Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Is Camões Goan?

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion on Goan literature in Portuguese. Central to that discussion was the question of defining a canon of Goan literature in Portuguese. For example, where would the history of such a literature begin from? Who could be considered Goan for the purposes of constructing such a history? In the course of these discussions, a question was half-jocularly posed: could Camões be considered Goan?

Luis Vaz de Camões is considered the national poet of Portugal because he authored the famed epic poem Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads). Camões’ narrative in this poem inserts the actions of the Portuguese and especially those involved in the ‘Discoveries’ into the form of classical Greek myths.

Azulejos Diptych "ShakenNotStirred", FrisoWitteveen

Despite the fact that Camões’ name was proposed half in jest, the suggestion was seized by a number of us with enthusiasm. Indeed Camões should be considered Goan! Not only was Camões a resident of the city of Goa for a long time, spending, according to Landeg White, a translator of Camões, about “fifteen years in Goa and beyond”,  but parts of the poem were certainly written while the author was resident in the city. Indeed, White argues that it was his time in Goa that forced Camões to turn from being a conventional poet of his time and experiment with different forms of expression. It was his time in Goa, therefore, that turned him into the towering literary figure that he is. Knowing that Camões initially came to Goa as a conscript into the army I have my own image of the man. The life of the common soldier in Goa was not a comfortable one. In fact, many of them lived in poverty, which was, no doubt, the reason for them to often desert the Portuguese army and find better options in the armies of the Sultanates around the Estado da India. In their state of poverty these soldiers are reported to have taken on lifestyles not very different from the locals. I'd like to think that like other soldiers Camões too abandoned heavy European clothing for hanging about in a caxtti and drinking water not from a cup but pouring it into his mouth from a jug. 

But it is not just
Camões life in Goa that it critical to the argument. There is also the fact of the afterlife of the Lusiadas.The poem was read by people in Goa, and, as O Vaticinio Do Swarga, the recent response to Camões by Prof. Ave Cleto Afonso, so clearly demonstrates, the text continues to have an audience in the territory. For these reasons, we argued, Camões is Goan.

We hardly expected a vigorous rebuttal to this idea, but there was one. “Camões is Goan?” cried a Portuguese national who was part of the discussion. “But that is insane! Camões is Portuguese! If Camões is Goan merely because he passed through, then surely Richard Burton [the English writer who while resident in India journeyed through Goa and penned a much reviled text on the territory] is Goan, and Rudyard Kipling Indian!” they asserted.

I have to confess that I was a little surprised by this response. To my mind the script was fairly simple. Racism was the defining feature of modern imperialism.  Human populations were marked off into different races, and some races seen as less capable than others. It was on the basis of this racial difference that some groups were seen as incapable of self governance. Because of this logic, postcolonial justice would rest on the rejection of racism, the welcoming of subjugated groups into governance, and the assertion of universal values. Of course, this has not been the trajectory of postcolonial justice and the post-colonial order has been marked by the sly assertion of racism. Thus, universalism is rejected as the decolonized states have been marked off as the national homes of different racialised groups. It is only such a logic that would ensure that both the former colonizers as well as the formerly colonized would deny the South Asian identities of Camões and Kipling.

This equation can be put another way by using a gustatory metaphor of anthropophagy that I have used once before. Colonialism is often critiqued on the basis that the colonizers consumed the natural resources of the colonies while impoverishing the colonized in the process. This consumption was not merely economic alone, however. There was also a cultural dimension. There can be no denying that both the British and the Portuguese were profoundly marked by the fact of their dominance of the colonies and imperial territories. Words like chintz, canja, pyjama, curry (caril in Portuguese), chutney, shampoo, and many others stand testimony to the fact that the British and the Portuguese were also profoundly marked by their consumption of the colonies. Thus, if colonialism was marked by the consumption of the imperial territories, postcolonial justice, or vengeance if you like, would lie in the reciprocal consumption of the Portuguese or the British. Thus, where the Portuguese insist that Camões is theirs alone, the Goan response should ideally be to assert that Camões was also Goan. It is when the former colonizer is denied the opportunity to be the sole signifier of symbols that postcolonial justice is truly achieved.

