At Home With His­tory

Look past the beaches and the raves of Goa and you will see grand old abodes where the past is still a thing of the present. By CHAN­DAN DUBEY

India Today - - INTERIORS -

For the small­est state of In­dia— merely a tiny strip of land on its western coast, Goa has in­her­ited his­tory in­com­men­su­rate to size. Shaped by long years of Por­tuguese colo­nial­ism and the Konkan coastal ex­pe­ri­ence, the old homes of the state are keep­ers of its che­quered past.

A quest for the quin­tes­sen­tial Goan home brings me to the sleepy old vil­lage of Chan­dor. The erst­while cap­i­tal of the state, Chan­dor reached the heights of its glory in the 11th and 13th cen­turies un­der the Kadamba rulers of Kar­nataka. The tor­pid mon­soon af­ter­noon is un­com­fort­ably hot. I am look­ing for­ward to my ap­point­ment with 80- year- old Sara Fer­nan­dez, res­i­dent and owner of Casa Grande or Vodelem Ghor in Konkani.

I have been told much about the old homes of the vil­lage, how­ever noth­ing has pre­pared me for what I en­counter. The house is a two- storeyed struc­ture seem­ingly Por­tuguese in style; a long façade di­vided by win­dows laid with mother of pearl. Only once in­side does the ex­is­tence of a court­yard, in res­o­nance with Hindu- style homes, be­come ap­par­ent.

It is an old house, pre­dat­ing the Por­tuguese, built in the time of the Kadambas. In here, tra­di­tions of the east and west have co­a­lesced re­sult­ing in de­light­fully hy­brid spa­ces. Age drips from ev­ery wall and dark­ened shell- lined win­dow. I am trans­fixed by the glimpse into the in­nards of a 400- year- old house, liv­ing and breath­ing with supreme grace.

Casa Grande houses a ver­i­ta­ble mu­seum of sorts at the ground level. Ar­ti­facts— some dat­ing back cen­turies, con­nected with the house— Shiva lingams and old agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments are dis­played aside pre­cious vest­ments worn to church by the priests from the house in­clud­ing one par­tic­u­lar gar­ment with fine Chi­nese em­broi­dery dated 1664. The house

has an ar­moury of swords and sheathed dag­gers, trap doors that lead to se­cret hide­outs and es­cape routes, their walls per­fo­rated with gun holes to shoot at un­sus­pect­ing in­vaders.

The past in­ter­twines with the present as the later Chris­tian, Por­tuguese el­e­ments be­come ap­par­ent sit­ting aside con­tem­po­rary para­pher­na­lia with grace and in­dif­fer­ence; plas­tic toys are strewn on a 200- year- old love seat, a black and white tele­vi­sion set sits propped against a pow­der blue lime wall. Of par­tic­u­lar note is an old cabi­net made of gleam­ing rose­wood. Choked with vin­tage China from Ma­cau and plas­tic table­ware, its glass panels are in­ter­est­ingly laid with old fad­ing prints of art. “We keep chang­ing the pic­tures in­side as they fade’’ ex­plains Fer­nan­dez. The re­sult is a quirky pas­tiche of re­nais­sance art, old ad­ver­tise­ments and bazaar prints. An apt tes­ti­mony to the years of evo­lu­tion the house it­self has seen.

Old houses like Casa Grande are ex­pen­sive to

main­tain. Home­own­ers com­plain about a grow­ing short­age of crafts­men who re­tain qual­ity skills to help main­tain the homes. Many among the younger gen­er­a­tion find it chal­leng­ing to carry for­ward the de­mand­ing legacy of the past. This fact makes the ef­forts of those com­mit­ted to their his­to­ries and per­sonal sto­ries re­mark­able.

Not very far from Casa Grande, is a painstak­ingly ren­o­vated home. The stately Bra­ganza house owned by two sides of the same fam­ily: Pereira Bra­ganza and Menezes Bra­ganza. In the in­ter­est of pre­serv­ing the space, the home­own­ers have seg­re­gated the liv­ing ar­eas from those rarely in use.

It is im­pos­si­ble to miss the elab­o­rate 28- win­dow tri­par­tite façade of this Por­tuguese style man­sion sprawled over 10,000 sq m of space. More sump­tu­ous in­te­ri­ors, one will not see. The homes are A China cabi­net at the Fer­nan­dez home ( above left); colo­nial fur­ni­ture and Chi­nois­erie on dis­play in the liv­ing room ( above) di­vided into mas­sive rooms with soar­ing ceil­ings laid out in in­ter­sect­ing sec­tions. At the far end of the Pereira Bra­ganza house sits the fam­ily’s pri­vate chapel, an or­nately carved and vaulted af­fair.

The cen­tre­piece of the man­sion is a large ball­room. Its floor­ing made of Ital­ian mar­ble, Bel­gian crys­tal and Vene­tian glass chan­de­liers and mir­rors en­cased in gold and sil­ver, lends a price­less sparkle and patina to the room. In the ad­join­ing wing of the Menezes Bra­ganza, it takes a ret­inue of six full time care­tak­ers to en­sure day- to- day up­keep. Gleam­ing sil­ver, ori­en­tal vases and hand cro­cheted lace mix with the Por­tuguese love for Chi­nois­erie.

In Mar­gao, Ninette Pinto and Charles Ro­drigues

have just moved into a new, smaller home. They are still un­pack­ing as I knock at their door. The in­te­ri­ors here are scaled down ver­sions of what I have seen in Chan­dor, yet typ­i­cally Goan. In­tri­cately carved chairs in dark woods are ar­ranged in cir­cu­lar ar­range­ments on brightly pat­terned tiles and there is still more china and sil­ver lov­ingly dis­played.

The Figueiredo home, also in Mar­gao, has strik­ing Chi­nois­erie in­spired ex­te­ri­ors. Jade coloured win­dow shut­ters con­trast strik­ingly with bright yel­low ex­te­ri­ors. “We keep chang­ing the colours of the struc­ture both in­side and out­side,” says Figueiredo. “It helps us main­tain the façade from the el­e­ments, be­sides chang­ing things around a bit rou­tinely,’’ he adds. The trop­i­cal na­ture of Goan weather ac­cel­er­ates weath­er­ing of struc­tures.

Yet an­other fam­ily in Cansaulim, the Car­val­hos have set aside a few well- pre­served rooms. A newly painted bed­room with richly carved four poster bed cov­ered in hand cro­cheted lace and a rose­wood wash stand dis­play­ing an old Chi­nese basin and jug serves as a serene link to the fam­ily’s faded past.

The ef­forts to pre­serve and con­serve are driven mostly by in­di­vid­ual home­own­ers, ef­forts that are not only heart­felt and chal­leng­ing, but will de­cide what Goan legacy is go­ing to mean in times to come.

The writer is a Mum­bai- based art critic and pho­tog­ra­pher fo­cussing on con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tec­ture.

Pho­tographs cour­tesy: CHAN­DAN DUBEY

Green walls en­liven the Menezes Bra­ganza liv­ing room ( left); lat­ticed win­dow and pol­ished fur­ni­ture in the fam­ily home ( above)

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