Jason Keith Fernandes at Fundação Oriente, 6 July, 2017

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In March this year Dr. Jason Keith Fernandes was invited to choose one piece from the Museu Oriente’s Kwok On collection (Lisbon) and make a presentation as a part of their India Visual cycle.


Choosing the idol of the Goddess Yellamma as a starting point, in a reprise of his presentation at the Museu Oriente, Dr. Fernandes will suggest that what often appears Hindu is in fact also profoundly Islamic in nature.

“The Unsung Glories of the imam: Silence, Absence and the Islamicate in the Kwok On Collection’s India holdings” will demonstrate the manner in which practices associated with the Shia faith, and the historic figure of Imam Hussein are central to much South Asian (Indian), and indeed Goan culture.


Jason Keith Fernandes was awarded a Doctorate in anthropology for his research that examined the conflicts around the demand for the recognition of Konkani in the Roman script in Goa’s Official Language Act. Jason came to anthropology after a Bachelor’s degree from the National Law School of India, Bangalore and a Master’s degree from the International Institute for the Sociology of Law. A recipient of various scholarships, he has worked in the developmental sector, taught at the National Law School, and is a contributor to various local and national newspapers.


Dr. Fernandes is currently a post-doctoral scholar at the University Institute of Lisbon.

Ayurveda and the Ills of Nationalism

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Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have set up Ayurvedic centres for producing ‘ideal progeny’, in terms of gender, skin colour, height, courage, and so on; this RSS-backed Garbh Vigyan Sanskar project has already delivered 450 ‘customised babies’, according to the office-bearers, is part of the University curriculum in Jamnagar, Gandhinagar, and Bhopal, and plans to set up base in every Indian state by 2020. In Maharashtra, meanwhile, one of the textbooks prescribed for the 3rd year of the Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine, and Surgery (BAMS) course explains various methods to produce a male child.



Law and Liberties in Times of Executive Fiats

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The Central Government has added a few more rules to the existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The Rules attempts to regulate the sale of cattle (and only cattle, as opposed to all animals) in markets, stipulating that cattle cannot be sold for slaughter but only for agricultural purposes. Many argued, and rightly so, that the Central Government’s attempts amounted to a backdoor restriction on the consumption of beef. And there are good reasons to believe that the motives of an openly Hindu nationalist government are indeed to stop the consumption of beef – one way or the other.


The Central Government rules were challenged in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court through a public interest litigation (PIL), filed by activists and lawyers S. Selvagomathy and B. Asik Ilagi Bava. Based on the PIL, the Madras High Court issued an interim stay for a period of four weeks. The period of the interim stay will expire by the time this article goes to press and we will have to await the Madras High Court’s further judgment on this issue. Nonetheless, it would be profitable to examine the logic through which the Madras High Court arrived at its decision to issue an interim stay.


Any basic civics textbook that children use in schools will tell you that constitutional democracy consists of three pillars of governance: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. There is a separation of power between these three branches so as to not allow one branch – let us say, the executive – with absolute powers. Further, in India there is the Central, State, and Concurrent lists which are areas of governance that are marked for the state and central government to formulate laws. The petitioners in the Madras High Court submitted that in addition to impinging on personal freedoms as regards consumption of food and trade is concerned, the Central Government’s rules amounted interference and usurpation of the powers of the state legislature. It should be noted that while ‘cruelty to animals’ is listed in the Concurrent list wherein the state and the centre can legislate, ‘slaughter of animals’ is listed in the State list.


Read More: Beefing up the Law for No Beef.


While this may be the gray area through which the Central Government wanted to push for the new rules that would make the sale and purchase of cattle tougher, as indeed it argued that these rules were necessary precisely to prevent cruelty of animals and the protection of the agrarian economy. The Madras High Court was clear that the rules introduced by the Central Government were unconstitutional. The High Court stated that in addition to interfering in the legislative powers of the state, the Executive had transgressed its own constitutional powers – the new rules appended to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 also went against the framework, purpose and intent of the original or parent Act. The High Court recognized that personal liberties and choices with regard to food habits and trade were impinged upon by the new rules. However, it must be noted that while the Madras High Court recognized personal choice and freedom, the interim stay was granted only on technical grounds of the Central Government transgressing its constitutional powers, and the subject of the law being part of the State list.


Familiarizing ourselves with the logic of the interim stay order brings one fact clearly to the fore: it is actually the federal state which needs to legislate on the slaughter of animals. In Goa various laws that, while not providing a blanket ban of slaughter of cattle or the consumption of beef, have over the years nonetheless brought in many provisions that restrict the choice of food and trade in certain ways. Laws such as The Goa, Daman and Diu Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1978 enacted by the then MGP government prevented the slaughter of female cattle. The Goa Animal Preservation Act, 1995, enacted during the Congress regime and amended in 2003 and 2010 to give it more teeth, sought to regulate the slaughter of non-female cattle by making it mandatory to obtain certification that the bovine was fit for slaughter.


