Annie Zaidi--s assumptions about the Mogul Empire got cleared after reading Francois Bernier--s book
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I made my maiden trip to Goa in 1978, when I also first met Dona Figueiredo, my grandmother’s cousin, an unforgettable character, whom non-readers and readers alike will encounter in Edge of Faith (Seagull Books), a collaboration by Prabuddha Dasgupta, the photographer, and William Dalrymple, the historian.
I recall being stunned speechless by her question to me then, “So what are the schools like in India?” “Aren’t we in India?” I wanted to say, in response. Indeed, Dona seemed caught in a time warp. I took her rant more in the spirit of defiant defence. This premise underlies Edge of Faith and is well documented by Dasgupta’s lens, which captures the romantic memory of a bygone era. This romance was real in the lives of many Goan Catholics but instead, like me, they looked forward to a hybrid future: free of a colonial mindset, in an independent, plural India and larger world. Dalrymple’s essay also speaks to these energies when discussing the origins of festival traditions in churches and temples in Goa, where communities commingle ideologies into a harmonious way of living.
The fact of the matter is, the erosion of this way of life began two or three generations before Goa was liberated, when many Catholics left to create the far more interesting Goan diaspora around the globe: in Bombay and Karachi, in Toronto and East Africa. Giving themselves and their children Hindu/Indian names, they adapted to new streams of culture and economy. Those left behind also kept memory — and put on different attitudes and faces to confront each wave of change, and meet each new gaze. The thin slice of life captured in the photographs, some of which are haunting and beautiful, are a memory of a dead world. Individually splendid, the portraits and still lives reveal the chameleon in the Goan Catholic, but true to the flawed narrative premise, they lack emotion or charge, appear forced, dreamlike and unreal.
Today the coloniser of the Goan culture comes from Punjab and Bengal, and money talks. Edge of Faith, grasping at nostalgia, a response for the present time, gives us a way to remember: carefully composed, on occasion, stunningly, but bereft of soul.
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