Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Itinerant: Staircase to Heaven



Growing up in Panjim those who knew would tell you that the monumental staircase that adds so much drama to the façade of the church of the Immaculate Conception was an imitation of a similar staircase in the church of Bom Jesus in the Portuguese city of Braga. These suggestions of ‘colonial’ productions being imitations are always disturbing. It suggests that all innovations happen only in the metropole and those in the provinces and colonies are capable only of imitation. A more favourable reading would suggest that both metropole and provinces are engaged in conversations with a similar model but express themselves differently, as they should.

In any case, the staircase that gives access to the church of Bom Jesus in Braga is of an entirely different scale.  Where Panjim’s stairway is largely composed of a couple of sets of mirroring steps, the stairway in Braga is composed of two elements. The first is a stairway that is not symmetrical, but initiates the visitor to the stations of the cross that form the central element that binds these two staircases together, uniting them with the church whose main altar is given to the crucifixion of Christ. It is the second staircase that is composed, like that in Panjim, of a number of steps that mirror each other. And this is where the difference lies, for while the stairs leading to the Panjim church seek to impress with bulk, those of the Bom Jesus are composed of dizzying repetition of elements finally emerging like filigree.

A number of tourists to the church choose to drive up to the church and then walk down the staircases. Or, they choose to motor it up part of the way, and then walk up the second, more impressive staircase. In my enthusiasm to get the whole experience I began to engage with the staircase well before the more symmetrical portion of the stairway began. Walking through a tree lined avenue I passed through the baroque gates that announced the beginning of the staircase and began the ascent. In addition to the chapels that host sentimental terracotta images of Christ in the course of his passion, there are a number of fountains through the length of this part of this stairway. If the chapels of the stations provide a sombre Christian element to this walk, the fountains that mark the path add an oddly pagan twist given that each of them is dedicated to a planet.

Taking this part of the walk and not zipping up the motorable road was a brilliant decision. Having weaved and puffed up to the start of the formally arranged staircase, a vision of the plaster and granite baroque staircase complete with statues and fountains and gardens just exploded before my very eyes. Indeed, so sumptuous is the entire staircase that one wonders whether the whole exercise of constructing this stairway was to direct our faculties towards the passion of the good Lord, or create diverse spaces for a good party. As one ascends towards the church one encounters statues of prophets from the old testament and the persons from the new and little terraces off to the side that suggest that at one time they were carefully tended gardens. There are also two different sets of fountains, one set that highlights the various senses, the other the virtues.

The one feature that really caught my eye, however, were two fountains that stood at the start to this second ascent. They were not in operation on the day I visited, but the principle of their working was obvious enough. The fountain was crafted to represent a serpent twined around a pillar, water shot out of the mouth of the serpent into a basin and then spun around the body all around the pillar to finally continue its way down the hill. How brilliantly over the top was that!

Looking at this entire production, statuary, fountains, and the whole nine yards, it was clear as the light of day. The stairs of the church of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim are no imitation of the staircase in Braga. This latter edifice was in a completely different order altogether. No, the authors of the work in Panjim were working toward a similar but definitely different project.

(A version of this post was first published in The Goan on April 12, 2014)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Itinerant: A Tale of Two Gardens




Popular stories about the Taj Mahal in Agra will have you believe that the emperor Shah Jehan intended to build a replica of the Taj across the river Yamuna, only this time in dark marble in contrast to the original Taj which is in white. These plans, we are told, were cruelly cut short by the machinations of Shah Jehan’s son, Aurangzeb who imprisoned his father and wrested the throne from his brothers.  The story concludes by telling us that Shahjehan spent his last years gazing at the Taj from the galleries of the tower in which he was imprisoned.

A more studied history is, alas, not quite as morbid but still soul stirring. Archaeological work on the rumoured site for the black Taj reveals that what the clever Shah Jehan and his team of architects and builders did was to place the Taj not at the end of a garden, but in the centre of a garden. The Mahtab Bahgh was built across the Yamuna, to ingeniously integrate the river into the plan of the garden. Of course, such a scale can only be achieved by an emperor, and indeed the idea of integrating the river, or nature, into his garden plan could also have had a powerfully symbolic meaning: “I am ruler of the world, I command even nature to my bidding”.

