Sunday, April 20, 2008

An answer for green-eyed Oscar

Who is a Goan, is the question Oscar Rebello put out into the public domain. I am pleased to announce, I have the answer. It is unfortunate that his green eyes earned him some racist abuse, but it is a fact that just before and after Liberation anyone with excessively fair colouring, brown hair and light eyes was unflatteringly referred to as a mestiço. To your face if one was in a scrap, otherwise behind your back, no matter which class of society you were born into. Later with the advent of Fair & Lovely, light skin and green eyes became much envied and much sought after commodities. Now no one hears the word mestiço. But no one denied that the mestiço was Goan.

The toddy tapper and fisherman with their glossy ebony bodies were undeniably Goan even though they were denied entry into the capital city of Panaji unless they were trousered and shirted. They were calm, gentle people, slow to enrage but when they got mad they believed in quick justice like setting fire to a tree in which thieves were hiding or thrashing a group of kids, who dared to yank off the back portion of the kashti.

There were the goldsmiths, the businessmen, the batkars, the priests, the clerks whose Goan identity was never in any doubt. So why the chest thumping now? Because we get defensive and incoherent, under the inevitability of being swamped by the much abused Non-Goan. I remember getting into a public, published scrap with another columnist, a Non-Goan, in the same magazine I wrote for. He made some belittling comments about Goa having ambitions of hosting the IFFI when people had to fight for seats in cinema halls with the rats that took up residence there. I was not amused and said so, informing him in a letter to the editor that non-Goans had no business criticizing their hosts. He called me a fascist in his printed reply and it would have gone on if the editor had not played spoilsport. The unfortunate part of it was that I was investigating his NGO and had to give it up because after that I was definitely biased.

But back to the question of who is a Goan. The answer is simple because there is a certain something that defines the genuine Goan. Something as simple as birth and genealogy. We are too close to the Goan scene with all our mental baggage, so let’s sit back and look further afield to Britain.

An Indian goes to Britain and settles down with a job, a house, children and grandchildren. Is he British? Yes and no. He is a citizen of Britain, but he will never, ever, be called an Englishman, neither will any of his descendants. Now we go one step further.

When that Indian goes anywhere else in the world, he will be always be known as an Asian. When the Englishman leaves Britain to settle down in South Africa, or Zimbabwe, or the UAE, he will always be referred to as the Englishman. He can trace his ancestry to a village in England hundreds of years. He has certain physical and mental characteristics peculiar to the English.

As does the quintessential Goan.

A Goan therefore would be someone whose ancestors go back hundreds of years to a village in Goa. A Goan who leaves and goes to any corner of India will always be known as the Goan or Mac as in Maka Pao, but he carries the signature of Goa with him, as does the Gujarati, the Punjabi, the Manipuri, the Tamilian, the Keralite and a host of others from different parts of India that carry the stamp of their origin. But after Liberation they have every legal right to take up residence in Goa. That makes them Domiciles of Goa. They become a permanent piece of the changing tapestry of Goa; a part of the ebb and flow of those who want the peace or a piece of this land. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, they will never be Goan. Goanese maybe but never Goan. “Goan” is a legacy handed down to us by our ancestors in the form of land, culture, music, tradition, warmth and yes, pettiness. It’s up to us to keep it as intact as possible if we cannot improve on it.

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