Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Booking A Trip to Goa 5 - Two Anthologies

Two Anthologies

As delightful reads as all the abovementioned books may be, they all suffer from one primary problem. They are told from the standpoint of the upper-caste Goan Catholic. Even Chakravarti’s story is told from this standpoint, and the biases and blind spots are obvious. If one wants to escape this prism and gain the flavour of a cross-section of Goan life experiences, then the choice would undoubtedly be the two anthologies on Goa, both published by Penguin.

Ferry Crossing

Short Stories from Goa, edited by Manohar Shetty, is the older of the two books and comprises a collection of 27 short stories from a wide gamut of literary Goans. The book’s USP is without doubt the fact that it has brought into English translation stories written in Goa’s many literary languages, besides English— Portuguese, Konkani and Marathi—and has as a result captured the inner rhythms of Goan life, which would perhaps be otherwise impossible. As captured in the blurb of the anthology, Ferry Crossing captures themes that vary from the touching naiveté of first love, a favourite trope of upper-caste writers in Konkani, as in Chandrakant Keni’s “Innocence”; to the humiliation of poverty, brought to the fore in Konkani by writers from Goa’s Bahujan Samaj, in this case represented by Pundalik Naik’s “The Turtle” and “When An Ass Mounts A Cow”; it frames the clash of egos among rural elite in a manner that Gip would have approved of, narrated here by Tivolem’s author Victor Rangel- Ribeiro in “Senhor Eusebio Builds His Dream House”; to a vignette in “Theresa’s Man” by that chronicler of South Goan catholic life, Damodar Mauzo.

Reflected In Water

Last, but most certainly not the last, on our list of recommended readings for that cerebrally exciting Goan holiday is Jerry Pinto’s Reflected in Water. Reflected as a book does just that, it reflects the many imaginings of Goa as they occur(ed) through time and space. The book has excerpts from a Dutch traveller in 16th century Portuguese-India, follows a modernday Indiana Jones on the trail of St. Francis Xavier, achieves contemporary brilliance as a book for including a graphic story that could emerge only from the mind of a Bombay Goan, and has oodles more stories, reflections and accounts of Goa. The book has precisely 44 contributions by a host of people who could have some claim of a relationship with Goa. Pinto, for sure, did not set out on a Holy Grail quest to distil all that was purely Goan, did not exclude the non-Goan from representing Goa, and made style and content the only criteria for inclusion in this book. For this reason, Reflected in Water is perhaps the best Goa gift you could give a friend.


Booking a Trip to Goa 4: Once Upon A Time In Aparanta

Once Upon A Time In Aparanta

In case you’re contemplating picking up Once Upon A Time In Aparanta for that definitive and authentic telling of the tale of Goan society, then put that book down at once! The book is no authentic teller of the society. It serves only to retell with some aesthetic merit the tropes of the Goan community already made familiar by third-rate Bollywood films. Thus you are treated to the murderous syllables that pass off as the English of a Konkani-speaking community, and cultural conventions that some Goans will have to search hard for. What this book does effectively do however, is present to the reader a pretty good telling of current conflicts by one of the many Indian flotsams that have drifted on to Goan shores. Sudeep Chakravarti, a neo-Goan with a history of journalism behind him, has used his talents to weave a story of what some are already describing as a low-intensity civil war taking place in Goa.

Aparanta has been hailed by some local activists as the story of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, the social front that was at the forefront of the opposition to the destruction of the Goan environment. As such, the book captures some of the dilemmas faced by Goa; of the inevitability of the sale of land that will soon end the magic that nature is able to weave in this space; it draws attention to the sins of the mining industry that daily rips at the belly and life-force of Goa, threatening drought with every passing day; and the anger “directed at everyone and everything—‘political worms, ore-sons and un-real estate developers’ and other conquistadors of Aparanta’s land.” This book highlights the injuries that have wounded Goa and Goans, an injury that increasingly manifests as xenophobia, but is really the confusion of a people being pushed steadily into poverty and uncertainty. While doing all of this though, Chakravarti has also managed to insert into his telling of the Goan story the bitter animosities that underlie Goan society, whether it is anti-Portuguese, anti-Konkani or pro-Marathi. While doing this, Aparanta also captures the fatality that is part of Goa’s ethos, that there is no future, all that is Goa was in the past. It is this fatality that is at the root of the many nostalgic writings one finds on Goa.

