From the Book
KNIT INDIA THROUGH LITERATURE – Volume III – the WEST
Born in the year 1944, Damodar Mauzo is one of the outstanding short story writers in the world of Konkani literature. He is of the view that the Goan Christians, who are so well known to him, are not properly portrayed in literature and tries his best to rectify the mistake. His contributions have been recognised and honoured by several literary organisations including the Central Sahitya Akademi, Goa Kala Academy and the Konkani Bhasha Mandal. A few years ago, the Kerala based literary group ‘Surabhi’ organised a three day All India literary seminar at Alwaye. It was there that I had the opportunity to meet with senior Konkani writers like Chandrakant Keni, Damodar Mauzo and Meena Kakodkar. Our mutual association that began there continues even today. During Mauzo’s trips to Chennai and my own trips to Goa, we make it a point to meet up with each other’s families. Mauzo has a soft-natured wife, three lovely daughters and three grand daughters as well.
Although it was your novel Karmelin which won the Sahitya Akademi award, your short stories are said to have enriched Konkani literature. As a famous short story writer, can you trace the origins of the short story genre in Konkani, its growth and also the writers who distinguished themselves in this genre?
Shenoy Goembab, alias Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar, was in fact the first to introduce the modern short story genre to Konkani literature. He was instrumental in launching the Konkani literary movement and guiding it. He also contributed to every genre in Konkani literature. I would call the short story ‘Where did my mother go?’ published in 1928 as the first short story in modern Konkani literature.
Why do you repeatedly use the prefix ‘modern’?
I am using the prefix ‘modern’ because even the sixteenth century, a writer by name Krishnadas Shama was writing short stories in the form of folk tales. Using the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as a base, he created stories using his own imagination, technique etc. Isn’t Krishnadas Shama to be recognised for his efforts that came at a time when no such similar efforts had been made in any other Indian language?
Definitely. What was the theme of Shenoy Goembab’s first short story?
It was based on human emotions. It was the story of a little boy who loses his beloved mother to death. The child constantly wonders where his mother is. The adults around try to console him by saying that she has gone to the house of God. Unable to bear the parting, the child prays that his mother should come back or else that he should be taken to her. The child falls ill soon after and dies as well. One cannot call the theme or the style outstanding and yet it was the first emotion filled short story written over seventy years ago.
Who are the writers who made a significant contribution to the Konkani short story genre after Shenoy Goembab and which were the most outstanding short stories?
Before answering your question, I wish to remind you of a fact. Our primary objective until the liberation of Goa was to protect and revive the Konkani language that had been suppressed during the Portuguese rule. It is a fact that our writers concentrated more on reviving the language and taking it back to the people rather than on experimental efforts, technique, style etc. We have to accept that, as a result, works of outstanding literary value were not really produced in that time period. Besides, you must also be aware of the stringent censorship laws that prevailed here. Since the writers living in Goa were not able to think and function quite as freely as those who lived outside, most of our literature was being produced from outside. The short stories that were part of the first two published Konkani short story collections, Onvllam and Bhuim Chafim, were written by writers living in Karwar and elsewhere. Even those collections were published from Bombay. The youth who went to Bombay and elsewhere in order to pursue higher studies came out with an inter-collegiate literary magazine Vidya, to serve as an outlet for their creative instincts. The students of that time can be credited with having published Konkani one-act plays and also staging them.
What was the Konkani script used in this magazine Vidya?
It was Devanagari. It is the Devanagari script that we have used for writing our language for a long time. At that period, it was common among the Catholics to use the Roman script to write Konkani. Apart from the students’ movement, the Konkani section of the All India Radio, Bombay, also contributed significantly to the growth of our language and literature. Since the censorship laws dampened the literary enthusiasm of the people living in Goa, the writers living in Bombay elsewhere took some consolation from broadcasting their works through the All India Radio. It is a fact that at a time when it was not possible to write or to publish written works, our literature survived with support from the All India Radio. It is unfortunate that although the short stories, poems and plays written by several of our well known writers were broadcast through All India Radio, there were no copies made and many outstanding pieces are today lost to us. Consequently, we are unable to name some of the outstanding short story writers after Shenoy Goembab nor do we have copies of their works for you to read.
I can empathise with you. Such a fate should not befall the creative efforts of any writer.
Despite all these problems, our writers have produced some outstanding works. Writers like Dr. ManoharRai Sardessai, Ravindra Kelkar, A.N. Mhambro, B.B.Borkar and Chandrakant Keni wrote significantly during those dark years.
What was the impact amongst you when India gained her independence in 1947?
