Towards the end of 1995, I first sat in front of an Internet connection for the first time. It was in New York City and my first day at a job that I’d specifically sought because it involved exploring the newly famous World Wide Web.
Of course I’d been using computers for years – from school through college, and at my previous job in Paris. But my wife and I had spent the previous year getting hitched in Goa, and that is precisely when the Internet suddenly moved out from the college and defense laboratories where it was born and first developed. Sitting reading newsmagazines in India, I could see this was something that was going to potentially change everything, and wanted in.
So we cancelled tickets back to Paris, and moved to New York specifically to see what was up with this intriguing “information superhighway.”
Now in front of that first Internet connection, what did I type in for my first web search (on the now defunct Alta Vista search engine)? Goa. It was Goa, of course.
There were others like me, Goans still strongly connected to their home state and ancestral culture, but scattered like so many needles in the vast haystacks of the Western world.
When they came online, they homed in onto the same “virtual home” on the Internet, Goanet. Set up by teenage student Herman Carneiro on a college server, the site had barely 40-50 members when I first logged on.
But it was enough to get hooked, as the information that came on was unavailable anywhere else, especially the posts from historian Teotonio de Souza in Portugal, the disapora stories hunted down by Eddie Fernandes in the UK, and Goa news straight from Saligao, from the Che Guevara of Goa’s web world: Frederick Noronha.
To the great credit of Carneiro and team, Goanet has always remained open-minded, and largely free of communalism, even as its list eventually became dominated by expatriated retirees and senior citizens with dissimilar motivations. But by then Goa newspapers had set up rudimentary websites (they are still not much better). And the pioneers progressed to better uses of their time: Dr. de Souza set up the outstanding Goa Research Net, Eddie Fernandes developed the invaluable Goan Voice, and Frederick has created so many forums and web groups they undoubtedly outnumber all three men’s combined fingers and toes.
At the end of 2003, my wife and I moved back to Goa. The Internet had everything to do with the decision. I had been receiving a constant flow of news out of India on my desktop, and became convinced that unprecedented changes were underway back home…my feet itched to join.
The tipping point came some time after my wife and I watched the World Trade Centre buildings unthinkably collapse right in front of our eyes. By now I was hell-bent on starting a new career as a writer, and the Internet’s increasing reach constantly tantalized me with the possibility that it might be achievable from a desk in breezy Miramar just as easily as increasingly disheartening Manhattan in the Era of Dubya.
When our second son was born, we decided to take the plunge. Almost immediately, I saw that blogging – at the time still a small, amateurish part of the web – was rapidly developing into a platform with great potential to disrupt publishing as it then existed. I became a devoted fan of Sepia Mutiny (now defunct, but archived) compiled by a group of 2nd generation Indian Americans to voice pan-South Asian-American identity.
They were extraordinarily effective, even impacting national politics when a Republican Presidential candidate called an opponent’s Indian-American aide, ‘Macaca’.
Another eye-opener was 3 Quarks Daily which curates a wide mix of both arts and science stories. I noted the site was publicly endorsed by some of the world’s greatest intellectual heavyweights (to my great pleasure, I was eventually selected to be one of its columnists: see here). And so I started thinking about a blog on Goa.
Until recently, the world (and perhaps especially India) has only seen Goa as a pleasure playground, and thought of Goans as laid-back caricatures. Of course we know different, but it is only when I started exploring and writing about Goa that even I realized the extent of the injustice.
To me, it was clear that Goa is actually a cultural powerhouse of rare distinction, with a great deal to offer the world. What is more, it also comprises an extraordinarily rich physical terrain, much of which is also unknown in the popular imagination. The nail in its coffin, however, is media coverage. The local papers are controlled by shabby vested interests that would prefer not to cover Goa if possible, and the national publications are to a large extent still only interested in the shallowest cliché’s.
So I started Tambdimati as an experiment a couple of years ago, to see what kind of content we could generate: art, music, original writing, translations, news and views, and also to check out what kind of interest there was in this kind of information. The results were eye-opening. First, the flow content that came in – and demanded posting – was unstoppable. 8-10-15 items per day. And the world had changed enough to be hungry for it – within two weeks there were as many as 1,200 unique visitors on the site per day, and newspaper and magazine editors were calling about it. It became too much for me to handle, the site went dormant.
But now help has come in the best possible way, as Prava Rai and Salil Chaturvedi have come to the rescue. Prava edited the marvelous, pioneering Parmal for Goa Heritage Action Group that is a model for publications of its type, and has done Goa immensely proud. And Salil – poet, writer, actor, all-around good guy – is at the heart of the Goa Writers group that all three of us belong to. They have relaunched Tambdimati eons better and more interesting than I had ever imagined: a quarterly magazine of brilliant original content, that will be an ongoing collaborative project with other like-minded writers, editors and artists. I am eternally grateful. And I will be here helping to run the blog, along with a whole team of interesting writers and contributors you are going to love getting to know. Viva!
- Vivek Menezes