Booking a Trip to Goa 3 - Goa; A Daughter's Story

Part 3 of the originally single essay that appeared in the December issue of See Goa.

Goa: A Daughter’s Story

There were demands when Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy appeared in the bookstores, that it be sold with a statutory warning for those with weak wrists. A similar warning should be issued when recommending Goa: A Daughter’s Story for a read; the book is not as heavy as A Suitable Boy, but it still is one ferociously heavy tome!

Written by Maria Aurora Couto, when the book first came out in paperback, it proved to the world that there was a market for serious writing on Goa. It also sent every Goan bigname scurrying to the bookstore to figure if their family name figured in it (and Gip’s critique of Goan society was proved right!). It sold like hot cakes and that it has subsequently been reissued in paperback is a testament to its readability.

On the surface, A Daughter’s Story begins as the story of a daughter, namely Aurora, speaking of her father, who she clearly adored, and in later pages of her mother, by all accounts a strong woman. The book goes beyond this realm though and details the passionate relationship that Aurora has with her motherland as well. It documents the story of her relationship with the land and its waters, her arrival as the wife of an IAS officer soon after the Indian police action in 1961 that united Goa to the Indian Union. If Gip on the one hand was inordinately critical of the empty intellectual lives of his contemporaries, Couto exalts the same society for the manner in which it embraced intellectual currents from the West, the ideals of the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and incarnated them within Goan society. A Daughter’s Story is a wonderful way to engage with some of the debates that have seized Goan minds and will continue to dominate some of their conversations for a while.

Available in entirety at

Booking A Trip to Goa 2 - Tivolem

Part 2 of the originally single essay published in the December issue of See Goa


Tivolem is the name of another mythical Goan location, this time a village, and the name of Victor Rangel- Ribeiro’s novel capturing the workings of Goan village life. Set in the 1930s, the story revolves around the eventual romance between bachelor Simon Fernandes, a violinist and a retired civil servant from Kuala Lumpur, and 35- year-old Marie Santana, who returns from Mozambique to take care of her grandmother after her parents’ death.

The book is a nostalgic tract written by a Goan settled in New York and clearly yearning for an era that has passed and will never return. Yet, the book does not bore, like so many other books that attempt to capture this essence of Goan Catholic village life. Although it is unfairly skewed towards the characters that are rooted in the feudal order of the Goan Catholic world, that cannot be helped as the author himself belongs to that order and it is this order that has for better or worse captured the ‘right’ to define Catholic Goanness.

Booking a trip to Goa 1 - Jacob and Dulce

The December issue of See Goa carried my review of 6 books on Goa. I am including these reviews, one book per blog post (for easy reading). Happy Reading!

Booking a Trip to Goa
– jason keith fernandes

For those of you who are familiar to Goa, you will know that the Goan is always complaining that both Goa and the Goan are so keenly misunderstood. They will protest that in fact Goa is much more than the beach, and that the label of sun, surf and sand is but one small part of a larger, rich cultural mosaic. The next time you get down to Goa for that do-nothing-all-weekend holiday, do yourself and the Goan a favour: pick up one of the following books to get inside the workings of its society!

Jacob and Dulce

Written originally in Portuguese and only recently translated into English, Jacob and Dulce is perhaps the one book that must grace the bookshelf of every literate Goan or Goalover. The book, Originally presented to the world as short sketches that appeared in the newspaper, O Ultramar, in the 1890s, is a sharp and caustic take on the Goan society of the turn of the 19th century. Some Goans will insist that the social critique made in the 1890s hold good even today. Penned by one Francisco João da Costa under the pen name Gip, the book is set in the mythical Goan town of Breda. It documents the lives of Jacob, a young scion of a family of some means, and his wife Dona Dulce, and through the story of their wedding and life captures the workings of the world of the upper-caste Goan Catholic elite.

Given that da Costa was from Margao, and that the book captured a slice of urban life, many at the time of its publication were convinced that the book was a thinly veiled story of Margao. Persisting with this idea has its benefits, as it allows us the pleasure of actually recreating the life of those pretty homes around the Travessa of the Holy Spirit Church in that city.

