Asia | India | Goa | Panjim – Present and Eternal Punishment
Jill and I said goodbye the second time in Panaji (Panjim). We’d both decided to sacrifice a day at the beach to take a joyride to the capital city, indulge in some good food and Portugese atmosphere.
Panaji is fantastic, and sits almost exactly on the fence between Latin and Indian. It’s an odd town to wander after a few months in India, because it definitely is India: restaurants with veg./non-veg. rooms, posters for Bollywood flicks and overloaded buses marked in Hindi script. It’s also European: massive old cathedrals with bleeding Christs on the crucifix, music stores with bongos and guitars in the windows, narrow gridded streets with low-slung Mediterranean houses. It gave me a sort of cultural vertigo, especially the next afternoon, when we rode the 10km along the river out to Old Goa to see what used to be the capital of the Portugese Asian empire, 450 years ago.
Churches and cathedrals still manage to feel more *serious* to me than other religious structures, probably because of my own altar boy background; Hindu temples, while clearly holy places, and meaningful for close to a billion people, can’t help but feel slightly silly, no matter how much I try to appreciate their significance. Every cathedral and church we entered, though, left me feeling slightly small and very reverent, as I stepped slowly and evenly to a pew near the front, sitting or kneeling with clasped hands while studying the ornate altar at the Cathedral of the Holy Se, or the tombstones set in the floor of the St. Francis Church bearing the names of Portugese soldiers and clergy. I found myself explaining things to Jill: pictures on the wall, confession, or the difference between a Catholic and Protestant crucifix.
Jill is the wayward daughter of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like me, devout in younger days, then questioning, then doubtful, but never more than mildly critical, and curious about religion as a social phenomenon above all else. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have nearly the level of ceremony and ritual of the Catholic Church, or even the Lutheran one I grew up in, so she was a rapt audience as I recalled various liturgies of my youth.
‘…we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole hearts, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment..’
‘That is pretty fucked-up, Carl.’
‘Yeah, I know. Did you get that sort of thing?’
‘Kind of. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in hell exactly, so it’s not quite the same. We sure don’t have spaces like this,’ she said, looking around. The meeting halls she grew up with were bare spaces with folding chairs. No saints, high ceilings or gilded Christ figures. We were both impressed, and spent a good four or five hours poking around all the structures, ruined and whole.
The rest of the time in Panaji was about eating and drinking, both of which Goans do well and often. There’s some irony in spending $5 on a guesthouse, then going out for a $12 meal, but it was definitely worth it. $12 in Panaji will get you an orgy of stuffed crab, grilled fish, pork vindaloo, bebinca for desert, and lots of wine and this gorgeous local cashew-fruit liquor called feni, which fucked us both up in record time. It complemented the day’s over-the-top Catholicism with a decidedly Latin ease.