In the early 16th century, when Albuquerque was conquering Goa and performing his extraordinary feats on and beyond the Konkan coasts and in the Arabian seas that bordered mainly the enemies of the Franks, as the Portuguese were called then, and an extraordinary priest, Fr Francis Xavier was preaching Christianity to those who lived therein, the kingdom of Adil Shah, the king of Persian descent, was to turn, first, to the strongest foothold in Asia of the Lusitanians, an exceptional seafaring people whose curiosity, warrior skills and desire to trade till farthest lands brought them to the Indies. Without such occidental encounter with the oriental, perhaps Goa would have remained another dot on the Konkans, but that wasn’t to be, and what we have is the land often exoticized in the writings of not only the bards such as Camões, but also closer in time, Graham Greene seeing ‘the silver stubble of the paddy fields, squared off by trees and hills, lay in a strong wash of moonlight’ and ‘sad old men sitting in almost empty rooms on carved Goan chairs regretting the past—the green and red wines of Portugal, the Scotch whisky at thirteen rupees a bottle which will cost now, if you are lucky to find a bottle, fifty or sixty’. It is this setting where Antonio Gomes chooses to base his novel, The Sting of Peppercorns telling the story of a Goa coming out of colonial rule and trying to adjust with the integration with a nation where it barely escapes being gorged by one of its monster-states. And from the very same fertile land and period, Maria Aurora Couto puts together a family history of her parents, grandparents and the people around them.
January 2015, volume 39, No 1