India is fascinating. The ancient is current. The current is modern. Shaped like a tooth it bites into the ocean separating the Arabian Sea from the Bay of Bengal where three oceans meet at its tip. It came from the South where it was once part with Africa, spinning off and rotating from Madagascar it inserted itself into Tibet, like a dental cap, raising the gum of the Himalayas.
Travelling in India is like a fireworks display, in its conception and experience, every small part has so much to tell. This we have done in four separate moves: one from Zimbabwe and three from England. India is well used to take this. It has mesmerised, taunted and drawn people for thousands of years, they have left their mark; and so has it. It has left its mark on us. Have we?
There are many gateways into India. We have come through Delhi three times and Mumbai once. The India Gate in New Delhi designed by Lutyens [who also designed the Union Buildings in South Africa] to commemorate the British Raj, testifies to the arrival and departure of earlier travellers, and their vanity. The one in Bombay harbour, the Gate of India, was to celebrate the coronation and visit of the British and Imperial monarch in 1936. Other symbols of previous rulers abound, in ruin or restoration. For hundreds of years the Mughuls sedimented their culture and power from parapets and minarets in north India.
For us the journey to India has always begun at some un-user friendly hour. The first time was on Ethiopian Airlines from Harare to Dubai, take off at six on a January morning. Check-in was four am. It was a deep, glowing, cloudless dawn, studded with the glitter of southern stars, smelling fresh and wet with the green of growth. Peter and Brigit arrived to take us to the airport at three thirty am. They had offered, we had not asked. It had just come up in conversation a few days before and they had insisted. I have to admit that we were thankful; with kids and luggage at this time of the morning, you need a sympathetic helper. When we arrived at the steps of this art deco 1950s building, only the security were there and a few other passengers. The foyer, with its high ceiling and overlooking internal balcony, echoed with the sound of parting and cars arriving and leaving outside. There was no airline or airport staff. Just security. Sleepy and asleep children hung onto their parents. Adults looked annoyed but patient. Years of being put upon. That was 1991.
Now we are leaving from London Heathrow. The previous two times we have left from Heathrow. It is also always early in the morning, somehow. This time we have booked a cab for six. The ‘war on terrorism’ is responsible for us being at the airport three hours before departure. We did not finish everything, but the deadline has come and we have to go. The children are now grown, and they do their own packing, resisting advice till the last minute. We have haggled over the bags, the number, size, weight, which to leave there and which to bring back. When we travel from England my wife insists we take all the cloths we no longer need or want and leave for needy where we go. The arrival of the taxi compels us to leave the house and lock-up. It’s a cold, wet, slushy December dawn. It’s good to be going.
Heathrow is like a machine. You come in one end, shed your luggage, get stamped ‘travel grade’, passed through quality control x-rays, sorted for exit gate and time; then canned for transport. The relief of sitting down in one’s allotted pod, brings back all the piling exhaustion, the deprived sleep, the heavy carrying, the worrying and the anxiety of arrival. The kids settle down to sorting out which movies to watch.
Harare airport was more like a large bus stop. We could go to the terrace and watch planes land and take off, seeing people arriving and leaving, and surprise at seeing people you were not expecting to see. Public figures would make an appearance, basking in the gestures of recognition, acknowledging the chosen. Check-in was always a group affair, talking and gesticulating with family and friends all the way through security. Then the derelict village ambience of departure lounge, with its rows of seating like in a hall. Those not travelling return to the terrace to continue with non verbal chat when the passengers walk out onto the tarmac. The new airport, sadly, has little of that character and even less of its own. Taking off at six in the morning is not a family friendly affair. Going east to India you gain three and a half to four and a half hours, which you must lose in sleep on arrival.
As we boarded the Ethiopian Airlines planes that morning, late, the newspaper headlines announced Sally Mugabe’s funeral arrangements at Heroes Acre. That was going to happen while we were away. One of the great things about modern travel, is that, one day you are reading the headlines in one country; the next day its those of a different country altogether. The two are connected by jet-lag and airport staff. In India the headline was about some corruption scandal involving Rajiv Gandhi, some multi national deals, and the Swedish prime minister. We arrived in Delhi with a little Ethiopian trauma of our own.
