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A glimpse of Luso Goa

In the broken railings, roofing tiles and Mario Miranda’s art at two Porvorim museums, vignettes of Portuguese Goa are still visible today

The Museum of Houses in Porvorim is in the middle of a road.
The Museum of Houses in Porvorim is in the middle of a road. (Photo: Shoma Abhyankar)

If a tour of the narrow, winding lanes of Panaji’s Fontain has leaves you wanting more of visible Portuguese influences, visit the Houses of Goa museum. It showcases artefacts and architectural elements of the Indo-Portuguese style of houses as a way of chronicling and preserving heritage structures against the vagaries of time and modernization.

Set up by architect Gerard da Cunha in 1997, the museum is housed in a triangular structure located smack in the middle of a road in Porvorim. The three-storeyed structure, which doubles as a traffic island, is an example of green architecture constructed from locally available material like laterite stone and bricks. Walking up the circular central stairway, shielded from the heat by the green vine climbing the building’s exterior, details like a high window letting in breeze and a triangular doorway are revealed. The walls and floor display objects like a mirror stand, pieces of railings, a machila, or palanquin, and roofing tiles.

Goan homes come alive through photographs chronicling the myriad styles of doors and windows, columns and pillars, arches, verandas and balcaos, or colonnaded porches. Architectural plans are documented, as well as cookware and furniture and even the tulsi planters that became the symbol of a Hindu household’s identity during Portuguese rule. Several sketches by cartoonist Mario Miranda convey the lives lived in these homes, with one on beatas, or local gossipers, meeting in the balcaos and Goan houses of Fontainhas.

I walk across the road to the Porvorim Gallery to see more of Miranda’s art. One of six galleries in Goa dedicated to the artist’s work, it is located in a modest house where he lived briefly. An installation of a dog and a musician playing a bass violin sits at the entrance.

Inside, Miranda’s cartoons pop out from reprints of his most iconic drawings, tiny figurines and a variety of décor items. Riotous humour finds its way into Miranda’s depictions of the everyday activities of the people around him. Characters inspired by fishermen, musicians, rich men inbars, ferry rides and fish markets—all command attention. Reprints of the artist’s diaries from the age of 10, chronicling life in Portuguese Goa, are a visual treat, bearing his astute observations. The caricatures go beyond well-known characters like the secretary Ms Fonseca or minister Bundaldass and the Boss.

Together, the two spaces—one a museum of architecture and the other a celebration of an artist’s vignettes of Goan life—leave the visitor with a great sense of the Portuguese presence in Goa and the way it lingers even today.

Shoma Abhyankar is a Pune-based freelance travel writer.

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