- In 2014, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Percival Noronha. That afternoon, over tea, we talked about Senhor Percival's favourite topic - education in Goa. During my first, last, and only encounter with this fountain of information, I learned so much about the Goa that was, and reflected on the Goa that is to be. In a few days, Percival Noronha was to be conferred the Ordem do Merito Comendador, or the Order of Merit Commander, an order given in Portugal to honour those who are responsible for distinguished acts of service in the public or private sphere. It was a great honour, but Noronha who had already received dozens of awards in his 90 plus years put it down to just another feather in an already crowded cap. This is my account of that day.
The in-roads of Fontainhas are steeped in history, and while the keen passer-by draws inspiration from the history and architecture that surrounds, it’s not very often that they get to speak to and hear first-hand, about how the history of the very road they are standing on has come to be. Behind the maroon walls of E-426 in Fontainhas, Panjim, is a living piece of history, who in his 92 years of existence has seen the ups and downs, the advancement and the degradation, and the changing landscape of the state of Goa, and is not afraid to highlight the shortcomings that have slowly polluted the place he calls home.
On September 1, 2014, Percival Noronha was awarded the Ordem do Merito Comendador, or the Order of Merit Commander, an order given in Portugal to honour those who are responsible for distinguished acts of service in the public or private sphere. For Noronha, he was awarded the honour for the many contributions he has made to the Indo-Portuguese culture in Goa, and as it stands, is one of just three living Goans to have such an honour. For Noronha, it is one of many awards that he has received over the years, but for the current generation, it is an inspiration, and a call to be the change that Goa requires.
Losing our education
Much has been written about Noronha, his staunch views about the local governments and the current state of affairs both politically and environmentally. Yet for a man of his advanced years, having accumulated volumes of knowledge beyond the hundreds of books that adorn his shelves, his speech is slow, studied, methodical – almost asking you to pay attention and act. “The youngsters today don’t have culture,” says Noronha disheartened, “they barely know their history. All they are taught to do is mug up.” Having studied at the Lyceum, Noronha regales how even the textbooks that they studied from came from abroad, along with complete laboratory setups. “But it’s all gone now, everything is destroyed,” he says pointing out that the root cause for losing our educational values lies in the frivolous education that is often overcompensated with online reference materials. “Computers today have changed the minds of people,” says Noronha thinking back to when times were simpler, “because back then there were no distractions – just a burning curiosity that could only be satiated through reading; and when you were done reading, you read some more.”
A new generation of awards
Receiving an award such as the Ordem do Merito Comendador is truly a high honour, but Noronha is saddened at the thought that the next Goan awardee may not be from this generation or the coming ones. “We have so many awards for so many things these days,” Noronha says smiling, an odd tooth peeking through his broad grin, “which is why meritorious awardees for honours such as this are becoming rare. I did not ask for this award. This was the result of the passion I had for our culture.” Granted that an award of such merit is given after many years of service and contribution, the sad fact, however, is that children today no longer have a clear path or direction. “The children need to be guided, and this comes back to the system of education,” says Noronha, “because without guidance, children are presented with so many different options thanks to the advancements in technology, that they don’t know what to do – and more importantly, how to apply it.” On a micro level, this may not seem like a concern, but the big picture certainly looks cloudy – especially in the grey eyes of Percival Noronha.
Uprooting our culture
It’s no surprise that the youth are looking for avenues outside Goa, it’s been happening since the 70s. The strangest part is that while the Goan population left for greener pastures abroad, people from other parts of India and the world found a wealth of business opportunity in Goa, and made it their home. “Goans I have noticed are not inclined to get into business – especially the Christians,” says Noronha, the regret apparent in his voice, “they’d rather go hunting for jobs all over the world, but the Hindu population are more business-minded. Our youth need to stay here and help build our land, and keep its culture.” The silver lining, if any, is barely a crack in the sky, but it is there, and Noronha is trying to keep a positive outlook. In his 92 years, he has seen Panjim developing around him, and if not with businesses being started by youngsters, at least they are taking over those that were started by their parents. Being true to the culture of Goa is a step in the right direction, and with a generation of highly opinionated youngsters, Noronha feels that the government needs to nurture and develop their minds, even if that means bringing back subjects such as astronomy and philosophy at a primary level.
Technology has changed the way we look at everything, and like Noronha pointed out earlier, “computers today have changed the mind of people,” but he knows it is necessary for development. Reflecting on a few operations he had undergone in the last few years, Noronha lauded the work of the doctors that stayed with him and used everything that modern science and medicine had to offer to get him back on his feet. Positive development comes from forward-thinking, and the current generation of leaders need to keep the interests of those ahead of them first. “We need to learn to see the future,” Noronha says philosophically, “because everything around us is just galloping forward. Architects and engineers need to think about how aspects like traffic and population are affecting infrastructure, and work accordingly to build a Goa that can take the weight of the growing population.” Going back to 1907, Noronha recounts the achievements of Horta Costa, the then Portuguese Governor who had, in Noronha’s opinion, the best vision for Goa, including the directive to build the Campal we now have. “It’s not too late to make changes, but they need to be the right changes,” Noronha says, “and it’s our young people and the government that need to work together to do it.”
For almost a century now, Percival Noronha has been paving the link between the past and the present. According to him, the future is bleak, but doesn’t need to be. The Goan youth play a critical role in the future of the state, and like Noronha once took bold steps in his capacity as Chief Information Officer and later Chief Protocol Officer to put various systems in place for the good of information and tourism such as development of Mayem lake, the Farmagudi tourist complex and more, bold steps for change need to be taken once again – and that responsibility lies in the hands of the youth, for the prosperity of their children.
Goa remembers Percival Noronha
Since his demise yesterday, condolences for Percival Noronha have flooded social media. Here is a selection.