Saturday, August 23, 2008

Portuguese India, the Politics of Print and a ambiguous Modernity

Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa by Rochelle Pinto; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007; pp 209, Rs 645. This book is the result of research undertaken for a PhD. Publishers however, usually impose restrictions of space and in such situations the author is often forced to make difficult choices and bear the responsibility of facing the consequences of those choices. Rochelle Pinto tells us that she seeks to explore print production in Goa, locating it within similar studies of print production in colonial India. Contrary to her own expectations, the evidence she gathered seemed to point to dissimilar processes in Goa and in colonial India. What could explain the difference? Her answer is: The different nature and guiding principles of the two colonial systems and the relations between the colonial states and their colonial elites. The two colonialisms are seen as historically and conceptually different. Print production in Goa had been generally identified with the Catholic elite, and that is where it stops in most histories of Goa. Pinto admits that her study too remains very far from an exhaustive representation of the responses to colonialism in 19th century Goa. Read the rest at: Teotónio R. de Souza

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Third Culture: Some aspects of the Indo-Portuguese Cultural Encounter

Alberto de Noronha, *The Third Culure – Some Aspects of the Indo-Portuguese Cultural Encounter*, Panjim, The Third Millenium, 2006, pp. 189, Price: Rs. 250, $15, € 12.
It is with a mix of sadness and satisfaction that I am writing these few lines about this author whom I did not get to know personally during my Goa phase of life. To enhance my sadness, I received the book by mail with a covering letter dated 16th October 2006 and signed by the author three weeks before he died. The tone of the letter written in Portuguese mentions the diagnosis of terminal cancer, which added to his advanced age of 80s, made the production of this book his last great challenge in life. Cites Sydney Smith who seems to have provided much needed inspiration: "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only litte. Do what you can".Alberto Noronha ends his note with a humble request to me to provide some of my precious time to say if his book deserves scholarly merit. He hoped that my opinion could bring some weight of publicity in the Goa-based press. I feel honoured by the gesture of the author in sending me his book, which I shall cherish as "in manus tuas commendo" votive offering. There is little I need to add to the appreciation of the book in its Preface by Maria Aurora Couto. The book reveals a meticulous planning, a very liberal and critical mind, very up-to-date readings on the subject (including a reference to me on page 128, where the author cites a long passage in a funny mix of Portuguese and Konkani, which I did not even remember I had included in a paper I had presented at a local history seminar of Goa University but which I had never seen in print), and a pleasant and measured style of presentation. Since J.N. Fonseca's *Historical and Archeological Sketch of the City of Goa* or Claude Saldanha's *Short History of Goa*, we had not seen anything so comprehensive, unpolemical and readable on Goa and written for general public as this little book of Albert Noronha. The author and this book will remain with us and the generations to come as cultural representations of Goa that is presented in *The Third Culture*.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Songs of the Survivors - A Book Review

