Reviving cultural traditions

DAMODAR MAUZO and XAVIER COTA

back to issue

ITS natural scenic beauty, abundant greenery and attractive beaches, further enhanced by architecturally beautiful temples and churches, distinguish the emerald land of Goa. A western style of living and an Indian way of thinking, the warm hospitality of the people and the exemplary harmony in which the different communities live, their zeal for singing and dancing, colourful festivities and sumptuous feasts – this is what makes Goa distinctive. Yet, Goa is often negatively portrayed in the media as merely an exotic tourist destination. Reinforcing this image is the Bollywood depiction of Goans as heavy drinkers and a people with low moral values. In addition, much is made of nudism, paedophilia and rave parties.

Goan literature could have played a role in rectifying this image, but the overall atmosphere was never very conducive to literature. The focus of government support too has been on tourism. Public apathy is apparent as reading habits plummet. Yet paradoxically, literary and cultural activities in Goa are on the rise today. The younger generation seems keen to regain past glory and attain greater heights in order to impact mainstream literature and culture of India. The phenomenal resurrection of Konkani language and literature, despite its turbulent past, may have no precedence in history.

Invasion, persecution, religious conversion and the perils of the Inquisition left people divided, destroyed age-old traditions, suppressed the local language and contributed to the imposition of an alien culture. Yet Goan society was able to keep its social fabric intact. The reason probably lies in Goa’s history which helped assimilate a number of races, giving rise to a tolerant and considerate people. Unfortunately, this past has neither been adequately documented in historical texts nor in literature.

That Goa had a rich literary tradition is evident from the writings of Krishnadas Shama preserved by the Portuguese in the Library of Braga, Portugal. It is noteworthy that Shama, an early 16th century writer, wrote his version of the Ramayana and Mahabharata in Konkani prose, this at a time when prose writing was rare in any modern Indo-Aryan language. Krishnadas Shama also wrote in Marathi, but interestingly this was in verse. Unfortunately, we have little knowledge of other works of this period.

The missionaries wrote a number of books in Konkani on the lines of the religious works then available in other Indian languages, especially Marathi. Though the motive behind this basic work was evangelism, it did help the language to flourish for over a century until the 1684 ban on Konkani when the rulers and the missionaries turned hostile towards the local language.

 

 

By the end of the 19th century, the Goan community had submitted to Portuguese rule and its culture absorbed a certain code of behaviour from the rulers, the traits of which are visible today. The Portuguese influenced the dress, cuisine and table manners of certain sections of society, as also the drinking habits and the sheer joie de vivre so reflective of Goan society. Konkani, too, assimilated numerous words and phrases. Though Portuguese literature of the time was not of as high a standard as French or English, the best of European literature was translated into Portuguese. Educated Goans with access to the literature in turn attempted to vent their creative urge in Portuguese.

The 1684 decree issued by the Portuguese Viceroy banning the use of Konkani brought the linguistic and literary activities in Goa to a grinding halt. Though the rulers softened their attitude by the early 19th century, most Konkanis relied on Marathi, Kannada, Portuguese and English as suitable mediums for expression. Not surprisingly, the literature produced during this period, barring notable exceptions like Sohiroba Ambiye’s beautiful devotional poetry in Marathi, was not of a high standard. The novel Os Brahmanes by the great Goan liberal parliamentarian Francisco Luis Gomes, created a tremendous impact in Europe and India. In a smaller way Jacob e Dulce by the satirist Gip caused ripples in Goa as also in faraway Brazil. This flowering of Goan literature in Portuguese came to a premature end with the suppression of republicanism in Portugal in 1910 and the dark days in the country and her colonies with the takeover by the austere Salazar regime in 1930.

One of the more striking aspects of contemporary Goan culture is the co-existence of faiths, despite the religious domination of the rulers that created a religious divide in the Konkani speaking community. The activities of the Goan diaspora, as shaped by the Inquisition and earlier by the Muslim invasions, only added to the divisions. Eventually the language controversy confused and polluted the minds of the people.

It was Tristao de Braganza Cunha who first wrote against the design of the Portuguese rulers to deculture and denationalise the Goan, especially the Christian, community. But the indoctrination of these people was so deep-rooted that he faced opposition from within his own community.

