There is a video clip doing the rounds showing the contribution of Goan musicians to the Mumbai music scene and the Hindi film industry. The performers include Anthony Gonsalves, Chic Chocolate, Johnny Gomes, Sebastian D’Souza and many more. These musicians brought brass and string instruments into the Indian orchestra. Because they understood notation they could write the music and make the arrangements for the whole orchestra and through which they brought Western music into play with Indian music.
The musicians were all “Luso-Indians”. They learnt their music participating in church choirs where they were first introduced to notation, rhythm, melody, orchestra, and western musical instruments. In time, church music became secular music as it travelled from Goa to Mumbai, from the church to the music halls of the city and then to its film industry.
This was the new India where the saxophone played with the sitar, where the violin accompanied the bansuri while Mohammed Rafi sang a duet with Lata Mangeshkar. It was the India of fusion and the India of experimentation. It was the India of acceptance.
I have introduced a new description of a community, the Luso-Indians, into our public discourse because through this small fact of the Goan musicians in the Mumbai film industry I can raise the larger question of the cultural hybridity of every Indian.
I first came across the term “Luso-Indian” in the writings of the brilliant public intellectual of 19th-century Goa, Francisco Luis Gomes. He was proud of his Indian heritage. He was also aware of the cultural elements that his community had imbibed in their encounter with Portuguese Europe. He recognised and accepted that centuries of contact made such hybridity inevitable. He wore his cultural fusion lightly as he argued, in the Portuguese Parliament, for the rights of the people of Goa and Angola. Through his politics, he challenged colonialism and censured it for imprisoning his country.
In a letter, written in French, to his friend Alphonse Marie Louis De Prat De Lamartine, on January 5, 1861, Francisco Luis Gomes wrote, “I was born in India, the cradle of poetry, philosophy and history, [and] today its tomb. I belong to that race which wrote the Mahabharata and invented chess – two conceptions that bear in them the eternal and the infinite. But this nation, that included in its poems and codes by which it formulated its politics … the rules of a game of chess, is no longer alive.”
He was denouncing colonialism. His statement that the cradle of “poetry, philosophy and history” has now become its tomb, seems oddly valid in the face of the juggernaut cultural nationalism of the Hindutva brigade who behave as if there is only one type of India, the type forged in the shakhas of Guru Golwalkar.
The graduates from these shakhas do not know the essential anekantavada of India, its intellectual depth or its philosophical moorings. They have little understanding of the many reasons for the distinctiveness of Pahari miniatures. They are clueless about the social basis of the blossoming of the Sufi and Bhakti traditions across India. They are ignorant of the history of the Sangam literature and why it flowered in the Tamil country. They have not stopped to think of how the shehnai, elevated by Ustad Bismillah Khan, now produces the music at many Indian weddings. They have not understood the creative roots of that other great Luso-Indian, architect Charles Correa, who produced buildings of such magnificence because he drew his inspiration from two civilisations.
I could go on offering example after example of how the monochromatism of the Hindutva brigade is doing what Francisco Luis Gomes feared, entombing in a shell of hatred our “poetry, philosophy and history”. What would the film music composter Pyarelal or his counterparts the Burmans have done without the Luso-Indian? And what would the Luso-Indian have done without their exposure and training in church music?
Mine is not an article on Goan pride. Nor is it an attempt to give to the forgotten Goan musicians their rightful place in the history of Indian cinema. That will inevitably happen as scholars investigate the archive and restore the balance. This intervention is an article of resistance to what Hindutva philosophy is doing to our poetry, philosophy, and history. It comes not from minority anxiety or minority lament.
A Luso-Indian needs no certificates from anybody. It comes, instead, from the spirit of Francisco Luis Gomes who in his maiden speech in the Portuguese parliament on January 15, 1861, where he represented Goa, challenged the arguments of the deputy Affonseca who said that “overseas provinces ought not to have the right of Parliamentary representation because England, the greatest power in the world, has refused a similar right to its colonies and because overseas colonies were not civilised”.
For Gomes, the reference to England was an error of fact and therefore “England’s refusal is based on grounds which I shall not dilate upon here, and which the Portuguese will never wish to imitate, and God grant that they may never imitate”. He argued for what we would today be termed inter-culturality and demanded that “hundreds of persons should not be deprived of their political rights … simply because they had the misfortune to be born in the overseas colonies”.
This was in 1861. These were positions taken when the Indian National Congress had not yet been formed. They were ahead of their time. They argued for the power of the vote for the people of Goa and for their right of representation.
The two parts of this essay seem disconnected but they are not actually so. The first is about the place of the Luso-Indian, and of other such groups, that gives India its cultural plurality, that describes the open-ness of its poetry and philosophy. It was this India of cultural sharing that marked the Goan musicians in Bollywood. It was embodied in the modernism of the Progressive Artists Group of FN Souza (another Luso-Indian) and MF Husain. It was expressed in the radical theatre of Indian People’s Theatre Association. These cultural expressions are politically under threat from muscular Hindutva.
The second part of the essay seeks to show how a certain sensibility of the Luso-Indian could allow him to make, in 1861, arguments for the equality of the vote and for fair representation. This too has been lost by the destruction of the fabric of democracy in the last three years in Goa by the politics of Hindutva.
When on July 10, 2019, ten Goa MLAs who had been voted as Congress MLAs were admitted, without re-election, into the Bharatiya Janata Party, the link between voting and representation was fatally severed. This was done with the blessings of the BJP president Amit Shah who knows that the sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh nominates his successor. There is no election. Poor Francisco Luis Gomes and his arguments for the vote and for representation. He was ahead even of our time.
Peter Ronald deSouza is not a descendant but an heir of Francisco Luis Gomes.