Getting started in writing

Today, traditional Goan stories are scarce, often unavailable in preferred scripts or languages, a consequence of language dynamics shifting

Fredrick Noronha | FEBRUARY 05, 2024, 11:56 PM IST

“Dad, what do you want a story about today?” he would ask, seemingly undeterred by the weariness of a long day’s work. Regardless of his fatigue, he never hesitated to spin tales at my request. I would excitedly suggest themes like fairies, war, or elves, but strangely, ghost stories were never on the list.

With almost magical skill, Dad wove intricate stories on the spot, captivating my imagination then and now. His stories were not read or memorized; he conjured them spontaneously. As he narrated, I’d lie on the sofa, my knees aching with a touch of rheumatic fever, a diagnosis my mother, a nurse-matron, attributed to my early childhood. While Goa’s winters were mild, Mum tended to be overly cautious about her children’s health, believing my brother had a congenital heart defect.

Dad’s stories, a blend of cowboys and ‘Red Indians,’ served as a remedy for my knee pain. Unbeknownst to us at the time, these narratives, like many others, carried subtle racist undertones, a revelation we’d only make later in life. Even beloved characters like Tintin and Lee Falk’s Phantom had murky, racist histories. Yet, in those moments, lying on the sofa, Dad’s storytelling, accompanied by a comforting hand on my knee, provided solace.

While Dad fueled my love for stories, it was my maternal uncle, Gerry Coutinho, who ignited my passion for Konkani music after our family’s return from Brazil in the mid-sixties. Despite living away from Goa for generations, our connection to the Konkani language had faded. Uncle Gerry, making stopovers in Bombay during his Southampton-Goa travels, brought EP and LP records, leaving a lasting impact on my appreciation for Konkani music.

As I delved into my roots, I realized that traditional Goan stories were absent from our home. Migration, coupled with early family deaths, deprived me of grandparents, essential storytellers in nurturing local traditions. Today, traditional Goan stories are scarce, often unavailable in preferred scripts or languages, a consequence of Goa’s language dynamics shifting from Portuguese to English, Romi Konkani to Marathi, and then to Devanagari Konkani.

Fortunately, not all is lost. The late Prof Lucio Rodrigues preserved captivating tales and legends of another Goa, documenting stories of sons-in-law, lawyers, Brahmins, and old women from villages like Moira, Guirim, and Sangolda. Republishing his work became possible through Goa,1556, thanks to his niece, Esme Abedin, who reintroduced Prof. Lucio Rodrigues’ work on his birth centenary in 2015.

Despite the multitude of stories Dad shared, I struggle to recall them individually. Yet, each was undeniably enjoyable. Those moments on the sofa, feeling his reassuring hand on my knee, remain etched in my memory.

Dad, an engineer with a diploma from vjti (Victoria Jubilee Training Institute), laid the foundation for my enduring interest in reading and learning through the printed word. High-school teachers like Ivan Rocha and Britto librarian Alex Almeida, along with my godmother Natty Rodrigues, further encouraged my quest for reading material.

Childhood challenges included the scarcity of children’s books in 1970s Goa, prompting Aunty Natty to bridge the gap dramatically. Expelled from Uganda in 1972, my aunt utilized worthless Ugandan paper money to fund postage for sending children’s magazines to Goa. Magazines like Beano and Bunty, slightly dog-eared from their postal journey, enriched our young minds, sparking creativity and providing entertainment.

The British magazine Sunshine from Poona and radio dramas, especially from the BBC, further shaped our reading experiences during high school. Mentors, such as the Jesuits who ensured access to Himmat magazine during the Emergency, and the library at Goa University, played pivotal roles in broadening our reading horizons.

Years later, as a parent, I continued the tradition of bedtime reading for my children, emphasizing the power of reading. With an expanded book collection, I introduced them to stories from Anita Pinto’s Tales from Golden Goa, leading to the creation of Espi Mai is Stuck Again... and Other Stories from Goa, perhaps Goa’s most translated children’s book.

Reflecting on this journey, I acknowledge the impact of reading in shaping my career as a journalist. Despite the challenges, it has been a fulfilling and rewarding path, taking me to numerous countries on scholarships and invitations. As I celebrate 40 years in journalism, I realize the debt I owe to the place I call home.

In conclusion, the enduring power of stories, whether spun by a father on a worn sofa or discovered in the pages of a magazine from distant lands, has shaped my life profoundly. The journey of reading, from childhood tales to a four-decade-long career, continues to be a source of joy, inspiration, and gratitude.”

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