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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Goan writer Maria Aurora Couto dies at 85

Couto lived in Aldona, Goa, and will be remembered for dedicating much of her life and work to the state’s cultural activities as well as socio-political causes

Written by Benita Fernando | Mumbai |
Updated: January 15, 2022 6:10:06 am
Maria Aurora Couto. (Photo: Frederick Noronha)

Padma Shri awardee, writer and educationist Maria Aurora Couto died on Friday morning. She was 85.

Couto was diagnosed with pneumonia and her health started to decline earlier this week.

Couto lived in Aldona, Goa, and will be remembered for dedicating much of her life and work to the state’s cultural activities and socio-political causes.  Among her writings, she is best known for her autobiography, ‘Goa: A Daughter’s Story (2004)’, in which her memoirs mingle with Goa’s past.

Couto (née Figueiredo) was born in Salcete in 1937. Her family moved to Dharwad, Karnataka, in 1945, where she and her six siblings were raised by their mother as a single parent. She attended St Joseph’s High School and later studied English Literature at Karnatak College of Arts and Science — late playwright Girish Karnad and novelist Shashi Deshpande were her classmates.

In her later years, Couto taught English Literature at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, and Dhempe College, Panaji.

Goan writer Damodar Mauzo told The Indian Express that Couto’s death is a “huge loss and blow to Goa’s cultural field. She was a true Goan personified…Well-read and well-travelled, the dignified Aurorabai carried herself intelligently with elegance.”

Couto’s career as a writer started with ‘Graham Greene: On the Frontier: Politics and Religion in the Novels’ (1988), an examination of Greene’s works, which turned into a lifelong association, after she met him for the first time in Goa in 1963. Among her other works are ‘Filomena’s Journeys: A Portrait of a Marriage, a Family and a Culture (2013)’, which recounts her mother’s story while tracing the decline of Goa’s elite Catholics.

In 2010, she was awarded the Padma Shri.

Couto was also one of the fearless voices from Goa, and often commented on social injustices and environmental issues in and around the state. She criticised the attacks and vandalism of Catholic crosses in South Goa in 2017. She was a supporter of the Goenchi Mati Movement, a people’s group that has been campaigning against exploitative mining practices in Goa.

In 2015, the murder of progressive thinker and scholar M M Kalburgi in Dharwad found a strong reaction from India’s intellectuals, including Couto. She was among other writers and Sahitya Akademi winners in Goa who asked for the Akademi to “condemn cultural talibanism in the country” following Kalburgi’s murder and incidents of lynching.

Poet Ranjit Hoskote tweeted, “With deep, overwhelming grief, I record the passing of Maria Aurora Couto—superb writer, memoirist and critic, deeply committed to Goa’s confluential and transcultural traditions, a liberal at home in many worlds…”

Goa CM Pramod Sawant tweeted, “Deeply saddened…. My heartfelt condolences to her family and admirers.”

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