By Victor Hugo Gomes
When Goa Chitra was inaugurated in 2009, there was not a single politician or VIP invited or honoured as a chief guest. In fact, the place buzzed with the excited chatter and humble presence of locals from the community. The ceremonial lighting of the divo was carried out by six traditional professionals: a toddy tapper, a farmer, a basket weaver, a fisherman, a coconut plucker, and a potter. The whole event was symbolic of what the museum stands for – power to the people, to the common man.
Goa Cruti, the newest addition to the Goa Chitra establishment was opened for previews on 23rd January, 2016. It is dedicated to Mr. Jashwanth Singh, who passed away on 23rd January 2015. Mr. Jaswanth Singh, a dedicated member of the Goa Chitra team in the form of a restorer of objects and a part of the museum’s security team, is none other than the eponymous chacha. The following piece was written by Victor Hugo Gomes himself, to commemorate the beloved chacha and all that he stood for.
The Goa Chitra and Goa Chakra museums in Benaulim strive to preserve the tangible heritage of this country for posterity. A totally self-funded project, these museums showcase to the world the ingenuity of our ancestors and their indigenous wisdom. These efforts are the result of the hard work of a team of dedicated staff, who work tirelessly and fiercely along with me and the management in the hope that the museum will one day draw the attention of the benefactors of this land and conceptualize into a centre for cultural and ethnographic studies. The aim is that the future generations will have a space in which their ancestry is preserved and kept alive so that their search for their roots will not go in vain.
In this process the makers of the museum work with total dedication even at the expense of their own trials, stretching their resources and energy to accommodate this vision. Today we pay a special tribute to one of such team member who played a pivotal role in preserving Goa’s heritage and who in the last years of his life dedicated it totally and selflessly in preserving and restoring every implement on display at the Goa Chitra and Goa chakra museum. For the last 16 years out of my 25 years journey with Goa Chitra, he worked closely with me, assembling every implement that stands as a testimony to his skill. His methods and technique was totally based on his own proficiency in understanding material like metal and wood. He would assemble an implement with such accuracy as if it was he who had created it in the first place. He knew the age old method of joinery; putting wood together without nails but through interlocking. He knew how wood would expand and what would make it breath and how to balance the metal with the wood.
Such was Jashwanth Singh fondly called Chacha by us. A poet at heart, Chacha could not sit idle. He would create small artifacts that would balance the beautiful landscape; birds on tree tops, nests with beautiful eggs which only when you realized later they were made of wood you would know it was Chacha’s hand at work. Everything he experienced he penned down as poetry and on the ekktara (which he made from a coconut shell). Chacha would sing the sad melody of his life, having faced several trials and disillusionment. He lost much of his family during the partition of 1947. He lost his wife and family thereafter and had no family to turn to except the one he decided to adopt. We were his family and he was ours. There was no written contract or agreement or time when it took place but in a way we grew on to each other.
A pious man, Chacha prayed every day, to give him strength to battle his one weakness that in the end finally killed him suddenly. His battle with alcoholism in his later years was difficult as the memories of his past would haunt him. He tried very, very hard, having months of sobriety in-between bouts of terrible drunkenness and hospitalization.
Every year some time before 26th of January and around 15th August, Chacha would hit the bottle for a couple of days and then fight it whole heartedly, but as age caught on with him so were his withdrawals very difficult to tolerate. Such was the case with him on the 23rd of January 2015, where his heart gave up and he died of a heart attack. He left without saying good bye. We miss him terrible today and feel his void in ways that words cannot describe.