Gip was not kind to his society though and lashed out against the vapid lives filled with (in his opinion) meaningless rituals that marked the existence of the social world of Jacob and Dulce. It is because he was attempting to critique his society right down to its very detail that Jacob and Dulce provides us a sharp sketch of what it meant to be this kind of Goan Catholic at the turn of the 19th century. Unlike the writings of later and contemporary writers, Gip was not afflicted by nostalgia and the desire to embellish, and this in itself makes for refreshing reading.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Violated Christmas: Of armed soldiers in Churches and the spirit of Christmas

Christmas eve midnight services in Churches across Goa this year were marked by the presence of police, armed soldiers, commandos and other paraphernalia suggesting a state of heightened security. What would a Christian response to the security arrangements have been and what were the options open to us?

Yearly we are reminded by the elders of our faith that the bulk of the word Christmas is formed by the alphabets spelling Christ. It is Christ and his message that must form the bedrock of our Christmas celebrations, and temper the physical and material aspects of the festival. It is then to this Christ, his message and the traditions of his Church that we must turn to when attempting to uncover a Christian response to this most uncommon of events.

If we regard the scene of the nativity in Bethlehem, two millennia ago, what we behold is a scene of stark vulnerability. God is born; not as man, but as a child, dependent on his impoverished parents, in a stable that relies as much on animal heat as it does on straw for warmth. This is a child born not in a time of peace and security but under the threat of death. And yet despite his options, Christ chose to be born not in a palace that would afford him the security of arms and soldiers, but in manger surrounded by human bonds that are the true foundation for the peace that he came to establish on earth. The presence of weapons and soldiers at the midnight services then, should be seen as an unwelcome and defiling presence to a moment necessarily dedicated to peace born from brotherhood and a voluntary adoption of vulnerability.

It was this conscious adoption of vulnerability again, and the conscious choice for death that motivated Christ to accept death on a cross. If Christmas is a time for spiritual renewal and the honing of the virtues of vulnerability and self-sacrifice, then once again, the presence of soldiers worked contrary to this spiritual exercise. Let us assume for a moment, that there was a genuine threat of attack on Christian congregations across Goa. Our presence, unarmed and without security would have been a conscious act of readiness for martyrdom, underlining the spirit of self-sacrifice which the Nativity was only the prelude to. Gandhi, though not Christian, is perhaps among the foremost of political Christians, offering a political agenda suffused with Christian ideals. The path of the satyagrahi, is the act of non-violent and conscious offering of our bodies to the aggressor; an act that simultaneously shames and converts the aggressor into the path of dialogue and permanent peace. It is the act of the Christian willing to be martyr, in imitation of Christ.

This Christian and satyagrahi option, in fact opens up a wide avenue to deal with the terrorism that is the scourge of our times. It offers a committed and non-comprising response to political and social violence. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much blood you are willing to shed, we will offer it up, unprotesting, without converse recourse to weaponry until you realize the futility of terror and violence. This option, that shuns automatic and explosive weaponry, opens up the path for dialogue and the breaking down of social barriers that at the end of the day cause the forms of terror that we have been witness to in recent times.

For a religion that encourages people to accept the crown of martyrdom, the presence of soldiers to prevent the possibility of that martyrdom was an abomination and an option for spiritual education sadly lost. The elders of the faith had a wonderful opportunity to offer the faithful the choice between the world (and its notion of security) and the faith. We had the option of not attending the midnight service if we chose the softer option. The Church failed in its duty of preventing this armed intrusion. In not making a symbolic act of rejecting the offer of such illusory forms of security, the Catholic community of Goa has lost a golden opportunity. For this loss, the spiritual leaders of the Church must necessarily reflect on this, their failure. Even more unfortunate, is that this community has in this act become complicit in the charade of the State. A charade that offers meaningless, token gestures that offer only an illusion of security. This tamasha does not provide any real security it merely strengthens the hands of a state that seeks more and more power while refusing to address the basic needs and problems of the people. In the face of the continuing struggle of the Goan people alone, this militarized offer of security ought to have been politely declined.