 

 

Many Christians, forced to leave Goa either because of their nationalist leanings or in search of greener pastures, felt the need to express themselves. In the late 19th century (1889) Catholic Goan immigrants to Bombay began to stage the tiatr, a musical production, to give expression to their cultural needs. Alongside, the genre of pulp fiction called Romans in Konkani written in the Roman script pioneered by Eduardo Jose Bruno de Souza in 1890 became popular among the Christian masses. Hindu Goans by then had all but drifted away from literary Konkani, embracing Marathi as the favoured medium of expression. V.S. Sukhtankar, B.B. Borkar and Laxmanrao Sardessai were among the few Goan writers who made a name in Marathi. This was necessarily the literature of the exile.

 

 

Though Konkani continued as the lingua franca, on the literary front it was left in the lurch. At this stage, sensing an identity crisis among his people and realizing the importance of language, Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar (1877-1946) or Shennoi Goembab, the pen name by which he is better-known, attempted to resurrect the language of Goa. He wrote poems, short stories, novels, plays, essays, children’s literature, biographies, and much more.

Goembab’s research on the history of Konkani language, culture and people was hailed by the historians of his time. Konkani’s transition to modernity was thus made easier by his pioneering, backbreaking efforts. Shennoi Goembab was a rare visionary whose rational thinking, voracious reading, tolerant attitude and vision for his people elevated him to a high plateau. In fact, the present resurgence of literary Konkani owes primarily to the untiring efforts of Shennoi Goembab.

The first half of the 20th century saw writers like B.B. Borkar, Laxmanrao Sardessai, Lambert Mascarenhas and Ravindra Kelekar flee Goa to settle in Mumbai because of their nationalist beliefs. Though Borkar and Sardessai achieved fame as writers in Marathi, they also contributed their mite to Konkani. V.S. Sukhtankar who wrote short stories became a pioneer of the regional Marathi story. Lambert Mascarenhas gained fame for his English novel, Sorrowing Lies My Land. But Konkani was yet to be accepted by the masses.

Inspired by Shennoi Goembab’s work, Ravindra Kelekar started a Konkani magazine Mirg, which provided a platform to young emerging writers. With All India Radio, Bombay starting a programme in Konkani, cultural and literary activities received a big boost among Goans in the city. Vidya, a Konkani intercollegiate annual published by Goan college students in Mumbai, published some quality literature. Another activity contributing to the cultural renaissance was the intercollegiate Konkani dramatic competition drawing in different colleges in Mumbai. Mumbai became a focal point because homesick expatriate Goans were starved for cultural activity and partly because there was no scope for such activities in Goa.

 

 

The Liberation of Goa gave a much-needed fillip to cultural and literary activity. The first Marathi daily Gomantak and the English daily The Navhind Times began publication. Curiously, Portuguese suffered a severe setback as, almost overnight, Portuguese speakers – both Christian and to a lesser extent Hindus – abandoned it to escape the stigma of being branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘pro-Portuguese’ and shifted to English. Dailies like O Heraldo, Diario deNoite and A Vida shut down one by one.

With the opening of new schools, Marathi teachers and textbooks flooded in from neighbouring Maharashtra. Konkani which had been suppressed for centuries lacked the infrastructure to take advantage of liberation. Nor were Goans equipped with political wisdom. The upper echelon of bureaucrats brought in on deputation after liberation, too were predominantly from neighbouring Maharashtra, which now staked its claim to Goa.

Encouraged by the abolition of censorship, Konkani journalism took a major step forward with the establishment of Sot, a Konkani daily in the Roman script, started by the freedom fighter Felicio Cardozo. Although others like Divtti, Uzvadd, Novem Goem, Goencho Awaz followed without conspicuous success, Gulab, a monthly, has perhaps the largest circulation of any Konkani publication. Today a quality Devanagari Konkani daily Sunaparant is being published.

 

 

The incorporation of the erstwhile Emissora de Goa into All India Radio provided a boost to Konkani music with Alfred Rose, Lorna and Chris Perry becoming household names in Goa and elsewhere. High quality nataks (dramas), lively khell (plays), panel discussions, interviews and objective local news are testimony to the blooming cultural transformation of a hitherto colonized people.

The establishment of the prestigious Charles Correa designed Kala Academy complex in Panaji by the Government of Goa provided a new avenue for music, drama, painting and literature. Earlier many artists had fled Goa in pursuit of their art, among others the Mangeshkar family, Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar and her daughter Kishori Amonkar, the sister-duo Hirabai Badodekar, Saraswati Rane and Jitendra Abhisheki. The age-old musical traditions got a major boost with the setting-up of this academy. The induction of maestros like the redoubtable Laya-Bhaskar Khaprumam Parvatkar, Maestro Antonio de Figueiredo and Fr. Lourdino Barreto helped popularize the activities at the academy. Western music, already well established in Goa, got a further boost with Kala Academy’s School for Western Music with classical violin, piano, guitar and singing are taught to students. They also play in the student’s orchestra. Western classical music, for long the preserve of Catholics, now attracts students from other communities too.

