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Love Lost? Claudia, a novel set in the Goa of the 1960s
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2018-08-09 09:44:45 UTC
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LOVE LOST? CLAUDIA, A NOVEL SET IN GOA IN THE 1960s

Sophia Lorena Benjamin (***@gmail.com) recently wrote her
debut novel 'Claudia'. It is set in Goa during the 1960s. The
news of the intensified resistance by the Indian Government
to liberate Goa from Portuguese rule has caused sudden
distress, turmoil and conflict in Claudia's life. When she
had her first encounter with Damiano, the attractive son of
her Portuguese master, she never imagined their meetings
would grow so intimate. Claudia is a young Goan village girl.
Clever. Charming. Ambitious. With two older sisters,
unmarried because their reputation is spoiled by insensible
premarital affairs, Claudia is the family's only hope whose
arranged marriage could restore honour and lost respect
within their conservative community. Amidst advancing armed
forces, blasting bridges, a bombarded Dabolim airport,
departing Portuguese families, and chaos, Claudia needs to
consider the offer made by her Portuguese lover, Damiano to
escape to Portugal as a servant girl where their covert
affair can continue. Much relies on Claudia's choice: the
call is urgent and decisive. Will Claudia abandon her
family's honour and choose forbidden love? Will she proceed
with an arranged marriage to Ferrao, the rich sailor from her
local community and end the social stigma her family has
endured? Claudia, set in a Portuguese-ruled Goa, is an
uplifting story of a woman's struggles and the triumph of finding
hope will unravel the answers.

Claudia has a secret affair going on with Damiano
her Portuguese master's son.

Meanwhile, Claudia's grandmother has brought a
marriage proposal from a local businessman. The
rich man has shown interest to marry Claudia
despite knowing Claudia is not from a well to do
family and cannot afford any dowry, which is
customary in their community.

Under these circumstances, Claudia decides to end
her affair with her Portuguese lover before anyone
finds out. As the dominating thoughts of the
freedom to romance and everything that she is going
to miss after marriage flood her mind, there is a
turn of events that take place when Damiano takes
her to a deserted corner of the house to tell her
that the Portuguese are expected to leave Goa for
good and that they may never see each other again.

The secret meeting in the darkroom is supposedly
an intimate farewell.

A few yards from the family house was a row of huts for the
cattle: cows, ox, buffaloes and two giant fighter bulls. Pigs
and fowls had separate fenced yards. Workers belonging to a
local Kunbi tribe worked all around the property; they were
the live-in servants of the Ferrao family.

Fresh dung cakes, salt fish and new hay lay drying in the
sun. The backyard was full of pig slop, cattle fodder, cows
in the huts, pigs in the sty, chickens shitting on the
ground; all of it spread a peculiar, pungent odour. It was
indeed the smell of abundance and prestige; that's how it was
measured in the suburban areas, the village folk called it
prosperity. The girl selected to settle in this family would
be privileged, thought Claudia in her mind, the lavish
abundance of the Ferraos overwhelming her greatly. This was
what Father had dreamt for the three girls; Jakin, Bula and
Claudia. The dream had failed him while he was alive; if ever
there was an opportunity it could be revived it was now,
Claudia was having this conversation in her mind.

On the way home, Gormai told Claudia that the Ferraos said
they liked her, that they were willing to go ahead with the
match even without dowry; they told Gormai that the priests
and elders of Oroshim had given a good reference about
Claudia. The news brought a strange thrill to her heart.

Later that evening; sitting in front of the fire, while
heating up water to bathe, Claudia was lost in thought of all
the happenings of the day with the Ferraos. She understood
well that this was a precious opportunity, and that she was
one among the most fortunate girls around the suburbs. It
would be the first time in many years that something good was
about to happen for Claudia's family.

Gormai told her that the Ferraos needed a little
more time to decide if it was going to be a new
year wedding or a summer wedding. Claudia gazed at
the fields and hills above. She would miss Oroshim
so much. If it was going to be a New Year wedding;
she would miss celebrating carnival in her village;
the humour filled intruz skit, and also the
villagers painting each other's faces and watching
little boys throwing cocotes. And then, she would
have loved to watch Damiano taking part in the
village carnival for the first time ever; she
smiled at the thought of it, just imagining his
white skinned face coated with black coal.

Claudia also thought of the fun that went around with the
village women. Seaman Mingu visiting Oroshim every year
during carnival, when the village women looked forward to the
carnival fun with Mingu. They ran around squeaking and
laughing in the backyards, dodging around bushes, when Mingu
chased them all, one by one, and coated black coal over their
cheeks, caressing their faces with his blackened, rough
hands.