But my argument is not merely about vengeance. Rather it is about recognising the need for complex political moves if we are to assert universality of values and the equality of peoples. Take, for example, the case of Her Imperial Highness Victoria, former Empress of India who is remembered by the people of the Gangetic basin as Rani Toodiya. Rani Toodiya is not merely a foreign queen, but in fact used by unlettered North Indians as a marker of times when there was justice for the common man. This is not nostalgia for colonial times, but in fact a pronouncement on the moral corruption of our times. As in the case of Toodiya, so it should be for Camões.

Returning to the arguments of those who rejected Camões’ Goan identity by asking if Kipling could be considered Indian, my response would be that it is precisely the denial of our complex histories, such as Kipling’s Indian identity, that we in contemporary India are witness to the horrible politics of almost genocidal erasures of communities and their cultures. The weird and twisted politics of our times is not just the result of wicked Hindu nationalists, but in fact produced through the oftentimes innocent attempts by post-colonial scholars and subjects. These individuals seek to create a space for the native and the indigenous and in erasing the complexities of our history lay the basis for the politics of corporeal erasures that we are witness to today. A fine example of these naive politics are the recent changes of the names of cities in India away from their colonial era names. The fixing  of only one vernacular name for the city as the official title of the city  have effectively delegitimized the lives of those communities who were birthed in the colonial period and follow lifestyles associated with those times.

Given that politics must be marked by ideas and actions I would recommend that the claiming of Camões by Goans and the project of consuming the Portuguese and denying them a monopoly on signifying could begin with a simple act. Sometime in 1960 a humongous statue of Camões was erected in Old Goa. This statue was subsequently blown up by “freedom fighters” in 1980 when Portugal was celebrating the fourth centenary of Camões’ death.  We need to recognise that this act was a mistake and replace Camões back in the spot that originally held his statue. This is one act would allow us to reclaim Camões as ours and in doing so recognise that while the man is Portuguese, he is also undeniably Goan.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 27 Dec 2016)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When should we celebrate Goa?

Sixteen years ago a group of Goans under the banner World Alliance of Goan Associations proposed that August 20 be celebrated as World Goa Day. The idea was to have a single day when Goans spread across the globe could celebrate their culture and heritage. Over time this idea has gained currency and has come to be adopted by Goan associations across the globe.

The logic for choosing August 20 as a day to celebrate Goanness was based on the fact that this was the day in 1992 when the Constitution (Seventy-first Amendment) Act, 1992, was passed in the Lok Sabha with the aim of including Konkani, among other languages, into the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. The Eight schedule of the Indian constitution lists the number of languages in India that have the status of official language and are entitled to support from the state for their development.

As is well known the status of Konkani holds much emotive appeal for Goans. Konkani emerged as one of the markers of a Goan identity soon after the annexation of Goa to India. Over the years much sweat and tears, not to mention blood, were shed to ensure the official recognition of Konkani as an independent language. These efforts ensured that Konkani would be recognized as the sole official language within the territory of Goa on February 4,1987, and then as an official language of the Indian Union in 1992.  For many Goans, especially those closely associated with the Konkani language movement, 20 August, was the day when they felt that their labours had come to fruition.  For example, speaking at the Konkani Rastramanyathay Dis (Konkani National Recognition Day) organised by the Goa Konkani Akademi (GKA) in 2008, Pundalik Naik, then President of the GKA suggested that this was the day when, after presumably feeling like a second-class citizen of the country, he felt himself a full citizen of India. Naik adduced as proof of this status the fact of the Konkani language was subsequently printed on the Indian Rupee note.

This extension of official status to Konkani has not been without its problems, however. The Official Language Act (OLA) of Goa specifically recognizes only Konkani in the Devanagari script. Within Goa this has meant that it excludes recognition and support of Konkani in the Roman script. Given that the Antruzi variant of Konkani has been promoted by such bodies as the GKA, this has meant the exclusion from state patronage of other variants such as Bardezi and Saxtti. What official inclusion of Konkani has meant, therefore, is the extension of full citizenship status not to all Konkani speakers, but only some Konkani speakers. Given that the Roman script is largely used by bahujan Catholic groups in Goa the exclusion effectively translates into a casteist and sectarian exclusion of a good majority of Goans from full citizenship.

