Understanding Goa …by way of books

Goa, despite all its achievements,
continues to be an information-poor
region. No wonder we understand ourselves
so inadequately, writes FREDERICK NORONHA
and takes a look at some bookshops
focussing on titles published in the region.

At a conference last week, some visiting participants were asking around: What do we do in Goa? Where’s a good place to shop? What do we buy? When you’re hit with a lack of answers, it only reminds one how much of an information-poor region Goa can actually be.

Inspite of all our boasts about this being an affluent region, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to information, we are still doing rather poorly.

There are guidebooks which fill in the slot … to some extent. But some are drowned by advertisements, and so their information is more than a bit suspect. They highlight only those places which advertise the most. Result: you end up visiting a place described in glowing terms, but end up feeling short-changed or overcharged.

Lonely Planet is best suited for the Euro tourist (or should we say traveller) of a certain youngish, age profile. Time Out has some good information, but is fairly upmarket in a way. Other publishers of guide books want you to write about things they understand, in a format that fits their bias. So it’s a Catch 22 situation.

Books are one way through which one can understand a region. Maybe books don’t fit well into a hurried, consumerist holiday in Goa. But when one needs a deeper understanding of the region, this is what could be recommended.

Books on Goa are also not easy to come by. They’re scattered, not easy to locate, quick to go out of print. And, as we argued in an earlier column, hardly ever reviewed adequately at the time they are released here.

So finding relevant books on Goa can sometimes be a challenging job. This is even more true if you’re new to the place, and have limited time there. But it helps if you know where to start. This small region of 1.4 million has a very active book publishing sector, with varying levels of quality.

Goa’s citizens, often the small player, churn out book after book after book, on topics related to the region. Some of undeniably low standards. Others are poorly printed. Most find it difficult to become financially viable. But books on Goa offer useful insights that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Getting a grip on the subject can be difficult because Goa’s people have written in so many different languages — 13 tongues. That’s according to Prof Peter Nazareth, the Iowa-based African-born writer of Goan origin who in the 1980s compiled an extremely interesting anthology of Goan writing.

Goa has had the first European-introduced printing press in Asia. This piece of machinery landed here by accident in 1556. But the flurry of publishing in Goa isn’t due to this fact alone.

Portugal-based writer Jorge de Abreu Noronha notes that Goa’s (and Asia’s) oldest printing press was introduced in the territory in 1556. Meant to help missionary work in what is today’s Ethiopia, the press didn’t reach there due to “acts of god”, but stayed on in Goa, as history tells us.

In Panjim’s dusty and colonial-style building of the Government Printing Press (close to Azad Maidan, and the Goa Police Headquarters) you find traces of the past. It’s still just might be possible to buy a Portuguese-published book, what with its antique value, for a few rupees. That is, provided the staff is willing to oblige.

There are other options too. Enough books are being published each year which are worthy to join your bookshelf. More importantly, some of these help unravel the mysteries and mythologies of that small place many of us, one way or another, call home.

There are some essays which remain my favourite….

US anthropologist of Jewish origins, Robert S Newman’s 1983-published article (in the ‘Pacific Affairs’ academic journal) titled ‘Goa: The Transformation of an Indian Region’ offers interesting insights. Even if it is dated by now, almost a generation old!

It explains what Goa is all about, how it has morphed over the past generation, and what are the problems and potential of this small state. (It is also included in his book ‘Of umbrellas, goddesses & dreams: Essays on Goan culture and society’, Other Indian Press, Mapusa ISBN 81-85569-51-7.)

Newman’s vision doesn’t belongs to the gung-ho world created by make-believe “we’re doing great” official statistics. Nor does it belong to that doom-and-gloom version of “where is Goa going?”, created out of the embers of a class who believe they had it good during the colonial times, and who see themselves as having lost out in the subsequent transition.

Newman’s introduction to Goa — if somewhat dated now, 23 years later — continues to be a basic text for anyone wanting to get an instant understanding of Goa. If you start collecting books on Goa, you would quickly realise that there is a lot of material out there.

Librarians like the UK-based Eddie Fernandes, formerly with the University College London, have collected over 2000 Goa-related titles. Incidentally Fernandes is the hard-working editor who single-handedly puts out the ezine called Goan Voice (Africanders, does that name ring a bell?) and it’s at http://www.goanvoice.org.uk

Bangalore-based scholar of Goan origins Rochelle Pinto, who recently published her own book, is seriously concerned about the state of libraries, and the need to build more. Places like the Xavier Centre of Historical Research (at Alto Porvorim, almost half-way along the Panjim-Mapusa road) have a rich collection which is still waiting to be adequately tapped, in their excellent libraries.

* * * * *

To begin at the beginning, though: where does one start with sourcing useful Goa books?

Finding them is like searching for a pin in a haystack. You search and search, and probably can’t find a good book. Some drop out from the bookshelves, and you make do with what you get.  By the time you learn of a good book, it’s usually out of print. And, when a new title is released, our struggling-to-be-irrelevant local press usually doesn’t have the space to review it.

So where does one go to get started?

Your best chose is those few bookshops that give some prominence to Goa-related books. OIBS (Other India Book Store), the alternative space hidden atop what used to be a hospital in Mapusa’s Feira-Alta locality, may be a good starting point. They publish an often-updated “Goa books” catalogue. This outlet is located located above the Old Mapusa Clinic at Mapusa.

Hotel Mandovi’s bookshop (near the Panjim ferry jetty) is easier to locate and centrally located. Khalil Ahmed’s Broadway, at Sant Inez in Panjim (Ashirwad Building, near Caculo Island, at the western end of 18th June Road), is another suitable outlet. So could be the Golden Heart Emporium in Margao. In Panjim, near the centrally-located Azad Maidan, the friendly Bhate Brothers run their Varsha Book Stall, started by their late father.

While passing near Don Bosco’s recently, one was surprised to see new religious bookshops come up in that locality. (Another is run by my friend and ex-Britto boy Tino Nazare, a former radio officer, at the Patto locality. Jesus Bookshop 2438638, 2nd Floor, Pato Centre Bldg.) For that matter, even the Daughters of St Paul’s has an interesting but unpredictable selection of Goa-related books, at bookshop along 18th June Road (Rani Pramila Ground Flr, Ph 2432608, 2231158).

More on this next week. Let me know if you find some interesting place for Goa-related books. Feedback welcome at fred@bytesforall.org or 2409490 or 9970157402 (after 1 pm).

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About fredericknoronha

Alt.Publishing. Journalism. Books. Cyberspace. Networking.

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