Far away from the onetime domains of Shah Jehan, outside the Dutch city of The Hague lies another garden once again built to encompass both sides of a water channel.  This garden in this case is the Hofwijck built in the mid-1600s by the Dutch public figure Constantijn Huygens. Built along the canal that links the cities of Leiden and the Hague, the garden can now also be viewed from trains that shuttle past the station of Voorburg. Indeed, this was the way this itinerant was introduced to the Hofwijck.

Garden tombs in the Mughal period were more than simply vain testaments to the ego of the dead. Given that all land in the Mughal empire was deemed to be property of the emperor, building a tomb, and constituting it as a wakf was apparently one way in which notables could ensure perpetual maintenance of the tomb and secure land for their families once they had passed away. One wonders what role the garden of the Taj played in the life of Shahjehan. Did it also operate as a space that provided the emperor relief from the pressures of court? The role that the Hofwijck played in the life of Huygens is quite clear since the name of the garden itself suggests that it was meant to be a palace “hoff”,  escape "wijck”, or escape from the palace.

Just like the Taj has lost its connection with the Mahtab Bagh across the river, and indeed, its engagement with the buildings in front of it, so too the Hofwijck has lost the garden that originally stood across the canal, and portions of the garden that stood in front of it. Sometime in the early 1900s a portion of the garden was lost to a railway line and station and today trains continue to rumble across an embankment built on land that once was a part of the garden.


There is a world of a difference between the Taj and the Hofwijck, and the most obvious one is that of scale. What sets the Hofwijck apart, however, is the careful manner in which an attempt has been made to reconstruct the garden of the Hofwijck as Huygens would have designed it way back in the 1600s.  Unlike those who visit the Taj, visitors to the garden are aided in ample measure by an audio guide that provides music and context through a tour of the garden, allowing one to come away from the Hofwijck intellectually as well as emotionally satisfied.

(A version of this post was first published in The Goan on 15 March 2014)


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tiatristank Movali Kiteak Mhunntat



Writing about tiatr some years ago, the Konkani cultural and literary activist Tomazinho Cardozo was inspired to suggest that tiatr could be considered “the stage of Goa” (2008). Cardozo was of course referring to the wild popularity that tiatr enjoys within Goa as compared to the two other dramatic forms that obtain within the territory, the Marathi drama and the Konkani nattok

While these other two, structured on the form of European theatre, have a vibrant life in Goa, tiatr is by all accounts in a league of its own. There are tiatr performances right through the year, across the state, and also across the world wherever Goans have congregated. While initial shows are always well attended, if these shows are successful, they run to packed halls for months at a time, creating what tiatr artistes call a “century”: a run of a hundred shows.  Indeed, it has been pointed out that some of the tiatr of the more successful artistes like Prince Jacob and Roseferns often run into many such centuries.

The genre also gave birth to Konkani film, much popular music, and has more recently spawned a new development, where producers sell recordings of popular tiatrs. These VCDs/DVDs cater to a demand among the Goan population overseas, and also to local audiences. This kind of popularity is definitely not something that either the Marathi drama or the less popular Konkani nattok enjoy. 

The secret of the tiatr’s success lies in the fact that it is not merely entertainment but, like all other successful art forms, embodies an entire social system. The late Pramod Kale, one of the few scholars to study this form, points out that it is rooted in the working class and lower middle class Goan Catholic population whether living in Goa or outside of it, and expresses their trials, tribulations, hopes and aspirations.

For example, the call to safeguard the Konkani language and a distinct Goan identity, has often been articulated most successfully through tiatr productions. Further, even while this dramatic art form emerges from within a subaltern Catholic milieu, it is not as if tiatr is restricted to this community alone. On the contrary, it draws from all creeds present in Goa. Furthermore, so effectively does the tiatr speak to the Goan condition, and especially the subaltern Goan condition, that it has a substantial following among non-Catholics.