Clearly, the logic I offer does not fall into what one would call ‘rational’ and ‘practical’. However, I offer the suggestion that there are multiple realities available, depending on the position one chooses to adopt. When Christ was resurrected he inaugurated a new dimension in time and space. Indeed, while on earth he clearly indicated that his kingdom was not of this earth. In being members of his flock, we are invited to appreciate the reality of this alternate dimension, participate in its logic, and alternatively structure the reality offered to us by the State (and market). Both Christ and the early Christian tradition were very clear about the extent of the Christian’s relationship with the material world presided over by the State, a position aptly summed up in the phrase “unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’.

As the faithful proceeded to service at Don Bosco’s in Panjim, they silently fell into line in front of the lone metal detector. As they crossed that metal detector without complaint, into the grounds where a sacred service was to be held, they entered not the realm of space and time inaugurated by Christ, but the realm of fear, produced by the State. In this space security and liberation from fear came not from the path of Christ and the faith of his Church, but from the barrel of the gun. This Christmas then, our moral universe itself shifted over from the right hand of God, to the Right.

And yet, even if it would have liked to, would the Church have been able to say “No, thank you” to this offer of ‘security’ from the State?

It is likely that had the elders of the Church in fact taken this stand, it would have still been possible for the State to override the rejection arguing that this security must be put in place for the larger security of the State. This overriding would have resulted in the inability of the Church and Christians to spiritually engage, in the forms outlined in the arguments above, with the multiple forms of terror that are faced by society today. What this effectively translates to is the emptying out of our spiritual universe as a result of the actions of the State preventing a meaningfully engagement with a spiritual tradition. In such a scenario, as was played out this Christmas, the Christian tradition is severed from its spiritual realm and forced into merely a ritual and superficial performance of religiosity. Thus the Christian is produced not as a mystic, but as a member of a group that performs certain rituals, dress in a particular manner and who have certain common holidays. It is when religion is pushed into this secular and non-mystical form, that the trouble really begins to start, once more making a case against the Christmas tamasha that we were forced to be both actors of and audience to.

A Christian response to the ‘security’ arrangements in Churches this Christmas eve would have been to reject them in one voice. The alternative would have been to commit to the non-violent path toward dialogue and establishing the foundations for a society purged of social and political violence. Should our refusal have been over-ridden, it would have been incumbent on the preachers in every Church to denounce this unchristian act and urge a greater suspicion of the false promises of security offered to us by a State that seeks to induct us into its own notion of reality.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 31 Dec 2008)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Making Muslims Citizens

Proposing an agenda to incorporate the rhythms of Islam into Goan public life

What happened to the minor and female students of the residential school in Vasco last week was an act of State terror perpetrated by police officers of our State. Lame excuses have been proffered by the responsible officers, but they fail to impress and clearly elaborate what necessitated treating children, who were in no way responsible for the acts of the school authorities, like criminals. Not that the school authorities seem culpable. They have presented eminently plausible reasons, that refer to an existing understanding and cordial relationship that was rudely and violently interrupted on the 16th of December 2008.

It is because there seems to be no rational argument forthcoming from the police that this column will not dwell further on this instant case. It is on the episodes and issues thrown up in the aftermath of this incident that we could dwell on. Subsequent to the incident, the All Goa Muslim Jamaats held a press conference in Panjim. What emerged in stark relief was the large cultural (and informational) divide that separates the Goan (inclusive of the Indian) Muslim from the larger populace of the State.

When I speak of a divide, I am not referring to a Muslim refusal to be “more Goan”. On the contrary, a large number of the Muslims at that press conference were fluent in Konkani, some had worked for the state as high functionaries, and were definitely not the stereotypical bearded and capped Muslim. The divide if at all stemmed from the other side. This is the unfortunate truth of most calls to assimilation, all the effort has to be made from the minority that is being accommodated; the majority has to simply be its stubborn and provincial self, closed to any sort of cosmopolitanism.

For example, in the course of this press conference, one of the trustees of the school volunteered the information that the school that was being called a Madrassa was in fact not a madrassa, but a Dar-ul-uloom (Dar for place; al meaning of; and Uloom being the plural for Ilm, learning/ knowledge; therefore house of knowledges). The non-comprehension of the term was embarrassing enough; this was compounded by the subsequent flip-flopping by the trustee. Having revealed this new term, he failed to clearly elaborate what it meant, and went back to referred to the school as a madrassa, effectively confusing everyone in the audience now.

