatic point about the incessant coughing in the audience (more about this in another column, perhaps?), which quite visibly seemed to be disturbing his intense concentration. It disturbed the rest of us as well, but over time he and we tuned out the compulsive coughers who didn’t have the good grace to leave.

The concert was a Bach pilgrimage, with each of the 36 movements (six movements in each Suite:  prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets or two bourrées or two gavottes, and a final gigue) revealing a different aspect of his genius. As Ma put it, the first three Suites seemed to him Bach’s way of showing us what the cello could do; the last three on the other hand, what the cello could NOT do, but Bach invites us, the listener, to “complete” it in our imagination.

It is interesting that both Ma and Rostropovich particularly love the intimate Sarabande in the fifth Suite. Ma chose to play this movement on September 11, 2002 at Ground Zero, while for Rostropovich it was “most genius composition – just three lines, that’s all, but so precious!”

When I was young, old-timers would tell me, “I heard Heifetz when he came to Bombay.” One day, I’ll tell my grandkids “I heard Yo-Yo Ma play all the Bach Cello Suites in Mumbai.” This is the stuff of legend.

(An edited version of this article was published on 17 February 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

You can hear him play the Six Suites (at the BBC Proms 2015):



Corte da Norte

I was born in Berlin (at that time West Berlin in West Germany), have lived a decade in and around London, and have been able to visit so many major cities around the world, but the metropolis that really sets my pulse racing and makes my heart go dhak-dhak is still Mumbai, Bombay in my earlier years. Maybe it’s because it is the first big city I got to know so well, on account of family ties, study, work, and performing music, or just to get a periodic fix of concerts, museums, and culture in general.

It’s a love-hate relationship, to be sure, and many Goans can relate to this. After a few days, I’ve had enough of the bustle and squalor and can’t wait to get home again.

On those umpteen visits, I was vaguely aware of Vasai, as some far-off, end-of-the-line train stop on the Western Railway. And I was aware of Baçaim and Bassein as important place-names in our history. But it only gradually dawned on me that they were colonial references (Portuguese and British, respectively) to present-day Vasai.

My ‘base’ in erstwhile-Bombay used to be Chembur; I could make sense of the city and plan my bus and train routes from there. Vasai seemed a long way away then from there, and too far removed from my usual commute (usually to ‘town’ or less often Bandra and back) and forbidding.

But then I married Chryselle, a Mumbai girl, with her family now in Borivali, and suddenly Vasai was not that distant anymore, just a handful of stops away by ‘local’ train. It beckoned more and more tantalizingly. But I didn’t know what to expect even if I did go there. Indian cities, although rich in heritage, reveal their secrets reluctantly, grudgingly.

As I got more and more interested in history and heritage, I increasingly began to meet historians and researchers who had visited sites such as Vasai in the course of their field work. The release of my friend Amita Kanekar’s informative and well-illustrated concise pocket-book “Portuguese Sea Forts: Goa with Chaul, Korlai and Vasai” published in 2015 only whetted my curiosity even further.

However, the stars finally aligned only a few months ago, on the return leg of our Kochi trip, when I was able to set aside some time to explore Vasai. The journey from Borivali was surprisingly straightforward; a 25-minute train ride to Vasai Road,

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and then a connecting bus from there directly to there, actually entering the crumbling remains of the once-walled fort city.

First impression: it was much, much larger than I had anticipated. One could imagine how formidable and grand it would have been in its heyday as the Corte da Norte (Court of the North) capital of  the Província do Norte (Northern Province) of the Estado da Índia.


Fort of São Sebastião

The massive Vasai Fort has seen ‘restoration’ work by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which has been criticized by many conservationists. Judging from the white patches of plaster and the non-matching stone and concrete used in several places, one is inclined to agree. There are allegations by villagers and local heritage enthusiasts that several inscriptions have been ruined or covered over during the ASI work.

When I visited the heritage precincts of Vasai around mid-morning on a weekday, there were only a few others in the area. It however seems a popular destination for wedding photography, and I even spotted a little boy getting a First Holy Communion picture taken, all dressed in white, lace-trimmed gloves and decorated candle, in the historic Jesuit college of the Sagrado Nome de Jesus (Holy Name of Jesus), whose entrance façade

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is so obviously inspired by that of our Bom Jesus Basilica in Old Goa.

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On taking in the large scale of the site, I quickly abandoned any idea of covering it all in a day. Much of the fort-city is either overgrown with vegetation interspersed with signs of human habitation, and I was surprised, while walking through what seemed like a much-neglected portion of the heritage site, to find a housing complex smack bang in the middle of it, with a solitary road connecting it to ‘civilisation.’ There is of course, the bustling village of Vasai literally just outside the city wall limits.

The important link between Portuguese Baçaim and Goa cannot be overemphasized. The Província do Norte was literally the granary of the Estado da Índia, providing also for Goa, whose local rice production was insufficient for the needs of her own population. The fall of Baçaim at the 1739 Battle of Baçaim resulted therefore in severe food shortage here. In Ernestine Carreira’s “Globalising Goa (1660-1820)”,

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she elaborates: “The situation forced [the Portuguese] to engage in illegal trade with French ships from the Mascarene Islands [or Mascarenhas Archipelago, a group of islands east of Madagascar, consisting of Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues], exchanging food for slaves.”

As she also states, Portuguese control of the seas needed a strong war fleet. The loss of their footholds on the Malabar coast deprived Goa of teak, vital for repairs and shipbuilding.  The neighbouring forests of the Província do Norte and Baçaim took over from Goa as the centre for hull building.

