Sometime in February, Matanhy Saldanha, visited me at home in Velsao, a part of the Cortalim assembly constituency and neighbour to his own restful village of Cansaulim. Although we had known each other for over 30 years, this was no social visit. I was for a few years his general secretary, Gomantak Lok Pox Youth (South) based in Vasco da Gama during an earlier avatar of my own. He was a man on a mission. He breezed in smoking a cigarette, pleaded I keep my living room door ajar because of it, lit another as we talked about the increasingly degrading prospects of Goa and said, “I hope they (the voters) will not make the same mistake and again regret later.” That is a statement he made during his door to door visits in the constituency and at public meetings, something that may not have gone down well in some quarters because he was implying that voting the Congress again was a “mistake”. Little did Mathany know that the bulk of the Congress vote bank was about to close their ‘life saving’ account with the party. I shooed him off hurriedly: “Don’t waste time on my vote— it’s guaranteed, go out, campaign for more.”
But his voters agreed with his statement wholeheartedly because, Matanhy, who joined the BJP in January, won on March 6 (the votes for the Goa assembly poll held on March 3 were counted) when Goa voted out the Congress and brought in the BJP. There was wild celebration in my small, picturesque village. I was amazed when my neighbours set off firecrackers, called Matanhy and held the mobile close to the bursting firecrackers so he could know that they were celebrating his victory. It was no surprise when a few days later, he was sworn in as a minister— for tourism, environment and forests—making this his second stint as a minister again in the Manohar Parrikar cabinet. He was a doer who, expectedly, was the first off the block with a five-year road map for the constituency and in it there was something for everyone living in the Assembly segment. His road map, which didn’t discriminate between his own Cansaulim and further-off areas, continued to make news in all the English dailies after he passed away.
That was Matanhy, man of the street, who had fought to preserve Goa no holds barred. No one could believe the tragic news that they woke up to that black Wednesday (March 21) and my village like the rest of Goa was saddened. There was not a dry eye and an eerie silence enveloped the village which is usually buzzing with cooking sounds, men talking and a vehicle zipping down the road. They were all in mourning as the voice, that was often misunderstood because of the shades of activism that always crept into his dealings, but forgotten because he was a stand-up guy who told it like it is, had been silenced. Within hours the catastrophe had dawned. What a gargantuan waste, I thought. With portfolios like tourism, environment and forests, what else could true-blood Goa lovers like me want? Why Mathany of them all?
I was part of the Gomantak Lok Pox Youth that he founded in the very late 1970s and often found myself driving him in his jeep when we went to interact with people. Those were heady days. There a few of us in Vasco-da-Gama, fired up with the zeal of fighting to keep Goa pristine and in this endeavour we did some crazy things. Upset that Taiwanese trawlers were muscling in on fish catch that was causing a huge loss to Goan fishermen that Matanhy represented, we picked up a trawler captain from Mormugoa port and literally marched him into Vasco-da-Gama. That incident helped to send a warning to the marauding Taiwanese trawlers that were far superior to the miserable trawlers local fishermen could put out to sea. Often, we muscled in on many issues from our ‘headquarters’ set up in Victory Photo Studio opposite the fish market in Vasco.
Matanhy, often described as the saviour of Goa, was not like the politicians who ruled over for far too many long years and virtually strived to earn for it obnoxious tags like ‘drug/rape capital of India’ or turn it into a place where its green land was hawked to outsiders who treated it as a party destination and not a home where you blended into its unique culture. Matanhy, was not even a Page 3 person like so many of Goa’s so-called political and especially green activists are. I don’t think he ever figured on it. There will not be another giant like Matanhy who was committed to saving and preserving the identity of Goa. He was irreplaceable. At his funeral on March 24, his wife of 20 years, Alina, said, “Matanhy’s greatest love was Goa and the people of Goa. Matanhy always said, ‘Everything I do, I do so that I can live after my death.”
Indeed, he would live on in the hearts of those whose lives he touched.