Norman Dantas – A Journalist Par Excellence

by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas

Journalism runs in the blood of this Dantas family, and Norman Dantas was a well-known and widely respected journalist of Goa. Son of Damasceno and Bridget Dantas of Grande Morod in Saligao, Norman was born in 1953. He graduated from St. Xavier’s  College, Bombay University, and joined Goa Today, first as Associate Editor and then Executive Editor. Thereafter he worked as Assistant Editor, O Heraldo, Executive Editor, Goa Post, and again Deputy Editor, O Heraldo.  In 1986, he helped in the formation of the Goa Foundation. He died on 21 March 1998, shortly after he had completed editing the book The Transforming of Goa published by The Other India Press.

“The purpose of this book,” wrote Norman Dantas, “is to help Goans break out of the fossilized amchem bhangarachem Goem (‘our golden Goa’) mindset and to promote a better understanding of where we really are at.”

The Transforming of Goa attempts to focus on Goa and the Goan identity as it has been – in flux and transformation – between the tradition-bound Portuguese period and the present India-oriented, development-driven democratic times.  The book takes a closer critical look at Goa’s changing face and thus provides a much needed counterpoint to the considerable mythification that Goans are subjected to.

I knew Damasceno and Bridget Dantas and their children during the time they were living at Fontainhas, Panjim. I was a frequent visitor to their residence in the early seventies as both Damasceno and Bridget were members of the Christian Family Movement (CFM) and I was a young priest in charge of the CFM, although I was pretty much a CFM myself – that is, Confused Father Mascarenhas! We would talk about their children’s careers and the other members of the Dantas household at Saligao. Raymond Dantas, a household name in Saligao Union Bombay being its President (1966-67) and Associate Editor of Saligão Newsletter (1985), and Damasceno Dantas himself owner of a printing press known as Printwell Press, Luis de Menezes Road, São Tomé, Panjim, are the other Dantases from Grande Morod making this journalistic fraternity.

In the introduction of the book The Transforming of Goa, Norman Dantas says: “It is difficult to find a Goan who will not thump his (or her) chest and declaim proudly, “Hanv Goenkar!”  But it is a far more knotty task to find two of the tribe who will agree on who or what is ‘Goan’.  The conundrum grows and the debate continues, in bars, balcões, and buses.  Disagreements are dissolved with the jest—now almost epithetic—that for every two Goans, there are three opinions.  So each holds his own and goes his ‘Goan’ way.

“More than casual attempts have, of course, been made to define the Goan identity.  Eminent sons have often been asked and native litterateurs have essayed to distill the essence of Goanness.  Their offerings too have been as varied as the numerous kinds of ‘pure’ feni available nowadays.  But, both formal and informal endeavours bring one thing to the fore: the Goanness so dearly held to is a romantic notion fixed in the hoary past with little or no relationship to contemporary reality.

“This nostalgia characterizes the Goan psyche today better than anything else, even as it indicates a ‘national debility’: an inability to synthesize deep love for ‘the motherland’ with the jagged edges of reality.  The infirmity and its consequences are reflected most sharply in this state’s politics – the lack of clarity, the uncertainty of choice and the concomitant confusion about which why and how Goa should go.

“Some say Goans have themselves to blame and one cannot reject the charge out of hand.  But it can be argued that the vast majority of Goans have had little opportunity to become capable of analyzing and understanding the larger forces at work in the changing world around them.  For years, pre- and post-Liberation, forced migration of thousands, for employment, has created the distance which makes hearts grow fonder for an idealized home shorn of everyday problems.  Then again, coming out from under the colonial yoke into the ‘free air of democracy’, the Goan people have been led by politicians as blind perspective, but made worse by singular devotion to self (and of course, pelf).  The post-Liberation ‘free press’ dominated by big business, has not helped the cause of popular enlightenment either – in fact, at almost every crucial moment, it has opposed the popular interest. And then, almost all ‘serious literature’ appearing on bookshelves has been glorifying the Goa of yore, primarily for the edification of the tourist visiting this no-longer-paradise.”

Among the 11 authors who have contributed essays to this book is Saligao journalist Frederick Noronha, whose two erudite essays are titled “Of Forged Tongues and the Mother Tongue” and “Popular Protest and the Free Goa Press”.  Commenting on Noronha’s essays, Editor Norman Dantas writes: “His identification of several factors and undercurrents which transformed what should have been a straightforward exercise into the biggest controversy of the last decade provides good clues to what hampers unification of Goans and emergence of a universally shared perception of their identity.”

Norman Dantas had a warm, humane nature; the thoughts of thousand confused Goans tortured his mind and his heart went out to them in full measure.  His untimely death in 1998 robbed Goa of one of its finest thinkers.

The Transforming of Goa is available at The Other India Bookstore, situated above Mapusa Clinic, Mapusa 403507, Goa, India.

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