OPEN HOUSE GOA?

I’ve just heard about the Open House Festival in Amsterdam from my friend Kiran Keswani who spent some time there and now lives in Bangalore. I was fascinated with what Kiran was saying and that got me thinking… couldn’t something like this be replicated or adapted for Goa? Let me explain it the way I have understood it.

Kiran says that every year there is this festival in Amsterdam when people of the city open up their homes to visitors. People from all walks of life participate in the festival, sponsors can advertise in the homes open to visitors and food and music is on offer by choice. This Festival sounds a lot like the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts that Goa Heritage Action Group had staged so many years ago in the heritage neighbourhood of Fontainhas and Mala in Panaji, where the whole neighbourhood became the stage. Art was displayed in peoples’ homes, music was enjoyed on street corners and on make-shift platforms and it made for a unique and characteristically un-Goan intrusion into the whole privacy issue. The Fontainhas Festival turned this otherwise quiet very private neighbourhood into a public arena where just about everyone interacted with everyone, artists with home owners and with visitors.

This Amsterdam Festival seems to be a little different in the sense that it is not so much about artists displaying their works and turning heritage homes into temporary art galleries. This Festival seems to have the houses and gardens on display! Home owners first sign up for the Festival (Amsterdam is a small city) and agree to participate in this community show. The houses need not be grand or ostentatious. They may or may not have beautiful gardens. I think the only qualification is that you should be house proud and willing to show off! Once the dates are announced the home owners stay at home for the duration of the Festival and not just allow complete strangers to walk through their homes and gardens but actually entertain them with music, some coffee or a friendly chat.

Art does form part of the Open House Festival but in a limited sort of way. If a home owner has a piece of art work in their homes, they will display it and talk about it including stories and anecdotes related to the art work. These stories would not only be interesting to other art lovers like themselves (I for one always want to know how a piece was first seen, acquired and always remember how I first saw it hanging on display and how it caught my attention) but the conversation would take the “fear out of art”.

During the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts, for example, I was taken aback when a visitor confessed that she had never been inside an art gallery in her life and that this was the first time she had looked at art in a gallery-like environment. Her words are words I will never forget. She said, “I used to go past an art gallery on my way to work every day and I used to always wonder about what happens in there. I never dared to go in, thinking I would have to buy something.” The way she said it, it sounded almost like the artist would be waiting behind the doors holding a gun!

The Fontainhas Festival of the Arts changed that fear to wonder. Art was no longer a scary three-letter word. Art was accessible, friendly and warm. Art in the atmosphere of a home touched a chord in many hearts. Perhaps an Open House Festival would do the same thing in a slightly different way. How many of us have driven or walked past a heritage home and wondered about what goes on in there? I mean, we’re not interested in the family’s secrets (and every family has them) but we do conjure up scenarios about how people live in these mansions, on what furniture they sit and read a book, how modern equipment like a television of a music system has been accommodated comfortably in this period setting.

I personally have no qualms about knocking on a door and introducing myself as the friendly neighbourhood nuisance but I don’t know if many people would have the same kind of thick skin. The high plinth and several steps, the balçao as a social screening device and the “high” posture of a typical Goan house could be intimidating to say the least. How many people would be welcomed into homes without a proper reference? It would be unreasonable to expect home owners to open their homes and hearts to a complete stranger.

The Open House Festival could bridge this gap. Only those home owners who wanted to participate would take part in it. During the course of my research visits, I have been pained at seeing so many lonely people in a home, just waiting for “something to happen” to relieve the boredom of a lonely day. It would be exciting for people like them. Besides, the whole Open House Festival could be done under the auspices of a legitimate and reputed organisation and therefore given a certain degree of legitimacy.

One of the nicest fall outs of such a Festival would be a view not just of the house but of the gardens in these homes. Goa has the most wonderful and invigorating homes and gardens in India. And yet, home owners hardly seem to be aware of the wealth of plant material in their midst. Goan gardens are not well-manicured formal affairs. They are a pot pourri of plants brought from all over the world and nurtured in Goa’s humid and “hot house” climate. I used to be amazed at how freely home owners shared plant material in Goa between neighbours and between home owners and complete strangers.

On walks in South Goa, in the small lanes of Betalbatim and Varca, I would often stop and admire a potted plant or a hanging basket of begonias only to be offered a cutting by the generous home owner. Plant nurseries were not yet invented in Goa in the mid 1990’s. Home owners simply asked for plant material from their neighbours or brought back plant material from their travels in India and abroad. And neighbours gave of their plant cuttings and seeds freely, with love. In fact, I detected a sense of pride on being asked for a plant cutting. What’s more you even got free advice on how to plant the cutting, where to place it for best results and what problems to expect.

An Open House Festival in Goa? Perhaps. After all, social media has allowed us access into peoples’ lives like never before. Everyone seems to be interested in where we live, how we live, where we travel to, what we eat and with whom. Now isn’t it time we step out of digital space and reclaim our physical space, our tactile, touchable, “feel-able” contact with our very own friends, neighbours and fellow villagers? I say it is!