What possibly motivated this flip-flopping, this half-hearted volunteering of new terminology? The first, possible, and less charitable suggestion could be that this trustee himself was not particularly clear as to what he was suggesting to the audience. The second, more charitable, and in the larger scheme of things more plausible reason would be that even while volunteering, he didn’t actually believe that there would be an audience interested in knowing the difference between a madrassa, and a dar-ul-uloom, and just gave up before he even began.

The point that I would like to make here, is that if we are to make Muslims equal partners in our society, and effective citizens of our purportedly secular state, we need to make efforts to understand the cultural frameworks and references of the multiple Muslim communities of our State (and country). In more programmatic terms, the challenge before us is also to inquire as to how we can incorporate the rhythms of Islam into our public life.

The task before us may not be as difficult and impossible as it may possibly seem. The periods of the Sultanate and that subsequent to the Portuguese conquest of Goa have marked our society profoundly with an Islamicate culture. Whether it is the Konkani we use that is peppered liberally with words of Persian and Arabic origin, some of the social mores of our land, the architecture that we proudly call Indo-Portuguese (as code for Hindu-Catholic); we are a people profoundly marked by an interaction with Islamicate cultures. We fail to see this, first because these features are such an integral part of our lives, and secondly because the representations of Goa have overly focused on the ‘European’ Portuguese, and when focusing on pre-Portuguese have erased the Islamicate, to focus only on the Sanskritic aspects of that time. A more balanced focus would reveal to us the ties that bind us with people who profess Islam as a faith.

This however is an intervention required at the level of ideas, the impact of which will take time to be felt. The more immediate requirement is to incorporate the rhythms of Islam into our public life. In this regard, as a supreme example of failure, my thoughts go back to a lecture-discussion I had organized titled “Rethinking Secularism” on a day that happened to be the last Friday of Ramzan. Given that the last Friday of Ramzan is a particularly significant day in the holy month it was not the most sensitive choice of dates. To his credit, we did have a lone Muslim in the audience, but shamefully, we had made no preparation either to help him break his fast (a glass of water) or to set aside a space for silent prayer subsequent to his breaking the fast. Such acts should not be seen as extravagant. They are only as extravagant as the act of pausing mid-sentence when the church bells ring for Angelus, or providing a vegetarian option at festive banquets.

An agenda of incorporating the rhythms of Islam does not necessarily have to be tied to incorporating and making space only for religious practices of Muslims. However, in the scenario, where large numbers of Muslims have been forced into the fold of religious practices and rituals as a result of a hostile state and society, making these moves would serve to in fact buttress the secular credentials of the Indian republic. Having suggested this though, this agenda must necessarily include extending our cultural space to include cultural, literary references that move beyond the tiring repetition of the image of Mosques, and bearded and capped men hugging each other. This cliché will however be broken only when we explore our own personal and domestic cultures and realize within them the debts we owe to our forgotten and ignore Islamicate pasts.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 24 Dec 2008)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

After Bombay...

In the name of security our State could now take liberties with our…Liberty

Among the many stories that the Puranas contain, one tells us of the mythical churning of the ocean of milk. A task taken up by the Gods and the Demons, the process released a host of products, good and beneficial; and the bad and harmful. The violent episode in Bombay will perhaps be assigned a similar status in the mythology of the early 21st Indian century. An event of significant proportions, it has and will no doubt continue to, release both the good and the bad, even as its significance will either blown out of proportion, or sought to be placed in context.

Among those seeking to blow the event out of proportion are the forces of the Right, of which most of the news media are proving to be the vanguard. They argue that the episode in Bombay constitutes India’s 9/11. Amitav Ghosh in an op-ed in the New York Times has convincingly argued that we should dismiss this hype. The event was painful, but not 9/11, since the number of dead in NYC far exceeded those killed, and unlike the US, India has seen large massacres of the kind we saw in Bombay. (We cannot forget the massacres of Partition; the anti-Sikh riots; the anti-Muslim pogroms, most significantly those in Gujarat; the violence against Christians most recently; the displacement of tribal and rural peoples sometimes twice in a single generation; and never for a moment forgetting the daily violence visited on India’s dalit peoples). To put this event in perspective, a great number of persons have written essays and comments, indicating that while the violence and death that Bombay saw was shocking and calls for soul searching, we have to also remember that in addition to this violence, the vast multitude of India’s citizens suffer daily terror attacks, most often than not from the forces of their own State.