Read More: Cow Politics and Slavery.


What we can observe from the laws enacted by the governments in Goa is that, even while keeping with certain constitutional provisions and rights, the legislative assembly of Goa has slowly eroded the rights of Goans to trade in and consume the meat of bovines. Which is why when, following the hate speech of Sadhavi Saraswati recently made in Ramnathi, Ponda, Vijai Sardesai assured Goans that their right to eat and trade in the foods they prefer would not be infringed upon, his statement appeared to be half-hearted and cosmetic at best. The reason is that well before such Sadhavis could make Ramnathi their preferred base to spew hatred on Goans of all religious persuasions, the Goa government was happily playing to the sentiments of Hindu (i.e. brahmanical) majoritarianism. However, despite the oppressive cow politics there is no talk of re-looking the existing laws, or changing/abolishing these laws. It is after all within the constitutional limits of the state legislature to legislate justly on the issue. Political parties and politicians come and go, but laws remain: case in point, the 1978 law that the MGP brought restricting cow slaughter.


Rather than wishy-washy statements, or assurances that the Goa Government will object to certain provisions in the Centre’s rules by writing to the Central Government in this regard, the State of Goa should exercise its constitutional powers in the interest of Goans and not just one community. Bringing a substantial change through the state legislature is what Goans need to demand now.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 21 June, 2017)

Beefing up the Law for No Beef

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You have to throw a stone to figure out the ripple effect. That is what Subramanian Swamy did when he said on a national television show that Goa’s beef eating tradition had to be changed. The BJP has, for some time now, made Goa a Hindutva laboratory, with its front organizations or politically connected organisations, either hosting conventions on aiming for Hindu Rashtra from 2023, or stating that India is already a Hindu Rashtra for centuries or stating that it should be culturally a Hindu Rashtra. These include RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini. They were clearly looking to see exactly how the reactions would be and perhaps also exactly how they could be polarized.


The ruling coalition partner Goa Forward’s legislative head, Vijai Sardesai, when asked what he thought of this, said Subramanian had spoken in his individual capacity.  So said Dattaprasad Naik, as a spokesperson of BJP. Before that, in view of the looming possibility of no-beef and the same becoming an election issue at the Assembly and Panchayat elections, Chief Minister Parrikar (then India’s defence minister) had said that the individual choice would be respected but also sneaked in a caveat that he would always follow the law and by April 2017 he was already saying that he will saying nothing again about this.


Read More: Learning from the Beef Ban.


Came May 2017 and a ban on cattle slaughter is surreptitiously sought to be imposed, under the guise of these Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules. The notification bans sale and purchase, in animal markets, of bovines for slaughter.


In times gone by, Goa had several slaughter houses for cattle. These slaughter houses were mostly run by minorities. The first salvo of slaughter ban was fired in 1978, when cow slaughter was banned by a legislation called The Goa Daman and Diu Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act 1978 and sale of the beef of the flesh of cow was prohibited. However as the ban was specific to cow, there was not much resistance, also perhaps as this happened barely two decades after the integration of Goa into India, as people were constantly reminded that they have to be focused on development and construction of a free Goa.



But then came the Goa Animal Preservation Act, 1995, enacted during the Congress rule in Goa. This was in the aftermath of the Ayodhya dispute when Congress was looking to playing the B team of the BJP after being on the verge of losing its majority on account of the political traction BJP was being able to gain by playing the Hindutva card.


Read More: Cow Politics and Slavery.


By this Animal Preservation Act, the slaughter of  bovines, that is bulls, bullocks, male calves, male and female buffaloes, castrated buffaloes,and buffalo calves, was sought to be regulated. Certification was now required that the cattle is fit for slaughter. By certification was meant that the cattle was uneconomic for farming or dairy purposes or that the cattle was fit for slaughter on account of suffering from disease. This law was further amended in 2003 and 2010 to give the 1995 law more teeth. The Animal Preservation Act also sought to regulate the sale of beef only with appropriate certification.



The present ban on bovine slaughter has come under the guise of Rules for livestock markets under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. These Rules set out that a person who brings cattle to the market for sale has to furnish a written declaration from the owner that the cattle has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter, and that the purchaser shall not sell the animal for slaughter.



As of now, no animal markets exist in Goa. The beef traders purchase the cattle from random individual farmers in Goa, but the stock purchased in Goa is woefully inadequate for the daily consumption.


Read More: Scoring Beef, Underscoring Banal Hindutva: The Limits of MTV’s Activism.


