Thursday, January 7, 2010

What Goans Have for Breakfast

This essay was first published way back in 1996, and the
author underlines that his favourite book is Wayne Booth's A
Rhetoric of Irony [http://tinyurl.com/8qd8va]

* * *

What Goans Have for Breakfast

By Augusto Pinto
pintogoa at gmail.com

"History is the most dangerous
of all the products of the
chemical laboratory of our
mind. It stimulates dreaming,
it intoxicates nations, it
generates in them false
memories, exaggerates their
reflexes, irritates their old
wounds, deprives them of peace
and infects them with
megalomania or mania of
persecution." Paul Valery

The Goan has a strong stomach. He must have, given the spicy
stuff he consumes. This applies to his intellectual diet as
well. The Guide to Goan Food For Thought is of course the
"Letters to the Editor" columns of any of the local dailies.

This article examines one of the most stunning courses cooked
up in 1995. A debate on Goan history, culture and identity
which saw letters on the subject appearing in the papers for
almost every other day of the year.

The focus will be on the letters of two Mr. P. P.
Shirodkars -- both great men. The elder one was an
illustrious freedom fighter, jailed by the
Portuguese for many years. He later became the
first Speaker of the Goa Assembly where he was
renowned for putting down at every opportunity
Konkani or "Concaannim", that corrupt dialect of
the Marathi language.

His son who is the Director of Archives is reputed to be a
great historian. It was difficult to distinguish between them
during the controversy but that matters not, as they
obviously shared not only the same name but the same views.

Before proceeding, sample some excerpts from letters that
appeared at the height of the row. First P.P. Shirodkar. "The
persons whose ancestors were converted , mostly to Roman
Catholicism by the barbarous Portuguese should rid themselves
of whatever non-Indian customs, habits and uses they imbibed
from them. This includes the Portuguese and Spanish surnames
like De Souza, De Miranda, De Lima, De Lisboa and De
Albuquerque, which suggests that their ancestors must have
come from Portugal putting their true local roots in doubt."

Mr. Shirodkar then expressed his distaste for names derived
from trees like "Pinheiro, Oliveira and Carvalho" (pine,
olive and oak) and from animals like "Lobo (landgo in
Marathi)" which he felt were not "of the torrid zone of Goa."
Likewise he said any Hindu or even Muslim family would have
been very insulted "if they were branded with the surname
related to the swine species" or "with the surname Komlo
which is the Konkani meaning of Pinto, and which also refers
to the sexual organs of a male child, when teasing him."

Within a week Jose Fernandes of Siolim shot
back,"What is wrong with Pinho, Carvalho (pine,
oak) etc. in a land that has Mensenkai, Iruli
(chilly, onion) Zirulli (cockroach) as surnames?

These plants and insects are not of Indian origin either. Is
a Bhandary without bhandar (wealth) or a Jagirdar (landlord)
without land any more relevant than a Pinto among the
casuarinas?

The communalist, casteist and racist overtones which some
felt were apparent in the letter of Joseph Fernandes have
always lurked under the skins of the Christians of Goa. But
never was it aired so blatantly as during this controversy.
How did this happen?

Around the time of the Exposition of the relics of St.
Francis Xavier in 1994, the Xavier Centre for Historical
Research organised a Seminar on the life of the Saint. Dr.
P.P. Shirodkar here delivered a paper entitled, "St Francis
Xavier: An Anti-View" which reportedly created quite a stir.

This enraged one Placido Martins who challenged Shirodkar to
publish his paper in the press. Shirodkar replied on December
28, 1994 in The Navhind Times. Perhaps correctly referring to
the Saint as "Master" Francis Xavier, he blamed him for
being,"solely instrumental in inviting the ignominious
institution of Inquisition to India, which resulted in
unimagined frenzied brutalities on the victims in the name of
heresy and religion, besides committing atrocities to their
near and dear ones for no fault of theirs."

He stated that this,"left a serious impact on the
Goan psyche from which even present generations
have not fully recovered." In his long letter,
Shirodkar went on to suggest that the Vatican
should,"de-canonize unholy men to save future
generations from treading the path of religious
bigotry." With this all hell broke loose.

Several writers, almost all Christian, wrote hysterically to
the Press attacking Shirodkar's views. The father and son duo
defended their point of view very ably.

In late February a new twist was given to the brouhaha after
Shirodkar made an innocent remark about a book of Goan
cooking by Gilda Mendonca, which he felt should be correctly
called,"Roman Catholic Goan Cooking." He expressed his
distaste for the hideous practice of eating pork and drinking
alcohol in Christian homes and explained how Hindu cuisine
was so much more kosher.

Later he was to make illuminating comments on the corrupt
dialect of "Concaanim" used by Roman Catholics as their
mother-tongue and around June put forth his opinions
regarding names. More howls of protest followed.

