Christine Russon’s natural flair for writing has enabled her to bridge many gaps, physical and mental. A chance meeting in 2000 would bring her to India the following year. And thus began her ongoing relationship with Goa. In 2003, she completed an honours BA in French at the University of Guelph, all the while blogging and writing fiction. Several years later, Christine was hired in Bombay as an academic editor. She now works as a freelance copy editor, dividing her time between Canada and Bombay/Goa. Read Christine writings on various topics at chasingxine.blogspot.com.
Most of us are familiar with the videos and audio recordings that circulate on social media of some“Goan Aunty” regaling us with rantings of the mundane in an exaggerated accent. Indeed, the Goan Aunty trope is so common that we probably have a giggle without paying much attention to the underlying message of these silly portrayals. After all, who doesn’t enjoy hearing that characteristic “Wot, men” that signals the voice of the Goan Catholic?
But recently, some videos have been making the rounds on WhatsApp that made me pay closer attention. The character, simply referring to herself on YouTube as “Goan Aunty” (now known as Succorine Bai), almost defies description. She is inarticulate and obnoxious. Nothing in these videos is either funny or reminiscent of the Goan women I’ve met in my life. I’m all for self-deprecating humour, and I appreciate one’s ability to laugh at oneself, but this mockery purporting to be comedy is simply insulting. Discussions of the Catholic stereotype are not new, but perhaps within this frame, the broader subject of the Goan Catholic woman deserves more attention.
My ire was actually ignited several months ago, when I was looking for articles about Braz and Yvonne Gonsalves. Braz is a well-respected musical legend, so one can easily find news content devoted to him. His wife Yvonne is also a brilliant performer, who continues to sing with various ensembles in Goa. I heard her live for the first time a couple of years ago in Saligao and was enchanted by the tone of her voice. But you won’t find a single article about her. Instead, what you will find are brief mentions of her as the doting wife in the articles about her husband. It was a Goa Streets article from 2015 that incensed me. In the paragraph devoted to acknowledging the musical talents of the Gonsalves family, Yvonne is not mentioned at all. When her name does come up, it is to emphasize her support for her husband:
"Braz’s wife Yvonne keeps a neat file of magazine and newspaper clippings documenting her husband’s life work. She speaks approvingly of the “hotels and night clubs (in India) that supported jazz music.”
A more recent search retrieved more of the same from an article published in The Times of India in 2011. Braz Gonsalves’ performance at Kala Academy in Panjim receives only the following passing mention of Yvonne:
"Gonsalves’ wife Yvonne didn’t let a fracture [an audience member heckling Louiz Banks] dampen the spirit. She walked with support and belted out a jazz gospel hit, before the musicians took over with ‘Culture Shock’, ‘Sweet Shakti’ and ‘Enchantment’. (Emphasis mine)
These descriptions of Yvonne Gonsalves as the devoted wife, disregarding her status as an accomplished musician, exemplify what Fátima da Silva Gracias wrote in the introduction to her book, The Many Faces of Sundorem (2007): “Generally, whenever women are mentioned in the Indo-Portuguese Historical literature it is usually in the traditional and subordinate role of a daughter, wife, mother, mistress or dancer.” She was referring to the past, but has anything changed in recent times?
How many times have you heard a Goan man talk about the legendary Lorna Cordeiro and say, “She would have been nothing without Chris Perry”? I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard this, and it has come from both diehard Lorna fans and guys who aren’t that into Konkani music. So, even some who hold the Goan Nightingale in high esteem can’t find it within themselves to simply acknowledge her talent. They must give Perry—a man—not just credit for discovering her and helping her find her musical niche but all the credit for who she became.
But interestingly, I hear very few people reflect on Lorna in her younger days. The one exception that comes to mind is in Jason Keith Fernandes’s review of the film Nachom ia Kumpasar (2015), where he describes Lorna as follows:
Lorna is an icon of Goan culture not merely for the songs she gave, and continues to give, life to, but for the kind of sexuality that she embodies. Her voice does not contain the sickly saccharine and shrill sweetness that marks so much of Hindi film music and embodies virginal, self-effacing purity. Her voice is an earthy one that can roar if there be need for it. The woman that her voice gives life to is conscious of her sexuality and vocal about her desires.
By contrast, the discussions to which I am accustomed to hearing about Lorna the woman, tend to focus on her alleged drinking and her appearance today. As for the former, for the sake of argument, if one wishes to credit Chris Perry for everything else related to Lorna, why not also for breaking her heart? After all, substance use (and abuse) is often used as a means for coping with pain. As for the comments one hears regarding her physical appearance, it is as if she deserves to be punished for aging.
This ridicule of the aging Goan woman brings us back to the image of the Goan Aunty. You know her: She’s the one with the enormous boobs and bum, who nags and talks rubbish in her quaint, provincial accent. YouTube sensation Aunty Maggy offers an example of this, complete with padding to amplify her breasts, stomach, hips, and rear, and a somewhat discordant voice.
When I decided to write this piece, I typed “Goan Aunty” into Google’s search field, and was shocked to see that most of what the search engine retrieved were links to what appeared to be pornography. A similar search on YouTube generated the same results. From this, I can only assume that when the Goan Aunty isn’t being derided, she’s being fetishized.
On that note, why is it that Mario Miranda’s cartoons have mostly escaped criticism for their depiction of Goan women? He undeniably started a trend among Goan artists of exaggerating the assets of the Goan woman to sexualize the young and poke fun at the old. While I’m a fan of his work, one piece makes me uncomfortable. In Cool Jazz, the bass player is groping the singer with his right hand, instead of plucking the strings of his bass, and the saxophone player is blowing up her skirt.
In addition to depicting this woman’s sexual assault, the image reinforces the aforementioned examples of the woman being placed in a subordinate position to the man. Mario Miranda certainly devoted space to both men and women in his art. But similar to a surface-level viewing of the Goan Aunty parodies, when one probes a little deeper into Cool Jazz, the question arises as to what exactly is going on. A band is a collective of artists who play, and sometimes also write, music together. They are colleagues and collaborators. So, to see the singer—the individual fronting the band—objectified by her own band-mates is shocking. Mario Miranda’s message is perhaps debatable: Was he making a comment on the treatment of women or was this his idea of an amusing cartoon?
The disrespect that the singer’s band-mates show in Cool Jazz echoes the lack of respect for women in the trope of the Goan Aunty. When I think of a Goan aunty, I picture a proud, well-turned out lady in her dress at church. I picture an assertive woman who confidently shares her opinions in mixed-gender conversations. I picture a woman who likes to sing and dance and enjoy life. I picture the woman who taught me to cook dishes like pulao and pork vindalho, passing on the tradition of delighting the family’s senses with lovingly prepared food.
The Goan woman is more than a caricature. It’s time she got her due.