The exclusion that obtains in Goa is even more explicit at the national level where there are allegations that the OLA has been used as the basis by the Konkani Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi to exclude patronage to the multiple scripts (Kannada, Malayalam, Perso-Arabic) in which Konkani is also written.

The celebration of Konkani as a marker of Goanness is, therefore, not without some irony. The Konkani that is allegedly the basis of Goan identity is not the Konkani that is celebrated by the State of Goa, and India. There are also other problems with celebrating Konkani as the basis of Goanness given that many bahujan Hindus would argue that their preferred language is Marathi, and not Konkani. Despite the fact that Marati is given secondary status in the OLA, they resent this fact and demand co-equal status for Marathi. In making this argument they have a point. The OLA not only gave secondary status to Marathi, but also ignored other languages of Goa, namely Portuguese, Deccani Urdu, Gujarati and English in addition to Romi Konkani. In many ways this Act was a regressive action and offered Goans a parochial vision of themselves. It is for these reasons that I would argue that celebrating language as the basis of the Goan identity is extremely flawed and that we need to look for another date to celebrate World Goa Day.

One such possible date would be November 25, the day when in the year 1510 Afonso de Albuquerque was able to decisively win and keep the city of Goa. As a contemporary territory, Goa commences its legal history from this date, when Albuquerque captured the city of Goa. It was from this date that the city of Goa was established as a city-state, and grew from this small territory to the boundaries it currently occupies. As has already been pointed out language is a problematic basis on which to build Goan identity, and is not the link that binds Goans, given we speak multiple languages. What binds Goans together is our common legal history which is what makes us distinct from others in the subcontinent and has given us so much of our distinctive character. Indeed, the contemporary presence of Goans overseas and our cosmopolitan character is in great part the result of our inclusion into the Portuguese state, which continues to this day to give us the option of citizenship.

The city-state of Goa was not built only by the Portuguese, but with continuous Goan support. Albuquerque had made an earlier attempt in February 1510 but was subsequently expelled from the city by the forces of Bijapur to whom the city belonged.  On both occasions Albuquerque was supported by local forces, who continued to support the Portuguese state until sometime before Goa’s integration into India in 1961.

While the butt of much Indian nationalist and post-colonial savarna invective, Albuquerque laid the foundations for a political order that Goans of various class and caste backgrounds have been able to use to their own advantage.  With the introduction of Christianity, and a regime of citizenship, a political order was created that has allowed for much social mobility. While caste continues to mark Goan, and Goan Catholic society, Portuguese and Catholic intervention substantially reduced its bite and offered to marginalized castes a mobility impossible under other regimes.

Subsequent to his conquest of the city of Albuquerque also initiated a project where he had the widows of the murdered Muslim occupants of the city of Goa marry Portuguese soldiers and then provided these couples with property. Many credit the offspring of these marriages as the founder of the descendentes, a particularly powerful social group in colonial Goa. Under normal circumstances such a creation of a mixed population would have been lauded as the basis of a national identity. Unfortunately, however, because of the brahmanical biases of post-colonial historiography of Goa the history of this group has largely been blanked out of Goan history, making us poorer for it. Celebrating this group would give Goanness a truly cosmopolitan character, instead of the narrow, nativist focus that currently obtains.

A nativist celebration of Goa that limits itself to Konkani alone is of no use particularly to Goans settled abroad. With every passing generation settled abroad it becomes obvious that Goanness is not about Konkani alone, but about something much more. It is about a way of being in the world. This self fashioning is the product of a process that was set in motion on November 25 1510. Recognising this fact would allow for the resolution of a lot of inter-generational angst allowing us to remember that not all is lost if younger generations don’t speak Konkani. November 25 is a significant day because this is the day that made Goa, and thence this is the day when we should celebrate Goa.

November 25 is a significant day because this is the day that made Goa, and thence this is the day when we should celebrate Goa.

