A Goan slice of life
A new children's book paints an idyllic image of a Goan village, through the story of a young girl's friendship with a lonely old man
Time passes by in a languid manner across the 60-odd pages of The Mystery of The Missing Crown: A Goa Story (Good Earth), a new book for children. The story is set in Rachol, a laidback village next to a river, where a day can seem like an entire month sometimes. The locals there are God-fearing and the church is the fulcrum of their social lives. But one day, a young boy makes a terrible error of judgment and the plot revolves around how — after spending 50 years in Portugal to escape the ignominy — he returns to atone for his mistake.
This person's name is Ignatious Falcao. He's a musician who comes back to a lonely existence in his abandoned family home, because the whispers around his misdeed haven't died out even after all these decades. But the old man finds an unlikely sympathiser in Josephine, a nine-year-old girl with her heart in the right place, and the two of them develop a clandestine friendship that eventually turns out to be mutually beneficial.
It's quite a straightforward story, really. But what makes the book endearing is the manner in which Sharon Fernandes, the author, paints a bucolic image of a sun-kissed village where the remnants of its Portuguese past are visible in a seminary. She writes about a place where pet mynas aren't kept in cages, people don't miss their afternoon siestas, and where even before you have reached the sea, you can hear it "like a hundred giants snoring". Plus, Mumbai-based Gynelle Alves's distinctive sketches — which rely on bright colours without compromising on the honesty of her recreations — lend an able visual hand to the words that Fernandes penned down after dipping into the reservoir of her
"Josephine is perhaps what I was like as a kid — someone who always wanted to go out, explore and do things. And our house is in Raya, which is really close to Rachol. So, this [setting] has been a part of my growing-up years. I had always seen these faces around in my childhood, and that's where the story came from," the author tells us over the phone from Delhi.
She adds, "Another reason for me choosing Rachol to base the plot in is because it's an important area historically. When the Portuguese first arrived to Goa, it's Rachol where they based themselves. They set up one of their first churches there, and the village also housed one of the earliest printing presses in the country. So, my point is that these are important archival structures that haven't been tapped for their stories. I mean, when you look at Goa now, you think of it as this touristy hold-a-beer-and-sit-on-the-beach kind of place. It has a rich history, though, which has dwindled away because people have limited knowledge about it."
The book, then, puts focus on a sleepy hamlet that's been consigned to a neglected corner of the Indian map with the passage of time. So, pick it up as much to read about the heart-warming tale of the friendship that blossoms between a little girl and elderly man as you would to see Goa in a light that isn't often shed on it.
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