Posted in Collection, People's Project

A Folk Dancer and A Madman

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.

kanta-at-goa-chitra

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.

Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Collection

Of Implements and Dictionaries

By Malavika Neurekar

Victor Hugo Gomes used to be an artist. He did his masters in Print Making, and studied restoration of manuscripts and paper paintings at INTACH. When it came to researching and archiving the collection at the museum, he found himself in uncharted territory. In an impromptu speech delivered at the inauguration of Goa Chakra in 2014 Victor launched into a series of old Konkani sayings. “harroithamhunn gaindol ghelo, ani chirddun mello”, he said. If the earthworm imitates the method of the python, it will get trampled and die. And so he established his own method – he started translating all the Konkani dictionaries published 1897 onwards. He compiled his own glossary of thousands of forgotten Konkani words, travelling across Goa to interview village elders and double check the meanings of the Konkani words he had noted.

Languages develop intimately with the lifestyle of the people who speak them; they breed familiarity with the customs of the land. Thus, in English, a plough is a plough. The word for plough in the Konkani dictionary is nangor, but Victor traced other ploughs called pane, kosso, dongri, and loconddi, depending on the build, the design, the material, and the type of land on which it was used. The plough collection was almost complete when Victor was travelling with his friend Russell Murray in the Sattari taluka, documenting farming practices related to nachne and rice production. Bad weather conditions forced them to retreat to Ponda for the night, but in the morning they set off to meet another close friend Kanta Gawde. The three men then decided to hike up a hill, as Kanta Gawde wanted to show them a shrine of the local mountain gods. It was during the hike that Victor’s eyes fell upon a curious object sitting on the roof of a Dhangar house. It was a dongri nagor, a three-piece wooden plough designed specifically to be used on laterite soil in the valley. The roof had grown slippery from the rain, but after much persuasion and at a modest price, Victor was able to retrieve the now extinct dongri nagor, completing the plough collection at Goa Chitra.

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The dongri nagor at the Dhangar’s house

Another interesting incident unfolded at a scrapyard in Curchorem, from where Victor Hugo retrieved a huge roller with a wooden frame and metal spikes. The implement lacked a history as nobody seemed to know anything about it except the fact that it was originally from Bicholim. With no idea of its story or its function, Victor named it ‘the spike roller’. He inspected the type of wood, the kind of soil stuck to it, the mud on the spikes, and whether there was any pollen embedded in it – all in an attempt to gather clues about its function. The object was shown to many agriculturists in Goa but no one could identify it. He set it aside, often spending long hours staring at it and wondering about its origin. It was during a chance encounter with the Gaonkar family in the jungles near Kanapur that he spotted a similar instrument of a smaller size. Victor often travels to Maharashtra and Karnataka to meet families of Goan origin that fled during the Goa Inquisition. The Gaonkar family traced their origin to Bicholim, and continue to make annual trips there for the religious festival Jolmidevacho Utsav. Victor inquired about the implement that resembled his ‘spike roller’ and was told that it was used to break or pulverize the ground to be brought under cultivation. The pieces were all falling in place. Once again, it was the dictionary that came to the rescue and filled in the final piece of the puzzle. Victor learned that the description of the spike roller fit that of a farming implement called pocruncho roll, a word found in a 1931 Konkani- English dictionary. It was described as a metal roller with spikes held by a wooden frame, and attached to a yoke and a rope to be drawn by bullocks and used to break the soil.

Xendlolea boilache rakandareche kananth ghanto vazot ravta”, was another Konkani saying that Victor explained that day. When a farmer loses his bullock and hears any sound of cow bells he thinks it is his own bullock. This had become Victor’s condition – he saw the material culture of Goa everywhere and in everything. He may not have had a name for it then, but observe the trajectory of Victor’s life and all his actions seemed to be of a man attempting to retrace his roots, a man trying to capture the essence of the land. Much the same way a child runs around with a jar to catch fireflies.

Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Collection

Excerpts from ‘Land, Museum, Legacy’

By Malavika Neurekar

Rochelle Pinto and Aparna Balachandran’s Archives and Access Project is aimed at examining the complex relationship between private archiving, its legal implications, and the role of the State. In Land, Museum, Legacy, Rochelle Pinto, who is a historian specialising in pre-19th Century histories of Goa and has been a professor in the English department at Delhi University, explores the issue through a first-hand account of her visit to Goa Chitra. While delving into the functions (and diminishing economic role) of Goa’s land ownership system and its implications on private researchers/archivers, she provides an insightful look at the collection at Goa Chitra, its arrangement within the space, and the aesthetic impact it creates.

