Where does the past end, and the now begin?
In Marcel Proust’s seven-volume opus of longing and remembrance—In Search of Lost Time—the past and the present drift and dance like interchangeable twins. Time becomes a malleable, often treacherous concept, as episodes from childhood and young manhood infiltrate the day-to-day at will, and the author voluntarily discards the present entirely in his excavations of a coveted yesteryear.
I’m reminded of that same excavation, a similar transposition between past and present, perhaps even an allied letting go of today, in Valerie Anithra Pereira’s hushed, opulent ode to Goa’s lost homes—‘The Unspoken Poetry of Abandonment’. Using two old Goan homes of Indo-Portuguese manner, left to the whims of decay and amnesia, Pereira manages to craft a latter-day fable of heritage, melancholy, and inevitability.
Walk through these words, poetic in their cadence but specific in their pinpointing of loss and relinquishment. Linger long within these photographs—richly-textured, beautifully-detailed portraits of broken facades, disfigured figurines, left-behind heirlooms, odd memorabilia, and rampant verdure. Meditate on how easy it is for something to slip away; how crucial it then becomes to hold on.
The one phrase that accosts me through the length and breadth of this detailed, photograph-heavy Photo-Essay is “bittersweet”. I sense the mellow beauty in decay; the giddiness of flourishing moss, ancient wood, and discarded antiques forming their own mosaic; abandonment assuming its own aesthetic. All this tinged, of course, with that jarring aftertaste of loss—be it through exile, death, migration, or sheer circumstance.
As these houses hover somewhere between age and memory, Pereira’s ‘The Unspoken Poetry of Abandonment’ proves to be a timely encomium.
The Bombay Literary Magazine
The Unspoken Poetry of Abandonment
There’s no place like home, they say. Bright halls festooned with joy and conviviality. Aromas from copper pots in the kitchen signalling warmth and comfort. A place to be vulnerable and safe.
A place of love.
They sing songs of lights guiding you home. But what happens when you depart and return, only to find crumbling walls?
The house you once called home, a haven and sanctuary, now empty and desolate…
It happens imperceptibly. The children leave home. The father dies. A tile falls off. No one notices. More tiles fall off. The wind brings upon its wing dry seeds that sprout into tenacious weeds. Bats nestle in the roof. The rain dances its dance.
No one sees. No one cares.
Initially, the house puts up a strong fight. But neglected and pitted against the wild vegetation, its pulsating heart finally succumbs after a wheezing try. The ravenous climbers make haste in spreading new shoots, and finally, a dense vegetation projectile swathes the entirety of the floor.
Soon the floor is cracked. The walls initially dotted and speckled with moss are turned into dark curtains. Within a year, they will have fallen.
A spider builds a silvery web. A scorpion crouches under a leaf. Rats play tag with slithering snakes. The house once filled with gales of laughter, cries from a cradle, pitter-patter of children’s feet, and sonorous arguments, is now bleak and disenchanted, besmirched by the hand of time.
To the children returning home, this abandoned house feels like the loss of innocence.
The space where they played with marbles, did their homework, and stowed their secrets before washing their muddy hands and rushing for dinner can’t possibly be this cheerless museum of ruin.
No loving hands to hold them. No warm embrace. An ache, so throbbingly painful, brings them to their knees.
“All things are subject to decay and when fate summons, monarchs must obey,” said John Dryden.
Everything, eventually, withers and fades away. Beauty fades to decay and yet, in decay, there can be beauty too. The Japanese have a graceful philosophy called Wabi-Sabi where they find beauty in impermanence and decline.
All things age and perish and there is a charm, a silent poetry in objects marked by that passage of time.
This set of photographs explores two Goan houses—in Margao and Assolna in South Goa, India—that have now become desolate due to death, unclear succession, migration, and perhaps empty coffers.
Haunted by the memories of their past, these houses have a melancholic beauty to them. This is a portrait of that very melancholy.
The First House
Walk on the Varde Valaulikar Road in Margao, near the Gaylin restaurant, and you will come across this 100–year–old house that belonged to the Joanes family, but is now under inventory.
Once upon a time, this mansion stood proud and tall in the midst of bustling Margao. Many families made it their home—only to leave it empty. A miasma of heaviness covers it; it sits sullen and brooding, missing its inhabitants. The mansion seems leeched out of life and blood—anaemic, sallow, and ready to crumble.
