ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Maria Aurora Couto (1937–2022) and Her Fifty–Fifty Nationalism

Maria Aurora Couto, the Goan littérateur and cultural activist who passed away on 14 January 2022, brought out the facets of her cosmopolitan outlook and her abiding faith in the synthetic traditions of Goan/Indian culture. She remained steeped in the cultural demands of high nationalism embodying the values of her times. 

Sometime in 2004 as the late Alito Siquera and I were waiting at the office of the vice chancellor of Goa University, I saw a woman climbing up the stairs of the building. She was panting, and without giving us a glance entered the vice chancellors chamber, as we discovered later, to join the experts as the chancellors nominee. Of course, Alito knew her well but decided to mention her as the famed author of Goa: A Daughters Story (Penguin, 2004). The book was creating waves, and I was yet to read it. In my nervousness, I asked Alito to give me a gist of the book lest I get asked a few questions about it. He made me realise that I had committed a grave mistake by appearing so indifferent to a great sociological work coming as a fiction from a native Goan. The conversation then turned into the follies of mainstream nationalism and how north Indians like me look at Goa just as a tiny dot in the larger map of India without feeling any need for serious intellectual engagement. Alito would never let an opportunity pass to remind us that we were the carriers of stereotypes about Goa, thanks to the Bollywood films and the images spawned by the tourism industry.

In any case, our interactions with the committee got over, and we got our respective promotions. Maria Couto just asked me one simple question if Maithili was my mother tongue. Later, I did borrow Marias book from the library and read it. In fact, it was my first serious reading about Goan society and culture save few stray sociological pieces. Subsequently, Alito and I wrote a joint piece for an edited volume concerning sociological practices in Goa, and he managed to get her comments on the draft paper. At Goa University, she was instrumental in conceptualising the Visiting Research Professors Programme commemorating Goan icons from varied fields like D D Kosambi, Dayanand Bandodkar, Baki-baab Borkar, Mario Miranda, Anthony Gonsalves, Nana Shirgaonkar, Sant Sohirobanath, and Joaquim Heliodoro da Cunha Rivara. The nomenclature of these chairs, and the attendant delineation of the fields, is a living testimony to the fiftyfifty nationalism that Maria Couto championed throughout her life: a conscious bridge-building across the perceived binaries of HinduCatholic, MarathiKonkani, and IndianGoan identities. It called for a certain catholicity of vision and cosmopolitanism of approach to devote chairs to Marathi sant sahitya and IndoPortuguese studies at the same time, as also to Hindustani and Western music. Those who are conversant with the looming threats of communal and linguistic polarisation in Goa can retrospectively appreciate the inclusiveness that was sought to be articulated through the very act of naming these chairs. It was an act of great intellectual courage to devote a chair to Marathi in the only university of a state whose distinctiveness emanate from its growing political and cultural distancing from Maharashtra and Marathi. Likewise, it was not easy to have a chair in IndoPortuguese studies in a rather apologetic context where the elite Catholic Goan is misperceived as the closet defender of Portuguese colonialism.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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