You won’t believe this, but post Indian independence things in fact took a turn for the worse. Fearing that the spirit of freedom would spread here from independent India, the Portuguese government began to impose restrictions on travel to Bombay and other places in India. These restrictions not only curbed our freedom of movement but also called a halt to the literary exchanges that had been taking place. I would like to clarify a point here. The British ruled over India only for 150 years. The Portuguese, on the other hand, ruled over us for 450 years and did their best to destroy our culture, language and traditions in the name of religion. It is a wonder that our writers continued their literary efforts despite all this.
A.N. Mhambro’s works are replete with humour and satire, isn’t it? Satire has been used very effectively in stories like Vittu’s key is Lost and Drawer is not opening.
You are quite right. Mhambro was the man who produced works which resembled in style the ‘absurd writing’ genre seen in the West. All the stories in the collection Panaji has now grown old are quite unique. Similarly, Chandrakant Keni was also an expert at introducing several new writing techniques. The four-member team that succeeded them can be credited with having enriched the Konkani short story genre. The four are – forgive me for putting myself first – myself, Pundalik Naik, Sheela Kolambkar and Meena Kakodkar. This team introduced new themes ideas, techniques and usages to the short story genre from the 60’s onto ’70. This period is rightly referred to as the golden era of the Konkani short story genre. Apart from them, writers like N. Shivdas, Thukaram Shet, Gajanan Jog, Datta S. Naik and Mahabaleshwar Sail deserve to be mentioned.
A friend of mine observed that for a long period the Saraswat Brahmins have dominated Konkani literature. Is this true?
This criticism was true till a few years ago but not any longer. Since a good education was easily accessible to them, a good majority of the writers in those days were Brahmins. After independence, the first chief minister Bandodkar ordered for schools to be opened even in the tiniest of villages. It became possible for the younger generation to easily learn the Konkani language, since studying Marathi had made them acquire a mastery over the Devanagari script. After education was made accessible to all, intellectuals began to emerge from the ranks of the till then oppressed and backward classes. The emergence of Pundalik Naik, who belonged to an agricultural family, was a turning point in Konkani literature. Similarly, Gajanan Jog who belongs to the Bhat community also contributed to enriching Konkani short story genre. Mahabaleshwar Sail belongs to Karnataka, a state neighbouring Goa. Among the other noted writers are Devidas Kadam, Prakash Paryekar, Vasant Bhagawant Sawant, and Jayanti Naik. All of these writers brought a certain native flavour to their works. All of them continue to write even today. That is why I can say with all certainty that the Konkani short story genre has a bright future ahead.
Let us talk of Konkani novels now. Is it true that after the first novel written by Shenoy Goembab, the next acknowledged novel was Pundalik Naik’s Acchev? Why was there such a huge time gap?
Shenoy Goembab’s novel Sanvsar Butti was published in 1928. We are proud to acknowledge this as the first Konkani novel. Sanvsar Butti means ‘the deluge’. This novel had philosophical overtones. The novel was all about how all the people of the earth die and begin their journey to heaven. The book is full of profound arguments and counter arguments. I think an English translation will soon be made available. The second was Pundalik Naik’s Acchev. We call Shenoy Goembab’s novel the first and Naik’s novel the second by taking into account only the novels written in the Devanagari script and omitting works written in other scripts.
Why is it that your novel Karmelin and other short stories as well are based on the Catholic community? Can you give us a gist of Karmelin’s story line?
Karmelin is the name of a female character in the novel. She is a Catholic. A long time ago, a number of Goans went abroad for employment and it was even referred to as the Goan Diaspora. They first went to the East African countries that were under the Portuguese rule. With power changed hands there, they started losing their prestige and power. Some of them migrated to Canada, U.S. and Australia. Those who could not go anywhere returned to Goa. When the foreign funds flowing into Goa started drying up, there was a significant impact. At that time, a number of Goan Catholic Christian women went to the Gulf countries in search of employment as aayaas i.e. housemaids. Those who returned from the Gulf after earning good money found themselves being paid new respect, though many mocked at them at their back. I began to ponder over the fact that it was their money and the gifts they gave away which were earning them the deceitful respect. Karmelin was the result.
What kind of experimental works have been published in Konkani? Several modern trends like structuralism, cubism and magic realism which exist in other language literature cannot be found in Konkani. Am I right?