Songs of the Survivors, ed. Yvonne Vaz Ezdani, Broadway Book Centre, Panjim, 2007, pp. 289 by Teotónio R. de Souza
Oral testimony is one of the most valuable but challenging sources for the study of modern history, providing access to knowledge and experience unavailable to historians of earlier periods. However, it implies methodological problems of collection and interpretation, including the risk of re-enacting the role of the proverbial blind men of India who described an elephant after touching one single part of elephant's body. The British empire is in this book an elephant to contend with, and the goodies served to the imperial subjects, including the grateful ex-Burma Goans, constitute a serious challenge to the interpretation of the oral testimonies and record of lived experiences. Yvonne Vaz Ezdani, the editor of this volume is not unaware of the pitfalls. Her introduction sets Burma pretty well (in her perspective) and briefly in its geographical, cultural and historical context, but probably logistical difficulties did not permit her to ask her contributors some questions that could have elicited their responses about intra-community relationships, or about their day-to- day dealings with the Burmese population. This was essential when we are told that " this is not just a story of Goans in Burma, or Goans alone… It is a wider story of human determination to fight the odds, and also a story of yet another insightful chapter of the little- understood reality of Goan migration worldwide… Stories in the book also reveal other aspects of the Goan diaspora in Burma: why and when they went to Burma, how they earned their living there, how they adapted to the culture and lifestyles, what they felt about the land and the local people, and much more." We can see in these personal reminiscences of ex-Burma Goans how their traditional piety did not fail them through life's ordeals during the trek and during the difficult years that followed. Salman Rushdie may not have overstated in *The Moor's Last Sigh* the devotion of the Indo-Portuguese families for kababed saints and tandooried martyrs. In 1932 many of them came faithfully all the way to the feet of St. Francis Xavier. And with so many ex-Burma Goans in the *Songs of the Survivors* (Sunny Siqueira, Anthony John D'Cruz, Alex C. Fernandes, Patricia Carmen Therese (née Duarte), Francis Siqueira, Antoinette née Selkirk, Anthony Xavier Rego, L.C. Saldanha, Cajetan Bernard Silgardo, John Menezes, José Cordeiro, Alex de Souza) who made their living and brought cheer to others with music, Salman Rushdie's *The Ground Beneath her Feet* could once again convey fitting homage to these musical children of Goa who had learnt to rock and roll despite the ground cracking beneath their feet time and again. The editor tells us also that "this book aims at capturing the memories of a generation that is advancing in age. It hopes to help Goans understand another aspect of their own histories. It also seeks to record tales of determination and survival that are relevant to people everywhere. While aimed at the general reader, one hopes the scholar or historian may also find some useful information in the narratives of oral histories put down in print." But for being "a generation that is advanced in age" and closely related as family and friends, there could be little excuse for justifying opportunism as a very human tendency to want a good life. It may be true that when you don't get the opportunities in your home country you look for it elsewhere, and feel some gratitude and loyalty to whoever provides you with prosperity and status. But this is also a unique occasion to leave a question, that may appear crude and cruel: How do such simple and good people compare with other simple and equally good people who stayed put, struggled and even died in their resistance to the imperial-colonial logic in order to gain freedom for their countrymen? We have seen some other earlier Goan efforts at reaching catharsis after similar exit-ential tragedies, such as the one lived by Goan survivors of Idi Amin's expulsion of Indians from Uganda, in Peter Nazareth's scholarly fictional tale The General Is Up (Calcutta, Writer's Workshop, 1984) or in less scholarly edition of A Collection of Goan Voices by Susan Rodrigues. Such narratives, including the present one, whatever their literary form or academic quality, they are valuable records of human pathos. Even when some of them reflect faded memories as regards some details, they reveal by that very fact the human capacity to empty the debris of their past life-constructions and to look ahead with fresh hopes kindled and sustained by younger generation, as when Donald Menezes recalls in this book : "For ten days, we stayed at Kokine Lakes, bathing and swimming in the lake, singing, dancing, dallying with the girls, playing with the kids, joking with the elders and dashing for the trenches when the sirens went out. Our cheerfulness and helpfulness buoyed up the elderly". These and other, more or less heart-renting and comforting accounts raise long-term existential doubts. My critical comments are not intended here as discordant notes in the midst of so much music that resonates in this book, but as calls for greater self-consciousness of Goans as a community that needs to construct its own future, ceasing to be a play-thing of alien interests in exchange of short- term satisfactions. From time to time, tragedies have joined the Goans as Goans, or as relatives and friends from Goa into a fellowship of sufferers? However, Goans need to look frontally and question themselves as to how many of their fellow-Goans and countrymen they exclude from their fellowship and concern, consciously or unwittingly in good times. The differentiated caste- clubs in Uganda make me raise this question. The narratives in this book seem to be restricted to Goans of one caste, and curiously limited to Saligão and some surrounding villages, with a couple of exceptions of Benaulim and Divar. Beyond the village and family links, church celebrations and love for music it is difficult to perceive the "Goanness" in this book. From my private queries I got some responses, including thankfully from the editor herself, pointing to the existence of a Goan Club in Burma that was known as Portuguese Club, or about Goans who chose to distance themselves from Indians, who were seen in Burma either as exploiting money-lenders or as coolies working for half an anna. Goans preferred to be identified with the Anglo-Indians or with the Portuguese. We are also told that the Burma trek included a "White Route" for the Europeans, Anglo-Indians and Goans, and a "Black Route" for the other Indians. These colonial-racial biases could have merited some soul-searching or at least some passing criticism in these narratives. Contrarily, Gerard Lobo expresses unqualified gratefulness of Goans to Pax Britannica that permitted many to leave their motherland for parts of British India (what is now Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma) at times when there was little gainful employment under Portuguese. The editor herself presents a reading of the Burmese history and the behavior of her last kings from a British imperial perspective. We are told that the last king of Burma was "weak and arrogant", unlike his father who was a "shrewd diplomat" and maintained "correct relations" with the British by refusing to side with the Indians during the 1857 mutiny and even gave a big donation to the British victims of the Mutiny! Such a reading is a far cry, for instance, from *The Glass Palace* of Amitav Gosh, who handles Burma experiences of Indians very differently. For a historian born in India after 1947 this book represents a vintage of Goan nostalgia, blissfully unaware of the logic of the empires, be they British, Portuguese or Japanese. Though many contributors in this book refer frequently and gratefully to the Loretto Convent in Calcutta, where they were welcomed at the end of the grueling trek, while others made their way through Madras, or chose to rebuild their lives in places like Belgaum, where the cost of living was cheaper and had good schools and colleges, or in Bangalore, Bombay, Pune, Lucknow and Allahabad, where they found easy employment and supportive environment, these are all destinations that seem to be taken for granted, without questioning if it was Mother India, or Queen of England, or both that made them feel safe. Isa Vaz tells us that her family moved from Goa to Calcutta, and when the Allied forces announced victory in June 1944, she along with other children marched joyously on Chowringee Maidan to the tune of 'God Save the King'. Her family returned to Burma, but was back in India a few years later due to the Karen uprising. The bulk of these ex-Burma Goans lives happily today in India, and not in U.K. or Portugal. The publication of a book like this can provide a wonderful opportunity to the Goan writers and readers alike to go beyond reminiscences and to find some answers to the historical complicity of Goans, willingly or unwittingly, with the colonial powers and to their lack of national consciousness. Instead of stopping with the judgement of the rulers of Burma, past and present, we should be able to ask: What right did the British have to re-locate even the worst king of Burma to Ratnagiri? Or to deport Indian nationalist leaders, including the renowned Bal Gangadhar Tilak, to Mandalay? Does not the British exile of the King Thebaw remind anyone here of the present day Burmese Junta trying to erase the memory of Aung San Suu Kyi by placing her under house arrest? At least they have not yet exiled her from her country! If S.N. Bose and his INA were challenging the British in alliance with the Japanese in Burma, why is there so little appreciation for his efforts, even after Martin could improvise some music for celebrating Bose's triumphant entry in Manipur, following the fall of Imphal? It is curious that Goans play tunes for all masters; a recorded tradition that goes back to Albuquerque's military band following the Portuguese capture of Goa. The "Songs of the Survivors" has brought to life and to light one more little known chapter of Goa's history. Yvonne Vaz Eznadi deserves credit for the trouble such a venture involves. If "comfortable and serene lives were shattered and they (contributors to this volume) were plunged into chaos and refugees who fled to India", it is our common wish that true and lasting "comfort and serenity in life" may be forever theirs and ours, and may the ground never again slip from under our feet as a result of forgetfulness or insufficient consciousness of our collective responsibilities and destiny as Goans. --- the end ---