Only one slaughter house is prescribed as specified place for the purposes of slaughter in Goa. It is the slaughter house of the Goa Meat Complex. The traders on purchasing the animals for slaughter, then transport the cattle across the Karnataka border to the Goa Meat Complex for slaughter.  Shortly after the Rules were notified in the Gazette by the Central Government, the beef traders faced the first rumblings of the notification in the form of being stopped at the Karnataka borders where the police at that end feared that they would face the rage of the gaurakshaks for not enforcing the Livestock Markets Rules if they let them pass. It took a verbal intervention by the Chief Minister to have the cattle pass the police exit point so they could then make their way to the vehicle entry toll booth.



As of now therefore the beef traders continue to purchase bovines from the animal markets across the border for slaughter. But clearly the Damocles sword of penalties for violation of Livestock Rules continues to hang over them. If no cattle was available for slaughter, by now the stock of cattle already admitted in the Goa Meat Complex would have got exhausted.



With the legislature party President of the ruling coalition partner, Goa Forward,  making categoric statements that they will not allow beef ban in Goa, and off the cuff statements being made at various levels of governance and politics, the State is poised for some more play of words to diffuse the imminent beef ban, before the Government will HAVE to come completely clear in a writ petition filed by the Quraishi’s  Meat Traders Association of Goa, primarily on the plank of posing a threat to their right to carry on a trade or occupation of their choice without being vulnerable to the consequences of enforcement of the Livestock Rules.


This is, of course, apart from the serious challenge posed by a slaughter ban to the fundamental right of the citizens to their food choices and to access to nutritious food, within the parameters of the Constitution, to the rights of people dependent on cattle slaughter for their livelihood, which includes ancillary trades like the soap factories, the fertilizer production units, the toothpaste manufacturing plants, that utilize the non-beef products of slaughter. Not to speak of the burden on the already being crushed farmers, who have to tend cattle that are unproductive and will not be able to sell those cattle for cattle that they can productively use.


(A shorter version was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 15 June, 2016)

Public Hearings: How the Coal is sought to be tempered

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Public hearings under the Environment Protection Act, were lobbied for by people, as a space to articulate their concerns about any proposed project and also to seek clarifications. But from the State’s point of view they seem to have been envisaged to contain and co-opt people’s views within the frameworks of the project proponent by saying they considered people’s concerns and finalised the environment impact assessment report.


The uneasy tug of war on the role of public hearings was evident in the public hearings on the three projects (actually fragments of one project designed for expansion of coal handling) in the Mormugao Port Town of Goa and beyond, which smacked of a managerial state with the aid of Mormugao Port Trust privileging mega corporates, such as Jindal Steel (JSW) and others in the preline and the pipeline such as Adani and Vedanta. These hearings come at a time when Goa is already reeling under the impact of mining, coastal erosion, mega gated real estate projects that most Goans cannot afford. These projects are promoted without considering the state of the existing resources.


The public hearings were conducted per force. The fisher people’s associations, that is the Old Cross Fishing Canoe Owners Cooperative Society Ltd, and Baina Ramponkar and Fishing Canoe Owners Society had approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) since the Public Consultation mandated under the Environment Protection Act had not been conducted by the project proponents, who were exempted from doing so by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India.


The fisher people’s associations were successful in getting the environmental clearance quashed, for being issued without conducting a public hearing, but the MoEF challenged this order in the Supreme Court. However, realizing that it would not achieve its ulterior motives, the MoEF then undertook to abide by the NGT’s direction to hold a public hearing. “We are dealing with a case relating to adverse severe impacts on environment as a consequence of illegality in process of grant of environmental clearance, which has emboldened the project proponent to indulge in capital dredging  which has undoubtedly changed the very geomorphology of the sea bed”, the NGT West Zone Bench had observed.


There are numerous maladies that beset such public hearings. The project proponents in their bid to thrust their projects make a deliberate attempt to inflect the discourse: whether by casting aspersions on the locus standi of the participants, whether in arraigning people as nay-sayers, whether in fragmenting the project into parts to diffuse the extent of environmental and social impact, whether in not providing or setting the detailed ground rules at the commencement of the meeting and abiding by them.


Organisations opposed to the project, which included the above two fishing canoe owners societies, the Goemchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott, the Federation of Rainbow Warriors, Bharat Mukti Morcha, and Human Rights Monitoring Society, pointed out that, the NGT Judgement had not been considered in calling for cumulative objections to the three seemingly disconnected projects of Jindal and Mormugao Port Trust, which encompass dredging, redevelopment of berths as well as rail and road connectivity primarily for coal.


