Bassein. An Old Portuguese Fort

Bassein
is an old fort in Vasai, a suburb of Bombay. It’s old and its ruins lie largely
forgotten, as the remains stand by a fishing village on the shores of the
The Arabian Sea.

I visited Bassein in 1984. Mr. Pillai, our photography
teacher had proposed that we go out for a day. He didn’t accompany us, but he
encouraged us to share the images once we had given them for processing.

One girl in my class was cute, and this motivated me to make
the trip. Later, during the day, I discovered she was engaged to be married. My
love for her died, but thankfully, my love for photography has stayed alive and
healthy.

The camera I used then was my Olympus OM-2n. I had my 50 mm
f/1.4 lens with me. I had also bought a 70-200 mm zoom. Today’s zoom lenses are
much better than the stuff we bought back then. My 50 mm prime still works
well, but the 70-200mm looks a little worn at the edges.

Those days, we weren’t particularly conscious of how the
light changes during the day. If we had been more conscious of this, it would
have influenced our timings. Apart from this, the girls wanted to leave early.

We reached Vasai around noon and took an auto-rickshaw to
the fort.

It must have been close to noon when we reached, and the
overhead sun created somewhat flat images. As the day progresses, the sun
slanted downwards towards Dubai, and the trees started casting long shadows on
the ground.

I remember feeling a dim sense of nostalgia when I shot the
image you see in this post. I was a practicing metallurgical engineer those
days and worked in a steel plant. History was beyond me. Nowadays, I look at
people and places through a wider lens.

In those days, when I was a callow youth. I looked at people
on the street (or forts) purely from a photographic perspective. Did the image
look good? Was it a good composition? Was the exposure good? I only asked
myself these questions.

Everything else was secondary.

Bassein is an old Portuguese fort. The Portuguese named
Bombay after the words that mean “good harbor” and helped to create Bombay. It
was a collection of seven islands until then. If you think about it, we Indians
were pioneers in the art of reclaiming land to build cities. In
1661, when Catherine de Braganza married Charles II, the English king Bombay

formed part of the dowry. That’s how it passed from Portuguese to British
hands.

History is complex, and I will not dive into that subject
here.

As I mentioned, everything became subservient to my
photographic intent. With age, you change, hopefully for the better.

Bassein, as I mentioned, is an old Portuguese Fort. These
days, it is lost and forlorn. People go there to picnic, or to hang around.
Like me in those days, they don’t care about history.

Old forts are full of stories, and possibly a few ghosts.

Not only do they hold stories of forgotten people, but they
form a part of our own heritage. We are often quick to ignore our past and to
forget our legacy.

If, for instance, we deny the Portuguese the role they
played in India, we will never understand the state of Goa, or its culture.

I will make a political statement—history makes us what we
are today. If we obliterate, corrupt or manipulate it, we will lose a part of
ourselves.

There is probably something of us in those stones. Don Juan told Carlos
Castaneda
that we impart something of ourselves onto the rocks and stones
that surround us.

There is probably some essence of modern-day Bombay and Goa
in those stones.

Hopefully, we will remember those old stories. Maybe we will
hear the voices that laughed a few centuries back. 



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