Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thinking About Babush

Mapping the terrains of the operation

On the 23rd of March 2009, despite opposition to 10 of the 11 seats being contested at the Panchayat elections, the panel floated by Atanasio Monserrate won all 11. How does one make sense of the results of the recently concluded elections to the Taleigão Panchayat? The dominant view within the opposition is that Monserrate is the embodiment of evil, and that all of Taleigão cowers in fear. Other views would argue that he has filled Taleigão with migrants who blindly vote in his favour. Others argue that some sold their vote for the gifts of a thousand rupees, a bicycle or a sewing machine. I believe that the story of Monserrate is a little more complex than this, and we need to necessarily rethink our evaluation of him.

Countering the allegations that he bribed the voters, Monserrate reportedly responded that we should not insult the voters. Monserrate makes a valid point here. As with any allegation of corruption, there is a certain political point that Monserrate’s opposition is trying to score. The point is to undermine the individual decisions of those persons who voted for Monserrate. The suggestion is that they are not free-thinking, concerned and responsible citizens. It is scornfully suggested that they are merely opportunists who will vote for the highest bidder. While I have no doubt that in fact money did exchange hands and that gifts of cycles and sewing machines, drink and chicken were in fact made, I would choose to look beyond the allegation that the votes of the people were purchased. The reason I choose to refute the argument that votes can be purchased is because this scornful position refuses to recognize that the persons who accepted these gifts were in fact making calculated political decisions. Just like the ‘apolitical’ stance taken by Goa and Taleigão Bachao Abhiyan, the argument that votes can be sold, refuses to appreciate and engage with the politics of the people.

To begin with, whose is this scorn? Clearly it is the scorn of those who do not need a thousand rupees a vote, or cycles or sewing machines. It is the scorn of the haves for the have-nots, the haves presuming that it is only they who well and truly appreciate what democracy is all about. The gifts were accepted because these gifts, as petty as some of us may consider them, did make a difference to the economy of the households that they were presented to. Further, the gift-taking is in fact a rather complex participation in democracy. The gift-takers recognize that the politician cares for them only to the extent of their votes, that the system will not address their condition. Thus, if they have to vote, they will vote only if you pay (gift) them to do so. It is thus, through this gift-giving, and their construction of themselves as a vote-bank, that they force the electoral process to in fact work. If they didn’t vote, then given the fact that most of the middle class does not vote, the electoral process would grind to a screeching halt! The scorn for the gift-taking therefore, is extremely problematic and ironically, politically naive!

This political naiveté is built on the incredulousness of the upper orders who are convinced of their own political maturity and the corresponding immaturity of the labouring classes. They reason that it is because these labouring classes, which often correspond with the Dalit-bahujan groups, are so immature that our democracy is today malfunctioning the way that it is. These orders refuse to see that these ‘malfunctionings’ of democracy are in fact the result of the deeply problematic socio-economic divides that persist in our society, and that we repeatedly refuse to address. It is because we refuse to recognize this fact, and persist in our confounded arrogance, that a good portion of the opposition to the development lobby in Goa is primarily engaged in ‘creating awareness’. These members of the upper orders of our society are firmly convinced that the only reason for the silence of the majority is because this majority is not aware. It is because we stubbornly refuse to consider the alternative, that they are politically astute individuals making carefully calibrated decisions that the tide we seek to stem continues to inundate us.

If we recognized the maturity of these gift takers and recognized that gifts are accepted because these gifts made a difference to the economies of the households that accepted them, our positions and our strategies would change instantly. We would recognize that the presence of ‘outsiders’ in our villages, and their transformation into vote-banks for the unscrupulous, can be addressed if, and when, we address the issue of the poverty of these outsiders. If we are able to ensure that their working conditions are better, the salaries they are paid are higher, and that social welfare extendable to any worker, we would see a significant drop in the arrival of these outsiders. This for two primary reasons; first, because it would make employing ‘external’ labour more expensive (especially if one is talking of housing migrant construction-labour); and secondly, with an increase in pay-scales and benefits, the Goan, who in facts demands a more mature work environment, would begin seeking employment within Goa. As is increasingly becoming clear to me though, much of the oppositional space in Goa is captured by elites, who do not want to see radical change, but want only a return to the status-quo. Secondly, when the non-elites among this opposition take charge, they unfortunately don’t seem to be able to articulate their demands in broader terms. On the contrary, they too get caught in the whirlpools of the discourse established by the elite. As a result, rather than seeing solidarity with the ‘outsider’, they too begin outsider-bashing. As a result, there is no substantial progress towards resolving Goa’s crisis.

