Monday, December 14, 2015

What to do in Panjim/Panaji, Goa? - City Walks, Libraries and Astronomy Centers

My friend in Panjim promised to take me around the city. He knew where the good places where. We start the morning at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is a structure that houses the relics of saint francis xavier. I remember reading up on the life of St Xavier. How he gave up a rich upbringing, to spread the word God. He had a deep adoration for life around him. I felt like he came from a place of love. Inside the church, it was interesting that nobody asked me my faith. I was allowed to come in and pray nonetheless. There were so many beautiful aspects about faith and religion. I always wanted to ask the leaders of each major religion of the world a question. These religions included Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and more. I assumed they were really wise and enlightened because of their deep study of the scriptures of their religious books. Why did they not find a way to learn from the good values and practices of the other religions? If they all wanted to promote the idea of respect, love, brotherhood, why did they not work together? Why did the wise religious leaders not cooperate with each other?

Later we visited the St. Cathedral Church and also visited a museum nearby that house a large collection of paintings. Many of these paintings were of the various leaders from Portugal that ruled over Goa. There were artifacts like coins, weapons, maps and other goods also present at this museum. Below the painting of each leader, there were the following details

Born ____
Died ____
Remembered For ______

Some of them were remembered for conquests, some of them were remembered for inventions, some of them were remembered for administration of the colonies. Most of them lived for sixty to seventy years. It made me think about death? When would I die? What would I be remembered for? I recalled the words of the artist, Aisha Chowdary who was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis when she made this comment at a conference, 'In 100 years time, everyone in this room is going to die. Not one person will be alive. We may die at different times. But we all will die someday.' Hmm. I was twenty years old that day. I may survive for another sixty years if I am lucky. That is about 525949 hours, 21914 days, 3130 weeks, 720 months. I have just 720 months left. Just 720 summers left in my life. Wow, that was not too much time. I had to change the world, get married, start a family, travel the world, read every book, make beautiful art, start a company and more. Oh man! I don't have enough time now. If I try doing everything, I will end up doing nothing. If I really want to be remembered for something after my death, I needed to focus on one thing. Just one teeny tiny thing I am crazily passionate about. Hmm, What is that one thing for me? Ah! That is what I am on this journey for. Very cool. But why do I want to be remembered when I am dead and gone? I mean how will it matter to me, if somebody remembers me, if I will never know that they remember me.

In the afternoon, we catch a bus to the panaji library. I thought it would be another broken down building, with books from the last century. Mumbai, the city I came from, was the financial and entertainment capital of the world. This city of dreams, did not have many well resourced public libraries. There were a few in South Mumbai, but not everyone can travel two hours everyday to spend time there. If one of India's most prosperous cities did not have a good library network, what about the tier II and tier III cities. If people don't have access to knowledge, how would they explore human ideas, how they put forward well researched arguments.  A friend, I recently met in Mumbai, told me about a library in his village in Bihar. He grew up there. There was a retired civil servant that stayed there. He decided to hire a small room in a structure in the village and converted it into a public library. He bought new books and made many of his own books available. Because of his contribution, my friend, was able to spend his childhood, reading Gandhi, Tolstoy and Thoreau. It is mostly people like this that have to take a personal initiative to make such resources available to people in their locality. 

Here in Panaji, there is another such initiative, The Goa State Central Library. We decided to spend the afternoon here. The first floor was the children's section and had over 10,000 books. The second floor was the circulation section and had 70,000 books, both fiction and non-fiction. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors were for Rare manuscripts, a reference section and a portugese books collection respectively. It was open to the public and anybody could spend the day here reading and learning from the wisdom of the ages. Goa also has a very effective village and district level library system. There are well stocked libraries available in most major cities in Goa. I wish more states in India, learned from the example of Goa. The National Public Library in Kolkata is another example, of a well resourced learning center, with a collection of over 2.2 million books. In the colleges that I visited over the past year, I mostly found a collection of technical and subject specific books. There was much work to be done with regard to developing a more diverse collection of both fiction and non-fiction books. I think it is extremely important for both the government and private sector to find ways to make knowledge accessible to the masses. With the advent of the internet, there are questions about, the need of a physical library. But not every individual in the country has access to an internet connection in India.

In the United States of America, the most well resourced, library is the National library of Congress with over 34 million books in its collection as on 2015. The best academic library is the Harvard University Library with 16 million books in its collection. The Boston Public Library has nineteen million book and the New York Public Library had 16 million books in its collection. The New York Public Library functions as a private non-profit with majority of funding from the city government.  Beyond the public and academic setups, the private non-profit library can be another model, administrators can explore to make knowledge accessible to more people. The Harvard University Library, has 8 times the number of books available at the National Library of India in Kolkata. Harvard University has a large endowment fund, but the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in India can find ways to allocate a larger budget to the creation and sustainence of more libraries at the urban, rural, city, village and district level.

In the evening, we visit another learning center after Dinner. It is an astronomy and star gazing club that my friend was a part of. They had their own telescopes and would conduct periodic star gazing trips around the city. They organized public lectures, film screenings and events related to astronomy, physics and the universe. We have a goan dinner of prawns and beer, and then spend the night at one of my friends relatives homes. It was a good day. Goa seemed like a place, I could easily fall in love with.

We visit my friend's ancestral home in the morning. Family photos adorn the wall. At one point of time, over a 100 people stayed here. The puja room was still lit and a priest came every morning to do the daily rituals. The furniture is exquisitely designed. Portraits of family members who looked like members of a royal family were also on the wall.. There is a palanquin in the attic. The storeroom is filled with broken and semi broken toys. An open cupboard with over a thousand keys is spotted in the distance. The house was like a maze, one room leading to another and then we walk into a large lawn. As we walk out of the house, we meet a lady that stares us down and forces us to take notice of her. He notices her, because she is an old member of the house. They have a conversation about the good old times. I observe and wait. I hear a crackle under my feet. I have stepped on a dead leaf. Back at home, we were treated a delicious lunch of goan fish curry and rice. We catch a ferry back to his home in the evening. We spend the night discussing stories and people we have grown up with. This is my last night in Goa. After a heavy morning breakfast, my friend volunteers to drop me to the panaji station. I catch a bus back to madgaon and then jump on my next train. Karnataka, here I come.


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