By Vivek Menezes
Maps can be deceptive. If you go by what’s in the atlas, tiny Goa on the western coastline of India is very far away from Bangladesh, all the way on the other side of the subcontinent. There are at least 2000 kilometres separating Panjim and Dhaka, with an immense variety of regions, languages and people situated in-between.
Yet, mere geography is not the sum of culture, and there are many hidden currents that have directly connected this location to immensely vibrant Bangladesh, the country of focus at the 51st International Film Festival of India. Some are truly ancient, only half-discernible through the veils of antiquity. But others are startlingly direct, such as just over 500 years ago in 1518 when four Portuguese caravelas sailed down the river Mandovi that courses just beyond the IFFI “campus” and, sailing south, turned around Cape Comorin to reach Chittagong.
On May 9 of that year, the captain João da Silveira established the first European foothold in Bengal, which was absorbed and administered as part of the Portuguese Estado da India. The capital of that state – the seat of power – was in Goa, and even after the British eventually took over colonial dominance in the region, the maritime connections were supplanted by other overland pipelines of communication and migration.
Much later into our modern era, Goans played profoundly significant roles in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War that saw the two halves of Pakistan cleaved apart. No part of India was more over-represented in the officers of the Indian army: commanders from Goa (including at least four generals) led action on both eastern and western fronts.
Even more significant was the crucial intervention of the Goan journalist of conscience (he was based in Karachi at the time) Anthony Mascarenhas, whose stunning coverage of Pakistani atrocities in London’s Sunday Times that prime minister Indira Gandhi told the paper’s editor Harold Evans triggered her “campaign of personal diplomacy in the European capitals and Moscow to prepare the ground for India’s armed intervention.”
Bangladesh has been the country in focus in this part of India before, in an especially memorable edition of the Goa Arts + Literature Festival. At that event, acclaimed authors like Kazi Anis Ahmed and Abeer Hoque were embraced into this state’s vibrant cultural milieu, thus rekindling much older bonds that have yielded considerable mutual enrichment in the past, and hold immense promise for the future. IFFI 2021 adds wind to those sails!