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Goa's Golden Age

The mando had fallen into obscurity in recent years; young people, I was repeatedly told, were too impatient to learn the somewhat complicated steps. But this isn't too surprising. The aristocratic world that produced the mando—the mix of affluence and leisure hinted at by the still very grand Salcete houses with oystershell windows and Steinway pianos and porcelain dinner sets from China and Korea—was always fragile.

That world had come about at a unique moment in Goan history, when the Portuguese, caught up in their own long decline, had turned away from Goa, and Hindu India still had a negligible cultural presence. It depended upon a small elite of Brahman Catholics who could hold the two civilizations—Indian and Portuguese—in delicate balance within themselves. It could survive neglect by Portugal; but it couldn't survive the swift transformation of identities that followed the integration into India in 1961.

After the arrival of formal Indian rule, even many Brahman Catholics, who had no reason to go so far, sought migration. Families split, and were scattered around the world. The itinerary of one Oswaldo Riberio, now a businessman in North Goa, could be that of many other Goans: he went to Portugal, where he didn't feel at home, and then to Brazil and the Middle East, both of which also turned out to be alien places. In the meantime, Goa changed very fast as more Hindus arrived from India and the tourist industry abruptly took off.

In the 19th century, the Goan emigrant could come back to Goa after a long absence and find it little altered: the stagnancy of the Portuguese era gave the Goan a sense of continuity. After Indian rule, that was no longer available to him. It wasn't just the beaches of North Goa that mass tourism altered. In the late 1970's Remo returned to Goa after two years in Europe to find hotels and cafés and beer bars on the rice fields of his childhood.

And Goa continues to be transformed. Riberio's sister, Amelita Dias, stayed on in Goa, and now lives just outside Loutolim, in a newly built house with a view of rice fields and soft green hills in the distance. All around her there are signs of hectic change: in the opencast iron-ore mines, in the naked-brick shells for new hotels and restaurants. In her late forties now, Dias still speaks Portuguese much better than English and has faint memories of the brief revival of mando dances in the 1960's and 70's. Her 19-year-old son speaks no Portuguese; and although I didn't feel I could ask him as he traipsed around the dairy farm he runs at the back of his mother's house, I could sense from the trendiness of his jeans and shoes that techno rather than mando was his thing.

Most of his friends at school had been Hindu: this was also part of the change in Goa. There was a time when only high-caste Hindus were invited to Christian homes. But the old caste and religious barriers had broken down in recent years. Intermarriage had become more common. The Hindus had grown culturally more ambitious after being introduced to the good life of the West by the Catholics. Hindu businessmen now knew, Miranda said, the names of good champagnes.


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