 

 

 

 

Heta Pandit

 

I’ve just heard about the Open House Festival in Amsterdam from my friend Kiran Keswani who spent some time there and now lives in Bangalore. I was fascinated with what Kiran was saying and that got me thinking… couldn’t something like this be replicated or adapted for Goa? Let me explain it the way I have understood it.

Kiran says that every year there is this festival in Amsterdam when people of the city open up their homes to visitors. People from all walks of life participate in the festival, sponsors can advertise in the homes open to visitors and food and music is on offer by choice. This Festival sounds a lot like the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts that Goa Heritage Action Group had staged so many years ago in the heritage neighbourhood of Fontainhas and Mala in Panaji, where the whole neighbourhood became the stage. Art was displayed in peoples’ homes, music was enjoyed on street corners and on make-shift platforms and it made for a unique and characteristically un-Goan intrusion into the whole privacy issue. The Fontainhas Festival turned this otherwise quiet very private neighbourhood into a public arena where just about everyone interacted with everyone, artists with home owners and with visitors.

This Amsterdam Festival seems to be a little different in the sense that it is not so much about artists displaying their works and turning heritage homes into temporary art galleries. This Festival seems to have the houses and gardens on display! Home owners first sign up for the Festival (Amsterdam is a small city) and agree to participate in this community show. The houses need not be grand or ostentatious. They may or may not have beautiful gardens. I think the only qualification is that you should be house proud and willing to show off! Once the dates are announced the home owners stay at home for the duration of the Festival and not just allow complete strangers to walk through their homes and gardens but actually entertain them with music, some coffee or a friendly chat.

Art does form part of the Open House Festival but in a limited sort of way. If a home owner has a piece of art work in their homes, they will display it and talk about it including stories and anecdotes related to the art work. These stories would not only be interesting to other art lovers like themselves (I for one always want to know how a piece was first seen, acquired and always remember how I first saw it hanging on display and how it caught my attention) but the conversation would take the “fear out of art”.

During the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts, for example, I was taken aback when a visitor confessed that she had never been inside an art gallery in her life and that this was the first time she had looked at art in a gallery-like environment. Her words are words I will never forget. She said, “I used to go past an art gallery on my way to work every day and I used to always wonder about what happens in there. I never dared to go in, thinking I would have to buy something.” The way she said it, it sounded almost like the artist would be waiting behind the doors holding a gun!

The Fontainhas Festival of the Arts changed that fear to wonder. Art was no longer a scary three-letter word. Art was accessible, friendly and warm. Art in the atmosphere of a home touched a chord in many hearts. Perhaps an Open House Festival would do the same thing in a slightly different way. How many of us have driven or walked past a heritage home and wondered about what goes on in there? I mean, we’re not interested in the family’s secrets (and every family has them) but we do conjure up scenarios about how people live in these mansions, on what furniture they sit and read a book, how modern equipment like a television of a music system has been accommodated comfortably in this period setting.

I personally have no qualms about knocking on a door and introducing myself as the friendly neighbourhood nuisance but I don’t know if many people would have the same kind of thick skin. The high plinth and several steps, the balçao as a social screening device and the “high” posture of a typical Goan house could be intimidating to say the least. How many people would be welcomed into homes without a proper reference? It would be unreasonable to expect home owners to open their homes and hearts to a complete stranger.

The Open House Festival could bridge this gap. Only those home owners who wanted to participate would take part in it. During the course of my research visits, I have been pained at seeing so many lonely people in a home, just waiting for “something to happen” to relieve the boredom of a lonely day. It would be exciting for people like them. Besides, the whole Open House Festival could be done under the auspices of a legitimate and reputed organisation and therefore given a certain degree of legitimacy.

One of the nicest fall outs of such a Festival would be a view not just of the house but of the gardens in these homes. Goa has the most wonderful and invigorating homes and gardens in India. And yet, home owners hardly seem to be aware of the wealth of plant material in their midst. Goan gardens are not well-manicured formal affairs. They are a pot pourri of plants brought from all over the world and nurtured in Goa’s humid and “hot house” climate. I used to be amazed at how freely home owners shared plant material in Goa between neighbours and between home owners and complete strangers.

On walks in South Goa, in the small lanes of Betalbatim and Varca, I would often stop and admire a potted plant or a hanging basket of begonias only to be offered a cutting by the generous home owner. Plant nurseries were not yet invented in Goa in the mid 1990’s. Home owners simply asked for plant material from their neighbours or brought back plant material from their travels in India and abroad. And neighbours gave of their plant cuttings and seeds freely, with love. In fact, I detected a sense of pride on being asked for a plant cutting. What’s more you even got free advice on how to plant the cutting, where to place it for best results and what problems to expect.