One can understand how the fall of Baçaim in 1739 would have therefore undermined the Portuguese maritime strength as well, contributing even further to the decline of the Estado da Índia.

The fall of the Província do Norte sent shockwaves through Lisbon, “even casting doubt on the credibility of the monarchy”, as Carreira puts it. To bolster a sagging image among the “great nations of Europe”, D. João V increased support to Goa and several unsuccessful diplomatic and military attempts were made to retake the provinces. However, in the interest of face-saving back home, “each military breakthrough in Goa gave rise to propagandizing announcements across Europe.”

Amid the ruins of the fort-city, one can still sense “living history”. Some of the adjacent forested area that probably was a source of timber to the old city is still intact, and a few ancient wells from the Portuguese era are still in use, with clusters of the village women drawing water from them and bathing their children as they shrieked in delight.

Vasai’s Fort of São Sebastião shot to worldwide fame after British band Coldplay used it as a video shooting location (among other sites in India) for their international hit song ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ in 2015.

Bollywood, of course have used the location long before.

The first Indian saint Gonçalo Garcia (1556-1597) was born in Portuguese Baçaim, and one sees his name everywhere: a church, a school, and several commercial establishments.

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Although better signage would help a lot in negotiating one’s way around the heritage site, it is perhaps better that Vasai remains as long as possible far from the eyes of the government, bureaucrats, hoteliers and real-estate tycoons with their warped ideas of ‘development’, ‘tourism’ and ‘beautification.’ Some of the mystique of the old city is precisely its sense of abandonment, “a place that time forgot.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 10 February 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)


Practically Perfect in (Almost) Every Way

Sequels can sometimes be such a letdown, and although I was aware that “Mary Poppins Returns” had come to our big screen, I took my time to actually go and see it.

I went to a matinee show and was thrilled to find just about eight of us in the whole cinema hall, so it was a much more intense experience, without any ringing or other noises from phones. The film was such a delight to the senses that I staggered out only after the last credits had rolled up and the last note of the soundtrack had faded away, and I impulsively bought tickets for the whole family for the evening show. And with our Parra cousins joining in, it became a family movie night out.

The ‘original’, first film, Mary Poppins (1964), starring Julie Andrews in the eponymous role made a huge impact in our childhood formative years for many of us. So you’ll know what a tough act it would be to follow. So many songs from that film have become classics, and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ has now entered the popular lexicon to describe something ‘extraordinarily good and wonderful.’

The very idea of another Mary Poppins film after over half a century (fifty-four years, to be exact) was audacious. Whoever took up the challenge would have to be prepared to be judged by that very high benchmark.

But film director Rob Marshall quite creditably does pull it off in what is clearly a labour of much love and detail.


In an interview, Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins in this film) reveals how she found her cues and inspiration for the role from the eight books by Pamela Lyndon Travers, who created the character, rather than from the 1964 film. Consequently her portrayal tries to be “enigmatic and batty and funny and vain and rude, and all of these things that were so delightful to play”, rather than the clipped-accent prim-and-proper Julie Andrews version.

The star cast also includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury among many others. All of them appear to be thoroughly reveling in their screen roles. Firth’s character (no fault of his, as he’s merely following script and direction) is a little two-dimensional, a cardboard cut-out villain, heartless bank manager (William ‘Weatherall’ Wilkins) bent on ruining the Banks family and taking possession of their house, and in general profiting off the misfortunes that befall all the clients of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank during the dark years of the Great Depression (called “The Great Slump” in the film) of the 1930s.

If you’re familiar with the previous film and the P. L. Travers books, you’ll find this sequel in brimming, almost frame-by-frame, with cross-references, or little “easter eggs” that link back and forth all the time. But even if you don’t, this film is a “marvelous, mystical, rather sophistical, very top drawable, always encorable, simplest sensational, standing ovational” treat. It takes one back to the glory days of the brilliantly written musicals, where music and lyrics fit each other so perfectly.

The partnership of Marc Shaiman (song lyrics and music and film score) and Scott Wittman is truly magical. Maybe I’m lavishing too high praise, but if they follow through with more collaborations of such high calibre, they could well be remembered and mentioned in the same breath as Gilbert and Sullivan, or Rodgers and Hammerstein, or even the Sherman brothers (who wrote music and lyrics to the first Mary Poppins film) and other legendary partnerships.

It was such a heartwarming experience, having such a glorious old-world-style lush orchestral sound envelope you in surround sound, da capo al fine.

And unlike our films, of course, there isn’t any ‘playback’ singing: the actors themselves sing their parts. Meryl Streep seems to be landing more and more singing roles after the runaway box office success of the Mamma Mia! franchise (the first Mamma Mia! Film is still Streep’s highest-grossing film to date, and the highest-grossing musical film ever), and she pulls out all the stops in the song ‘Turning Turtle’ in her cameo role of Topsy (short for Tatiana Antanasia Cositori Topotrepolovsky). Colin Firth, who also co-starred (and sang) with Streep in the Mamma Mia! films, was perhaps wisely not given any singing part.

Emily Blunt seems born to sing her part, and although comparisons will inevitably be made with Julie Andrews (who turned down a cameo role in the sequel as she wanted it to be “Emily’s show”), she has made the role her own. She watched a lot of 1930s films to get her distinctive accent and lilt to her spoken and sung voice.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was a real discovery for me. Looking him up on getting home, I learnt he was also composer, lyricist and playwright, with a really interesting back-story to his quirky name. He worked hard with a dialect coach, and like Blunt also watched period films to acquire a sufficiently Cockney accent.

