Pen portrait Mario Miranda (1926-2011)

Candid moments with the Indian cartoonist and painter, Mario Miranda, in Loutolim
Pen portrait Mario Miranda (1926-2011)
Pen portrait Mario Miranda (1926-2011)

The village of Loutolim I imagine as a cross between an haute Malgudi and Asterix&rsquos Gallic fishing village, the last line of defence against marauding modernity. You can see why Mario Miranda, whose work is infected with nostalgia, made piquant with it, chose, after hell-raising decades in Bombay, to return here. And there&rsquos the house. Miranda&rsquos house, where we&rsquore scheduled to talk, is a towering 325-year-old manse, fronted by wrought-iron gates that creak like a pensioner&rsquos joints. We ring the bell, I&rsquom a bit disappointed we don&rsquot have to pull a rope or use a brass door-knocker, and from a balcony high above us bellows one of Miranda&rsquos five (or is it seven) boxers.

We&rsquore ushered by Miranda, a small, dapper figure in a black shirt and grey trousers that complement his neatly trimmed beard, into a study with soaring ceilings and peeling paint. An interior decorator might describe the colour of his walls as burnt sienna, and on them are paintings of sleepy-eyed Buddhas by his wife&rsquos grandmother, paintings of the Himalaya by Nikolai Roerich and a voluptuous Jamini Roy sketch. Sprawled across his desk are his cartoons, the figures pleasantly ugly&mdashall bulbous noses, stomachs and lips.

Everyone talks to Miranda about Goa. He comes across in the many newspaper and magazine articles written about him as a tireless proselytiser banging on about how it was and why we should be concerned it isn&rsquot anymore. The state&rsquos big hotels often send guests to his house, they arrange food and the guests tumble wide-eyed into the banquet hall Miranda gets a brass band to come up on these occasions, old men who play old tunes. It&rsquos no wonder he sighs resignedly when I ask him to tell me what it was like growing up in Goa. Everyone&rsquos always asking him what it was like. But it&rsquos not long before, despite the practised way he begins his story, he is genuinely enthused. &ldquoThis house was full of grand banquets and dinners and balls,&rdquo he recalls, &ldquonow there&rsquos me and my wife, though my son&rsquos just returned too [from Austria].&rdquo

&ldquoBack then, it was an easygoing life, much different from what it is today, friendlier. Now even in the village many of the houses are being built or bought by people who&rsquove made their money in the Gulf. In fact, it&rsquos a little disappointing to say, but what restoration work is being done on old houses is often being done by foreigners. I don&rsquot want to suggest it&rsquos a bad life here. There are lots of marvellous things about living in Goa. What&rsquos not so great is the environmental damage being done and the chronic lack of planning. A place like Fontainhas should be protected. At the moment it&rsquos just a lot of whitewashing, but the people who live there need financial support so that the special character of the place can be preserved. I&rsquove just come back from Cuba and large parts of it look like Fontainhas, as do bits of Brazil. It&rsquos important also for India to have a little pocket like Goa that&rsquos substantially different, that has a Latin flavour, the influence of another language and culture. But few people pay attention to culture. Even the tourists we get aren&rsquot interested. I wish we attracted a greater variety of tourists, the government needs to emphasise Goa&rsquos cultural attractions.&rdquo

Read Goa With Love, Miranda&rsquos paean to his home. There he affectionately details the characters he sees as &ldquovanishing species&rdquo the &ldquovillage baker (padeiro) who is already something from a &lsquoRomantic Past&rsquo. Wearing his typical &lsquotoga&rsquo with an enormous basket...he wakes up the slumbering neighbourhood at sunrise&rdquo. Or the &ldquovillage barber [who] for a paltry you a haircut, shave shampoo and a large dose of his views on world and local events&rdquo. Or &ldquothe last of the so-called Goan &lsquoaristocrats&rsquo [with] impressive titles like &lsquoFidalgo da Casa Real&rsquo, &lsquoCarvalheiro da Ordem de Cristo&rsquo&rdquo. Everywhere there is nostalgia &ldquoIt is slumber time (after a sumptuous lunch) for the &lsquoLord of the Manor&rsquo as he reclines on his favourite &lsquoCadeira Voltaire&rsquo, which is an essential part of the furniture in a Goan household, and woe betide anyone who disturbs him during his afternoon siesta&rdquo. Later he writes, &ldquoThose were the days when the lady of the house, in this case Dona Serafina do Sacramento Soares paid her annual visit to the beach, accompanied by her maid Bostiana, her husband Caraciolo and her grandson Bartolomeu, not forgetting the dogs Romeo and Rabicho&rdquo.

And then Miranda snaps awake &ldquoVasco da Gama may have discovered the sea route to India, but the &lsquoflower people&rsquo were the ones who discovered the beaches of Goa and the &lsquoGoa Scene&rsquo was never the same&rdquo. &ldquoIn Goa, a new phenomenon raises its ugly head...where have all the Conservationists and Ecologists gone The last of the Goan troubadors pours his heart out over a song of farewell to the balcao, which is being obliterated by the onslaught of the concrete jungle.&rdquo What Miranda wants so desperately to preserve is a way of life. I see it on my drive back to my room in Fontainhas, past buildings the colour of spun sugar, past families walking in Church Square, past the violinist playing under an empty window.

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