In the course of discussing the issue of the existence of legal and emotional bonds between Goa and Portugal, and how these bonds enabled the Goan to engage with a larger European world, I had suggested that such an engagement gets hijacked by nationalism. I would like to return to the theme to suggest that there is a longer history of pitting European culture, which is embodied in the Europeanized Goan, against Indian culture. Today, while an act like supporting the Portuguese football team, or reclaiming Portuguese citizenship, or simply demanding English as a Medium of Instruction in primary schools, may invite charges of being ‘anti-national’, about a hundred years ago it was the apparently mindless and shameless ‘aping’ of Western culture that was held up as an obstruction to true civilizational progress. One needs to locate the present allegation of being ‘anti-national’ and being ‘denationalized’ in this history of Goan intellectuals believing that the Goan was a ‘mimic-man’ due to his use of aspects of European culture.
The present problems emerging out of identity conflicts and communal polarization have their roots in a politics that projected a Sanskritically-constructed ‘Indian’ culture as the ‘other’ of Western or European culture. Suffice it to say that a shift was demanded entirely towards this ‘Indian’ culture rather than carefully thinking about the political future of Goans and Goa; a mixed-bag of rights and privileges that would enable cultural and social mobility for the Goans. In other words, rather than defining a politics based on the ground realities of different Goan communities, the nationalism of the elites was imposed on the masses.
In this context one can refer to Evagrio Jorge’s pamphlet A Reforma do Vestuário (1942). Jorge argued that Catholic intolerance and the propaganda of the Estado Novo had convinced the people of Goa that there was nothing better than European culture, making them loath certain aspects of Indian culture. As such, Jorge suggested that a change was needed and this could be brought about by changing to Indian modes of dressing. This would rescue the Goan from the civilizational degradations that had plagued him. Jorge’s propaganda made its arguments and suggestions not only through practical concerns of hygienic clothing for instance, but also in a manner that would culturally humiliate his readers. Arguing that the “heavy European clothing” was unsuited for a hot, tropical climate like ours, Jorge went on to suggest that Goans had to let go of “false ideas of grandeur” regarding European sartorial choices if they did not want to be referred to as “bonitos macacos (beautiful monkeys)”.
It is not really surprising that writers and political activists who thought that Goans were simply mimicking and aping Western culture would use a term like ‘monkey’ to ridicule them. In fact this was not the only way the Europeanized Goan was ridiculed. Jorge, in the same pamphlet, cites at length a passage from Dr. Antonio de Miranda’s Alguns Aspectos da Nossa Mentalidade (1933). Dr. Miranda too argued that a shift towards Indian culture and traditions was necessary. He attempted to criticize what he considered burlesque behavior amongst Goans, but ended up ridiculing the very persons he sought to reform. He recounts an incident about his mundcar, who, having completed his first viaj on board a P&O liner, wanted to present a crucifix to the chapel of his village. To that end he searched all shops in all the ports that his ship had berthed for a crucifix with Christ dressed in a tailcoat and a top-hat – in other words European clothes.
One cannot help but notice that, in suggesting that the engagement of Goans with European culture was burlesque, Dr. Miranda too invoked the ridiculous image of ‘bonitos macacos’ or the mimic-man. It is also interesting that it is the figure of the mundcar which comes in for ridicule. Thus, not all Goans are equally ridiculed and held responsible for Westernization, even if all of them are considered Westernized. Accounts and anecdotes of Goan intellectuals ridiculing the Europeanized Goan are quite revealing, seen from the class/caste perspective. Claims to European culture, then as today, had the potential of re-figuring the power-relations in Goa; one that elites increasingly shifting towards Indian nationalism wanted to counter. Through European dressing and the Portuguese language, the mundcar could make a claim for equality with the bhatkar. After all, given that the majority of Goan population today belongs to the former mundcarial class, it can easily be pointed out that it is the mundcarial underclass that is largely opting for a Portuguese passport and is being increasingly attacked for not having any loyalty to the Indian nation and culture today.
One needs to recognize that the claims to Europe and European-ness by the Goan are not a recent phenomenon, emerging due to the ability of Goans to reclaim their Portuguese citizenship. Issues of caste and class would undercut assertions that demand power and privilege to be distributed justly. One can also see how a nationalist politics demanding fidelity to Indian culture can neutralize lower class assertion and also obstruct the mobility of persons. Indulging in ridicule and outrage over this issue would only further the problem of Goans becoming strangers in Goa.
(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 17 August, 2016)