The capital saga

‘My Unforgettable Panjim’/  ‘Meu Pangim Inesquecível’, a bilingual book with the historical narrative of the capital city resting on the banks of the Mandovi River, authored by well-known historian, Vasco Pinho is being released on the occasion of his 75th birthday, on October 30. NT Network in a tête-à-tête with the author attempts to gather the details present in the book about the enchanting city and its equally captivating history   

RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK

“As melhores e mais belas coisas da vida não podem ser vistas nem tocadas. Elas devem ser sentidas com o coração.”

– A Portuguese proverb

The Portuguese adage, which means the best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart, is so true for diverse things one has loved in the course of his or her lifetime. Panaji, a city displaying the confluence of Indian and Latin cultures, has been dear to generations of its residents as well as tourists visiting it from all over the world.

Noted historian, Vasco Pinho, who has spent most of the 75 years of his life in Panaji has now written an ode to the capital city through his bilingual book ‘My Unforgettable Panjim’/ ‘Meu Pangim Inesquecível’, which besides valuable information on the evolution of this city, will present over 300 rare photographs of various locations in the city, clicked during different periods of time in the 19th and 20th century. It also includes sketches and maps of the city, assisting the readers to understand Panaji in a better way.

“I have written a number of books in the past, which partly or fully presented information of diverse kind about Panaji,” said Pinho, informing that his literary works such as ‘Nostalgia’ as well as volume I and III of the series, ‘Snapshots of Indo-Portuguese History’ carried fascinating material about the capital city. “The new book however, will be a real historical documentation of Panaji with greater archival relevance for academicians, researchers, scholars and lovers of the city’s past heritage,” he added, pointing out that although Panaji is a small city in terms of its expanse, it has vast history, of which only 5 per cent to 10 per cent is known to the public in general.

“It was not possible for me to put this extensive history of the city in my book, however, I have tried to concentrate on the city’s many interesting facets and incorporate the same in the work,” the historian observed, maintaining that many things about Panaji have still remained unknown to the public domain and he is reinforcing them into the narrative with photos, which would make the book a collector’s item, to be retained for posterity.

The dozen-odd sketches in the book have been made by António Lopes Mendes in the 1860s, while Alvaro Leão Fernandes is a contemporary subject consultant for the book.

“In the book, I have offered details about many parts of the city like squares, roads, alleys and so on; the only liberty I have taken is to refer to the city ‘roads’ as ‘streets’ as it would be the appropriate nomenclature,” Pinho stated, pointing out that the routes between the cities, towns or villages are ideally called roads, while intra-city routes are always referred to as streets.

“I have also mentioned in the book as to how the names of the city roads have changed over the years, say for example, the road leading to Altinho was first Rua do Oiterado, which later on was renamed Avenida do Sagrado Coração de Jesus after the outer chapel at the Archbishop’s Palace, dedicated to Jesus, and located at the end of this road,” the Goan historian revealed, adding that when Portugal was declared a Republic in 1910, the particular road was rechristened Avenida Almirante Reis, a celebrated Portuguese Republican revolutionary, who had nothing to do with Panaji. After the Liberation, the name was changed to Fr Agnelo Road. “There are many routes in Panaji, whose names have undergone changes a number of times,” he noted.

“There is St Sebastian Chapel in the city as also another one existing in the Arpora village; the Arpora chapel is a private chapel belonging to the Pinto family, which is also visited by many Hindus to pay their obeisance as they feel that the saint belongs to them also,” Pinho maintained, stating that this is a wrong perception as St Sebastian is of Italian origin.

“Now, when the original St Sebastian Chapel in the city was built in 1818 – the existing one was built in 1818 – the same year the Mahalaxmi temple in the city was constructed on a land called Aradi donated by the Sinari family,” he added, pointing out that the Church had opposed the construction of this temple, and the then Portuguese Governor General had to obtain the consent of the King of Portugal to get the project cleared.

Speaking further, Pinho said that the statues and memorials, which existed in the city, also have their own tales to tell. “A statue of Afonso de Albuquerque was constructed in 1843, when Panaji was elevated to the status of a city, and stood under a domed structure at Azad Maidan, with the road in front also named as Rua Afonso de Albuquerque,” the historian explained, adding that this statue was later demolished by the public after the Liberation of Goa, and subsequently reconstructed by the department of Archaeology, placing it in its museum. “There was another statue of Afonso de Albuquerque at Miramar built in 1945 and subsequently taken to the same museum,” he observed.

The historian lamented that the politicians tend to omit the part of the city’s heritage linked to Portuguese period. He further bemoaned that the restoration work taken up for the heritage structures in the city is sub-standard, such as the poor workmanship of the stairway to the Lyceum – now the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court – or the renovation of the municipal garden/ Jardim Garcia de Orta where the bandstand is turning into powder and chips are coming out of the tiles on the walkways.

Stating that the face of Panaji, in its planned area, has changed in terms of business, and structures including high rise apartments, Pinho said that since 1961, the character of the capital city has been substantially altered, with few parts such as São Tomé, Fontainhas and Portais, besides the locality having Fazenda (accounts department building)/ Mhamai Kamat house still retaining the old world charm of the city.

On a parting note, the historian observed that the way the then prime minister of Portugal, António de Oliveira Salazar handled the Goa issue was very irresponsible as he fully knew the consequences of this issue. “As also Pt Jawaharlal Nehru was not faultless,” he mentioned, while opining that Nehru let his promises as regards preserving the unique character of Goa, disappear.