This truth was pithily illustrated in the course of my conversation with a navahindu Gavdo in Taleigão some years ago: we kept getting interrupted by the ringing of his cellphone, which was personalised to a cantar, the song form that accompanies the tiatr. This choice speaks quite clearly to the manner in which tiatr is embraced by a broader segment of the Goan population that is much wider than just the subaltern Goan Catholic milieu.

The Problem

However, despite the popular, and the sparse but enthusiastic academic attention that it has received (Robinson 1993; Fernandes 2010; Kale 1986), the tiatr has battled a profound deprecation. It has consistently been dismissed as lacking in standards, and regularly submitted to rigorous efforts to upgrade its standard. 

More recently, tiatr activists have charged that this dismissal stems from the efforts of the Konkani language establishment to disparage all forms of Konkani that are not written in the Nagari script and articulated in the Antruzi dialect. In this essay, I would like to buck this trend and suggest that this denigration is not merely external, but has also been internalised by some from among the tiatrist themselves.

Further, this dismissal has been extant right from the very emergence of this art form, and stems from the larger disregard that the working class and lower-caste Catholic milieu is held in by both Catholic as well as Hindu upper-caste groups. I would like to demonstrate how this disregard for subaltern Catholic groups was further compounded by the anxieties of Goan nationalists to fit within a British-Indian nationalistic ideal of what theatre and literature ought to be.

A Tortured Birth


The birth of tiatr is universally attributed to Lucasinho Ribeiro, a Goan living in Bombay, who worked with an Italian dramatic company that had been touring the subcontinent. Inspired by this experience, Ribeiro was motivated to script and present a play entitled Italian Bhurgo in 1892.

This show set up the basic format for the tiatr: multiple scenes interspersed by two or three cantaram (songs). These were sung in front of a curtain that drops as the set behind is being  rearranged, these sections of the play itself are called Pordde (curtains). While Ribeiro claims fame for having kick-started a new dramatic form, the credit for its articulation is generally given to another Goan by the name of João Agostinho Fernandes, or Pai Tiatrist (Father of the Tiatr). Fernandes produced a prodigious number of tiatr that spanned many themes and these have set the mark for what a tiatr should contain, and what it should communicate. But it is precisely in these themes and interests that one realises the possibly dark side of Pai Tiatrist’s project.

The accepted narrative about Fernandes’ project is that prior to the birth of tiatr the entertainment of the working class Goans in the city of Bombay was limited to the folk forms of zagor and khell, art forms that emerged from Bardez and Salcete respectively. The problem with this entertainment, or so the narrative goes, is that as time passed, the ‘standard’ fell with the introduction of vulgarity “to create cheap entertainment and fun for the audience” (Kale 2001: 16). This fall in standard ensured that these entertainments were gradually shunned by educated segments of their audience. It was to remedy this fall in standards that Fernandes stepped in to provide clean and wholesome entertainment, formulating plays that spoke of morals, values, and social reform.

I would argue that a fundamental problem with the reception that tiatr receives, both from its aficionados as well as the critical public, is based on a failure to subject this founding myth to rigorous analysis. There are way too many inherent assumptions that simply fail to stand the test of informed scrutiny.

The first revolves around the nature of the zagor and khell, harking to a certain notion of tradition and the traditional community. This assumption sees the traditional community as the font of noble values and virtues. As per this logic, it is the passage of time that introduces various corruptions, in this case vulgarity and obscenity, into this noble tradition thus ensuring its fall.

However, what if this tradition was in fact “obscene” from the get go? In his discussion of the tiatr and its origins in the khell, Kale indicates that the khell performed during Carnival did contain “a great deal of obscenity and vulgarity in the social sketches. Since there were a number of married women in these villages separated from their husbands who worked on ships or in British India and Africa, cuckolding, extra-marital affairs and other local gossip figured largely in these sketches” (1987: 13).