“[Resources on the web] suggest how the arrangement of objects crowded into this converted living space reduces the objectifying distance that a conventional museum would produce. An art historian who recommended the museum also mentioned how sensitively the objects had been restored. It is not surprising, then, to find that Gomes was trained in restoration, at INTACH in Lucknow, and returned to Goa, the place where he grew up, as curator of the museum of Christian Art to work on another project.

The enormity of the numbers of objects, and labour that must have gone into retrieving each one astounds me as the nature of Gomes’ work sinks in. We are familiar enough with cooking pots and other objects that have a more active life in the worlds of rural communities appearing in our living rooms as objets d’art, and briefly one wonders whether this is an aestheticisation of rural life. But this museum seems to side-step this problem.

The presence of these objects, not yet fully out of use (or so it would seem) in Goa, begs the question of why they had to be museumised. It is true, for instance, that cultivation has dropped drastically within Goa for a range of reasons. In some areas, it is uneconomical when the sale of land or its conversion brings higher margins. In other areas, people have been forced off the land. In yet others, irrigation patterns have been forcefully changed. And in areas where cultivation continues, it tends to be fuelled with pesticide. Yet, one can scarcely say that fishing and cultivation do not continue, particularly where there are small landholdings, using, one would think, much the same kind of technology that Gomes has in his museum. But for certain, there are precious pieces of hand-crafted agricultural technology that are impressive here, and are not in use anymore.

The wooden sugarcane crusher bound with metal for instance, was ‘rescued’ by him from Sawantwadi and restored. The texture of wood and its areas of damage are moving, as the enormous piece bears witness to labour that has vanished. A visit to some of our protected national monuments, where cracks have been filled in with visibly different materials of varying colours, would reveal, by comparison, the painstaking nature of Gomes’ work over the last decade.”

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While the fist part of Rochelle’s paper is largely descriptive, the latter part wanders into a more analytical territory. The future of Goa Chitra is a question raised by many. What after Victor Gomes? Victor’s answer to this is the systematic institutionalisation of the Goa Chitra brand – an objective grasped and framed by Pinto in the following passage.

What makes this collection interesting to a project on internet technology and questions of archives and public access, are the last two lines of Victor’s letter of invitation to his museum, asking an unspecified ‘us’ to look at the museum communally, to suggest what journey it could take. One of these journeys is clear – there is a vast trove of information about practices relating to the land that Victor has accumulated. Even as he works at turning these into text, it is evident that it would be appropriate for someone to pick up this thread of the project that he has begun, to explore other media through which the diverse life of his museum can move. Educational curricula and other kinds of publications, both printed and online, can bring in different audiences, releasing the trove of information around each object, and making it accessible as a legacy for contemporary inhabitants of Goa. Such a development would dilute the idea of a legacy being locked within the intellectual production of a particular kind of elite in Goa’s past and could potentially tap into the knowledge base of students in non-urban locales. In fact, this museum is an explicit commitment to the children of Goa, whom Victor sees possibly growing up without any connection to what is the vital culture of their home.

To read Land, Museum, Legacy in its entirety, click here.

Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Collection, Early Ventures

A Museum in the Making

By Malavika Neurekar

In a previous post, we had explored the story and the significance of the ghanno in the process of branding Goa Chitra. The implement does indeed hold immense value to the institution – in terms of the struggle behind acquiring it, of the experiences that were picked up along the way, and the spirit of perseverance that it reflects. But something that still remains unknown to most is that the ghanno played yet another instrumental role – it ultimately led to the construction of the Goa Chitra building itself!

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The ghanno and the well then.

Before the Goa Chitra space became defined by its charming Indo-Portuguese architecture and quaint decor, there was a sprawling organic farm. Victor Hugo undertook this project after his advertising days came to an end, a casualty resulting from the Cola Wars of the 1990s. He began generating his own electricity, pumped the water from his own well, and grew his own produce, while simultaneously building his collection. When the ghanno arrived in all its glory, it had to undergo major restoration work. It lacked a base, which needed to be rebuilt. It was required to be grouted in the ground. In order to protect it from further damage, a shed was built over the ghanno. This was merely the first step. As the collection grew enormously and Victor kept purchasing old architectural scrap, Goa Chitra slowly began to develop.

