Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Carnaval of Goa

A friend remarked a few days following her religious marriage ceremony, that the legal registration of the marriage notwithstanding, were it not for the rituals of the ceremony, she would not have felt married. In making that innocent remark about her wedding, she made a profound point on the importance of ceremonies, rites of passage and festivals in our lives. These rituals are not just meaningless remnants from the past. On the contrary by participating in them, they form us into different beings, give us different personas, sometimes temporarily, in the course of a festival- like the Carnaval; at times permanently, like the wedding ceremony of my friend.

The Carnaval is a great example of the power of the symbolic to transform us. The Carnaval having both pagan and Christian roots performed a vital societal function year after year. It allowed for a period when the normal was suspended and inverted. For five whole days the rules of the everyday were (and are suspended) to allow a general free-for-all normally unthinkable. In allowing for this possibility, not only does it allow for society to blow off steam, but at the same time underlines a single fact. These five days of Carnaval are the exception, not the norm, and it is because of the exception, that the norm is possible. In other words, the justices and injustices of every day life are made possible, primarily because of the existence of Carnaval when the normal is abandoned. It is the exception that proves the rule.

What happens then when the exception is transformed into the norm? Goa offers an excellent example, where the Carnaval that operated as an exception has been made the norm. Year after blessed year the theme of a Carnaval Goa was repeated at the Republic Day parade to the extent that when the definitely serious Film festival was brought to Goa, a second Carnaval was produced to lend an ‘authentic’ ‘Goan’ flavour to the event. The result? Goa is now seen as the land of the eternal Carnaval, where every day of the 365 is a holiday. This may have a certain immediate economic impact in terms of creating Goa as an instant holiday destination, but contemplate the more serious long term economic implications.

Almost a year ago, when I began this column I suggested that the Goa would never be able to develop a serious IT or other industry because of the seriously cultivated image for Goa as a holiday paradise. Imagine my horror when I lived through the following episode. A friend recently retired as CEO of a substantial financial company was offered by one of the larger American animation companies, the option of taking charge of the 20 odd acres of land they held in Goa to set up their Indian base of operations. Their logic was that they would be able to use the Goan environment and lifestyle to attract persons from across India and the globe in setting up their India base of operations. This idea was quickly shot down by this former CEO who pointed out that people go to Goa to relax and unwind. They did not and would not come to work. Two, the Goan is an entirely unreliable individual, given to merrymaking, s/he did not work either. Thus was shot down a very real chance of Goa hosting a serious technology industry thanks to its party image. An image that I am trying to indicate was mistakenly pulled out from being an exception to being the norm. He made another point though that those supporting the IT Parks in Goa should bear in mind. “You could” he told the company “have a centre where you have refresher courses for your employees”. In other words use Goa for what it is best used for, a chill out zone.

Carnaval played another crucial role it created the space and environment for the mob. A mob given to merry-making and not random acts of violence no doubt, but a mob nevertheless. In doing so, it also created the space for civil society, the opposite of the mob, the space for the conscious citizen where matters are discussed and debated.

Contemplate once more the environment created by the Film Festival as crowds and mobs are created through the street fair that is timed with the Film festival. What is the reason for a street carnaval timed at the exact moment of a serious film festival? First it befuddles the mind of the individual into thinking that they are participating in the film festival, when in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. What is being done to them is to dumb them down. The street party offered during the time of the Film festival is better suited to Carnaval time, which is the appropriate moment for the mob. Extending this Carnaval atmosphere to a time that should be devoted to the refinement of one’s aesthetics only serves to disprivilege this entire pursuit through which one broadens ones imagination to participate in public life more effectively.

But perhaps this is the intention of the State. A State that is more inclined to cultivate a mob that it can then unleash when it so requires. An electorate that has been conditioned to see State action as the effective and continuous provision of Carnaval. This could explain the sorry state of Goan politics. Finally the creation of a mob justifies greater State control and intrusion in our lives. With every passing year as the street fair outside grows louder and larger, the security within the Festival goes stricter and stricter. This is not a coincidence. The two exist only because of each other.

There is a time and place for everything we were advised when we were children. One is never too old to reflect on the wisdom of that idiom and perhaps it is not as yet too late to put Carnaval back into its true space and context and in doing so set things right again. Viva Carnaval!
(published in the Gomantak Times, 21 Feb 2007)

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