Family Feuds in Goa

 Ema Souza-Colaço

While putting together the article on the Homes for the Aged, I paused briefly to think about the quagmire of intrafamily politics.

What exactly is the genesis of this problem and what can we all learn from the regular Goan 'family feuds'.

The crucial lesson is to try understand why they happen and how best to avoid them happening in the future to one's own family.

If one examines the issue dispassionately, it appears that family feuds occur in Goa for basically the same reasons as anywhere else in the world :

1. Greed
2. Misgivings
3. Sibling Rivalry

However, there are a couple of situations which are peculiar to Goa:

a) Lack of opportunity to bond adequately

A good number of Goan fathers have to leave their homes in order to earn a decent livelihood. Many of them spend up to a year on ships which travel the world over. The vast majority of these sailors have a hard life under difficult and life-threatening situations. They work for months on end and come home for a few months while they await their next sea-posting.

The first few weeks are 'happy days' for the whole family, but eventually boredom sets in and the quarrels take place. Soon however, it is time to go back for another tour of duty.

This cycle of work - a happy return home, the quarrels and the departure, occurs every year and before anyone in the family realizes it, several years have passed and the children are already adults !

The story of Goans who work in the Arabian Gulf is only marginally better. The work is still very demanding, and the employers are mean, but at least, one gets to travel back home to Goa every six months or so.

Time however passes by and the fragile bond between husband and wife, and between the parents and the children holds but only very tenuously.

Also present, is the problem of the new realities. The father who has by now become accustomed to living his life independently, finds the sounds of normal life in the house, too loud and unbearable. The children invariably bear the brunt of the shouts or smacks. The mother, too, has learnt to manage the affairs of the house, quite independently and efficiently. The new found independence sometimes creates problems for the man in the house. There is this strange closeness and yet distance, at the same time !

The jobs in the Arabian Gulf and on board the ship are temporary. Major problems hit the family when that job is no longer available. It is a competitive world out there and no place for the complacent. Even so, situations beyond one's control occur, like the Gulf war for instance when many Goans had to return home at short notice.

A family which had become accustomed to the good life, suddenly gets thrown into disarray. There is very little bonding to hold the family together during these very difficult times.

Life for the Goan in Goa is no picnic either. Life in the cities is noisy with the accommodation cramped and expensive. So, most Goans who have houses in the villages, opt to live in the villages while traveling to and from work in the cities.

The major hurdle here is transport. Sure, it is still feasible, for some, to save enough money to buy a car and pay for car-maintenance and petrol, but driving regularly on Goan roads is an unmitigated nightmare. So, most Goans end up opting to be transported home like sardines in so called buses.

If one has to get to work on time, one has to be out of the house by 6:30 am and hopefully expect to reach back home from work by 8:00 pm; tired, exhausted, sweaty and totally disjointed from the bumpy ride home. Is there time for bonding and developing relationships which will withstand the rigors of life?

b) The wedding circus :

Many of the major intrafamily tremors in Goa, take place at the time of weddings. I have never been able to understand what the whole tiatr at weddings is all about.

Almost like the 'calm before the storm', all seems to be proceeding according to plan. The bridal trousseau is ready, the groom's suit is in perfect shape, the catering is sorted out, the marriage bans are read, the band is booked and the invitations are all printed and distributed.

Suddenly..... all hell breaks loose !

" Someone was not properly invited, the dowry was not enough, some obscure aunt was not invited to be seated in the front pew of the church and the older brother was served cold soup etc. etc. etc. "

It appears that Goans have made it an art form to disrupt weddings and devise, albeit unconsciously, novel methods to start arguments at or just after the reception. And this is supposed to be one of the most important days of the newly married couple. What a nightmare it turns out to be !

What a way for the new couple to start their new life together.

When we add this disastrous start to the obstacles in the way of effective bonding available for Goans, we might perhaps understand why there is so much stress and mental illness amongst Goans and so much of that intrafamily feuding.

Down the road, there is more salt for the wounds in the form of the interfering and often domineering in-laws and the nosey relatives.

A situation which is developing more frequently nowadays in Goa is the "objection" by the family to anyone the son or daughter chooses as a prospective wife or husband. The problem gets worse if the 'fiancé or fiancée' happens to be a non-Goan or of a different caste or religion.

And woe be to the person who decides to 'bring home' a foreigner !!

Now that we are parents or likely to be parents in the future, it is a good time for us, to mentally reflect upon these situations.

If we are amongst those who have to work away from our families for prolonged periods of time, we might want to make a special effort to call and write home regularly.

E-mail is such a blessing. Even a small message or the occasional telephone call goes a long way to strengthen those family bonds.

Those of us who have to find our way through the Goan work and traffic chaos, might want to make a special effort to find the time to be genuinely nice to our families. The same could be said for all of us who travel great distances to and from our place of work, anywhere in the world.

This time when we could and should spend pleasantly together will not come back again. Before we know it, the years and opportunities to help nurture a beautiful relationship will have passed us by .

Those of us who have children may wish to keep open the lines of communication which somehow seem to disappear as we go about the task of earning a living and earning even more, presumably for our children's sake; the same children we could lose contact with while we are struggling to build a nest for them !

It is during the phase while the children form their own relationships that parents are likely to make the most errors. Errors which lead to feuds which will eventually consume and destroy families.

It is best for parents to support their children's choice, once the choice has been made.

In closing, I wish to add that a lot depends upon us to prevent feuds within our own families. The problem is often with our very own egos.

I am not saying that we should compromise our principles, especially if they are well grounded and we are being fair. Only that, often, we may have to lose our egoistic prejudices for the benefit of our family!

©1999 Ema Souza-Colaço
Sept 6, 1999

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