(A version of this text was first published in the O Heraldo on 29 Nov 2016)

Monday, October 24, 2016

The idyll that never was: Goa and the Indian elites

It was with anger and disbelief that I read Deepti Kapoor’s recent article in The Guardian titled “An idyll no more: why I’m leaving Goa”. While there is no denying that Goa is in fact facing a looming ecological and political crisis, what is galling is that Kapoor does not acknowledge her own role in the mess that Goans find themselves in. Kapoor is silent about the privilege that she enjoys – the privilege of the (largely North) Indian elites, who dominated British India, led the anti-colonial nationalist movement, and who now operate as the embodiment of colonial power in places like Goa. This is precisely the relationship that is to blame for the many ills that Kapoor documents, and that allows Kapoor to escape Goa with relatively no loss, while Goans are left not only with a ruined ecology and social fabric but a continuing brutal colonial relationship with India.

The relationship of the Indian elites to Goa is by no means innocent. For that matter, neither is the relationship of India to Goa. Rather, these relationships are built on the willful ignoring of history, to enable Indians to create Goa and Goans not only as property of the Indian empire but as a pleasure park where they can imagine themselves to be in their own little part of Europe. Take, for example, the way in which Kapoor chooses to label older houses in Goa “Portuguese villas” despite the fact that many Goans, including scholars, have pointed out that there is nothing Portuguese to these homes. Except for the fact that they were built by Goans, who were Portuguese citizens at the time, these were, and are, Goan homes. The reason for this stubborn insistence is linked to the fact that these houses are in high demand by the Indian elites who choose to own second homes in Goa. It is precisely in calling the built forms “Portuguese” that Goa and Goans are transformed into props that allow for the territory to be read as Europe in South Asia, as a seaside Riviera where Indian elites can play out their European fantasies.

This colonial relationship, it should be pointed out, is not unique to the relationship between Goa and India. In fact, it follows a longer colonial relationship enjoyed by the Northern European, and principally British elites, with the European South – namely, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. It was to these historically Catholic locations that the largely Protestant elites of the North fled to enjoy not just the sun but the pleasures of the flesh. The European South, and by extension the overseas colonies of these countries, were marked out as spaces for frolic and relaxation, and fabulous lifestyles afforded as a result of the poorer economies of the host locations. Additionally, these locations were identified as places for inspiration for artistes and writers. In post-colonial times, the elite British Indian has actively taken on the gaze and privilege of the British overlord, and looks at Goa precisely through the lenses that the British used to view the European South.  No wonder then that Kapoor, author of the novel A Bad Character (2014), also chose Goa as a place for future writing projects.

The continuation of this imperial gaze is also deeply rooted in colonial politics. As Sukanya Banerjee demonstrates in her book Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire (2010), the end of empire and the creation of an independent nation-state was not the goal envisaged by early Indian nationalists. On the contrary, South Asian dominant caste elites were stakeholders in the empire rather than its opponents. Given this proximity to the imperial project, what they deeply desired was the status of Imperial British citizen and equality with the British overlord. Banerjee also demonstrates the way that Gandhi himself was invested in the pursuit of this status. The figure of Gandhi is critical here, because it was he who effectively created a mass movement by recruiting subaltern groups to make what had earlier been a largely elitist cause. This mass recruitment was necessary for the elites to be taken seriously by the British Crown. The Crown was convinced that while the Indians merited the status of subjects, they could not be imperial citizens and thereby claim equality with the British. The rallying of the masses forced a change in the nature of the movement to assume the character of a nationalist anti-colonial project. Independence was now the only answer.