The animation scenes in “Can You Imagine That?”, “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” and “A Cover is Not the Book” were painstakingly done, to match those from the original film. Several animators were called out of retirement (and they gladly obliged!) to hand-paint the scenes frame-by-frame as it would have been done in the 1960s. For many, (although Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins was vehemently opposed when the first film was being shot), the juxtaposition of live and animation characters are the highlight of the film.

My son’s favourite song (although he loved them all) was the rather pensive, woeful soliloquy “A Conversation”, sung by Ben Whishaw (who plays Michael Banks, recently widowed father of the three children). The slow-waltz lullaby tempo and the soft, music-box-like accompaniment give the song an ethereal feel, and throw his voice into sharp relief, bringing out the pathos in the lyrics.

The film is a must-see for all ages. Our whole family had a blast. While in the cinema hall, I realized that my mother and her cousin Fr. Joaquim D’Souza SDB, were together at the movies again after easily over half-a-century. The last time was in the 1950s, at Aurora cinema, King’s Circle in what was then still called Bombay. One of the memorable films from that era that they saw together was the 1954 Danny Kaye comedy classic, “Knock on Wood.”

“Mary Poppins Returns” will be remembered just as fondly, as a classic, generations from now. To quote a line from the film, “As we’ve learnt, when the day is done, some stuff and nonsense can be fun. Can You Imagine That?”

(An edited version of this article was published on 03 February 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

If Only She Could Speak….

Information about our beloved Panjim icon, the Mermaid, in the garden (in front of the District and Sessions Court) that has taken her name ever since she was installed there is not so easily forthcoming.

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We do know from Vasco Pinho’s recent tome, ‘My Unforgettable Panjim’ ( Meu Pangim Inesquecível’) that the statue was inaugurated at the time of the visit of Sarmento Rodrigues, the then Ministro do Ultramar Colónias (Minister for Overseas Colonies) to Goa in 1952.

Some newspaper reports claim that the sculptor was Vishnu Mahadev Cuncoliencar. Others say it was sculpted in Portugal and transported here. But Pinho states (and I confirmed this with him at a recent meeting) that its creator was the Bombay-based renowned Goan artist, Panduronga Sinai Kamat. And contrary to many who think it made of porcelain, he believes it to be marble. The best compromise could be that the marble statue has a glazed external layer suggestive of porcelain.

But, whoever her creator may have been: What is the backstory to his being commissioned to sculpt the statue? Was he asked to sculpt a mermaid, or was it his idea? In either case, was it merely because the centerpiece of the garden would be a water fountain, or was there more to it than even that?

This is speculation on my part, but: could the fact that The Little Mermaid (Den lille Havfrue) had been erected in Copenhagen (also by the waterside) just a couple of decades before, in 1913, and therefore been topical, have had something to do with the idea for ‘our’ statue?

Image result for little mermaid copenhagen

Image result for little mermaid copenhagen

Could the water spout in her hand have been a further embellishment upon the Danish model?

There is an obvious similarity also with the 1480s-era painting “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

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Give Venus in the painting a fish-tail instead of lower limbs, raise her right upper limb from her breast to hold up a water-spout instead, tilt her head to left rather than right, and plant her in a basin instead of an upturned seashell, and the resemblance is quite striking. But this could be coincidental.

The simplest explanation might be the most accurate; a marine reference would be apt in view of the Overseas Minister’s visit, and its riverside location, right in front of the Navegação Fluvial (River Navigation Department), welcoming commuters as they left the building after disembarking from the launches and other rivercraft.

Also, as Pinho speculated to me when we met, mermaids find mention in the epic poem Os Lusíadas by Portugal’s greatest poet Luís Vaz de Camões, so she may be a nod in that direction.

Sure enough, in the penultimate Canto (Canto IX) of the epic, the goddess Venus prepares an island for Vasco da Gama et al to rest on (to reward them for their exploits, of course) and asks her son Cupid to inspire Nereids (sea nymphs or mermaids, depicted in art as half-human female, half-fish)with desire for them.

This is the same scene in the last of the five beautiful azulejo tableaux by the great Portuguese artist Jorge Colaço in entrance to the old Central Library building.


The above text (Canto IX, Stanza 64) reads:

“Nesta frescura tal desembarcavam.

Já das naus os segundos Argonautas,

Onde pela floresta se deixavam.

Andar as belas Deusas, como incautas.”


And the English translation by Landeg White:

“Amidst all this fresh luxuriance,

the second Argonauts disembarked,

Where the lovely nymphs were strolling

In the forests as if all unaware.”

As can be expected, just as Shakespeare’s plays are part of the British school curriculum, so also Os Lusíadas is given an important place in the Portuguese syllabus. But, as one visitor from there told me, this particular Canto use to be sidestepped on account of its erotic imagery, which would have caused too much embarrassment to teachers having to explain it to young minds. Whether this is still true, I am not sure.

Anyway, back to ‘our’ Mermaid: Ever since her installation there, the garden began to be known as Jardim de Sereia (Mermaid Garden). “The unclothed beauty caused a sensation” at the time, says Pinho. Sadly, it is that same unclothed beauty that has caused her so much quite literal trauma ever since.