An Open House Festival in Goa? Perhaps. After all, social media has allowed us access into peoples’ lives like never before. Everyone seems to be interested in where we live, how we live, where we travel to, what we eat and with whom. Now isn’t it time we step out of digital space and reclaim our physical space, our tactile, touchable, “feel-able” contact with our very own friends, neighbours and fellow villagers? I say it is!

 

 

 

 

HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! HELP! NOT JUST ANYBODY!

This article would not have been possible before the year 2001. At that time I was not owned by a house in Goa. I was not a slave to seven cats (six in Mumbai and one in Goa) then and I was not at the beck and call of domestic staff. Before 2001, I was a free woman. My cousin Mahrukh and I could not afford any domestic help and we would do all our own housework, our own shopping and cooking. The homes we rented were small and compact and our needs few. We were happy.

Then in 2001, Mahrukh moved back to her parental home in Nagpur and I moved up in life. I still rented (a small flat in Porvorim) but I could now afford to have a maid come in to sweep the floor and clean the bathroom. The small fridge I had was only slightly smaller than the kitchen. On a good day all it contained was one single cabbage and a tetra pack of milk. The milk was for my first cat, aptly named Catalyst and the cabbage for me. Friends from Mumbai would drop in and come and stay with me expecting a “first class Goan meal” and would get absolutely shell-shocked at the contents of my cupboards. They were, as Old Mother Hubbard would have said, bare.

It was then that Shilpa would come to the rescue. She would slave all day at home and come armed with an assortment of boxes, packets and plastic bags filled with the tastiest Goan Hindu food money couldn’t buy. Shilpa had the key to the flat and would let herself in, finish her work at a time convenient to her and leave all her goodies on the small breakfast table that served as office table, dining table and conference table depending on what was needed at the time of day. In any case, my front door was almost never locked and neither was anything else in the house.

Mobile phones were a new thing then and I had a phone that Shilpa could call me on. One afternoon Shilpa called me, frantic. “Didi, when will you be home?” I asked her what the matter was and she said, “The cat’s mewing from the cupboard! I think she’s locked in there!” I am by nature a calm person. My mother often said that I had swallowed a pot of cold water as a baby. My cupboards were never locked. I asked her why she had not opened the cupboard to let the cat out. Shilpa was close to tears. “But you’re not at home! How can I open your cupboard?” “Yo, if there’s a cat locked in then you can.” “Okay then next time I will”.

My other favourite Shilpa story is when I got back from a long day outside the house and saw that Catalyst had not touched her food. Again, almost in tears, Shilpa says to me, “Haun tika nice nice keley pun ti kai khauchen na” (I stroked her on her head and spoke to her so nicely and yet she would not touch a thing.)

The house in Saligao acquired me in the Christmas year of 2006. Catalyst moved with me from Porvorim and my ever protective mother sent a retinue of Nepali boys to look after us both. I soon acquired the reputation of “living with eight boys”. Actually we did have eight Nepali boys (all related to one another) but they were spread over three homes, Bombay, Panchgani and Goa. Krishna was the baby of the household. How he came to the house is another story. As it so happened both my parents were ill and in hospital at the same time. I had my hands full and absolutely no one in the Bombay house. Mum’s most faithful were away in Nepal and the others were elsewhere. This little boy was standing at the gate and asked me if he could help.

“Yes,” I said, a little breathless. “Go upstairs, there’s no one there. Find a broom and mop and get cleaning. I will be back from the hospital very soon.” That was the be-all and end-all of our domestic interview. Krishna stayed with me for over 15 years and is now a “bus boy” at China Gate from where he takes a day off to visit me every month without a break. He learned everything there was to learn and would cook and clean on a normal day, climb up on the roof to check for leaks and paint the kitchen to relieve himself of boredom. On the day he wanted to play the “baby” he would ask me to cook his favourite vegetable (cabbage, of course!) “Because you make it the sweet Gujarati way”. If someone asked me out on that day I would say, “No thanks but I am cooking for our cook today”.

I now have thirty people working for me in various capacities spread over the three homes and they are all wonderful but the staff star is without a doubt Tanaji. How Tanaji joined our household in Goa is a story. The house has a little replica of itself across the street that we all call The Little House. I was on the lookout for someone to stay at the little house for security, for “someone to be so the big house does not get too lonely”. Tanaji was a security guard at a Maruti Suzuki showroom in Porvorim. With no home to go to, he would do “day and night” duty at the showroom and it was telling on him at the ripe old age of forty. He was on the look-out for pasture.

My driver happened to know the accountant there who brought Tanaji over. I used the traditional Goan screening device (my balcão) to interview Tanaji. Before I could ask him what he would do, Tanaji brought out a list of jobs that he would like to do. “I will sleep in the balcão when you are not there. I will bring in your bags when you arrive. I will put them in the car for you when you leave. I will make a cup of tea for any guests who arrive before the cook comes in. After the cook comes in I will not touch a thing. I will make my own food. You will give me a salary of XXX per month and I will never ask you for a loan.” Interview done, Tanaji had hired me.

