Church of St Augustine, Goa
Quarry by quarry the rough red stone was mined and brick by masonry brick-lined up to form the spectacle that the world views as the once upon a time magnificent church of St Augustine in Old Goa. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, that lies in ruins and anonymity, like a decadent, long forgotten and done-to-dust memory of its former grandiose architectural self. Unremembered and uncared for, except in the grandiose epitaph.
Shorn of both its colour and clothes, it still stands erect like a modestly half-dressed woman with her spine holding the weight of her bare bosom, somehow managing to stay curvaceously straight, with the audacity to still look you in the eye. It questions you as you look into hers and marvel at the ravages that time and weather may have wrought on to her. You wonder at her resilience, are awestruck at her beauty. She wonders at your wonderment as you look at her facade while trying to imagine how your own tryst with time and age will slowly unfold.
When a woman and a ruin face each other they have much to talk and share.
I stand in silence like a prolonged pause, just a little shade away from its time under the sunlight. I hold her in my frame, look her up from every possible facet and direction. I touch her broken pieces and brush my finger full palm across the perforated red stone that has chipped and fallen apart. I walk towards her in slow motion and even dare a climb onto the fence to take a better view. Time has completely eclipsed one side of her face with its acidic touch of many years, leaving her completely disfigured; erased from the faintest memory of the draughtsman’s pencil on the drawing board.
She is in dire need of cosmetic surgery.
Only the doctors have diagnosed her with geriatric sickness that is gnawing her from within. They have no cure for her ailment nor does anyone frankly care. After all, the old and malaised, linger on, till they disintegrate and eventually die. And I somehow already know, not much time is left. But no bells will toll for thee, for they are long gone without as much as a serenade to announce her much-awaited and anticipated fall.
You talk of death to women and they very often become sorrowful, some may shed a rivulet of tears. Continuing to speak as they cry debating the similarity of fates that befall women and churches.
I wait like an unnecessary comma, for the engaging conversation that continues in perfect silence.
In the meantime, I perambulate the perimeter that encloses her in its dying arms. The wild grass and weeds engulf her as if trying to cover her missing boob or uncovered butt, to give her a sense of wholesomeness. They are doing an awesome job, it seems or so my lens in close pursuit of the scented trail reveals. The camera is a hungry lion re-visiting the cadaver he makes of his prey. I begin to see the emerging chiaroscuro of the teak wood trees, tall wild grass, the rubble and remains of the perforated red stone structures. How they interact and interface with each other bereft of inane questions about identities or ingrained prejudices of colour, pedigree, genus or defining element. The pause has stretched from a comma into a full stop.
The two hands of the watch stand still at the twelfth hour as the mid-noon sun begins to burn my cheeks and those of time. I decide to retreat away from the sunshine, exactly like the church has from the spotlight and gaze of history. The three of us walk together the treacherously narrow path clasping the hands of time and history- the ruined remains of the church, the ageing women in me and I, the touristy bystander, witness to our often similar and conjoined destinies.
Someday, time will tell of our tale when the perforated red stone becomes a grave, the tall teak trees become twigs, end up in timber and the green grass grows to cover them all. I will come back old and ancient to see what remains of our unfinished conversations. And if I fail to return we will carry them forward when we meet again perhaps this time under the shadow of the moon.
I turn my back just as one turns yellowing and moth-eaten pages of history, very deliberately, ticking off a date on my timekeeper’s almanac for return or no return.
The ruin has left me whole, thinking holistically.