Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Carnaval and Citizenship: Capturing the streets without barricades

Year after year, since I began this column, I would, around this time of the year, dutifully trot out a column dedicated to Carnaval. The column would try to contemplate the political significance of Carnaval, gesturing toward its radical potential in overturning norms that normally mark the status quo. Even today, as I think about it, in a severely hierarchical society like India, including Goa, the spring festivals of Holi and Carnaval provide a welcome release for those who have to through the year suffer the insufferable.

This year brings different emotions however, born no doubt from my presence in a different context. This year, I find myself in a city where a number of us would believe that our Carnaval practices were born. As yet, this has to be the most lackluster Carnaval I have had in years. Perhaps we can put it down to the fact of rain that seems to pour down interminably. Carnaval to my mind is necessarily a tropical feast. The cold, frigid rains of northern climes do not sit well with my imagination of the feast. Or it could be the fact that there has not as yet been a public parade like I am used to in the land of my birth. Be that as it may, so far this year, at the time of the writing of this column, Carnaval sucks.

But this is a good emotion; this disenchantment. The disenchantment is

a good emotion because it provides another position from which to think this entire festival through. For a number of us Goans, Carnaval is a time not only of wild celebration, but a time of lament as well. We gather to celebrate and lament the better times that were had before. As I lament this year, for entirely different reasons than the passing of good times, I ask myself if Carnaval has not gained the significance that it does because it is a primarily a time when we mourn something besides the past.

As I have mentioned before, the point of Carnaval is to invert dominant morality for ever so short a period. The Goan Carnaval, however much we may lament the passing of its great age, does invert a morality. It inverts the sanctimonious morality that comes along with the Indian State. Whether this is done to boost the inflow of the tourist rupee or not, the call to inversion allows Goans to flood the streets, drink and dance. In doing so, with the Carnaval parades, with the dances, the drinking, the intruz, they do something that would ordinarily be quite unthinkable. In doing this however, they also celebrate the possibility of a Republic that might have been.

But this articulation of a desired citizenship is no simple articulation of a Goan consciousness. It is part nostalgia; partly fed by the nervousness of a insecure Catholic minority; and partly conceived through the Goan State’s own construction of the Goan identity. Whether we like it or not, the construction of the idea of Goa has critically impacted on Goans, regardless of whether they are Catholic, or Hindu.

There is no other reason that I can think of to explain the gusto with which most Goans I know reach out to use the Carnaval to wear saris and dance in the street, to get on to ridiculous floats, to shave their legs, to capture the street in a couple of brief gaudy hours. What is going on is nothing less than at attempt to assert the possibility for another kind of citizenship that the kind that is currently on offer.

I understand citizenship as the complex of relationships between citizen and State. This bond encompasses a number of relationships that include the political, moral and cultural. It is embodied in the manner in which certain things are allowed, and certain things disallowed. The manner in which you may behave in public, and ways in which you may not. Ways in which political leaders may behave and ways in which they may not.

Take a closer look at the occurrences in Goan public life, and you will realize that since the start of our post-colonial existence, we have constantly been attempting to define the nature of citizenship in this tiny space. The dynamics of this relationship are to be sure over-determined by the inertia of the Indian political system within in which we operate, but between the spaces of the framework there are multiple attempts to configure the dynamics of citizenship in Goa.

The Bahujan Samaj’s bid for Marathi and merger, the ramponcars movement in the 80s, the definition of Goan identity primarily around Konkani, the demand for the recognition of the Roman script for Konkani. In more recent times we have sought to define Goan identity to include a definite spatial aesthetic. Urban design, as I have argued in earlier columns, encompasses definite social relations. We now demand a ‘Special Status’ for Goa. Look closely and away from the immediate issue and you will see that what underlies all these issues is a desire to cast Goan citizenship in very definite ways. There are social movements in many other states in this country. Yet I wonder if they blossom with such frequency in other places, as they do in Goa.

Carnaval is one such time when this desire to recast citizenship is expressed. Not necessarily by all, but definitely some definite segments of our population. This column will be published only after the fires of our desires have been put to ashes. And yet, who knows, some day those fires will burn long enough to brand the world around us? One only hopes that it will reforge the bonds of citizenship with a tendency towards greater equality, rather than the tendency toward autochthony that we so increasingly see.

Viva Carnaval!

(A version of this blog was first published in the Gomantak Times, 17 Feb 2010)


Holi image from

1 comment:

Vasquito said...

you have hit the nail on the head. i think everyone should read this article and if they understand it lament what should have would have and could have been
viva carnaval(whatever is left of it)