One year to the day, I have never had to give him his roster of duties. Tanaji decides when to water the garden, manure the plants, which neighbour to rent a scooter from and which neighbour to take seriously. I think he is so well networked in the village that he knows more people than I have met in the past ten years. He is also become adept at a very uniquely Goan talent. He can pick up gossip like a sponge, filter it through sand and hold it in a shell to his ear from where he can hear the sea. Like I said, there’s a star in Tanaji.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU NAME IT

When I first came to Mumbai in 1981 I was very careful in the use of names of areas and streets. What we had called Flora Fountain as children had been renamed Hutatma Chowk. What we had always called Byculla Zoo or Victoria Gardens when we were little was now renamed Veermata Jijabai Udyan. At that time to call any place by its old name (read British Colonial) was considered sacrilege and one learnt to respect the sentiment behind the change. Or else.

In those early years I used to write a column in the Sunday Mid-Day titled the Bombay Walkabout and often would go visiting the heritage monument or open space to write about it. When I got into the taxi and asked the driver to take me to the politically correct place, he would look at me and scratch his five o’clock shadow as if to say, “Where is that?” I would then describe the place and he would laugh and say, “Rani Baug bolo na!” (Why don’t you just say the Queen’s Garden meaning Victoria Gardens)? I soon learnt to quickly combine the old name and the new and make it one long sounding totally new third name.

By the time I came to Goa fourteen years after the Bombay stay I was well trained in the art of listening to new names for old places and old names for new places. With all that “Bombay is now Mumbai” training, I was at home with the popular custom of local names both for local people and the places they inhabited. What came as a mild surprise was that not only did people have nicknames for other people but even houses in the neighbourhood had their own nicknames.

My house in Saligao was once owned by Sartorio D’Melo Anslekar, a difficult man with an even more difficult name. Sartorio naturally became Sonny to all his neighbours. What is more interesting is that even his nickname had a nickname! Sonny apparently had a booming voice and so he was called “godgoddo” or thunder. What naturally followed was that the house he lived in was called “Godgoddo’s House”. As if that was not enough, because the house juts out precariously on the edge of the road and taxis, buses and motorcycles come to a screeching halt to let one another pass; most motorists call it “Ah! Corner House”. I have named the house Maia or Mai (Mother) after Mom who was instrumental in helping me with the difficult negotiations when I wanted it. So how many names can this one house have? Godgoddo’s House? Corner House? Maia? It all depends on who is looking at it and how.

Some houses in Goa are attached to their owner’s names. The houses are known by the name of the families that own it even after the families have sold out and gone away. A few visitors to the house and your neighbours start wondering if you’ve rented the house out or sold it. The other day I was compelled to remove my name plate from the back gate because a few hungry termites had decided to make the wooden board their post monsoon lunch box. The small tiles came off with one light touch and the plywood backing for the tiles crumbled like breadcrumb.

Even before I had finished cleaning the tiles and was laying them out to dry in the sun, a gentleman from the neighbourhood walked in and asked me if I was who I had said I was on my name plate. Having peered at me warily in the morning sunlight and reassured himself that I was indeed who I had said I was, he asked me why I had removed the name plate from the gate. “I have always seen the name plate and now you have removed it.” Oh dear, I apologised and then had to show him the termite shredded board and the tile pieces, put on a straight face and tell him the name plate would soon be up as soon as I could find a good carpenter. Speak of putting all my tiles on the table!

“Ah, so you’re not selling the house?” he asked once again. “You will be putting the name plate back on the gate?” And then, “what does Maia mean? Is it Hebrew? Is it from the Holy Book?” When I explained how I had just tweaked the Konkani “Mai” or Mother to Maia, he looked convinced. “Ah, it’s Konkani.” I breathed a sigh of relief when he left convinced but I must say I was touched with the concern a total stranger might have for my name plate being or not being there on the back gate. In Bombay or Mumbai, who would have cared?

Houses are also known in Goa by the colour of their exteriors. It is not uncommon to give directions that incorporate something like, “Take a left at the blue-and-white house”. This only means that you must never ever change the colour of your walls or windows. How will people find other houses in your vaddo if you do? A colour change often means a change of ownership. The blue house at the corner in Sangolda (the one that got knocked down by trucks burning on midnight oil each year) has recently changed hands. I know because the blue has been replaced by a lovely laterite-brick-rose. So now if I want to give directions to drive past the house should I describe it as the “old blue house that is now a pretty pink B&B”? I don’t know. For me, it will always be Barbara’s House, someone I had only imagined living there and had never met. If I had met her perhaps I would have known more about her and the house and given the house a nickname. A new name of my old choice.