I step into the house—an outlandish emerald world lost in time and space. My senses are assailed by a feeling of eeriness. Curious, I delve deeper inside.
The house hums with secrets, open to the skies. The roof has blown off, leaving the house an open carcass for vultures and crows.
Time stands motionless in this unearthly place. I’ve been warned to be careful of snakes, yet I’m transfixed.
Sprawling over several rooms, these doors have seen the comings and goings of all.
The clothes are gone, but the hooks remain.
A cabinet with cups, plates, medicine bottles (Betadine), and bottles filled with concentrated squash hints at the cadence of everyday minutiae.
They took milk with their “chav”…
…and had a lot of diners.
Pelikan Gum was imported…
…and someone wore perfume inscribed with the name “Princess”.
Flowers in this vase once sweetly perfumed the air. Now the air is corrupted by the earthy scent of rot.
The back of the house with the fallen wall. The earth inhabits everything, even memory.
Windows ensnared by foliage. To peer into one is to stare point blank at the mysteries of the past.
Perhaps this family prayed together. Huddled around saying the rosary and seeking blessings from their parents. A sense of timelessness and peace prevails, as I make my way out.
The Second House
This rufescent house in Banda, Assolna looks like something out of a fairytale. Perhaps home to a wizened witch pouring over a steaming cauldron of herbal remedies. In truth not a witch, but a dear, helpful woman named Lilly.
Well loved by all in the village, Lilly bequeathed the house to her relatives who don’t seem to have funds to maintain it.
The oyster shell windows once gleaming and reflecting the sun are broken and have lost their sheen. These mother-of-pearl shells which were transluscent, would let the light in and also provide cooling for the cottage. The windows now gape idly into the fabric of foregetfulness.
I request the key from the lady who presently owns the house. She gives it to me, despite her irate son’s grumbling. I suppose he thinks me meddlesome with my questions.
The key is heavy with age and iron, like the key to a castle renowned. I enter.
The hall is ink-black and dingy, lit by a hole in the roof that lets a shaft of light in. A smell of dampness lingers—fermentation, like the dusty notes of cocoa. The room is simply furnished with a chair, a bed, a rusty trunk, and an altar. Everything, in the truest sense, broken.
Lilly—who was a spinster—lived a spartan and pious life. She was a regular churchgoer.
I’m told that she loved to cook for all, with recipes using the coconuts and vegetables from the garden behind the house. And then there were the pickle-making afternoons. The whiff of chillies and asafoetida prospered for days.
She grated coconut on an “adodi”. And made preserves—jars of water pickle, glistening mangad (mango jelly). She would often give out dry mango “sol” to children who visited, running in through the open garden.
Lying as lifeless as age, her pot (pots) of gold.
Her trusty stove concealed the secrets of her famed sweet, sour, and tart pickles—lost to our generation. But the communal vat lingers; with it, so does remembrance.
She was a marvel with her Singer. Sewing clothes for all in the village, hers was a legacy of things being mended, darned back together.
Sitting on a favoured chair, her fingers running the Singer, with a smile on her face, her ears would catch the latest village gossip as it filtered in through flora and sunlight.
Pots blackened through years of cooking. Jars holding spice-laden pickles. Now discarded outside in the rain. All that remains after a long life, well lived.
These doomed houses crafted with love, were intended to hold many generations of descendants. Now abandoned and exposed to the elements, they stand disrobed and unadorned, stripped of their former glory. Desperately clutching memories from their past, these phantoms of the houses represent a void, a tragic loss of identity. Yet, it is these mementos that lend to them a sense of beauty, even permanence. Souvenirs of life—the crinkle of paper holding sweetmeats enjoyed; the home’s threshold once crossed by a tremulous bride; the seductive scent of perfume; an empty tea-cup; and finally, the quiet slipping into death—they are bittersweet reminders of our own mortality. Representing the fact that someday, we too shall fade away, leaving behind memorabilia like scattered confetti. That we belong to the earth and it is to the earth we must return.
Valerie Anithra Pereira
Dr. Valerie Anithra Pereira is a Periodontist. When not carving gums, she crafts stories. All her stories can be described as whimsical love letters to people, places, or food. Songs to Her Lover and in the e-magazine Its Goa— where she writes about oral health. She is found exploring cafés in Goa with her cat and on Instagram as @valthedragonsorceress.