by Lina Vincent
Looking back at interviews we have conducted for Goa Familia over the past two years, certain sensibilities recur – opening family albums and pouring over physical pictures unlock the floodgates of memories and emotions that are stowed away. Featured here are the stories of three Goan women – Ada Ribeiro, Meera Kamat, and Antonetta Fernandes. Discussions around their albums took place when they were carefully opened during our sittings. We heard about intriguing individual personalities, life choices and family backgrounds.
By way of an introduction, Goa Familia began as a project to explore and document family histories as well as community narratives across the state of Goa. Working through open calls for people to share their family photographs and other forms of ancestral memorabilia, the platform has amassed a varied assortment of images and narrated stories. The archive consists of digitised photographs from family albums, and the documentation extends to video and audio recordings of individuals sharing personal anecdotes, which eventually coalesce into collective histories. Goa Familia’s website features selected works from the archive, while the Instagram and Facebook pages have come alive with further excerpts and continues to grow with audience participation.
The archive includes images of prominent personages and important events; there are gatherings, rituals and celebrations, as well as everyday recordings of people and domestic places. Goa’s political history is unique; it became part of the Indian union as late as 1961–62, reflecting a somewhat altered experience to that of the subcontinent. Long years of Portuguese rule, and its deep impact on Goa’s tangible and intangible heritage, are now part of the collective consciousness and form a distinct background against which this project can be read as a whole.
The team interviewed people from as diverse a population of Goans as was possible, attempting to break the stereotypes that have been built around the representation of Goa and Goans in popular media. While a prominent part of the region’s population is Catholic, there is also a sizeable proportion of Hindus and, to a less extent, Muslims. The project also rediscovered a number of photography studios across Goa, founded by Catholics and Hindus, whose names appeared significantly in private albums. It was largely the upper classes who could afford to visit these studios as well as own personal cameras.
In 2019, we presented an exhibition in Panaji, which included oral histories. The display traversed into the realm of art, and became reflective of a community-culture beyond any one specificity. The display of photographs combined with the oral histories about them; books, albums, ancestral heirlooms and memorabilia loaned from the families, together resurrected a forgotten Goa for many visitors. Others discovered unexpected social or cultural connections in some of those featured in the photographs, demonstrating how an archive of oral and visual histories is not static but evolves with each reading and articulation.
The charming image of young Ada Menezes dressed for a Bharatanatyam recital certainly does not fit with the stereotypical image of what a Goan girl should look like (Figure 1). But then, there is nothing conventional about her family or the way she was brought up. The Menezes family originally belonged to São Mathias, a village on the island of Divar, on the Mandovi river. Ada’s father, Armando Menezes, a writer and poet, taught English Literature at Karnatak College in Dharwad (earlier part of Bombay Presidency; in north Karnataka now). Armando supported the cause of Goan and Indian Independence and counted among his friends and acquaintances many like-minded citizens including poets such as K.D. Sethna (also known as Amal Kiran) and Harindranath Chattopadhyay, as well as freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu and playwright, Girish Karnad. Due to his political leanings, he was blacklisted and had to stay away from Goa for a decade. In Dharwad, the Menezes’ kept an open home; there would be scholars and activists, students from the hostel or just visitors to/from Goa – Ada’s parents welcomed everyone.
With her five brothers and one sister, Ada spent her early years in this progressive, culturally and politically aware milieu – Dharwad was an educational hub as well as an centre for Hindustani music and performance. From a young age, Ada was keen on classical dance and after her mother found a dance teacher in a neighbouring town, she began to passionately learn Bharatanatyam.
Ada recalls the momentous day in 1947 when India attained its Independence. She was all of seventeen then. Now, more than seventy years later, she looks through photographs and recounts the celebrations that took place on the grounds of Karnatak College (Figure 2). All the women wore white saris and kurta-pajamas; people played sports along with the unfurling of the Indian flag and a thought-provoking address by Armando Menezes, then Vice Principal of the College. The pictures convey the exhilaration of the moment.
On 15 August 1954, seven years later, Ada was invited to perform a Bharatanatyam piece in Goa by the office of the Portuguese Viceroy to mark India’s Seventh Independence Anniversary. As a free Indian, Ada however went back to her un-liberated homeland, to celebrate India’s freedom from colonial rule. She performed on a stage setup in an outdoor venue in the centre of Panjim City. Years later, once Goa was liberated in 1961, that very same venue came to be known as Azad Maidan (Freedom Field).
The Goa Familia project often reveals that a single family member becomes the bearer of the archive across generations – he/she becomes a ‘memory keeper’. Sometimes the archive remains neglected or is discarded for practical reasons. But when Ada married into the Ribeiro family and moved to Bombay (Mumbai), she became the holder of the Menezes family archive and all of its oral histories. An antique cabinet in the house contains many albums of the extended family – some covers cracking with age, other images brittle and yellowing. She has now handed them over to her grandson, Nishant Saldanha, for documentation and safekeeping. Someday he will carry her mantle.
Meera Kamat is a grandmother now, and shares her pride in all that the family has achieved. On Goa Liberation Day (19 December 1961) Meera was the only woman to deliver a speech to the milling crowd in Sanvordem. This is one moment she recalls with enormous pleasure. “I delivered the speech in Hindi but my only language was the language of a liberated Goan”, she says, speaking to her granddaughter, who said that her grandmother has always been full of courage – a feminist – be it in her decisions about education, marriage or other choices that have shaped lives over the last eight decades. Meera belonged to the reputed family of the Sanvordekars of Malem, Panjim. The youngest among seven siblings, Meera was born in 1937 and completed her primary schooling from Mushtifund Primary School and her secondary education from People’s High School in the heart of Panjim city, that was a growing commercial hub. She can still recite certain Portuguese rhymes that she learnt in her early years. Later, the family moved to their ancestral home in Sanvordem (Figure 3).