After
The ghanno and the well now.

Goa Chitra being partly an open-air museum is not a coincidence, nor is it a decision based on purely aesthetic considerations. Victor is extremely concerned with the maintenance of the objects, and he tells me that the open-air setting allows the natural material of the implements to breathe. Moreover, the infrastructure perfectly retains the essence of what existed in the space prior to the museum. Even today, a reminder of the organic farm sits in the form of a well right in the middle of the museum room!

It was during this early phase that Frederick Noronha visited the yet-to-be museum and conducted the following interview in 2008. Here, you can see the two men discuss the objective of Goa Chitra, the potential of a thriving museum culture in Goa, and some of the traditional agricultural implements that are no longer in use.

You can follow more of Frederick Noronha’s research and documentation of Goan tradition on his personal blog and his YouTube channel.

Posted in Collection, Personal Stories

All about Victor and his Chitras

By Alvaro (Goanna) Gomes

Alvaro Gomes has been Victor’s accomplice in childhood shenanigans as well as a first-hand witness to the early years of his fascination with material culture. In the following story, he reminisces about the early memories of growing up with the curator of Goa Chitra.


One thorough look inside Goa Chitra, Goa Chakra, and Goa Cruti, and one can sum up the type of multi-talented personality Victor Hugo Gomes is. Though I know Victor for several years, it is very difficult to sum up his character and capability in short.

Being 1st cousins and both staying in different parts of Benaulim, I was lucky to understand Victor right from his early days. He had a keen eye for everything. And the type of inquisitive questions he would ask are What is this? Why is it that way? Couldn’t this thing be the other way round? This keenness in him to learn and understand things even beyond the permissible limit and the attitude helped him to build himself up, step by step and create a heritage heaven in shape of Goa Chitra.

When young he looked like a Scientist with thick eye glassed spectacles, always ready to experiment with whatever comes his way. He was a person who loved to face challenges and adventure. Right from a young age, he had the intelligence of a grown up man. We, having come from a land lord community, had some properties and fields. My job was to supervise the property work. Sometimes, during vacations, Victor would come to my place to stay for a few days, and that is when I came across his other rather unique trait. When all were sleeping or relaxing, Victor would suddenly disappear and lo there he would be on the loft or in the kitchen store looking out for old wine and medicines bottles and injection vials. He would also gather discarded valve amplifiers, radios, discarded speakers, finished powder tins, cigarette packets and match boxes. At the end of the holidays, he would be ready with a bag full of assorted collection. I feel that his childhood interest for collecting disposed items and making wealth out of waste led him to where he is today, having an unassuming and important collection of items of ethnography. On one of the properties which was land locked and washed out, neglected and uncultivated for years, Victor took on the challenge of restoring it with the blessings of his father, on part of which Goa Chitra stands tall.

Young Victor, Illustration by Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai

Moreover, being adventurous he would insist that we should go out at night to the fields and see whether the labourer were irrigating the fields properly and the yield of paddy corns was intact. Then we would end up at the field all night long, singing and listening to the chirping of birds and the croaking of the frogs.
All Souls Day was all the more interesting for us, as on that night Victor insisted to me that we go hunting for the human ghosts, who would loiter in our property and rob tender coconuts and damage other crops in the name of “Almas De Oltro Mundo”, souls of the other world, as per a centuries-old traditions. It so happened that, one such night his efforts paid dividends, as right outside our house, on the steps we saw a man trying to take away our flower pots. Victor raised an alarm and the man being our neighbour was so petrified, that he came down on his knees and asked for pardon.

As teenagers and in youth, Victor and I tried out our hand at performing one act plays, whereby I would write the plays and Victor would direct them. He was a perfectionist to the core and left nothing unturned to make the play perfect and presentable. Due to his constant focus on perfection, we managed to get several 1st prizes in Benaulim and around Goa. As we grew up and I got a steady job, the distance between us grew wider. But Victor made it a point to take me into confidence about every new step he would take.