 

THE REST IS EASY

I had a terrible bout of viral fever last week. Never prone to fevers of any kind, this attack came as a shock and I took it personally. “Me?” I said to myself. “No, not me.” The truth is, I had to rush to Emergency Room in the middle of the night with abdominal pain so bad I could barely move. My sister, her husband and her younger son came rushing all the way from Vikhroli, an hour away from where I live in Bandra. The Emergency Room at the Holy Family Hospital on Hill Road has been done up recently with everything except the most important thing. Doctors.

So there I was, writing and screaming in pain calling out to the nurses, ward boys, sweepers and attendants and asking them all to call the RMO, the so-called Resident Medical Officer who was obviously not in “residence”. Ah well, three doctors turned up after a good half an hour and began attending to the most urgent case in the Emergency Room and it wasn’t me. “There is someone here worse than you,” I was told, apparently referring to a young man who had not eaten in ten days and who was severely dehydrated, his mouth parched, his ribs poking out and his body a rib-cage physical shell. All three RMOs began attending to the poor man while I, a patient too, was told to be “patient”.

When it came to my turn, finally, the RMO who began his examination and his line of interrogation introduced himself as Dr. Back. I kid you not, that really was his name. (I checked my file again when I left at about 2 a.m. that morning to make sure I was not hallucinating.) They gave me the injections I needed and scared me half to death saying I would have to be wheeled into the hospital bed for a week. I decided to get well immediately and my sister took me home and stayed with me until I was better the following day.

I followed the good Dr. Back’s medical instructions to the letter for the following three days and then decided that all I needed to do was go “home” to Goa for a good rest. So as soon as I was able to walk without going belly up I took the flight to Goa and stayed home. From the minute I landed and my friends came to the airport to fetch me I knew I had landed on my feet. “A warm sunshine after many days of Dussera rain,” they said. “Many tourists, Madam, good thing you came after they have all left,” said Eknath, my taxi driver and friend of twelve solid dependable driving years.

Jugs filled with lemonade were meant to be waiting for me since that is all I could stomach at that stage. My cook Anita did not have the courage to let me know over the phone that she did not know what lemonade meant. “Nimboo pani,” I had said over the phone not unlike Mario Miranda’s famous Bollywood character Miss Nimboopaani. So cook Anita promptly put some lemons in a bowl and a glass of water and set both bowl and glass on a lacquer tray lined with a lace tray cloth. Ah well, there was “nimboo” and there was “paani” so what else did I need? Nothing else. I was home and I was determined to get my much needed rest.

I made the lemonade and lay down on my bed when the most horrible screeching soul-wrenching sound came careening down from the neighbour’s house. My neighbour Shilpa was getting another floor added up and the masons were cutting tiles to fit the skirting. How much skirting does it take to do up one tiny floor of one tiny little house? A lot. I tried to remember what I had learnt at my meditation class and how we had been taught how to block off undesirable noise. It worked. I was determined to get my rest.

The noise must have petered off at the end of the working day and I must have fallen dead asleep when I was woken up to the sound of large boxes being loaded on to a tempo next door. Ah well, how much noise can a few boxes being dumped on to the metal floor of a small truck make? They can, especially if they’re filled with tiger biscuits. I decided I could live with a few roars. I was determined to get my rest.

Two more days of Goa-brand of rest and my friends decided that I was well enough to take a scooter ride through the ripening paddy fields of Calangute and enjoy the view of the receding tide at the mouth of the river Mandovi. Calangute was a “free massage” ride over pot holes and not restful at all but the sight of the leaving tide and the steel gray light over the Mandovi, children kicking a ball on the beach and dogs lapping up from a freshwater stream that ran through the sand gave me the rest I needed.

The screeching of the tile cutting and the slamming of tiger biscuits on a tempo the following day seemed too trivial to complaint about. I was getting the rest I needed despite the noise I did not. Somewhere in the distance someone had decided that their trees needed lopping. Somewhere in the distance someone else had decided that their motorcycle did not need its silencers and raring through the quiet of the night with full pistons on was the “done thing”. I did not mind it at all. It was all part of the “sounds of silence” in Saligao. I was rested. I was well enough to sit in the garden with the old newspapers and a crime thriller.

Somewhere over the garden table a pair of purple rumped sunbirds were twittering away deep in conversation. The bulbuls that had paired last year were back in the bougainvillea and flying so low over my head that I could hear the “frrrr” of their wings and tail. A coucal fell into the birdbath by accident. It had chased a cricket and there had been a struggle. The coucal won but hid his embarrassment behind the trunk of the coconut palm. It was then that I decided that I had rested enough. That I was well enough to get back to Mumbai and work.

How to draw/paint/write/enact Goan culture in two days flat

I was invited to a panel discussion over two days on 20th and 21st last month and I must share what I saw and heard at this conference with you. First of all, the invitation was from the prestigious UNESCO, an international body that frames its constitution and its conventions on the assumption that culture exists in every corner of the world, is defined and is both in tangible and intangible form. UNESCO intends to make, in their own words, “Goa an experiment” in the documentation and publication of the various products of culture. It was a panel of concerned artists, writers, culture researchers and performers from Goa and producers of film, books and facilitators from outside Goa. It was a wonderful and energetic meeting of minds and I was in good company. Only, I wish it had been thrown open to the public, students and scholars of culture and the Goan media.