To return to this matter of respecting the voter though, while Monserrate’s objection may have helped us see a valid point, he too is guilty of disrespecting the voter. There is a certain perversity, when one hands scraps to the needy, even as the socio-economic and ecological base of these needy are being destroyed. In addition, it is clear that while Monserrate may share scraps, it is a lion’s share that he keeps for himself.

What I will try to elaborate in the next segment is how, while Monserrate has offered his constituency a political dream that they can identify with, in reality he offers them only a mirage, one that will never be realized substantially. What clinches the deal for him however, is the fact that he has managed to offer concrete glimpses of this mirage. This is enough for the hopefuls of our land. On the other hand though, his opposition offers no dream at all. It offers only a return to a fast-disappearing status-quo. And NO-ONE wants to return to that, except the elite. If the opposition to Monserrate (and the rest of the brokering political establishment) are serious, then they need to not only present to the people of Goa a dream, but put their actions where their talk is and working toward presenting a concrete example of the dream that they offer.

The Dream that Won Babush the Election

Persist to think of Babush Monserrate as the embodiment of evil, and it will be impossible to understand the reasons for his victory in the recently concluded Panchayat elections. If one is to provide a counter to him, then one has to come up with another, more plausible explanation for the victory. Demonizing him serves no purpose other than to blindly hate him and provide a bonding among the various groups opposed to him for their own varied reasons. In the previous segment of these reflections, I had suggested that the key to Monserrate’s victory was not the fear that he allegedly instills in the people of Taleigão, but because he is in congress with them for reasons of a dream that he offers them. One cannot capture votes merely by handing out gifts. One has to also capture the imaginations of the people one is gifting. Monserrate seems to have done exactly this. He offers the people of Taleigão a dream. He offers them the dream, and the promise (even if it is a false promise) of modernity.
This modernity is has a definite physical location, and that location is the city. More particularly, it is the city of Bombay. As the Delegate of Fundacao Oriente, Paulo Varela Gomes, has convincingly demonstrated on a number of occasions, Bombay has, at least since the mid-nineteenth century, been the goal for the Goan, and especially for the Goan dalit-bahujan. It was the city that promised them employment, the city where their culture blossomed and found mature expression, it was the location where they were able to escape the vice-like grip of their village and feudal elite, and if not wholly escape it, contest these elites on a somewhat equal footing. The city, with its broad avenues and high-rise buildings, offers not just the chic aesthetics of modernity, and we have to recognize that Monserrate has oodles of oomph [style] as evidenced from the public works carried out under his stamp, but also the promise of liberation through the destruction of the landscape and hierarchies of the village and the introduction of the anonymity of the urban environment.
What dream does his opposition, the forces that cry 'Save Goa' have to offer instead? By and large, they offer the people of Taleigão, and Goa, the dream of the village. They do not point to them the way forward, but look back with fondness to the aesthetics and relationships of the village. What 'Save Goa' offers them is a return to the status-quo. But as is clear from the voices of the people in Taleigão, the people don't want a status quo, they want change, and they will grab at change any which way they get it.
The village is not necessarily the ideal place we imagine it to be. To the vast majority of people it is a place marked by the absence of facilities and most importantly glitz. In addition, it is a place that is intimidating for anyone who is Queer. It is a suffocating location for the wife who refuses to be raped by her drunken husband and returns single and pregnant to her parents' home, the homosexual son or daughter, the unemployed person who refuses to have employment if it means his daily humiliation, a member of the former ‘servant castes’ who chafes at the attitude of the former dominant castes. I have written much about the need for a revolution in Goa. Silly me, I didn’t recognize the revolution when I saw it. Babush Monserrate and his ilk represent the revolution and they have with them the masses of the people. Unfortunately however, Monserrate does not represent the revolution which I imbue with the positive notions of establishing a commonwealth. His agenda represents what I have earlier termed a fitna, an upheaval without the necessary renewal of society. Which is why, the task before the opposition to Monserrate and his ilk is not merely the presentation of the dream of the village, but the dream of the village radically renewed.
