In his essay "The Lusitanian in Hind”, novelist Aravind Adiga strives to situate the 19th century Goan writer and politician Francisco Luis Gomes (1829-1869) as an Indian patriot while decrying how “most Indians [have] not heard about Gomes,” which, to Adiga, “speaks more about the narrowness of our present conception of Indianness [...].” Yet, through his essay, Adiga further perpetuates the very narrowness he warns against. In trying to resuscitate national and nationalistic interest in Gomes, Adiga explores the possibility of the Goan polymath’s canonicity solely within a prescriptive Indianness hemmed in by Brahmanical, masculinist, Anglo-centric, and ethnocentric preconceptions of what it means to be Indian. In Adiga’s estimation, Gomes can only be made legible to the larger Indian imagination if, as a Goan of the Portuguese colonial era, he can be seen as adequately Indian based on elitist particularities of caste and other constricted views of proper national and historical belonging.
While Adiga notes how Goa generally registers in popular Indian thought “as a landscape of fun,” he also pre-empts any discussion of the history of the region apart from modern India, and the impact of such historical regionality upon Gomes’ own oeuvre. Instead, when citing Gomes as having written of himself that he “was born in India, cradle of poetry, philosophy and history, today its tomb,” Adiga rushes to correlate such sentiment with Gomes having penned those words in 1861 which, in turn, would make one suppose “[naturally] enough that [the] author was a Bengali Hindu, writing either in Calcutta or London.” However, as Adiga interjects, “[Gomes] was a young Goan Catholic in Lisbon [...].” Clearly, Adiga endeavours to draw attention to the biases that exist in how perceptions of patriotism connote an Indianness circumscribed by location, coloniality, and religion. Nonetheless, rather than striking a contrast for deeper critical reflection on difference, Adiga’s purpose is to collapse all distinction into nationalist similitude as if it were “natural.” And what is believed to be natural here is that Goa can be a known quantity precisely because there allegedly is no difference between it and British-colonised Hindu Bengal, which at once reveals what the historic, religious, ethnocentric, and colonial default of the nation is as Adiga predicates it in this ostensibly neutral reasoning.
There is no denying that there were overlaps, and even collusions, between British and Portuguese colonialisms, but there were also marked differences. Although relegating it to a parenthetical aside, even Adiga must admit that “[u]nlike Britain, Portugal gave its colonies the right of representation.” This was an opportunity that was not available to the sub-continental subjects of the British Crown, not even to Dadabhai Naoroji who even while he may have been the first Asian in the British Parliament, was able to raise issues about British India only while representing a constituency in London. In contradistinction, it was from his position as a representative of Goa in the Portuguese parliament that Gomes sought to speak about the effects of colonialism on his Goan homeland and about India. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his book Os Brahamanes, or The Brahmins, written in Portuguese and published in Lisbon in 1866, making it one of Goa’s, if not India’s, first novels. What might Adiga do with other divergences in histories between the former British and Portuguese Empires in India? Not only was the latter a longer colonisation, witnessing radically different forms of inclusion and exclusion of the colonised, it also resulted in the decolonisation of Goa in 1961, much after British-occupied India. His essay can only sidestep the fraught history of India’s “democracy” in which Goans were not allowed self-determination despite much evidence of efforts in that vein. This is itself a political trajectory within which one could arguably place Gomes’ own polemical writing.
In his haste to employ a one-nationalism-fits-all approach, Adiga’s lauding of Gomes as a forgotten patriot occurs, furthermore, along the lines of an unquestioning maintenance of religious and other supremacies as the default of proper Indianness. One way the article effects this is by privileging narratives of upper caste loss. For instance, Adiga posits the notion that it was “[t]he brutal start of Portuguese rule in Goa in 1510” which caused Saraswat Brahmins “to flee their homeland in order to protect their faith [...].” This according to him was a “boon for modern India,” as the Saraswats “fertilis[ed] commerce and culture everywhere they went.”
