[Published in the March 2009 issue of Goa Today Magazine. The magazine is distributed around the world and many subscribers are Goan expatriates. The full-text story is below. – UR]
More than a holiday in the sun?
Ulrike Bemvinda Rodrigues wonders what’s behind a new NRI Affairs scheme for diaspora youth
Know Goa? No, I don’t. That’s why I left my home in Vancouver, Canada to take up my father cousin’s invitation to live in Bardez for six months. My father’s parents grew up in Olaulim and Nachinola, but – like many offspring of expatriated Goans – I’d never set foot in Goa and didn’t know the difference between Curtorim and caferal.
I arrived in Porvorim in the winter of 2008, bought a bicycle and created a self-guided program to learn about Goa’s nature, culture and people. Coincidentally, the Department of Nonresident Indian Affairs had just launched one of their own: “Know Goa Program” (KGP).
Too late to participate myself (the program started in November and participants had already been selected), I was nonetheless keen to learn more about Goa in general and NRI Commissioner Eduardo Faleiro‘s tourism cum educational scheme in particular.
Patterned after the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ “Know India Program” (KIP), Know Goa’s purpose is to acquaint youth of Goan background with their cultural heritage so they might “contribute to and promote understanding, good will, and cooperation between their country of adoption and the country of origin.”
“Passports are easy,” says Mr. Faleiro of the program’s efforts to build a bridge across continents and generations. “Creating familiarity and building relationships is more difficult. We want to reach out, keep in touch, and give these youth an opportunity to interact with Goa – as they would a person.”
To that end, NRI Affairs (Government of Goa) directed 13.48 Lakh (almost $30,000 USD) towards the nine-day Goan portion of the program in its inaugural year, while the Government of India assumed expenses for its four-day conclusion in Delhi. The all-inclusive package tour includes return airfare; beach front accommodation; local transportation; escorted visits to historical and religious sites, academic institutions, and commercial organizations, government projects; plus spending money. The tour also includes – for better or worse – meals presided by industry tycoons and political personalities.
In exchange, Know Goa applicants must be students or professionals between 20 – 28 years of age; non-resident but of Goan lineage; demonstrate that they’ve “distinguished themselves in their fields and have an abiding interest in India;” and supply two passport-sized photographs. That’s it. Apparently, they must also be fairly well connected: invitations to apply are only distributed via their country’s Indian Embassy, High Commission, or Goan Association emails – they are not accessible to the general public or online.
A not-so-diverse diaspora
Who responded to the invitation in 2008? Keeping in mind that KIP draws young people from thirteen countries, KGP’s first year netted twelve participants from just four: Australia (1), Mozambique (3), U.S.A. (1), and Canada (7, all from southern Ontario).
Director for NRI Affairs Ulas Kamat (who did much of the legwork) admits that the participants’ country of origin could have been more representative of Goan diaspora. He intends to rectify this when his department sends out invitations in late March for 2009’s program.
A hard look at 2008’s materials reveals two other representational shortcomings. First, with the exception of a capoeira teacher from Mozambique, all participants came from a science, medicine, engineering, finance, economics or marketing background. Second – with the exception of a few village handicrafts and folk dances – all activities involved science, engineering, industry, education, tourism, religious or traditional centres.
To a Goan resident, this may seem perfectly in order and reflects the path on which they encourage their own youth. But to a visitor, there’s an obvious deficit: no arts. There are no artists, designers, writers or architects in the invitee list; and no contemporary art destinations, events, or personalities in the program.
Director Kamat managed to slip in an unscheduled tour of Kala Academy Goa (which mounted both a state and national exhibition of visual art in 2008), but when I asked Commissioner Faleiro if the lack of art was on purpose, he said no. “Art?” he responded, “What ‘art’? – name one Goan artist.”
I’d only been in Goa a month at the time but I already knew of three: illustrator Mario Miranda, designer Wendell Rodricks, and multi-media artist Subodh Kerkar. I contacted Rodricks and Kerkar for their perspective, and the clothing designer responded with a prompt but unprintable reply.
Kerkar was more circumspect. “I think it is very important that art is included in ‘Know Goa Program,’” suggests the director of Candolim’s Kerkar Art Complex. “Goa has had a long tradition of artists, especially in the fields of music, theatre, visual arts. The Mangeshkar sisters, Kishori Amonkar, Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdekar and Dinanath Mangeshkar have created history in the field of Indian music. Francis Newton Souza, G.S. Gaitonde and Trinidade are painters who are recognized internationally.” He estimates that there are at least twenty “very active” artists in Goa whose work is drawing more attention in the national art scene, and without the knowledge of Goa’s art scene, “The ‘Know Goa Program’ cannot be complete.”
