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How many Goans does it take to change a light bulb?

December-January is the period when so many expat Goans visit the State.  We get a chance to interact with some of them, learn of their potentials, and also see their shortcomings. In short, it’s a suitable time to take stock.

Goans are all over the place and doing all kinds of things. You would have thought they are a talented lot, capable of achieving much. Ironically enough, this magic seems to work only when they are far away from home. Is it the same back here?

Silvino Mendes wrote, in some other context, introducing himself as one of only two Goans settled in the nation of the Seychelles, a nation (remembered by many former Africanders, or Goans in Africa, which was a stop on the steamer journey home). It is made up of 115 islands and has a population of barely 95,000. The former Indian envoy in over two dozen countries, Placido D’Souza originally from Pune, shared a brief note with this columnist , among others, to say he was “pleasantly surprised to find a number of Goans more or less settled” in the Cayman Islands, the ‘British Overseas Territory’ south of Cuba. Two, working at a local hotel, “spoke fluent Konkani and showed the usual nostalgia for Goa and things Goans”.

Others have achieved so much over so long. The other day, one came across a comic book written about Param Vir Chakra Rama Raghoba Rane, and his achievements in the military, written by General (Retd) Ian Cardozo. Passing through Pune, one thought of the Kossambi father-and-son duo, whose achievements we ritually observe in Goa, but have probably not understood adequately back home.

So, compared to these narratives from afar, in irritation over how little we actually seem to be able to achieve in today’s Goa, one thought of asking the question – how many Goans does it actually take to change, replace or screw in a light bulb. Such jokes, popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s (when screw light bulbs were actually widely used) and which got a new lease of life with the internet, actually prey on stereotypes. (For example: How many Poles does it take to change a lightbulb? Three, one to hold the lightbulb and two to turn the ladder. Or: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? None, the light bulb will change when it’s read.) But, in our case, this is not just being cynical, but trying to point out to the situation and how things work here.

The inability of Goans to work in a group has often been noted. The other day, at a meet annual by Goanet-Goa Sudharop (two largely expat based organisations though involved with things in Goa), the educationist-campaigner Prabhakar Timble pointed to the need for people within Goa to build bridges among themselves, people-to-people bridges, to overcome misunderstandings and distrust.  It is a fact that Goans can’t agree with one another on the basis of difference they have inherited. Sometimes it could be religion or caste, or it could be geography and language, or even dialect and the part of the globe they migrated to.

Horticulturist, former agricultural officer and campaigner Miguel Braganza has another point of view. He says that Goa is in want of a massive ‘ego jacuzzi’. Needed, he argues, to massage the oversized egos of many in our small state, and keep them in a condition that would allow them to work with one another.

As a group, and despite their ability to achieve things in the outside world (check out goanvoice.org.uk for instance, for an insight into what is being achieved by the Goan community world over), Goans tend to be high on talk and low on action. It’s fine to disagree, but should one be disagreeable while doing so?

There’s a new trend which seems to be a worrying development. There has long been this tendency of copy-cat-ism among the community, whether it is replicating ideas in business or trying to reverse-engineer someone else’s business model. Now, this seems to have spread rather fast to the world of ideas too. Without due acknowledgement, ideas floated by some are simply taken by others who then run with it.  There should be some amount of intellectual honesty in giving credit to the source of the ideas and inspiration. Some also claim credit for work done by others, leading to bitterness and mistrust of its own.

For awhile now, some in the State have advocated an ‘open source’ and ‘free’ approach towards knowledge and information. Those who take advantages of such an approach also need to ‘give back’ to the information commons. It is unfair to benefit from the ‘open knowledge’ approach and then adopt ‘closed source’ (based on an unwillingness to share) format for one’s own work.

Elsewhere too, there seems to be a great loss in the sharing culture of mutual sharing that Goa was once known for. It was this spirit that build the kudds (a word inadequately translated as ‘clubs’) of Dhobitalao and elsewhere in what then was Bombay, to enable Goans to get a toe-hold in the Big City, that set up educational institutions and parishes in East Africa or Karachi, and saw attempts to build diaspora-based magazines (like the Goan Overseas Digest in the 1990s or the East Africa-based Goan Voice of the 1950s) in another era.

Today, it’s a philosophy of each-man-for-himself-and-the-devil-take-the-hindmost. We can’t agree with one another. We opt for meaningless personality-based clashes. Goa lacks sufficient institutions as well as institution builders.

More than that, our expectations of the place are at times totally unrealistic. We expect Goa to give us the lifestyle that the financial capital of the world can offer, while wanting our own place to remain rustic, calm, uncluttered and clean.

Another dimension is the pessimism (being critical is one thing) that sometimes overtakes our attitudes. Recently, while travelling inter-state, one was surprised to note that the Kadamba service was trying to use geo-tagging to update commuters about where its long-distance bus had reached. Earlier in the day, it also sent out an SMS informing the bus number that would be undertaking the voyage, and the mobile number of the crew member-conductor on that bus. Of course, much more could be done, and this is happening a bit late. But still, it is to be appreciated.  When a message came through, apologising that the geo-tagging wasn’t working on one particular bus, a fellow-commuter complained, “Nothing will get better in Goa.”

Could it be that our attitudes, taken as a whole, are as much to blame as the politicians we blame for our fate? Is it surprising that the answer to the question raised at the very start is: it would take no Goans to screw on a light bulb, because that light bulb simply won’t get screwed on at all (at least, at the current rate we’re going about things)?

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