What else would Claudia miss in the village? Maybe the summer
blossoming of the cashew trees, kokum trees and the blackcurrants
on the hills. Also, the sea bathers that flocked
Oroshim each year during the summer for their yearly health bath;
men and women, taking shelter by the Oroshim beach for three
days, cooking and sleeping under the open sky. The beachside
dwelling summer visitors were friendly, humble and thankful;
they narrated the stories of how their bodies developed
immunity by immersing in seawater every year. Claudia liked
spending time listening to the stories of these strangers, as
she offered to bring them well water, local salt and some
wood for their fire to cook food.

Through all the wisdom as well as the silliness
that existed, she loved Oroshim, very much.
Although it had stringent rules, yet if one
followed those rules, the village elders as well as
other folk eagerly came forward to bestow their
love. They contributed generously during weddings.
They took time to assist a sick neighbour. They
were always happy when anything good happened to
someone within the community. They had a way of
altering names, more out of love, than convenience.
Someone extremely tall was fondly called Lamttu.
Francis was called Forsu. Lourenco was called
Lorshu.

Philomen became Philu. Caetano Caitu. Magdalena was called
Magdu, and Martalian, Martu. Their neighbour Anton was called
Bullock Cart Anton because he owned a bullock cart. Araujo's
family was referred to as Pershiakar because their
grandfather once worked in the Persian Gulf. Vincent was
called Motorkar since his father had once owned a motor car.
Uncle Jose's family was called Lotterikar because their
ancestors once won a lottery. D'Silva was called Kalsaonkar
because he wore kalsao, trousers, when most others wore a
loincloth.

As the thoughts flooded her mind, Claudia sighed at the thought
of the possibility of leaving Oroshim. The fields, the hills
and the mud paths of Oroshim had witnessed her maturing from
a child to a young woman. All of her learning had come from
Oroshim, mostly from accompanying Gormai -- hillocks, wedding
homes, child deliveries, vespers at church, crib visiting
during Christmas, working at fields -- Claudia was always
there with Gormai. In the fields, among the labouring women,

Claudia learnt many life's lessons; weeding the grass, adult
gossip and jokes, songs with double meaning, taking rain
checks, sowing, reaping, hand-crafting palm raincoats, the
art of killing water snakes that crawled into the fields.
Lessons she would never forget, ever.

It was early December. When Claudia and her Mother reached
the mansion, she felt it was an unusual day at Paklin Bai's
house. It didn't take much time to sense that the guests in
her sitting room were not gathered for the normal partying
like they did on previous weekends. It was strange also
because the usual excitement on Paklin Bai's face was
missing. Her loud, free laughter after a few glasses of wine
was missing too. Mother was asked to attend to the guests.
Arrange glasses for their drinks. Serve them croquettes. Pour
tea to those who didn't want to drink hard liquor. Clean up
the used cups, saucers and glasses.

Mother was occupied, so Claudia began with the kitchen
chores; drawing well water, she filled the kitchen pots and
moved to fill up the bath area. She didn't expect to bump
into Damiano. All the while she had been thinking he was in
Daman. Both stood startled at each other's sudden unexpected
appearance by the bathroom door, staring into each other's
eyes, face to face.

She still had the water pot balanced on her left hip. He was
wrapped in his towel, just finished his bath. Claudia shifted
her eyes from him, overwhelmed with a sudden shyness to find
him without his clothes, just the bath towel wrapped around
his waist. He appeared a bit stunned too with her sudden
appearance right inside the mansion. For a few moments, she
just stood there nervously then moved as he signalled her to
follow him. She gently lowered the water pot from her hip and
looked around cautiously, making sure nobody saw her. She
quietly followed him to climb the wooden staircase, unused
for long, the stairs opening into a dimly ventilated passage
that led into a narrow, windowless room. They called it the
dark room.

Damiano shut the wooden doors behind them, noiselessly.

'Minha querida!' He called out to her softly and reached out
his hand to hold her.

'Bab.'

'We won't be here too long. You must have heard those people
in the hall talk about the evacuation; the vessel has already
come to take the people,' he said in a hurriedly hushed tone.

'Where are they sending us, Bab?'

'Not you dear. They are planning to send the Portuguese back.'

'Then what will happen to the people who remain here in Goa?'

'If the Indian Government succeeds at this, you will remain
here as an Indian.'

His words echoed faintly in the dark high-walled room.
He clasped her hands and released them from his, circling
them instead of around her waist, his touch sending a shiver all
over her body. She had missed it for days; that soothing
touch from him. His announcement was hard on her. And then he
drew her into his arms, gasping, a bit breathless as he
threaded his arms beneath her shoulders and hair.

'We may never meet again, minha querida,' he whispered,
nuzzling her cheek as she hugged him viciously, wanting to
cry. Her nostrils flared nervously at the sudden
announcement. She drew closer to him and clung on tightly to
his chest as though he was about to be pulled away from her
any moment.

--
Send your comments to ***@goanet.org and the author
(address above). Available online at http://bit.ly/ClaudiaTheNovel
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