Monday, January 21, 2008

Goa books, best-sellers

List as per Golden Heart Emporium, Abade Faria Road, Margao-Goa. Ph.: 2732450/ 2725208 Email:
* GOA: The Land and the People. Olivinho JF Gomes, National Book Trust Rs. 110 * 100 Goan Experiences Pantaleao Fernandes The World Publications Rs. 395 * GOA Romesh Bhandari Roli Books Pvt. Ltd. Rs. 225 * A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of Goa P. Killips Orient Longman Rs. 195 * Goa: A select Compilation on Goa's Genesis Luis De Assis Correia Maureen Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Rs. 395 * Goa's Struggle for Freedom Dr. P. P. Shirodkar Sulabha P. Shirodkar Rs. 395 * Farar Far- Local Resistance to Colonial Hegemony in Goa 1510-1912 Dr Pratima Kamat Institute Menezes Braganza Rs 200 * Goa Indica: A Critical Portrait of Postcolonial Goa Arun Sinha Bibliophile South Asia in associate with Promilla & Co., Publishers Rs. 495 * Goa With Love Mario Miranda M & M Associates Rs. 350 * House of Goa Gerard Da Cunha Architecture Autonomous Rs 1900

Career books

In these days of competitiveness, when the world throws open a range of opportunities, are students in Goa geared up to seize them? At times when parents are willing to pay upto Rs 35,000 as annual fees for primary school, we could do with a better range of career opportunities at the adolescent level. Two Goa books on careers made it to the bookshops recently. One was ex-Gomantak Times journalist Ilidio de Noronha's "Careers: The Complete Guide" (Pp 178, Rs 150, Plus Publications, 2464687) and the other is "Choose Your Very Own Career: A Guide for Students, Parents and Teachers" (Pp 617, Rs 65, Basil D'Cunha). The latter is an English-Konkani book. Both carry advertisements, making their prices more affordable to the young, who would obviously be their main target audience. Question is: will such books, which contain a whole lot of useful information, reach to the educators, students, parents, and school libraries -- that can make better use of them? While everyone gets worked out about "non-Goans" entering the State, and the buy-out of Goa's land resources, we don't seem as concerned about ensuring that our kids are competitive enough to take on the bigger world. Books like these are a welcome addition to those published in Goa. Feedback welcome:, 832-2409490 or +91-9970157402