A list of questions were circulated by the organisers including our own Government of Goa Art & Culture Department and all the panellists had their notes ready and waiting, poised questions with more questions. To illustrate some of the questions and answers, here are the answers I had personally brought on board for discussion. I think it would be appropriate to share them with you.

What cultural/ creative industries are active or have potential in Goa?

  1. Architectural crafts such as those seen in the churches, temples, houses of Goa (mother of pearl shell windows, roof systems, door devices, iron smithy, flooring, false ceilings, stone craft, manufacture of tools required for these crafts, tulsi vrindavans, mouldings, etc.)
  2. Frescoes and paintings on the walls of Goan houses, ( iconography both religious and secular, decorative art forms)
  3. Culinary crafts (to include recipes and the preservation of ethnic culinary knowledge)
  4. Folk dances and related crafts (such as costume design, costume production, musical instruments, dance forms and other forms of oral history)
  5. Goan Tiatr (and related crafts and production of set design, costume, language, popular sentiment)
  6. Furniture (to include chests, boxes, chairs, tables, almirahs, altars, garden and ladinha furniture)
  7. Clay utensils and pottery (to include clay sculpture)
  8. Tile manufacture (azulejos and contemporary tile and ceramic pottery designs and tableware)
  9. Hydro agro systems (sluice gates, tools manufacture, systems)
  10. Wood and lacquer work (dowry chests, paats, icons, statues, etc.)
  11. Cane craft and reed grass crafts(chairs, baskets, winnowing fans, fish traps, storage baskets, mats, etc. and the production of tools needed for the crafts)
  12. Flower and garden crafts
  13. Copper and brass crafts
  14. Silver, gold and marcazite crafts
  15. Matoli or canopy crafts (fruit and vegetable, leaves and flowers in the use of elaborate canopies constructed for the Shri Ganesha festival)
  16. Transient or temporary crafts such as rangoli (floral decorations done daily in rice flour and coloured powders as significant devices in homes to mark sanctified sites within and without)
  17. Crafts related to fishing (to include the making of boats, dug outs, rampons, cultural components such as iconography on fishing vessels, special days of significance, etc.)
  18. Crafts related to toddy tapping
  19. Crafts related to production of urrack and feni (cashew and coconut production)
  20. Crafts as products of the coconut palm (such as rope production, canoes, food, thatching, material for roofing and the production of tools required in these crafts)
  21. Food craft (to include bakery, confectionary, culinary products that illustrate Goa’s rich social and political history and the history of in-migration and out-migration)
  22. Textiles and embroidery (such as kunbi saris and woven products that have been recently modernized and revived)

Do they reflect the cultural diversity of Goa?

Yes, they do with festivals in the villages of Goa marking a significant cross cultural current of exchange and merger. This diversity also earmarks certain milestones in syncretism between communities. They also reflect Goa’s rich cultural history and show off various cultural and historical references and influences.

Are there specific policies / schemes to support the creative industries?

There are but the emphasis appears to be on the value of these crafts only as measures of entertainment. The whole focus appears to be that of appeasement of the tourist industry. Policies do not recognize or include uniquely Goan crafts or cultural components.

Is collaboration between Directorate of Arts and Culture and other departments promoted – otherwise how to do so, for instance, with departments such as small scale industries, skill development, vocational training, media and broadcasting etc?

Government policy must translate into the promotion and development of skills in Goa with infusion from educated, informed and aware designers who understand the location and position of a particular skill in Goa’s societal context. Media, marketing experts and general public all have a role to play. However, caution must be exercised to see that the scope, limitations, sensitivity and intrinsic knowledge base of the craftspeople are not undermined in the promotion.

Does Goa’s media support the need of person with disabilities, marginalized groups etc?

No.

Can we support the modernization of traditional cultural industries through digital media and which areas?

Of course! What will modernization do? Why the assumption that digital means better?

To what extent does civil society participate in policy formulation?

Zilch.

Are there associations / unions that represent the collective voice of the cultural professionals?

Yes but only in a limited sector. Again, only the ones that help the state promote its skewed image as a place “to party” much to the detriment of other custodians of culture and to the detriment of Goa’s women and children.

If so, what is their major policy advocacy for?

A major policy must advocate a balanced view of culture, cultural products, cultural production and promotion and the custodians of culture. Today it’s completely skewed towards tourism and the “consumption of culture”. END

Most of the discussions were lively, animated and passionate. However, there was one observation that I would like to share. Everyone was given a fair chance to speak. Everyone did speak. The artists present spoke about art as Goa’s culture, the oral traditionalists as that being the only evidence of Goan culture, the musicians lamenting that “foreign performers” were given priority over local Goan talent. In the end, we showed concern and complaint only about the shortcomings and lack of government support in our specific field in a narrow myopic view. Sadly, we left off where we had begun. I wonder what the delegates from UNESCO, newly arrived in Goa and keen to learn, had made of it all.

