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?
The decision to marinate my characters in the brine of a Bombay Goan Catholicism was in part inevitable, because that’s the culture I know best. But more than that, it was a very deliberate decision, one that I hoped would counter, in a small way, the conflation of Indianness with upper caste North Indian Hinduism. Goan history has often been relegated to the footnotes of Indian history, in the main. One thing I wanted to do was to haul the footnotes into the main text.
The declining fortunes of Portugal and the stagnant Goan economy, made an East African Goan groom a prized catch even amongst the landed gentry. So keen was the demand that girls were often affianced to men they had never met. If they were lucky they might have seen a faded photograph or encountered a close relative on whose character reference the alliance would be secured. Yet these arrangements were not loveless marriages.
Image of Ezalda Albuquerque and husband, courtesy Yvonne Dias
The recurrent question that current instances of engaged research present may compel us to ask once again: can we be simply be content with mediating the testimony of subaltern, silenced or suppressed cultural others, or must such work necessarily be accompanied with some long-term concrete commitment of time, resources and energy to improve the lives of those whose testimonies and experiences are often at the heart of our research?
Such barbarity barely made a dent in the Goan consciousness. Never did a protest or condemnation ensue from them on such matters. The fear of reprisals against the businesses they operated for their European clientele and their jobs in the civil administration would have muted any dissenting opinions but more at stake was their reputation as ‘peaceful and law-abiding’.