Natak (Konkani, Marathi) and Tiatr festivals gave a boost to experimental theatre. The Marathi stage found the going easier given the availability of scripts by writers from Maharashtra. Vishnu Surya Wagh is perhaps the only Goan playwright who has written some excellent plays in Marathi. Tiatr, the hilarious form of musical drama popular among the Christians, was already enjoying commercial success. The competitions, however, provided them an additional opportunity to experiment and excel.

It was a gauntlet thrown to Konkani activists who had to write fresh samhitas/scripts to produce and participate in the drama competitions. They rose to the occasion and a new crop of young playwrights soon emerged. Some took to translating and adapting the best of Indian plays in other languages. Pundalik Naik, the most versatile of the writers, wrote excellent plays hailed by one and all.

 

 

It is unfortunate that Konkani writers had to play the dual role of writer and fighter to achieve the three goals dearest to them – official language status to Konkani, statehood for Goa and inclusion of Konkani into the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. They took to the streets, suffered the indignities of tear gas and lathis in the process, but nevertheless succeeded in achieving their goals.

Literature in Goa is produced in four languages: Konkani, Marathi, English and Portuguese. The Portuguese writer, Orlando da Costa, a Goan based in Portugal, wrote the novel, O Signo da Ira based on his nostalgic memories of Goa of the 1940s. But barring the work of Armando Menezes and a few poems, stories and novels there was little new work during this period. The post-liberation literary scenario saw English grow at the cost of Portuguese. Poet and short story writer Manohar Shetty has produced some excellent work. Eunice D’Souza has made a mark on the national map of English literature. Santan Rodrigues, Gerson da Cunha and more recently Brian Mendonsa too have contributed to Goan poetry. English fiction has made a mark with the writings of Dom Moraes, Peter Nazareth and Victor Rangel-Ribeiro. The youngest of them are Sunita Peres da Costa and Margaret Mascarenhas whose novels have attracted wide interest.

 

 

However, most of them live abroad and it is often asked whether they can be labelled as Goan writers. The answer is to be found in their writings. Tivolem, the novel by Victor Rangel-Ribeiro that won the Milkwood National Award in the United States is set in rural Goa of yesteryears. Most of Peter Nazareth’s characters are Goan expatriates in Africa. How can one call it less Goan than Lambert Mascarenhas’ short story collection, In the Womb of Saudade? Undoubtedly, most expatriate Goans find English the most suitable medium for their creative expression.

A monumental book that defies categorization is the recent Goa – A Daughter’s Story by Maria Aurora Couto (Penguin). A painstakingly researched book that stretches over a vast historical canvas, it is already making waves in literary circles across the nation.

Konkani, which was a late entrant in the field of literature due to historical and political reasons, is now racing to catch up. Recognition by the Sahitya Akademi in 1975 provided a tremendous encouragement to literary activities. As with most languages, poetry was the first form to blossom in Konkani literature. Great poets like B.B. Borkar, ManoharRai SarDessai and R.V. Pandit wrote abundant poetry which inspired the younger generation. They were the poets of love, devotion, nature and patriotism. The lyricism in Borkar’s poems, both in Konkani and Marathi, cast a spell on listeners. Interestingly, the bulk of Borkar’s poems in Marathi deal with beauty, love and romance whereas his Konkani poems mainly sing of the social and political aspirations of the land and people of Goa. R.V. Pandit was a prolific poet, deeply rooted in Goan soil. He writes about the woes of the poor, the toiling sons of the soil who are generally taken for granted. ManoharRai Sardessai is perhaps the most influential of the poets. He initially wrote the poetry of exile (in French) during his younger days in France, singing nostalgically of Goa. His poetry in Konkani later blossomed to give expression to almost every emotion, thought and topic.

 

 

Pandurang Bhangi and Shankar Ramani are poets of spirituality and solitude. Their poems though precise are full of imagery, and at times so complex that they border on the unfathomable. Madhav Borkar is another poet who consciously chooses deceptively simple words to enhance his capacity to reach the reader. Nagesh Karmali on the other hand is a poet of anguish, against social injustice. A freedom fighter who consistently targeted alien domination, Karmali is even today regarded as the poet of angry rebellion.