 

 

For Fontainhas Festival anyone?

I met a young gentleman at a meeting yesterday who walked up to me and asked if the Fontainhas Festival was going “to happen” again. I didn’t think the young gentleman was old enough to remember the Festival and was mildly surprised by the question. For others old enough to remember the Festival but had missed it, this was a series of five festivals where artists from Goa displayed their art works in peoples’ houses in the heritage precinct of Fontainhas, Panaji. The Festivals caused much excitement for several reasons. One, it was a unique concept where complete strangers were encouraged to walk through private homes and view art hanging on walls, perched precariously on chairs and stood drunkenly on sofas, fridges and cupboards.

Two, it was perhaps the first time in Goa that there was an interface between artists, heritage home-owners and the general public. One heard comments like, “We were always afraid of entering an art gallery before, now we know that it’s nothing to be afraid about!” Visitors at the Festival were encouraged to talk to home owners, art producers and other art lovers like themselves. When they liked a piece of work, visitors could buy a work of art; take it home like they would from any gallery anywhere. What’s more, there was an element of trust in the whole transaction as the Festivals were managed by an NGO, the Goa Heritage Action Group, whose members had individually and collectively made a name for themselves as being single-minded and selfless in the field of heritage conservation.

Three, the municipal corporation of the city of Panaji had also lent a hand of support in helping spruce up a neglected neighbourhood. Drains were cleaned and redone in places, interior roads were resurfaced, house front facades were white-washed and veranda grills spruced up with fresh coats of paint, the chapels and temples within the neighbourhood taken into confidence. The administration in general and Goa’s (then) Chief Minister (and subsequent Ministers and Chief Ministers) not only gave the Festival their official nod but they actually actively participated in the Festivals with their presence. City builders, always eyeing the Group with suspicion and disdain walked into the Festival with their children in tow. In fact, when a city builder said, “It was a slum but now that you’ve done this we can never turn it into high rises!” His disgust and anger were taken as a compliment.

The restaurants and homes in the area did very well. The press supported the Festival with daily coverage and an unprecedented understanding of the purpose of the Festival. Goa’s musicians gave freely of their talent at the Festival, academic inputs came from the art aficionados and Goa’s artists and art students got a unique opportunity to interact with and learn from “the greats” some of who had cut their teeth in Goa and now lived and worked out of it. There was art, there was music, there was food, there was administrative and societal support and there was a palpable energy that was more than what was in the air.

What was most crucial to the success of the Festival was that the timing was right. Awareness on heritage issues (even amongst the stakeholders themselves) was next to nil and at that time Goa’s heritage property owners themselves did not know the inherent social and cultural value of what they were holding in custody. I would go so far as to say that Goa’s home owners (some of them at least) did not even know the monetary value of their own properties! If they were unable to maintain their properties or were plagued with family disputes and legal wrangles and were looking for an easy escape in the form of a sale, they would quote a price depending on what they thought they needed and not what the actual value of the property was.

Suddenly, therefore, with the five Festivals (between 2003 and 2006) being held in their neighbourhood, the residents of Fontainhas and Mala became aware of the heritage, social, cultural, architectural and artistic value of their neighbourhood (which by the way had been declared a Conservation Area way back in 1974 but remained so only on paper) and a matter of great pride and self-esteem. From Fontainhas being a “uh, where’s that?” Fontainhas became a “wow, how lucky” almost overnight. And the elderly in the precinct instead of shutting their doors and windows at sunset came out in the squares and cross roads to discuss the merits and demerits of the whole exercise. The cynics and critics had a field day. What would we have done without them?

All this would have never been possible had it not been for the right mix of the residents of Fontainhas who grasped the purpose and the concept with uncharacteristic lightening speed and for the blended mix of volunteers and workers in the Goa Heritage Action Group. Although the neighbourhood did not have any kind of formal structure with residents generally keeping to themselves, leaders from the community emerged and notionally guided their neighbours into believing us and having faith in this unique and crackling new concept. Having total strangers walking through their living rooms, kitchens and verandas was an alien concept but the residents of this heritage precinct bravely took it in their stride and am quite certain even enjoyed the intrusion. I especially recall an elderly lady saying that she was “running a temperature now” but was sure her fever would “disappear in time” for the Festival.

So can such a social experiment be repeated? Can such stand alone experiences be replicated? Am sure they can but going by the political, social and administrative nature of things as they stand today in all the sectors responsible for the success of the Festival, perhaps the concept would have to be tweaked a little to suit the change in times and people involved. This sort of question applies to a lot of things these days. Can an experiment that has succeeded in say Calcutta be replicated in Mumbai? There are so many organic factors involved and so much dynamism in the time and talent involved that it is difficult to say. So I say to the young gentleman who asked me the question in the first place, “Go ahead! Do something that’s never been done before! If it’s a good idea both God and Goa will be with you!”