Yes, under the leadership of Afonso de Albuquerque, there was much bloodshed of the residents of the city of Goa by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century; strikingly, many of these victims were the soldiers of Adil Shah who, like the Bijapuri ruler of the city, happened to be Muslim. Albuquerque is in fact said to have declared that Muslims were enemies and the “gentiles” friends, which is not surprising given that he was aided in his conquest by the army of Saraswat chieftain Mhal Pai, after being invited by Timayya, agent of Vijayanagara, to capture the city in the first place. These allies buttressed the more preponderant contestation between the Portuguese and the ‘Moors’ for trading rights and privileges in the Indian Ocean. Some Brahmins did flee, as did members of other caste and religious groups who do not factor into Adiga’s retelling; consequently, their contribution to India is forgotten rather than celebrated as a “boon.” It must be pointed out that some Brahmins and others even opted to convert to Christianity. As recent research has shown, not all conversions were forced, but were calculated decisions taken by members of various groups. Moreover, in the last few years, scholars like Pankaj Mishra and Goa’s Victor Ferrão have questioned the idea that Hindus, as they are known today as a faith group, pre-existed the orientalist efforts of colonisers to classify, and lump together, discrete religious sects into one category. In addition, Adiga does not reckon with how members of the upper caste echelon who lived on in Goa sought to preserve their authority within the machinations of colonialism. As in other parts of India, Goa too bore witness to the collaboration between colonisers and higher caste groups in order to strengthen domination based on existing hierarchies.
These details fail to appear in Adiga’s narration because he predominantly restricts his understanding of Goan history to the mythologies of the Saraswat caste. In so doing, he also misrepresents the fact that the Saraswat caste was already well established through the length of the Konkan coast prior to the arrival of the Portuguese. It was this coastal predominance that allowed the Saraswats to operate as interlocutors for the Portuguese, as well as to ensure that those Brahmins who chose not to convert were able to migrate to places where they were not entirely without some social and cultural capital. The casting of Goa as a Saraswat homeland was a feature of 19th century Goan politics, a politics supported in equal measure by Catholic as well as Hindu Brahmin elites as they both sought to jockey for greater power. For the latter group, in particular, their power struggle was to secure a regional fiefdom in Goa against the supremacy of the Marathi-speaking Brahmin groups in Bombay city.
As Adiga repeatedly points out, despite the privileges accorded to some natives in the Portuguese colony, even elite Goans found themselves “doomed to a second-class existence.” Of Gomes’ own trial by fire at the onset of his time in the Portuguese parliament, Adiga states that the Goan politician “heard another member demand that the government rescind the right given to colonial savages to sit in a civilised parliament.” This caused Gomes to wax eloquently about the civility of Indic cultures in educating his parliamentary counterparts, a group Adiga refers to as “the carnivorous Europeans.” What is the purpose of such an authorial statement other than to ascribe some notion of purity to one group over another along the lines of casteist exclusion? While it serves to characterise Europeans as uncouth because of their presumed dietary habits, it can only do so by participating in the logics of defilement used against the many marginalised peoples in India and, perhaps, meat-eating Goan Catholics, a group that Gomes himself belonged to. Though that irony seems to escape Adiga, it nevertheless continues to establish a sense of Indianness in the article that strongly veers toward Brahmanical Hindu nationalism.
The bent of such nationalism is made even more explicit when Adiga likens Gomes to Vivekananda. The essay purports that the two had similar visions of emancipation: “Vivekananda saw education and the renaissance of Hinduism as the answer. Gomes, who believed Hinduism was spent, pointed to education and Christianity.” As one might expect of a novel titled Os Brahamanes, the book— like Gomes’ own politics and thinking— is not without orientalist or elitist notions. Albeit, in describing some of Gomes’ narrative as being “Orientalist escapism,” Adiga spotlights the novelist’s indignation at the inherent contradictions of European colonialism. The essay quotes Gomes’ novel as declaring that if “the law of Christ governs European civilisation [...] [i]t is a lie – Europe tramples upon Asia and America, and all trample upon poor Africa – the Black races of Africa are the pariahs of the Brahmans of Europe and America.” Idealism, no doubt, but it is in this regard for the oppressed beyond the confines of nation and religion that one can locate the conspicuous distinctions between Gomes and Vivekananda.