Furthermore, it needs to be recognised that social behaviours that are termed obscene and vulgar are an essential part of any carnivalesque celebration, whether it is the European Carnival, the Holi of the Gangetic plains or, indeed, the Intruz in Goa. The carnivalesque is an overturning of social norms that otherwise determine social behaviour. In overturning the quotidian order, these ritual moments not only release social stresses, and simultaneously reaffirm the social order. This reaffirmation occurs precisely because the overturning present in the carnivalesque is not an everyday occurrence, but only temporary performance. The obscene and the vulgar, therefore, were an essential part of particular kinds of khell.

The other assumption that this origin myth holds is of a monolithic and traditional Goan community. In fact, there was no such unity . While identified as Goans vis-à-vis non-Goans, there were also more palpable divisions of village communities and castes. Indeed, it is the caste location especially of khell that must be taken note of when challenging the established narrative about the birth of the tiatr.

The performers of khell were not upper-caste groups but Shudras who offered a service to their upper-caste patrons. Social disdain, then, was built into the performance. Even when transgressions did take place in the course of the khell performances, it was precisely the willingness of the upper-caste patron to overlook these transgressions that emphasized the patron’s magnanimity.

The birth of the tiatr under Fernandes is intimately tied up with these facts. Obscenity and vulgarity did not creep in gradually into zagor and khell, but were a natural part of these carnivalesque forms. Further, the zagor and khell were not performances of a unified community, but distinctly identified as the performances of lower status groups as offerings to upper class patrons.

It is therefore not surprising that the more elite among the Goans in Bombay kept away from these performances, especially when the ritual contexts that would draw them to such performances in Goa were missing. Indeed, as Rochelle Pinto (2007: 63, 227) and others (for instance, Bastos 2005: 30) have demonstrated, the Goan Catholic elites, not just in Goa, but especially in Bombay, did their best to disassociate themselves from subaltern Goan Catholics, ascribing to them criminal and other uncharitable characteristics.

In presenting themselves as ideally civilised, these elites not only held themselves out as different from the other Goans, but simultaneously ensured that through the strategy of condemning existent social practices and attempting to reform the community, they would be seen as the leaders of a single community.

There are other contexts that need to be borne in mind when discussing the question of obscenity and vulgarity in the celebration of community feasts among the Goan working class in Bombay.

The period of the late 1800s that saw the birth of the tiatr under Ribeiro and Fernandes corresponds also to the period of the growth of Victorian morality and its adoption by the native elites in the British Raj. The British Indian middle class was slowly beginning to articulate notions of propriety different from that of their predecessors. Notions of marriage, and appropriate behaviour for both men and women, were to dramatically change, where women were supposed to be seen as demure, delicate creatures, offended by any reference to sexuality.

Further, explicit references to sexuality were to be deliberately kept out of the public sphere. It was in this burgeoning nationalist atmosphere that the birth of tiatr took place. Thus, rather than drive out what had crept in, Fernandes’ interventions ensured that the plain references to sexuality were now deliberately kept out so that upper class Goans could hold their heads high within the context of colonial Bombay and, in turn, the working class masses would be taught how to behave.

The nationalist problem


The context of colonial Bombay was not only that of various segments of a colonized society learning to behave like their colonial masters. It was also the space in which nationalist sentiments among the native British Indian middle class were rapidly brewing.

Flush with the confidence that their economic success brought, this class demanded to be equal participants in the Raj and, when denied this space by the colonial power, began to slowly inch toward nationalist assertions. This nationalism came in many forms, primary being the construction of the building blocks of the nation: discreet regional or linguistic communities under the leadership of locally dominant castes.

This community building commenced with the usual recipe of nationalist social reform. It is within this context that the birth of tiatr should be seen. This opens up new vistas to understand the figure of Fernandes as an incipient nationalist engaged in social critique. It further spurs discussion on whether the tiatr - as intended by Fernandes - was part of a desire to reformulate the identities of Goan Catholics in the form of the ideal Indian; an identity that was at that time slowly emerging among the middle classes in the sub-continent.

As I will go on to demonstrate, the problem was that for a number of reasons, the subaltern Goan Catholics and their culture failed to meet the standards set up by nationalist culture. It is this failure that further bothered Goan nationalists of the Indian persuasion, and that led to the tiatr’s continuing condemnation.

