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Goa goes for gold

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By December 19 will mark 50 years of Goa's liberation from Portuguese rule. Reena Martins on the array of cultural events that have been planned to celebrate an occasion replete with nostalgia
  • Published 27.11.11

The sounds of distant drumming woke Goa up at 6.30 in the morning on December 18, 1961. Residents saw aeroplanes streaking across the sky, and realised the sounds were of explosions. “At 7:30am, we heard the BBC radio announce that the Indian Army had invaded Goa,” says Suresh Kanekar, a Goan freedom fighter.

Fifty years later, the events play like a flashback as Goa gets ready to mark its golden jubilee of freedom from 451 years of Portuguese rule.

Memories of the day are still stark. The same morning, three aircraft descended “at a tilt” over the Altinho hill in Panaji, recalls Sheikh Hassan Haroon, a Goa Congress minister of the Eighties. “Within minutes, the Bambolim radio station was bombed and a sea battle ensued off the coast of Dona Paula.”

The next day, the Indian Army crossed over the river Mandovi into Panjim and converged at the Azad Maidan, carrying small rocket launchers and a map of Goa on their backpacks. In two days, Goa had been freed.

Old-timers recall that despite the conflict, civility ruled. The Portuguese police chief welcomed India’s Brigadier K.S. Dhillon into his office and the two men shook hands and saluted each other. When people dragged out and attacked Judge Quadros — who, as the head of the Portuguese military tribunal had nationalists thrown into jail —the army official rebuked them and saluted him instead, before taking him into the police station.

There was a sense of festivity too. Even inebriated Portuguese soldiers in Mercedes cars — the taxis of the time — waved goodbye to the people on the streets, shouting adeus (goodbye) and vá morar (we’re going to die). Cars honked and shots were fired in the air with guns left behind by the Portuguese soldiers.

Next month, history will be recalled when Goa marks its liberation with a spate of celebrations which will carry on for a year. The Goa government has been organising cultural events in the weeks leading up to the big day. Chief minister Digambar Kamat says over Rs 100 crore will be spent on the events.

And it’s not going to be confined to a year. The Goa Golden Jubilee Development Council, headed by scientist R.A. Mashelkar, is expected to draw up a 25-year-long vision for the state. “The initial plan was to draw up a vision for 50 years, but as there are better chances of being able to witness the feasibility of a 25-year-plan, I reduced the period,” says Mashelkar, who will be handing over the “approach paper” of the committee to the CM on December 11, before its final presentation on the big day itself.

From December 17 to 20, the International Centre of Goa (ICG) will host an arts-and-literary festival, which “unlike every other festival that has a strong corporate backing and involves a lot of wining and dining of its participants, is a labour of love,” says Nandini Sahai, ICG director and chief executive.

The festival promises to be introspective. “After all, a reasoned critique of today can only be shaped by an informed and serious examination of the past,” reasons Mumbai-based writer Jerry Pinto, who will participate in the festival.

Over the jubilee year, art workshops will be held at Goa’s old secretariat building, a former palace of Adil Shah, the sultan of Bijapur. Goan art, with major 20th century artists such as Francis Newton Souza, has been a significant strand in India’s modern art, says art curator Vivek Menezes, one of the organisers of the art-and-lit fest.

Books — including Goan writer Manoharrai Sardesai’s poetry — are also being launched to mark the event. Suresh Kanekar’s Mangoes and Monsoons on the days leading up to Goa’s liberation was published last year. Earlier this month, Goa Rewound by Alexandre Moniz Barboza — on the events that occurred post December 19, 1961 — was released. Sharmila Kamat’s Short Takes, Long Memories and Mango Mood will released at the art-and-lit fest.

Around the same time as the art-and-lit fest, a conference entitled Goa: 1961 and Beyond will be organised by Goa University, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla and the Centro de Estudos Sociais in Coimbra, Portugal.

“The Goan identity is a product of Portuguese colonialism,” says Parag Porobo, who teaches history at the university and is a member of the organising committee. “While British colonialism was naturalised, Portuguese colonisation was not,” he adds.

The festival seeks to draw people from across the world with memories of Goa. Silvia Braganca, widow of Aquino de Braganca, the Goan advisor to Mozambique’s first President Samora Machel, still fondly remembers the xacuti — a spicy Goan dish — that her mother had been taught to cook in the Hindu style.

“Among the friends of our parents were families who were Christians, Hindus and Muslims,” recalls Braganca, who will be one of the 72 delegates to present a paper at the conference.

Braganca revels in memories of the Goa of her childhood, before she left for Mozambique, which was another Portuguese colony. Her other food memories are of royal hunts and eating tiger at banquets hosted by the Queen of Sawantwadi.

This coming February, Goa will organise another international conference to discuss colonialism with delegates from the former Portuguese colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. “The threat of neo-colonialism is glaring at us in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya,” says Eduardo Faleiro, a congressman and veteran Goa politician, who also claims to have suggested an “introspective” session on December 19, at the Goa Assembly.

But the celebrations have not been without their share of controversy. The state government’s much touted plans of holding a midnight Assembly session on the eve of December 19, with invitees such as President Pratibha Patil and Rahul Gandhi, drew so much flak from the Opposition that CM Kamat of the Congress appears unsure of whether it would take place.

“It was only a suggestion by somebody. And Goa in any case was not liberated at midnight,” he says.

The celebrations are only aimed at Assembly elections slated for next year, says the state’s Opposition leader and former chief minister, Manohar Parrikar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who was in the news for shouting down the plans for the midnight Assembly session. “With the dozens of scams in the state, we could celebrate a golden jubilee of scams,” he says.

While the politicians bicker, for the people of Goa, this is the time to talk about the good old days. With law and order having steadily declined over the years, old timers have every reason to get increasingly nostalgic about Goa during the Portuguese regime.

Haroon recalls that doors were never locked. “Murders or robberies were rare and would be the talk of the town for months to come if they happened.”

Clearly, the celebrations to mark Goa’s freedom will be a time for both recrimination and rejoicing. But the large white flag signalling a truce that came up outside the old Goa secretariat when the Indian Army marched in is still a part of many Goans’ living memory. It was the banner of freedom.