Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Monte Festival and how the Portuguese got it right

‘To many people in the official circles in Portugal,’ the informant whispered, ‘Goa is a bad word. They believe,’ he continued, ‘that they have burned their hands once too often.’ The reference was to the histrionics of this column’s favourites, the ‘freedom fighters’ and Hindu right-wing elements in Goa. But surely it takes two hands to clap? My own response was to fiercely (and somewhat triumphantly?) whisper back that ‘If they have burned their hands, it is because large sections of Portuguese officialdom have almost never gotten it right when dealing with Goa!’

This column has pointed out in earlier installations that the Portuguese nationalist element in fact supplements the Hindutva element in Goa as they work together (and always unwittingly) to screw things up in Goa.

To portray the ‘freedom fighters’ and the right wing elements as determined to protest every Portuguese event in Goa is not helpful. It is not helpful because by uniformly vilifying this group it shuts the space for dialogue. More importantly it prevents learning as to where we are making mistakes in the forging of a new post-colonial relationship between the two spaces. There have been some Portuguese sponsored events in Goa that have almost never been at the receiving end of negative attention from the champions of Hindutva. One such event is the annual Monte Music Festival conceptualized initially by Sergio Mascarenhas, then Delegate of the Fundação Oriente and supported by a host of local institutions.

This column has from time to time been charged with the mistake of over-reading issues, and this particular column may well possibly join that list of mistakes, but perhaps the risk is worth it. While the Hindutva gangs are a visceral threat to the people and peace of Goa, it is necessary to also see where they exercise restraint, so as to open up portals of understanding and dialogue.

When contacted personally after his participation in the episode where the visit of the Sagres was denounced in Vasco, one of the participants elaborated on the reason for his opposition. He pointed out that his opposition to the Sagres’ visit was motivated by the fact that the event of 1510 was sought to be commemorated by a unilateral celebration. There was no though given to a combined program that could revisit, or move on from 1510. The event required us only as audience, he suggested, not as equal participants. If the nature of his protest was entirely unacceptable, his observation was perhaps bang on target.

On this front the Monte Music Festival is a perfect example of what the Portuguese establishment could do to create a space for equal interaction. It does not unilaterally push ‘Portuguese culture’ but creates a platform where both ‘Indian’ and ‘European’ are put on proud display. Audiences for one genre, usually stay on for the performances of the other. The audience it creates then is the subject that Goan history has produced, an individual capable of transitioning between the worlds of the ‘East’ and the ‘West’.

The conceptualization of the Monte Music Festival used existing cliches of Goa as the ‘meeting space between the East and the West’ ‘Europe and India’. There is, it should be said, nothing wrong with clichés. As long as they do not suffocate other ways of thinking, they can be useful places to begin thinking from. The Monte festival is a wonderful example of how a cliché can be used to produce a valuable, and valued, cultural production. The problem however is when the cliché begins to limit rather than allow for elaboration. Thus for example, when we think of the ‘Indian’ segment of the Music festival, does it limit itself merely to India or to a wider ‘Indian’ sub-continental culture? The suggestion is that the Monte festival should actively think of including artistes and musicians from Pakistan and Bangladesh at the very least, if not from Nepal, and Afghanistan further afield. These spaces are not outside of the ‘Indian’ space. Not only do they share aspects of the same tradition, but continue to inflect the space of ‘Indian’ classical traditions. Consider for a moment, the fact that while actors from ‘Hindi’ films are wildly popular in Pakistan, a good number of Pakistani musicians and rock bands are wildly popular in India Republic. One particularly interesting example would be the productions from the Coke Studio in Pakistan. This project melds the ‘traditional’ classical traditions of Pakistan, with a range of contemporary and ‘western’ musical instruments and arrangements.

To make this suggestion of border-crossing to the Monte festival should not be seen as radical. The Western music presentations at the festival have often crossed political borders within Europe, and also presented, from time to time, American artistes specializing in ‘European’ classical music. To extend such political blindness to the Indian subcontinent would only go to enrich the offerings and value of the Monte festival.

Dialogue, it will be agreed, is much preferable to the option of standing on our little soap boxes and carving out audiences with defined boundaries. We are too small a people to be carved out into fields desired by the Hindutvawadis, and Catholic bigots. To recognize a point our ideological opponent is making could help toward emasculating the brigands on both sides and create more space for dialogue. After all, as the Monte festival annually indicates, dialogue creates such wonderful mo(ve)ments.

(This post was first published in the Gomantak Times 9 Feb 2011)

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