Tuesday, 28 October 2014

GOAN HERITAGE AND MUSEUMS OF INNOCENCE



A number of Goans tend to be very proud of their cultural heritage and traditions. With the changing political, economic, social, and demographic scenarios in Goa as well as across the globe, fears are being increasingly expressed that the cherished traditional ways of Goan life will be lost and the future generation would have no knowledge of their cultural heritage.

Of the many responses to such anxieties of losing a cherished way of life, one is to go back to these traditions and celebrate them anew, by organizing public displays of old Goan traditions, food, and cultural practices. Enthusiasts of the villages of Soccoro and Carmona recently organized the Patoianchem Fest and Ekvotacho Dis respectively in the month of August. These festivals were also given rave reviews in the media. From what was reported and broadcast on social networking sites like Facebook, it is noticed that these festivals, while concerned with showcasing and preserving Goan traditions, were also deeply affected by ecological concerns affecting Goa.



From the photos available online of the festival at Soccoro, one can observe that the organizers had managed to get people engaged in traditional occupations such as making brooms, peeling coconuts, and even massaging infants with coconut oil to create a live demonstration or tableaux. Goan food and games were also featured. What can be suggested is that a ‘makeshift museum’ was created as part of these celebrations. This is not the only time we create museums when talking about Goan heritage and culture, but many of the discussions about Goan culture are centered around preserving this culture in its pristine authenticity and purity, the way objects of art are preserved in a museum.

Orhan Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence (2009), could serve as a useful metaphor for thinking about ‘museums’ – whether makeshift or otherwise – and the seemingly innocent enterprise of preserving Goan culture and heritage.

Pamuk’s novel, set in Istanbul, is about a love affair that a rich, bourgeois Kemal has with a breathtakingly beautiful shop-girl, Füsun, who also happens to be his distant cousin. Pamuk portrays the conflicts within Turkish high society, of the need to be modern like Western Europe and also balance the demands of a tradition inflected by Islam. Since Kemal is engaged to another girl who is his class- and social-equal, his love for Füsun pretty soon runs into troubled waters, just as his affair with Füsun also leads to the break-up of his engagement.

Love soon turns into an obsession, with Kemal desperately clinging to any small thing that Füsun used or touched, finding solace in them for his aching heart. In fact, his obsession goes so far that he even collects the cigarette butts that Füsun had smoked and other trinkets that she may have touched, and so great is his longing, he even starts stealing them. Füsun knows exactly the price she has paid for her love for Kemal, by keeping her dreams and aspirations of being an actress on hold. Kemal loses Füsun under tragic circumstances and decides to establish a museum in her honour and in memory of the love that they had shared, by displaying the seemingly insignificant items that he had collected over all those years.

Kemal’s museum project is not solely to commemorate Füsun, for he also has a message for the Turkish people. He says, “With my museum I want to teach not just the Turkish people but all the people of the world to take pride in the lives they live. I’ve traveled all over, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes: While the West takes pride in itself, most of the rest of the world lives in shame. But if the objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum, they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride.”

In the Goan scenario, are we not battling the same sort of problems that the characters in Pamuk’s novel deal with? Are we not also under undue pressure from the demands of tradition and modernity, albeit of a different type? Are not many of the Goan traditions also associated with shame? The argument that I would like to make is that it is because of multifarious pressures that are exerted on the Goan from various directions that the celebration of Goan traditions – indeed taking pride in them – becomes necessary. Perhaps, it is here that we need to ask ourselves: what is it that we are celebrating?

The problem is that these museums contain a selective display of cultural artifacts that we are proud of. But what they can hide is the fact that many of these traditional occupations and practices are based on caste; that those engaged in these occupations even today are not paid more than a pittance; that in trying to celebrate certain cultural practices we might forget the real people who toil behind them. While not being against the idea of celebrating Goan culture for a better Goan identity, a case needs to be made that the welfare of the Goan must be given priority before any Goan traditions and cultural practices.

