Herald: A proverbial outsider who understands well Goan issues
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A proverbial outsider who understands well Goan issues

05 Nov 2017 05:07am IST

Report by
DEEPA GEORGE

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05 Nov 2017 05:07am IST

Report by
DEEPA GEORGE

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Activism, the world over seems to get a bad rap even when intentions are noble and often necessary. Without getting lost in semantics, in our current times, when we perhaps need a lot more citizen involvement and action over a wide range of ecological and social issues, active advocacy is the necessary ingredient that keeps public dialogue crackling. DEEPA GEORGE meets Nilankur Das, founder of THUS an initiative that attempts to encourage critical thinking through socio cultural events, discussions, documentary film screenings and performances

Nilankur Das now calls Goa his home. Unassuming and soft spoken, Nilankur was raised in Assam and has worked all over India, notably also with organisations like Greenpeace and a project with Ford Foundation. Before his move to Goa, he was instrumental in curating Culture Unplugged in Pune, an online film festival of issue based politics, gender, poverty and militarisation issues. In 2014, Nilankur moved to Goa when his wife was asked to manage the eclectic store People Tree based in Assagao. Given his activist and artist background, or as he rightly calls it, ‘artivist’ background, 6 Assagao, the location of the store became the brand and the nucleus of an alternative ethos in Goa and the place to be for intelligent and more importantly thought provoking dialogue. 

From his first screening of the documentary film ‘Story of Stuff’ on the way we make, use and throw away the stuff in our lives, 6 Assagao has held many events including a lively talk by Sulochana Pednekar and NGO Video Volunteers on the issue of garbage in Goa; Goa’s green crusader Claude Alvares along with Rahul Basu have presented their Goenchi Mati Movement and the proposal on having an iron ore permanent fund for the people of Goa; Olencio Simoes has spoken about anti coal mining, Orijit Sen has held a talk on the Art of Dissent to screenings of documentary films such as Nero’s Guests on farmers’ suicides, performances by baul musicians and artists like Nikhil Chopra besides interesting discussions by US-based radical comic book artist Seth Tobocman and Ranjan Solomon on pro Palestine talks. An array of topics and a plethora of interesting speakers and performers   essentially creating a wonderful vibrant community space.

Explains Nilankur, “My only aim is to try and develop the social capital of Goa where contemporary issues are presented and discussed. Goa is a small state and I find that it is easier to effect change here. It is important to ignite critical thinking by holding issue and thought based events, giving a 360 degree perspective that challenges how we consume information. We need to create a dialogue that develops a thinking mind to understand what is and what is not.” 

It isn’t surprising then that soon through the credibility that Nilankur painstakingly built, there was a growing demand to hold such narratives in other interesting venues across Goa. Suddenly the concept of 6 Assagao needed to expand to other locations. Gallery Gitanjali, Museum of Goa, Dog Ears, Mandrem House were some of the venues that started requesting for curated events of this nature. Soon the brand needed another identity. Nilankur, keeping it simple, adds, “Thus it became necessary to create a new identity and I chose THUS. The journey from 6 Assagao to Thus has been fulfilling and the intent or aim stays the same.”

Talking about his earlier activist days at Greenpeace, Nilankur shares, “Two memorable campaigns remain with me, one was the Ban the Bulb campaign in Kashipur, Uttaranchal where we creatively sought the ban of incandescent light bulbs to energy saving CFLs and the other was to protest Tata Sons’ Dhamra port in Orissa on an olive ridley turtle nesting site. My family has always been socially active and I believe in people power. We underestimate our collective power. Even with the current agitation against the coal hub in Goa, it is heartening to see how gram panchayats across Goa have voiced their protest against this move. Or even the National Green Tribunal’s verdict to not transfer cases to Delhi. It tells us that we can make a difference.” 

Eager to plunge into being an absolute local, Nilankur has begun taking classes in Konkani and walks the talk by being actively involved in the Assagao Citizens Group. To get into the skin of Goa, he suggests reading Goan writers in English especially Damodar Mauzo. Nilankur’s enthusiasm is infectious and his childlike conviction, believable. He may be the proverbial outsider who has an undistilled purpose in understanding local social issues and a stubborn belief that good is possible. Talking about the singular incident in Goa that rattled him, Nilankur shakes his head sadly, “Fr. Bismarque’s death was a shock. He fought for Goa and it is shocking that his voice was silenced. I am glad that the case is still being pursued.”

Sharing his plans for the future, Nilankur states, “I am planning to organise Master Classes in political and investigative journalism by Rana Ayyub   noted journalist and author of Gujarat Files   Anatomy of a cover up. She received a standing ovation when she spoke about her account and investigation into the 2002 Gujarat riots, at one of our sessions. I hope to conduct it as a one month residential course. In the pipeline is also a documentary appreciation workshop by national award winner, Ajay Raina. I would love to have a talk by the tiatr artiste, Francis de Tuem on the role of tiatr in social change and its present context and also have a Mando and Blues Fusion group perform.” 

Given that most of these events are non ticketed and non commercial, Nilankur is adamant on soldiering on. He says, “I am applying for grants and funding. A lot of the people I get to speak at our venue are often visiting Goa on a holiday and they understand and support an initiative like this.” 

As a parting shot, when questioned if he is anti capitalist, Nilankur aptly replies, “I am pro people, pro community.” More power to that!

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