In the recent years it seems that the Goan diaspora is speaking out. This is evident from the fact that a number of books have been published which deal with the history of Goan migration, the causes of such a migration and the experience(s) resulting from settling in a foreign land. These books have a decent ‘visibility’ in the various bookstores in Goa as well as on the internet. I would rate Selma Carvalho’s Into the Diaspora Wilderness as one which articulates migration-related issues in a succinct way (reviewed by me for GT: October 6, 2010).
Goa Masala, an anthology of stories by Canada Goans, is one such voice of the diaspora. This book was conceived by the 55 Plus Goan Association (55PGA) of Canada. “Our vision was to capture for the future the many stories that resided in people’s minds, and which otherwise might not have seen the light of the day,” says Rudy Fernandes, the President of 55PGA in the foreword. The book, running into 260 pages contains 41 essays and stories by many prominent Canada Goans above the age of 55.
I am of the opinion that the Goa Masala project is a very ambitious one. What it aims to do is to safeguard for the future Canada Goan generations an ‘identity’, a form of Goaness if I may say so. A major achievement of the 55PGA – for which they must be lauded – was that they were able “to get reticent Goans to put pen to paper.” These writings, in a way, are expected to function as the Prehistoric cave paintings containing hunting, fishing and other scenes that were meant for the next generation.
At the outset, I should state that I do not intend to do a full-fledged book review. While reading the book, I realized that this was a text essentially dealing in personal histories. These personal histories do help the historians in understanding a larger historical process – in this case migration in general (or migration to Canada in particular). The importance of personal histories that would contribute to a better and nuanced understanding of a larger historical process is stressed by Pamila Gupta from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa when writing about the migration of Mozambique Goans living in Maputo (to which I shall later return). What I was really looking forward to, in this collection, was these ‘personal histories’ against the social, economic and political background of Canada. Let’s call this, the ‘Canada experience’.
Most of the writers (including some who were coerced to write) in this anthology have immigrated to Canada from Africa and rather than their ‘Canada experience’, the nostalgic and adventurous reminisces of living in Africa and hunting trips in the African jungles as well as homecoming to or vacations in Goa find a greater print place. While there is certainly nothing wrong with it, the successive repetition of more-or-less the same plot-line renders a good portion of the book monotonous. Along with the ‘African Adventures’ and ‘homecoming’, wouldn’t it have been better if Canada too was featured in the narration? After all, Canada is the country that all the writers have adopted as their new home. The essay, The ‘canonization’ of Manny Sequeira! by Manuel Sequeira makes an earnest (and perhaps only) attempt at explaining his assimilation into Canadian society but falls a little short. Similarly, most of the essays do start promisingly but lack a good ending. Meriting special mention is one particular story that I immensely liked: The Chutney Mutiny by Alice Pinto.
The editor(s) of this book could have used their red pens with a greater flourish. One can’t help but notice that the narration is not free flowing in many cases. In the foreword, a disclaimer is added: “The stories featured in this publication have not been fact-checked for authenticity by the 55PGA, the publishers or the editors. Authors of the individual stories assume full responsibility of their own stories.” Maintaining authenticities as well as technicalities is the responsibility, I think, of the editors along with the authors. Consider this confusion: On p. 162, the author, Pliny X. Noronha, writes that, “…a member of our clergy informed that in fact St. Catherine of Alexandria…is the official patron saint of Goa” to which the editor introduces a footnote saying, “She was until recently; today the patron saint of Goa is the Blessed Jose Vaz.” Jose Vaz is only beatified and not canonized ergo; he can’t be a patron saint.
I shall now return to the case study of the Mozambique Goans. In 2009, Pamila Gupta wrote an essay, “The Disquieting of History: Portuguese (De)colonization and Goan Migration in the Indian Ocean”, in the Journal of Asian and African Studies (44: 19-47). Due to the dearth of archival and reference material, Ms. Gupta had to rely on life histories of the Goans who had migrated to Mozambique. She uses a “biographical” approach to reveal “unwritten histories and ideologies of migration.”
Ms. Gupta takes her inspiration from the anthropologist Engseng Ho, who “productively and creatively turns to other source materials such as gravestones, textiles, biographies, genealogies, legal documents, poetry, novels, and prayers.” By taking the help of the personal narratives of the Mozambique Goans, Ms. Gupta was able to bring about a ‘disquiet’ of the history of Goans living in that country.
Like the Mozambique Goans, the Canada Goans too could have offered their ‘personal histories’ to the historians. A chance is missed at a potential ‘disquiet of history’. Since my major complain was the inadequate representation of the ‘Canada experience’ in an anthology by Canada Goans, I sincerely hope that future endeavours – by 55PGA or any body else in Canada – would include the same.
Hats off to 55PGA and to Goa 1556 for publishing this anthology in association with A Plus Publishing, Canada.
Name: Goa Masala: An Anthology of Stories by Canada Goans
Published by: Goa 1556, Saligão in association with A Plus Publishing, Canada
Price: Rs. 195/-
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: April 18, 2011)