In November came what was perhaps his piece de resistance. He
suggested that a Church in Old Goa built by Afonso de
Albuquerque to commemorate victory over Adilshah, be
turned,"a common Indian religious temple of Adi-Mayaa or
Eternal Mother, dispensing blessings to all. The Murti (icon)
being a lady of only two hands either erect or sitting on a
throne of Indian type, holding a globe in one hand and a
lotus in the other." Sadly, "this remarkable suggestion" for
improving communal harmony was greeted by stony silence from
the Church authorities.

The reactions of the Christian letter writers were quite
pathetic. They behaved like Shylock in The Merchant of
Venice, "He hath laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains,
scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends,
heated my enemies. And what's his reason? I am a Jew."

Shylock's lust for his pound of flesh did him no
good. Neither did the rantings of Goan Christians
against the Shirodkars.

The Christians used all kinds of tactics to confuse the
issue. They quoted long tracts from religious books. They
quoted Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, Swami
Vivekananda, Dr. Radhakrishna and other big names to cover
their sins. This failed.

They tried to shift the grounds of the argument to matters of
caste, dowry and sati. This was unconvincing. They tried to
counter-attack by questioning the basis of Hinduism and
bringing up irrelevant matters such as the alleged Aryan
aggression against the Dravidians. All this was refuted in
scholarly style by the Shirodkars.

Finally they hurled personal abuse upon the Shirodkars. They
passed snide comments on the elder's ancestry and questioned
how the younger one could accept the hospitality of the
Portuguese. The Shirodkars gave back as good as they got.

When even this failed the Christians began pleading with the
editors to stop the correspondence on the matter. Thankfully
in the interests of truth and freedom of speech this was not
done.

One of the best thing about this debate was that history, a
subject that was once considered as dry as dates has now
become relevant even exciting. Books that once gathered dust
on the shelves are now pulled out and read like novels.

The works of the late Prof. Anant Kakba Priolkar
for instance, have again become popular. Priolkar's
work, published in the 1950s and 1960s set the
agenda for many of the raging debates of today.

The themes he has dwelt upon such as the Inquisition; Who is
a Goan?; the Konkani v/s Marathi issue; the Merger Question;
and the problem with Goan Christian names - are all relevant
even today.

The Shirodkars have developed many of the ideas first
formulated by this painstaking scholar. For example, Priolkar
in his magnum opus -- The Goa Inquisition (1961) --
documented with meticulous care what he felt was the harm
done to the Hindus by that terrifying tribunal.

The Shirodkars follow Priolkar on most points but introduce a
subtle improvement to his research with the aid of two
unstated assumptions.

1] Goan Christians: The oppressive collaborators of the
colonialists.

2] Goan Hindus: The oppressed freedom fighters.

Once this truth is established the only question remaining
is what reparations the Christians should make for the harm
done to their Hindu ancestors.

Before going to the next point it is worthwhile mentioning
that there may be nitpickers who will badger the Shirodkars
for evidence for their assumptions. This is not necessary as
surely the truth is self-evident.

But then irrelevant works will be quoted. For example Agentes
de Diplomacia Portuguesa na India (1952) by the late Dr.
Pandurang Pissurlekar a predecessor of Dr. Shirodkar in the
Goa Archives. This work suggests that there existed a
significant Hindu elite which always worked faithfully for
the political interests of the Portuguese.

The work of M. N. Pearson will be dug up. He is a
foreigner who suggests in Coastal Western India
(1981) that throughout the Portuguese era the
Saraswat Brahmins ruled the economic roost.
Pearson's mentality can be said to be to typically
illustrate the divide and rule policy of colonialists.

Medieval Goa (1979) by Teotonio De Souza, a work of Jesuit
sophistry will be cited. Without denying the existence of a
Christian elite, this book points out that the mass of the
Christian people were ruthlessly exploited and lived at
subsistence levels.

It further insinuates that without the all-out collaboration
of the Hindu business community in revenue administration and
trade, Portuguese colonial exploitation would have been
different if not altogether short circuited.

Such kinds of research based on foreign concepts like
Marxism, or other strange ideas like Feminism or
Post-Structuralism and so forth must be guarded against if
not completely suppressed. Such philosophies promote the
subversive idea that identity is the result of several
factors caste, language, region, class, education and sex and
not only of religion. Too many common people have begun
subscribing to such views and they should be stopped before
the situation deteriorates.

The star of Indian nationalism is on the ascendant following
the glorious destruction of the Babri Masjid and the
subsequent riots. But the good work must be continued and
reinforced at every level. In Goa, the two Shirodkars have
taken over the task of providing the wholesome healthy
nourishment the people require if they are to become true
blue-blooded Goenkars.

If in the foreseeable future the true Hindus completely
regain the power enjoyed by their ancestors, it is to be
hoped that they repay with interest the debt of gratitude
they owe to the firm of P.P. Shirodcar e Filho.

............................................................
This article was first published in Herald - The Illustrated
Review January 27-February 15, 1996.

Contact the author: Augusto Pinto pintogoa at gmail.com or
ypintogoa at yahoo.co.in P 0832-2470336 M 9881126350

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