Though Goan poets initially followed in the footsteps of these seniors, the younger writers are now treading unbeaten paths. Ramesh Veluskar’s poems spring out with the flavour and music of folk songs. Unconcerned about textuality, he uses rustic language and even coins his own words. Prakash Padgaokar, though not indifferent to ambiguity, minces no words in his concern for suffering humanity and in targeting apathy and hypocrisy, the hallmark of his poetry. Pundalik Naik, Shankar Bhandari, Gajanan Raikar, Uday Bhembre, Yusuf Shaikh, Jess Fernandes have also made an impact with their poems.

 

 

In Marathi, though poetry continued to be written after Borkar and Ramani, the younger generation did not rise to great heights. Poets like Narendra Bodke and Sudesh Lotlikar have, however, excelled and are hailed as significant poets in Maharashtra as well. Konkani too has a fresh crop of writers with original themes and fresh treatment. Nutan Sakhardande, Nayana Adarkar and Rajashri Sail are poets with intense female sensibility; Bhalchandra Gaumkar and Rajay Pawar too are experimenting with this genre though they are yet to master the form. Paresh Kamat and Nilba Khandekar are young poets worthy of special attention. Nilba’s poems have the fragrance of the soil and the anguish of the sufferer, his language displaying an arrogance of conviction and pristine charm. Paresh Kamat, though young has already made a mark and connoisseurs have hailed his work as a great contribution to Indian poetry.

Kashinath Shamba Lolienkar (a pseudonym) has given some extraordinary poetry to Konkani literature. Most of his poems are in the first person singular. In them he demeans himself as he hits at his own deeds, hypocrisy and blind faith – a unique way of pointing to the fallacies prevalent in society. The language can be profane; his words embarrass the reader, even if read in private. Yet, his work is an eye-opener to those who think that ‘all is well’ around them.

 

 

It is Konkani fiction, however, that has attracted the attention of readers nation-wide. Chandrakant Keni’s story ‘Hippy Girl’, has already been translated and hailed as a landmark story that discusses the Indian ethos vis-à-vis the hippy lifestyle that erupted out of frustration with western ways. His stories and novels, often in the first person, find universal acceptance. Kathika, a shorter form of the story, running into a few hundred words, pioneered by him in Konkani, is his main contribution to fiction.

Damodar Mauzo, Pundalik Naik, Sheela Kolambkar and Meena Kakodkar lifted the Konkani short story to great heights. Lucidity of language, clarity of thought and originality of themes were the main reasons why Konkani fiction became so popular. Soon there was a new team of young writers – N. Shivdas, Gajanan Jog, Datta S. Naik, Olivinho Gomes, Hema Naik, Jayanti Naik, Vasant Bhagwant Sawant – who had something different to say.

‘Guerra’ meaning the war, is a story by Sheela Naik Kolambkar on the post-liberation situation. The woman protagonist’s man, a Portuguese soldier has just been deported, leaving her behind pregnant. Sheela builds up the conflict of two minds with artistic precision. Tukaram Shet’s novella Paklo (white man), explores the psychological turmoil of a young white boy, the offspring of a Portuguese father. When addressed by other children as ‘Paklo’ he takes offence. The subject touches upon a problem which was prevalent in that period.

The end of the 20th century saw many young writers from the downtrodden strata disowning the sensibility of the classes and writing from the perspective of the masses. Be it the feminist writings of Hema Naik or the Dalit sensibility displayed by Dadu Mandrekar, the new generation writer is seen interrogating our status quoist notions mainly formed by 450 years of political suppression. Today Prakash Pariekar, Ramnath Gawade, Ramesh Laad are endeavouring to enrich Konkani short fiction. Konkani writers have realized the inherent strength of the language. Through their work, they spread the message of social justice, equality and rationality. The themes, though concerned with Goan problems, are universal in nature.

 

 

The much-discussed trilogy of novels in Konkani considered as milestones, are now available to English readers in translation. Pundalik Naik’s Atchhev, published in translation as ‘The Upheaval’ by Oxford University Press, discusses how the mining boom tears apart the moral fabric of a village. The novel written in rustic language brings out the hidden treasure of Konkani, provides an insight into the psyche of the people and depicts the rural lifestyle of the poor. The writer tactfully narrates how environmental upsets, ecological imbalances and the downfall of moral values lead to cultural upheaval in rural Goa.