That said, Kerkar admits that Goan artists are not well-organized, don’t promote themselves, and have not organized as a group. For his part, Faleiro has subsequently conceded that KGP is open to improvement.
“Now I can say I’m Goan-Canadian”
Before they left, Commissioner Faleiro called a press conference to introduce the six men and six women who’d gotten to “know Goa,” government-style. They were well-dressed, intelligent, and articulate. They spoke about how at every stop on the the program’s eclectic itinerary – Goa Shipyard, Wallace Pharmaceuticals, Morpirla Village, Shantadurga Temple, to name a few – they gained, to quote Canadian Vincent Fernandes, “Knowledge, understanding, and unity.”
“I feel like I’m home here,” said Jonathon Pinto of Toronto. Brampton’s Charlene D’Cruz echoed his words: “I used to say I’m Canadian – now I can say I’m Goan-Canadian.” Surrounded by their hosts and the media, one can’t blame the guests for being cloyingly gracious. They were full of praise and unanimously agreed that the program had achieved its goals in creating peership and connection – not just with Goa, but within their group, and with their communities back home.
Prodded for more personal observations, Australian Karl Noronha admitted he now had a context for his parents’ Konkani jokes and songs, and could understand the importance of culture and ancestral land: “The family history is lost if the home is lost.” American Aaditi Pramod Dubale – an outreach coordinator – observed that Goan development struggles are similar to her country’s. “I saw five casinos,” she said of Panjim’s riverfront. “Next time, will there be thirty?”
Donovan Fernandes suggested that the tour could have allowed more time to participate with students, villagers and farmers. “It would be great to spend a day molding clay, planting a row, or being in the schoolroom,” offered the Special Education teacher. Mozambique’s Diana Silveira Quelhas agreed. “It would be a two-way experience where villagers get something from us, from our visit.”
But it was an innocent remark from 23-year-old Lyndsey Marie Vaz of Mississauga that held the room in thrall. “This is my first trip to Goa and I never knew how much Goa had to offer,” she gushed, “It was wonderful to be here. I would certainly like to come back and work here for some time.”
After a sharp intake of breath from the program’s politicians and stakeholders, a reporter asked tentatively, “Would you come back to Goa – to stay?”
“Oh no,” she added hastily, “Just for a few months.” It was a telling moment, and one that gave new meaning to KGP’s “reuniting Goans” slogan.
Getting to know Goa
Was NRI Affairs’ investment in KGP an attempt to lure talented young minds (no artists, please) to relocate back to their fatherland? Was taxpayers’ money being spent to fly “advantaged” youth to India for a reason? Or as social pundit Cecil Pinto put it, “Isn’t it normally the other way around, where youth from developing countries are sent on study tours of developed countries and the tour is paid for by the developed country?”
“What,” I asked Commissioner Faleiro in a follow-up visit, “Is the expected long-term outcome of the Know Goa Program?” Mr. Faleiro spoke of global networks, good will, cooperation, and the exchange of ideas. When I persisted and asked how he would measure the program’s success in a tangible way, he admitted that the benefits were intangible. I got the sense that he’s not accustomed to being asked these kinds of questions.
At its essence, the Know Goa Program is a grand idea. I envy the young people around the world who are able to participate, and having met the first year’s batch, am convinced that their time in Goa was well-spent. As American Aaditi Pramod Dubale related, the trip was no mere holiday in the sun. “This has been a life-changing experience,” she said of her time in her ancestral homeland, “It will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
For decades and for whatever reason, Goans have boarded buses, trains, boats and planes to shake themselves free of this tiny place. Like my father and my father’s brothers, these young peoples’ families have taken the seedling of their lives, pressed it into the soil of a new country, and watched it bear new fruit. For some of us who are their children, Goa feels oddly familiar.
But it also feels inexplicable. We see the paddies and temples but we also see the mines and casinos. We know it’s complex and we don’t have all the information to understand it, but we’re taking it in, and listening and learning. In short, we are getting to know Goa – some of us without the grand government tour.
The annual “Know Goa Programme for Diaspora Youth” accepts applications beginning March 28 2009 and will commence in December 2009. To learn more visit www.globalgoans.org.in/ or call U.D. Kamat, Director, Department of NRI Affairs, Panjim, Goa at (0091) (832) 2419460 or 2419461.
Ulrike Bemvinda Rodrigues is a Vancouver, Canada-based freelance writer, photographer and cyclist. She has published stories and photos of her time in Goa at http://www.girlgonegoa.wordpress.com and can be reached at mail at ulrike dot ca. She hopes to come back and work here for some time.