Read More: Coal and a bit of Colonialism


At any public hearing, the project proponents need to present a comprehensive picture of the ecological profile of the area within 10 kms radius of the proposed project, and its possible environmental and social costs, and people need to be able to give their informed opinion based on this. But, in the draft EIA Reports, even the demographic profile of the listed fishing community areas was misrepresented, and there was concealment of the fact that the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, were attracted by the proposed project.  The proposed double tracking of railway line and creation of road connectivity would together fragment the Western Ghats in Goa, the habitat of tigers and other vulnerable species, Rainbow Warriors pointed out. Terra Conscious, another civil society organization, drew attention to the documented evidence of the presence of scheduled species under the Wildlife Protection Act, such as corals, humpback dolphins, whale shark, humpback whale, finless porpoise, green turtle, corals, killer whales.


The chief mischief, these organisations alleged, was played in the presentation of the layout, and to an extent, glaring omissions in the layout of areas encompassed within the 10 kms radius, misprojection of the nature of areas. They did not present or make available to the public basic information by which the public could give their informed opinion or share their concerns at the Public Hearing. The absences include baseline data about the existing quality of air, water, soil, and features of land, and demographic profile within most of the prescribed radius, bathymetric data that would indicate the rock types, texture, structure and amount of rock to be cut, hydrographic charts, additional highway construction work necessary on National Highway 17B and 4A between Vasco and Belgaum in Karnataka.


This led citizens to repeatedly call out that the public hearing was being manoeuvred to seem like people’s concerns were being considered and would be factored in seemingly by redesigning the project or the environment impact assessment report, which would then be presented as a fait accompli without again bringing it to the people. This is by now, a known modus operandi of a managerial state working in tandem with mega corporates.


To add to this, the Report was not even provided in the vernacular language to some of the panchayats within the 10 kms radius. What lay people were expressing therefore at the public hearings were their experiences with transportation of coal. The Project as a whole, is supposed to add 20 million tons, on a conservative measure, to the volume of coal being handled. The residents of the port town, and those who live along railway tracks, have already undergone problems including pulmonary problems due to existing volume of coal handling and transportation. Therefore, it is but natural that they should strike an autobiographical note, with personal experiences of cancer, especially lung cancer, besieging their families, raising questions about the import this project has for the environment and consequently people’s health. Narrating such experiences also does consume some time both because of the emotional investment required to be summoned and the sheer depth of experience to be transmitted. The District Magistrate or his representative, who have the onus of chairing such public consultations, find themselves wanting in actually taking on board such participation, apart from the pressures on them to meet the imperatives of the ruling dispensation’s injunctions as regards the project.


In a small State such as Goa, where its people feel overwhelmed by the presence of a population not of Goan origin which is the size of its own, and which limits the access to the existing resources and opportunities, it is easy to stir up feelings by the use of the expression ‘outsider’.  This was taken to its heights when the chairman of the project proponent, which is the Mormugao Port Trust, went to the extent of saying, at an independent press conference, that those who are opposing the projects are outsiders, meaning that they are not residents of the port town, completely missing the point, both of the presence of port town residents, as well and environmental that is not contained by political delimitation boundaries. Predictably, it attracted the ire of participants who are residents of different parts of Goa, which in turn provided the justification to the establishment to bring a posse of police. This posse, was, by its sheer presence and location, meant not only to intimidate the people seeking to voice their opinions, but even deftly positioned to cover the many posters that the opponents to the project had adorned the hearing site with.


Read More: Sustainable Mining can only be done by Local Communities


The institutionalized mega-corporate arrogance and the complicity of the State in manoeuvring the hearings, was demonstrated in multiple ways. There was the absolute dismissal of responsibility to respond to questions that could easily have been anticipated, stating that they did not have the information with them there, as those aspects were not discussed in the draft EIA. The project proponents’ repertoire of answers included: information is not available with them then; they cannot respond to questions about Constitutional compliances or compliance with national policies such as the National Coal Policy, or India’s commitments under the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution with regard to climate change, and can only give answers regarding what is written in the EIA. With repeated silences to queries to the project proponents, and consequent visible anger from the participants, the Chair (deputed by the District Magistrate) was propelled to state that silence should be presumed to mean consent to the critique – a point not noted in the initial draft minutes.


The provision of false information in the draft EIA report or omission to provide requisite pertinent information to stakeholders and appraisers, this made for serious breaching of the obligation of the project proponent to enable the people to provide an informed opinion and expression of their concerns at a public hearing.


