Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Intellectual and the Foundation of the New Goan Century

A few weeks ago while making a case for the now scrapped Regional Plan, the Chairperson of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry remarked how there was a need for such schemes as the increasingly discredited IT Park since there was a flight of the “intelligent class” away from Goa. In observing this flight from Goa Kunkolienkar does have a point. There is a massive flight of young and intelligent individuals from Goa primarily because they do not have the appropriate environment to flourish.

And yet, I am not going to turn this into an argument against the Government or indeed for the Regional Plan or such destructive plans like that of the supposed IT Park. We very often get the Government we deserve and my argument is that it is our society that does not value the intellectual enough. This lack of respect and value for the intellectual is what is creating the politically and socially state of affairs that Goa has been wallowing in for decades now.

The marginal position for the intellectual is clearly visible in the fate of that most glorious of Goan institutions, the Central Library. From its current location within the centre of Panjim, there are plans to shift the building to Patto. From a central location accessible with ease to all within and outside of the city, we are going to shift the library to a building that can be reached currently only with a good amount of difficulty. In this shoddy treatment to an institution that has moulded generations of Goans, we can gauge our society’s respect and recognition of the intellectual.

The library building will reportedly be from the first floor upwards, since the ground floor will be devoted to shops. Selling coconuts, rice and a variety of vernacular smut no doubt! The ease with which the powers that be decided to locate shops at the base of a fine intellectual institution is once again indicative of what exactly our society considers the fundamental basis for success in the world. Money, money, money. If Goa has been able to move, rather successfully, from being some sort of a feudal society to a modern society then due credit has to be given to its large middle class. Ignoring the problems with considering persons settled abroad as Goan, I will for the moment include them to count on the middle class (and even super-rich) Goan, as being spread throughout the globe. Goa made one leap with some ease. The next step, of inculcating a value for education for the sheer sake of producing knowledge and being able to examine an issue from a variety of perspectives has been by and large ignored.

It has become the flavour of the moment to call persons now settled comfortably in other parts of the world members of a Diaspora; Goa is no exception. And yet compare the Goan diaspora to the mother of all, indeed the original diaspora, the Jewish diaspora. The number of Jewish foundations flush with money and spending on intellectual and cultural innovation within (and outside of) the community is mind-boggling. Where, I would like to inquire do we find a similar investment by and for the Goan community? There are ofcourse a variety of Trusts set up by the ‘prominent’ families in Goa but any activity that would even mildly threaten to disturb the status quo receives no support. In addition, it appears that one is expected to be eternally grateful and beholden to the persons who created the endowment from which one is benefiting. Hardly the kind of environment for critical intellectual and cultural activity to take off.

There has been much enthusiasm in the wake of the apparent victory of the Save Goa Campaign over the Regional Plan. There have been well-intentioned cyber-Goenkars who have suggested, quite appropriately that they ought not to just sit around but support the activity taking place in Goa. And yet, this may not be quite the answer in the current environment when the campaign is the product of multiple and strange bed-fellows. Not all of whose credentials are either impeccable, nor their intentions bona fide. But rather than let a good idea go waste we need to figure out ways in which we can pour in diasporic money and encourage a flourishing of critical and questioning intellectual and cultural renaissance. We need foundations that will fund scholars young and old to locate themselves in Goa and add new insight into an already vibrant civil society. Funds that will assure Goan youth that Goa is a destination that encourages local talent to engage in intellectual exploration, giving them the financial and institutional strength to pursue intellectual trajectories and yet be rooted in Goa. We need funds that will award those who build new buildings respectful of its environs and our environment. We need foundations that will support young and upcoming artists and musicians. All of these will challenge the uneasy and delicate peace presided over by political bosses and business houses. And yet this will, like the churning of the Ocean of Milk, bring forth vibrance that can only come where the intellectual is valued and respected, not for the money s/he brings home, but the learning s/he generates. Now when are those dollars going to start pouring in?
(published in the Gomantak Times, 7th Feb 2007)

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