To tell you the truth, I am neither interested in nor am I talented enough to dabble with experimental writing. I don’t think I am the right person to answer your question. Many Konkani writers have tried to experiment with style and techniques and come up with different works. They pick up on the technique that is best suited to the theme of the story and do not stick to any one particular style. Compromising on the theme while attempting to experiment with technique is not acceptable to me. I believe that once the theme is decided, the style will flow naturally. Writers like Pundalik Naik, Chandrakant Keni and Mahabaleshwar Sail try to use modern techniques all the time.
Shenoy Goembab is most often referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Konkani’. A couple of magazine articles however say that it is Pedro Joso DeSouza, a former editor of the Dirvem magazine, who should be called the `Father of Modern Konkani’. What is the reason for such a conflict?
In order to help you understand this, I will have to introduce you to Konkani literature that was published from Mangalore. When the Inquisition Act of the Portuguese was in force, it was not just the Hindus but even a lot of Catholic Christians fled from Goa in order to escape from the oppressive laws of the Portuguese. A few of them settled in Mangalore and launched the Konkani magazine Dirvem. Pedro Joso DeSouza was the editor of the magazine. Most of the magazines were published with the support of churches or religious institutions and did not have reach across very well to literary enthusiasts. Yet, the contributions made by magazines like Dirvem cannot be ignored. Dirvem has to be credited with having provided the Konkani speaking people living in the Kannada speaking region a link with Konkani literature. That apart, there is no dispute over the fact that Goembab is indeed the `Father of Modern Konkani’.
What is your opinion about writers like Edwin D’Souza, Reginaldo Fernandes, Joaquim Santano Alvares and V.J.P. Saldhanha?
The writers whom you have named as well as many others have contributed significantly to enriching Konkani literature. I have regretted my inability to read all of their works as they are written using different scripts. They have written short stories and novels using several scripts including Roman, Kannada and Malayalam. I have read Saldhanha’s ‘By the Grace of God’ which was later transliterated into Devanagari script. It is an outstanding historical novel based on the life of Tipu Sultan. Reginaldo Fernandes is a very popular writer who wrote novels of the romantic genre, similar to Mills and Boon, using the Roman script. His books were sellouts even if five thousand copies were published.
Is it true that the Central Sahitya Akademi award is given only to those books written in Devanagari script?
It is true. Yet, works written in Kannada, Malayalam or other scripts are also considered eligible if they are transliterated into Devanagari script.
Tell me something about your childhood, your family and your dreams?
I was born in this very Majorda village. I now manage the grocer’s shop that my father earlier managed. My life was a very happy one until my father died when I was twelve. My father was the one who encouraged me to pick up the reading habit. It was my mother though who inspired in me an interest in writing and literature. As a child, I have heard my mother narrate folk tales usually adding embellishments of her own. My mother was an illiterate. She accompanied my elder sister to school and slowly picked up the alphabets and started to read simple books herself.
I think your mother must have been a very determined lady!
She was a strong woman who was both determined and stubborn. When I later joined the Margao High School, I was lured by the library there. I have read all the Marathi books there. I had opted for Marathi as the second language. Once, my teacher distributed the essays of all the other students in class but kept mine aside. He asked me why I chose to study the Marathi language. I was frightened thinking that I had made mistakes. He told me that I had the ability to write very well and advised me to take up the study of the French language as that would help me read world famous works of literature. His words encouraged me to write. Meena Kakodkar was my classmate and may recall this incident.
Which was your first published story?
‘Ashok’ was my first published story. Many stories written prior to that have however been broadcast on the Bombay Radio. When I went to Bombay to pursue higher studies, I became acquainted with many people who were associated with literature. When I forwarded my first story for publishing, I was preparing for my exams and so it was a rather haphazard effort. It won the second prize in a short story competition. My second story ‘Waiting for Death’ made me famous.
I have also read that short story about two snakes that try to move from one place to another to escape the severe summer heat and die in the end – a rather unique theme!
You may not believe this. I was seated on the verandah one afternoon gazing out into the garden. A strange feeling overtook me suddenly and I took a few sheaves of paper and started writing- that was how this story was born. The theme must have somehow entered my sub-conscious. It must have been at that moment when the idea had fermented and evolved that I started feeling somewhat strange. All the stories I wrote subsequently were all written after experiencing a similar feeling. ‘Waiting for Death’ was greatly appreciated. I felt deeply honoured when the great writer Lakshman Sardessai not only praised my efforts but also took it upon himself to translate the story into Marathi and published it himself.
Are you trying to promote Hindu–Christian solidarity by writing about Christian characters and describing their customs and practices in detail?