There was arbitrary changing of rules, including in the matter of the amount of time given to various people present to express their opinions, reproducing certain social inequalities of caste and class already prevalent in Goan society in the process, which lead to the sociologist John Fernandes questioning the validity of the entire hearing. The final nail was the signing of minutes of the hearing for the project of Jindal SW by the District Magistrate as the chair of the proceedings, even before they were agreed to, contrary to the rules prescribed, and even as the draft minutes did not contain the fact that the project proponents did not answer most of the very pertinent questions. Various civil society organizations have meticulously edited and submitted the minutes, to preempt any cooption of their voices via the minutes.


Given the institutionalized arrogance, and the obvious pretence of preparing a final EIA by taking on board the views expressed at the public hearing, the prevailing mood at the hearings was: we do not want these fake development projects, no to coal; above all, a thumping reverberation that a managerial State in cahoots with the mega corporates cannot be allowed to stage a farcical public hearing where peoples’ views and language are (mis)appropriated or selectively grafted with the agendas of vested project proponents. It is quite another thing that people by their articulate and studied presentations set new boundaries and designs for public hearings.


(First published in Goa Today, dt: June 2017)

Reading Reginald: Between “Venice” and “Russia”

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During a recent visit to the Central Library in Panjim, I stumbled upon an entry in the database titled “Theatr Neketr Fuddarachem” authored by “Reginaldo Fernandes”. Knowing that generally Reginald Fernandes used an anglicized version of his name in most of his romanses, I decided to make sure if it was the same Reginald that I was interested in. The book procured for me was a small, pocket-sized one with no more than 70 pages which had badly yellowed and had become brittle as well. This book was published from Bombay in 1936.


1936? There hung a question in my mind: was the author the same Reginald Fernandes who wrote romanses from the 1950s onwards? To be moderately sure about this, his date of birth needed to be ascertained. Help came in from the editor of Gulab and The Goan Review Fausto V. da Costa who informed me that Reginald was born on June 14, 1914. This meant that when Reginald had authored and published this tiatr he was only around 22 years old. This means that if Reginald’s literary history is to be charted we have to go back to as early as 1936.

Reading this text no doubt raises more issues and questions about this genre of Konkani literature. This is because, first and foremost, when views are being expressed that tiatrists do not publish and document their scripts, here was someone quite young and already printing his works. Was he an exception? Indeed, Reginald seems to be the exception as even today a lot needs to be done as far as documenting the scripts of tiatr. Secondly, why was a young writer publishing his script? What were the conditions and factors that allowed such a person like Reginald to publish his work? Is it the only tiatr that he wrote and/or published? And if so why did he shift to writing romanses later in his life? Suffice it to say that these are questions for the future, for our purpose in Reading Reginald is quite different: to see what unfolds in his tiatr.


The story revolves around two young lovers Boby and Flora. In keeping with many of his writings in later times, Reginald portrays these two lovers as not equal to each other. In the very first scene or the opening act set in a garden, Boby tells Flora that she is from “Venice” and he is from “Russia”. The reference is at once enigmatic as it is revealing. What it immediately reveals is that because they are not same socially or economically, the young lovers will face opposition, and indeed later in the tiatr this is exactly what happens. The reason why this reference is enigmatic is because it is not clear from where Reginald is taking his inspiration from. Immediately, what comes to one’s mind, considering the fact that many Romi writers would adapt from English and other literatures, is some Shakespearian influence. But as one reads further, this reference never gains any clarity as far as its provenance is concerned.


Read More: Reading Reginald: Magic, Love, and ‘Dignidad’


Considering the fact that towards the climax of the tiatr, the characters engage in sword fights, the hero of the tiatr being thrown in jail and his lover entering the prison dressed like a man to free the hero, it would not be surprising that detailed study would reveal a mixture or medley of influences that is not just confined to Shakespearian drama. Thus, the act of Reading Reginald involves not just locating the provenance of the influences on the writer, but also acknowledging the influences of European literatures as legitimate in the development and progress of Konkani literature.


The story is simple: two young lovers, with the girl hailing from an economically well-off family. There is a third person, Alvaro, who is jealous of the love of Boby and Flora and tries every scheme in the book to separate them, and thereby inherit the wealth through marriage to Flora. If we would like to know more about the influences and thought process of Reginald and try to link them to his later writings, then I think this tiatr that he wrote can be used as a starting point considering the fact that he was just 22 years old when he wrote it.


Read More: Reading Reginald: Inside Africa


Another reason why Neketr Fuddarachem is a fascinating text is because not only does it include the cantaram (songs) that accompanied the tiatr but also the musical notations. So Reginald is not just an able writer, a composer, but also a musician and all these facets of his personality come together in this text. Most of the dialogues rhyme, perhaps to provide the necessary dramatic or theatric effects. Such texts wherein prose, dialogues, cantaram, and music come together can also point to us alternate ways in which to conceptualize the nature and function of Konkani writings in the Roman script. More so because if one compares how scenes or podd’ddes change in a tiatr, similarly in Reginald’s romanses he deliberately makes the reader know that the focus of the story is being shifted to some other aspect and/or location of the story. So, a Reginald romans, in a sense, also works like a tiatr.


