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On a Bookshelf: 10 non-fiction writers' windows to Goa

Experience a different side of the state on the pages of these seminal books

Frederick Noronha

A book changes your life, they say. One book and one academic paper completely changed my perception of Goa — besides my plans and career (in part).

That sunny Goa University afternoon, in the mid-1980s, was a good time to steal 15 minutes from the mid-afternoon recess. A student there, one would often spend that time at the library's reading room. Entirely by chance, an issue of the journal Pacific Affairs showed up. Who would expect a journal with this name to include an article on Goa? To find it well written and insightful was even more surprising.

Like most returning expat Goans (despite having come ‘home’ as a child), one had been struggling to understand Goa. In those days, there was scant printed material in English in the region. Most was still in unfamiliar, Salazar-censored Portuguese.

Pacific Affairs contained the article Goa: The Transformation of an Indian Regio, written by a certain Dr Robert S Newman, then based in Melbourne. Filled with youthful exuberance, I dashed off to him an tightly-packed aerogramme letter full of observations and arguments; he politely wrote back with a three-page letter. It began saying: “You are the first person, Goan or otherwise, to respond to this article.” We became friends, and still are.

Here’s a list of some other books that offer a glimpse into Goa.

Newman's Goa

Dr Robert S Newman's writing on Goa is easy to read, charmingly narrated, and, in my view, offers great insights into a complex region. The fact that he's Jewish, an anthropologist, a speaker of Hindi and Japanese and Portuguese, and married to a North Indian lady, perhaps lends further to his ability to understand complexities and nuances.

His first paper on this place — and you should start here — is called Goa: The Transformation of an Indian Region. Three decades after first reading it, one's own understanding might differ somewhat from “Bob’s”. But you cannot deny that whatever he says he argues with conviction and style. Newman knows how to narrate the story. He turns what could be dry subjects in anthropology into very interesting ones to an average reader.

His work deals with language issues in Goa (Konkani), goddesses and dreams, Hindu religious festivals in places like Cuncolim, Catholics seeing visions in Velim and how could understand this, myths created about Goa, the multilingual nature of our state, and colonial writing on Goa.