Barabara Brooks considers the Colonial Veranda
Brooks recalls growing up in Australia and the insight gained from living in those in-between spaces @ Griffith Review.
Belem is the name of the delicious egg tarts, pastéis de Belém, from a cake shop in the barrio Portugués near us in Sydney – one of the benefits of diaspora, of the tides of people redistributed across the globe. Belem is also a place. When I went to Portugal I caught a tram to Belem, the place at the end of the line, on the edge of land and water, the place where Vasco da Gama set out in 1497, in search of India and spices. He sailed south along the coast of Africa, and took on board a pilot: possibly Ibn Majid, the famous Arab navigator; more likely a Gujarati who knew his way to Calicut. With the help of the pilot and the monsoon winds called the trade winds, da Gama arrived on the Malabar Coast. Here the spice ports, Calicut and Cochin, were already the centre of an international trade in black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom – spices were a currency themselves, more valuable than gold.
Merchants from Alexandria, Venice, Constantinople, Java and China came and went, and Portugal wanted to join in the trade. In Calicut, da Gama sat on a rug and talked by candlelight to the agent of the Zamorin, or king, on a veranda that ran around the edge of an internal courtyard. The account of this voyage may be the first recorded use of the word ‘veranda’. Vasco da Gama’s voyages established Portugal as a colonial power in India. An Australian academic in Portugal told me that ‘veranda’ may be a Portuguese word. In India writers claimed it as a Hindi or Bengali word. Nobody is wrong; everybody is right; language is a masala. Colonialism has mixed everything up. Belem, tarts, da Gama, spices and verandas.
When I began writing ‘Verandahs’ – my Doctor of Creative Arts thesis – I thought of the veranda as a metaphor as much as a physical space. The person I saw on the veranda was my English grandfather, an officer in the Indian Army between 1917 and 1920. He went back to England and married my grandmother, and they came to Australia in 1932. When I was a child he told us stories about India, stories about riding elephants and fighting in the hills. My grandmother cooked ‘chapatis’ (hers were a kind of pancake with leftover meat or vegetables added) and ‘curries’ – the Queensland version, with the remains of the cold roast beef, apple and sultanas in a thin sauce yellow with curry powder. My grandfather spooned extra curry powder onto the side of his plate, from the tin with the picture of Clive of India. I saw photographs of him in uniform, returning from the Afghanistan war, where he fought with the 40th Pathans, or the Gurkha Rifles, or riding his ‘motor cycle’ to Peshawar; photographs of his bungalow in Kohat (where he slept on the roof under a punkah), and of the ‘native bazaar’. And a photograph of him in tropical white, standing on a veranda with his fellow officers.
Aline Smithson @ F-Stop Magazine