While we were in transit in Addis Ababa, some official took our passports. No explanation. We would get them back when we board the next plane, he said. Does he just know how precious that passport is! The early hours of waking, days of queuing, official abuse and rudeness. The government says your passport is a privilege, ‘You may not leave the country unless we let you’, they say. Travel is not a right. That citizenship you thought came with life and nurture is only a reward. Transit lounges in the east have their terrors too. A young girl had disappeared in an airport in the far east, Hong Kong maybe, at about this time. The trade in children for sex, parenting, labour and ritual murder. We worried and held on to our kids, desperately. We worried about the luggage. We had seen it on the airport tarmac, for identification, when we got down. Where was it now? There was plenty of time for it to get lost, frisked, swapped or left behind. From London we did not see our bags until we arrived in Delhi, and we were not parted from our passports. There was no opportunity to worry.
In December or January, Delhi is cold, (and it can be bitterly cold), dry, dusty and foggy. An acrid smog burns the nostril, the faint smell of rotten eggs. The urban rush is covered in a haze of fumes that has forced the government to introduce clean air policies. The drive from the airport was once through townships of plastic and ‘found object’ houses: the urban under class. Now it is concrete going up, concrete laid down, hardening the landscape. The tasks in any job are decomposed in India, every part done by somebody, armies of people, there is no shortage of people or tasks in India for someone to do. Machines help people sometimes, usually it is people helping machines. Busy is the rhythm of India. Everyone is doing something, looking for something to do, continuously, for hours, everywhere and all over. In ’91, the autorickshaw, the scooter and the ambassador car were vehicles on the roads. The Tata motor corporation does a line in trucks. They look short tailed and short nosed, but with high sides, often piled high with coconut peels, sugar cane or something. Sticks round the sides of the trailer allowing more things to be piled even higher. And, mai!, they are decorated: paint, flashing lights, streamers and anything to look like an illuminated manuscript.
We have always arrived early in the morning, around six or seven, and we have been lucky with friends and the kindness of people to put us up. When we arrived first from Zimbabwe, AIDS and HIV were clocking up astonishing statistics in Africa. More than ten years later they were worse and still shocking the world. People wanted to know why Africa was so unblessed. That is still one the first questions people still ask. When I first went to India two things made an immediate impact: the numbers and the depth of the poverty. There is person pressure everywhere you go: the town, the suburbs, railway station, airport. Everywhere. In the rural areas the villages are close, large and the fields appear used in very small pieces all the time. Then the poverty. The children and the women and the elderly. They looked desperate. The strongest imprint I had of it was coming into the train station in Lacknow. I had a reference point. The Harare International Film Festival in 1990 or ’91 had featured a film from India of a young woman living in a railway station. What I saw in that station at Lacknow was too real for me. Whole families were camped on the platform. We pulled into the station at around 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock in the morning. The children rushed the train, leaving their base where clothes hung on the platform furniture. Other children and women carrying babies ran across the tracks to reach our train. The look was hungry, pleading and persistent. A look that fixed you, and looked inside you for that guilt and said I could be you and you could be me. The furred hair, glistening greasy-dust dirt, black hands, rings of daily-accumulated dirt telling of months or more of grime. This was not a hard luck situation. This was life at the very bottom of the pile. This was a kind of life I had not seen until the street kids became a permanent fixture in the streets of Harare. I grew up in the sixties when India was a by-word for poverty, overpopulation and other unmentionables. Even in Harare in the 1960s when the Asians lived above their shops in Moffat Street, washing hanging out on the balcony and their large families, people identified them with all the epithets of India.
What takes longer to sink in is just how imaginative a society India has always been. There is history everywhere. In Europe history is of how things have changed. In India history is of how things have been done the same way generation after generation, back into an earlier and earlier time. New things and new ways stand side by side with the old ways without eclipsing them. There are people for making just about anything. The art and craftsmanship, whether in wood, stone or metal, is so imaginative and skilled and stretches back in time. At the same time it is at the cutting edge of modern world. I would not be the first to say that India is chaotic. You don’t know chaos until you have been there. It is chaotic but it works. India’s chaos can be symbolised by its roads. We have held our breaths and lived to tell the tale. The worst experience was crossing the Muhanandi River, in Orissa State, on one of the busy bridges into Cuttack. Most roads do not have lane marking and road vehicles are continuously weaving in and out of each other’s paths. The driver had been chewing paan. Suddenly he opens the door, seems to duck his head under the carriage of the car and discharge the contents of his mouth on the road. The time he took, he must have been looking for a suitable hole in the road for that. For a very long moment it seemed we were suspended in that moment before the clash of metal on metal. His head returned to the normal driving position and continued without the slightest recognition that his passengers were in distress. Another time we took a taxi from the airport in Delhi. Traffic was not heavy. The taxi driver took the roundabout anticlockwise! The other drivers did not seem bothered. They hooted, as all vehicles do on the roads, and drove on merrily ignoring the traffic lights. Even driving against the traffic on a one way road will not generate any of the heat and thunder in Zimbabwe or Europe.