Thus, taking cultural practices and people out of their specific contexts can mask certain unpalatable realties that can challenge our very understanding of Goanness and Goan culture. This masking prevents us from understanding why these practices were given up in the first place. Füsun may have been commemorated in a museum, but she suffered in real life. The problem with museums that take into consideration only a part of reality, is that they fail to look at the suffering and pain hidden behind commemorations of pride.

Photos: Joel D'Souza and Socorro Socio-Art and Cultural Association.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 29 October, 2014)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

READING REGINALD: BETWEEN “VENICE” AND “RUSSIA”



During a recent visit to the Central Library in Panjim, I stumbled upon an entry in the database titled “Theatr Neketr Fuddarachem” authored by “Reginaldo Fernandes”. Knowing that generally Reginald Fernandes used an anglicized version of his name in most of his romanses, I decided to make sure if it was the same Reginald that I was interested in. The book procured for me was a small, pocket-sized one with no more than 70 pages which had badly yellowed and had become brittle as well. This book was published from Bombay in 1936.

1936? There hung a question in my mind: was the author the same Reginald Fernandes who wrote romanses from the 1950s onwards? To be moderately sure about this, his date of birth needed to be ascertained. Help came in from the editor of Gulab and The Goan Review Fausto V. da Costa who informed me that Reginald was born on June 14, 1914. This meant that when Reginald had authored and published this tiatr he was only around 22 years old. This means that if Reginald’s literary history is to be charted we have to go back to as early as 1936.

Reading this text no doubt raises more issues and questions about this genre of Konkani literature. This is because, first and foremost, when views are being expressed that tiatrists do not publish and document their scripts, here was someone quite young and already printing his works. Was he an exception? Indeed, Reginald seems to be the exception as even today a lot needs to be done as far as documenting the scripts of tiatr. Secondly, why was a young writer publishing his script? What were the conditions and factors that allowed such a person like Reginald to publish his work? Is it the only tiatr that he wrote and/or published? And if so why did he shift to writing romanses later in his life? Suffice it to say that these are questions for the future, for our purpose in Reading Reginald is quite different: to see what unfolds in his tiatr.

The story revolves around two young lovers Boby and Flora. In keeping with many of his writings in later times, Reginald portrays these two lovers as not equal to each other. In the very first scene or the opening act set in a garden, Boby tells Flora that she is from “Venice” and he is from “Russia”. The reference is at once enigmatic as it is revealing. What it immediately reveals is that because they are not same socially or economically, the young lovers will face opposition, and indeed later in the tiatr this is exactly what happens. The reason why this reference is enigmatic is because it is not clear from where Reginald is taking his inspiration from. Immediately, what comes to one’s mind, considering the fact that many Romi writers would adapt from English and other literatures, is some Shakespearian influence. But as one reads further, this reference never gains any clarity as far as its provenance is concerned.

Considering the fact that towards the climax of the tiatr, the characters engage in sword fights, the hero of the tiatr being thrown in jail and his lover entering the prison dressed like a man to free the hero, it would not be surprising that detailed study would reveal a mixture or medley of influences that is not just confined to Shakespearian drama. Thus, the act of Reading Reginald involves not just locating the provenance of the influences on the writer, but also acknowledging the influences of European literatures as legitimate in the development and progress of Konkani literature.

The story is simple: two young lovers, with the girl hailing from an economically well-off family. There is a third person, Alvaro, who is jealous of the love of Boby and Flora and tries every scheme in the book to separate them, and thereby inherit the wealth through marriage to Flora. If we would like to know more about the influences and thought process of Reginald and try to link them to his later writings, then I think this tiatr that he wrote can be used as a starting point considering the fact that he was just 22 years old when he wrote it.

Another reason why Neketr Fuddarachem is a fascinating text is because not only does it include the cantaram (songs) that accompanied the tiatr but also the musical notations. So Reginald is not just an able writer, a composer, but also a musician and all these facets of his personality come together in this text. Most of the dialogues rhyme, perhaps to provide the necessary dramatic or theatric effects. Such texts wherein prose, dialogues, cantaram, and music come together can also point to us alternate ways in which to conceptualize the nature and function of Konkani writings in the Roman script. More so because if one compares how scenes or podd’ddes change in a tiatr, similarly in Reginald’s romanses he deliberately makes the reader know that the focus of the story is being shifted to some other aspect and/or location of the story. So, a Reginald romans, in a sense, also works like a tiatr.

