CYPRIAN FERNANDES: House of Braganca (3)



At college Ferdinando was often asked if he was Portuguese, Goan or a half-caste. He said he was a Goan without a second thought. He thought to himself “so many Portuguese men have been in and out of Braganca women it is hard to tell when the local Goan or mesticas (half caste) had a look in. Portraits of the various husbands and their respective wives hung on the walls of the sprawling Bragancas’ palatial home. Of the husbands, the casual viewer would be hard placed to figure who was a full blood, a mixed blood, or a lowly Goan “noble”. You see, they were all painted as having olive skins. The women all looked Portuguese white yet many were not full blood Portuguese. Perhaps it is a myth of the time, legend has it that mesticas women were always more attractive of all women in Goa.
Ferdinando regularly smiled to himself at the thought of the Braganca women and Goan women in general. One thing the Portuguese did well, he thought, was treat all women in Goa with more dignity than was the case anywhere else in India. It was the Catholic thing to do he told himself. No, he corrected himself; it was the Portuguese thing to do. He remembered with some joy the time he had spent in Portugal.
Talking about women, his mother, the regal Dona Isabella was nothing short of the queen of Bardez. A woman of stunning beauty with long flowing curls that jealously crowded her headed and fell to the base the spine. She wore long flowing gowns, changed three times a day, with each meal in fact and sometimes with each new social occasion. Her hair was forever shrouded in a hand embroidered silken veil. This she sometimes pulled over her face to just below her nose, the shroud creating a sense of mystery. She carried herself with all the airs and graces of any delightful queen of England. She did not walk across any floor; she glided over like a prima ballerina or a silken butterfly.
She looked as if she was a walking, talking, smiling, laughing, singing, masterpiece of a great old master painter. She was utterly and completely besotted with her husband. And he was with her. Yet her love for him was so great that she understood that his great appetite needed a little help from the three women he kept on the state. It was a Portuguese thing and she could only give him so much, she would tell herself. In any case, men did what men did and he always woke up in her bed. In any case, she had already given him six children. His father sent his four sons (at the appropriate time for each) for lessons in the art of love making to Portugal. Ferdinando lost his virginity and the memory still creases a happy smile across his face. Safety first, his father had told him and one of his father’s friends had done the rest in getting him started on path to sexual ecstasy by finding him appropriate partners at the bordellos. Each of the brothers usually returned from Europe (including Portugal) with healthy supplies of condoms and an assortment of pills.
Every time he thought of his mother, the sweetest of smiles caressed his face. Like his father, he loved that woman, as a son of course. He would spend endless hours on the balcony of his bedroom and watch her down below, holding court, charming her guests, sweeping every man off his feet and filling every woman in the room with any inner glow for having basked for a moment or two in her shadow. Virtually, every week, sometimes twice or more times, the Bragancas entertained. The after dinner cabaret consisted of a variety of music and dance. The star spotlight was reserved for the latest Fado singer to visit Government House. The Fado is song of lament, of longing, of heart ache and pain and the dreams of joy. It is said the Fado has its origins in the songs of sailors yearning to return home. While the human voice cries from heart, the guitar does it from the soul.
Ferdinando’s other favourite thing was watching his mother and father dance the Tango. The sheer drama Mai and Pai evoked was sensual, the romance, sometimes the hurt and the pain, Ferdinando found quite unbelievable. Mai and Pai never danced this particular dance with anyone else. They always captivated Ferdinando and anyone else for that matter because in this dance they put on display their love, their passion, their sensuality and their devotion for each other. It was so easy to see true love. As they glided across the floor, suddenly stopped, heads, bodices changing positions, a flick of the head, or hand gesture with the fingers doing their dance, the sway of limbs, the drama of the lip to lip, kissed, caressed, teased, a sweeping circle drawn on the floor by legs entwined, what ecstasy!! Mother’s body arched backwards on father’s bended knee, his face caressing hers, he held the back of her head with one arm while the other held the lower torso. Magic. And then the circles, circles within circles, spinning, spinning until the crescendo ends in a sudden stop, straight, upright erect, like two peacocks sizing each other up, almost ready to strike for the kill and then the anticlimax. There is no kill. Instead a kiss, a lingering kiss lights up their faces, smiles, laughter, and applause. And more applause, louder, louder. The guests’ appreciation is recognised by the slightest flicker of the fingers (feigning the wings of a honey sucker) at the end of the extended arm.  It was a gesture as skilful as any moment in the dance itself. ‘Mai, Mai. You will always be the picture of rare and unequalled beauty,” he thought to himself.
While in Europe he took time out to put down his thoughts in a diary. His memories, especially of Mai and Pai, warmed the cockles of his heart and made him smile, broad-brimmed gorgeously.
Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado 1945-1969, PIM (Military Intelligence Police in the Portuguese colonies).