A Childhood in India


Lanceloté José Belarmino Ribeiro was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1933. His mother, Lilia, made her living as a tailor and milliner, operating her business out of the family's third floor flat in ‘Hira Building’. His father, João, was an accountant. He had a half-brother, the artist F.N. Souza (1924-2002) and a sister, Marina. They were surrounded by a cluster of protective grandmothers and three loving and glamourous aunts.

Photo of Lily and Ribeiro in 1934
Ribeiro and his mother, Lily - 1934
A photo of Souza, Marina and Ribeiro in 1936
Souza (standing), Marina and Ribeiro (seated, right) - 1936
A photo of Ribeiro's school paintings in 1948.
Ribeiro's school paintings - 1948

Bombay was a lively and cosmopolitan city and still in an India under the British Empire. It was strategically situated for trade and industry and a thriving centre for the arts, culture and sciences which would inevitably mould Ribeiro's encyclopaedic knowledge. Hira Building overlooked Bombay's famous Crawford Market and through Ribeiro's formative years was a place where communities lived peacefully side by side.

A photo of 1940s Crawford Market in Bombay
View of Crawford Market from Hira Building - 1940s

The family split their time between Bombay and their ancestral home in Goa, a picturesque state on India's west coast which had been a ‘possession’ of the Portuguese Empire for 400 years. Goa's landscape left a deep imprint on Ribeiro and was a world away from the turbulent events unfolding in ‘British India’. It would not gain its independence from Portugal until 1961.

The fields of Goa
Ribeiro's photograph of the fields of Goa

The Portuguese had brought the Roman Catholic faith there, and its imposing hillside churches would weave their way into Ribeiro's consciousness:

“...Arriving in Goa from Bombay by air is just 40 minutes but as these minutes go by the change in the landscape is staggering. The choked barrenness of the first 35 minutes give the feeling that whatever vegetation there is blisters and turns to the colour of ash... And then! As if in the 36th minute you see Goa bursting from the lip of the Arabian Sea... It was this visual beauty that made the Portuguese hold on to Goa so doggedly... who felt Goa should remain as it always was – Goa Dourado [Golden Goa]”.

As Ribeiro's childhood years passed by, the subcontinent underwent significant political upheaval. Discontent at the presence of the British was everywhere. On 15 August 1947, India secured its Independence from Britain and Ribeiro never forgot the effect of Partition slicing through the country.

A map of India
A photograph of Lancelot Ribeiro