Publishing travails

I ran into Odette Mascarenhas via cyberspace, thanks to a brief mention of one of her books in last week's column. Writes Odette: "I would definitely help in any way I can to encourage Goan writers to reach their goal. I know how difficult it can be." She is herself the author of two books. Besides the one mentioned last week, there's "Masci: The Man Behind The Legend" on the famed chef Miguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas. Rashmi Uday Singh wrote about the latter in "It's fascinating how a Goan kitchen boy whose job was plucking 200 chickens a day rose to become world's celebrated chef who catered to the kings and queens and viceroys of the world. Not only does his story come alive, you can actually recreate his food and have a taste of this legend too." But Odette Mascarenhas, from her experience with two books, has another less glamorous story to narrate. The first major hurdle in her work was finding the right publisher. Says she: "We have been running helter skelter to all the big names for over three years. Tata Press, Wilco, Rupa, Penguin, Jaico. While they all liked the idea, the question was: is it a viable investment. Very few Goans are known in this field." After publishing the book on their own, getting the book stocked and distributed -- even in Goa itself -- proved another challenge. Says she: "Moreover... though space is expensive, it would be nice, if they (book outlets in Goa) could keep a small 'Goan corner' for writers to promote their skills (in local bookstores). After all if a fellow Goan will not help another, who will? Its happening for art, with exhibitions to promote local artists, but writing has taken a back seat." She adds: "The idea of having a read-out session (to promote Goa-based books) seems brilliant. They do it abroad. Maybe some shop could buy the idea?"

Online text

What the print world finds it difficult to do, the online world manages. A statement put out in cyberspace says that the entire Konkani Bible is now available online in Kannada script. See

Learn Konkani

How do you sell a book in a scattered market like Goa, complicated by the fact that, despite our literacy, we are not quite a heavy-reading population? Jesuit linguist-priest Dr Pratap Naik; recently announced that the TSKK Konknni Course Book in the Roman script will be released in the last week of September 2007. At a special pre-publication price of Rs 175, this book is available -- via post -- from the Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, B.B.Borkar Road, Alto Porvorim, Goa - 403 521.

Memoirs ... of a voice from the airwaves

This is about the most bizarre thing to do while encountering a book: try to read it from the ending! That's just what I did with the autobiography of someone you might know, a lady called Imelda Dias. So one is still trying to put the pieces of the jigsaw together; but it was an interesting read. Most of Goa of a particular generation -- those around here in the 1960s and 1970s -- would probably remember the name "Imelda" (or even Imelda Tavora). She then was the most popular announcer in the State, at a time when radio was the unquestioned king of all the mass media. (Forget about TV, which didn't exist here yet, and newspapers were far smaller.) So I began reading her book with the Epilogue. This chapter took me to my schoolboy days in the 1970s, and the music that Imelda played for all of us via the radio. It came through loud and clear on Sunday afternoons. It came on Friday nights. It came in the afternoon siesta time on weekdays. All the names of the programmes sounded so very fresh -- 'Your Choice', 'Latin Rhythm', 'Your Favourites' and more. Many readers would probably even recall the sign-off name "Yours truly, Imelda". This book is about the Goa that was, touching a bit on colonial Goa and the period just after 1961. Those were times of change and uncertainty. But they were nice times too, in a way. Imelda's book tells the story of the Catholic elite of the times, the nostalgia with which it looks back, and life in the "good old days". Subtitled "An Autobiography of a Woman Ahead of Her Times", this is also a story of a woman going against the trend, settling for a divorce in the 1960s, and facing the patriarchy of Catholic Goa of the times. It's a book edited by Margaret Mascarenhas, editor of 'Skin'. Spiced with the gossipy details of Panjim's life in the 1970s, parts of the book are very engrossing. But one couldn't believe all one read, even if this only incited one's curiosity to learn more of those times. Besides her boarding years in Pune (then still Poona), this story talks about life in All India Radio, what it meant to be a political refugee of sorts in Salazar's Lisbon post-1961, and stories of love and romance from another era. It's a good read for anyone who grew up in the Goa of those years, and one would not hesitate recommending it (2006, Rs 250, printed and published by Imelda Dias, pp 189, hb). With an catchy title like 'How Long Is Forever' and a covered mostly in black-and-white cover, this is a book that would catch your attention. Strangely, it isn't very well displayed in most bookshops. Friends I mentioned it to, had all not come across it either!