For me the best part of being in India is the seeing, hearing and feeling things Indian. I learnt history at school at a time when kings and queens and dates were the be all and end all of history. I enjoy history though, as a process, as a way of seeing things that happened in the recent and remote past. So, seeing the Hindi numerals being immediately recognisable as what we cal Arabic numerals, while the actual Arabic numerals are not recognisable, suggests some history there. During our first trip, everything about India was different from anything I had known. There was a sense of entering a space, being in a space with a different frame of reference. The religion has such a strong imprint and is so different from the milieu of Christianity I had grown up in.
We have Mwari, the creator, in our religion. It is quite simple. To talk to Mwari one need only talk to one’s ancestors. The Christians have also named their god ‘Mwari’. However, here he is a little like a coffee table nest. You pull one out, its ‘God the Father’; pull another, it’s the son. The third is the ‘Holy Ghost’. It all fits together as one god, somehow. Each for a different human temperament. The father is punitive, judgemental, Old Testament burning bushes and all that. It’s not hard to see the headmaster type. On the other is the suffering, empathetic, non judgemental Jesus who allows you to do your own thing. For those who cannot manage a tangible real life god, there is a ghost: an unseeable, imaginary presence. For their part the Hindus are quite undecided about this whole god business. Brahma created the universe. It is not clear whether he rested or not after that, but he seems to have got up to all sorts of things. After the creation, it seems the power passed on to other manifestations of god, Shiva and Vishnu. They in turn populated the earth with a galaxy of god characters that are subject of much Hindu mythologizing. Hindu worship is based on the belief that anything that was created has god in it and so can be worshipped or used in worship ritual, even a stone. If you want something formless, intangible, ghostlike, there is ‘ohm’ or mathematics. With its history predating Christianity by thousands of years, it has had the same inspirational force and imprinting of the mind visible in the development of art and science. Everywhere and anywhere there are temples and shrines to all the gods that have come to congregate in India. Having originated the Hindism, Jainism, Sikhism and the Buddhism as religions, India exported the Buddhism and gained Islam, and Christianity in the shape of the apostle St Thomas [in Kerala] and the Portuguese in Goa. All the religions wrestle with each other up and down the conscience and consciousness of the subcontinent.
Delhi, because it is in the North, appears very Moslem. In fact, there are more Moslems in India than in any other country in the world. Some are descendants of Muslim conquerors while others are Hindu converts. This was especially true of lower caste Hindu who traded their religion for the equality Islam afforded. This has led some Hindu fundamentalists to say that all Indians are Hindus whatever their religion! Such logic used to be current in Zimbabwe too. People used to reason that if you were Shona you must be ZANU. Asian families in southern Africa who came to Africa before the partition of India, often relate to India as it was. A Moslem family from Gujerat may still relate to the place in Gujerat, not to a place in Pakistan where the family may have moved to at independence. As the capital, Delhi has pulling power. Not quite the bambazonke of Harare. Regional centres are very strong, Mumbai as commercial capital, Bangalore as IT capital and so on. The central government promotes melas [fairs] where crafts from all over the country are displayed and traded, stalls changing over every fortnight. Also each state has an emporium to show off its products. A side of the country that is deep and non-western unfolds. People are aware of Zimbabwe. The older generation remember UDI, Ian Smith and the Non Aligned Movement. India was very involved in supporting the anti colonial struggle in Africa. Many Indians we met have family connection with the eastern side of Africa from Kenya and Uganda to South Africa and Zambia. They talked about how we were all connected. The independence struggle in India had been closely connected to the anti-colonial struggles in Kenya and South Africa. For the younger ones, our generation, it was how development has proceeding in India despite its politicians, but fails in Africa because of its politicians. During the first trip in 1992, HIV had not been reported in India. It was beginning to appear in other Asian countries such as Thailand. It was on everyone’s lips. Why was it so devastating in Africa? Would it come to India? One interesting explanation offered then was Indian culture and family had survived imperialism and was alive and strong with strong moral bonds preventing promiscuity and sex outside marriage. African culture and family was devastated by migrant labour policy and Christianity and other colonial imports, loosening the moral ties. In the intervening years we have seen HIV rise in India, although much more slowly. The subject is still very much on everyone’s lips, but now it is about what can India learn from the African experience. It is going to be interesting to see what Africans think they can teach the Indians and what the Indians think they can learn from the other. Even younger Indians know the Zimbabwe cricket team, even while it comes off second best nearly all the time, and follow its fortunes.
