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The pretensions of empire- Bom Jesus, Sé Cathedral and the remains of St Francis Xavier


Alfonso de Albuquerque (the King of Mangoes is named after him) arrived  in Goa in 1542 followed by  his Portugese  compatriots a few years later.  They colonized this end of the Malabar coast, becoming  busily engaged in commerce and conversion and hugely brutal with it. In 1961 our idolised first Prime Minister, Mr Nehru,  sent the Indian Army into Goa to “wrest” it from Salazar and bring it back to national territory. While Goa was part of Portugal, the inhabitants of the area known as Old Goa- with its many towering churches- shared the same civic privileges as Lisbon. St Francis Xavier S.J. is preserved in a glass tomb and for many years his body was intact, so much so that when a devout  Catholic woman bit off his big toe, blood splashed all over her clothes.

The churches are grandiose and attract a lot of tourists (all Russian when I visited) but the extravagance of the Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art and architecture seems hollow and melancholy and there is little vestige of spiritual ambiance. Groups of tourists from Karnataka move about noisily, shouting to one another and taking pictures. I reprimanded one specially boisterous fellow after which  he apologized profusely.P1010593P1010587

Archangel Michael has  a very Indian look as do the putti around the pulpit.P1010592

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Naturally, after such arduous sight-seeing I needed sustenance and took myself to one of the most celebrated restaurants in Panjim- “Mum’s Kitchen”. I was their only customer at 5.30 in the afternoon so I settled down to enjoy an authentic Goan meal, after the endless chips and spicy fish of Bogmolo Beach. The waiter stood above me, a little like a stern schoolteacher with his horn-rimmed specs and unsmiling face. “No Madam, you should not order so much,” he admonished, “you will never finish it.” I pleaded to taste a curried pineapple delicacy, but he was having none of it.  He only allowed  me to eat a portion of prawns and Goan rice and with the first mouthful I was in heaven. Just like the first note of a musical performance says everything (or nearly everything) about what is about to follow, so the first taste of a dish. This prawn and coconut curry was so sublime that I was making infant noises in my solitary corner of the restaurant.

The owner , Mrs Suzanne Martins (“Mum”) was not at home, but her husband Ronny pressed my hand warmly and invited me to come again soon. If “Mum’s Kitchen” had not been a Rs 1,000 taxi ride away from where I was staying, I would have gone every single meal-time of my stay.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Richard February 10, 2013, 6:24 pm

    Incredible pictures Ms Mitchell!

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