The road has now taken you to Loutolim and to Casa de Miranda. But something within you tells you that the stage had been set long before you took this road .
“Our family originally came to Loutolim from the neighbouring village of Raçain about 320 years ago. I know that this house was there before we came here so it’s probably much older,” says Mario João Carlos do Rosario de Brit de Miranda.
“Just call me Mario”, chuckles the celebrated cartoonist as he leads you in and out of doors that are tall enough to let horses through. “Yes, we always had animals in this house... dogs, parrots, a pig, horses and even a monkey. But no, the horses did not eat at the table!”
You look at the banquet tables in the dining room that must have seated over a hundred guests. “There used to be a stage here in this banquet hall. We used to have relations, guests and important government invitees over for parties, Balls and dinner recitals. Everyone in our family seemed to be musically inclined.
“I think I am the only one in the family who has taken up art as a profession. Sometimes I wonder what my grandmother would have said if she had known that I was making a living with my drawings. You see, you could not conceive of such professions in those days. In Goa, you could either be a doctor, a lawyer or a priest. Our family was different. Unlike most Goan families no one wanted to become a priest. Grandmamma was most disappointed, of course.
“Grandmamma was a formidable woman. There were three things she loved the most... the opera, reading and the Bible. And my grandfather? He never went near a book if he could help it. He was fond of music, though.
“Sometimes when I’m alone and the images of the past come rushing out of hiding the picture of my grandmother in her evening gown is the one that’s most vivid.
“You can’t imagine what it was like then! I still remember the hush in the halls when the Governor descended the stairway with my mother on his arm followed by my father with the Governor’s wife on his arm. I remember watching them do the Contradanse, the Lancers and the Minuet. I still remember them announcing the steps in French. We spoke Portuguese at home in those days, had an education in English and studied French. Unfortunately, however, Konkani was spoken only in the kitchens.
“Grandmamma was a deeply religious woman. She used to follow every ritual there was. When the chapel bells rang at Angelus it was a terrible time for us in the house. My grandmother would assemble us all, the servants and dogs part of the assembly. Father would quietly sneak off and doze on an armchair at the back. This session lasted for almost an hour. My grandmother and mother ran both the family, the house and business affairs. My grandfather kept away from books, including the books of accounts. I miss them all... but most of all, I miss having lots and lots of people in the house. When a house is empty the termites take over. Termites destroyed Old Goa. I call them the curse of Goa... termites, monkeys and the weather.
“I was in London when I heard that the house was crumbling and I came down with the intention of selling it but when we saw the house my wife Habiba could not bear the idea of selling our ancestral home. Also, when we got here the Indian Army had marched into Goa and we saw a notice on our door saying the house had been occupied by the Army.”
“It is difficult to explain...” says Habiba in a voice that matches the hush from the frangipani tree in the inner courtyard. “Much before we were married I had told Mario that if he was planning to sell it, I would like to buy this house. And I hadn’t even seen it. It was a strange feeling. I walked into the house and I felt I had come home.
“My ambition in life was to have a beautiful home and beautiful children, all of which I had received. But what next? I did not know the language, the people. The sheer size of the house... its scale... got to me. I did not know where to start. I started with the den. What was most amazing was that when the people who had bought the furniture from the house heard that we were planning to put the house back on its feet, they came back with the furniture and sold it to us!
“Loving the house is a full-time job. When people ask me what I do, I say this is what I do. The house is an obsession. My favourite part of the house? Well, that depends on what sort of mood I’m in. I am in the centre of things when I am sitting here. I can see the kitchen from here. I can interact with the servants from here.
“The servants were always an integral part of this house. Daughters and wives of tenants no longer come to the house and get paid in food. Even if that was the case in the so-called good old days, I don’t think I would have allowed it today. Sometimes one breaks away from tradition for a good reason. Sometimes one has to break away under compulsion.
“Mario’s family were Sardessais two hundred and fifty years ago. They had a commitment to the Shantadurga temple at Fatorpa and they kept their promise to her even after conversion. The commitment was that when the harvest came in the first bag of the rice and a hundred coconuts or the oil from a hundred coconuts was sent to the temple. When I got married I was told that I had to do that but although we had a lot of land circumstances forced us to sell and now the new owners meet the commitment. But I do believe that Shantadurga keeps a special eye on our house.”
“Every house has a festival of its own,” says Mario as he joins us in our space. “Our festival is the Feast of Our Lady of the Mount. That is when the Chapel is lit up with candles. There is incense, jasmine flowers, decorations, wax candles, fenim. Christmas was the only time when my grandmother would step into the kitchen. Sad that what did not change in four hundred years has gone over the last forty. Very rarely do you see any architect copying features from an old house. Where is the sensitivity to Goa’s architecture?”
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