Thursday , 21 June 2018

Not recognising our own

Frederick Noronha

The man who is sleeping, you can wake up. But the man who’s pretending to be asleep, you can’t. In keeping with this maxim, Goa does take some odd stands and approaches when it comes to recognising its own achievers.

In the coming week, António Luís Santos da Costa will be visiting his home state. The Prime Minster of Portugual has achieved a rather unique first; but one which has been noticed extremely insufficiently in Goa itself.

The Socialist politician, leading an alliance of the Left, the Communists and the Greens, has been heading the government of Lisbon for 15 months now. Before that, he has been making quite some news as the mayor of Lisbon and the Secretary General of the party he represents.

Back home though, he gets listed among the many Goans whose achievements are overlooked. We instead neglect, overlook and – apart from modest token measures – do little to recognise such individuals.

There are two trends at play here. At the pan-India level, achievers from Goa are seldom acknowledged as being part of the wider national current. It’s almost as if they are not recognised as being Indian enough. A Keith Vaz gets noticed when the British tabloids scream out some scandal connected with his name; but his long stint in the House of Commons goes largely uncommented, under-appreciated or not acknowledged.

When someone like the engineer-banker Victor Menezes reaches the top, only then is he claimed as Indian; likewise, for the Francisco ‘Frank’ D’Souza, the Cognizant CEO. Today, All India Radio has Antonio Costa in the news, because of his involvement with the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017, the annual event meant to “mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community”. But, besides some media attention, there isn’t much.

Maybe India is too inward looking, as could be expected of a nation of 1.2 billion. But what excuse does Goa have? Chances are that one would hear more about Goan achievers via New Delhi, than from Goa itself.

Carnegie India fellow Constantino Xavier calls Costa “the West’s first Prime Minister of Indian origin”. It looks like the significance of this all is quite lost to us. Costa’s ascending office in Lisbon is the equivalent of an Alok Sharma or Preeti Patel becoming the Prime Minister of Britain. Would the response then have been as tepid?

You could call it disinterest or just an acute lack of a sense of history. To me though, it comes across as something different. The ascendance of a Costa to the prime minister’s post in Lisbon takes us back to an old relationship, one which has changed frequently over time, but one which we portray as static and unchanging.

The reality of today’s Lisbon also cuts into the narrative that we in Goa build up today about the Portuguese, their relationship with us, and the changing equations over the centuries.

Today, the dominant view of Portugual in Goa focuses on the long Salazar rule of the 20th century, the anti-Konkani actions of our former rulers, and religious intolerance. We need to remind ourselves that all this held sway for part, not the whole, of their rule. That the relationship between ruler and ruled has been rather complex, involving a strange kind of give and take which doesn’t quite work when viewed through the spectacles of the British colonial experience.

Costa reminds us that perhaps Lisbon has different approaches towards race. While Goa’s critique of Portugal is not without basis, alternate and very opposing perspectives can also be built up, if so wished. Contrasting to how we view Portugal, Lisbon gave Goa entry into its parliament (even if only to a limited section), created some of the earliest grammars and dictionaries for Konkani, and managed a high level of incorporation or power-sharing here. It even worked with diversity (religious and otherwise) during parts of its encounter with India through Goa.

Antonio Costa reminds us that Goa is failing in recognising its own, not building bridges with them, or showing enough interest in keeping track of what they are doing. The Goa University’s plan for a chair in diaspora studies has turned into a non-starter. Apart from a few individuals (including, strangely enough, former legislator Radharao Gracias) who keep track of Goan achievers elsewhere, ours record-keeping is mostly a blank slate.

Two decades ago, in 1997, the late J Clement Vaz laboriously (and in pre-Internet times) compiled the book ‘Profiles of Eminent Goans: Past and Present’, sitting in dusty libraries in Bombay and elsewhere. Vaz lists composers of music, singers, artistes, top military men, educationists, historians, philosophers, engineers, architects, governors, ambassadors, top officials, journalists, judges and lawyers, medical specialists and surgeons, politicians, poets, writers, top policemen, scientists (starting with Abbe Faria), sculptors, sportsmen, and scores of Church leaders.

Books such as these, now not easy to find, give a hint of what a tiny community (one-thousandth the size of India) has achieved worldwide. But who’s tuned in?

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