By Devika Sequeira
Undertaking the funding of a museum is a Herculean task. It becomes especially difficult when one is a man of principle, refusing to sell out to big corporate entities, and when the repeated government assurances and promises are followed by with silence and inactivity. Senior journalist Devika Sequeira, a close friend of Victor and Aldina, recalls being a witness to one of the low points of in the financing of Goa Chitra.
The dreary monsoon weather seemed to reflect on the sombre mood at the small gathering. There couldn’t have been more than seven or eight of us sitting in the large balcony that served as Victor and Aldina’s drawing room-cum bar-cum dining room with its clutter of period furniture. I recall meeting an odd assortment of people there over the years in the evenings, always accompanied by a generous spread of Goan food and drink and loud conversation. There was once even a police inspector. Odd, I thought. But then again, who says cops can’t socialise off-duty?
But this was different. There was no music, laughter, and certainly no open bar – a trademark of the Gomes’ hospitality. What was being discussed on that rainy day in somewhat funereal tones was that Victor’s dream of setting up a museum of all things Goan, rooted in its red earth, its soil and soul, might quite simply end up in a poof. The couple had hit rock bottom financially. Victor had tapped into the last of his and Aldina’s savings, building the extensions that would house the museum and splurging on some ancient hoe or cart wheel that had caught his eye in a remote village in Maharashtra or Karnataka where he had found a Goan connection. The security for the place was itself costing a fortune.
Where do we go from here? Victor was asking. The other couple at the gathering that day were living in the USA. There were international grants available for projects to do with native cultural heritage. The Gomes’ could tap these, but a convincing project proposal was a must, they advised. Victor looked sceptical. One could visualise the calculations of the impediments and complexities of getting foreign funding running through his mind. How about corporate funding, I asked. That was shot down immediately. Victor wasn’t prepared to name the museum after a mine-owner, or part with a dominant share in its stake to a corporate entity. A government grant was still a possibility, I suggested. Victor had tried it but received zero response, as expected. It did seem like the end of the road.
It would be months before I ran into the Gomes’ again. In his lowest moment when he was beginning to think he’d be forever saddled with a stillborn project and a flutter of dreams unresolved, a benefactor—a Goan one at that—had come knocking at his door, Victor said. I have no idea where Goa Chitra’s money came from or does and how the Gomes manage to run such a huge private space and all its many activities. But I can testify to a sense of complete amazement when I saw the birth of the first phase of the museum. It seemed to have sprung out from the earth. What was till then just a vegetable garden had overnight been turned into a quirky space for the most unusual of exhibits. Victor’s passion as a collector of the past had now a space for public viewing, but the concept and design appeared to have abandoned the services of an architect or engineer, giving the whole a rather impromptu, artsy look – quite unique for a museum.
I was back at Goa Chitra last year to show some guests around. The larger open areas have naturally shrunk with the hall for the exhibition of carriages. Goa Chitra could perhaps do with a larger space. I’m sure Victor’s dreams have expanded since that ominous monsoon evening. Did I ever believe Goa Chitra would get off the ground? Not for one moment, I didn’t. Which is why I continue to be amazed every time I see it.
Devika Sequeira is an independent journalist based in Goa. She has worked for several media publications like the Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Week, O Heraldo and Goa Today. She is currently a contributor to The Times of India, Deccan Herald and The Wire.