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Identity Diary: Loss And Longing In Goa

An artist recalls the good ol’ days and laments the changes in her homeland

Identity Diary: Loss And Longing In Goa
Identity Diary: Loss And Longing In Goa

House With A View

It is a huge house. I can’t describe it but it has many rooms that open out to a garden like the ones you’d read about in a book. We had wooden flooring on which we drew monsters, and gardens, and trees, and flowers with chalk. We filled up the entire house with those drawings. I was one of nine children who grew up in that house in Mapusa. The house is still there and my two brothers live there.

When we were children, my mother would ask us to paint the walls of the house during Christmas. We painted fairies and angels. You could say we painted life as we saw it. My elder sister told us fairy tales and we’d imagine landscapes, and sometimes those places merged with the real ones. Everything was different then. My elder sister made up stories and I remember the one where the witch had long claws. In the darkness, her fingers grew longer.

Go, Goa, Gone

It is not the same anymore. The Portuguese, who ruled Goa, had their distinct influence, and whether it was good or bad, it affected the way we lived. I became an artist and went to the Goa College of Arts. I had opportunities but I could never leave Goa. I guess I love it here. There’s some of that past in my head and in some places still. Like at a wedding or a birthday party. The old women, they come all dressed up.

If you ask me about my art, which has evolved over the years, I used to paint and then learned pottery. It is a nostalgic trip. We have to make ends meet. It is difficult to make a living as an artist. My husband and I are both artists. My daughter also paints and she works with magic realism. My husband would tell her these stories and most of what she makes has these characters in a Goanesque landscape. We are just trying to keep our memories alive. Of stories, of people and of our heritage.  

Memory Castles

You will see a lot of blue and grey. That’s how I remember my past. I make fishermen and vendors. I sometimes even make outsiders who come here. You could say I am chronicling our time. Or our past. Everything makes its presence felt in these racks. They are all people. My people. I make these figurines in the memory of that happy place. The past, when it is a distant memory, it is always a place you want to go to. And in a place like Goa, which is changing so fast, I don’t know who a Goan is. Identity is a thing that we hold close. It is made up of so many things.

The figurines are all replicas of my aunts and uncles and faces that I sculpt. See this one with curly hair. My sister had curly hair. And you see the women dressed up and sitting cross-legged engaged in a conversation. Like we do here on the balcao. I make faces of people I see in the neighbourhood. Like this man with the Charlie Chaplin moustache. I see him always at a neighbourhood bar.

Dying Heritage

My aunt Christina was my favourite. She told us stories. And a lot of it is here in my art. But I feel sad about Goa. Our language is dying. Children here speak in Hindi. I am not saying it is a bad thing but our own language is dying. Perhaps it is money. Goans sell their houses and go to other places. What is there for us? Paradise, that’s what they call Goa. Perhaps that’s our curse.

This old building where I have my studio in Karaswada belonged to my mother’s family. My brother runs an antique shop here. You will see altars, old chandeliers, carved wooden saints from many decades ago, old soup bowls, chairs and old feni bottles. Lots of people from other places come looking for antique stuff here.

I live in Saligao in an old house. It is 200 years old and we are getting by. Elections are due but what do we expect? Not much. Nobody asks us what we want, who we are and who we are becoming. The future is a strange land. Me and my husband, we live in a past that we resurrect with our art. We try. 

(This appeared in the print edition as "Identity Diary")

Verodina De Sousa, 63 is a Goa-based artist 

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