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Goa's Golden Age

And that good life, with the arrival of the globalized economy in India, was now available in Goa itself. Amelita Dias's son belonged to the first generation of Goans in several decades that didn't want to leave Goa. Oswaldo's son had just opened a cybercafé in the city of Margao. Oswaldo himself, running a hotel near one of the busy tourist beaches in the north, intends to spend the rest of his life in Goa. Apart from emotional considerations, it made good economic sense to stay on and stake a claim, as Amelita's and Oswaldo's children were doing, on the ground that one's ancestors had walked upon.

Of course, that claim can no longer be supported by the diminished power of a once great European nation or by the faith of the ancestors—though not because Hinduism had been neglected. As early as 1851, the British adventurer Sir Richard Burton had complained that the few "good" Hindus the Portuguese managed to convert without compulsion were merely "bad" Christians. But a century and a half later, Christianity in Goa doesn't seem diminished. The churches are full for evening mass and on Sundays and festival days; several new cults of the Virgin Mary have sprouted in the countryside.

But it is also true that the larger entities of India and Hinduism now increasingly press upon Goa. Christians had been in the minority since the early 19th century—they are now fewer than 30 percent of the population. The Hindus had always controlled trade, and they are now dominant in Goa's politics, if not lifestyle or culture. In 1999, the Hindu nationalist BJP (Indian People's Party) began to rule Goa for the first time in its electoral history. Given such facts, for Goan Catholics the question of identity seems urgent, more than an academic matter.

However, Lucio Miranda isn't much troubled. As he sees it, his identity isn't exclusively Christian or Hindu; it derives as much from the Konkani language, the music and dance of the pre-Portuguese era, as from the faith and customs the Portuguese brought to Goa. In that he is like the Goan priest who in 1938 told Somerset Maugham: "We are Christians but first of all we are Hindus."

This modern Goa is what makes Sir Richard Burton's notion of good Hindus and Christians look so limited: mando and the Hindu temples of Ponda, those particular achievements of Goan culture, were, after all, the work of bad Christians and bad Hindus. And when you see it that way, when you consider the fundamentalists of today—the destroyers of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan or the Hindu nationalists attacking old mosques in India, people trying to be good and faithful and pure by scorning their own history—a bit of badness begins to look like a very good thing.


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