In “Dharma for the State?”— an article that also appeared in Outlook — writer Jyotirmaya Sharma begins by underscoring the “one phrase [...] that effortlessly invokes the name and memory of Ramakrishna,” who was Vivekananda’s mentor: “Ramakrishna’s catholicity.” The article, which is an excerpt from Sharma’s book Cosmic Love and Human Apathy: Swami Vivekananda’s Restatement of Religion (HarperCollins 2013), charges that “Vivekananda, more than anyone else, helped construct [...] this carefully edited, censored and wilfully misleading version of his master’s ‘catholicity’.” Like Gomes, Vivekananda travelled beyond his homeland in the 19th century. Sharma records how “[i]n 1896, Vivekananda gave two lectures in America and England on Ramakrishna.” Studying these lectures, Sharma finds “that they are placed entirely in the context of the glorious spiritual traditions of India as contrasted with the materialism of the West.” While on the one hand a decided subversion of the universality espoused by Ramakrishna, the essentialism Sharma infers from Vivekananda’s lectures may also be seen in Adiga’s aforementioned pronouncement of an East-West dichotomy founded upon casteist notions of restrictive purity.
Of the lectures, Sharma goes on to mention that “[t]here are frequent references to Hinduism’s capacity to withstand external shocks, including the coming of materialism in the guise of the West and the flashing of the Islamic sword. Despite all this, the national ideals remained intact because they were Hindu ideals.” What should be perceived here, then, is not only the conflation of nationalism with Hinduism, but also the theorising of the religious state as needing to be masculinist in order to withstand purported threat. Accordingly, it is not only Vivekananda that Adiga troublingly aligns Gomes with, but also “Tilak and Gokhale” as if the only way to understand the Goan’s place in the Indian context is by placing him firmly within the male iconicity of nationalism.
Gomes’s position is much more complex that the easy binary of bad coloniser versus the suffering colonised that Adiga seems to have adopted, and it is precisely Gomes’s Christianity that sharply distinguishes him from the Hindu nationalism of Vivekananda, Tilak, and Gokhale. As Adiga mentions, Gomes may have worn a dhoti to a reception, and spoken of the hallowed wisdom of the East, as also of the hypocrisy of Western civilisation. Even so, this should not be read as representative of Gomes’ overwhelming desire to cast off his European self and wholly embrace Indian subjectivity. Rather it should be seen as a limited strategy that he, as a member of the Goan Catholic elite seeking greater autonomy within the Portuguese empire, was using against recalcitrant Europeans. If there was one position that the Goan Catholic elite of the 19th century espoused, it was that they were capable of managing the Estado da India Portuguesa without metropolitan oversight because they were not only heirs of the millenarian Indian civilisation that spun the Vedas, but were also reprieved by their Christian religion and European traditions. They were not merely Indians superior to the Europeans; they were Goans superior to both the Europeans, as well as the subcontinentals because in either case they had a marker that trumped the other: ancient Indian culture against the Europeans and Christianity and European culture against the subcontinentals. Nor was the contest that Gomes was in necessarily a simple case of natives versus those with foreign blood as Adiga seems to suggest when recounting the case of Bernado Pires da Silva, who in 1835 was “[t]he first Indian to rule colonial Goa.” In attempting to craft Goan history within the narrow frames of nationalist British Indian history, Adiga fails to highlight that the Goan polity of the time was the scene of a vicious battle for dominance among the local dominant castes, that included the metropolitan Portuguese, the Luso-descendente caste, the Catholic Brahmins, the Hindu Brahmins, and the Catholic Chardos (Kshatriyas), with theatres spread over Goa and the metropole.