Thankfully however, the opposition to the politico-business lobby is not all composed of the elites interested in a return to the status-quo. Some of us are opposed to this desertification through concrete, and hold up the model of a village because we are animated by the knowledge that the concrete industrial city that has become the model for Goa promises only a temporary relief from oppression. It breaks the bonds of village hierarchies, but simultaneously creates oppressions of other sorts. It destroys ecological independence. In a few years time, there will be no fields in Taleigão capable of producing food. The hills of Dona Paula covered with constructions will no longer soak up rainwater; the village wells will run dry or turn saline. Others will be fed by raw sewage rather than fresh water. The rich will be able to up and leave; what of the poor? Where will they get water from? Will they be able to purchase food at exorbitant prices? Monserrate’s strategy may destroy the spatial and social relationships of the village, but it is not producing sustainable employment. Lastly, the concrete city destroys intimate bonds of the village to create the anonymous spaces and relationships of the city that encourage crime. How many of the faces in São Paulo – Taleigão’s market area- do we recognize anymore? The liberation of the city that Monserrate offers therefore, is in fact a mirage. It promises a liberation that it cannot in fact deliver. At some level, I doubt that Monserrate even realizes the damage he is doing. As I will elaborate in the last segment of this series, it is possible that he too, as a member of the society he leads, shares in the misplaced assumption that the trappings of modernity (the roads, high-rises and conspicuous consumption) alone, rather than a concomitant commitment to the social values of modernity, will ensure deliverance from the curse of our caste-bound society. It is therefore quite possible, that Monserrate actually believes that his vision will bring deliverance and liberation.
It is for this reason that I have been arguing for long that we need a revolution, an inquilab in Goa. We don’t require a return to the village of old, or the creation of the concrete industrial city, but a radical re-founding of our communities. We need to present to the citizenry of Goa, which now clings piteously to the promises of the false prophets of our age, tangible and material evidence of what this new commonwealth will look like. It calls for a change in the way in which we do and imagine politics and associations. It calls for a demonstration of the possibilities of eco-friendly and community-friendly business ventures. At present the elite groups who lead the opposition both in Taleigão and in Goa seem rather reluctant to commit themselves to this radical refounding. It is not that they don’t have the imagination, but that they refuse to entertain any scheme that will radically change the status-quo. They too are committed to a fitna, a mere superficial management of society.
It is this vacuum then, which Monserrate has filled, and will continue to fill until such time as we are ready to talk equity and equality. Until such time as we are ready to establish a radically equal society in Goa, the biblical New Jerusalem, Sant Tukaram’s Pandharpur, or St. Augustine’s City of God, the city of Monserrate will be the paradise which the citizenry of Taleigão and Goa will determinedly walk toward. And I can’t say that I blame them.

Moving the ‘Devil’ from out of the shadows, into the Light of the Faith

The express intention of the Thinking About Babush series was to move away from the position that demonizes Babush Monserrate. The intention was not to essay an uncritical celebration of the legislator from Taleigão, but to present a hypothesis that would allow us to better understand the dynamics at work in the constituency. To demonize Monserrate goes beyond doing him a disservice; it prevents us from recognizing the socio-economic and political conditions of the constituencies that he manages to represent.

In the first part of the series I suggested that the eyes that demonize Monserrate were in part, also eyes of the elite that refused to see the political motivations of those they alleged were either bribed, or were blindly voting for him. The second segment suggested that in addition to lavish gifts to his constituents, Monserrate also presented them with a vision. This vision was one of the City where the hierarchies of the village would be dissolved, and all would be able to participate in a genuinely modern existence. In this segment, I would like to suggest that in many ways Monserrate is trapped within his modus operandi, both for reasons of his own personal location in society, as well as the kind of society he lives in. However, I would suggest that for these reasons, he is also a possible repository of hope for the future.