I remember visiting that garden in the 1970s, when it really was a place for locals to relax and unwind in the evening hours. I remember it full of flower-bearing trees and plants, especially red hibiscus flowers. All this has disappeared with however well-intentioned but badly-executed attempts at ‘beautification’ and landscaping.

In my view, the decline began after the River Navigation jetty was demolished to make way for the new arterial road along the river connecting it to the ‘new’ Patto bridge. The advent of the damned casinos hastened the decline even further, and gradually fewer and fewer locals visited as the traffic din and fumes only worsened, and the garden became a mere thoroughfare for hordes of casino clients, staff and tourists in general.

Even in my childhood years, the water fountain feature functioned only sporadically, if at all, making the spout in the Mermaid’s hand, and her position in the basin quite superfluous. Then, (I think in the late 1980s, or early 1990s? I’m not sure), some city fathers took the grotesque decision to ‘beautify’ the beautiful statue even further, but turned her into an abominably painted lady instead, with her face and torso in intended skin tones, but a garish pink; her hair, eyebrows, and pupils jet-black; and her nipples and lips red.

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Since her installation, she has been painted over no less than 18 times, if one is to believe a report.

Even before the selfie era of mobile phones, one would see tourists groping and fondling her and large groups in the empty basin to pose with her. It only got ever worse over the years. I have myself several times shooed away inebriated revelers acting fresh with her.

Not surprisingly, a few years ago, her right forearm was damaged, inadequately repaired, and more recently her nipples were broken off. Now, just about a week ago, another act of deliberate vandalism has not only broken her forearm once again at the same location, but her eyebrows, bridge of her nose and her eyes have been disfigured as well.

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Ironically, just last month, our Mermaid was the glorious emblem or mascot of the ‘Panjim 175’ portion of the Serendipity Arts festival, a celebration of the 175th anniversary of the city of Panjim.

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What does it say about us if we can allow the icon of our city to be defiled?

And what does it say about our collective patriarchal, misogynistic mindset, that we can demean, and in general not leave in peace even a mute, stony representation of the female form?

Had this been a statue of some national or state leader, or a religious icon, there would have been a hue and cry. But this is a mythical being, only half-human, but a work of art all the same.

Right now, we have learned discussions in the city by experts and scholars on heritage and its conservation, preservation and protection. Perhaps it is time to decide for ourselves: can we really keep watch over our Mermaid, out in the open, sixty-seven years on? Or should she also, as so many other statues have been for their own protection, be consigned to a museum?

(An edited version of this article was published on 27 January 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

While preparing this post, I was reminded of the fact that the other mermaid mentioned in the article, the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, has unfortunately also attracted acts of vandalism several times.

The Little Mermaid daubed in red paint

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Image result for little mermaid statue vandalised

Image result for little mermaid statue vandalised

VÍTOR MANUEL DIAS, Tenente-Coronel Médico (10/11/1892)



Formou-se em Medicina e em Direito, pela Universidade de Lisboa e em Ciências Físicas e Naturais, pela Universidade de Paris. Diplomou-se pela Escola de Medicina Tropical e pelo Instituto de Higiene, ambos em Lisboa.

Foi nomeado para o Quadro de Saúde de Angola, em 1923. Dali foi transferido para a Índia como Lente efectivo da Escola Médica de Goa. Depois passou para o Quadro de Saúde como Inspector e, mais tarde, como Director de Serviço.

Foi o responsável pela campanha de saneamento que erradicou a malária de Velha Goa entre 1948 e 1949.

Ainda em Goa, foi director da Leprosaria Macasana e do Sanatório de Tuberculose, tendo também fundado a companhia farmacêutica Laboratórios Sida, especializada em doenças pulmonares.
Foi também Vogal do Tribunal de Contas.

Em Berlim e em Roma, anteriormente, fora Assistente dos respectivos Institutos de Tuberculose. Foi autor dalguns trabalhos de cariz médico e colaborador da revista «Presse Medicale» e «Lancet».

Multifacetado, registou a patente para a sua inovadora encubadora aviária «Lux», em Lisboa. Foi pioneiro na emissão radiofónica (1943), e na utilização do aparelho de raio-x portátil, para uso na medicina privada, em Goa.

Foi alvo de dois louvores do Governo Geral da Índia, e recebeu a insígnia da Ordem d Grã-Cruz (1931).

Filho primogénito do General-Médico Miguel Caetano Dias, nasceu na ilha de Santo Estevão, hoje Jua (Ilha, em Concani).

segundo «Dicionário de Goanidade» de Domingos Soares Rebelo

The Twelve Knights of England, in São Tomé vaddó!

It’s funny how there can be fascinating stories right there, under your very nose.

I remember as a little boy being led by the hand by my father through the vaddó, and on one of those walks he told me the story behind the name of one of its streets: Travessa do Magriço.

I was very young, distracted, and not really paying attention, and all I retained was the meaning of the word Magriço (thin or skinny), and that it was somehow connected to the 1572 epic poem ‘Os Lusíadas’ by Luís Vaz de Camões.

Thanks to the labour of love by Panjim’s resident historian Vasco Pinho, and his painstaking documentation of the city’s history in four volumes “Snapshots of Indo-Portuguese history” and his most recent “Meu Pangim Inesquecível” (My Unforgettable Panjim), I have been able to learn more, which inevitably tempts me to probe even further.

