On a Sunday evening came the unexpected news that “Val & Tino” had passed away. Valentino Fernandes, which was his actual name, was known by many sobriquets. At one stage, he liked being called Dingo. But whatever, he was one of the most polite, most gentlemanly journalist one could find in the business.
When an old friend passes on, it’s like the loss of a library, a part of our memory, and a dent into a generation we knew. More so in the case of Val, as he had served in all the major English-language publications of the time (Navhind, the then-fledgling Herald, and the just-born Gomantak Times).
Someone recalled the guitar he would be ever-ready to strum, without the need for much prompting. The fight over a typewriter (in the 1980s) at one of the newspapers. Or the humour column he took with him, called ‘One-Track Mind’.
Valentino was someone encountered during the earliest stages of my career. That was sometime in the early to mid-1980s. In those days, he was a feature writer with The Navhind Times.
Later on, he moved to Herald as a reporter. We left the Herald around the same time, he for the then-just-being-launched Gomantak Times and me for the Deccan Herald, a Bangalore paper which wanted a correspondent in Goa, post-Statehood. There was quite some uncertainty among the press in Goa in those times.
Later on, from him and the others, one pieced together their unusual story. Val, Alexyz (the cartoonist), environmental campaigner Claude Alvares, green lawyer Norma (then Fonseca) Alvares who set up the rather unique Other India Bookstore in the 1980s and played a useful role in the world of books in Goa, lawyer for criminal cases Jos Peter D’Souza and maybe someone I’m missing, were part of a gang of disaffected city youth. In the 1970s, they opted out of the rat race called Bombay and shifted en bloc to Goa.
All of them contributed in diverse ways. Claude was the most high profile, and already had his doctorate from the Netherlands, while in his late 20s or early 30s. Norma went on to become a prominent environmental lawyer and the winner of a Padma Shri. Jos Peter freed a lot of accused in narcotics cases. Alexyz was into cartoons.
Of the entire group, Val was the “hail fellow well met”. But not in any superficial or insincere way. He was a man of few words.
Along the way, he came out with a book titled ‘How to be an Instant Goan’. It was a tongue-in-cheek look at Goan life and more, and also at those who wanted to fit into this complex place in a jiffy, either because they had the determination or the money to do so. Or both.
This modest book was first published in 2004, its sixth edition published in 2010 prominently mentioned on its cover: “Over 10,000 copies in print”. But this achievement and tally didn’t come easy. Val had to struggle and put in a long wait to finally see the book in print.
Val struggled to get that book published. As a friend already into collecting and reviewing Goa books, I kept track of his many travails on this front. He would constantly talk about the delays in getting the work out.
Even today, sadly, getting a book published in Goa (or a Goan book for local consumption, published elsewhere) can still be a challenge. The kind of problems might have changed – one and half a decade later – but have not vanished altogether or gone away.
Perhaps the struggle to break into print by people like Val only made some back in Goa recognise the need for attempting to lower entry barriers. Efforts have been made, but not all successful, for a complex set of reasons.
You could understand his tongue-in-cheek content by reading some of his “sarky” titles – How to be Somebody in Goan Society. How to be an Old-Time Goan. How to be a Modern Goan. Even: How to be a Decadent Goan!
There are short essays on “Konklish… Without Tears” (Val’s term described the mix of Konkani and English used in Goa, perhaps more in the 1980s rather than now. Now it’s more EngEnglish, even if in our own local variant?)
For those in the diaspora, it covers – How to be a Foreign Goan. How to be a Good Gulfie. How to be a Good Portuguese Goan. And: How to be a True East Africander.
Here’s an excerpt from “…Decadent Goan”: Goans are rated among the most fair-minded people in the world. But, as in all parts of the world, it’s a little boring to remain fair-minded all the time, which is why a little dose of decadence in our daily lives will brighten up things…” It goes on to discuss the Goan art of gossiping, not completing jobs, under-paying domestic employees, how not to be punctual, and even how to be caste-conscious!
You realise that Val is walking the much-needed tightrope of critiquing Goan society, without being offensive. He does it for others too. His tailpiece is addressed to a settler here: “So you’ve finally made it – you got invited for a meal by a Goan host, which is quite an achievement. You can now proudly call yourself an ‘instant Goan’.”
A few months back, I got a longish call from Val. During that, he spoke about his health travails and being out of touch with the media circuit. Retirement can be tough and trying, and a greying society like Goa has yet to realise that.
Val is gone. We are sad. Memories remain of a good man, a friendly soul, a religious person who walked this earth and left behind influences on many of us by his modest and unassuming ways. So do his words live on.