By Malavika Neurekar
Victor Hugo Gomes is a man who prides himself on authenticity. Whenever he speaks about his vision, he places additional emphasis on the word people. “A people’s project.” “A museum of the people.” “Goa Chitra was inaugurated at the hands of the people.” It is this search for authenticity that brought him in contact with the award-winning folk dancer Kanta Gawde of the Nav Gawda community. The living room of Kanta Gawde’s humble home in Veling is crammed with awards, certificates, and performance masks. A member of a traditional folk dancing family, he had an affinity towards folk dance since childhood. From a young age, he felt that folk dances were often dismissed as “tribal” and therefore inferior, and the form was not accorded the status that it deserved. He recalls the Chogm bhet in 1982, an event attended by people holding important positions of power, and Goa’s floats in Delhi at the annual Republic Day parades. He was filled with resentment because he felt that the traditional dances of Goa were being underrepresented, often marginalised. So to set things right, he mobilised the members of his community, forming a dance troupe. In 1992, his troupe entered the Republic Day parade in Delhi, showcasing Goa’s traditional folk performances in all its authenticity. That year was the first time that Goa secured the first prize at the parade. “Since then, we have never looked back,” he tells me in Konkani. Kanta Gawde’s troupe then went ahead performed at the likes of Kala Academy and most of Goa’s five star hotels, bagging several awards including the Goa State Cultural Award in 2012.
At their first meeting through a common contact Mahendra Phaldesai, Victor and Kanta Gawde immediately realised that they operated on the same wavelength. What united them almost instantly was their common underlying motive: bringing to the limelight the underrepresented, sometimes misrepresented, aspects of Goa. It was in the late 1990s, when the two got in touch to work on the Goan Quest during Victor’s stint as an event manager. The Goan Quest, conceptualised by Victor, is now carried out at Goa Chitra every Sunday during the months of November to February but was then conducted at Loutolim. Kanta Gawde’s troupe helped Victor accompany the troupe on a shigmo parade with bullock carts and palanquins through a winding road. Once they arrived at the final venue, the troupe provided the entertainment for the evening, along with a host of other entertainers, a performance complete with vibrant decor, props, and sumptuous Goan buffet. On Victor’s persuasion, Kanta Gawde’s wife Shalini, a crafts-person, set up a stall to promote her trade. Shalini and other women of the community held demonstrations and sales. The entire proceeds from the sale were retained by the craftspeople, without commission or the inference of middle men.
In 2001, Victor stopped his event management company Resonance, in order to focus on his marriage and other dreams. The Goan Quest in Loutoulim came to a halt, but the friendship between the two endured. Kanta Gawde describes how their relationship transformed as they started to consider each other family. Kanta Gawde and Victor’s father, Angustias Gomes, would often sit together, having long conversations about Victor’s vision and where it was headed. It goes without saying that when it was time, Victor let Kanta Gawde in on his dream of starting a museum. “Goa was being packaged very differently than what it is,” Victor Gomes tells me. Kanta Gawde echoes this sentiment: “Goa was getting lost somewhere.” And so Victor employed Kanta’s services once again. They traveled together all over the Ponda taluka, meeting and interacting with villagers and tribes, and slowly building up a part of the collection. Kanta Gawde mentioned that all the objects were purchased (apart from a handful that have been gifted or donated by friends), sometimes at a higher price than estimated by the owner of the object. Such is case of dongri nangor, a three-piece wooden plough that had been discarded by the dhangar who owned it. Victor Hugo reiterates that Kanta Gawde was instrumental in many of the collection trips in that area. “A kunbi saree produced here in Goa is very hard to get these days,” he says. “But Kanta managed to acquire it for me.” Once again, Victor emphasizes the role of the people here. He reminds me how the curation of objects was done taking into consideration the people who possessed these items, and the sense of personal history as well as the community’s collective history that was tied to it. Talking about their personal equation, Kanta Gawde tells me that he has known Victor as a man bubbling with ideas, but lacking stability for a long time. He is of the opinion that Victor often fell into the wrong company of people, being susceptible to manipulation. He exudes sincerity as he tells me that the stability Victor needed came after marrying Aldina and keeps reiterating the open-hearted generosity of the two.