I don’t consciously try to thrust any such thoughts through my writing. It is only natural for me to reflect the surroundings of my birth and childhood in my works. Ninety percent of the population in my native Majorda is Christian. I was born there and grew up amidst them. Many of my school and college mates were Christians. Although we differed in our religious affiliation, I never felt any different from them. While reading stories about Christians as a young boy, I would always wonder why the descriptions were inaccurate or lacking in depth. This in turn inspired me to write myself. Writing about them and creating Christian characters came naturally to me. While writing about a particular sect of people, it is important to understand their feelings and try to empathize with them. Otherwise, the works will prove very shallow. Subhash Bhende, a Marathi writer, has written about Catholic nuns. Yet, the story seems to be lacking in depth as it has not really touched their innermost feelings.
Who are the Konkani writers who have successfully empathized with their subjects?
Many of them. Some of us have been blessed with this ability instinctively. For me, it is the way of life of the Christians. When Pundalik Naik, a farmer’s son, first began to write, literature was still the domain of the upper class. Sitting in their ivory towers, they wrote about the problems of the lower classes but their writings lacked depth. Pundalik Naik was born into those very circumstances and his account of their problems touched the hearts of the readers. He chose to avoid using the literary language and instead adopted the local language and this met with tremendous response. Just like soil that has not seen any cultivation is called virgin soil, it is a matter of pride that some of us have touched upon virgin literary territory.
Let us now move on to general topics. Goa won her independence in 1961. What kind of change has taken place amongst the people of Goa in the years that have followed?
Generally whatever changes – both growth and deterioration – that have taken place in other parts of India, have happened here too. But the most important deterioration is the sense of insecurity that is prevailing in our society. Previously I don’t remember closing the front door of any house, or having iron bars for any window. Look at this house… this hall in which we are sitting and talking has 7 doors and this has been the pattern in olden days. Now all the new houses have only one door, and windows fixed with bars. It is sad that even in my house I had to fix bars to the windows. This one example is enough to throw light on the fact that there has been a deteriorating attitudinal change among the people.
By this statement are you emphasizing that the sense of security was much higher during Portuguese rule and that the deterioration started only with your Liberation?
Certainly. In the earlier days, villages functioned like co-operatives and cared for the needs of the people. Now, things have changed. With the slogan `The land to the tiller” gaining ground, a few Bhatkars (landlords) have become bankrupt. A few farmers have become landowners. Goa’s peace and harmony is affected to a large extent also by the conduct of those migrating to Goa in search of employment. Are you aware that till the year 1973, we did not even have electricity? Yet, there was no lack of peace of mind or happiness.
You had no electricity till 1973? I am shocked! Why was this so? Was it apathy on the part of the government or the inability of the people to fight for their rights?
Both. We had become lethargic on account of 450 years of slavery. There is a word ‘susegad’ in the Portuguese language that refers to the easygoing nature of a person. This word perfectly describes the Goan mentality.
Would you agree with the view that the Goans are a fun loving people who love to drink, dance and be merry?
It is partly true. We want to take life easy and enjoy it to the fullest. Let me explain this with an example. While we open our shops around nine in the morning, after completing all the household chores, we close shop by one for lunch. We open it once again around four and stay on till eight in the evening when we close for the day. The merchants who have come in from outside make it a point to open shop early in the morning and stay open till late at night. This is bringing about a drastic change in our habits. Drinking and dancing is common among the Christians but not so among the Hindus. Even then, those who are seen hanging around the streets in a drunken state are out of towners. The Goans are capable of staying calm and still enjoying their drink.
I read that the Goans have a lot of superstitions. A friend remarked that the presence of small structures bearing the holy cross, similar to the holy Tulsi plant pots, are a manifestation of this. Do you agree?
Not at all. Just like in other states, a few may have some superstitions. The structures bearing the holy cross were mostly built during the Portuguese rule. Most Goans are quite rational in their thinking.
What are your plans with regard to your literary career?
At present, I am tied down by my responsibilities as President of the Konkani Bhasha Mandal. It is tough to spare sufficient time for reading as also writing. I have still managed to gather information for two novels that I am planning to write. I am planning a novel on the lives of the Goans who migrated to East Africa in search of a livelihood. Another is about the Salaulim dam that has been built in south-east Goa. It is about the people who were displaced in order for the dam to be built. Any number of small dams can be built but we are against building big dams. Tremors are occurring frequently on account of the Koyna dam built in Maharashtra.
What are the principles that you uphold in life? Is there any particular philosophy that you subscribe to?
History is trying to teach us many lessons but we are refusing to learn them. Humanitarian considerations should rule supreme in all our attempts to progress in life. I love life and wish to appreciate it to the fullest. I earn to live rather than live to earn. This is my philosophy, my principle.
– December 2000