From Gold Coins To Palm Trees: An Extract from The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told





Fifty Years Ago 


Before leaving home, Narain Rao stepped into the deva kood, knelt before an image of the goddess Shantadurga, and began to pray. Lakshmibai, his wife, joined him in his devotions and implored with pious fervour: ‘Shantadurga Devi! At least this time allow us to succeed. Give us the strength not to give in…. 

After their prayers, Narain Rao opened a cupboard and retrieved the mohar, the family coin, from a jewellery box. With great reverence he held it up to the light. It had belonged to his glorious ancestors, who had inherited that gold coin, the symbol of a magnanimous tradition sanctified by hundreds of blessed hands. His father, before breathing his last, had summoned him to his bedside. Placing the gold coin in Narain Rao’s hand, he murmured solemnly: ‘Here is the family Lakshmi. No emergency will ever deprive you of it.’ These were the venerable old man’s final words. 


As Narain Rao crossed the threshold of their home he cast a compassionate glance behind him at his dear wife, the only ray of light in the murk surrounding him. 

It was at her urging that Narain Rao had decided to visit the noble Purxottam-bab, estimable representative of the Quencró family, whose son he coveted as a son-in-law. 

That same day, at dawn, Lakshmibai had whispered in his ear, ‘Last night our goddess appeared in my dreams and gave this advice: go to Purxottam-bab and your wish will be granted.’ 


In Search of a Groom 


Moved by the iron faith of his trustful wife, Narain Rao yielded to her entreaties. He knew that his task was not an easy one. Over the previous four months he had called upon a dozen noble families. Each had rejected him. Their excuses were varied, but behind them all lay his poverty. Twenty-five years earlier the maidens of his house had been sought in marriage by all the wealthy men of the district. Today his fate was to wander from house to house in search of a groom for his gracious daughter Tulsi. But where would he find the dowry? Nothing remained of their past opulence but the thick walls of their house. Yet his family’s traditional nobility had set thorns in his path. His household received many visitors and guests and often he and his family went without in order to feed them. That was the order of the day. In honour of the meritorious past of his forebears, no one left dissatisfied. And this was enough for Narain Rao to offer up thanks to his patron goddess. 


Purxottam-bab was held to be a singular man, for whom the material things of life counted less than humanity. His generous hands had silently eased the pain of many people. This trait was a beacon of hope to the desolate Narain Rao. 


Just then Tulsi approached her father. What a lovely creature she was! Her eyes like altar lamps, her brow so gentle and innocent. Only twelve springs old but shimmering with life. It glowed through her simple dress. Yet, for this tiny, precious being, how many difficulties must her father surmount? Her appearance alone dispelled the shadows, infused the very light with new splendour, sparked endless bliss, lent purity to glory itself. How anxious he was to offer this precious girl’s hand to a noble and worthy young man. But the prestige of a family is measured by its wealth. No sooner does poverty peek out than scandal flourishes. Were another year to pass without his daughter’s marriage, ill-intentioned tongues would begin to wag. 

But how had they ended up in this woeful situation? Neither they nor their forebears had been libertines, sinners, or reprobates. Yet the noble character of the family had led, little by little, to their material decline. 

Before leaving the house, Narain Rao caressed his daughter’s cheek and asked, ‘My dear! Do you also want to leave this house?’ Then he trudged down the steps with a pained heart. 


Lakshmibai looked on in sad silence at the rapidly departing figure of her husband. She recalled times now past when her father-in-law would leave the house on a palanquin flanked by servants. At this memory her eyes brimmed with tears. 


When Narain Rao arrived at his destination after a journey of some hours, he was informed that Purxottam-bab had left for Manguexi, where he was to stay for several days, and that he had been accompanied by his youngest son. Nonetheless, Narain Rao was cordially welcomed. 


After dinner he went to repose in the guest room. He was not quite asleep when he heard an uproar amongst the children playing in the corner of the front room. He got up immediately to investigate. The children told him that Purxottam-bab’s grandson had just lost the gold coin with which he was playing. Taken aback by this unexpected news, Narain Rao reached down with his left hand to pat the coin he had wedged into the waistband of his dhoti. Shortly after, the house servants and members of the family rushed to the scene to begin searching for the lost coin. 


Victim of Honesty 


Narain Rao was in despair. He had seen the precious coin, as had the people of the house, but just as the mohar went missing he had been alone with the children in the front room. To the bystanders Narain Rao appeared to be a man in desperate straits. The search turned up nothing. How could a three year old explain what he had done with the coin? 


Narain Rao noticed the servants glancing at him suspiciously, saw them whisper to one another and gesture knowingly. The idea that he was under suspicion was unbearable. God had seen fit to take away his wealth-now he was stripping away the good name of his family. A great tribulation? His forbears had protected their honour with such zeal; was he going to let it be stained? He recalled his dying father’s solemn words. Over the centuries had his family not striven for honour over wealth? This question pierced his mind like a bullet. 

The huddle dispersed. With a tremulous hand Narain Rao removed his coin and hid it beneath a broom, his heart torn to shreds. He didn’t tarry, or even reveal to the family of the house the reason for his visit. Instead, under the malicious gaze of the servants, he walked crestfallen out of the room. 


Two days later Purxottam-bab returned home and was informed of the incident. He took little heed, as, according to the members of his household, the coin had been found a day later in the corner of the front room. What did disturb his peace of mind was the sudden visit and abrupt departure of Narain Rao. Why had he come? To ask some favour? But he knew Narain Rao and his noble family well. His pride would certainly not have allowed him to make such a petition. For a long while these doubts plagued the soul of Purxottam-bab, a man too caught up in his own business affairs to take note of those, like Narain Rao, who scrupulously avoided revealing their indigence. 