From Delhi we have travelled east to Orissa by plane and by train. By train, the journey is long…36 hours; by plane a mere hour and a half. A train journey always starts with haggling with the porters. They are usually stringy middle aged men, maybe older. They take ownership of the bags on arrival, before they are out of the taxi. Then the ticket, analysing it for train, platform, carriage and seat. With a shake of the head they know exactly where to deposit you. Then the haggling starts…500 rupees, 50 rupees, clearly we do not look totally Indian, we can pay more. They hold out for more…500 rupees. It goes on. Our hosts usually give us an idea of what to expect to pay…around 100 rupees, but talk ourselves into paying more each time. Launching the bags onto their heads they weave through the human traffic, parked cargo, footbridges to where the exact part of the train will stop when it pulls in. When the train comes they will tuck us in for the journey. We have gone by train from Mumbai to Goa and from Trivandapuran to Goa. The air-conditioned train coaches are basic. The windows are sealed and not very wide, some look smoky. The space is adequate if a family is in the same cubicle, sharing with strangers cramps the style. But people are easy and will start talking to you if you are not careful. Coming from Zimbabwe it is easy to engage, but when coming from UK it can be difficult to slip into the role. On the first train journey we had a box of Lego for the kids. A passenger passing by took interest in this odd family, came to join us and played with Lego with the kids while nattering away. At the ends of each coach are the loos. There is Indian style, which is two perching stands astride a straight hole onto the tracks; and western style, which is the raised funnel with a seat. The Indian one terrified the kids, so we always journeyed with a potty. However it was always much cleaner: it is easier to clean by splashing water, which drained along the sloping floor onto the tracks. The western one was always sloshing with water with no where to go, sometimes spilling out onto the passage, touching anything in there seemed to require more cleaning afterwards than was possible. In the days when Noreen Welch and Tsitsi Vera read ZBC news on television, they once closed with one of those ‘human interest’ stories only ZBC knows how to fish for. This was about a woman who gave birth to a child unexpectedly in a toilet on the train. When she realised what happened she called for help and stopped the train because the baby had fallen through the hole onto the track. The baby was recovered unharmed. In reading the news item they let their faces evolve from incredulity to laughter. They were fired.
The changing landscape of India was just tantalisingly out there, only to be touched and felt when the train pulled into the station and people got out for a stroll, stretch the legs or buy some chai. At the stops tea or coffee sellers and others come in yelling out their wares. It is a mistake to show even the slightest interest. It leads to the most persistent pestering I have ever been subjected to. Once the traders home in you it is a battle of survival. Once in Mumbai a man selling embroidery needles followed us up and down the streets, across the streets, waited for us while we went on a boat ride to Elephanta Island and while we went into the art gallery. We surrendered and bought them. He must have been on the same train to Goa that night because we saw him, and he recognised us, at the Wednesday market in Goa two days later. The tea or coffee cups are now plastic, using instant coffee and tea bags. When we first went on that train to Orissa, it was clay cups and the beverage from an urn. We have seen the change in our lifetime.