The desire to pin down the carnage in Bombay as India’s 9/11 speaks of at least two tendencies. The first, as already suggested, is to blow this one event entirely out of proportion. This desire stems primarily from the shock value that must necessarily be drummed up if television channels are to hold us enthralled, even as they continue to beam advertisements and whet our appetite for continued consumption. The bottom line basically reads; No drama, no consumption!

The other more disturbing tendency is the desire to use this event to demand for war on Pakistan, harsher laws for ‘terrorists’, and greater security and surveillance. Goa has seen a number of meetings hysterically demanding war on Pakistan. While we cannot ignore these calls, we are better served dismissing these calls, and sending these ‘patriots’ off to the loony bin for at least two reasons. The fools have no real clue what war means, and are highly unlikely to even serve if this war is initiated. Secondly, India is better served encouraging the democratic forces in Pakistan now struggling to recover from a military dictatorship. If the fool-hardy invasion of Iraq (and other countries by the US) has taught us anything, it is that invasions entirely preclude the possibility of encouraging the establishment of a democratic polity.

If this first demand does not (if we are lucky) materialize, it appears that the second and the third options most certainly will. The sensationalist media coverage that milked this tragedy has indicated that the Indian powder-puff elite are quite willing to allow for the setting up of a police state, if it will allow them to continue to live their ivory-tower (read 8-storey apartment building) existence. Indeed, as the differences between the ultra-rich and the poor in India grow wider, we will need more and more policing to maintain a semblance of law and order in this country.

A concerted effort is on right now to convince the average citizen that she is better off with harsher anti-terror laws and greater surveillance. Nothing could be further from the truth. The average citizen stands only to loose from this new-found security obsession. Greater powers to the police, harsher anti-terror laws and greater surveillance allow police and military force unrestricted power over suspects. It is not the terrorist that is the subject of most of these laws, but the suspect. As our experience in a number of recent cases has shown, all too often the suspect turns out innocent. Take for example the almost 100 odd people rounded up in Chimbel and Vasco. What was their crime? Nothing! They were rounded up merely on suspicion and not carrying identity papers. The harsher laws that are being called for really amount to an invitation for the abuse of human rights, and a persecution of citizens who are often time raising valid grievances.

The heightened security and surveillance that we see building up around us, are at the end of the day, useless and pointless. They serve only an aesthetic function; they assure us that we are being looked after. The price for this feeling, is the giving up of our freedoms. Take the example of the recently concluded IFFI. Post Bombay security was beefed up, but it was still possible for a host of people to slip inside of the festival arena without flashing their delegate card. The real impact of these efforts become clearer if one realizes that in the US of A and Europe, despite bomb scares and attacks, people are still allowed to walk in and out of airports, unlike in India, where a valid ticket holder is for some strange reason prevented from leaving the airport terminal once she has gotten in. what purpose does this serve? No logical reason, except to enforce a general paranoia, control the citizen, and show them that the State is in control. The exercise in Chimbel and Vasco represent the efforts of an ineffectual and illegitimate Government trying to pretend that it has everything under control. Since the persons rounded up are ‘small people’ no one is really going to complain.

The security of the people of India are better served if we pull our collective heads out of the sands we have stuck them in and question the State of our Republic. Is the average citizen truly being served by the State? Or is the State merely securing the interests of a small segment of the population? Why are there angry protests all over India, demanding not a harsh state, but a state that provides employment, that does not gobble up livelihood resources? What is the Indian State doing to ensure that minority groups ranging from Mulism, Christian to Dalit feel secure in a country that seems increasingly to not care about their security?

It is when we answer these questions, and redress the grievances of the majority of India’s population, that we will be able to stem the tide of violence that is continuing to grow in our country.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, December 11, 2008)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Another Film Festival: Random Notes from the Goan Peoples’ Film Festival

Forgive me if I sound triumphalist over the successful conclusion of the Panjim leg of the Goan Peoples’ Film Festival. The Festival was held to protest the silence with which the Goan State has been treating the various memoranda and questions of the Ganv Ghor Rakhon Manch (GGRM) pertaining to the continuing rise of speculative real-estate projects, and the State’s lack of commitment to participatory planning that is the first demand of the Goan people.

