Tuesday, 28 May 2013

COLONIALISM AND OTHER CROSSES


·         “I call for a theological appropriation of the history of Goa.” (p.73)

The history of conversion is the alter ego of the history of Christianity in India despite Christianity predating Portuguese and British colonialism. Any reflection on the position of Christians and Christianity in India always has to depend on historical knowledge and narratives. Being a Goan Christian by Fr. (Dr.) Victor Ferrao is one such philosophico-theological reflection on the position of Christians in contemporary Goan society.
            Drawing on his intense engagement in philosophy and theology, Ferrao tries to understand the history and the historical processes as also the various kinds of discourses surrounding Portuguese colonialism, different forms of resistance to colonialism and its effects on the Goan Christian of today. What follow in the book is a thought-provoking analysis as well as a plan for the future – for the Christians to assert their rights and fight the marginalized, subaltern position imposed on them.
            Having established that ‘difference’ is fundamental to human existence, Ferrao asserts that “a Goan Christian does not have to account for being ‘other’” and s/he can create his/her own self through Christian values and ethics. Why is there a need to assert this ‘otherness’ and call for the creation of a new Christian self? The answer lies in the conversion to Christianity and the colonial experience. The dominant Hindu discourse (the ‘other view’) understands the colonial experience in terms of ‘ritual pollution’ and the converted Christians as polluted. The ‘purity/pollution’ principle, argues Ferrao, forms the basis of ‘othering’ the Goan Christian and as a consequence is used to disenfranchise them. This is a very important insight as we can now better understand why allegations such as “anti-nationals” and “agents of the Portuguese” are hurled at the Catholics in contemporary times.
            The above point is further buttressed by arguing that colonization resulted in the loss of the ‘self’ (or identity) for the Hindus and Christians. The Goan elites during the Portuguese rule identified with the colonizer as a way to recover this ‘self’. In post-Liberated Goa, this recovery of ‘self’ happened with the dominant community identifying and integrating with a Hindu culture of mainland India. This project now saw the Catholic as de-nationalized whereas the Hindu was not burdened as such.
            Ferrao argues that the Christian “ethics of integration and love” are contrary to the notion of ‘purity and pollution’ and thus, a suitable response will be to understand such a notion and “construct[…] ‘ethics of compassion’.” But I suspect this is easier said than done as the Goan Church and Church hierarchy is ridden with caste prejudices which are not taken into account. Also, these ethics of compassion invites the Christians of today “to understand the pain of our Hindu brethren.” Fair enough. But we also need to recognize that colonial and post-colonial experiences have also hurt and pained the Christian in many ways and that, as new research in history demonstrates, most of those who experienced this “pain” five centuries ago saw conversion to Catholicism as a promising alternative to gain higher ritual status and land.
              The writing of history from a brahmanical position and the narratives that it has produced (such as that of Parashuram) indulges in “overwriting and underwriting” of the history of Christianity in Goa. Such a history tries to compress a long period of time into a nebulous entity making possible the identification of the Christians of today “with the colonizers of the pasts.” The burden and onus of making things right is entirely on the Christians, according to such a discourse. Ferrao identifies this tendency but also believes that it is the Christian who has to do all the work. There is a problem here as Ferrao tacitly accepts the ‘victimization-of-Hindus’ theory that conceptualizes the Hindu as infallible.

            The chief concern of this book is an inter-faith dialogue between Catholics and Hindus. One gets a sense that the categories are monolithic in conception whereas the actual segmented nature (past and present) has been glossed over. Thus, an issue like caste (which shapes our social life in more ways than one) occupies little space. Although the author recognizes (in a footnote) that Hinduism as we know it today might have taken birth in British colonialism, the native pre-Portuguese population is still ‘Hindu’ for the author. Goa’s Islamic past and the “pain” of Muslims due to colonialism is sadly missing and which needs to be integrated in future projects.
            It must be said that this book is dense but one which is a must read. This short study is not enough. A deeper and elaborate reflection would surely alleviate the burdens and crosses ‘we’ have to bear.