The cityscape of India is grimy, mouldy piled up, dusty buildings. Everywhere. New buildings begin to look mouldy and old even before they are finished. There is no shortage of old buildings. The oldest living city in the world is supposed to be Indian: Benares. It is a relief when the view opens up and the city, its smells, smoke and dust flow past into the distance. Rural India is mombes: large white humped mombes pulling carts pilled to the sky with something. These mombes have a long history. The mombes we have in Africa most likely originated here. They still have wild ones in the forests. Officially, mombes cannot be killed or eaten as food. ‘Beef’ can be bought but the general belief is that it is buffalo. Rural mombes do not look under fed, like their town cousins, despite their constant labour. The town mombes appear to just wonder up and down the streets, eating what they can at rubbish piles wherever they can. Once, while walking in a posh area of Delhi surburbs, we saw this cow in the street. There was no sign of anything that a cow could feed on. I was just thinking how it was that one could be hanging around a place such as that where it could not graze, when up cycled a man with a plate in his hand of what looked like chapattis. He spun in front of the cow to face it, picked up a chapatti and fed the cow. The food was gone in a flash, and so was he. That is not a frequent sight. December-January rice is ripening in the fields. The land is cut into small patches, handkerchief size, the borders built up into footpaths. While some paddy fields are still flooded others are already harvested and the carried home in bundles tied to the ends of long sticks. The landscape is vast and varied. Going east the horizon is far, the distance between only partly filled by undulating moth eaten landscape crossed by labouring people or rushing vehicles. In some places villages press on each other, pole and dagger houses collecting in one place, brick and clay tile in another and large two or three story dotted about. Going east from Delhi you are riding the great plains of north India. The cast system is not apparent from the distance of the train but where it survives it is strongest in the villages, separating the living areas of people of different casts from each other.
Like in Mozambique, nearer the coast, palm fronds become a major building material. It builds houses, restaurants and stalls. The western side of India is jaggered. The Western Ghats cut the terrain sharply all the way to the coast. The train is constantly diving into tunnels and crossing bridges as the land rises high above us or falls away in a deep galley. Kerala in particular is picture post card palm trees set in a watery background with tilting sun. The water must be crossed on long bridges. At night the train, with its carriage lights glowing and horn blowing, looks from the ground like it is sliding across the surface of the water. The express train from Trivandanpuran in the south takes three days to reach its destination in Gujarat. It snakes through dense habitation, mostly urban, rising along the west coast. The strange mixture of an ancient Christian and Hindu architecture is visible even from the train. Apparently the British never properly conquered Kerala, it remained a protectorate, only becoming incorporated into the Indian state after independence. However, the British objected to the Coptic Christianity they found there and insisted on the west European post reformation form they brought with them.
People do not seem to have that instant knowing answer when you ask what the population of Cuttack is. It is not difficult to see why. Cuttack looks, feels and sounds a million people per square kilometre. It is a visual and spacial noise, disorderly sounds of rushing and murmuring. The buildings look temporary, like people have moved in after the floods elsewhere but then never left. It is one of the oldest towns in Orissa and was once the capital. Even the government could not cope with being in Cuttack, they moved to the broad avenues and temple peace of Bhubuneshwar, 40 kilometres away.
The streets of Cuttack are the gap between row upon row of tiny shops, hardly any of them big enough to accommodate walk-in customers. But they are specialised. Tuck shop size chemists, Indian sweets shops, kitchenware, electrical, snack and jewellery shops. The jewellers here are famous throughout India and east Asia for the fine silver and gold jewellery filigree they do. Textile shops may be large enough to let you in to wander and wonder. The outer most street space is the gutter, open mostly, irregularly covered sometimes by concrete slabs or tile. Water pools or congeals with mud, it flows in places from god knows where. Larger canals, rivers and trenches can be seen about the city, usually only visible from a bridge. Sometimes people can be seen washing, mombes drinking and dogs scavenging. The narrow gutter on the road is shared with cows, parked vehicles and pedestrians weaving along. The middle is for the brave. It’s fast and furious, two opposing currents weaving into and through each other. Autorickshaws, cycle rickshaws, scooters, bicycles and cars of all sizes, ancient and modern, Indian and Japanese, do the dance of dare. They dance past each other hooting, hooting, hooting. If you dare to contemplate the opposite side, leave your heart on this side of the shore. The clash of cymbals and gongs will be heard lacing the margins of the hoots as the dead are carried on stretchers to the cremation ground. One of the most original things on the roads of India is the traffic policeman with a disc in each hand: one green for ‘Go’ and another ‘Red’ for stop. He is usually to be found on the safety of a dais. On the whole a compromise negotiates itself where the traffic sort of obeys but not completely, just more safely. A step away from the gutter, off the road, can be a different world altogether. Muffled noises may reach behind the walls of the houses, but domesticity reigns. Contemplation can assert itself and the rich vein of Indian home life flows.