I admit that I have not been able to give a definite answer to the meaning of the reference to “Venice” and “Russia”. However, by reflecting on such references in Romi writings one can come up with new ways to engage with Konkani and Goan culture.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 15 October, 2014)

Reading Reginald: Inside Africa

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The last time I had written about the Konkani novelist Reginald Fernandes, I had suggested that to understand such writings as romans (and even tiatrs) we would have to think anew and look more closely into these writings. Accordingly, I had hinted that the way Reginald Fernandes understood and conceptualized ‘dignidad’ could be one of the many ways to understand the corpus of writings written in the Roman script. In response to my article, many felt (through social media) that Fernandes’ books should be put back in circulation. Though such an initiative would be welcome, this was not the point I was trying to make. Rather, what I wanted to do was to initiate critical discussion on the possibilities that are available in Fernandes’ writings.


To further explore this possibility, this column would like to look at Fernandes’ Khoddop Rannim (1955) which has Valentino Vaz as its main protagonist. The novel opens with Valentino’s mother on her death-bed, who tells him the importance of being humble, for humility would allow Valentino to succeed in life. Valentino’s mother worked as a randpinn or cook, whose husband, a seaman, was dead when Valentino was a mere infant. Thus, facing impending poverty and with no family support base in Goa, Valentino packs his bags for Africa. There he finds employment with a great Goan trader of ivory called Robin Saukar. It is here that Robin Saukar’s daughter Thelma and Valentino fall in love with each other. Valentino initially was uncomfortable as he was a mere servant of her father’s and according to him Thelma was placed higher as far as ‘dignidad’ was concerned. However, it is Thelma who insists that they should not believe in such things.

The twist in the novel occurs when, to procure ivory Robin Saukar takes Valentino and another employee Martin Monteiro, in the African jungle. Because Monteiro wants to make Robin Saukar’s wealth his own as well as marry Thelma, he deliberately misguides Valentino into the dense and dangerous jungle. Here, the element of magic as a device for the progression of the plot comes into play, both for good and bad. Monteiro chances upon a witch-doctor who gives him some magical fruits that would turn the hearts and minds of Robin Saukar and Thelma in his favour, when in fact the preferred person was Valentino. On the other hand while Valentino survives his ordeal, he also meets certain persons who direct him to a particular kingdom which is situated inside a huge rock, shaped like a human head. The astonishing fact of this kingdom is that its queen has lived for more than 2000 years, for she has access to “Jivitachem Udok” or the elixir of youth.


As it turns out, this queen or Khoddop Rannim owned a very large diamond that is lodged in the temple that belongs to her family. It was, apparently, the largest in the world. And because Valentino refuses the advances of the queen, who madly falls in love with him, he is made a prisoner. Valentino now has to escape this make-believe world, if he wants to maintain any hope of being united with his beloved Thelma.


What should also be discussed at length about this novel is the way Africa and blacks are represented in Khoddop Rannim. Africa was a part of the Goan diaspora and as such it was part of the Goan imagination as well. Fernandes is not the first or only person to write stories set in Africa. Indeed, many of the romi writers following the 1950s (or, perhaps even earlier) did train their literary lens on Africa. The scenes that are set in the dense and dangerous jungle of Africa would obviously involve the depiction of peoples living in the forest. The language or the collective nouns that are used to refer to these peoples would definitely qualify to be racist by our standards. The point that I am trying to make is not that Fernandes is consciously being racist, but for readers today, to be aware and be sensitive to this issue while ‘Reading Reginald’ (and also other writers who set their stories in Africa).


Read More: Reading Reginald: Magic, Love, and ‘Dignidad’


Though love between social un-equals is part of the story, however it is not a preoccupation of the author in this novel. Although the images of the African jungle that are displayed to us draw on colonial accounts of adventure and exploration that were definitely circulating during his time, the African jungle also becomes a site of struggle for achieving ‘dignidad’. Whatever Valentino achieves or manages to make his own, he can only do it by fighting for it. Though magic may have helped Valentino’s pursuits, yet his human capabilities and strengths seems to have sailed him through rough waters in this novel. But magic does play a vital part in keeping the reader engrossed in the novel.


As a setting, if Africa is given deeper reflection in novels or stories written in Konkani then it also points out to the complexities and diversity of interactions and influences that Goa had with the larger world. One could also profitably look at how the Portuguese colonial world – just before formal decolonization – featured in Konkani literary space. The fact that Africa had formed the setting of so many stories written in Konkani in the Roman script, suggests deeper connections not just of travel and migration but also of the movement of stories and colonial fantasies.