As I suggested earlier, Goan society can be very punishing, if you don’t fit the rules it lays down. Despite his nominal position among the landlords and gãocars of Taleigão, the vicious whispered rumours about his ancestry give Monserrate a just and understandable reason to want to destroy the social hierarchies of the village. As discussed in the last column, one way to destroy these hierarchies is through the fashioning of the village into the city. What I am suggesting therefore, is that the dream that Monserrate peddles could be more than an evil plan he has for lining his nest at the expense of the people of Taleigão. He could actually be emotionally invested in it, believing that it would provide deliverance as much as the others who believe in this dream.

India’s encounter with modernity is peculiar. Rather than being understood to be the values of equality and respect, reasoned acceptance as opposed to acceptance by diktat, modernity has been understood primarily as the acquisition of technology, the material benefits that come with it, and the associated aesthetic styles. The intellectual foundations of modernity have been rejected in favour of the purely material. In focusing primarily on the material, it is possible to spin the web of meritocracy and argue that if one does not gain the material benefits of modernity, it is because one has not worked hard enough for it. Thus only the upper-castes and classes benefit from modernity, while the rest slave under it. Even worse, the myth of meritocracy, destroys tendencies toward solidarity with the marginalised and allows the creation of a (slum)dog eat dog world, where it is each one for oneself. To gain respect in this faux modern world, one has to garner as much wealth as one possibly can. In the process, one must necessarily cut personal ties to climb the ladder of achievement. As a result our interests are now seen to lie with those who are already in the big game, not with those one is leaving behind. In India, this automatically has caste implications. The caste implications are at their most stark when we expect Dalit leaders to somehow be Colossi of morality, while other leaders who feather their nests are somehow exempt from this harsh social judgment. A perfect example would be the vicious criticism that has so often been leveled against Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, for her alleged corruption even as others get away relatively easily.

It is in this context that I would like to see Monserrate. In addition to the social agenda he may have, he is also as hostage to the skewed understanding of modernity as the rest of us. Thus in his race for respect, feathering his own nest is but a natural outcome. While this is under no circumstances excusable, the question we should ask is why we reserve such scorn for the acquisitions of Monserrate, or indeed the similar figure of Churchill Alemão, even as we excuse the sins of others in the political establishment. Why for example are we more accepting of the tactics of the Rane establishment, in particular the father? It has always been rumoured that it was he that initiated the land scams with the late R. N. Ray when the latter was Chief Town Planner. Is it his ‘noble’ birth and cultivated charm that allows us to look the other way, not investigate these rumours? Perhaps. It is therefore, in the social exclusions and hypocrisy practiced by our society that the only route open to Monserrate is to continue to line his own nest, and open up his own path for a radically different social order.

It is this and other reasons then that are at the basis of our demonizing of Babush Monserrate. We fear the social reality whose coming he represents. We would prefer to keep him and the classes he represents entirely out of our perfumed consciousness.

In addition to this though, there is another, possibly communal angle to the whole game. I don’t believe that it is entirely by accident that Monserrate, like Alemão, is demonized, is Catholic, and effectively occupies the lower-caste, bahujan position in our society. This has been a pattern of our society, where among the Catholics, only the upper-caste is feted and the rest of them are expected to just follow suit. Thus when J. B Gonsalves had a chance at being Chief Minister, the glitterati on Panjim scoffed, ‘the baker wants to be Chief Minister!’ In recent times the communalization of our society has taken a more serious turn. As unchallenged Rei de Taleigão, the demonization and destruction of this man, theoretically opens up the way for the unchallenged romp of the BJP into the village.

There are therefore multiple reasons for us to view with suspicion the demonization of Babush Monserrate. And yet, none of this should be taken to endorse the manner in which he funds his agenda. In the final sum, his modus operandi is going to give us only skin-deep modernity and a resulting social, political, economic and ecological mess. With so much power in his hands, undoubted access to cultivated minds (as his urban projects show, he definitely has talented architects working with him) Monserrate’s failure to engineer a more egalitarian and sensitive politics cannot be condoned. Our opposition to Monserrate’s modus, real estate funded social change, must therefore continue. It must, however, be a principled opposition. Principled opposition is not a notional, do-nothing, and think much opposition. Firm and unyielding when no quarter can be given, it is also cognizant of the benefits he may possibly bring. It is necessarily marked by action. In the long run, such an unyielding but principled opposition will force him to necessarily adopt, even if in slow and reluctant measures, a more sustainable route toward the agenda that we support. A neighbour of mine prays for the conversion of Babush just like Sta. Monica did for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine, who would go on to become a Doctor of the Church. In many ways, I join her in her prayers. I do so because I believe that such a conversion is possible; Monserrate does in fact have what it takes to be the Augustine of our age. Until such conversion however, this principled opposition, the physical evidence of our prayers, in favour of the village refounded must continue.