Being a Goan Christian: The Politics of Identity, Rift and Synthesis by Victor Ferrao (Panjim, Goa: Broadway Publishing House), 2011; pp. xv+120, Rs. 195/- [ISBN: 97893808373552]
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: May 29, 2013).

Monday, 20 May 2013

LIFE ON AIR!


For those of us born during or after the launch of television in this country, the charm and necessity that the preceding generations had for the radio would be entirely alien to us. But back in those days when the radio was the only means of mass communication, the masses shared a unique relationship with it. The All India Radio (formerly Emisora de Goa) used to broadcast (and to a certain extent still does on its SW networks) poems, skits and short-stories to the eager ears of the masses.
            Under review here is Kannio Jivitacheo, a collection of three radio-plays in the Roman script by Pio Fernandes. All these three plays (Madda Mullant Ek Paddo Jinnecho, Serkosichea Tom’bu Bhitor, You Are Great, Grandpa!) deal with honest and sincere living in our daily lives. Pio explains why he decided to write radio plays. “I felt that the format of commercial tiatrs was inadequate to express my vichar (ideas) and I felt that Akaxvanni was best suited for my purposes,” he explains.
            Pio Fernandes in the first play tells the story of Philip, a boy of modest means and his two friends – Tony and Rico, who are rich. These three college-going boys are happy-go-lucky, Denis-the-menace kind of characters who get into the habit of stealing – for kick’s sake - from the village shops and orchards. Philip, the poor simpleton that he is, is always persuaded and instigated by his other two cunning friends to be in the thick of all action. His doting mother tries hard to protect her son. But in the end tragedy strikes: Philip (along with his friends) goes to rob tender coconuts from the orchard of his mother’s bhatkar (landlord), unaware of the trap the bhatkar has laid for him!
            In the second play, Pio Fernandes sets a simple story of sacrifice, friendship and team work against the backdrop of a circus. The author depicts the life of the performers and artistes of the circus under the paternal authority of the owner with the main tent of the circus serving as a metaphor for an idealized and extended family unit. In the third play, we are told the tale of a violinist who was never recognized for his genius and whose life is recounted in flashbacks by his wife to his eager grandchildren.
            For a radio play to be successful a playwright needs to effectively and successfully use the various technical advantages that the medium of radio offers. If one considers all the three plays together, one realizes that Pio Fernandes builds his plots reasonably well, making use of songs to either open a scene or close it. Thus, it can be said that such finer additions enhance the making of these songit khells or plays which the book – in its ‘written’ form – cannot accommodate. 
         In a radio play, the listener creates for him/herself the mental images and it is said that the writer need not provides such directions as are supplied for a stage drama. But what holds the listeners’ attention is careful attention for the production of sounds. What we and Pio Fernandes need to keep in mind is that when the plays were written, they were for the ‘listening pleasure’ where the narrator/s, the director and other technicians would improvise upon the script. A lot of additions as well as enrichments to the script take place due to such a collective involvement. When these plays are published in book form, Pio Fernandes is the sole person through whom the audience gets to access the plays and hence the sounds and smells and flavour and experience of the radio presentations are lost.
             There is, however, a way out of such a problem. Rather than printing these plays, Dalgado Konknni Akademi, under whose Kombri Yevzonn scheme this book is published, could have produced an audio-book. Such an audio-book would have retained the flavour of the plays as well as enriched their content.  For example in Serkosichea Tom’bu Bhitor, the reader misses such finer details like the sights, the sounds and the smell of the circus: the tinsel, the animals, the death-defying stunts etc. The reader is not transported in the thick and thin of the circus and s/he has no cues to take her/his imagination in a particular direction (as would have happened through the medium of a radio).

Through Kannio Jivitacheo, Pio Fernandes has tried his hand to bring in new ideas, and should seriously consider producing audio-books of his radio plays in the future.

Kannio Jivitacheo by Pio Fernandes (Kutt’tthalli/Cortalim: Unice Prokaxon), 2012; pp. 137, Rs. 50/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)

For more on 'Romi Konknni' see here

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: May 21, 2013).

