Portuguese influence beyond Goa

Over a cuppa
Last Updated 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST

As a school teacher how did you get interested in this sort of research?

Yes, I am a teacher. I teach English and Humanities, which is History and Geography combined, and Philosophy, in a Secondary School in Melbourne. So, my favourite area of teaching is now History…and being very interested in languages and culture, it is only natural that I should be interested in History. …And because I am an  Indian with a European background-, I think 'Anglo-Indian' is a narrow term-, I am very interested in the interaction between Europe and India.

Most of my research work used to be centered in North India, in Calcutta and Delhi, where British power was centered. But the South-East, Coromandel Coast, Madras, Nagapattinam, Sadras, etc.-, is neglected. I published articles on these in 'Madras Musings' and I decided to explore this area.

Almost 20 years ago, a gentleman from the British Council who met me was fascinated by my background; he said in all his postings around the world he found that wherever the Portuguese had been, their influence on culture was the strongest and most tangible.
But the British culture, apart from the language in certain aspects... has virtually disappeared from India. He said whether it was Brazil, Malacca, Macau or East Timor, the blend of the Portuguese culture and local culture was very strong, very vibrant and they also had a very happy attitude to life.

So, with an exotic Indo-multi-European lineage, you are a real cross-cultural manifestation ideal for such comparative studies?

Yes. I am a fruit-salad (laughs), the cultural fruit-salad, though my own roots are in (old) Madras, Santhome area - (pronounced Santhomay in Portuguese), But we know fruit-salads always taste better!

We know Goa. But what about strong Portuguese influences beyond it?

 Yes, further south, although many don't know it. The Portuguese influence is very strong in Mangalore and Kerala, though stronger in Kerala. Not just in the Catholic religion, but also in food and trading practices. You know people in Kerala are considered very astute businessmen and traders. That is (due to) hundreds of years of exposure to Western culture and trading practices. On the East coast, the strongest Portuguese residue if you like, is definitely Santhome (in Madras). In fact on paper, Portugal had influence, 'Padraao - in Portuguese-', called the 'Right of Patronage', over Santhome until 1951 as far as I know!

Though Portuguese lost out to Britain as a maritime power, what has been their unacknowledged contribution to shaping modern India?

No. They (Portuguese) have remained a maritime force; …they were great maritime achievers, the greatest in history. But by about 1600 or so (after British got hold of their maps and trade routes), Portuguese influence globally started to reduce as Portugal by then was under Spain's control and their (Portuguese) earlier settlement of Brazil was starting to pay as plantations began to be profitable. The Dutch, French and the English who then came in to the picture, clearly found that in order to get trade, they had to learn to be good sea-farers.

In India, I would think the Portuguese influence was the start of a cultural process in modern times. But I don't think it would be fair to separate the  Portuguese's role out. You have to have the other Europeans as well and it is a cumulative effect. But the Portuguese left behind a huge legacy. Whatever the British did, it's all copied from the Portuguese, like levy of custom duties, pass system -- by which you pay this much fee for letting you do that -- and administration. The Portuguese administration was strongly centralized and so was British administration. The British were interested in land, the Portuguese were not except for Brazil. Again the idea of trading small goods "in volumes" where the money is, bringing into India modern technology like the printing press, armaments, building techniques, and adding scores of words to the English language, like ‘cash'’, ‘verandah’ and ‘caste’, all speak for the great legacy left behind by the Portuguese.

(Published 16 January 2010, 16:26 IST)

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