If Adiga really believes in the project of securing visibility for those marginal regions and personages that do not figure in usual conceptions of the Indian cultural and political landscape, this cannot be achieved without accounting for both the peculiarities of a location apart from the nation-state and the vexed relationship between the two. It is not colonisation alone that chronicles a history of the marginalisation of Goans, but also the contemporary postcolonial condition. Adiga asks if Portuguese, “the language of the Inquisition” can “be called an Indian language” as it was one of Gomes’ “mother tongues.” One could put this strange question to Sanskrit, or indeed any language used by rulers anywhere: can the language of the Manu Smriti, the language that advocated the horrifying oppression of Dalits, be called an Indian language? By equating Portuguese language and culture with the Inquisition alone, Adiga negates the formation and endurance of Portuguese culture in the former colonies. He brushes aside a whole gamut of cultural innovations by peoples, many of them subaltern, who still cherish their traditions, even if he does allude to them in passing.
The memory of the Inquisition, as Adiga posits it, either shames if one is a Catholic, or it hurts if one professes Hinduism. This essentialist rationale proceeds to permit Catholics to feel ashamed and Hindus to feel victimised, thereby leading to the victimisation of their Other. The majoritarian Hindu politics in Goa with all its trappings of casteist purity has made sure, quite successfully, with the insensitive misuse of the history of the Inquisition, as well as conversion, the perpetual marginalised status of the subaltern Goan Catholic, and those seldom mentioned groups, like Muslims. Correspondingly, language is another site of contention. Gomes’ other language, as Adiga indicates, was Konkani. Adiga rightly offers that Konkani is “now Goa’s official language,” and also that “Catholics, aware that their presence in Goa is diminishing [...], seek to protect their heritage.” But what Adiga obscures is that the postcolonial state’s official recognition of Konkani is only in the Devnagri, and not the Roman script largely used by Catholics.
For the Goan in Goa and for the marginalised elsewhere in the country, it is not useful to simply be squeezed into a preset notion of Indianness, but for that very category to be critiqued at every turn for its lack of inclusiveness by design.
R. Benedito Ferrão splits his time between Goa and California, and is an academic and writer. Find his blog at thenightchild.blogspot.com, or on Facebook at The Nightchild Nexus.
Jason Keith Fernandes currently based in Goa has recently acquired a Doctorate in Anthropology for his study titled Citizenship Experiences of Goan Catholics from ISCTE -University Institute of Lisbon. His interventions in the Goan public sphere are archived at www.dervishnotes.blogspot.com
Dale Luis Menezes is currently pursuing a Masters in Medieval History at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi. His blog can be accesses at www.daleluismenezes.blogspot. com
Amita Kanekar is a writer based in Goa.
Regarding the differences between various colonialisms, one can argue that the British were simply more honest than the Portuguese (or the French) in that they did not pretend that the colonized were equal to the colonisers. And I don't think the Portuguese regarded their colonies as being "equal" participants in the affairs of Portugal, all said and done.
Having said that, I have to agree that Adiga's assessment of Gomes is probably off the mark. As the authors say, he was probably trying to carve a greater space for the Goan elite but within the empire of Portugal.
The authors fail to note, however, that this was also the position of many of the Indian elite within British India as well at that time. Indeed, people like Gokhale thought that India would be best served by being a part of the British empire. The demand for total independence from the British empire or "Purna Svaraj" was made a formal goal of the Congress as late as 1930.
A lot of the elites in many (African and Asian) colonies took the same position until they saw that they would never achieve true equality unless they were completely independent. This was true not only of British colonialism but also French who also offered representation in the French parliament to their colonies. There was thus nothing extraordinary about Gomes' position (taking into account the corresponding feelings all across the colonial world) and it did not particularly hinge on the ability to speak in the Portuguese parliament.
The authors' point seems to be that historical events are too complex to be neatly summarized - which is a fair point. A scholar-historian is obliged to look at an event from all possible perspectives. Obviously, the output will be academically rigorous (like authors' response to Adiga's essay), but will naturally be too dense to be of interest to the lay person. Someone like Adiga, who isn't under the same obligations as the scholar-historian, uses his gift of weaving succinct prose to broadly convey the gist of our maddeningly complex history. If in the process, the lay person is introduced to obscure, but important historical personalities, so much the better. Is the scholar's history the only valid reading of history? I don't think so. There is space for a "lower truth" and "higher truth". Adiga is not competing with scholar-historians. Ultimately, the authors seem to be defending their turf here.