(This post is the consolidated version of a three piece op-ed that was first published in the Gomantak Times in April 2009)

Friday, May 27, 2016

AAP Goa as Colonial Agent?

While large numbers of its members are no doubt motivated by a genuine interest in redressing the many ills that plague Goan electoral democracy, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Goa could in fact be seen as antithetical to the pressing needs of Goans,  pushing an agenda that other national parties, operating from Delhi have done before. If the traditional national parties like the Congress and the BJP had helped, with the help of local elites, to usher in forces of unbridled capitalism in the guise of development and Hindu nationalism in Goa, AAP seems to be operating within this same model. The only difference is that AAP promises that it will deliver Goa from rampant corruption. And yet, when examined from the perspective of the nexus between New Delhi and local dominant caste landed elites AAP’s claims of difference and salvation fall flat on its face.

To examine the claim of this Delhi-Goa colonial nexus we need to explore the case of the much-vaunted Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) or Save Goa Movement. While it was spurred on by the genuine concerns of many Goans as to the way Goa was being destroyed, one could also see in it the operation of colonial power. The GBA appeared at a particular moment in Goan history, when land in Goa came to be eyed by external, i.e. Indian, realtors. Thus, the existing concerns of the larger populace were whipped to frenzy by the local elite to ensure that it was the interests of the local land-owning classes and construction firms that was secured. After an initial amount of muscle-flexing, that demonstrated to external realtors the power of the local elite the movement was effectively killed, when the representatives of the GBA on the Task Force for the Regional Plan (RP) 2021 resigned their positions.

As a result of this regrettable history, nothing emerged out of the GBA except for a paralysis of the Regional Plan process, even as the real-estate business continues as usual.  Indeed, the lesson that if foreign capital wants to enter Goa it would have to be in partnership with the local elite seems to have been learned admirably in case of the usurping of Tiracol by Leading Hotels. This unfortunate outcome, however, is very much in keeping with the history of popular movements in Goa since 1961, where the manipulation of the Goan population, and especially the bahujan Catholic populations of the Old Conquests, by dominant caste elites has been a standard. In every movement, one sees that the upper caste elites gain greater autonomy for unaccountable behavior, while the masses that agitate receive no benefit at all.

These forms of Goan politics seem to be repeating themselves under the AAP. To begin with, as many have pointed out, the way the AAP is operating, by focusing on the fears of the populations in the Old Conquests suggests that it is repeating this old formula of merely harnessing Old Conquest fears to ensure the success of the upper-caste and elite class leadership. While one need not be immediately suspect if one is upper-caste, the fact that the leadership of AAP, both in Goa, as well as in Delhi is almost exclusively upper-caste is a matter of grave concern.

What is also interesting about AAP Goa is that one can deduce in it the desire of well-meaning non-Goans who have settled in Goa to influence local politics. This desire to participate is welcome, indeed many of them come with exciting ideas that we can benefit from. But one nevertheless needs to question the balance of power under which this happens.  A number of Goa’s problems are in part the result of Indian desires to settle here, as well as the manner in which Goa has been hitched to India. As individuals, we are very often also unconscious representatives of large structural powers. As such, the fact that the articulation of so much of AAP’s outreach is in compliance with a national culture, manifest through the Gandhi topi, the Hindi sloganeering, even the Hindi language outreach of the leaders, makes one question which structural interests are being served, the nationalist designs of the AAP, or those of the average Goan? Is Delhi, or the desires of the national elites, dictating what happens in Goa, or do Goans dictate what happens in Goa? The dominance of Hindi in the outreach of AAP Goa seems to suggest that it is formulating an agenda that wishes to be in sync with the assumptions of the Delhi outfit.  In such a context, especially where Kejriwal chose to holler Bharat Mata ki Jai, what is the position of AAP on Special Status for Goa?

