Earlier columns have grumbled about the manner in which a Northern European understanding of the garden has colonized our mentality. In addition our understandings of the garden space have also been frozen within domestic frameworks, resulting in a narrowing of our garden-vocabulary. To place the Jardim in context therefore, we need to affirm that it was not just a ‘garden’ but a Public garden. Within the various types of public gardens one may find, the Jardim was an
The Mediterranean public garden however, is not simply a space for relaxation; it is also a ritual political space. It is the symbolic representation of the public space, where the citizens gather, affirm their commitment to order in civil society and where the State affirms its commitment both to the citizens and to the notion of public order. This would be one way to think of the band-stand that stands at the centre of the Jardim. Every Sunday the Jardim hosted the band of the armed forces which played to the citizenry of Panjim who gathered there in their numbers, to see and be seen. In this ritual action, week after week, the notion of a civil society, and citizenship therein, would be reaffirmed, by State and citizen alike.
It is important to note this fact, a few days prior to the commemoration of the integration of
Goa into the Indian Union. Very often forgotten in our celebration of the end of colonial rule, are the political specificities of the . Despite being a colonized space, territory of Goa Goa was nevertheless marked by citizenship. This status, peculiar to the Goan within a colonized sub-continent, emerged for the Catholic native elite from early colonial rule, and was open to all, regardless of religion from 1910. It is in this context that we should see and cherish this (and other Goan) public garden(s). We should also remember that this garden was a product not of some colonial mind, but of the local sons who were on the Camara Municipal. These local sons burned with the same zeal for independence, that Indian nationalists did, but owing to their political location as citizens, were able to articulate this desire within the confines of the Portuguese Empire.
Viewed in this manner, the Jardim Garcia d’Orta emerges as heritage garden with strong indigenous roots. These indigenous traditions of democracy and politics have however, largely been forgotten as they have been overlaid by the political traditions and understandings of the former British-India. This is perhaps nowhere as tellingly demonstrated as in the fate of the Jardim; first ravaged by the bureaucratic masturbation of the (British-Indian inspired) Forest Department’s tree plantation drives, and subsequently left to ruin as all wholesome notions of democracy have gone to mud.
The re-development of this garden and its structure, then, cannot simply be initiated de novo, nor can the debate be restricted to the need for a green space in the urban city. The re-development must necessarily be undertaken in the spirit of a Restoration. I capitalize the R here, for this Restoration is not to mean merely a physical restoration that one submits an edifice to, but a Restoration in the sense of a socio-political renewal as well. The Restoration must take the ritual space and history of the Municipal garden seriously, keeping the citizen once more at the centre of the development. If under the Portuguese regime the real (as opposed to the legal-theoretical) benefits of citizenship were restricted to the culturally equipped and bourgeois denizens of the city, then this Restored garden must ensure that those unfairly labeled ‘anti-social elements’ are not excluded. The garden as it did in the old days, must allow citizens to interact with each other, renewing both the use of the garden and civil society at large.
Incorporating this political dimension into our viewing of the garden as a heritage structure makes the word heritage bear more weight than it normally does. The formal stylistic arrangement of the park is no longer a mere aesthetic fetish, nor a fancy obsession with our past. It is a testament to a way in which we would like to see our democracy. It is also a testament to the fact that our colonial difference is worth embracing for it has something very valuable to contribute to the Indian democracy. In both these cases, the
If there is a debate around the development of the Municipal garden in Panjim, then that debate cannot and must not be restricted just to the issue of green cover and lung space. There is as I have laboured to point out, a much larger context within which it must necessarily be seen.
(Published in the Gomantak Times, 16 Dec 2009)
Image of the newly planted Jardim Municipal courtesy Dr. Paulo Varela Gomes
Image of scene in the Alameda Gibraltar Gardens from Wikipedia