It was the most eagerly anticipated carnival parade in Goa. For the first time ever, Brazilian floats were to be part of the local festivities, complete with their famously nubile samba dancers. Alas, Goa's subterranean sexual prudery was also on full display—a strict no-nudity clause was enforced on the Brazilian floats. So, the thronging crowds which had come to marvel at those raunchy dance moves from Rio were disappointed. Instead they had to be content with two tepid tableaux depicting the Portuguese discovery of Brazil.
As in Brazil, the concept of the carnival was introduced here by the Portuguese, who conquered Goa in 1510. An event on the Christian calendar, before the onset of the austerities of Lent, the burst of feasting and merriment recalls its pagan roots. But as the Goa carnival date approached, the Brazilians learnt their participation would be subject to more modern forms of censorship.
Paulo Antonio Pinto, consul general of Brazil in Mumbai, had in fact warned that "Brazilian floats participating in the Goa Carnival parade will be bereft of any nudity or vulgarity, and will follow all the norms of the state." Paradoxically, however, the state in question has no qualms when foreign tourists sunbathe naked on its beaches. Also, the simultaneously held Brazilian carnival parade was a study in contrast. Near-nude dancers uninhibitedly flowed in full plumage down the streets of Rio and other cities, their pictures plastered all over the Indian media. "We embrace our sensuality in Brazil, and nudity is a reflection of our various identities, as apart from our Portuguese past we also have a tradition bequeathed to us by our native tribal ancestors who did go around naked before the Portuguese colonised Brazil," explained Pinto.
But leave aside Goa's inherent puritanism, which put binders on a potentially smashing spectacle, the first-ever Brazilian participation signals a significant event—it has "shaken 500 years of dust that had settled over a shared colonial past Brazil and Goa should celebrate, given the huge similarities in their geographies, people and Portuguese ancestors," said Dilip Lounde, professor, Brazilian studies, Goa University.
Goa-Brazil relations took a definitive new step when a Brazilian consulate was established in Mumbai a year back. Says Pinto, "We now have plans to extend the jurisdiction of the Mumbai consulate to Goa, so as to facilitate a lot of cultural exchanges between the people of Goa and Brazil, offer visa services and eventually jointly promote Goa and Brazil as famous tourist hotspots." Both Brazil and Goa were conquered and 'civilised' by the Portuguese, thereby spawning a common legacy that finds rich overlaps in both cultures. "The fact that Brazil was accidentally discovered by Portuguese explorer Pedro Cabral when he was on his way to India on the route discovered by Vasco da Gama is just one milestone that illuminates the rich cultural connections between the two communities. Also, exactly 10 years after Cabral conquered Brazil, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa," points out Gaurav Datey, trade specialist, Consulate of Brazil, Mumbai.
Lounde points other connections: "Cashew, considered indigenous to Goa, was actually brought here from Brazil by the Portuguese. And coconut palms were introduced into Brazil by the Portuguese through saplings from Goa." Like most colonial masters, the Portuguese encouraged free movement between their colonies, and Goans and Brazilians could travel to and fro on Portuguese passports. "In fact, we have evidence that the Portuguese had transported many Indian artisans to work in Brazilian churches to construct statues," said Pinto. "We even find traces of the great Panchatantra tradition of story-telling in many Brazilian oral traditions that the Portuguese could have transported from India to Brazil," added Lounde.
The Brazilian participation highlighted a little-known fact—that there are Brazilian families living in Goa and Mumbai. "There are about 40 Brazilian families in Goa itself," said Pinto. Nadia Desa, who is originally from Brazil and is now married in an Indian family, is one. "I'm here to participate in the carnival as I think Goa is a lot like Brazil. The architecture, beaches, smiling fishermen, swaying coconut palms, the fact that a lot of Goans speak Portuguese, makes me feel at home," she said. Belinda Fernandes, sister of singer Remo Fernandes, who was performing on one of the Brazilian floats, said, "I've been singing Brazilian songs for a while now and have noticed many common imageries in Goan and Brazilian music. Coconut trees, the sea, cashew, are motifs that occur in both genres of music. We even have a dish called Feijoada in Goa, basically kidney beans and pork, that the Portuguese got here from Brazil."
On the academic front, Goa has been promoting Brazilian studies for some time now. Says Lounde, "Goa University has had a Brazilian chair for Latin American studies for eight years now, where I teach a variety of courses like Brazilian literature, philosophy and sociology. We have recently extended our programme to St Xaviers College, Mumbai. Recently, the Ministry of Human Resources Development has signed an agreement with its Brazilian counterpart to facilitate student exchange programmes between India and Brazil."
On the commercial front too, Indian companies have started making forays into the Brazilian market, especially in the pharmaceutical arena. Almost all major Indian pharma companies, like Ranbaxy Laboratories, Strides Acrolab, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, Cadila Healthcare and Wockhardt Ltd have Brazilian subsidiaries. In fact, Ranbaxy is the largest foreign generics pharmaceutical MNC in Brazil. "Recently, in December 2007, Polar Pharma, a Calcutta-based company, won a global bid worth $8 million to supply 325 million condoms to Brazil's Ministry of Health for use in its AIDS awareness programme," said Datey.
Also on the cards is collaboration in entertainment. Says Pinto, "Firangi, the yet-to-be launched World TV channel from the SaharaOne stable, recently bought over 1,000 hours of drama content, including Pages of Life, a telenovella, and a TV serial called America, from Brazil's Globo TV International."
The stage seems set for a new era in both Indo-Brazil and Goa-Brazil relations. "We will be back in the Goa carnival, and in turn would like Indian participation in next year's Brazilian carnival," says Pinto. Perhaps by then some of Rio's carousing spirit, epitomising the modern-day carnivalesque, will have careened into Goa's parade.