By Eulalia Alvares D’mello
Walking into Goa Chitra for the first time, one is inclined to think that a part of the curator’s private home has been converted and utilised into museum space. It is not an uncommon assumption to make. However, very few know that the space where the museum stands today was, at one point of time, an organic farm run by Victor and has indeed been built from scratch. Eulalia Alvares D’mello takes us back to when Goa Chitra as we know it today was an open field, while managing to perfectly tap into the founding philosophy that has become the hallmark of this institution.
I first heard of Victor in 2002 when we went to a concert at Verna with our 6 month old baby. A crazy artist, I was told, organized this fantastic event with lots of acoustic jam-ups by some really talented musicians and singers.
Four years later, carrying my third baby we were running this restaurant in Colva and my husband says, “there’s someone I know you would be very happy to meet.” The artist who organized music shows was at the restaurant and my husband had just learnt that he had an organic farm! I was definitely interested because just a few year earlier I was part of a team that visited and documented organic farms from across the country and I definitely believe that organic is the way to go.
So, a few days later in the warmth of his tiled-roof parlour, surrounded by a great variety of potted plants, organic rice growing on one side, ducks waddling up in front, Victor passionately spoke about his collection of old antiques. No not furniture and showpieces but tools of work; bits and pieces each with a history of its own and reminiscent of communities that lived together, worked together and created beautiful pieces of art, not for your showcase but for actual use. Skillfully carved, original, innovative tools used in agriculture, food processing, transport and in various livelihoods that existed before man began using factory made machines and gadgets. “I want to start a museum,” he said “so that people can appreciate these wonderful treasures that today lay gathering dust in old houses and backyards because we do not care to use them anymore.” That is the kind of dream that in most people’s heads remain dreams. But there was that look in his eye and we knew he was onto something big.
When the museum finally took shape, we were awe struck by the amount of work that had been put in. While the exhibits are delicately touched up and maintained and displayed what touches me most are the stories that Victor has gathered—of practices in communities in villages where people lived and worked, played and danced together; where while they worked to fulfill their needs they also protected the waters, the land, and nature—the good practices.
It makes you wonder what went wrong. How could such wonderful traditions and practices have disappeared? How did we end up instead with meaningless social practices and customs that serve no grand purpose other than to create noise and waste and eat loads of food that give us nothing but indigestion?! And you wonder…what happened to community living? Development, industrialization, convenient lifestyles that confine us to concrete spaces cut off from the natural world on which we survive. Taking care of nature is no longer our job or our business. Today everything can be bought from a store and water comes from taps! And those who make those things work in factories. While those who grow the food and care for the trees, the waters and the animals are fleeced and neglected.
Can the history that Goa Chitra seeks to showcase nudge us into rethinking our priorities, our values, our ethics, and our lifestyles? We need more good stories. So Victor, keep telling them…
In order to promote and showcase sustainable livelihoods Victor has also organized demonstrations and sale of bamboo and clay products. He has also hosted a couple of workshops on organic kitchen gardening and composting presented by Miguel Braganza which I helped organize. Here we sold compost units, books, natural dyed and hand woven clothes, organic fertilizers, reetha for washing clothes etc. sourced from my ecoshop which I opened in Margao soon after the museum took shape. My shop no longer exists but the museum is going strong thanks to a dedicated couple that has braved all the odds.
Over the last decade, Goa Chitra has seen many get-togethers, many of which I attended, for a variety of activities – book readings, origami, music revival, book releases, discussions, rice harvesting, local sweet making traditions, making and sale of handicrafts. The best thing about these activities was the homely and informal atmosphere, beautiful open space, and home cooked food especially the pumpkin and prawn curry with boiled rice…yum!
To connect with the communities that still live and work together, Victor often takes a group of people/students into the hinterlands to observe and understand their lifestyles firsthand. It is the need to connect with nature; to promote community living, and sustainable lifestyles that I see underlying all of this activity. And I do hope that is the direction things are moving in.
Eulalia Alvares D’mello runs an organic farm. She is a lover of books, music, and happy people. She thinks that Nature is our best teacher – and loves beautiful green open spaces, sunshine and rain, clear water, fresh air, and fresh fruit. She strongly believes that we must help each other to be our best selves and that if we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem. Eulalia is currently working through her own personal challenges, and thinks that every experience that life brings, both good and bad, helps us grow and must be savoured and accepted gratefully.