When I shifted base from Mumbai to Goa last year, I already knew it was a paradise for “culture vulture” types like me. Live music, art and design, performance, cinema, literature and intellectual discourse, community based activism, spirituality – these are a few of the things that give me my “highs” – and I firmly believe there’s no place in India better than Goa get one’s daily fix of any of these addictions (apart from more potent ones, of course, but those aren’t quite my scene!).
Rarely if ever would I encounter people I met in any of these circles at events in another. Most of the Panjim Goan elite I would see at a consulate event had no clue whatsoever about what happened an hour away in Arambol; Calangute western classical music and jazz lovers were unlikely to be seen at a Hindustani music recital at the Kala Academy (or vice versa!); Anjuna yogis, healers and new age therapists remained largely disconnected from the struggles of Goan village communities against huge destructive real estate projects. Clearly, the silo syndrome existed as much in Goa as anywhere else.
I first came across it on Facebook. There was a documentary “Nero’s Guests” being screened on the subject of farmers’ suicides; and although quite a few active film clubs exist in Goa, a serious political documentary screenings of this sort is rare.
The 6 Assagao space, which I hadn’t visited till then, took my breath away. The screening was open air, under the trees, in the lawns of a beautiful Indo-Portuguese villa. The venue was atmospherically lit, with charming handcrafted lanterns. There was a palpable intimacy abot the space that was immediately endearing. There must have been barely fifteen or twenty people in the audience; and a small projector and screen had been set up. A soft spoken bespectacled young man (whom I later came to know as Nilankur) briefly introduced the presenter of the evening event – US returned software engineer turned organic clothing entrepreneur Apurva Kothari.
The film Apurva screened was followed by him talking about his brand of organic clothing No Nasties; and the story of why he chose to set it up. This was followed by an animated discussion on organic farming. Having worked on a TV show which had featured this subject in one of its episodes, i was able to share some little knowledge and experience of the subject. Many others present too had interesting contributions to make – whether it was a local practitioner and evangelist of organic farming; a writer cum foodie who eats organic eggs only; a handloom weaver from Italy who works closely with traditional artisans from India; a healer from Spain connected with the organic movement there; and many other participants who had come hoping to learn more about a more organic centric lifestyle. After the formal discussion concluded, informal conversations continued; and in that intimate atmosphere, strangers I was meeting for the first time quickly and easily became friends, recognising that we were on the same wavelength. When I left 6 Assagao hat night, I felt energised in a very special way.
This would been sometime in December 2014.
Ever since, on almost every Monday that I have been in Goa (and Nilankur will vouch for this!), I have been a faithful visitor to 6 Assagao. I would actually say that it has become a reference point for my life in Goa; one of the big reasons that makes Goa so special for me.
To me, what is particularly remarkable about the space is how eclectic it is, both in terms of the people who visit and the events that happen there.
Some especially memorable Mondays come to mind – performance artist Nikhil Chopra’s introduction to body art, which I’d only known vaguely about till then; Arushi Singh and Sameer Thakur’s fascinating presentation on the Pleasure of Sex project, about how we need to start bringing sexual pleasure out of the closet; pioneering cyber activist Frederick Noronha on the history of Goa’s cyber communities; committed green warrior Claude Alvares and financial wiz turned activist Rahul Basu outlining the contours of their campaign for Universal Basic Income; Hartman D’souza and his wonderful Space Theatre ensemble presenting their new show with poetry and harmonies; mouth harp evangelist Neptune introducing the sound of this amazingly versatile instrument; Isha Anand and her colleague ____talking about the Steiner system for education; Anushyeh, a singer from Bangladesh and her husband Seth Pandurang enthralling us with some amazing Baul melodies; and writer and actor Amit Tiwari presenting the cult indie comedy he stars in called “Suleimani Keeda”. The list could go on and on. Where else could one encounter such a fascinating array of individuals and ideas!
At 6 Assagao, for the first time, I found Goa’s different worlds intersecting – artists talking to activists, social scientists talking to entrepreneurs, new age spiritual practitioners talking to Goan locals – and engaging with each other through stimulating, productive conversations.
Slowly I began to realise that what was happening at 6 Assagao was quite extraordinary. This was a space that was able to encapsulate and embrace the varied dimensions of Goa’s alternative ethos.
6 Assagao is doing a great job at building social capital, linking people, and stimulating Goa’s intellectual life. Just what is needed. We need more such initiatives.
—Frederick Noronha, independent journalist and alternate publisher
6 Assagao has become a really unique community space in North Goa, bringing together people who care about social change, the arts, the environment and other issues. Goa has a very creative community but sometimes it can feel rather isolated, and 6 Assagao is an antidote to that. As someone running a nonprofit, it has been really wonderful to work with the 6 Assagao team to organise events. Their commitment to giving a platform to worthy events is admirable.
Jessica Mayberry, Founder, Video Volunteers
In the cacophony that’s swamps us endlessly, small blessings are to be found in pockets of creative collectives across our nation; an oasis of solidarity toward humanity where, All for One and One for All resonates personally with all whom are drawn to these spaces.
