It’s over 40 years since my first visit to Goa. Tourism was a foreign word then and except for the few rich folks, families traveled to ‘native place’ for children’s long holidays or for weddings and other family functions. I came here as a new bride, just having married into a traditional Gowd Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) family. The family home was in the village of Calapur, also known as St.Cruz., the house itself at the end of a Christian wado (a sublocality within the village) – it was the only Hindu house there.
Before I reached Goa, I had no idea of its people or culture besides a vague impression that it had a predominant Christian ethos. On that first visit I met a few Catholic guests at our wedding reception – these were either neighbors from the village or colleagues of my brothers-in-law from work. Since then, I have met them only at other family weddings, and occasionally been introduced to colleagues on the streets of Panaji. Over these last 4 decades, although I have been a regular visitor, I may have entered a Christian house only a couple of times . It has always interested me – how close and yet how far apart the two communities live.
And all this, when Christians form 30% of the population. In earlier times they belonged to two distinct classes – a small group of rich Portuguese speaking families, well educated with close links to the ruling Portugese establishment who held the big jobs and built the great mansions etc. and the larger population of poor, Konkani speaking working class. The latter left in large numbers (earlier and in larger numbers than Hindus) in search of jobs, starting back in the early 20th century. They went to work on ships as waiters and cooks (the image of a cook/chef for a long time was of a Gomez or Fernandez) and were the original people to repatriate money.
Of course, Christianity is evident all around, and everywhere. Every village has one or more church, roadside shrines are everywhere. Whereas in earlier times the community stood out, the women if not the men, by their dress (they wore a typical frock), today they merge into the population as the young have adopted the uniform dress code of jeans etc.
My niece tells me that there were 20-30% Christians in her class through 11th and 12 th, BA and Law college and would form 1/3rd of practicing lawyers. Her circle of friends has both Hindus and Christians. But, although marriages across castes is getting commoner and gaining acceptance from the older generation, marriages across religion are few. It has always been this way – my family could only recount of one from amongst their whole extended kinship.
Not only the religion, the 2 groups have very little in common besides the language – food, music, dance, customs are all unique to each. Even the language is divided by script – the Hindus using Devnagiri and the Catholics Roman. In fact, about 3 decades ago, this was the cause of the only Hindu-Christian stand off ever in the State. Fortunately, there is total tolerance and even respect for each other’s religion.
For ever so many years, when I mentioned my Goan connection, people are often surprised that there are Hindus here. More recently, of course, it’s BJP leanings have brought its Hindu identity to the fore. But to many, the idea of Goa (like mine 40 years ago) is of Vindaloo (Christin pork dish) rather than of Hooman (Hindu fish curry). However, the merger of these two cultural identities is gradually taking place.
The single most common and binding factor is, however, that every one is proud to say ‘auv goencho’ (I am from Goa). I too, who otherwise is stateless, feel happy to be accepted here. I am part of the Hindu Goa – but there is the other Goa, which I know so little about!