I admit that I have not been able to give a definite answer to the meaning of the reference to “Venice” and “Russia”. However, by reflecting on such references in Romi writings one can come up with new ways to engage with Konkani and Goan culture.

For more Reading Reginald, click here.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 15 October, 2014) 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

DIFFERENT, NOT UNIQUE



It can be said with a lot of certainty that Goans straddle many worlds. Owing to the differences between the colonial styles of the Portuguese and the British, and the interactions that Goans have with these two Empires, the historical and cultural experiences of the Goans are diverse indeed. With migrations to Africa, the Gulf, Europe and now increasingly to North America and Australia Goans seem to be a part of many worlds. This diversity of historical and cultural experiences has been ignored with attempts to fit Goa’s history within Indian national narratives with the region’s integration into India. Rochelle Pinto’s book Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa draws attention to this fact and also explores it in greater detail.

So why is this diversity of historical and cultural experiences important? It is for the reason that, as many scholars have emphasized, the nature of Portuguese colonialism was ‘different’ to that of the British, Goa’s history need to be looked at from its own standpoint. Recognizing this difference would also provide valuable insights into how the Goan identity came to be constituted. The argument that can be advanced is that it is due to the ‘different’ Portuguese colonialism that Goa acquired its exceptions with regards to its culture and history. For instance, such a difference can be observed in the political structures, its religious experiences, and food practices.

To recognize Goa’s ‘difference’ is not similar to asserting a ‘unique’ identity for it. Indeed, a distinction needs to be made between viewing Goa as ‘different’ and viewing it as ‘unique’. Asserting uniqueness is opposed to the idea of Goa’s difference from the established norm of British colonial and Indian national experience. This idea of uniqueness is largely used by groups who held positions of power and authority during the colonial regime as well as in the postcolonial times. Though originating in elite locations this very seductive idea is not restricted to these groups alone. The significance of asserting ‘uniqueness’ becomes clear if one starts thinking about how the idea of Goa’s uniqueness animates and sustains many popular political mobilizations in contemporary Goa. The movements to protect the environment, the demand for Special Status (to name just a few) have a very strong sense of Goa as a unique space.

If a departure from Indian national narratives can enable us to appreciate the possibility of opening up various worlds to view them as part of the Goan experience, the assertion of a unique identity itself isolates us from the possibility of creating networks with these diverse worlds. Thus, the fact that there might be other groups that are an exception to the norm within India, for instance, may get subsumed by the assertions of Goa and Goans as unique. Such assertions leave no space to forge new alliances with groups whose experiences may not differ much from that of the Goan.

To take tourism as an illustration, while we may recognize the manner in which Goa is reduced to an ‘exotic’ pleasure periphery for foreign as well as Indian tourists, what often gets left out is that there are other places within India itself that function as ‘exotic’ pleasure peripheries. If Goa is the ‘escape’ for many urban Indians from everyday troubles, in a similar way many of the hill-stations in India as well as places in the Northeast serve as ‘escapes’ for the nearby urban population. By ‘escaping’ to such ‘exotic’ locales one just does not leave his/her professional roles behind, but also their social norms and behaviour. The fact why Goa is seen as more liberal, Southern European, and Catholic than the other pleasure peripheries, is the result of its ‘different’ colonization. But this fact in no way separates or isolates Goa from these other pleasure peripheries within India. 

The ‘difference’ that we have discussed above is the product of the last four-and-a-half centuries. This ‘difference’ opens up new vistas and avenues for thinking about the road ahead for Goa. But to ignore this difference so as to solely view Goa within the frames of Indian nationalism would be to limit Goa’s potential and that of its many worlds.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 10 October, 2014)