The road earlier mentioned, Travessa do Magriço, runs to the right of Horseshoe Restaurant, and connects the Corte de Oiteiro to the Rua de Ourem. It is a narrow road, and Magriço describes it well, literally. But there’s even more to it, as we shall soon see.

The other road I’d like to discuss but no longer in existence is Travessa dos Doze da Inglaterra (Road/street of the Twelve of England), which would have connected the interior of the São Tomé vaddó to the present Rua D. João de Castro, somewhere near today’s Post Office.

Both these roads, one present and one past, although located far apart in the vaddo, are linked by a common story, the 15th-century Portuguese chivalric legend of Os Doze (Cavaleiros) da Inglaterra, or The Twelve (Knights) of England. According to it, twelve Portuguese knights travelled to England to avenge the honour of twelve English ladies-in-waiting (in the household of the Duchess of Lancaster) who had been insulted by twelve English knights.

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The ladies sought the help of their master, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who couldn’t find any English knights to challenge the offending twelve knights.

The commonly cited year for this fanciful story is 1390, which might have some factual basis as it follows the 1387 Anglo-Portuguese alliance or treaty (widely considered to be the oldest alliance between any two nations, still in force) sealed by the marriage of D. João I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt.

(The couple’s several children would be remembered in Portugal as the Illustrious Generation, Ínclita Geração).

It would have to be after 1389 when John of Gaunt returned to England after his failed Iberian campaign (to claim the crown of Castile) and before his death (1399) and of his wife the Duchess of Lancaster, Constance of Castile (1394). So 1390 fits well.

It is possible that the Castilian Duchess had Castilian ladies-in-waiting, which would explain their being insulted and that no English knight was willing to rise to their defence. Many of the nobility blamed the Duchess for instigating the Duke’s ill-advised Iberian military misadventure.

It is also possible that at least some of the Portuguese knights were already in England after the military campaign.

The story is told in much detail in ‘Os Lusíadas’ in Canto VI, Stanzas 40-69. When I was young, I had no easy access to an English translation, but today one can read not only the 1776 translation by William Julius Mickle (available online), but also the contemporary, elegant version by Landeg White (1940-2017), whom many of us had the good fortune to meet just before he passed away. In the epic, a soldier named Fernão Veloso relates it to his companions to while away the time and inspire them as they sail with Vasco da Gama on the voyage to India.

The Portuguese poet Joaquim Teófilo Fernandes Braga (1843-1924) in his 1902 poem ‘Os Doze da Inglaterra’ (and this might well have been the contemporary stimulus for the naming of the roads? There was an Avenida in Portais named after Teófilo Braga, who was also first President of the Provisional Republican government of Portugal that deposed the last monarch, D. Manuel II) gives the story this twist: John of Gaunt appeals to his son-in-law D. João I of Portugal, and scores of Portuguese knights volunteer, but twelve are chosen by the Queen, Philippa of Lancaster, by drawing names from an urn.

All twelve were meant to sail to England from Porto, but one of them, “o Magriço”, decided to instead go overland via Spain and France. The day of the tournament arrived, and all the other knights were assembled at the venue (Smithfield, London), leaving one lady (called Ethwalda in one version) potentially without anyone to defend her. But (you guessed it!) Magriço turned up at the last minute, and the day was saved, with all the ladies’ honour defended.

So who were the Twelve? Portuguese Baroque composer and commentator Manuel Correa named five: Álvaro Gonçalves Coutinho (nicknamed ‘o grão Magriço’); Álvaro Vaz da Almada; João Pereira da Cunha Agostim (the last name added after killing an English knight of that name in a duel); Lopes Fernandes Pacheco; and Pedro Homem da Costa.

A 1732 tract by a writer identified as Vedouro names the remainder: the brothers Álvaro and Rui Mendes Cerveira; Soeiro da Costa (future captain of Henry the Navigator); Luís Gonçalves Malafaia; Martim Lopes de Azevedo; Rui Gomes da Silva; and Álvaro de Almada (nickname Justador).

Having killed some of their English opponents, and being threatened with revenge, ten of the twelve left for Portugal as soon as they could. But Magriço and Álvaro Vaz da Almada ventured further into Europe.

When the Portuguese national football team led by Eusébio da Silva Ferreira made their debut in the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England, reaching third place, the Portuguese media gave them the nickname ‘Os Magriços’ in a reference to the legend.

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The legend is invoked off the sports field as well. In fact, it is thought that Teófilo Braga’s 1902 poem Os Doze da Inglaterra was written as a reaction to the 1890 British ultimatum to Portugal over the Mapa Rosa, the “pink” land corridor between Angola and Mozambique claimed by Portugual but occupied by force by England, giving rise to strong anti-British and nationalist sentiment in Portugal in its wake.

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(An edited version of this article was published on 20 January 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Tambde Rosa


A little background: Vocal Colors is an a capella choir from Sweden, and very kindly offered to do a benefit concert for us, Child’s Play India Foundation.

One of its choral directors, Marie Bejstam, requested me to recommend a popular Konkani song that Vocal Colors could prepare as a surprise encore for the concert.

I suggested ‘Tambde Rosa’, and sent a recording, with lyrics, and much discussion over proper pronunciation of the lyrics.

They won the hearts of the packed audience at Menezes Braganza hall yesterday evening. I can honestly say I’ve not heard an a capella choir of such high calibre and capability ever sing here before!

Watch, listen and enjoy!

Vocal Colors

Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org) completes a decade of its existence in 2019-2020! We’d like to really celebrate this significant milestone.

