The real Goa, with its petty rural politics, ecological exploitation, gender inequality, and contrasting lives, comes through brilliantly.
Of late, discussions and debates in Goa have centred around questions of overtourism, tourists’ ignorance of the local culture, and blatant disregard for the privacy of residents. But then the State has always had a complex relationship with its visitors.
The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told
Aleph Book Company
Once colonised by the Portuguese, rediscovered by the hippies, and now invaded by tourists arriving en masse from Indian cities and the hinterlands, Goa has largely conjured up images of sunbathers on unspoilt beaches, wild parties, and flea markets. In the unidimensional picture that persists through these narratives, the local Goan continues to lead a parallel life.
It is no wonder then that the introduction to an anthology of short stories by Goan writers should be titled “Beyond Beaches and Sea Foam, Sunscreen and Bermuda Shorts”. The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told—the latest in a series by Aleph and edited by the prominent Goa-based poet and writer Manohar Shetty—is a book that lives up to its title and intent.
The stories by both resident and diaspora writers in the State’s major languages—Konkani, Portuguese, Marathi, and English—are inspired by the lived Goan experience and include prominent names like Damodar Mauzo, Mahabaleshwar Sail, Pundalik Naik, among others. The result is a rich and diverse tapestry of characters and experiences evocative of Goa’s people, its political and social realities, folklore and tradition, and lusophone history.
We see the real Goa, its outer layer—the tourist’s gaze—stripped to reveal the State’s daily life and concerns, from petty rural politics to larger issues of mining, gender inequality, and exploitation, the contrasting lives of the farmer and the émigré, and the persistence of the caste system. The stories are peppered with cultural details familiar to the Goan, whether it is the Purument festival and the Pentecost fair, where local people stock up on provisions for the monsoon; lounging on the armchair called “Voltaire”; the tradition of mushroom-picking; the obsession with football as well as with tiatr, Goa’s traditional theatre.
We hear the voices of the poor and the marginalised as the stories give vent to their frustrations. The most poignant example of this is “Coinsaanv’s Cattle”, a gentle story about love and sacrifice by the celebrated Goan writer and Jnanpith awardee Damodar Mauzo (affectionately known as Bhai Mauzo), where a couple’s poverty tests their relationship with their cattle (“When fending for three children and two adults was itself an overwhelming task, can one afford to be emotional about animals?”).
The theme of animal-human relationship is carried forward in Mahabaleshwar Sail’s “The Yoke”, a story of oppression, rebellion, and the eventual taming of a beast of burden, where the yoke also serves as a metaphor for the man-woman bond and filial ties.
Meanwhile, in “The Protector” by Nayana Adarkar, the middle-aged female narrator says: “Both my protectors had tied the cow that I am to the yoke of work and were themselves lying on their beds snoring loudly.” Here, and in “FloRitta” by Savia Viegas, the reader is privy to the female experience, vastly different from the male Goan experience. Adarkar’s protagonist, a married working woman, is not quite independent either financially or socially while Viegas’ narrator seeks social acceptance through marriage and quits her job expecting to join her Goan expat husband in London; instead she finds herself in the role of glorified housekeeper and financier at his flat in Miramar.
The lack of agency of these women over their own lives, bodies, and finances is in contrast to the protagonist of Sheela Jaywant’s “Sunanda’s Dream”. Interestingly, the story essays the experience of the female migrant in Goa, a security guard from small-town Uttar Pradesh, whose choice of workplace is determined by the access to a clean toilet.
The toilet is a lead character in Ramnath Gajanan Gawade’s “Tale of a Toilet”, a story of poverty and corruption where a needy villager is made to run from pillar to post for a free toilet promised by the government.
The subjects written about are deep and real. The book comes at a time when Goan writers have joined activists and environmentalists to protest against harmful changes being made in the name of development, from the deforestation in Mollem to the ongoing issue of the diversion of the Mhadei waters.
- The stories here are inspired by the lived Goan experience and include prominent names like Damodar Mauzo, Mahabaleshwar Sail, Pundalik Naik, among others.
- The tourist’s gaze is stripped to reveal the State’s daily life and concerns, from petty rural politics to larger issues of mining, gender inequality, and exploitation.
- We hear the voices of the poor and the marginalised as the stories give vent to their frustrations.
- The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told stands out for its body of work and quality of translation.
“A Story about Mines” by Epitácio Pais and Pundalik Naik’s “The Palm Tree” are about the contentious issue of mining at the cost of ecological damage, even as the Goan government pushes to resume mining this year. Greed, the underbelly of the State where men dream of getting rich quickly through crooked means, and the resulting exploitation of women are the underlying themes of these stories and the book in general. The rural-industrial conflict gets lighthearted treatment in José Lourenço’s humorous “Bapo Kale’s House”, inspired by a true story, where the mud homes of cashew-workers are threatened by gas from the neighbourhood factory.
But the erosion of the environment is not restricted to industry; religion and tradition are not spared either, in stories like Prakash Parienkar’s “The Sacrifice” and Uday Naik’s “Mushrooms”.
“The toilet is a lead character in Ramnath Gajanan Gawade’s “Tale of a Toilet”, about poverty and corruption.”
As seen in Vimala Devi’s “Job’s Children”, wealth (or the lack of it), education, status, and caste are all interconnected and play a dominant role in Goan society and matrimony. These themes resonate throughout the book as does the subject of emigration, integral to this State where, as Cherie Naroo’s “Excess Baggage” points out: “Most of the younger generation had moved out of Goa looking to make better lives, leaving behind empty houses with old people.”
On foreign shores
Diaspora writers like Roanna Gonsalves and Selma Carvalho portray the emigrant’s experience on foreign shores—their protagonists face racism even as they seek belonging in a country that is not quite home. Gonsalves’ “Curry Muncher” and Carvalho’s “Bed Blocker No. 10” both emphasise the emigrant’s relationship with food.
In the former, a student waitressing at an Indian restaurant is conscious of the “curry smell” of her uniform and that “cinnamon may be a good scent for a candle, but it does not sit well on the clothes of a single girl”. In Carvalho’s story, food helps form a nameless bond between a Goan nurse and her xenophobic patient, two lonely souls laying bare their vulnerabilities.
And yet, the return of the emigrant to home turf is an entirely different experience. In Steve R.E. Pereira’s “A Dolphin in the Ganges”, a young graduate from Australia embarks on a trip to Varanasi to escape his overbearing Goan relatives, and confronts his sexuality. Meanwhile, the young student from Canada seeking his mother’s childhood home in Derek Mascarenhas’ “Coconut Dreams” sees Goa through Western eyes.
The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told stands out for its body of work and quality of translation even as it takes a deeper look at the State and its culture, providing invaluable insights by insiders. The editor’s desire “is for readers to enjoy reading these stories and for them to alter their perceptions on Goa as a place that is widely visited only as a holiday destination” and in this, the book succeeds brilliantly, painting a portrait of the State as a whole.
Janhavi Acharekar is an author, a curator, and creative consultant.