Rosalyn D'Mello: A feast for the artist's soul
It will be hard to leave Goa after it has provided such nourishment for body and soul - the kind of feast that leaves you wanting more
Artist Orijit Sen’s interpretation of the Mapusa Market. Pic courtesy/Kochi Biennale Foundation
Last evening, during our return from Redi beach that lies 9-12 km past the Terekhol river, the geographic border that separates Goa from Maharashtra, Tsohil, my fellow resident at HH Art Spaces, and I decided to break the bike journey by stopping at a modest roadside bar for a swig of caju. It was then that I saw I’d missed a call from Vally. I knew why he was trying to get in touch, and so immediately called back. I was right. He’d bought bangda (mackerel) from the Mapusa market in the morning, and could cook it for me the way I’d requested, the true-blooded Goan way, with slits on both sides so it could be stuffed with reshad and fried. We’d take another forty minutes to get back to Arpora, I told him, but I definitely wanted the bangda.
It was 9pm by the time we returned. Soon after, I took the bike out to the junction, right after the chapel, and despite my best intentions, returned only by midnight. When I arrived, Vally was about to cook oysters. I couldn’t but watch. The two Goan men from the day before were there too, and before I knew it, I was sampling their plate of oysters lightly fried in chilli powder, lime, salt and breadcrumbs, and was being offered pork chilly fry, even as the three fried bangdas I’d asked for sat in a sheet of aluminium waiting to be devoured later with my fellow residents.
We stumbled into conversation. Interrupted only by flashy Indian tourists on bikes and in cars asking for the way to Baga beach, and an offering of whiskey in steel tumblers. Like me, both Akshay and Sylvester were Bombay Goans. Akshay grew up in Dhobi Talao while Sylvester was from Mahim. Unlike me, they knew Konkani, but the language we chose to engage in was a form of English specific to maka paos. It was exquisite, the rush from talking about our collective passion — food. My wild explanation detailing how I am able to feel at home in three places — Bombay, Goa and Delhi, but how, despite not having lived here long enough, Goa was the site of my roots, where I felt most like I belonged. How the swell of the River Sal could evoke in me something ancestral. I told them about my first successful conversation in Konkani with an old woman at the Mapusa market who was selling edible flowers, and how I was able to decipher the recipe to cook them but didn’t know their provenance. Vally then informed me they were from the drumstick tree. It all fell into place. I told them I’d been drying the leftover flowers and fossilizing them in the candles I was making for my performance at HH on Friday. They spoke of Mahim and Dadar, and their childhood nostalgia, and how food was central to their existence, and they told me of a little joint near the Calungute police station that makes the best xit kodi (fish curry-rice). It all made perfect sense, given that the title of my performative piece and my next book is “The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fish”, the idea being to emphasise the multiplication of grace, and the act of cooking and feeding as something beatific that can institute a munificence of emotion.
Given that I am currently on the brink of my departure from Goa back to Delhi, the whole accidental rendezvous assumed poetic proportions. I had already begun to list the many things I knew I would miss about the ad hoc routine I’d established for myself, which revolved so intensely around the foraging for produce. I confessed to all three of my interlocutors that I had a weakness for buying vegetables from the old ladies at the market because at the end of the transaction they would always say “Deo bore kar” which translates to something like “God Bless You” but which I choose to read more as “May God do well by you” because it seems closer to the subject of grace.
It makes me almost weep to think of the freshness of ingredients; the noticeable smell of iron in the water as I bathe, baptizing all of me with its earthiness; the old woman who sold me the toddy that I used to knead the dough for bread that I then baked in a wood-fired stone oven in the garden of the HH compound. And that full moon night, when Tsohil and I closed all the doors in his studio so that the slat of moonlight on the floor was the only luminous source, and I stood within that patch and sought out the body of earth’s only natural satellite and found it framed in the center of the glass, showering its light on me. And so I find myself asking earnestly: how do I return after all of this has come to pass upon my soul? I came here expecting only to feed my artistic consciousness and instead I ended up with a feast.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org