We begin the celebrations with a benefit concert by Vocal Colors, an a capella choral ensemble from Sweden.

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In October 2014, I was one among 150 delegates from 28 countries (and the only one from India) chosen to participate in the first of its kind, a four-day International Sistema Teachers’ Conference organised by Sistema Scotland in Stirling. It offered me a unique opportunity to meet like-minded individuals also committed to music education and social empowerment, from a wide range of locations around the world: Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, USA, Venezuela, Vietnam and Wales.

Among that vast community of nations, the Swedish contingent stood out pretty prominently. They kept breaking spontaneously into song at every opportunity, and their infectious enthusiasm got the rest of us singing as well.

This is where I first met Cecilia Öhrwall from El Sistema Södertälje, close to Stockholm, Sweden. She already had a connection with India, and had been visiting and working with a music school in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. She was planning a return trip to India the following year and suggested visiting us at Child’s Play India Foundation in Goa.

Her Sångföreningen Qöhr has since sung two benefit concerts for Child’s Play, in 2016 and 2018, to packed audiences, and she and her choir members have infused some of their enthusiasm to our children who participated in their workshops during their visits.

It is through Öhrwall that we are now welcoming yet another choir from Sweden, Vocal Colors.

Vocal Colors is a newly-minted vocal ensemble that sings a capella music of all genres. The warm-hearted, music-loving and well-trained young singers come from all over Sweden and gather for repetitions five weekends a year. In its second season, it embarks on its first international tour, with a benefit concert in Goa for Child’s Play India Foundation.

“A capella” literally means “in the manner of the chapel” in Italian, and is today used to refer to singing by an individual or group without accompaniment, or to music performed in this fashion.

The term was coined as a capella music originally referred to religious music sung in church. Jewish and Christian music were originally a capella. Today a capella music embraces all periods, styles and genres, ranging from sacred music, to pop, jazz, barbershop and more.

The European a capella tradition is especially strong in the countries around the Baltic and perhaps most so in Sweden as described by American choral conductor Richard Andrew Sparks (b. 1950) in his doctoral dissertation on postwar Swedish choral music (“Swedish A Cappella Music since 1945”, University of Cincinnati, 1997), later published as “The Swedish Choral Miracle” in 2000.

Swedish a capella choirs have over the last quarter of a century won around one-fourth of the annual prestigious European Grand Prix for Choral Singing (EGP) that despite its name is open to choirs from all over the world.

There are several reasons for the strong Swedish dominance in choral singing in general.  It has been estimated that as many as 6 to 7% of the Swedish population regularly sing in choirs. To put it differently, 600,000 Swedes are estimated to have an active involvement in choirs (2014) out of a population of just nine million.

The Swedish choral director and influential choral teacher Eric Gustaf Ericson (1918 – 2013) had an enormous impact on a capella choral development not only in Sweden but around the world.

Ericson went to study medieval music at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland for a year and returned with a vision: a return to the music of the Middle Ages, but also those same vocal ideals. A pure, non-vibrato sound and line that would allow voices to blend perfectly, and allowing the collective body of sound to be moulded and shaped by the conductor as though it were one composite instrument.

After he took over the leadership of the Swedish Radio Choir in 1952, he took its level of excellence to such heights that it attracted the world’s great composers of the time, from Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland to Luigi Dallapiccola and György Ligeti, to say nothing of home-grown Swedish composers such as Lars Edlund, Ingvar Lidholm and Sven-Erik Bäck.

To quote Swedish arts journalist, critic, presenter and radio and TV producer Sofia Nyblom: “Eric Ericson’s work with choral singing is emblematic of the strength of a democratic society: pluralism of expression and submission under the vision of unanimity. It has certainly provided the hotbed for the stars of one of our major exports – music – and continues to provide a source for rejuvenation and creativity.”

Another significant reason that choral singing finds such fertile soil in Sweden is the fact that there are a large number of very popular primary and secondary schools (music schools) with high admission standards based on auditions that combine a rigid academic regimen with high level choral singing on every school day, a system that started with Adolf Fredrik’s Music School in Stockholm in 1939 but has since spread throughout the country.

The founders and musical leaders of Vocal Colors are the nationally awarded conductors Marie Bejstam and Charlotte Rider. They both lead several choirs in the Stockholm area. Together they also run a culture house, Kulturfyren (the Culture Lighthouse) which they founded in the central of the capital eight years ago. Marie and Charlotte are also often called upon to lecture and teach at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.

(An edited version of this article was published on 13 January 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The self-induced Amnesia of a self-styled Smart City

The Serendipity Arts Festival has become a regular fixture on our cultural calendar. For emotional reasons, my own years and those of so many generations in the family in those corridors and what were once hospital wards, operation theatres, centres of learning and healing for certainly a century and a half, I find myself drawn to the “old GMC” Panjim, as the heritage building is today called in SMS-speak.

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And this year, the “old GMC” Ribandar was also part of the festival as a last-minute resort, apparently).

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This year being the 175th anniversary of the declaration of Panjim (of which Ribandar was and is considered a part, for historic reasons), celebrated so beautifully in the “old PWD” by the festival, you’d have thought it the perfect opportunity for its planners to showcase the city’s medical past and legacy at both these hallowed venues. Indeed, the Escola Médica de Goa, established in 1842, is barely a year older.  Sadly, they let it slip through their fingers.