As for Jyotirmaya Sharma's book on Vivekananda, which they quote approvingly, I think Sharma gets it wrong ab initio and then proceeds to the absurd conclusion that Vivekananda was the progenitor of the modern political Hindutva movement. While the content of Ramakrishna's religion was predominantly mystical devotion, Vivekananda interpretation of it was shaped by his encounters with the modern world and by his goal of establishing a formal organization like the Ramakrishna Mission. Why quibble if Vivekananda felt that propagation of religion to be effective, it should be simultaneous with rejuvenation of society? A close parallel can be found in Christianity. Is Paul's Christianity different from the religion that Jesus preached? Yes, one can argue, but Paul also had to guide the establish and guide the early Church.
High-brow psecularist talk, intended to awe the plebians. Humpty Dumpty would have defined inclusiveness as "when I use a word, it means precisely what I say, neither more nor less...".
It seems there can be no Indianness if it includes "Brahminism". It immediately becomes hemmed in by Masculinity, Upper Casteism and religious Hindu nationalism. These are "colonial constructs", since there was no India before that. In line with the usual JNU narrative, Saraswat Brahmins could not have been persecuted all that much. Being upper caste, they must have deserved it.
Thank God for Jyotirmoy Sharma, who supplies ideological content which these guys would have to think up otherwise. "Catholicity" is such a nice thing. This was never there before in this place. Without it, "Hinduiism" would make "India" such a monochrome. The fact is, there is no such thing as catholicism, it has so many castes, sects and traditions. Oops, I meant Hinduism, no such thing as Hinduism. The idea must have come from catholics, a very protestant movement ;-) . The 6 Darshanas, the 108 Upanishads, the Brahmanas, Kabir, Nanak, Tansen, Surdas, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Sufism and the Bhakthi movement, well all that is not "catholic"!
And what writing, what readablity. There is now Goan "Catholicity" competition to the Bongs in the impenetrability sweepstakes.
Not all Sixteenth century Portuguese colonialists respected Indian culture or heritage. An example in point is the ‘Elephanta cave temple’ off the coast of Mumbai. The Portuguese soldiers vandalized it -- just for fun. They practiced their shooting rounds inside the temple.
It was only in the 20th century that the archaeological department of India re-fixed it; which they should not have done, because the damage by the Portuguese was also part of Indian history and the history of Elephanta.
If Francisco Luis Gomes was a unique figure in that milieu – all power to him, to the Goans and to the biographer.
Why is this pontificating articling passing off as book analysis in Outlook?
A verbose diatribe that articulates the anger of some Goan Catholics at being called Indians. The writers seem to be angered by Adiga's emphasis on the Indianness of Francisco Luis Gomes which they see as a negation of the the Potuguese heritage of Goans. Oddly enough, they prefer to associate their past with a small parcel of land sandwiched between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean than with the heritage of a billion people who belong to a civilisation that stretches far back into antiquity.
I do not know how many Outlook readers are aware of a certain Father Victor Ferrao who makes the preposterous claim that Hinduism did not exist in Goa in the 15 century and hence the temples demolished by the Portuguese colonisers were not Hindu temples but of certain healthen sects which were always warring with each other. He also claims that locals opted for Christianity voluntarily and that accounts of forcible conversions are grossly exaggerated. Ditto about the infamous Goan Inquisition which sends shivers down the spine to this day. He also wants Konkani to be written only in the Roman script since he equates the Devanagari script with the much abhorred religion and culture of his ancestors.
Outlook has this delightful propensity to unearth pompous whitewashers of history and Ferrao, Fernandes, Menezes and Kanekar are the latest additions to this tribe. Strange that they should whine about the "narrowness and lack of inclusiveness" of the definition of Indianness while at the same time trying to distance themselves from their original roots as much as possible.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT