Archive for July, 2011

Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa

July 12, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)


Vivek Menezes


is passionate about Goa.  Having lived in the US for many years, he now makes his home in Panjim and often leads his friends around Fontainhas, one of the old Portuguese quarters of the city.











It is a beguiling neighbourhood,


full of unexpected little alcoves











and intriguing alleyways.











Often Vivek will stop at this door













and call out to the occupant, Mr. Percival Noronha, who has lived in that house for some eight decades.














From his windows Mr. Noronha enjoys a view that reminds Vivek of Lisbon:




Mr Noronha is an antiquarian and is also the longstanding President of the Association of the Friends of Astronomy.










As with the descendants of many old Goan families he has a wonderful collection of Chinoiserie (it is interesting how Goans and Parsis are the only Indian communities that possess these reminders of the China trade).


Mr. Noronha has written an article called ‘Fontainhas – Living with the Past and was kind enough to hand me a copy. It begins: ‘In the context of the history of the city of Panjim, the ward of Fontainhas certainly deserves a special reference. In fact nothing so symbolises the city as Fontainhas – the most characteristic and the true cultural centre of old Panjim. In an instant it summons up the ward hurriedly built with its narrow winding streets and quaint houses having a charm of their own.’

”The phenomenon of expansion and settlement in this area,” the article continues, “was mainly due to the existence of a spring of crystalline waters. At the time of governor, Viscount of Ourém Joaquim José Januário Lapa (1851-55), an artistic reservoir in basalt stone was built around this spring known as ‘Fonte Phoenix’ which provided three taps of potable water to the city. Ultimately the are of ‘Palmar Ponte’ due to the existence of this fountain was called ‘Fontainhas’. The Governor Viscout of Ourém did also commendable work by training the course of Fontainhas creek and building marginal roads on both of its sides. The Rua de Ourém… is still known after him.’

‘For the spiritual needs of the new settlement, a small chapel with only one altar, under invocation of St. Sebastian, was built in 1818. This chapel was having a small nave with an adjoining narrow corridor with a staircase leading to the choir… Another image of great historicity which is housed in the Chapel of St. Sebastian in Fontainhas, is the Crucifix of the Inquisition. The Inquisition was set up in Goa in 1560…. The Tribunal of the Inquisition funcioned in the old Palace of Sabaio in Old Goa close to the Cathedral. … In 1918… all the religious objects of the Secretariat were transferred to the Bishop’s Palace. It was at this time that the president of the Managing Committee of the St. Sebastian Chapel, José Agostinho Xavier, represented to the Patriarch Dom Mateus de Oliveira Xavier and managed to get the Crucifix transferred to this chapel.’



[The Chapel of St. Sebastian, where the Cross of the Inquisition is housed].




Today some of the old town- houses have been turned into boutique hotels.








[The Panjim Inn]




But this is not a part of Goa that attracts many tourists and Fontainhas has not changed as much as some other parts of the city. A hundred-year-old library sits at the entrance to a quiet lane




and the Confeitaria 31st Janeiro lies hidden inside a nearby alley.











The bakery was started by Andrew Mascarenhas and is now run by his charming daughter, Gletta.













The board that lists the bakery’s offerings still hangs on a wall 




(the mushroom patties are particularly recommended).









Columnist Cecil Pinto, a conoisseur of Goan fare, takes the view that a visit to Fontainhas must end at a restaurant called  ‘Elite Flavours’













where Charles Soares serves up some superb ‘Bombil fry’ (fried Bombay duck);










and the conviviality extends well into the night.



Opium sharbat

July 11, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)

This picture of accessories used for serving a decoction of  opium was taken by Aradhana Seth in Rajasthan in 2006.

© aradhana seth

The sharbat is served with gur (jaggery) – bottom right.

Bonaccad waterfalls

July 9, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)

Cherian Punnathara writes (re yesterday’s post):

‘I managed to dig out couple of those vintage photos of the Bonaccad waterfalls.

The photos are like the Eastman colour films of those years: a little tinge of red somewhere and the world had graduated from the black and white era to the world of colour. Wide angle and fish eye were talked about with much longing was always just beyond our reach. The waterfall was taken in two shots to capture the might and grandeur.’

[a group of  social-scientists]

[Having faced some withering criticism for posting old red-tinted photographs, I tried to fix the colours in these pictures with my computer’s picture editing program – not to very good effect unfortunately].

Book Tour Journals: Kochi/Cochin, June 23, 2011

July 8, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)


Kochi (Cochin); June 23

Cochin is one of my favourite  cities – not only because of its rich history

Dutch church

wonderful food and magnificent harbour views –

but also because it is the only Indian city that truly embraces the water.


The lost culture of lighters, ferries and bumboats is still alive and well in Cochin – the variety of boats in the harbour is astonishing.

The sight of the  harbour reminded me of my last visit to the city. That was in 2001, almost exactly ten years ago. My children were with me on that visit (Debbie caught up with us somewhere else in Kerala).

Lila was almost ten

and Nayan was eight.

It seems so very long ago now. But I was reminded of a time earlier still when I walked into my first meeting on June 23, 2011, and found that it was with Cherian Punnathara, an old friend friend from my Trivandrum days (1982-3). Iit was on Cherian’s typewriter that I typed the first draft of my first novel (The Circle of Reason – published in 1986). I was seeing Cherian after twenty-eight years, and my gratitude to him remains undiminished. A typewriter was completely out of my reach in those days – I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t lent me his.

Cherian sent me this picture with the comment: ‘They say that you look exactly like E K Nayanar, the former Chief Minister of Kerala in this photo. He was one of the most loved CPM Chief Ministers of the state, liked for his simplicity and buffoonery in public. Yet he had razor sharp intellect and acumen. So it is a compliment.’

Well, I will take it as such…

Cherian has always been a nature-lover and is intimately familiar with the mountains of Kerala. Back in 1982 he had taken me and another friend on a walk to one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever visited – a mountain waterfall. I have for years been trying to remember what it was called. He remembered it well and told me that it was: ‘the Bonaccad waterfall which we get to after crossing the Bonaccad tea estate, which had gone through some bad times during global tea production glut and tumbling prices couple of decades back. From there it  was couple of hours walk away.’ (Anyone visiting Kerala has it on my assurance that this is a magnificent sight, well worth searching out).

Cherian is a journalist now, working with the Kochi edition of the Hindu. He later published this article about our meeting.

That evening, after my reading from River of Smoke, somebody in the audience said something about this year being the ‘Golden Jubilee’ of the publication of The Circle of Reason – it had not occurred to me till then that it was exactly 25 years ago that the book was published, but such is indeed the case. The New York Times Book Review ran a wonderful review by Anthony Burgess (bless his generous soul!). They needed a picture to accompany the review, and at some point a photographer came to see me (in New Delhi, where I was then living). He took this picture (which did not run).

The day after the reading in Cochin I received this from a member of the audience:

Dear Amitav Ghosh,

You gave a gripping reading at the Taj Vivanta Malabar yesterday. Thank you for coming. In our reading group we have a special affection for your work, and I am sure we will soon be reading ‘River of Smoke’ communally. My wife, KumKum, shares a Rangoon background with you, and I have often heard her narrate the sequestered life Bengalis led there in the old days.

You may be interested to read a full account of your reading yesterday, June 23, at the Taj Vivanta Malabar. There are a few pics too and you could link it to your site or send it to others who are interested to know about your time during these travels:

We read your novel The Glass Palace two years ago and the account of our discussions can be found at:

We hope you are NOT worn out by your travels, and still find time to write during this busy schedule. Doesn’t it seem as if you have to read for your supper? !

All the best,

joe cleetus

Reading this letter I recalled that the writer had told me, the night before, that he and his wife had spent years of their life teaching at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown.  They are happily retired in Cochin now – and small wonder, since they get to feast their eyes on this:


Sunset, Cochin Harbour

Hitchhiking Journals: Aberystwyth to New Quay, Solva, Pembroke & Carew Castle 1979

July 5, 2011 in Hitchhiking journals | Comments (2)


March 31st morning: Set off from cottage in thick fog at about 9.30 am.