Fernandes’ intention may have been to provide clean entertainment to subaltern Catholics in Bombay, but history shows his lasting contribution was to provide form to the performative instincts of the Goan Catholics in Bombay. The form was taken up with gusto, as professional troupes grew up around the tiatr, catering not only to the Goan communities in Bombay but, through regular visits, to communities in Goa as well.

The nationalist sentiments of social reform which erupted from the upper and middle classes of the subcontinent do not seem to have unduly bothered these latter tiatrist. In the later texts written about the tiatr, such as that by Lambert Mascarenhas in the magazine Goa Today in the year 1974, one can hear the profound disappointment that the form that started out so well was now taken up by those who were less inclined toward the reform of the community. These tiatr were now criticised for lacking standard, for failing to educate the audience, for cheap humour, and once again, reprimanded for their obscenity and vulgarity.

All too often these criticisms have been taken as objective observations and therefore internalised by the community of tiatrist, such that the most trenchant critics of tiatr have often been tiatrist themselves. I would suggest that while the concern of these tiatrist has contributed to the evolution of the form of the tiatr, it has been at the huge cost of deprecating the performers and audience and undermining their dignity and respect. As such, rather than to accept as fact the idea that a vibrant art form has no standard, it would be more appropriate to subject to critique the criticism that tiatr lacks standards.

The Goan Grotesque Viewed in the Nationalist Mirror


It is within this context of the tiatr gaining a life of its own that a variety of tiatrist can be identified. In the first place were the tiatrist who became professionals. Despite the fact that tiatr was hugely popular, these working class men, and later women as well, also had full time jobs. As a result, the entire production of the tiatr would hinge on the producer-director-scriptwriter managing the various participants’ contribution to the whole, the entire team very often gathering for the first time just before the tiatr would have its first show.

Hugely popular in Bombay, these shows are reported to have travelled to Goa to perform there, and it was in the course of this migration that imitation of the form in Goa gave rise to local troupes and then professional groups in Goa (D’Souza 2000: 88–89).

In time, as conditions in the metropolis changed, once working class Goans were able to move out of earlier hubs of the community, and the centre of tiatr production moved from Bombay to Goa. It was here, in post-colonial Goa, that these professional groups began to be targeted by those tiatrist who, for reason of positioning themselves against the professionals, saw themselves as amateurs.

These amateurs turned their noses up at the professionals, believing that the latter did injustice to the dramatic arts to which tiatr belonged. The amateurs believed that proper theatre artists ought to practice together as a team for a substantial period. They also believed that plays necessarily needed to be written down, not crafted with broad outlines and left to the artistes to improvise as was sometimes the practice among tiatrist. Further, these texts ought to be published, creating in this process another addition to ‘literature’ in the language. This misguided criticism is ideally illustrated in the words of Joel D’Souza, a frequent commentator on tiatr:

Konknni theatre will have to improve by leaps and bounds to catch up with developed theatres like Marathi, Bengali, and Gujrati. We do not yet have playwrights of the calibre of P L Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar, Badal Sircar and B V Karanth to name just a few. In fact the growth of Konknni literature itself was till recently utterly anemic [sic]. (1984: 34)

In these criticisms, one can deduce the continuing anxieties of nationalistically inclined Goan Catholics, attempting to live up to national ideals after having uncritically internalised nationalist morality.

As I have already suggested earlier, the nationalist movement in India was not limited merely to demanding political freedom from the British crown, but also to crafting Indian society anew in the image of Western Europe in general, and the British in particular.

Portrait by Alex Fernandes Portraits
Not only was the comportment of men and women to be modified, but all forms of cultural production were required to meet the standards determined by the west; inaugurating a nationalist obsession with such productions as evidenced in Gujarati, Marathi, and Bengali theatre. It was these new forms of culture that came to be seen as authentically Indian.