Another matter occupied his mind during those days: he sought a bride for his son Vishnu. It was a vexed issue, as it was no easy thing to find a maiden who met his requirements. For his son he wanted a girl who had abundant affection for all, who took delight in compassion, who was hardworking and cheery yet resolute, who, in sum, would continue the glorious tradition of their family. How was he to find such a bride in an environment so full of egotism, vanity, and dissimulation? 


As Purxottam-bab had no time to call upon Narain Rao, he decided to write him a letter asking for the reasons behind his unexpected visit. He wrote it out with his own hand. In those days it was customary to dry the ink with a sprinkling of sand. Purxottam-bab groped for some inside the clay pot that stood on the table. What a shock it was when his fingers felt the cold touch of the coin! 


Mystery Unravelled 


Where could this coin have come from, if the one his grandson had lost had already been found? The treasurer was summoned and an investigation was launched straight away. It proved that the coin buried in the sand of the pot had been stuck there by the little grandson of Purxottam-bab. 


Another doubt emerged. Where could the coin found in the corner of the room have come from since it was not his? The investigations shed light on this conundrum. The staff of the house, confusedly and haltingly, revealed that the only stranger present in the room had been Narain Rao. 


Thus the enigma was resolved. Purxottam-bab could guess what torments the virtuous Narain-bab had suffered. The idea of this pure and innocent man beset by moments of great anguish, through no fault of his own, filled Purxottam-bab’s soul with pain. He decided to leave his house immediately, to find and embrace that great man, Narain Rao. 


Purxottam-bab ordered his treasurer to fetch a beautiful jewel case studded with pearls and rubies. He placed within it, reverently, that rare artefact, which symbolized the glorious tradition of a noble family. With no further delay, accompanied by his retinue, he departed by palanquin for the village. The announcement of Purxottam-bab’s visit left Narain Rao in a fluster. Had his secret been revealed? He hurried to the patio where the old philanthropist awaited. Without uttering a word Purxottam-bab embraced him. Both struggled to contain their emotions. 


They entered the house in silence. The illustrious visitor was shown to the parlour he knew so well from his youth. Looking around the old man saw only evidence of decline. Even the Kashmiri rug that had once borne witness to opulence had been reduced to tatters. 


Seated on that rug, unable to hold back his emotions, Purxottam-bab tightly embraced the virtuous man, as a bird takes its young under wing. Narain Rao, magnetized by the curious touch of those strong arms, began to sob. 


Virtue Rewarded 


The men then looked one another in the eye. In an instant Narain Rao realized that the slightest place in this man’s affection would ensure life and prosperity for his family. 

A few moments passed. Purxottam-bab removed the scintillating jewellery box from one of his pockets, opened it, and spoke thus as he presented Narain Rao the coin: ‘Here it is, the Lakshmi of your house! The excellence of your family! You made a grave sacrifice to save your honour. You are, without doubt, a blessed man!’ 


The emotions he felt at that moment were so intense that 

Narain Rao was unable to utter a word. His mind was awhirl. He bowed his head and, with great difficulty, replied, ‘Please do not embarrass me with these words. I am not worthy of such great honour.’ 

At that precise moment his daughter Tulsi appeared in the doorway. Her loving father said, ‘Come here, my daughter, and ask Purxottam-bab for his blessing.’ 


And so Tulsi, maiden and modest, twelve years old, sincere and splendid, the image of virtue and modesty, of beauty and gentleness, stepped gracefully forward. She bowed before the venerable figure of Purxottam-bab and pressed her hands together in homage. 


Purxottam-bab gazed at her. He felt he had just found what for months he had sought in vain. 

He drew her to him affectionately. Running his fingers through her hair he exclaimed, ‘You shall be happy, my child.’ 


Purxottam-bab offered her a precious necklace of pearls from Hormuz, then turned to her poor father and, in a pleading voice, said, ‘In truth you are great. I wish my house to match yours in nobility. Thus I beseech your daughter’s hand in marriage for my Vishnu.’ 


The eyes of Lakshmibai filled with delighted tears as she watched on from a window. Her mother’s heart, weary of so much suffering, leapt for joy. 

Deeply touched, Narain Rao pronounced these words: ‘Purxottam-bab, I respect and honour your will. Our Tulsi shall be your daughter-in-law’ 

As he spoke, Narain Rao opened the jewellery box and gazed with reverence at the ancient coin. In it he saw reflected the 

virtue and generosity of twenty generations. Two tears ran from his eyes and fell upon the shining gold piece.



Translated from the Portuguese by Paul Melo e Castro 

Excerpted with permission from The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told, edited by Manohar Shetty

Publishing/Rupa & Co (November 2022)

You can buy your copy here.

Manohar Shetty has published several books of poetry including Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems (1981-2017). His forthcoming book is Borderlines. Besides Ferry Crossing: Short Stories from Goa, he has edited Goa Travels: Being the Accounts of Travellers to Goa from the 16th to the 21st Century. Several anthologies and journals in India and abroad feature his work, including The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. His short stories have appeared in The Baffler (MIT, USA), Indian Quarterly, Punch, and other journals and magazines. He has been a Homi Bhabha Fellow and a Raza Foundation Fellow and has lived in Goa since 1985.