Goa has one such opportunity: 6 Assagao
A space of strength – physically 6 Assagao is dressed in celebration of our Indian exuberance and deeply connected into the Web of Life.
People Power comes together as a creative experiment in humanity here, a wide array of passions coupled with curiosity bring together a diverse lot of humans to this common ground : an eclectic Goan villa set into a tropical hillside welcomes all possibilities of Human expression. They come from different corners of our Earth to tell stories of our times, where the underdog has a voice and dissent is welcomed. Knowledge with compassion sets public dialogue, sharing cultures adds joyous entertainment, there are many facets to 6 Assagao and all revolve around our humanity for the Bigger Picture – a space where people are celebrated and our Earth is loved.
I first played at 6 Assagao at the end of last July. The concept was a few months old and had already begun to turn into what it is today. In July, during the monsoon the garden area was closed off and we only had the use of the front porch. It was off-season, and we weren’t expecting much of a crowd – a little more than a dozen if we were lucky we, thought. But it didn’t rain and eventually more and more people showed up, spilling out onto the lawn, listening to the music.
Even though the content of the concert programme may remain the same, each classical guitar concert is different. In India, this kind of music is rare and very often the concert goers haven’t heard this kind of music before. At 6 Assagao too, most of the audience was not familiar with the form. However, they were interested. These were people who were privileged to have access to events each week that gave them a space in which they could concentrate, listen and often go home with something to think about. They listened silently. No cell phones went off. Though this was a new form of art to many, the responses to the music, the way each piece was given careful consideration, felt like playing for a concert hall audience anywhere. But it was much more than a concert hall – an old Portuguese house in village in the hills, the beach only a short drive away – the setting was exceptional!
I went back to play this year in April. Video Volunteers were on before I played. Video Volunteers empowers people in troubled situations by providing them resources to become video journalists. Communities then become enabled to expose underreported stories, and take action towards justice. It was an unusual mix of events. Classical guitar music is abstract art. This was pure activism. But the combination worked.
There’s a rare balance between art and activism in the events curated at 6 Assagao. Each event is free. Artistes don’t charge for their performances and the audience isn’t ticketed. It’s created a community space for people who live in the area and people visiting Goa to not just observe as silent audiences, but to actively participate. The issues that come into focus here and the people performing are relevant, and somehow out of the mainstream.
Few community spaces like 6 Assagao exist, but it’s extremely important that they do. Apart from the obvious entertainment value each event brings, the existence of a space with curated events like these encourages the development of independent thought, a value that, through content and sheer volume of mainstream media, is becoming more and more irrelevant.
Veda Aggarwal is a classical guitarist, director general of the Indian Guitar Federation, an organisation meant to develop and promote classical guitar in India.
6 Assagao is a beautiful space to work in and to experience. My time leading up to, including and after my poetry reading was defined by warmth, inclusiveness and a genuine, down to earth enthusiasm for my work. I value the friendships I made during my sojourn at 6 Assagao and the evening in the garden reading my words to so many kindred spirits.
When I had started out with Popup Talkies, one of the first real critic and mentor I met was Nilankur at 6 Assagao. His approach and expectation of the quality of content that I bring to 6 Assagao, kept pushing me to search for content which was beyond the obvious.
Attending the events at 6 Assagao, I sensed an energy that is true to the spirit and focused in direction. One can expect to be enriched and to connect with something special, at each of the event that is carefully curated by Nilankur.
In order to understand Thus, a glimpse of the person behind it is essential.
Nilankur Das, fondly called Nil, speaks in a measured cadence. He is reserved yet social. Since I have been around him a lot, I can also tell you that he is a funny guy. He has had me in splits with his humorous and oblique take on various situations, ideas, issues and memories. He has also made me think about those things in newer ways. And he has natural rhythm. The way he lays the beats on a djembe is a lot of fun. In short, I have had wonderful moments with him.
I knew him since he was a young adult. Agreeable and quiet most of the time, he also had a fierce sense of freedom. I knew he would never settle for template living. That’s not his style. His rebellion came with a certain gentleness and that, I believe, is his art.
Right from the beginning, he wanted to do something that had a desirable impact, something that made people aware of the counter currents. I think it was from him I heard the word ‘artivist’ for the first time many years back.
While he wears his artivist skin with humility and ease, you can be at the receiving end if you ruffle his belief system and what he stands for without employing critical thinking. He does have an effective cold shoulder. I have also been guilty of raining down on him with my inherent cynicism. However, he has always had that extra edge with his cool demeanour, ready repartee and firm resolve. The good thing is, on most days, he is a patient man who actually listens to you.
He continues to soldier on for what he believes should be an ideal world – a place where voices of dissent, poetry of the dreamers, music of the marginalised, heartbeat of new thinking, and arts that flow through a lesser known stream can find expression in the clutter of commercialism. I believe this is the DNA of Thus.
I have enjoyed a few evenings at 6 Assagao, where Thus was conceived. Thus is about revitalising critical thinking and increasing the social capital reserves of a community.
I hope Thus not only impacts the collective consciousness of Goa, but all of India. Going by how well the ship has beaten the headwinds thus far, that is a serious possibility.
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