At this juncture Victor tried his hand at advertising and Event Management. Towards the end of monsoon he would organise a dance called “Bye Bye Barish” besides conceptualising and annually organising the much sort after, “Arlem Festival” which he organised till he left Goa on a National Art scholarship in the early 90s. Then he came up with the bright idea of presenting the Great Music Revival shows, much before the movie Nachomia Kumpasar could hit the screen. In fact it was Victor who brought the almost defunct brass bands of Goa and the musicians on stage for the first time along with other famous musicians. These concerts for that matter were reasonably successful and well accepted by Jazz aficionados and music lovers. Even while organising these Music events, Victor took great pains to choose and select the right and bright veteran Jazz talents from across India or abroad, some of whom were great Goan musicians who had never ever performed in Goa. When the great Goan trumpet Legend Chris Perry passed away, it was none other than Victor, the great event coordinator, who brought Chris Perry’s family together on stage. After Chris’s demise Victor was even successful in convincing Lorna to participate in a tribute Concert dedicated to Chris Perry, and from then on Lorna did not have to look back in singing for musical shows.

GCR- Final Artwork 1

And as it is said “time is the changer of seasons”. So did Victor’s life change for the better. He might have come across many young beautiful girls, but love for him was not lust, or obsession. Nor did he believe in variety, but he believed in eternal love that would last for ever. This type of love he finally found in Aldina, now his partner for life. Dwelling on the concept of four generations despite of all odds, Victor has given his mind and soul, in fact his all, to get Goa Chitra into existence. He has well past “the first generation that creates a culture out of love and need; the second that reaps the benefits; the third that embraces modernity and abandons the indigenous culture”; and now here fits in Victor who has attempted “to reassemble the dismembered pieces of our heritage and salvage the remains of a lost culture”, through his life’s love, the Goa Chitra museum. And in this he has come out victorious true to his name which is Victor. With the capable, loving and understanding assistance of Aldina. Surely they will go a long way by adding several attractive feathers in their already bright cap.


Alvaro

Alvaro Gomes is a hotel manager associated with Colva Residency, a unit of Goa Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. He writes short stories, articles, poems, one-act plays, and songs in English and Konkani.

Posted in Branding & Institutionalisation, By Malavika Neurekar, Collection

Why the Name? Why the Logo?

By Malavika Neurekar

Goa Daiz translates to Goa’s Heritage.

That was the name originally chosen for the museum. It signified everything that the museum intended to preserve and generate awareness about: the rich culture, traditions, and customs peculiar to this specific stretch of geography. Goa Daiz. It was almost finalized. Yet, there was something odd about it. Goa Daiz. The more and more one said it, the more obvious it became.

It was a little ominous to name a museum something that sounded phonetically similar to Goa Dies. So after much more brainstorming, the name that was finally settled upon was Goa Chitra. The Picture of Goa.

The next step in creating the Goa Chitra brand – choosing a logo – was a much more instantaneous decision. Every artefact within the walls of Goa Chitra is held by Victor Hugo with a certain amount of pride and reverence. However, when it was time for Bismark Dias to conceptualise a logo, nothing stood out more than Hugo’s prized ghanno. Apart from its aesthetic magnificence, the story behind its acquisition adds depth and meaning to the implement.

Ghanno

As is the case with a significant number of Goa’s traditional agricultural implements, the ghanno is no longer in use and has been replaced by mechanised oil mills. The quest for a functional ghanno led Victor Hugo to come into contact with a number of ghanekars, the community of traditional oil millers. In 1992, Victor Hugo was travelling around Goa, retracing the trade routes as they had existed in the Kadamba period. It was during this time, in the Pilar-Agasaim area, when his sight fell upon what looked like two massive stone pillars buried under the ground. These stone objects were actually the remnants of what used to be two fully-functioning ghannos. Several years later, Victor was still on the lookout. His diligent inquiries ultimately led him to Agonda. Arriving here on a Sunday morning with his friend Ketan Naik, Victor realised that the ghanekar in question had not only destroyed his ghanno, but was also selling off his property. A harsh critic of the practice of bhatkars selling their inherited land for commercial development, Victor asked the ghanekar why he was selling his land for such an unreasonably small amount. The ghanekars response – something Victor Hugo still recalls with disgust – was that he was selling off his land to the then-chief minister. The Minister’s son, who was studying in the US, yearned to sit under the shade of a coconut tree, relishing on tender coconut water. In turn, the minister had offered a promotion to one of his bodyguards, who happened to be the ghanekar’s son. Appalled and yet even more determined now, Victor Hugo eventually ended up at the doorsteps of one Balaji Anand Naik of Canacona. His search had finally come to an end – Balaji Naik possessed the elusive ghanno! However, the struggle did not end here. The ghanno was in shambles, and it took almost one more year before it was restored to its original form.