A portion of the former surgery ward literally had a heap of trash piled in a corner, and passed off as art, with some slick yet unconvincing captioning. Another room, once a private room that I myself was admitted in for a minor operation in the 1980s, had a video loop of a sleepy old man nodding off in a chair.

Going up the imposing marble staircase, again in a former surgery ward, were a bank of flat television screens, each displaying the back of a man or woman staring out at the ocean as waves came relentlessly crashing in. There were yet more explanatory paragraphs for one to ‘get the message.’ But what caught my attention, for old time’s sake, was not part of the exhibit but nevertheless seemed to make a powerful statement.

It was the profile (left) of a man, bearded and moustached in the way that only someone from the 1800s could be, looking ruefully towards the heart of what had been his stamping-ground. It was cast in bronze, but you wouldn’t know it from the way it had been looked after. A lick of paint had been slap-dashed on the walls and spilled onto the edges of the memorial. But what was more shocking and hurtful, were the flecks, nay intentional dabs of paint on the distinguished gentleman’s ear, nasal orifices and picking out ‘teeth’ or ‘fangs’ along the line of his mouth, to give a him ghoulish appearance. Someone’s idea of a practical joke? Common decency won’t let me compound the indignity by sharing the picture. But I have pictures of the outrage. I hope the powers-that-be have corrected this by now.

To be fair, this painter’s devil prank may not be the fault of the Serendipity festival organisers, but the carelessness of the administration that oversees the building maintenance, but don’t realise the full import of their responsibility. The amnesia had already begun even when I studied and worked there: few knew (or cared) who the plaque was honouring.

Who was this man? The plaque reads below: “AO DR F. A. WOLFANGO DA SILVA, HOMENAGEM DOS SEUS ADMIRADORES”. “To Dr. F. A. Wolfango da Silva, in homage from his admirers.”

My father sang the praises of the great men and women of yesteryear (and we as children would only half-listen, sadly) but in that litany of fame was this man. After my dad’s death, I have to look elsewhere for information. So I quote largely from data gleaned from Aleixo Manuel da Costa’s ‘Dicionário de Literatura Goesa’.

Francisco António Wolfango da Silva, doctor, pharmacologist and former Director of Health Services, was born in Nova Goa (18 July 1864) and died in the same city, (12 December 1947), son of distinguished doctor Bernardo Wolfango da Silva and Leopoldina Deodata Barreto. He graduated in medicine and pharmacology at Escola Médica Goa, where he defended theses respectively, “Considerations on a case of cardiomyopathy”(1887)  and “The New Pharmaceutical Code” (1888). He repeated his medical studies at Escola Médica-Cirúrgica de Lisboa, with a thesis on “Cardiac medications” (1890).

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In 1891, he was nominated faculty of the Health Department in Angola and also sent to Cabo Verde to combat a smallpox epidemic, then transferred in 1892 to India. He rose rapidly: capitão- médico (1902); major- médico (1906); tenente-coronel (1909); and coronel- médico (1914).

He was knighted to the order of Aviz, with a silver medallion from the Queen, D. Amélia in 1895. During several governor regimes he was Member of the Governing Council, in which he impressed with his knowledge, intelligence, dedication and zeal which defined his career.

If I’ve translated correctly, he performed the first laparotomy operations for strangulated hernia in Goa. He was responsible for solving many of Panjim’s sanitation issues during his tenure in the Health Services, described by a contemporary “one of the greatest stars in the brilliant constellation of the greatest thinkers who sparkled so much light among us with the clarity of his knowledge.”

Panjim will remember him gratefully (although they may not know it) for his decision in 1931 to have the walls of the entrance of the Instituto Vasco da Gama (today Institute Menezes Braganza) decorated with the glorious azulejo panels by the artist Jorge Colaço (1935), five episodes from the epic poem Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões.

I could be mistaken, but I seem to recall my father telling me that it was also his decision to line the Campal promenade with the beautiful tree-cover we have today.

He was an eloquent orator and writer in all the journals and periodicals of the day.

In that old surgery ward with a 21st-century technologically-savvy ‘smart’ art installation, a 20th-century bronze plaque (installed in his lifetime, in 1931) celebrating a man whose prime had been in the century before, although defaced, nevertheless still had the quiet dignity he must have exuded in his lifetime.

Thanks to public-spirited individuals like Vasco Pinho, we have a repository of information of a Pangim that once was, but no longer exists.

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In his recent book ‘Meu Pangim Inesquecível’ (My Unforgettable Panjim), he cites an episode I had long forgotten: in the iconoclasm that followed Goa’s Liberation, a frenzied mob tried to smash the bust of my great-grandfather Lt. Col. Gen. Dr. Miguel Caetano Dias (1854-1936, incidentally a friend of Wolfango da Silva, and whose bust once also graced the old Panjim GMC), thinking he was Portuguese.

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Fortunately the local population prevented this. More recently, a long-standing Panjim MLA publicly confessed he also thought it was the bust of someone Portuguese, not native Goan.

Our city fathers have no link with the past, and are custodians of a heritage they have no knowledge of, or interest in, any more. If someday, sledgehammer-wielding ‘todd-fodd’ mobs come a-calling, will there be any public memory, consciousness or conscience that will dissuade them from smashing this or that? Today is the feast of the Epiphany. May we all have an epiphany about our history, heritage, and our duty to uphold and protect it.

(An edited version of this article was published on 6 January 2019 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Lots of Spice and Everything Nice: Kochi Masala

This Diwali vacation, our family impulsively decided to visit Kerala. If you discount a visit to Potta over two decades ago, I hadn’t really been to this beautiful state, ‘God’s Own Country’, before.