Quick lift into Aberystwyth from 2 people who run an anarchist health food shop. Looked around a bit and then another lift from a girl student to Blaenplwyf (?); and another to Llanon from a construction worker; then a student (of something technical at Aberystwyth) – student friendly but v. smelly – to Aberaeron. Another to Llanarth from a young fellow who was a student of history at Aberystwyth; is now working in Prince Charles’s Environmental Foundation; much interested in local history (13th century church at Llanarth disappointing).

Llanarth Church, Wales













Then part walking, part bus to New Quay; hoping to make it to Bird’s Rock in time to see the birds. Not possible; had to turn back because of thorns. Difficult finding a lift out of New Quay but eventually got one from a man who’d won his bets on all four races in the Grand National. New Quay very pretty – magnificent coastal views; lots of cliffs – but too many tourist caravans.











From New Quay, a friendly, fat Welsh truck driver gave me a lift to Aberporth; an Englishwoman took me into Cardigan and an elderly Welshman took me straight to Fishguard.

Fishguard grandly situated on a cliff. Staying the night in a bed & breakfast. Weather grey and misty in the morning; bright and sunny after New Quay.

Left: £ 25.50.


1st April 1979


Left Fishguard at about 9 am. Had to walk 1 ½ miles to get out of town. No traffic. Sunday morning. Thought I wouldn’t get a lift but a farmer took me about 5 miles and then went out of his way to take me a little farther. Then, after walking for a while was picked up by a middle-aged lady who’d come to Fishguard to get the Sunday papers. She and her husband sell Sunday papers at St. David’s.

St David’s, Wales








She took me into the centre of St. David’s (out of her way) and showed me the Cathedral.


St David’s Cathedral


She complained a lot about tourists and visitors buying up houses in the area.







St. David’s Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace gorgeous beyond description.


Took lots of pictures and attended service. Very bad choir, and impossibly banal curate. ‘Jesus saves, that’s why he’s called the Saviour.’ ‘Love Jesus and ask yourself why you follow him and you’ll find it will make a difference to you personally.’ Etc. etc.

interior, St David’s Cathedral



Afterwards met an elderly man who’d been at the service too (they sang Psalm 69 – beautiful) and he said he’d been a planter in Ceylon for 35 years, till nationalization. Now teaches in a Sussex girls school. Will soon be retiring and going back to Ceylon for a holiday. Nice old man. Also a nun who was very friendly and helpful – wanted me to be sure to go back to India unlike ‘all the others who stay’ so that I could ‘take it all back’.





St. David’s to Solva and then (after a lot of walking) to Haverfordwest. The young man (30) who gave me the lift was a folk singer who’d been to college in London and then gone to Zambia. Had traveled extensively in Africa before finding a job in London, finally settling in Solva (which is a beautiful little town).








From Haverfordwest a lift straight to Pembroke

Pembroke Castle


with 40-ish plumber with the most wonderful Welsh accent and voice. He’d been a paratrooper and gone to Kenya in the 50s ‘when Kenyatta was kickin up like’; and helped to put down the Mau-maus. Was also in Kuwait.




Pembroke Castle was closed.

Carew Castle

Took a bus to Carew Castle – amazing.

Battlements, Carew Castle





Interior, Carew Castle












Carew Castle, staircase

And then straight lift to Carmarthen with a young welder and his wife. Their friends were following close behind on motorbikes. Very nice people – with lilting Welsh accents.

Couldn’t get a ride out of Carmarthen, so am spending the night in the Ladies Waiting Room in Carmarthen Railway Station, having persuaded the Supervisor that I could go nowhere else.

Weather began gloomy, but have had patches of sunshine all day long – and only a few drops of rain in Pembroke.

[Left £ 21-50].

Boro Budur, Java, 1996

July 4, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Guangzhou/Canton – Indian residences

July 2, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)


The old foreign enclave in Canton (the ‘Fanqui-town’ of ‘River of Smoke’) was burnt down in 1856. A new foreign enclave was then built on Shamian Island, formerly a mudbank. Here too there were several Indian residences.


The plaque in the right hand foreground reads:

2,4,6,8 South Shamian Street. Gazetted Building (B). Built during the Late Qing to Early Republican periods as the residence of Indian Nationals.



The building is on a shady street, just off the Pearl River.

ucuz ukash