Rosalyn D'Mello: Tracing the waters of the Sal River

Apr 14, 2017, 06:06 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

The seeking after ancestral lineage is a common artistic pursuit. It stems, perhaps, from the desire to know one's origins

Homing is believed to be the inherent ability of an animal to navigate towards an original location through unfamiliar areas. Pic/Thinkstock
Homing is believed to be the inherent ability of an animal to navigate towards an original location through unfamiliar areas. Pic/Thinkstock

My father's mother died on this day 27 years ago. I mean to say yesterday. She was also my godmother. I even got my name from her, hers was Rosie. I have seen photographs of her at my baptism in Kuwait. I was barely five years old at the time. All that I remember of her funeral are vignettes: my sister and I crawling over my weeping mot­her, trying desperately to comfort her, uncertain why the sight of my grandmother sleeping in a casket in the middle of a little apartment in Dadar, opposite the Portuguese church, could cause so much grief. I have a distinct memory of being given a wreath to put over what I realize now was her grave.

It was Maundy Thursday then, too, 27 years ago. Though my infantile body must, by then, have acquired a sense of depth perception, it had no way of registering or rec­ording the enormously tragic nature of this loss. It is only now, in my 30s, that I am able to view her demise as a deeply personal event. My mother's mother also died soon after. My mother took my sister to the funeral, so I've no emotional evidence of bidding her adieu. Both my parents lost their fathers when they themselves were young and unmarried.

Unlike many of our friends and peers, my sister and I grew up with no stories of either paternal or maternal grandfathers and grandmothers. All we have are fragments of memories and a handful of photographs.

Having spent more than two weeks up in the north of Goa, in Corjeum, in Aldona, I began to find myself seduced by the landscape. It was really the drive past Carona towards and beyond the Calvim bridge that I fou­nd utterly spectacular. I seriously considered looking for a house or an apartment that I could rent around there. I could already imagine what it would be like to wake up to such lusciousness. I wouldn't ever tire of seeing the sun setting within the fabricated stilts of the bridge, the giant orange orb glittering across the water's surface and the white façade of St Thomas Church rising within view as my scooter inched closer. The biggest advantage, beyond the landscape and the silence, would be having two of my most favourite writer-friends, Maria Couto and Margaret Mascarenhas, as neighbours.

Then, three days ago, I said goodbye to Aldona and took a cab to Navelim, 52 kilometers away, in Salcette, south Goa. My parents had been here for almost a month, but I'd been so busy being a "critic" at the Khoj Residency, I didn't get the opportunity to make the long journey to visit them (people often forget Goa is a state, not a city, and that distances can be encumbering). The afternoon after the Open Studio, I packed my bags, said farewell to the artists I was living with, and headed south. I was excited to come home to my folks, my sister and her fiance, who were also in town. I had been craving the comfort of home food, but that aside, I genuinely enjoy spending time with my parents in Goa. I love listening to them slip into Konkani, I love having relatives drop in to give us mangoes and jackfruit from their gardens, I love how the door is always left open, so that everything that is outside seeps in; the honk of the poder pao or the fishermonger on their cycles, the cacophony of children playing in the evenings, and even the mumbled echoes of the rosary being recited in the house across. The evening I returned, my sister and I decided to take our parents and our neighbour, Josephine, and her two kids, out for dinner. As Josephine drove us towards Assolna, to where my mother traces her origins, we neared the first bridge over the River Sal, and my mother pointed out exactly where her grandmother used to drop her off onto a canoe, so she could go across and take the bus home.

Later, when we got closer to Chinchinim, she mentioned she suspected that my father's mother was originally from there, because of a trip they'd made together years ago, during which time this information had been communicated to her. I thought of all of this yesterday, when my sister, her fiance, and I were driving towards Agona via the coastal road, encountering only lushness and fertility everywhere, not the hectic nervousness of the tourist-infested Goan north.

Over lunch, I told them how, while I felt no maternal urge, what I had begun to feel in the pit of my soul was the homing instinct. The seeking after ancestral lineage is a common artistic pursuit. It stems, perhaps, from the desire to know one's origins. I am unsure how far I want to go to retrace my native past. What I know as fact is that my bloodline stems from the waters of the Sal. Towards its tide I am now manoeuvring a way to return.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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