The Festival was accomplished under handicaps of various sorts. The first of these was that of time. We contemplated this move of drawing attention to the abuses of the Goan State (and administration) only on the fifth of November. And yet despite this late decision the response that we had from people both in Goa and the rest of India was overwhelming. While the support in Goa was understandable, it was the support from India that was truly heart-warming. Directors from across the country, at a moment’s notice couriered films to us, sending messages of support and solidarity. If one of the aims of the Festival was to draw Indian attention to the Goan struggle, then in some measure the Festival succeeded in drawing national attention to our cause.

The relationship between India and Goa was one that featured in some of the discussions at the Festival. There were some, myself included, who feel that the dominant relationship between India and Goa is in fact a colonial one. It is a colonial relationship when it comes to viewing Goa as a holiday destination (India’s holiday state as NDTV once put it) for the country; and as another space for exploitation (of mineral resources) where the voices of the local people don’t really matter.

And yet these voices, didn’t call for a Goan nationalism, but rather an articulation of a healthier relationship with India, based on democratic and constitutional norms. To do this however, we recognized that we will have to rearticulate not only the manner in which the Goan economy is currently structured, but also the mythologies of our State.

When speaking of restructuring mythologies, it was suggested that we also need to think in terms of restructuring geography. It is not just in Portuguese-Indian mythology that Goa is seen as a land apart. The whole Parashuram myth also sees Goa, as the land beyond the end. New (and this emphasis on ‘new’ needs to be noted) land that was created for invaders (migrants?) from the North. Mythologies of other groups would show us connections of the land we now call Goa, with Bijapur, with the Deccan and the Kanara coast, that link us in organic ways with India. Routes that don’t push us into self-isolating insularity.

Another way we can connect with the India, along democratic and constitutional norms, is in finding our own voice, among the voices of resistance in India. The insular position that Goa (and Goan causes) find themselves in, is also the result of a certain patriarchal provincialism that sees nothing in common with Goa. As such, one heard the question, but what do these documentaries have to do with Goa? The answer was aptly given by Ramesh Gauns after watching Rakesh Sharma’s ‘Aftershocks: The Rough Guide to Democracy’ that dealt with the fate of villagers displaced to allow for lignite mining. “I felt I was watching not Gujarat but Goa!” Ramesh Gauns would know what he is talking about he has been at the mining issue for a while now.

Yet another parallel between the Indian experience and the Goan, came across after watching ‘India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart’. The film dealt with the experiences of Dalits across various parts of India. Dadu Mandrekar, another persistent voice, this one dealing with Dalit issues, was visibly moved by the film. It is a mistake to presume that we in Goa do not suffer from the kinds of violences that are meted out to Dalits in other parts of India. These do exist, but are very effectively silenced. It is possible that these violences may be limited to small sections of our territory but the daily experience of humiliation by upper-castes is an undeniable fact. And at the end of the day, who am I to judge if your humiliation is greater to or less than the humiliation of some other person. Humiliation is humiliation, period.

Engaging with the resistance in India, will allow us in Goa to nuance the arguments that we present to the opposition here in Goa. It will open up newer options for us, options that we in our small society, oftentimes dare not dream of.

The smallness of our society was cause for another one of the handicaps that the Festival had to deal with. ‘Why do you want to do it alongside IFFI?’ ‘Are you hosting a parallel film festival?” “Why! What will the Government say?” Indeed, one of the supporters to the Festival threatened to pull out at the last moment fearing a souring of their relationship with the State if they helped in hosting a parallel film festival.

These responses and the fear of this particular supporter speaks volumes about the Goan state-society relationship. We are willing to go only so far and no further in offending the State and threatening the socio-economic elites that support and benefit from it. It is the size of the Goan territory and its elite that allows this almost tyrannical situation to continue. Tyrannical because when no one is willing to break the conspiracy of silence, tyranny is the only situation that comes to mind. Once more it is in joining forces with a larger Indian resistance to State, corporate and elite tyranny, that we in Goa stand a better chance.

The Goan Peoples’ Film Festival ended its screenings in Panjim yesterday, and will now reconvene in Colva to allow the dialogue initiated in Panjim to continue. If you are even vaguely interested in the issues on the boil in Goa, you would do well to visit the Festival!

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 26th Nov 2008)