As in many of India’s cities there is a statue of Subash Chandra Bose. In India he is quite uncontroversial. He was a nationalist. Foreign academics, especially British, are much less comfortable with him. He did not see why Indians should fight for the British Empire during the war against Hitler when they were being denied freedom, justice and independence. He wanted an alliance against the British, and sought support from the enemies of the British, Hitler. Every now and again a book is published or a documentary released about his life, his views, would he have been ‘democratic’ if he had led India after independence. He was from the east side of India, Bengal, so he has local appeal here. A little further beyond the city, in fact outside Bhubuneshwa, is the old battlefield of Kalinga. On a hill above it Japanese Buddhists have built a temple to commemorate a momentous event here more than two thousand years ago. The seal of India today shows three lions sitting upright in a group looking out, with their backs to each other. That is the seal of Ashok. He was the King of India then when he won a major battle here. He stood on the hill after the battle and surveyed the ground below, to acknowledge with horror the carnage of hundreds of thousands lying dead or dying. He made a pledge to become a Buddhist, a vegetarian and to renounce violence. To this day he lives in the legal, political and cultural memory of India. We arrived at the top of this hill when the peach-red morning sun hung above the field, steaming the ground below. It is not difficult to imagine the ebbing of life and the smell of congealing blood down below. Further away is the ‘sun temple’ at Karnark. This was built about two or three hundred years before Great Zimbabwe. It is in the form of a chariot journeying across the sky. It is large with very intricate detail, depicting representation of life. Some of the figures are very explicit in their eroticism, which may not have been a problem in the past, but is now an object of some official embarrassment. People come from all over the country to see this chariot that has now journeyed through time. Then the beach and temple at Puri. This is a little town [by Indian standards] right on the east coast. The railway station and hotel there could be straight out of Harare, only larger. In the hotel lounge there was a retired railwayman who engaged me in a discussion about the history and politics of southern Africa. He knew it all. The past and the present, the deviations of Federation and UDI, or the ‘independence’ of 1910 in South Africa and the machinations of de Klerk. He knew it all. The most unexpected was the streets of Puri. If you have ever wondered where the English language got the word ‘juggernaut’ from, you need go no further. The streets are wide enough to put a whole new row of building in them, like having three or four Bulawayo streets together. The temple here is devoted to the Hindu god Gaganath and his brother and sister. Once a year the figures of the gods are brought out and taken on a ride through the city on floats so huge they fill the street. People come in hundreds of thousands from all over India. There are people dedicated to the temple who spend their whole lives in the service of the temple. To die under one of those floats is supposed to be a divine event, and people throw themselves under them. It was not the season for the ride but we jostled with thousands on the streets to feel the spirit. Only Hindus are allowed into the temple. The journey back took us through the village of Pipli. It is famous around the world as the origin of the brightly coloured lampshades identified with things Indian everywhere. It is a tiny village that has made a huge splash of colour in the world.
Goa is on the opposite shore across the belly of India, on the west coast. There in no railway station in the city of Panjin itself. It is either before or after. The airport is in far away Vasco da Gama. Here Portuguese and Indian, Hindu and Christian, East and West make a very interesting curry. I have had Goan prawn curry in Goa and in Maputo. In Goa the beach hut, on the sands of the beach in north Goa, no big fan fare, hearty urge of spices, straight like staple, with puris, chapattis or nun breads. In Maputo, it was in a Portuguese restaurant, delicate, creamy and just a hint to suggest India, served with bread rolls or rice. Goa is connected with Africa in hundreds of ways, including a young lady we met once. He mother was Goan while her father was Mocambiquan African. She had come to visit and stay with her maternal family, something her family had done often, crossing the ocean while one sibling or other came to stay. One interesting connection. During the CHOGM meeting in India in 1983 Mugabe went to Goa. A journalist on the monthly magazine ‘Goa Today’ recalled the time in these words:
Mugabe had a personal question while in Goa. He had brought a 13 – page note that some of his ancestors had been enslaved in Goa. His British PR advisor approached me, but there was little of value, I could tell him apart from the vague notion that there were black seminarians at Santa Barbara, the Dominican church and monastery at Chimbel. I needed at least a day to unveil more information. So, in great secrecy, I was taken to the Hermitage at Aguada, where the heads of government had their camp. Mugabe was polite but peremptory: half-a-minute was all he could spare for me. K K Mathur, the then Chief Secretary, knocked on the door of Historical Archives and finding nothing of interest, summoned the redoubtable Goa specialist, Percival Noronha. I had suggested that the veteran journalist António de Menezes be consulted and perhaps he was. Meneses has very valuable information stored in his filing cabinet…….