Meera recalls how she needed a passport to travel to the neighbouring city of Belgaum, a time when Goa was still under Portuguese rule. After she completed her Pravin and Prabodh – both Hindi examinations – she was appointed as a Hindi teacher at the New Educational Institute in Sanvordem. However, she had to wait until after the Liberation of Goa to complete her higher education, joining a special BA course at Dhempe College of Arts and Science in 1962 (Figure 4).
She married Dr. Sonu Kamat, and their daughter, Mahima – known as Rimmi (b. 1969), is today the family’s archiver. In 1971, the twins Satyesh and Sarvesh were born and the youngest Sushant in 1974 (Figure 5). Meera supported her husband through his career as a doctor at the government hospital, as well as with the setting up of his individual practice. Dr. Sonu Kamat Hospital was established in Curchorem in 1981 and is still running.
As someone completely attuned to modern living, and yet respectful of tradition, Meera continued to follow the rituals and practices that were embedded from her upbringing, making sure that her children (and now grandchildren) are aware of their own complex ancestry and heritage.
For nonagenarian Antonetta Fernandes (Figure 6), family albums and framed images are windows into her rich past, living in three countries. For her, old photographs are magical; the depth of their stories and fragility of the paper prints as well as the stained portions and surfaces sometimes obscured by age or climate, chamfered corners and decorative edges – all contribute to a cerebral singular experience. Exploring these photo albums, with the tiny metal ‘corners’ that are placed to keep the photographs in place, still offer missing pages/images, and contribute to the imagined stories behind absences. But at the same time, hand-written notes in faded ink with dates and names – bring back the essence of real encounters.
As she sings traditional Mānḍô compositions from her youth, her son Marius Fernandes (the family archive keeper) prompts her to share stories of her work with the Goan Tiatr (musical theatre). From the time of her youth in Salvador do Mundo, or Saloi, Antonetta showed a distinct talent and love for Tiatr. At that time, the family had moved inland from Divar island, where she was born in 1932, due to a virus that ravaged the land. She learnt many skills during these years, including sowing and harvesting vegetables, grains, and cashew. Educated at an English medium institution in Belgaum, she was very active in the Church and all its activities, and later became President of the Acção Católica de Goa (Catholic Action Group), a position usually reserved for men. It was through her work with the Church that she was introduced to Konkani Tiatr. She recalls walking across the fields of Saloi to the neighbouring village of Britona in the dark, to attend performances by famed tiatrists of her time.
Many years later when Antonetta had moved with her family to the UK, she was approached by the Goan Association to teach children Konkani at home. She was instrumental in initiating the platform for the Konkani community to make history in the UK, when she brought the legendary tiatrist, Alfred Rose and his troupe to perform in March 1986 at Harrow, England (Figure 7). There was an impressive line-up of stars from the Konkani stage: Alfred Rose, Rita Rose, C. Alvares, Titta Preeto, Engelbert Rose, Tony Martins and others. The event opened up opportunities for future tiatrists in the UK and Europe. There were three packed shows with an audience of a thousand Goans from all over England, many of them migrants from East Africa.
Antonetta too had lived in East Africa earlier. Her marriage in 1958 to Bernard Mathias Fernandes, an Afrikaner on a trip to Goa, meant that she moved with him to Kenya where he ran a general store (Figure 8). Antonetta helped in the shop right from the start. During the Somali insurgency in the early 1960s, the family decided to move back to Divar in Goa where once more, Antonetta engaged with the local community through cultural education. In the 1970s along with many Goan families earlier living in East African nations who were moving to the UK, the family set off for Leicester. In 1999, when her son Marius decided to move back to Goa, Antonetta returned with him.
While their paths haven’t intersected, the three protagonists of this piece occupy common spaces in history, and have seen Goa transform from a Portuguese colony into an independent state; from a quiet and laid-back, culturally rich region to a bustling tourist economy. Looking into the archives of these families, one can’t but realise how instrumental they have been in shaping our transnational present.
 The project was conceived in 2019 by Rahaab Allana of Alkazi Foundation, jointly with Serendipity Arts Foundation headed by Smriti Rajgarhiya. The project has been developed by Goa based art historian and curator, Lina Vincent along with photographer Akshay Mahajan. The project was presented as a Work-in-Progress exhibition at Serendipity Arts Festival 2019, and as a series of online interactions for Serendipity Virtual 2020–21. https://www.goafamilia.com/
 Manashri Pai Dukle, Meera Tai: The Story of Meera Kamat, Goa Familia Online, 2020. https://www.goafamilia.com/
 Mānḍô is a musical art form that developed during the nineteenth century among Goan Catholics. While the composition of the lyrics and it’s singing are the main elements, mānḍô is also associated with dance and instrumental accompaniment. Mānḍô represents an integration of Goan and European musical traditions.
 Tiatr is a term used for the musical theatre popular in Goa as well as in Mumbai. It is also prominently practiced within expatriate communities in the Middle East, London and other cities where Konkani speakers have a large presence.
Lina Vincent is an independent art historian and curator with two decades of experience in arts management. Lina has worked on multi-layered projects that highlighted plural approaches, a commitment towards socially conscious practices, with a focus on inclusivity and collaboration in public arts engagement. It has resulted in interconnected bodies of research and curation, that bring together diverse voices, modes of expression, and interfaces for dialogue (physical and virtual). The focus areas of her research extend to projects with arts education, printmaking history and practice, the documentation of living traditions and folk arts in India, and environmental consciousness in the arts. Her current practice foregrounds sustained engagement with material culture and social history, seen through acts of community interaction, pedagogical interventions; archiving and interpretation.