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Joel’s Goa

Frederick Noronha


It must have happened four or more years ago. We were seated at this restaurant just alongside the Porvorim water-tank, a prominent landmark midway along the Panjim-Mapusa road. Casually digging into a tasty bhaji-chapati on a hungry evening after an enlightening session at the nearby XCHR historical centre, Joel and me got talking.

Video recordings are such an easy way of digital note-taking (and something that retains memories to boot and in sharp detail, especially when we grow forgetful), and so I offered to record Joel. He declined. Or, given the finality with which he did so, maybe it would be more apt to say that he flatly refused.

We continued talking. At one point, he mentioned that his name was not even Joel. What? I had known this guy for maybe three decades (or thought that I had), and here he was breaking the news that I didn’t even know his name? That was simply too much. Without further asking, and with total disregard for his earlier ‘no’, I just whipped out a tiny camera (or was it a smartphone?) and started recording.

That resulted in a scratchy, noisy recording, with the clutter of restaurant plates and other conversations in the background. It is one of the handful of interviews (if not the only) recording of a man (who himself recorded Goa and her people in great digital detail) shyly talking about his own life and times in journalism.

Even if the result was noisy and at points inaudible, I am glad to have recorded those memories. For, shortly thereafter, Joel D’Souza of Assagao (who as Goa Today editor Vinayak Naik says, was in his late 60s but looked to be in his early 50s) passed away most unexpectedly. He left behind few details of his own life, but tonnes of video and audio recordings, photographs and writings about so many aspects of Goa.

Joel was modesty personified. He was most unlike the rest of us journalists who often place ourselves at the centre of the story, or brag about our own doings (for example, here). Recently, a slender 82-page book titled ‘Celebrating Joel D’Souza’ was published (under the sharable Creative Commons license, very glad to note) by his close friends and admirers.

Knowing Joel, I know he would not like to even talk about himself. He was one of those rare breeds of journalists who believed that their own views were immaterial. That his role was to act as a mirror to society and simply reflect the doings, thoughts, opinions and actions of others. In a way, the greatness of a man lies in such humility, for it’s very easy to be boastful.

So, instead of focussing on Joel (the book on him is available for free download, for all who wish to read it, via GoaCom at what might be better is to look at the times and era that he lived through.

The photos (p 12) show scraggy young men, like the photographer Lui Godinho (of Majorda, Vasco and now in the UK) standing before some obviously Portuguese-influenced compound fencing sometime in the 1970s. It reminds us of the trying times and simple days of that era, when food was in short supply, and getting access to a simple camera (and the possibility to process film) was a big deal.

Just on the weekend, while venturing through Mapusa, one happened to notice the number of photography studios that were once active in the town. Today, these seem to have mostly fallen on bad days, and probably have a tough time to post good returns. They seemed much more vibrant in the 1970s or 1980s.

In spite of this, journalists of that era (and Joel is one who kept behind some record) managed to put in their best. They struggled to get across their reports from Vasco to the state capital, sports or otherwise. There was a lack of technology, a lack of transport, and even a terrible take-home for the trouble put in. But then, there was only so much that a struggling-to-get-established press of the times could afford to pay. There were also only a few outlets where creative work could be published. On the other hand, in our youth in the 1970s, there were innovative magazines like the JS (Junior Statesman, not as rendered in the book p 5) that those trying to express themselves from Goa too reached out to.

The stories of migration to Vasco for jobs, sports and entertainment available there, managing in times of job losses, and life in the dusty port city of another era make for a fascinating record of those times. Return-migration from East Africa, the Goa Radio Amateur Society (GRAS) of Vasco, the fledging Konkani journalism of those times, needing to make a ‘trunk call’ even between Vasco and Panaji… these are the episodes we come across. Once, a couple of contributors to the media of those times even slept on old cardboard boxes made into a mat, on the cement benches in some Margao garden area, to reach an interviewee on time.

The pictures tell of another Goa: Opposition leader Jack de Sequeira, obviously lionised by his supporters. Natraj Theatre in Vasco where Konkani tiatrs were staged. The world of black-and-white films. Or even the Goa of the 1990s and beyond.

Two of Joel’s contributions to Goan journalism (besides his prolific videography and photography, mostly shared online) were his series of articles on Goan villages, and cyber news-clips that he put out on a daily basis for long years. In those times (late 1990s and early 2000s), Goa had just got online. There was very limited access to both internet bandwidth and news from Goa. Despite being just a humble freelancer, Joel would put together news-summaries from various newspapers (including the Navhind Times), and, with due credits, share these with the rest of the world. Many old-timers in cyberspace would certainly remember him for this. But there is also a history of Goan cyberspace waiting to be adequately documented and understood.

With due respect to my otherwise talented friend, cartoonist Fabian Gonsalves, the front cover rendering of Joel depicts him as being too serious, almost glum. I cannot for the life of me remember Joel without a mischievous, impish grin on his face at almost every time our eyes met. Even when he was contemplating something, deciding the best angle to shoot from, or trying to make sense of some Goan tradition or cultural festival, he seldom to never looked as if he carried the world on his shoulders. On the contrary, he took on his onerous responsibility of ‘recording Goa’ with a lot of mirth, fun and enthusiasm. Though the work was tough, as I should know; we spoke often on these issues.

Something that alerted me even more (goodness knows how many times one is oneself responsible for this!) is the manner in which memories get sometimes incorrectly recorded. Facts get a bit mixed up, and a few of the comments mentioned in the book couldn’t have been as they were. How would I know? Because I was part of them, and this is not how I recall the same. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble, and just being noted here to remind ourselves that our own memories can play tricks on us. Sometimes.

Joel’s friends, colleagues and admirers pay tribute to his work in this small tome. But knowing the man’s interest, I’d think the story of Goa that emerges from these 82 pages is something he himself would have pointed to with the most pride and appreciation.

To say that Joel was a man of many talents would be an understatement. Towards his last years, he even collaborated (with Isidore Dantas of Pune) in compiling a much-needed entire dictionary in the Romi script of Konkani. His work in translations has also been acknowledged. So was the role in creating a plant festival at Siolim, an annual event that’s still going strong in August each year. He was also an author of books and could have done more if not felled in an untimely way by a heart attack. This is certainly not a case of saying something positive just because someone has departed.

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