Goa must preserve its cultural treasures

There are so many Goa-related books, which we can't find a trace of. Konkani music is scattered all over the place, and even wholly forgotten

Frederick Noronha | NOVEMBER 27, 2023, 10:51 PM IST
Goa must preserve its cultural treasures

Eddie Verdes

It's the music and festive season here once again.  Across Goa, in the fair weather season and the returning expat year-end weeks, there are so many music shows and theatrical performances being staged across the small State.  So much is happening.  At one level, the creativity of the region is flourishing. But that's only one side of the story.

The other side is that much of this work is so ephemeral.  It lasts for only a short time.  After that, it is forgotten and lost.  We will not know what has gone by in the past.

Our memory of this is going to be short lived.  People will forget what happened, even yesterday.  This might seem like a bit of exaggeration, and it is.  But keep in mind that human memory can be frail.  What looked so real to us today can be forgotten quite soon.  One day, our children and grandchildren could remember what we know with only faint memories.

The mind plays tricks on us.  We tend to forget.  Over time, institutional memories are lost.  (Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and knowledge held by a group of people.  The Wikipedia explains the related idea of collective memory as "the shared pool of memories, knowledge and information of a social group that is significantly associated with the group's identity.")

In times when we see an erosion of Goan lifestyles, identities and traditions, it is indeed important that such memories are preserved.

Archiving might be one way of doing this.  Today, technology makes the job rather easy and inexpensive of archiving (online).  It has been pointed out that archives are important because they provide evidence of activities and tell us more about individuals and institutions.  They tell stories.  They also increase our sense of identity and understanding of cultures.

Last week, I ran into Eddie or Edward Verdes.  This Bombay Goan, who spent a lifetime in Saudi Arabia at work, has devoted long years documenting Konkani song and tracking the field.  He started this as a youth.  From the time the online world got active in Goa and overseas (specially since 1998, when the Internet was accessible in Saudi), he made his collection public.

Sites like Blogger (which is free, and doesn't require repeated renewals) lead to his initiatives such as edskantaram.blogspot.com and alfritz.blogspot.com.  The first is a blog of Konkani song.  The latter specifically focuses on the Aldona-origin amazingly prolific and talented creator, Alfred Rose.

The 1958-born Verdes is from Chinchinim, currently resides in Bombay, and left Goa at the age of 17.  He remembers how his mum's (from Carmona) love for Konkani music and the tiatr seeped into his own life.  On every vacation, he would see at least one tiatr in Bombay.  Years back, during his stay in Goa, he would watch as many tiatrs as possible.  During his recent week-long stay in Navelim, he watched four tiatrs.

This only goes to show how much Goa's popular entertainment forms are enjoyed, never mind if these get only step-motherly treatment from the State authorities.  At the same time, it strikes only a few about the need to document Goa's creative energies, and preserve the same for the future generations.

The arrival of the Internet helped small cultures like Goa's greatly in documenting its cultural products and artefacts.  Verdes remembers the role played by Goanet (the mailing list), Goa-World (website), both set up in 1994, in making his work more accessible to the outside world.  He continues spending a month each in Bombay and Goa.

Even in related fields of Goan culture, a whole lot of research remains to be done.  Take the case of music.  Popular Konkani singer Alfred Rose, in his career spanning six decades and going back to the 1940s, is said to have sung thousands of songs, five thousand according to some claims, such as those of Francis Rodrigues.  But finding these is tough, though Konkani enthusiasts like Isidore Dantas have also made efforts.

"As per my record, there are 630+ songs by Alfred Rose.  He produced a lot of work, but there is no record," as Verdes puts it.  Eddie says he saw, via the family of Alfred Rose (also very musical themselves), a systematic record of Alfred Rose's songs.

"Our tiatrists too have no record of their own work.  I asked many how many cassettes they had come out with.  They often say, 'Once we produce the show [and stage the same for that particular season], it has no value left.'"

First there were some musicians or tiatrists from the Konkani world who produced cassettes.  Then came the CDs.  People shifted over to MP3s and the USB, but technology (and formats) keeps shifting.  What was recorded in the past is often not accessible today.

"We need not just the lyrics, but recordings of the songs too," says Verdes.

Long-enjoyed Konkani film from the 1950s and the 1960s got badly eroded, and almost lost to posterity.  The story of how the earliest Konkani film, Mogancho Aanvdo, nearly vanished is well documented in this article [http://is.gd/xC0zmT].  It is written by Gautam Kaul, former DGP of the Indo-Tibetan border, for the Film Critics Circle of India.

(Ironically enough, this story was itself under risk of getting 'lost'.  Its website is no longer available, but fortunately a copy of it was retained on the cyber-archiving site archive.org. Check out archive.org.  You might find some digital treasures related to Goa, which you knew even existed.)

But film is not the only Goan cultural product under risk.  Old and rare copies of our newspapers have been in the news for the way in which they are handled by their custodians (including the Central Library).

There are so many Goa-related books, which we can't even find a trace of (let alone a digital copy).

Konkani's charming music is scattered all over the place, lying unknown by many and even wholly forgotten, as mentioned above.  Digitisation projects have been undertaken by State-funded, not-for-profit and commercial ventures, but the output of these crucial works on Goa are unavailable, for the most part.

It's time we had a better understanding over this.  Government involvement is unlikely to help; citizens need to take up the task of preserving their own culture, while respecting everyone's rights.

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