By keeping in mind certain vital components that went into the making of a Reginald romans, we now have some basic markers to understand the thought behind his novels, apart from enjoying them the way we do with any good novel.

Reading Reginald: Magic, Love, and ‘Dignidad’

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Reginald Fernandes was one of Konkani’s most proficient writers, having more than a hundred books to his credit, with his avid readers excitedly waiting for his next offering. Fernandes wrote romans, which can be translated as novels (or novelettes, if one is being pedantic). Although Fernandes, and the genre of Konkani writing to which he contributed immensely was and is very popular, the romans as well as Fernandes have not received the critical scholarly and literary appreciation, that they so rightfully deserves.


This column would like to look at one of the earliest works of Fernandes, Sat Somdir published in 1951. The theme that I would like to particularly explore revolves around the author’s understanding of mog (love) and dignidad (loosely respect, status, and human dignity). The basis of many romanses and tiatrs, one can suggest, was formed through the enmeshing of these two ideas, against the backdrop of social inequality. Thus, in this work Anita, a girl who is born into a rich family and lives in a grand house, falls in love with Alfred, hailing from a poor family and whose mother had raised him by working as farm labour. Very early on in the novel we have Fernandes stating, “To ortouta pisso, zo sor corit dignidadic ani mogac,” (He errs badly who associates status [social standing] with love).

Needless to say, the love between Anita and Alfred is put to the test, not ostensibly because Alfred lacks nobility, but also due to the fact that Anita’s uncle wants to usurp her inheritance amounting to some four lakh rupees. Anita was an orphan, who had lost her mother when she was only three and her father when she was eleven. Yet, one need not be led into believing that the plot of Sat Somdir is solely revolving around pecuniary matters. Indeed, the basis of the novel is love between social un-equals and how the realization of this love leads to the restoration of human dignity and respect or dignidad.


Anita and Alfred decide to elope to Bombay, but Diogo – Anita’s uncle – gets wind of the plan. It is here that the tribulations that the young lovers have to face, begin. Within such an ordeal, Fernandes also takes his reader on an adventurous journey, full of possibilities. When Alfred is left for dead in the dense forest of Sattari, he meets a Sadhu who gives him shelter in the divull (temple) that he takes care of. Here Alfred comes across a richly adorned idol in the temple, which has a magical thic (diamond), called Sat Somdir. The magical power of this particular diamond is that it can show the whereabouts of any person, as if being projected on a screen.


It is not just the diamond that provides the ‘magical’ relief in the novel, but other kinds of medicinal herbs (ocot as Fernandes would refer to it) also come into the plot at crucial moments. So what we have here is that, at crucial moments when the reader thinks that the plot is going in an expected direction, Fernandes brings in twists and turns – and indeed there are many in this novel! Magic and fantasy is important for Fernandes in another way as well. I would like to suggest that twists brought about by magic at various parts of the novel, also acts as a device of deus ex machina. Such a device, it can be suggested, is necessary as in a rigidly hierarchical society as that of India and Goa, how are two people madly in love with each other, ever to find the realization of their love? In other words, escape from rigid hierarchies is facilitated by magic.


In keeping with the author’s thinking or conceptualization that love and dignidad can be accomplished, not only through breaking social boundaries but also having material riches, the novel ends with Anita and Alfred being joined in holy matrimony as well as recovering a lost treasure of gold bars. Before this, it so transpires that Alfred gets incarcerated in the dreaded prison of Aguada, and the Sadhu from the temple of the Sattari jungle through the use of some ocot, manages to get him out of the prison. The guards at the prison thinking that Alfred is dead bury him in the prison cemetery. Anita comes to know of this through the ghost of a man, who was the business partner of her father in Africa. This particular ghost had cheated Anita’s father of many lakhs of rupees and had purchased gold bars, which were buried near his house. It was this chicanery that was keeping the ghost bound to the earth. So in the end, Anita’s greedy and scheming uncle is punished for the crimes he has committed. Alfred, Anita, and Alfred’s mother live in Anita’s house having the guirestcai or riches, which now rightfully belonged to Anita.


To go back to an earlier point, in the world that Fernandes opens to his readers, suffering and poverty borne with humility and equanimity does not lead to more suffering and poverty, but to a genuinely happy life – full of love and riches! After all what good are riches without love and affection? So, if we are to understand the concept of dignidad and how this dignidad was reflected in novels such as those of Fernandes, then we would need to understand that, within this world, riches cannot be separated from love, and that social barriers can only be broken when both are present in copious quantities.


