By Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai
Goa Chitra today has come a long way, as a result of the exhaustive efforts of its team and well wishers. The research and documentation, the restoration and maintenance, the funding and sustenance, the marketing and event organization coalesce to add to its success. In the following piece, the first in a series of personal stories, Charrudatta tells us a little about the individual behind the Benaulim museums, the personality that is Victor Hugo Gomes.
The greater part of knowing Victor comes through rumor; the lesser part is true and authentic – the part that you know personally – because most of the long tales about Victor are often fanciful. For instance, I was told by a common chum that Victor was admitted to an asylum in Thane! Or, that he had married a Muscoviteand since then had moved to the Urals, there fly-fishing! Those are unbelievable reports but you are tentative about not believing them, because the unbelievable lore is about Victor Hugo Gomes. With him practically anything is possible.
This one, for instance, must be recorded: one day while drinking with some friends and acquaintances in Panjim my phone rang. It was Victor. We had a brief chat and when I ended the call, I happened to look at the lawyer chap drinking next to me. When our eyes met he said, “That must be Victor?” I do not recall ‘hi Victor!’-ing in that telephone conversation, nor was the content of our chat the talk of town, yet the lawyer had guesstimated that the person I just spoke to was Victor! How? I cannot say. But the point is that Victor is in the thin air, always within the probability of news-making as such. He is like those familiar fellows you meet, like you have always known them.
Victor was my college mate, but I had passed out by the time he joined, I think. At the Art School in Miramar I would have noticed him. Perhaps I met him when the college shifted to Altinho. Not in the class or a studio but in the canteen. Meeting Victor in the canteen seems quite plausible. The impression I had is that he was well liked by his fellows. He is a likable fellow, this Victor Hugo…
I remember on one afternoon we were driving back from Margao. Suddenly Victor stopped his car right in the middle of Cortalim bridge: we were down on our knees, as if on cue, and began howling Konkani songs! It was not playing to the galleries for there was no gallery at that hour. There was one particular among his favorite songs with the ‘Zee word’ refrain! It was in the mid 1980s and details have blurred, however the distinctness of the incidence is unforgettable.
Then we lost touch.
In 2009 when I visited Goa for work, I buzzed a friend casually. He said that he would come topick me up so I waited at the appointed spot. Within minutes a vintage car, in a blazing canary
yellow, swirled to a stop right by me. I was pleasantly surprised to see Victor, driving. (Later I came to know that he drove only VIPs in that car). He drove us for some time, and finally
the car pulled in front of a building with an antique wooden gate. “Charu”, he said, “this is where I live. In a museum!”
He had opened a museum! Not quite ‘opened’ then but the preparations were underway. Within minutes I knew that it would be a project with huge demands on time and money and commitment and, that Victor was prepared to commit and do whatever it took to make it happen. There was that unmistakable touch of conviction to his enthusiasm and nonstop commentary that I knew – it was for real.
He very graciously put me up in his own home. Both Alie [Aldina] and he fussed over me. They prepared their outbuilding especially for me. And I painted there, in Benaulim. Living with them for over a month, I could see the struggles but Victor has an uncanny way of dealing with stress. He opens his arms to everyone and takes on challenges. Through small, kind and informal gestures he touches hearts. And that, I think, is his blessing. It is a common trait in many of my friends,Goans particularly, but Victor’s way is peculiar.
Now he has three museums. When I read in the news about him or Goa Chitra, I know that it is just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder at the toil that must have gone in to make it happen.
Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai, a well-known Indian artist, was born in Panjim (Panaji). He finished his BFA from Goa college of Art and then went on to get a MFA from MSU, Baroda. He left Goa in 1986 to live in Baroda, but then decided in 1990 to join the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry. Since May 1998, he is a resident of the international township of Auroville, where, besides art he does various other work in the township.