Edited Ganno 2
Illustration by Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai

Today, the implement sits proudly in Goa Chitra. As the last remaining functional ghanno, it symbolises the spirit and ambition of Goa Chitra which is, the preservation of all salvageable pieces of our past. The brush with the ghanekar in Agonda is representative of how dirty politics and the blind race for money and power stand in the way of this noble attempt. It is thus apt that it is the ghanno that adorns the logo of Goa Chitra. When asked “why did you choose the ghanno for the logo?” Victor Hugo replies instantly “because it took me fourteen years to find it.” The search for the ghanno represents everything that Goa Chitra stands for: dedication, perseverance, and victory in the face of adversity.

Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Collection

How the Collection Began and Grew

By Malavika Neurekar

Valve sets. Old speakers. LPs. Discarded furniture pieces. Bottles.

These are not usually the things that come to mind when one thinks of their childhood playthings. However these are the ‘toys’ that Victor Hugo grew up with. When the entire household was asleep, Victor used to sneak into the loft or the storeroom, integral parts of all traditional Goan homes, and experiment with the objects he found there. He brought back radios and repaired them. He played around with speakers and valve amplifiers to create sound systems. He collected discarded bike parts to put together his own bike. He once found a razor and shaved off one side of his head! (Victor Gomes recalls with amusement how his godmother, out of embarrassment, painted the shaved-off side with kaajal everytime they stepped out of the house.) The elders of the house interpreted this as a part of his schoolboy mischief. In retrospect, Victor now knows that it was simply a manifestation of his curiosity and creativity at an early age.

After completing his Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at Goa College of Art, Victor spent about three years in Lucknow. Whilst there, one thing that always awed him was the weekly antique market – artefacts of Nawabi culture were being sold in the dusty streets, evaluated by the haggling of customers and sellers. A man with a major inclination towards preserving material culture, Victor failed to understand how people were voluntarily giving away pieces of their heritage. When he returned to Goa, he discovered that all the ‘toys’ he had accumulated over the years had been discarded by his parents, with little regard for the value they held to him. But old habits die hard. He began collecting again – the difference being that the collection this time around would soon culminate into the Goa Chitra display today.

Museum display

It was in 1992 that Mario Miranda extended to Victor an invitation to set up the Christian Art Museum in Rachol. Around this time, Victor began to realise that there was no value for either of his professions, painting or restoring. People preferred posters to paintings, and Indo-Portuguese houses were being brought down to make way for commercial construction. It was this helplessness that urged him to collect whatever he could whenever he could. Like a mad man he started collecting different types of windows, doors, balusters, columns, tiles, roofing wood etc. Some of the architectural scrap that he picked up has now been integrated seamlessly into the museum’s architecture. After resigning from the Christian Art Museum, he took up the work of a professional restorer. He restored old homes, and in turn, paid his clients a price to purchase articles including – but not limited to – broken furniture, traditional kitchen implements, and grinding stones.

He went on collecting anything and everything that caught his fancy, without the explicit objective of setting up a museum. The process of collecting did not take place with an end goal in mind. It was merely Victor Hugo’s desperate need to salvage pieces of our cultural heritage that he believed we were throwing away without a second’s thought. He travelled to remote areas of the state, came into contact with several dealers and scholars and farmers, followed lead after lead to build his collection. After a point, he even sold his cars and bought a pickup truck to facilitate more efficient transportation of the objects. Nobody knew what he was up to, including himself.

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Illustration by Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai

Of his many avatars, the one of the collector is perhaps the most interesting one, mostly because it is the source of his countless anecdotes. He believes that every implement that is housed is valuable not just for its functionality or for the historic value, but also for the memories it evokes and the stories of the people who possessed them. Such is the case of the dhali or the sieve used by the Dhangar community to heat nachne or millets. The dhali is no longer of use to the community: first, because nachne cultivation has come to a halt in Goa and replaced by imports from outside the state, and second, because the system of kumeri farming practiced by the Dhangars has been banned under the anti-Deforestation laws. In spite of this, the Dhangar from whom Victor Hugo acquired the dhali, Baburam was initially reluctant to part with it. He wanted to hold on to in case someday the government lifted the ban from kumeri farming, allowing them to return to their traditional methods of sustenance. Eventually, he allowed Victor to purchase it with the promise that if the government were to lift the ban, the dhali would be returned immediately. Baburam died subsequently, the ban on kumeri farming hasn’t been lifted yet, and the nachne available in the market continues to be imported goods.