It needs to be stressed that what was being produced was not necessarily a single national culture, but a number of new nationally-compatible regional cultures derived from the cultural preferences of local dominant castes. Cultural forms emerging from this latter group came to be seen as authentically Indian. Among these, literature was a particular obsession, since it was believed to indicate the existence of a civilised community, and also hardened the boundaries between one local culture and another, creating space for one locally dominant caste to hold sway within the linguistic region of the nation-in-the-making.
 
As can be imagined, the national approval of the productions of the subaltern Goan Catholics was doomed from the start, given that they were not only largely subaltern - that is from lower-castes and lower-class backgrounds - but also thanks to their religion and natal cultures, impossibly ‘Indian’.

Note for example, ManoharRai SarDessai’s dismissal:

"The adoption of the Roman script for Konkani by the Catholics and their lack of knowledge of Devanagari put works in Sanskrit and the derived languages out of bounds for them and they looked more to Portuguese than to Sanskrit for technical terms". (1997: 148)

This impossibility that SarDessai pronounced had in fact been decided in the nineteenth century, when, in the light of the growing nationalist movement, the upper-caste Hindu had been determined as the ideal citizen of the Indian nation.

In the case of Goa, these nationalist anxieties intertwined with the anxieties of the local upper-castes, especially the Hindu Brahmin castes who were trying to craft a new corporate identity as Saraswats (Conlon 1974). Claiming the Konkani language as their own, Goa as the homeland of this language, and producing a brahmanically acceptable literature was critical to this project. It is this anxiety to produce, and to simultaneously suffocate alternate forms of the language, that added to the pressures on tiatrist to contribute to the task of producing plays that conformed to nationally established standards.

This pressure was most clearly articulated in the assault by the amateurs against the professional tiatrist so clearly evident in the words of D’Souza:

Drama is no longer the exclusive domain of veterans like C Alvares, M Boyer and Jacint Vaz of old school [sic], believing in seven scenes interspersed with eighteen clowns. Of late promising young writers have been learning the ropes of better production. They strive to give literary depth to their plays. (1984: 35)

The relief that the old embarrassing form of tiatr was being displaced by a newer form that had “literary depth” is palpable. One of the most significant arenas from which this other tiatr form developed was the Kala Academy’s annual Tiatr festival that commenced in 1974.

As is obvious from the extract above, what complicated the scenario is that while the British-Indians did not systematically criticise the tiatr, nationalist Goans, both Catholic and Hindu, nevertheless felt ashamed that the art-form that was quite clearly theirs, failed to meet national standards. This shame is exquisitely articulated through the voice of Tomazinho Cardozo in an article in a recent issue of Goa Today:

Despite Goans being in the 21st century and attracting full houses almost every time, the tiatr relies on the curtains (backdrops) moving up and down between scenes, props remaining unutilized, lights flashing like traffic signals and background music not employed effectively. This proves quite embarrassing when we find non-Goans, accustomed to their language theatre, amidst our tiatr audience. (D’Souza 2013: 47)

It is clear from the latter part of the extract that if a good amount of the presentation associated with the tiatr was in fact tolerable, it was the presence of a non-Goan accustomed to a different sort of theatre, that caused the embarrassment that Cardozo refers to.

After spending a good amount of time in the archive, I believe that I may have stumbled upon the situation that Cardozo seems to be referring to in the extract referred to above.


The episode refers to an incident in the life of the tiatrist Prem Kumar when,

Vasant Joglekar - a noteworthy name of Marathi stage once accompanied him to watch a Konkani drama of a top Konkani writer-director at P T Bhangwadi [a theatre house in Bombay]. The guest's reaction to the scene of a landlord’s house against the backdrop of a jungle scene put Prem to shame. Here started the pursuit of Prem for the upliftment of the Konkani stage. (Dantas 1998)

However, it was not merely the production of the tiatr, which is to say the producers and directors, that were the problem, but the audience that has been dismissed as “proletarian” and “plebeian” (Mascarenhas 1974: 24). The presence of bawdy acts and apparently shallow storylines have been blamed on an unsophisticated audience, and the result of the market catering to rather than crafting demand.

