Goa. The moment you think of this former Portuguese colony, what comes to mind is sunny beaches, nude sun bathing, carnivals, drinking and dancing …all night.
But that, says Savia Viegas, 49, is not really Goa. Not the real Goa, at least. “That is the tourism-driven image of the state,” says Viegas. “The government cashed in on the hippie culture of the ’60s and ’70s to promote this feast-and-fiesta kind of image of Goa. But the people here are more melancholic, more serious, more rooted in their culture.”
That which is their true culture. An agrarian one at the base, with large sprinklings of Arab, Aryan and Hindu customs, traditions and perhaps blood, too, that has been assimilated into the later Christian practices imposed on the Goans by the Portuguese.
Viegas, an art historian, who formulated an entire syllabus in Heritage Management for the Bombay University in 2004, is now attempting to return Goa to its original moorings. She is making a start from Carmona, her own village, and will, later this year, deliver to the Union Ministry of Culture an entire photographic history of her home state. She has received a fellowship from the Ministry to study Goa through its photographs and over the past two years, has collected veritable treasures in family photographs from all over the state, dating back to 1881.
She’s done so by literally barging into homes, demanding to see family albums. “The photographs show how the homes really were, the furniture, the artifacts, the family gatherings; they bring the culture and tradition alive,” she explains. Viegas has just written a book called Tales from the Attic, a slim hived-off version of a larger one called In the Hour of Eclipse. Expectedly, the book is not about drinking, dancing, feasts and fiestas. Instead, it takes off from the culture depicted in a thousand photographs.
Viegas even does a ‘walk the book’ tour, accosting unsuspecting tourists on the beaches, selling them the book in which she has deliberately and purposefully retained Goan idioms and definitions without explanation. So people come in to see what an osrear really is — not a verandah as is popularly thought, but an inward-looking room in the house.
“They just love it,” says Viegas, “they’re getting to know more of Goa than just its beaches.” Getting to meet the author of Tales from the Attic also tickles them pink. A British tourist Joan Counsel says, “The book was enchanting and the walk was a refreshing change from the usual tourist experience. We got to see the inside of the village, the real lives of the people as against just the ones on the beaches.”