Thursday, October 15, 2015

India made Goa Portuguese

Recently, there have been a number of voices that have pointed out that a part of the problem in contemporary Goa is the manner in which Goa is being consumed. Writing in The Goan Everyday, Vishvesh Kandolkar pointed out that Goa “is perceived as a perfect holiday destination with its sun, sea, and sand, apart from the Europeanised atmosphere that they [Indian elites and tourists] don’t find anywhere else in India.” Picking up on the concerns raised by Kandolkar, Dale Luis Menezes, writing in the O Heraldo also pointed that Goa’s problem lies in the fact that it is perceived as European, and following an argument by Paul Routledge, argues that Goa was created and projected as a pleasure periphery, a site of tourism and pleasure.

To make sense of these claims it is important that we delve deeper into the process that allowed Goa to be seen, or be represented as European. Most persons with some knowledge of the academic literature on Goa will point out that Goa’s character and European is the result of the Estado Novo’s claims from the late 1940s. Responding to the demand of the post-colonial Indian State that Goa be “returned” to it, Salazar’s Portugal responded that this was impossible. Goa was not Indian, they claimed, it was Portuguese. 450 odd years of Portuguese presence had ensured that Goa was strikingly different from the rest of India, and that the people of Goa had more in common with Europe than India. This way of presenting Goa has given rise to the trope of Goa Portuguesa. 
Not to be undone, Indian nationalists, and academics who sympathized with the Indian position, crafted another trope in response; Goa Indica. Rubbish, they claimed, Goa was merely under Portuguese control. It is, and always has been, profoundly Indian. There are some who would argue that Goa Indica was the post-colonial response to colonial propaganda of Goa Portuguesa. The problem with this argument is that Goa Portuguesa has been one of the planks on which Goa’s tourism industry has been built, especially from the 1980s. This is to say, that while Goa’s Portuguese identity may have been initially crafted by the Portuguese state, it was given added life by the post-colonial Goan, and Indian, state, and the allied institutions of film, advertising, that support the state.

How does one make sense of this fact, that it was Indian control over Goa that deepened Goa’s image as Portuguese, Iberian and European? Raghu Trichur provides a very plausible argument in his book Refiguring Goa (2013). He suggests that “[i]ntegrating Goa into the Indian nation-state was more problematic  than occupying and liberating Goa from Portuguese colonial rule, especially if one was to consider the politics that surfaced in ‘postcolonial’ Goa over the two decades since 1961” (p.12). He elaborates that “it was only after the state sponsored development of tourism in the 1980's (two decades after Goa's liberation/occupation in 1961), was Goa effectively integrated into the Indian nation-state” (p.13). Trichur’s suggestion, then, is that the marketing of Goa as Portuguese and European was a strategy of the Congress government that sought to skirt the politics inaugurated by Dayanand Bandodkar and the bahujan groups subsequent to integration into India.

The nature of Bandodkar’s politics, and how it offered a genuine liberation for the Hindu bahujan of Goa is interestingly elaborated in India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015) a monography recently written by Parag Parobo from the department of History, Goa University. The difference between Nehruvian politics and Bandodkar’s politics was recently succinctly articulated by Kaustubh Naik: “Nehru’s vision for India was a result of his upper caste elite background which worked only to the benefits of Indian elites while the marginalized struggled to find a place for themselves within that vision. Bandodkar, with his lower caste capitalist background, set a model of governance that prioritized liberating the Bahujans from bonds of feudal and social oppression.” Indeed, the initial years of the Congress in Goa were marked by complete upper-caste dominance. This hegemony was completely rejected at the polls for almost two decades until the MGP ran out of steam, and the upper-castes were to combine forces and once again re-assert themselves through the Congress party.

There is, however more to this equation that merely trying to reformulate Goa outside of bahujan politics, and this aspect speaks directly to the desires of Nehruvian elites that marked the Congress party in Delhi and their largely upper-caste associates in Goa. This aspect can be uncovered if we ask why Goa Goa’s being European should be exciting for (elite) Indians?

To answer this question requires that we look at the politics through which Europe is constituted. The fact is that while core European values are defined by the practices in the north-west of that continent, such as Germany, The Netherlands, Britain, the South, namely Spain, Italy, Greece, has been marked off, since at least the nineteenth century, as the place largely of leisure and pleasure, tourism and adventure. Northern European, but especially British and American magnates, travelled to the South for leisure and illicit pleasure. Northern Europeans articulated their European identity by setting themselves off as different from Southern Europeans.  This logic was then applied to the rest of the world, where Europe was set off from the rest of the colonised world, just as Northern Europe was set off from the southern part of the continent.

To return to Goa, I would argue that a Portuguese Goa was appealing for the Nehruvian elites because they saw themselves as the inheritors of Britain’s paramount sovereignty in India. With Indian independence they became the British, and inherited the British gaze on the world. Thus, they inherited the British gaze on the Portuguese, as well as the Portuguese territory. Thus, if Portugal, part of the European south, was a place for leisure, so too did Goa become a place for pleasure for the brown sahibs. If European elites went to the South of Europe for their leisure, so too would the Indian elites go to Goa, their piece of Europe, for leisure. In other words, post-colonial Goa was Europeanised to cater to the fantasies of the Nehruvian elites for whose consumption India was constructed.

The problem doesn’t end with just the elites, however, since what the elites do, the upwardly mobile follow. To demonstrate how the consumption of Southern Europe, and the concomitant production of oneself as European of western plays out I would like to offer an example from the city of Bangalore from about little less than a decade ago. Around this time, there were three different real-estate developers who were offering homes around Southern European themes. There were “large Spanish homes” at Mantri España, Purva Veneziainspired by the magical landscape of Venice", and another development that sought to sell property on the basis that it would feel like home to Vasco da Gama should be return to India.

Given that in our neo-liberal times work demands so much of us, the house is increasingly cast as the space of retreat, and leisure. In such a context, it makes sense that real estate developers would market their properties to the Indian upper middle class, who seek to be western, along lines that would make sense to westerners. Thus, where the house is a space of leisure, it follows patterns of leisure that would appeal to the Northern European. Translated into the Goan context, this ensures not only the hordes of Indian tourists, and the Indian middle class who want to buy homes in Goa, but also the pastiche architecture, with sloping roofs and faux-Iberian aspects. Because of Goa’s indigenous building traditions there is something vaguely local about this contemporary architecture, but its success lies in the fact that it appeals to vague Indian notions about what southern European architecture looks like.

Between the Nehruvian elites, and the upwardly mobile groups of contemporary India, Goa is up for grabs largely because it is a space where, thanks to whitewashed churches and the presence of Catholicism, these groups can pretend that they are in Europe, and play the European. While the Estado Novo may have been responsible for initially articulating this idea, it is the Indian regime, and the comprador class in Goa, that has done more for presenting Goa as Portuguese and European. As Dale Menezes has argued, this has been done largely to suit Indian interests than groups in Goa, the marginalized sections of which continue to languish without necessary attention, or respect.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 16 Oct 2015)

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