Thus, the objective of the nationalist elites was, rather, parity with the British and participation in the imperial project. The continued desire for imperial prominence that motivated these caste elites ensured a number of features that have marked post-colonial India. By exerting various pressures on the princely states and acquiring, forcefully if necessary, the territories of other colonial powers, the nationalist elites put together an Indian empire that even the British Raj had not managed to. This new post-colonial empire was held in place by retaining most of the colonial laws, and an imperial perspective guided the relationship with the territories and peoples that were assimilated into post-colonial India. Thus, along with Goan houses being labeled “Portuguese”, Goans have been marked out as fun-loving, relaxed, and laid back, just as the southern Europeans and Latins. Further, just as the British elites travelled to the European South for sensorial excess, so too has Goa been marked out as a place for excess. Note that Kapoor’s narrative suggests that her brother had his mind blown – normally a reference to the effect of psychotropic drugs – when he saw his first nudist in Goa. The Kapoor family’s relationship with Goa seems to be marked by an excess that is unavailable in India. As R. Benedito Ferrão points out, Kapoor suggests her own sensorial relationship with Goa through the excessive exclamation marks that she uses when listing the things that brought her to Goa: “The beaches! The restaurants! The music, and the people!” Further, as if to prove the point of a continuity between the imperial British and the contemporary imperial Indian elite, Kapoor states that she has decided “to look toward Europe or Latin America” in her search for a new place to live. It should be obvious that Latin America is placed along the same continuum as Goa in terms of being the place of Iberian influenced tropical languor and excess. Therefore, Kapoor will merely shift from Goa to another location that offers a similar southern European backdrop for the party.

Interestingly, the insistence of Indians, such as Kapoor, on labeling the built landscape in Goa as different from India reveals a disinclination to be attentive to the historical and legal differences of this former Portuguese territory. Unlike the legal scenario that unfolded in British India, Goans were constitutionally recognized as Portuguese citizens as far back as the early 1800s. This resulted in a restricted segment of the population being entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. And vote they did. Goan elites regularly sent voluble representatives to Lisbon, who established the legal and social parity of Goans with metropolitan Portuguese. This situation was temporarily suspended in the years when Goa, like the rest of Portugal, suffered an authoritarian regime from the 1930s until 1974. It was in this situation that India sent troops in to militarily wrest Goa from the Portuguese. Rather than engage with the political agency that was being expressed within and outside of the territory, India simply asserted sovereignty over the territory and extended citizenship to persons residing in the territory. Given the right of colonized peoples to self-determination, this was an act for which there was no legal precedent, but was based on the assertion of a dubious argument of cultural homogeneity.

With the normalization of relations between Portugal and India in 1975, Portugal recognized the continuing right of citizenship of residents of its former territories in India. As consciousness of this continuing right percolates through Portuguese Indian society, many have chosen to access and assert this right. The Indian state, and consequently most Indians, however, fail to see this as a resumption of an existing right. They see it instead, as the acquisition of dual citizenship, which some argue is prohibited by the Indian legal system. This places Portuguese Indians – in this case, Goans – in an awkward situation, where they have to give up political engagement with Goa, and a host of other rights, if they choose to assert their right to Portuguese citizenship. Like most Indians, Kapoor seems to fail to recognize this complexity and naively suggests that Goans are leaving, or, as she puts it, “looking elsewhere”. As I articulated in an essay some time ago, Goans are not leaving; they are merely employing one more way to maintain their historical connections and pursue livelihood options. It is only in the face of an Indian state that refuses to recognize the complexity of Portuguese Indian history, and prevents this movement, that Goans are, in fact, being forced to leave.

At the end of the day, it is the refusal to recognize this most basic of rights, that of citizenship pre-existing the Indian takeover of Goa that complicates the relationship of India, and Indians, with Goa, and Goans. The refusal to recognize a pre-existing constitutional right of citizenship transforms the Indian presence in Goa into one of occupation and not post-colonial liberation.

The colonial nature of India’s presence in Goa is perhaps best captured in the way the territory has been actively converted into India’s pleasure periphery. In his book, Refiguring Goa (2015), Raghuraman S. Trichur points out that “it was only after the state sponsored development of tourism in the 1980s (more than two decades after Goa's liberation/occupation in 1961), was Goa effectively integrated into the Indian nation-state” (p. 13). This is to say that the integration of this former Portuguese territory, which ought to have been given the right to self-determination, was ensured through the process of articulating Goa’s “otherness” or cultural distancing, as evidenced by the social practices and performances that constitute the tourism destination in Goa. Thus, Trichur argues, Goa’s emergence as a tourism destination is more than the fortuitous agent of economic growth: “it is also an arena, a discursive frame where the Indian State intersects with Goan society” (p. 16). Tourism, then, is precisely the way through which Indian colonialism is exercised in Goa. Indeed, the usage of “Portuguese” houses, in reference to the homes of Goans, suggests homes not continually inhabited by Goans but open for occupation by the “helpful” outsiders that come to renew Goan life.