Monday, 13 May 2013

FREEDOM-FIGHTERS, ACADEMICS AND GOA’S DECOLONIZATION


If 15 August, 1947 is considered as a momentous day in the history of the Indian nation, 19 December, 1961 can be considered to be the Goan equivalent of the ‘Indian Independence’ whereby it is largely agreed upon that ‘Liberation’ from Portuguese colonial rule was achieved after 450 years. The corpus of perceptions handed down to us regarding Operation Vijay launched by the Indian State is often viewed through a (almost sacral) veneer of nationalist history, wherein vivid images of Goan freedom-fighters being brutally assaulted and tortured by the Portuguese police and military shape and define this discourse through art, literature, poetry and songs. But one cannot deny the fact that this particular slice of history and the role of freedom-fighters in it have not been critically assessed. Happily for us, due to a wonderful memoir by Suresh Kanekar, we can shift our thinking in this direction.
            Suresh Kanekar is the father of the best-selling novelist Amita Kanekar, though Suresh Kanekar is a well-known academic himself, having few books and numerous research papers to his credit. He has also previously authored a novel called Of Mangoes and Monsoons.
            Suresh Kanekar’s memoir Goa’s Liberation and Thereafter: Chronicles of a Fragmented Life is roughly divided into two phases: one, where as a very young student he enters, head-on into the freedom struggle and gets incarcerated for five years in Aguada and then again for a few more months; and in the second phase, he describes his life as a student of Psychology in Poona, in the US and finally in the Bombay University as a faculty member. Though the latter part of the book is interesting as it chronicles Suresh Kanekar’s battles with an inefficient and lackadaisical administration and also gives a glimpse of his cantankerous and enfant terrible side, I shall however largely dwell on the former part of the book as it is more relevant to Goan history.
            Suresh Kanekar describes his cavalier days as a student, first in Goa and later in Poona. He was a happy-go-lucky person who decided to join the freedom struggle after the arrest of Pundalik Gaitonde. But young Suresh Kanekar was not fired by any patriotism or nationalism and joining “the Goa freedom movement was a matter of escapism at worst and romanticism at best, with hardly any idealism or patriotism involved. Conceivably, in my case, patriotism was the first refuge of the scoundrel. I became seriously committed to the freedom movement only after I was arrested and put behind bars,” Suresh Kanekar discloses. Suresh Kanekar does not try to fit his account in the established moulds of hagiographies about the Goan freedom struggle and thus, his book can be useful to look beyond the nationalist paradigms of history.         
One can find a very detailed and vivid description of Suresh Kanekar’s arrest, interrogation and the final incarceration in Aguada – where he was imprisoned for five years. What will strike the reader is that nowhere in the account stories of physical brutalities against the political prisoners are present. Life in the jail “was uneventful after the preliminary hearings. We had settled down to a routine of cooking, eating, cleaning, and so on,” he says. In fact, one can find Suresh Kanekar having a pleasant and civil time with the Portuguese guards in the Aguada prison. When the prisoners had any complaints they would write petitions to the authorities and generally they were given a patient listening. Even when they did not wish to stand to the Portuguese flag as a mark of respect and homage, the prisoners after non-violent disobedience and a few petitions achieved their goal and, “one fine morning the sergeant or corporal on duty came to our hall and told us the commander-in-chief had determined that we should no longer be forced to stand for the flag. I practically danced with relief and joy.”
            Finally when Suresh Kanekar completed his term of imprisonment and was released, this is what he had to say, “I never saw Aguada again, although I had and have wonderful memories of the place. I had been sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment and I had been behind bars for five years and twenty-five days. Those five years were the best five years of my life till then. They changed me into a much better person than I was before imprisonment.”
            Suresh Kanekar narrates a particular incident about Mohan Virginkar, the then vice-president of the National Congress (Goa). He was supposed to offer satyagraha in April 1955, but failed to appear at the site after he developed cold-feet. “[B]ut unfortunately for him his name was announced on the All India Radio along with the names of other satyagrahis who had genuinely offered satyagraha on the specified day. The next day he was arrested and put behind bars. When he was sentenced, he fainted in court. He was in Aguada briefly, and then was transferred to Margaon where female freedom fighters were imprisoned. There he was close to his wealthy and influential family,” reports Suresh Kanekar.