The act of Reading Reginald cannot just be confined to reading his romanses. Indeed, we have to decode the very thought and intellectual influences on novelists like Fernandes. What, for instance, did Fernandes read? Dignidad is perhaps, one of the several concepts and ways in which to understand this corpus of literature. It is time we start searching for them.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 11 June, 2014)

Tejas Express: Public Property and Civic Duties

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The high-speed, high-tech Tejas Express, plying between Bombay and Goa, was launched a couple of weeks ago. The launch of this train was much hyped because it offered state-of-the-art facilities to the passengers. The Tejas Express boasts of automatic doors, infotainment screens, vacuum bio-toilets, touch-free taps in the toilets, and much more. While the train’s maiden voyage was expected to be a triumphant heralding of a new era in rail transportation, the news that filtered in afterwards suggested otherwise.


It was reported that even before the journey began in Bombay, a window pane was smashed. By the time the train reached Goa 12 headsets were reported to be missing or stolen; there was garbage littered all over the train, and the toilets were also reported to be filthy. Opinion-makers reacted stating that Indians do not deserve nice things and lack the civic sense to take care of public property. Given the manner in which urban Indian liberals are blind to the most fundamental problems of the society, it was not surprising to observe that absence of civic sense being discussed without reference to caste.


The Indian Railways is said to be the largest employer of manual scavengers in the country – under the guise of employing sweepers – as contract workers across the length of the rail network. Almost all of these people who dispose human waste with their bare hands come from the Dalit castes. Though manual scavenging has been outlawed by law since a long time ago, the Indian Railways only started addressing the issue – albeit incompletely – from 2016. In other words, if the railway platforms and tracks bear the slightest resemblance of ‘clean’ it is only because of the thankless and demeaning labour provided by thousands of workers from such castes. If guests on board the maiden journey of the Tejas Express had left behind garbage and dirty toilets and/or wash-basins it was only to be expected as that is how things are done – it is simply someone else’s problem.


Read More: The Invisible, Unimportant, Expendable Pedestrian.


The South Asian idea of cleanliness is that someone else is responsible for doing the cleaning. While it is true that the authorities are responsible for collecting and disposing of garbage, there is no justification for collecting wet waste in plastic bags and dumping them along the side of roads, for someone else to collect. There is blindness to the fact that the labour provided come from persons who are denied the basic right of human dignity, let alone benefits like health insurance and proper working conditions. This is a problem that concerns not only the government but everybody.


This behavior with regards to disposing garbage tells us something about the way in which Indians approach public spaces and public property. On the one hand, one doesn’t view public spaces and public property as deserving care and maintenance. On the other hand, the full burden of maintaining public spaces and property is dumped (pun intended) on the members of the most discriminated-against strata of society, who, not ironically, are excluded and pushed either to the margins or outside the boundaries of villages and cities. There is simply an absence of a ‘collective feeling’ or of a ‘community’ when the issue of public spaces emerges. The reason many argue, is the existence of the caste division. (In fact it was Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who argued that it was impossible to build a common community in the form of a nation when thousands of castes or jatis were in existence in British India).


In a slightly different context, the theologian Philip Vinod Peacock in his essay ‘Hostility, Hypocrisy, Hospitality: Rethinking the Politics of Theology and Hospitality from a Dalit Perspective’ (2013), offers an interesting suggestion to understand the relationship that Indians share with public spaces. Peacock suggests that public spaces, containing hundreds or thousands of people unfamiliar to us, tend to be sites of repelling strangers: “Within the caste system all strangers are automatically considered to be lower in the caste hierarchy than oneself.” Public spaces therefore are sites where aggressive behavior is displayed or performed that goes against any form of civil behavior, in response to the underlying structures of casteism. Thus, he further suggests that “it is perhaps this logic or spirit [of the caste system] that is at work when Indians jump queues or push themselves before others, or basically choose not to follow the norms of what can be considered publicly acceptable behavior”.


Read More: Car-Free City!


Peacock’s suggestion can be used to argue that the physical location of public spaces – be they parks, roads, beaches, trains or anything else – are sites or spaces wherein the development of civic sense is constantly subverted because we are unable to relate to one another as persons outside of our narrow and individualistic identities. There is something that prevents us from being publicly-oriented citizens. Being in a public space leaves us supposedly vulnerable to physical overpowering, caste pollution, and even diseases. This is the reason why public property is often repeatedly vandalized or left to decay without any care. In many ways, it can be argued that a sense and concept of the ‘public’ is yet to evolve within Indian society.


The unfortunate episode of the Tejas Express is not an aberration; in fact, one of the maintenance staff remarked that the amount of garbage left behind was just like any other train. As expected the educated, ‘middle class’ who can afford such expensive fares are the ones who are causing all the problems.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 7 June, 2017)