While Kapoor correctly lists the many problems that are cropping up in Goa as a result of a tourist industry gone wild, she seems to place the responsibility for the looming ecological and social disaster primarily in Goan hands. One reads in Kapoor’s narrative the usual suggestion that it is the greedy Goans who are selling agricultural land and pulling down ancestral homes, and that the local government has no vision. What escapes her is that Goans are all too often subject to forces not within their control. Goans are trapped in an economy that, rather than working on producing more varied opportunities for the locals, has for decades now relied exclusively on tapping the extractive industries of either tourism or mining, or on overseas remittances. While the tourist economy has produced huge profits for some, incomes have not risen to keep pace with the increased cost of living. In such a context, there are two options that will assure people without the material resources or skill sets to fuel social mobility of persons who cannot achieve betterment in Goa. The first is the sale of land to persons in search of the fabled Goan lifestyle. The second is migration in search of gainful and respectable employment. The irony is that the critique of the Portuguese presence in Goa was that they failed to develop a viable economy, which required people to migrate to earn a living that would assure them and their families of a higher standard of living. Indeed, for the vast majority of the population life under Portuguese rule was experienced more as life under landlord rule. And this Goan lifestyle was no idyll. It was only through migration that they could economically emancipate themselves. It was only with the economic liberation possible through migration that Goa, now a place to return for the summers, was constructed as an idyll. As it turns out, the transition to Indian rule has not changed much, as many Goans are still forced to migrate.

Yet it is not economics alone that Goans are trapped by but, the political system itself. There is a clear understanding among the many groups in the territory that this system is not delivering good governance and that there is a need for dramatic change. In their imitation of Britain, British Indians adopted the unsophisticated first-past-the-post system of determining political representatives. As Dr. Ambedkar pointed out, the ills of the system are such that it does not allow for marginalized groups to find a voice in the legislature. Even though there are moves to shift to a system of proportional representation, it seems unlikely that there will be a change anytime soon. Thus, Goans are chained to a political structure that they had no say in determining, and that clearly does not work for their territory, given that it reproduces persons who represent majoritarian politics. One wonders whether Goan politics may not have been dramatically different if the people of the territory were allowed to innovate with a proportional representation system followed in Portugal.

But Kapoor’s text is not merely illustrative of the problem that Goans have with the Indian elites. Rather, it exposes the colonial relationship of these elites with marginalized Indian populations. The trouble with the Indian elites is that they do not see themselves as a part of the political processes of the subcontinent, believing themselves too good for the rest of the citizens of India. Indeed, this is part of their adoption of the colonial gaze. These elites see the residents of the rest of the continent as a strange race that requires firm governance. The review of Kapoor’s book by Prashansa Taneja makes this quite obvious when she reports, “more often than not, she gives into the temptation to exoticise Delhi, and India, for the reader. Many Indian women cover their heads on a daily basis, but when Idha [the character in Kapoor’s book] does so at a Sufi shrine, she feels she becomes ‘Persian, dark-eyed, pious and transformed’.” One could argue that she succumbs to the use of clichés precisely because like other members of her class, Kapoor looks at the people in the city of Delhi, through a gaze adopted from the Raj.

Goa and Goans are locked in an unequal and unfair colonial relationship with India. Until and unless this inequality and injustice are resolved, and the relationship is made more equal – indeed, until the colonial equation at the heart of the imperial Indian project is resolved – Goa and Goans may be doomed to destruction. Kapoor’s text is offensive precisely because she is blind to these facts, and while also being blind to her own privilege is completely oblivious to the extent to which her article is a gripe about the loss of her own privileges. Kapoor’s problem seems to lie in the fact that with other Indians, and not just other elites but all sorts, coming to play with her toy, the party has been ruined. While Kapoor may be able to trip off to some other island paradise and live the life of the wandering elite, where, pray, will the Goans go?

(A version of this post was first published in Raiot webzine on 17 Oct 2016)