Dhalli and baburam

I have seen Victor Hugo recount this story several times to different people, and what he never fails to mention in each retelling is the hope that he saw in Baburam’s eyes that day. It was perhaps reflective of Victor Hugo’s own hope to reintroduce a way of living lost in a simpler time.

Posted in Collection

Passionate about Preserving the Past

By Maria Savia Viegas

Goa Chitra houses a vast and varied collection which seldom leaves one unimpressed. Savia Viegas recounts the first time she visited Goa Chitra in 2008, a year before it was opened to the public. Read about how she was awed by the display in the following piece.


It was a 2008 October morning. Some friends from North Goa, part of the then vibrant Goa Writers’ Group, had decided to visit Goa Chitra Museum in Benaulim. I was asked to join.  I lived few kilometers away, had a research interest in museums, was curious to visit a private museum, and wanted to know the fellow Goan who had initiated it. So I decided to team up.

The directions, at the time, seemed vague since I had lived away from Goa for a long time and had returned only recently. I would have never found the way, on my own, to this ethnographic and agricultural museum.  So I did what I always do in such circumstances – hire a motorbike pilot. The ride was fun and we chatted as the pilot rode past an escola primaria, a dung dump, and a string of non-descript tavernas where the locals hung around.  A young woman in a bright yellow salwar asked me if I was looking for Victor Hugo’s house. She was quick enough to direct me before driving away in her car.  I paid the pilot and asked him if he could pick me up couple of hours later. But I was still in a daze as to how the woman in the car guessed that I was looking for Victor Hugo’s home.  It was only later that I discovered that she was Aldina, Victor’s wife, who was on her way to pick up snacks for our visit (She hasn’t stopped doing that till today!).

I  Met Victor Hugo Gomes, 40-something then, and the creator of soon-to-be-opened Goa Chitra museum at Pulwaddo in Benaulim. Call him what you will. Banalecho pisso Bhatkar or Don Quixote with a penchant for riding yesterdays’ roads, but once you meet Victor, you see the spark of genius that made him save tools and technologies from extinction. Listen to him and the collection of what he terms ‘material culture’ begins to open up vistas of the life before.

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Illustration by Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai

We took  an informal tour of the museum-to-be, as Victor randomly picked up and explained how he had procured the artifacts: a bludgeoning tool of colonial time covered with dried up blood stains; a saxophone belonging to a dead musician of yester-years; a grinding stone; and a wooden oil-mill – the collection seemed endless.  He chatted on about his past too: the underground labyrinths in his aunt’s home; trunks where useless things were stored away; sleep-outs with his cousin in open fields; and the hospital visits with his mother who was the matron of Hospicio in Margao city. His own life from adolescence to adulthood and maturity had been peppered with the wild experiences of someone who always lives on the edge.

Pastels and mortars - Copy

Victor, who spent some time outside Goa in pursuits of fine arts, returned to set up a museum and began to restore homes. He ventured into music revival in a big way, organizing musical concerts. But soon, he realised that Goa’s past was being frittered away to make way for a mindless modernity. At the same time, he also abhorred the idea of rare treasures from the region, and of his past, being locked up in private collections. He was like a flaneur visiting his cultural terrain, picking castaways and trying to understand why people were frittering away an eco-friendly lifestyle for one that was leading the world into a charmless, irreversible destruction.  Over the years, this endless churning has helped Victor collect thousands of artifacts which today make not one but three museums – Goa Chitra, Goa Chakra, and Goa Cruti.


Savia Viegas

A resident of Carmona, Maria Savia Viegas is a doctorate in Indian Art from the University of Mumbai, and has taught at numerous Indian and overseas universities and colleges for more than 20 years. She is recipient of the prestigious Senior Fulbright Fellowship of the USA government, wherein she spent a year in the USA, affiliated with world-renowned Smithsonian Institution of Museums and the Museum Studies Department of the George Washington University. She has authored ‘Tales from the Attic’ and the Penguin-published ‘Let me tell you about Quinta’. She has showcased her paintings in four solo exhibitions and has curated works of renowned Goan painter, Angelo da Fonseca.