Damodar Mauzo’s Karmelin tackles yet another issue that relates to the womenfolk who, driven by domestic circumstances, find themselves in the Gulf countries as ayahs only to face the perversities of their bosses. The novel, dispassionately written, with no malice towards any character, succeeds in creating sympathy for the protagonist Karmelin despite her outwardly immoral character. The lower middle class Catholic milieu, so rarely well projected in Goan literature, is a revealing experience for the reader. The Sahitya Akademi award-winning novel has been published in several Indian languages and English. Kali Ganga by Mahabaleshwar Sail opens up a new vista for readers. The novel unfolds the life of the people in Karnataka villages bordering Goa on the banks of the Kali. The title is symbolic of the life of the people – dark with sorrow, yet pure as the Ganga. The pun is therefore significant. The novel reminds the discerning reader of the great epic novel, Maralli Mannige by Shivram Karanth.

Goan short fiction has entered many national anthologies but remains to be showcased for English readers, barring the anthology Ferry Crossing edited by Manohar Shetty (Penguin). The anthology has been well received by reviewers. The three novels which have been translated into English have also been reviewed favourably.

 

 

Pursuing a different genre is the thought-provoking essayist Ravindra Kelekar, who has made a tremendous contribution to Goan literature. His essays debate local and global problems with a lucidity of expression that makes difficult topics readable and enjoyable. His writings are aimed at both the common people and the intelligentsia. Kelekar is a thought-provoking writer whose undying zeal has attracted many young writers into literature. Kelekar’s Mahabharat: Ek Anusarjan (two volumes), a transcreation in Konkani of the Mahabharat, is itself an epic with a difference. In his version of the Mahabharat, Kelekar has successfully rationalized mythological characters and events. Both his interpretations and writing style are refreshing. Tathaagat is yet another voluminous exploration of the philosophy and life of Lord Buddha, told with a difference.

There is hardly a genre that Kelekar has not explored. Besides essays, which are his forte, he has written fiction, plays and also juvenile literature. The topics vary from religion to politics, environment to economics, theology to astronomy, sociology to philosophy and fiction to orthography. His style is lucid and the flow of thoughts easy. He establishes a rapport with readers who care about things that matter. Better-known in Goa as a philosopher thinker-writer, Kelekar writes fluently in Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati and is equally well versed in Portuguese and English. His Mahatma Gandhi: Ek Jeevani in Hindi (1985), has been widely acclaimed and translated.

 

 

In the field of folklore, Goa Konkani Akademi endeavours to document and preserve the rich folklore of Goa. Jayanti Naik has done some wonderful work exploring the lok-ved of Konkani. But what Konkani literature sorely misses is ‘criticism’. Kiran Budkuley and Nandkumar Kamat’s worthy contributions need to be supplemented. Small magazines too are rare with the exception of Zaag monthly. A quarterly magazine of poetry, Rutu, is a gratifying addition. The Diwali special issues and the newspaper supplements are a great source of encouragement to writers. The recent emphasis on the youth through various contests and holding of the Yuva Sahitya Sammelans on a yearly basis provides much-required encouragement to the literary talent among the youth.

The picture on the cultural side, is not very encouraging. Post-liberation developments were not conducive to the preservation of our culture. Shigmo and the Carnival are two facets of our culture. In a mad rush to rope in tourists, the festivals have been commercialized and bureaucratized. In the process the real Carnival and Shigmo appear to have been lost. The newfound mobility, paradoxically, has taken the performers and audience from the villages into towns. The commercialization of these folk activities is killing the art. Soon they may only exist as items on the tourist agenda.

 

 

However, ‘khell’, a form of street play performed during the Carnival, has undergone a metamorphosis into ‘khell-tiatr’ – a welcome combination of khell and tiatr. But the Zagor, a form of folk dance common to both the communities of Goa, is in danger of dying. Pernni Zagor or Shena Zagor is already extinct in many places.

The tradition of Ganesh, Diwali and Christmas festivals are also undergoing change. The family Ganesh festival is gradually giving way to the sarvajanik or public Ganeshotsav; the camaraderie of Diwali has already given way to the spectacle of Narakasur contests with readymade mithai boxes elbowing out various dishes of pohas. Christmas is still a big feast but the touristy-image projected, obscures its loss as a family festival.

In the wake of this situation, Konkani Bhasha Mandal’s annual Goa Yuva Mahotsav showcasing different culture-oriented competitions, has generated tremendous enthusiasm. All-Goa Yuva Sahitya Sammelans too, are weaning the youth back to literature. Yet another milestone was the organization of the All India Konkani Music Festival started three years back. For the first time, audiences jam-pack the two-day musical extravaganza performed by and for both the communities.

In a Goa being rapidly swamped by the tidal wave of international tourism and so-called development, literature and culture will increasingly have to serve as firm anchors for Goans.

top