By Nirmal Kulkarni
I am a conservation scientist. A herpetologist. Not a writer. I do not write about people. But there are some people in one’s life that belong to a vein that is special…people whom I do not have the spirit to say no to. Victor and Aldina belong there. Hence this note.
I do not remember how and when, and through whom I met Victor Hugo Gomes. As a field researcher, selective memory loss of all things unnecessary and mundane is now become a compulsive habit. I do distinctly remember two or three things mentioned about Victor by some soul – that he is an alumni of the Goa College of Art, was instrumental in founding the Museum of Christian Art at Old Goa, and calls a spade a spade. A heady concoction and familiar one that was and hence we did connect from our first meeting and continue to do so till date.
And then there was this rumor that Victor had banned foreign nationals from Goa Chitra for a year since he wanted Goans to first come and see their own heritage. It did reach me too and I admit it compelled me to visit Goa Chitra sooner than I intended too.
However, I never did cross check with him about these tales or others that I subsequently heard and overheard. Not even once. Our conversations always revolved around snakes and the humble Goan way of life.
My own parallel work as a conservation scientist and an artist is seeking to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. To meet this objective I tend to elaborate on memories…of the found being, image, object, and text, and ensure that these are as close to the factual past. It is then that I visit Goa Chitra. It is my sounding board.
And then, Goa Chitra museum, to me, is also a second litmus paper test for choosing pals. Victor himself might not know of it, but everyone whom I feel I should include in my close circle of friends must do two things first: (1) walk the Western Ghats of Goa with me at dawn or dusk, and (2) Visit Goa Chitra. Feedback from them on these two aspects determines the outcome.
I respond to reptile related emergencies at Goa Chitra. With cool shaded tree canopies and an organic farm, Goa Chitra has had its share of human- snake interactions. And yet, Victor and Aldina are amongst the very few I know in Goa who have been tolerant about their ophidian neighbours despite of fatal accidents to their loved pets. Their commitment and love for animals equals to that, if not more for heritage, and I am sure very few know of this.
Often drawn to people, things, and places that are stranded, outmoded, or otherwise sidelined, Victor constantly attempts to, consciously or unconsciously, archive tangible and non-tangible memories – of places and things that are Goan (as well as Indian now, in case of Goa Chakra).
For some, such work often appears tendentious, even preposterous. Indeed the will to instinctively connect and compulsively collect can be termed bordering something akin to a hint of paranoia. Victor has been doing it for decades now. In a systematic self motivated manner that is at time inspirational to some, irrational to many.
An iconic writer and thinker had once mentioned it to me and I think it sums it up what Victor is doing and has further set out to do. He said in Marathi “Vedi manase itihaas kartat, ani tya itihaasacha guun matra shahani manase gaatat” (Insane people create history and that history is then sung in rich glory by sane people). With Goa Chitra and Goa Chakra, Victor Hugo Gomes has insanely created history by conserving it in its true element. With Goa Cruti, he has gone a step ahead and recreated a chronicle of past professions for us to perceive and appreciate.
While Goa Chitra has stimulated and laid the foundation stones for many a private collection, museum and studies including my own, in the state and across the globe, it is Victor’s persistent and untiring passion that draws people like me to Goa Chitra.
For me, every trip to Goa Chitra is a journey of sorts …of my own memories, my notes from the past, both physical and mental, those that connect me to objects on display there. With Assavri my wife who has captured a slice of that essence called ‘Goa Chitra’ on several occasions through her camera, this is our umbilical cord to keep in touch with a bygone Goa that is today sorely missed.
I dine at Goa Chitra almost every time I visit the place. Organic rice from their farm. Sannas and sorpotel, prawn curry, etc. I eat at Goa Chitra amidst many tales and those times are some of the best ones spent with Victor and Aldina. If an opportunity arises please do dine at Goa Chitra – it’s a fulfilling experience.
I sincerely feel that Victor needs to publish his thoughts and his articles. His dreams and his images and catalogues. This is the need of the hour for our generation of Goans and the several generations to come. As Goa Chitra evolves into a melting pot of all things Goan and heritage, it is an earnest appeal that Victor should find time and contemplation to put together his large body of heritage work on paper.
Nirmal Kulkarni defines himself as an “eco-warrior”. He began as a snake handler and nature photographer, and has since matured into a herpetologist with unrivalled knowledge and accolades. Having several discoveries in the Western Ghats credited to his name, he has been the recipient of Sarpamitra award by Indian Herpetological Society, the Carl Zeiss award for conservation, the prestigious Karmaveer Award for wildlife conservation, and recently the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service “Wind under Wings’ 2014, amongst others. He has headed the Mhadei Research Centre, and authored a book titled ‘The Goan Jungle Book” which is aimed at educating students in particular and the Goan populace in general about Goa’s lesser known wildlife.