Further, AAP Goa has the grandiose scheme of contesting all 40 seats, with the apparently single point agenda of combating corruption. But is there really a lack of critical issues in Goa that one must focus solely on corruption? In this context, it should be noted that in a rather long interview with the Indian Express, Valmiki Naik secretary of AAP Goa, noticeably skirts issues critical to the bahujan and marginalized groups, such as that of the vexed Medium of Instruction issue. Besides, it can argue that corruption narrowly conceived as economic corruption alone is the most important agenda only when one is speaking from an upper-caste position. Viewed from a bahujan perspective, whether Hindu or Catholic, it is the destruction of the twin evils of Brahmanism and Hindutva that emerges as the priority. While not an insignificant issue, dealing with corruption can come later. A failure to realize this priority, once again because it is the local dominant castes that are in control of AAP Goa, will ensure that the placing of 40 candidates in the fray will only result in the splitting of the anti-BJP vote, and the BJP’s eventual success. A refusal to heed this reality will suggest that AAP’s designs are geared more towards local dominant caste assertion, as well as towards the desire of AAP Delhi to make a national mark, rather than addressing critical Goan needs.

A leaf from Goan history should offer good reason why AAP Goa should heed this caution. In the run-up to the first elections In Goa under Indian rule the Indian National Congress (INC) was extremely confident of a sweeping INC victory in the 1963 elections. Such was its confidence, that as Parag Parobo has pointed out in his book on early post-colonial Goa, the All India Congress General Secretary K. K. Shah announced that the INC did not require any special manifesto for Goa. All of this while tickets were given almost exclusively to individuals from dominant castes. Just as supporters of AAP today dismiss the need for a regional party, so too in 63 the INC was also confident of success because of its national location. And yet the INC experienced a crushing defeat at the polls. Not only did they not gain a single seat from Goa, but in many locations the candidates lost their deposits. The moral of that election was that local issues, not national were critical to electioneering, and secondly that issues of caste justice cannot be ignored and simply dismissed. The result of that election should offer sobering advice for AAP Goa that in many ways could be said to be repeating those mistakes.

This is not, however, necessarily the end. Merely because it currently threatens to operate as an agent of colonial rule, there is no reason, especially given the genuine concerns of large numbers of its members, that the AAP in Goa cannot reinvent itself. The question is, will it?

(This post was not published in any newspaper.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Lux in tenebris: Paulo Varela Gomes

Paulo Varela Gomes succumbed to cancer on Saturday, the 30th of April 2016. He was familiar to many Goans both because he headed the Delegation of the Fundação Oriente in Goa for two terms, 1996-1998 and 2007-2009, and for his book on Goan churches.

It was in the first capacity that I met with Gomes. Prior to this meeting I had been warned against him. He was racist and offensive, I had been told. Also that he was just another one of these supercilious Portuguese, mocking Goa and Goans from their metropolitan position. I have no idea what pushed me to meet with the man despite these warnings, but I did, and I have not once regretted that decision.

Gomes was in fact - to be fair to the person who warned me against him - pessimistic, foul mouthed, dismissive, and from time to time a tad racist. But there was a logic to his madness. The prickly exterior was armor, but breach that spiky defence and one realized that Gomes’ barbs were the provocations of a profoundly sensitive and giving man with a wicked sense of humour. A man who relentlessly asked questions, and never accepted the given until it bore up to the critique he subjected it to. When caught, he would laughingly confess to his prejudices, and it was this intellectual honesty and the ability to confront oneself that has left a lasting impact on me.