The very competent Xavier Centre Librarian Lia Collaço e Sousa had more information which she recently shared with me. It was extracted from an article in Oriente Portugues (series I, Vol 2, 1905, pp 135) by the Goan researcher Amâncio Gracias. The Monomotapa conversions date back to 1597. The Dominicans brought to Goa some of the young princes, one called Miguel became the Rector of Santa Barbara. In the same century, two and more princes were brought, one, called Constantino, was eventually the vicar of Curca, another, called João, had sailed to Portugal with Constantino, in 1720, to greet the Portuguese King. Amâncio Gracias had based himself on the report by Fr.Manuel de São Thomas, dated 20th January of 1786, which he had discovered in the archives of then colony of Mozambique where he had served. Goa Today April 2002 Mario Cabral e Sa
Although I have on occasion been moved to embark on a quest myself, I have not been in the place long enough to devote substantial time and effort to the exercise. I wonder whether the High Commission in Delhi has ever thought of doing the ‘dig’ themselves.
Parts of Goa are crawling with pleasure seekers from Europe. There are remnants of the hippy age still here and new waves of people come every generation from a bewildering variety of places. Currently there are Russians and Israelis. They are to be found at all the beach markets and resorts. The markets themselves are like the estuary of a giant river. Their basin stretches from north India and beyond to southeast Asia. Tibetan refugees bring artifacts from Tibet and China, while traders sell products from Indonesia and Bali. The Wednesday market on Angeli beach used to be the biggest but it has now been overtaken by the Saturday market.
Soccor does not have much of a presence in India, or is it that India does not feature greatly in the soccor firmament, but Goa attracts African players. The Goans follow Portuguese teams, while playing cricket on the side. Goa is often used in Indian films as a backdrop for those films where where Indians can be portrayed with western value systems. A powerful film, ‘My Brother Nikil’ about the stigmatization of HIV was made there.
We attended a William Dalrymple reading at a bookshop. A smallish admiring crowd turned up. He described himself as a travel writer and travels much in India. There is much of the past in the present India and he is very nostalgic for the past. There was a lively debate about his characterization of Indians in his books and about Europeans presenting India to the Indians. He is moving into a history phase now. His last book was about British people who married into Indian families. There is a very moving letter by this grandmother written in Persian to her granddaughter who was now a society lady in England and prevented from all contact with her Indian roots. More historical books to follow as he has developed a fascination with the ‘last king of India’, the Nawab of Lacknow. All the bookshops in Panjim have prominent displays of his books. We have trouble finding Indian books. I am looking for Indian novels, short stories or poetry books. There are stacks and stacks of foreign ones. It is like being in a bookshop South Africa. You would not think people write in Zulu or Xhosa or something else but English and Afrikaans. The available local books are about religion or history. We resign ourselves to party life. We will have to wait till we get to Mumbai for the books. End of year is school holiday time and Goa is ‘holiday on the coast’ destination. For two weeks it is heaving with the ‘rich and famous with money to spend’ of India. This is the time many Goans make their annual income. There are no elaborate decorations for Christmas, but there are parties: street parties, beach parties, house parties.
Trivandanpuran, in Kerala, is very subdued at Christmas. Illuminated paper stars with wonderful cut-out patterns and colours light up the night, as if to guide the wise men down the south coast. It is a very gentle ambience, people walking to the beach to watch the sun set, or strolling to the fish market which only appears at sun down. The zoo in the middle of the city was made famous by the book ‘The Life of Pi’, but a walk through it is a very cerebral affair, interspersed with art gallery and museum. You can imagine everyone retiring with a book at bedtime. Like much of south India, the cuisine is vegetarian, but we did not miss the meat. It does make you think about what we have not done with muriwo ne nyemba [green leafy vegetables and legumes]. During the campaign against malnutrition in the late 70s and early 80s, Dr Mamvura had championed enriching nhopi with peanut butter and other nutrients, and it makes you realize that imagination is not lacking.
All good things must come to an end, and so we had to leave. As we took off from Mumbai Inernational airport, heading north we looked down. The sea, oh the sea! The most acute pain of separation is the feel of the sea. The washings of India, the sweat f the Himalayas, the fat of the land touch down and swirl and lap the shores. The seas around India are like a warm pond filled with the elusions of the gardens of south Asia. We swam in that liquor. Now, I will go to the village and how will I tell sekuru and ambuya about India and the Indians!