With the declaration made in the Goa Legislative Assembly that the right-wing Hindu outfit, Sri Ram Sene will not be allowed to set up its base in Goa, the ‘drama’ (pun intended) over Tousif de Navelim’s Akantvadi Goeant Naka, seems to have finally ended. The successful staging of the tiatr was viewed as the triumph of Goemkarponn or Goan-ness (and indeed it seemed all and sundry were clamoring to give and receive credit for the staging of the tiatr). What was actually quite disappointing to note was the myriad other issues that were not discussed/raised in the interest of Goemkarponn.
First and foremost we should recognize the fact that if the tiatr as a medium of cultural expression has thrived, it is solely due to the steadfast support of working-class and subaltern caste Goan Catholics, though it is not restricted to Catholics alone. This recognition is important as for most of tiatr’s history, tiatrists and the people who patronized them were held to be lacking in standard and sophistication by elite Goans. One can suggest that the reason why Tousif, being a Muslim himself, could capture the imagination of different sections of Goan society is because tiatr as an art form has been developed largely outside the fold of upper-caste and -class Goan cultures and discourses. To extend this point a bit further, we can also suggest that if Goa would like to further its image as a society with plural ethos, the tiatrists and tiatrs need to be accepted as bases crucial for ‘secularism’ in Goa.
The power and importance of the subaltern Catholic groups of Goa was on full display during the staging of Tousif’s tiatr. Naysayers could only bicker and complain about how the tiatrists themselves lacked moral integrity. To my mind, this is a non issue for the simple reason that right from the days of Antonio Salazar when the civil liberties were curtailed, tiatrists have spoken out and have not let their voices be censored (though one wonders the extent to which the Portuguese censors understood the references in the tiatr!). Thus, there is no justification for tarnishing the entire community of tiatrists in one brush and colour. Further, such a tarnishing is no different from the elite Goan assertion that tiatrs and tiatrists ‘lack standard’. In the triumphal celebrations that followed Tousif’s tiatr, Goa (it seemed) willingly forgot that the very people they were celebrating had been repeatedly told that their art (and by extension their social background as well) were not ‘good enough’.
This kind of ‘tarnishing’ should ideally make us confront another issue: that of the Roman script in Goa. Tiatr is not isolated from the politics of the Roman script and Portuguese colonialism. Fr. Victor Ferrao forwards an interesting argument in his book Being a Goan Christian, suggesting that owing to the fact that the era of Portuguese colonialism was perceived by the dominant (Hindu) discourse in Goa as an ‘era of pollution’, the cultural practices and productions such as writings in the Roman script and tiatrs, were seen as not being able to represent the authentic culture of Goa. Though the Tiatr Academy and the Dalgado Konknni Akademi receive government funds, the Goa government has not recognized Konkani in the Roman script as one of the official languages. The problem of the recognition of the Roman script may lie in such an understanding that Ferrao discusses in his book, as even in the staging of Tousif’s tiatr it was immediately hailed as a victory for Goemkarponn (and not Romi Konkani culture, for instance), thus leveling any differences in the bargain. What sort of Goemkarponn is this that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Roman script, without which tiatr is impossible?
Since this column seeks to contextualize tiatr within the Goan public sphere, a note on how the various events leading to the staging of Tousif’s tiatr reported in the media would not be out of place. While I acknowledge that most of the media had stood behind Tousif, the reportage failed to highlight the various voices that were alarmed by the threats issued to him. This is not the first time such threats have shaken up the minorities in Goa and as such this could have been a great opportunity to talk about the problems of the minorities in a sensitive and sympathetic manner. The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the insecurities and fears of these people (many of whom are ardent tiatr-lovers) found little or no space. Instead, hateful comments against Catholics and Muslims found their way to the front pages of leading Goan dailies. The reason why the reportage in the media should be critically analyzed and viewed with a healthy balance of skepticism is for the fact that for too long and for too many times, the promises of a better tomorrow have not really translated into any concrete action. The staging of the tiatr may have been a vital step in combating communalization, but it cannot be said that the problem of communalization has been addressed. In the celebrations that had followed, the contribution of the minority communities of Goa in actually providing a bulwark against communalization has so far not been acknowledged.
To reiterate an earlier point, we have to acknowledge that it is these men and women who through their support and patronage of tiatr are the ones to be credited for maintaining and nurturing the plural ethos of Goa. That Goa even remotely resembles such a plural space is because of the fact that such subaltern men and women have a critical voice in the politics of Goa. To keep them away from the mainstream political life, wherein their help is only sought when an external threat is poised to jeopardize the status quo of Goan politics, will itself be detrimental to all of us who genuinely believe in a peaceful and inclusive Goa.
To all the under-recognized tiatrists and more particularly their faithful audience, thank you for the laughs, thank you for the drama, thank you for the sharp political satire, and thank you for your sacrifices.
(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 3 September, 2014)