 

 

UP THE VALUES QUOTIENT, GOA!

Ever since I arrived in Goa 21 years ago I have been listening to, eavesdropping on and overhearing debates on Goan-ness and how Goan values were being corrupted and diluted by migrants from outside the land. I have been lucky in the sense that I have managed to steer clear away from all these debates and cross examinations on what constitutes the Goan identity, in simple terms, the Goan-ness or Goan-ponn. The debate has taken many colours in the past, ranging from an extreme view demanding Special Status for Goa to placing a blanket ban on “outsiders” purchasing property here in Goa. The message appears to be, “come and work here but do not stay on”.

I did not come to Goa to look for work. I came to rest a troubled soul and a stressed body. Personal circumstances washed me up Goan shores and some angel up there made me believe that here lay my soul spot, my karma/dharma bhumi. I did give back to the land and the community for what it gave me, work, acceptance, friendships and love for which I will forever be grateful. I have been to dinners where there has been much talk of how “outsiders” have corrupted Goa with an awkward silence following my physical presence at the gathering. “Oh, we don’t mean you,” they assure me with sheepish grins, “we mean…” So who decides who is included and who is not in which of the two lists and how is this decision taken?

I know I am skating on thin ice here but I think we’re all barking up the wrong tree. It is not about being Goan enough, being Goan, having Goan-ness or not. It is about values, good solid, old-fashioned values. Given that, I do believe that that is exactly what the debate is also about. When you see values being eroded around you and a community that once held its head high under political, physical and social pressure, you feel threatened and you lash out at the softest target you can find. Goa is not the only place where this is happening. Values are being compromised all over the world and ethnic versus non-ethnic debates, violent reactions and attacks are being felt all over the world from small tremors to epic earthquake proportions.

We all know deep down that an erosion of these values in the individuals in the community is a reflection of and an erosion of the values of the whole community. There are two stories that I would like to share over here and believe me, it causes me a deep sense of loss and pain when I share them. These two stories told me how everything that I believed was good and valuable has been compromised. Well, the story goes that some of my neighbours in Saligao sold their land and their own houses to a builder from Delhi and moved elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong with either party for entering into what looked like an innocuous, perfectly legal agreement. Right? Right except for one wrong.

As it so happened one of the house owners in the village had his invalid mother-in-law living with him and did not want to move her from his home. He refused to sell. The builder had a project that came to a halt because of the “mother-in-law problem”. So what do you think he did? He offered to buy the house with the mother-in-law in it and offered to look after the mother-in-law till the day she died. The house owner agreed and soon became infamous in the village as the “man who sold his mother-in-law”. Wrong.

The other story involves a dear friend of mine from Singapore. She bought a small Goan heritage house in the village simply because she fell in love with the idea and now we’re having great fun putting it together restoring it and buying up old windows and doors from demolished houses. My friend had bought the house three years before she began restoring it. Want to know why she had to wait for three years? Because there was an old grandma living in the house when she bought it and she did not want to oust her out of her old home. When she bought the house the previous owner had told her that the old lady “did not really belong to the house” and could be “thrown out”. Was she a hanger-on? An adopted member of the family? Not a relative at all? No one seemed to know or care. My friend from Singapore could not bear to “throw her out” and kept the house as it was for three years until the old lady was moved to a home making sure she would be looked after there. Without being judgmental about the situation my friend decided to do the right thing. Right.

Anyone of you can take a wild guess as to who was the Goan and who was not in both these stories. Does it really matter? I don’t think so at all. Could such an incident happen anywhere else in the world? Perhaps it could and perhaps not. So it’s all about values and not about being from a certain place, belonging to a specific land or geographical region. Having said that, I can understand the emotion behind the lament, the cry and craving for a loss of Goan-ness. As I see it, we are actually lamenting the loss of good values. We are actually crying out against an inundation from alien and foreign concepts, a lack of basic human-ness and a lack of living with unacceptable principles. I myself was absolutely horrified the other day when I saw three rather large men in turbans getting out of an ominously large Innova with a Delhi number plate looking over the paddy fields and taking photos on their cell phones.

Why am I being so quick to judge? Could these gentlemen not be simply enjoying the beauty of the Goan monsoon? Why did I associate them with the other stereotypes that we have already seen intruding into our moral space? It’s not the fear of “outsiders” and what they might bring in their wake, with their disposable wealth and their brashness. It is the fear of an invasion from a lack of values, a fear that there will be contempt towards what we all respect and treasure in ourselves. It is not the fear that we will not be able to compete with the heavy handedness that often accompanies such an invasion. It is the knowledge that we will never wish to. So it’s not about “hands off Goa” so much as “hands on and respect our values when in Goa”. Right?