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Goa’s misunderstood, unwanted prodigal sons and daughters

Frederick Noronha

In past decades, we could forget about Goa’s out-of-sight (except for holidays) diaspora population and pretend they didn’t exist. In more recent times, cyberspace brings their issues home rather regularly.

We learn about the court cases they face in the Gulf (for multiple fraud) or the UK (for falling for a paedophilia bait). Or their achievements which go largely unsung back home (Gerald Nazareth, a senior judge in Hong Kong, Brunei, and Bermuda passed away last month). We also learn about their struggle to find their roots back home.

Many are hit by the charge that they don’t keep in touch with the language or culture. Never mind that Konkani tiatrs are now already reaching London, and the diaspora community in Karachi were begging to have some tiatr sent over (to a city they say 15,000 Goan still live in). Of course, tiatrists from here seemed not too eager to go, especially after hearing all the reports about Pakistan as reported in the Indian media.

In keeping with the reputation of Goans being a divided lot – three Goans and you can have two political parties, kind of thing – the diaspora seems to be also divided and fractured. For long, each expat community has been divided on lines of class (or even caste).

Besides that, there is a pecking order among the various Goan expat communities. Today, the English-speaking expat world based in North America, Australia or New Zealand are somewhere up on the top. Earlier, it was the East African Goan who was most respected, but the shifting political and economic fortunes changed that situation drastically.

The Karachi Goan was perhaps higher than the Bombay Goan. But this situation changed due to the tense relations between the two countries – and a group which migrated for purely economic reasons long before this bitterness developed, got caught in the middle.

Places like Belgaum and Hubli provided education and railway jobs to Goans once, some of whom settled there. Some years back, I saw the Hubli Goan club in a decrepit condition. Many have probably migrated out of these places today. (Refer Manohar Rai Sardessai’s poem ‘We Are The World Wanderers’). Goans have been migrating a second or third time around, from their adopted homes, to what they perceive to be more secure pastures.

The Portuguese-speaking Goans have been seen by the English-speaking diaspora as belonging to another world. Differences in language, and perhaps culture, made it difficult to understand one another. Yet, one does feel that our inability to understand the thoughts and world view of another group of another set of Goans is something that makes us ourselves impoverished.

There are still many who trace their ancestry to Goa in Lisbon even today, from the Prime Minister of Portugal (who seems to face surprisingly little to no racism, compared to all the controversies dogging a Keith Vaz, for instance). I have often tried to cross-check on the accuracy of the claim that the capital of Portugal has a larger Goan population than the capital of Goa. This used to be said some decades ago when Panaji had a 40,000 odd population. It might carry an element of exaggeration, but the numbers are indeed significant.

Then, there are Goans from further apart. Some Goans were ragging another country cousin based in Macau over reports that the Chinese fostered casino-led gambling economy of Macau was likely to have the highest per capita income in two years, overtaking Qatar.

We don’t know about Goans in East Timor, and there have been some music shops set up in Malaya (later Malaysia) or Singapore. But the pecking order means that there is some misunderstanding, some envy and some rivalry among these diverse Goan groups.

Added to this, the Goan community across the globe is scattered and out-of-touch from one another. Everyone is busy with the struggle of their own lives. For whatever reason, the hub that Goa should have been for its diaspora is not playing its role. The NRI Commission of Goa has been in a state of deep comatose or not effective, whether it’s the Congress or the BJP in power here. The Chair for Diaspora Studies that was set up at the Goa University is non-functional too. There are few opportunities for expats to link up with home if and when they plan to do so. The Know Goa Programme can benefit only a handful, the drop in the proverbial ocean. Many expats, including smaller landholders, have been badly squeezed by tenancy laws of another era.

Earlier Goan cultural hubs that existed outside Goa in Dhobitalao or Nairobi, Uganda, Entebbe or Dar-es-Salaam are now scattered over many places. It would be unfair to critique Goan expat communities as being more interested in a food and dance culture (in part because the same is true of many of us Goans in Goa too).

This is a story which is yet to be adequately understood….

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