As our association matured Gomes grew to become an intellectual father. Lucky enough to live in the same neighbourhood as he did in Goa, I found myself able to go over to his home, engage in conversations that went on for hours, and borrow books from his library. Gomes’ library was an intellectual wonderland because he was a widely read man. Despite his learning and the difference in our ages, ours was not an unequal relationship. Gomes suffered my irreverence, and indeed encouraged it with his own. It was thanks to these conversations that I was able to sharpen my perspectives, not just on Goa, but also on Portugal, a country that has come to be my second home. Gomes was among the first to point me towards developing a deeper understanding of the Bijapuri Sultanate and make sense of Goan history in that context. As luck will have it, the idea of an Islamicate Goa has now gained more appreciation, and for this alone, Gomes has left a lasting legacy on the way Goa can and should be studied. Gomes was also the one who pointed to the complex history of the Padroado and the manner in which by the time it was wound up it was Goan priests who were the stoutest defenders of this right of the Portuguese state. It was also Gomes who problematised, to my delight, the term Indo-Portuguese. Asking several piercing questions of this category that is so taken for granted he revealed so many problems with the term, not least being the fact that it can be crafted only in the context of the peculiar racist politics of the British Empire.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Gomes’s wide reading, his ability to go against the grain, ask unorthodox questions, and come up with a new, more meaningful vision, is what was possibly his last academic publication; Whitewash, Red Stone: A History of Church Architecture in Goa (2011). In this book Gomes broke with the hitherto established ways of looking at ecclesiastical architecture in Goa. His argument was bold, and there can never really be any going back to earlier ways of looking at architecture in Goa. His study demonstrated how the position that Goan elites chose in the conflict between of Padroado and Propoganda Fide had a distinct influence on the architecture of our churches. It is the conflict between these that led to the emergence of specifically Goan architecture. Gomes’s argument was that churches in Goa were not Portuguese buildings, nor were they mere copies of European buildings. They were in fact entirely Goan. These buildings participated in a European vocabulary of building construction, but the way these various elements and plans were assembled was entirely Goan. Churches in Goa were Goan buildings, constructions of a native elite who were making a statement about the uniqueness of their culture and their place in the world. It was for this reason that the Goan builders of these churches continued to hold on to a Baroque architectural style even in nineteenth century when the days of Baroque were long over and other styles were appearing in British India. Whitewash, Red Stone is a critical work that would allow Goan ecclesiastical architecture to be appreciated more profoundly and deserves a wider audience than the one it currently enjoys.

In making this argument, Gomes went beyond, and challenged, two orthodoxies. The first was the one that seeks to delegitimize the uniqueness of Goan Catholicism, and the second that sees Goans merely as blind copy-cats of the Portuguese. In a nuanced argument, Gomes acknowledged that Goans were South Asian alright, but pointed out that they were South Asians who participated and innovated within European frames and hence they were also European. It takes not only a profound understanding of the field to make such an argument, it also requires that one have a profound respect for the people one is studying. As an architectural historian, and as one with deep friendships with Goans, Gomes had both in abundance. In his passing, therefore, there are many in Goa who will feel as devastated as they did at the death of the late Pedro Adão, Portuguese Consul in Goa between 2005 and 2006. There are few like them, persons who are willing to step out of their comfort zones, make themselves vulnerable, and engage meaningfully with the local. For this reason their memories will indubitably be long cherished.

When I moved to Portugal I imagined that Gomes and I would be able to pick up where he had left off, the same rambling, but always stimulating conversations. Unfortunately, however, the distance between our residences, and the distractions of my frequent travel between Lisbon and Goa ensured that this was not to be.  Our meetings were too few and far between, and our interactions limited mostly to virtual correspondence. Further, the possibilities for physical encounters became impossible after his tumour made conversation difficult. And yet, it is a testament to the loyalty, and the grace, of the man that he was known to respond to every communication that one sent to him, almost until the very end. My own experience was that our correspondences became more intense and poignant and will remain a cherished part of my virtual archive.

As much as one mourns the passing of Paulo Varela Gomes the fact is that there can be no crushing sorrow simply because every cherished memory brings to mind not just his courage, but also his irreverence, and this brings a smile even amongst the tears. Gomes’s life was a lesson in picking up challenges and besting them. How else does one explain the élan with which he took up writing fiction in the last phase of his life? Of course, to those who knew him there was little surprise. For someone who was a natural teacher, and taught through lively debate, there was absolutely no doubt that the man was a natural raconteur.

Paulo Varela Gomes, my friend, father, philosopher, and guide. Our world is diminished by your absence, but it would have been so much lesser without you.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 13 May 2016)