Indeed, contemplating the lack of success of the early tiatr festivals in facilitating a change, Cardozo (2001) proposes the following somewhat dubious logic that placed the blame squarely on the existence of an unsophisticated audience:
[W]hy are [the tiatr produced for the festivals] not appreciated by the audience all over Goa and outside Goa? The reason is simple. Popularity and academic creativity are two different things. In popular Tiatrs the directors give the audience what it wants while in academically presented Tiatrs the director gives the audience what he feels is the best. This is the difference that matters. If one goes through the history of Theatre, in any part of the world it is observed that the popular dramas have not brought any development on the stage. It is the amateurs who were responsible for bringing up the quality and development on the stage. The very same thing has taken place on the Tiatr stage too. (p. 22).
One is left with the sense that the cussed Goan masses were undeserving of the herculean efforts of the amateur tiatrist who sought to drag these “plebeians” from out of their wretched condition. The situation is, however, much more complex given that it is precisely people like Tomazinho Cardozo and Joel D’Souza who while they may have critiqued tiatr for reasons of internalizing Indian nationalist logics, have also in recent times, especially through the creation of the Tiatr Academy of Goa, risen to ensure that even while tiatr continues to be subject to the demand for improving standards, it is also given its due place in officially recognised Goan culture and received the concomitant state patronage.


Tiatr and the Project of Self-Respect

It is because of the dual role that individuals like Cardozo and D’Souza have played, that it makes sense to see their efforts as the response of Goan subalterns to the continual shaming that is meted out to them by the nationalist and upper-caste Catholic and Hindu elite. It is in this context of being continually shamed that the tiatr should be seen not merely as a dramatic form that speaks powerfully to its audiences, but also as the tool of a project in which tiatrist, both professional and amateur, worked to craft an image that would gain respect both from Indians, as well as Goans.
Take, for example, the case of the deceased tiatrist by the name of Souza Ferrão who gained a reputation of being a ‘gentleman’, for reasons of his insisting on refined comportment, both sartorially, and in interpersonal relations. Another who gained a reputation for being a gentleman is the famous Celestino Alvares, more popularly known as C. Alvares.
Of the generation that gained fame when Bombay was still the throbbing heart of the tiatr form, Alvares was keenly aware of the poor image that tiatrist cut among some Goan circles and is recognised as having “ushered new ideas, new faces and some more respectability into Konkani tiatr” (Gomes 1999: 18). As opposed to the critics of the tiatr who lost no opportunity in criticising the artistes and the audience, Alvares has gone down in history as someone who was respectful of his audience, recognised as one who “would never criticise the follies of the large tribe of Goan seamen. He was rather anxious to see the welfare of our seafarers through his poignant songs and dramas”. (Gomes 1999: 17)
In the course of doctoral research, I was recounted a rather moving anecdote about Alvares that speaks to the manner in which he sought to challenge the way in which the Goan working class was perceived. Having impressed a particular individual, Alvares was invited to the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay for dinner. Aware that dinner at the Taj meant being encountered with the entire paraphernalia of Western formal dining, and not wanting to risk being embarrassed at dinner, Alvares resorted to the resources within the community.
Given that many Goans were employed in the hospitality industry as butlers and waiters, Alvares requested the help of a friend - who worked in the Taj - to familiarise him with the norms of dining. Having been walked through the rituals of etiquette, Alvares was able to  navigate through the dinner with his host, and managed also to impress with his knowledge of table manners. In that little incident, Alvares liked to think that he had held his own head up with dignity, and demonstrated to the world the elegance that the subaltern Goan Catholic was capable of.
Just as in the case of Souza Ferrão, Alvares was a sartorial perfectionist, insisting that both he, and the team of artistes he led, be impeccably dressed. In his pursuit of sartorial elegance, Alvares resorted to dramatic flourishes; rummaging through the archive, I came across an anecdote that indicated that:
Once in one of his dramas he appeared seven times on the stage, each time in a new suit. Next day, the people only talked about his suits and not his play. He introduced a dress code to his artistes. He was the best dressed man himself and brought decency to the Konkani stage. (Claro, 1999)
It is possible that Alvares was effecting all of these practices for himself; however, given the fact that to a vast section of the tiatr audience, the tiatrist are heroes and models, there was also a demonstration effect that did not simultaneously smack of the superciliousness of the nationalist critics of the tiatr’s  standards and its faithful audiences. Somewhat indicative of this demonstration effect are the anecdotes that suggest that when working with him, even highly successful actors like Anthony Mendes and Aleixinho de Candolim would desist from tippling (Gomes 1999: 19).
If Alvares responded to the disrespect that is regularly meted out to tiatrist in this nuanced manner, this is not necessarily the case with other tiatrist. All too often, the tiatrist is dismissed as being fafarão, or arrogant and aggressive. Rather than read this as a definitive assessment of the tiatrist, I would like to argue this temperament is the result of the members of this industry being fully aware that they are rarely taken seriously. This makes them sensitive, forcing them to adopt a situation where they would prefer to be the aggressor, rather than walk into a situation where they would be disrespected.

