Last Sunday, one of Goa’s favourite celebrations took place at the
16th century church of St. Anne, set like a massive diadem high above
paddy fields in the village of Talaulim, a short drive from Panjim.
The patron saint was Jesus’s grandmother, but biblical lineage had
nothing to do with the riotous eruption of fervour on 30th July.
Instead, the magnificent baroque monument was thronged by thousands of
Hindus and some Muslims (amidst a minority of Catholics) because
beloved ‘Santana’ is legendarily infallible in her response to pleas
for male offspring, accompanied by ritual offerings of cucumbers.

So, every year, Talaulim brims with anxious would-be parents
brandishing cukes, and couples proudly cradling divine blessings of
baby boys. What is elsewhere cloaked in high Christian style, in Goa
becomes characteristically syncretic revelry, where everyone from
every background participates.

The “cucumber feast” is just one example of the many layered Goan
identity, which confounds observers used to rigid delineation and
impassable barriers between traditions.

In India’s smallest state, locals freely venerate all available
deities, while remaining notably tolerant towards each other, and
remarkably accepting of newcomers and migrants. This difference from
much of the rest of the subcontinent becomes instantly apparent to
even the most casual visitor, and is particularly attractive to young

Take a drive through the coastal tourist belt during the high season,
and it is wall-to-wall blissful desis, all visibly relieved to be
where no one particularly cares if you are in a bikini or burkha, or
discriminates based on the colour of your passport.

These laissez-faire attitudes must not be mistaken for weakness. They
do not imply the natives are a pushover. Rather, openness is a central
civilisational trait of the Goans, evolved through millennia of
profound cultural contact and exchange. As far back as recorded
history, this riparian sliver of the Konkan coastline was famous for
willingness to encounter and embrace the outside world.

The state laureate Bakibab Borkar wrote, “Tribals, Dravidians, Aryans,
Assyrians and Sumerians settled in this territory… but Goa’s scenic
beauty humanized them all so insistently and efficiently that they
amalgamated into a single society, with one common language and one
cultural heritage. The kinship and co-operation forged unto them by
the aesthetic impact of Goa’s rich scenery taught them the art of
living in peace and friendship, and inspired them to strive for nobler

Goa’s cultural unity and communal harmony is hard won, and has been
repeatedly fought for through the generations. This continues today,
even as worrisome trends accompany an explosion of Hindu extremism
across the border in Karnataka and Maharashtra ( thus compelling an
anxious Catholic circling of wagons). But still the peace holds, as
even the political fringes of the state are forced to commit to
concord. Dog-whistle rhetoric aside, open sectarianism remains
political suicide in Goa.

Can Goan solidarity last in the increasingly reactionary national
atmosphere? Don’t bet against it. Like Asterix’s tiny Gaulish redoubt,
there does seems to be some magic potion (besides feni!) at work here,
powering impressive resistance to communal discord.

Almost every day, I walk Panjim’s waterfront promenade to sip coffee
at the decades-old Farm Products storefront presided over by
92-year-old Alvaro Pereira. A non-violent hero of Goa’s anti-colonial
resistance, he was severely beaten and spent many years in jail for
opposition to the Portuguese dictatorship. We are inevitably joined by
octogenarian Gurudas Kunde, who also spent years imprisoned at the
same time, after offering satyagraha in protest of foreign rule (for
which his family disowned him).

These two best friends, and exemplars of valour, know no difference
between themselves. They treat everyone they meet each day with
identical old world grace. In their company, plumb middle of a swirl
of visitors from everywhere, conversation switches easily from English
and Hindi to robust Konkani and liquid Portuguese. Here, all are one.
That is Goa, and so will it remain for the foreseeable future.

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