If you’d want to run into a Goan sometime in end-July or early August, where would you head to? Cuncolim? Agonda? Or Mandrem? You may have guessed differently, but I think the answer could as well be Streetsville, Ontario, or in Hounslow.
This is the time of year when a Goan village – and more – comes to life in Canada. Barely a week or so later, another takes root in another part of London. These might be quite invisible to the Goan eye, but then cyberspace makes us more viewable by each other in strange and unusual ways.
In Canada, the mega get-together of Goans from the region is called Viva Goa and was held on July 27. In the UK, it goes by the name of the UK Goan Festival London, and is being held even as you read this column, on Sunday, August 4. It might need a sociologist to analyse and understand the implications and meanings of holding the equivalent of a Goan feast (or zatra) half-way around the world. Or at least a continent away.
What does it mean for the Goan diaspora to celebrate their roots, even while they cling on in desperation to their culture and their idea of home while being such a distance away? How is ‘Goan culture’ shaping up in cooler climes, diverse shores, and distant lands? There was a time when expat Goans shaped even the culture, music and literature of Goa in significant ways; can that continue now too? Or are these sections of our prodigal or disinherited populations (depending on which point of view you take) just destined to lose their touch with the homeland and its mores?
Unlike the dominant discourse in Goa, I am generally not uncharitable towards the expat Goan. I’ve been part of the ‘Goan diaspora’ myself, having returned ‘home’ while still in nappies. For someone like me, it is easy to understand the dynamics which pushes one into migration, gives you the headaches and heartaches of adjusting to a new land when you take up home elsewhere (and once again when you return ‘home’ after many years or generations of being out of Goa).
Incidentally, the Viva Goa Festival 2019 in Canada was organised at the “Father Kamber”, Croatian Recreational Park in Mississauga Rd-Edlinton from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., a week ago. It was part of the World Goa Day celebrations, a recent trend promoted by Rene Barretto and others. On their schedule was Mass, a celebration of Goan culture and cuisine, plus music, performances by the Mangalorean Konkani singer Ester Noronha, and by bands and musicians some of whom were from Goa itself. If you wanted to get in touch with organisers in Canada, one would need to link up with names like Selwyn Collaco, Linda D’Sa, Greta Dias, Hema Pereira, Audrey Almeida, Fatima DMello, Wendy Pinto, Jane Pereira, Errol Francis, or Bernie Raymond de Souza.
In the UK, meanwhile, the Cranford Community College High Street was home to another Goan event, with the powerful voice of Goa’s 75-years-young nightingale Lorna Cordeiro being the “main attraction”. Organisers’ contacts included Ravi Vaz, Bella Fernandes and Juliette de Menezes-D’Costa. The Goan Association (UK) was founded way back in 1966, and the numbers that have been attending their event in an open air venue has been reaching the thousands. Ten thousand are expected this year, according to the organisers.
Goans overseas have sometimes been criticised for being too focused on food and dance. While that may be true, it can also been seen as a form of socialising. A bigger challenge the Goan communities face includes the much-mentioned Goan inability to work effectively with another Goan. Start a discussion between two Goans, and soon you’ll need a third to stop the two from fighting! We personalise discussions and debates quickly turn into personalised battle. For a region which has so much potential, this could be taken as a fatal flaw indeed.
More seriously, they have been unable to make their voice be heard back home. Whether it was the question of small expat-based landholders protecting their rights over tenancy laws, getting help over specific issues they need sorted out, lobbying for connecting flights between Goa and their new homes, or even making sure they don’t get written out of Goa by ‘domicile’ requirements, most of this work has not been effectively managed. Even the manner in which the NRI Commissioner’s office has over the decades been reduced to being an ineffective entity is a case in point.
It is surprising how such a well educated, sometimes even professional lot of Goa’s non-resident population could not see through these issues. Distance is no excuse these days, what with communications becoming instant and almost zero-cost.
But then, is it really? Are we effectively using the potential of the new communication technologies? In times when we no longer can afford or manage to have physical buildings, new modes of networking can be resorted to. Cyberspace is both inexpensive and effective.
A recent search online took me to the GoanVoice.org.uk page, which points to roughly three dozen UK Goan associations. From places like Aldona to Anjuna, the Assagao Association, Badem de Assagao, the Bastora Union, Benaulim Association… and right up to the Tivim Association, the West London Goans, and the Young London Goan Society (“a group of, yes you guessed it, Young London Goans aged 18 and over…which began life in February 2000”). Many of these networks however don’t have working links to their websites. It’s so easy to lose a working website these days.
The Goan diaspora is filled with potential and perils. Many of its members are a talented lot. Some of them find it difficult to understand, and cope with the Goan reality. Back home, their potential sometimes gets recognised but they are mostly treated with disdain.
They are sometimes seen as an alien lot when they return
to Goa itself, given their changed lifestyle, expectations, and cultural
attitudes. Many suffer from language loss after years of being away, and our
own script and language battles here don’t make it any easier for
We seem to be back to the 1960s like situation, where many are leaving Goa in droves. A wider debate here is what impact once-again intense migration out of Goa would have on the region. We tend to blame many factors for this trend, including the Goans leaving home themselves. But one would suspect that the answer to this (the impact of high out-migration) would depend on how Goa itself deals with its own out-migrants. Ignoring them with benign neglect has been the dominant trend so far.