In light of the recent floods, this trip was undertaken after cross-checking that the place we wished to go to, Kochi, had recovered sufficiently to accept visitors once again.  It turned out to be one of our most magical and memorable holidays, and I was sorry to leave.

It’s interesting how quite coincidentally, serendipitously perhaps, without really planning it, our recent trips (most recently Kochi, and Vasai on the way home, but earlier holiday trips to Malacca, Colombo) have many common trails: the Casa da Moeda trail, the Saint Francis Xavier trail. And the link between all of them and Goa, of course, was trade, particularly spices, and the port cities that sprang to life all along the route as a result of it.

Kochi was (and still is) called Queen of the Arabian Sea for its pivotal role in the spice trade, and was actually the main base of the nascent Estado da Índia until a decisive shift to Goa in 1530. We had a truly exhilarating time on a guided tour along the Muziris trail, and walking around the Fort Kochi area, where we learned and saw so much.


Somehow the freshness of the spices, be they peppercorns, cinnamon, ginger, clove, or chilli, made them come explosively alive to all the senses, adding that extra oomph to every meal.

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Like Colombo and Malacca, Kochi bears the imprint of three successive colonial influences:

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and English.

And it would seem to me that all three wear their colonial past with a lot more maturity than we do in Goa. This is a casual observation, of course, but on speaking to people in all these places, one didn’t get a sense that it was a touchy subject, or got raked up for political mileage.

It is always an interesting experience, coming as we do from a tourist destination ourselves, to ‘turn the tables’ as it were, and be tourists elsewhere. There are many lessons Goa could learn from Kochi.

Even though its exact site is disputed, the allure of Muziris, fabled ancient harbor, seaport, urban city and trade hub, is proving irresistible to the discerning tourist to Kochi with a keen interest in history.

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Extensive excavations and discoveries at Pattanam by Kerala Council for Historical Resarch fuelled the idea of the Muziris Heritge Project, a tourism venture by Tourism Department of Kerala to reinstate the historical and cultural significance of Muziris.  The highly informative museum we visited in Paravur seems to be just the harbinger of what is being planned in this ambitious project. It was heartening to note that the findings related to Muziris are being examined not in isolation, but from a global perspective, with correlations, corroborations and collaborations by historians and archaeologists from all along the Spice Route and beyond.

Furthermore, it has spawned the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the largest art exhibition in India and Asia’s biggest contemporary art festival.

One couldn’t help ruefully observing how Goa has neglected its own maritime past, and its vast potential for positive, wholesome, sustainable tourism, rather than the low-brow booze-drugs-sex-gambling attraction we have allowed it to degenerate to.

We have our own Gopakapattanam (Goa Velha) with its own tantalizing cache of artefacts unearthed through excavation and research. This could be developed (one hates to use this word, as politicians and bureaucrats seem to misunderstand its meaning) so much further, and with Old Goa and Panjim, be part of a much larger, scholarly Heritage Project. This is hugely untapped potential.

Gopakapattanam Biennale might not trip off the tongue quite as easily, but there is a mind-blowing creative launching-pad from heritage, as we have seen, from GHAG’s Fontainhas festivals to the more recent, even wider-ranging Serendipity Art Festival.

Both Muziris and our Goa Velha came undone due to forces of nature; while Muziris fell prey to some cataclysmic event in 1341 (a powerful cyclone and resultant devastating flooding) resulting in the rise of Cochin/Kochi, the move from Goa Velha to Old Goa is thought to have been triggered by heavy silting of the harbor, possibly due to excessive deforestation. We have learned little from history, with severe floods this year in Kerala, the result of ignoring warnings by ecologist Madhav Gadgil, and our own relentless destruction of our forest cover and environment, provoking Nature’s furious response sometime in the future.

Getting around in Kochi was really easy, with rickshaw fares so much cheaper than here. Heritage buildings certainly in the Fort Kochi were very well-maintained, and we encountered no piles of trash, no littered streets or dug-up roads.

Walking through its quaint streets, one felt Kochi was wearing its multi-cultural heritage proudly on its sleeve, celebrating it. Most port cities, more so than others perhaps, have always been melting-pots.  Its Jewish heritage was a particular delight for me. I’d love to return, just to revisit the synagogues and to explore areas we couldn’t cover, in greater detail.

My wife Chryselle suggested Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” as a holiday read due to its setting in Cochin (in the beginning), and it helped to actually visit so many locations described in the book.

Earlier this month, much after our Kochi trip, I read a post on scroll.in by my friend Jonathan Gil Harris, an excerpt from his book “Masala Shakespeare: How A Firangi Writer became Indian”,

in which he “explores the relationship between Shakespeare and India’s cultural traditions – and his own masala identity.”  Kochi is at the centre of this excerpt, along with references to Rushdie’s book. I could therefore relate better to the landmarks he mentions and the sights and vibe he describes, having been there myself so recently.

Yet Gil Harris, who has been to Kochi often, strikes a cautionary note. He makes some disturbing observations from his last visit. The beautifully diverse, unique fabric of multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-lingual multi-cultural heritage can become commercialised, and sinister forces can in a short time tear it all apart. We have to be ever-vigilant, whether in Kochi or in Goa.

Here’s hoping 2019 will bring more plurality of discourse and inclusiveness, to Goa, to the rest of our country and to the world!

(An edited version of this article was published on 3o December 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)