Conclusion


The history of the tiatr is the complex story of a subaltern community being cyclically subjected to the ministration of reforming elites, where the subalterns eventually managed to assert themselves.

The consequent lack of control that confronts these elites results in often-unfounded criticisms of tiatr, and the wounding of the sense of dignity of the subalterns. Rather than accepting all of the criticisms against the tiatr as objective arguments, I argue it would be useful to examine the same for their biases. I argue that doing so would demonstrate how these arguments are often motivated by upper-caste prejudices against subaltern groups, and by the anxieties of nationalist groups to create a nationalist culture, and to snuff out vibrant local cultures that do not fit into the national imagination. Once released of these anxieties, it is possible that the true brilliance of the tiatr and the dynamism of the form will be more clearly appreciated.

References

·         Bastos, Cristiana. 2005. “Race, Medicine and the Late Portuguese Empire: The Role of Goan Colonial Physicians.” Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies 5 (1): 23 – 35.
·         Cardozo, Tomazinho. 2001. “Teetering Tiatr: Tiatr Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Goa Today, January.
·         Cardozo, Tomazinho. 2008. “Wanted Professionalism for Tiatr.” Goa Today, August.
·         Claro, John. 1999. “Monarch No More.” Goa Today, April.
·         Dantas, Isidore. 1998. “Topnotch Tiatrist: A Profile of Tiatr Superstar Prem Kumar.” Goa Today, September.
·         D’Souza, Joel. 1984. “Pains of Adolescence.” Goa Today, September.
--                        2000. “The Groping Centenarian.” Goa Today, January.
--                        2013. “Turns and Twists of Tiatr.” Goa Today, September.
·         Fernandes, André Rafael. 2010. When The Curtains Rise...Understanding Goa’s Vibrant Konkani Theatre. Saligão- Goa: Goa 1556.
·         Gomes (Kokoy), John. 1999. “Know All About the Late Maestro: A to Z of the Legend.” Goa Today, April.
·         Kale, Pramod. 1986. “Essentialist and Epochalist Elements in Goan Popular Culture: A Case Study of Tiatr.” Economic and Political Weekly XXI (47) (November 22): 2054 –2063.
·         Kale, Pramod. 1987. “The World Is a Stage.” Goa Today, November.
·         Pinto, Rochelle. 2007. Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
·         Robinson, Rowena. 1993. “Interrogating Modernity, Gendering ‘Tradition’: Teatr Tales from Goa.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 33: 503 – 539.
·         SarDessai, ManoharRai. 1997. “Portuguese Influence on the Konkani Language.” In Stories of Goa, edited by Rosa Perez, Susana Sardo, Joaquim Pais de Brito (eds), 145– 157. Lisbon: National Museum of Ethnology.

(A version of this post was first published in Mundo Goa part of the Semana da Cultura Indo-Portuguesa 2013.
This essay is dedicated to my father José  Manuel Fernandes (Amor) to express my thanks for enabling me to appreciate the dynamis of the world of the tiatr and cantar.

tiatrist C. Alvares.
The title of this essay is borrowed from a cantar penned by the noted tiatrist C. Alvares. In English itt translates to
"Why are Tiatrists called Ruffians?”)