            What one can observe in the autobiography is that Suresh Kanekar narrates anecdotes and incidents about people who were, generally, elites. One gets a sense that most of Suresh Kanekar’s interaction in prison was with this group of people who were upper-caste. All the petitioning and protests inside the jail were conceived and lead by these people.  And within this group of upper-caste freedom-fighters, in Suresh Kanekar’s memoir, there are more Hindu names than Catholic ones. Thus, one needs to ask some questions: who were the ones who fought and as a consequence went to jail for Goa’s Liberation? Why did they fight for Goa’s Liberation? Why weren’t other sections of Goan society actively involved in the freedom movement (satyagraha or armed rebellion)? These other sections do not find any worthwhile mention in the memoir. We must remember that Suresh Kanekar was in the Aguada prison for five years and Aguada was not a large prison; it seems that everybody knew everybody.
            One of the most memorable and high points of the book is definitely Suresh Kanekar being witness to the formal surrender of Goa to the Indian Army between Vassalo e Silva and Dhillon, despite it being a virtual war zone. Thus, it needs to be quoted at some length, “We went back to where the surrender was to take place right out in the open. Dhillon was sitting in a jeep, while Nanda arranged to have the few cars including ours that were there placed in a semi-circle, with the headlights converging at where the governor-general would be surrendering to Dhillon. At about 8:45 pm, Vassalo e Silva was brought to the spot along with his adjutant or chief of staff, probably named Andrade, and made to wait while adjustments were being made to the cars and the lighting. Nanda had found a photographer to take the picture of the ceremony, but the photographer did not have a flash for his camera. Nanda instructed the photographer that he was to take the photograph at the signal that Nanda would give him [which did not happen, as a result we do not have picture of that fateful moment]…At Nanda’s orders, Vassalo e Silva stepped forward, saluted Dhillon (…) [Dhillon did not salute back], and handed over the instrument of surrender to Dhillon, after which Dhillon went back to sit in his vehicle and Vassalo e Silva returned with his adjutant to the place of his confinement. Neither Dhillon nor Vassalo e Silva had uttered a single word during the brief ceremony.”
            I have come across, generally in cyberspace, many discussions about the Indian Army’s action in Goa. Many point out that excesses that accompany military actions were not witnessed in Goa. Although this is true to a large extent, Suresh Kanekar however recounts “a horrible event” in Margão. A young Catholic woman was crossing the railway tracks where some Indian jawans were loading or offloading material in train wagons. Not far from here, a group of men were playing cricket, one of them being a friend of the author and the source of this information. The group of men playing cricket suspected something foul and found the woman raped. This matter was hushed up and the perpetrators were eventually taken into custody and quickly moved out of Goa. On 19 December, ironically the day of Goa’s Liberation, when Suresh Kanekar and two of his friends were moving to Vasco they had the company of two captains in their car. Suresh Kanekar recounts, “One of them said these [i.e. Goans] are our people or else we would have had some fun.”
            Although interesting and well-written, Suresh Kanekar only narrates events of history of which he was a part. Since there is not much written about the freedom-fighters or writings of the freedom-fighters, it would have been better if Suresh Kanekar had engaged much more rigorously with this history and situate his experiences within it thereby providing his reader with critical historical insights. Thus, a young reader like me knows what happened, but does not know what these momentous events meant for Suresh Kanekar and a lot of other people he talks about. But all said and done, this book is a fresh insight into Goa’s freedom struggle and one should not miss it.

Goa’s Liberation and Thereafter: Chronicles of a Fragmented Life by Suresh Kanekar (Saligão, Goa: Goa1556), 2011; pp. vi+270, Rs. 295/- [ISBN: 9789380739304]
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: May 14, 2013).