10 Feb 2024  |   05:17am IST

GALF 2024: Different Ways of Belonging

GALF 2024: Different Ways of Belonging

Vivek Menezes

At the age of 67, on my invitation as one of the organisers of Aparanta, the path-breaking 2007 art exhibition with an activist agenda, the great Bombay Goan poet and professor Eunice de Souza did her first public reading in her ancestral homeland, under the vast spreading branches of a rain tree that no longer exists, in what is now the Old Goa Medical College heritage precinct (but was then on the verge of being transformed into a shopping mall). It was a sensational debut in a moment filled with angst. At this point of her storied career, we had been told the fierce Ms. de Souza was mellowed, but what we got was pure dynamite. I can never forget when these lines rang out in the night:

No matter that

my name is Greek

my surname Portuguese

my language alien.

There are ways

of belonging.

This was potent intervention, at a time there was still considerable resistance to any cultural assertion from Goa that did not fit the familiar crude stereotypes. In his landmark essay for Aparanta, the curator Ranjit Hoskote pointed out that “Goa has brilliant, meteorically brilliant artists. But the lack of a context has left them afloat in a void of discussion. Geographical contiguity does not mean that Goa and mainland India share the same universe of meaning: Goa’s special historic evolution, with its Lusitanian route to the Enlightenment and print modernity, its Iberian emphasis on a vibrant public sphere, its pride in its ancient internationalism avant la lettre, sets it at a tangent to the self-image of an India that has been formed with the experience of British colonialism as its basis. The relationship between Goa’s artists and mainland India has, not surprisingly, been ambiguous and erratic, even unstable.”

This problem was paramount in our minds during Aparanta, until Eunice de Souza gave us another way to think about it. It struck home. Why do we all have to belong in the same way? Surely, if there is one overarching lesson to learn from Goa’s extraordinarily rich, ancient and many-layered history it is that of inclusion. Like the rest of the Konkan and Malabar coasts, this culture was born in confluence, and continuously remakes itself in dialogue with the world. Many cities and countries around the world have an impactful Goan history: Nairobi, Karachi, Rangoon, Aden, now Swindon and Southall too. They belong to us, and we belong to them too. It cannot be denied there is great strength in all these different ways of belonging, with this caveat: we must ensure we can accommodate them all without getting divided for no good reason.

When the International Centre Goa approached the Goa Writers group to collaborate on creating a new literature festival in 2010, our own Damodar Mauzo had already been developing this idea for some time. Konkani literature’s beloved ‘Bhaiyee’ – who later won the 2021 Jnanpith Award – realised that Indian publishing was developing into a Delhi-centric juggernaut which consigned much of the rest of the country to “the margins”. We thought to reverse this absurdly blinkered hierarchy, and focus on the many areas of excellence that were being unfairly overlooked, both in terms of regions and genres: the North East states, Kashmir, translations, poetry. From the very first Goa Arts + Literature Festival to next week’s 12th edition, the central theme and inspiration has remained different ways of belonging, as you see reflected in the classic GALF poster artwork by Amruta Patil that runs on this page.

Since the pandemic, GALF has faced many challenges, including the down side of remaining strictly independent, non-profit and volunteer-driven. There is much to celebrate however, including some of the best and most engaged discussions in the world of literature and the arts. This year, there are also performances by the great singer-songwriter Akhu Chingangbam of Imphal Talkies (on the 15th) and Stuti Choir (17th) as well as Sonia Shirsat (closing dinner). Some of those coming to Dona Paula next week include the eminent Toronto-based food writer Naomi Duguid, the pioneering Franco-Indian novelist Ari Gautier, highly regarded debutants Devika Rege, Sohini Chattopadhyay, Yogesh Maitreya, and Manish Gaekwad, and many other national literary treasures like I Allan Sealy, KR Meera, Robin Ngangom, Vivek Shanbhag and Mini Krishnan.

Identical to the state which it represents, GALF is small but extremely diverse. This edition includes Mani Shankar Aiyar’s memoir about Rahul Gandhi and Abhishek Chowdhary’s biography of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. We will showcase Rahman Abbas’s Urdu novel Ek Tarha ka Pagalpan based in the Konkani Muslim community, and Vasudhendra’s Kannada novel Tejo Tunghabhadra that tracks between Lisbon, Goa and the Deccan in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Damodar Mauzo’s Konkani novel Jeev Diun kai Chya Marun in translation by Jerry Pinto (whose amazing new translations of Tukaram will also be launched at GALF 2024). The brilliant litterateur-physician Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s translation of Manoj Rupda’s I Named My Sister Silence also travels to Goa, after a spellbinding chapter reading at last year’s edition.

Curators are not meant to have favourites, but there are some things I am especially excited about this year. We have two of the most important photographer/archivists of our times coming to Goa next week: Tarun Bhartiya from Shillong, and Sanna Irshad Mattoo from Srinagar. Do not miss their work, and especially be sure to attend the inauguration with its keynote addresses by Mamang Dai and Ranjit Hoskote and a reading of poems by Meena Kandasamy. I also recommend the joyous celebratory book launch of the new Goa Writers anthology, written by 30 members from around the world. The unforgettable abolim heart on the cover is by Chloe Cordeiro, and the title is another tribute to Eunice de Souza.


Iddhar Udhar