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Writing on Goa.

Goa boasts of literary traditions in several languages--Konkani in Devanagari and Roman scripts, Portuguese, English, Marathi and even a few volumes in French in the late 19th and early 20th century. To an extent, the interest in Goa as a tourist destination has prompted the media to publicize the work of Goan writers, much of which belongs to the last two decades. We need to remember that writing in English and the study of English has come to Goa after centuries of Portuguese domination. The English medium opened up a wider universe of discourse and interaction that synchronized with Goa's Liberation. More importantly, Konkani found its rightful place as the language of Goa only after Liberation. Since the language was banned by colonial diktat, and later revived in Roman script through the intervention of missionaries, it is only with freedom from colonial rule that Konkani literature in Devanagari script was reborn with a burst of creative life in full flow.

Any discussion on the writings on Goa needs to be all-pervasive, encompassing themes that deal with the local and the global, diaspora and recent migration, regional identity and national consciousness, language and religious disputes, gender and caste issues, the politics of culture and modernity, industrialization, environmental issues, tourism and the changing face of Goa. There was a vibrant cultural and literary life in Goa in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century. Some would call it elitist, but then it was bound to be, since it was only the landed and the professional who had the leisure and the means for intellectual activity. Even so, a writer like Gip, for instance, in Jacob e Dulce mocked his class, its hypocrisies, pretensions and superciliousness, as did Jose da Silva Coelho in the 1920s taking on a wider spectrum of society. Francisco Luis Gomes's Os Brahmanes several decades earlier had dealt with social structure and caste. Until the 1940s, there was also a steady stream of polemical prose in Portuguese by a small elite--razor sharp, laced with irony and deeply humanist: Luis de Menezes Braganza, Roque Correia-Afonso, generations of the Loyola family who published A India Portuguesa and of the da Costa family who published 0 Ultramar. In the early 20th century 0 Bharat was published by G.P. Hegdo Desai, while Ramchandra P. V-aidya, the outstanding reformer of the time, published Luz do Oriente with his wife Sitabai Vaidya as editor. Several Goans wrote in English as well as Portuguese. The newspapers of this period reveal parallel movements, Hindu and Catholic, committed to the reform of administration and society.

Bakibab Borkar, Laxmanrao Sardessai, ManoharRai SarDessai and Ravindra Kelekar who began to write in the first half of the 20th century in Marathi and Konkani represent a sensibility born of the interaction with European languages and literatures; this is apparent both in their vision and their use of language. The cultural and religious contexts of their work coalesced in a universal conception of mankind and spirituality. Like Tagore and Gandhi by whom they were profoundly inspired, their perception of India was as a civilization, not merely a nation, an India inhabited by a spiritual people who interacted with other forms of spirituality, be they Muslim or Christian. The cry for freedom was underpinned by passionate evocation of the motherland, as for instance in Lambert Mascarenhas's writings in English. The polemical prose of Uday Bhernbre who wrote in Marathi to support the Konkani cause, his poems and the short stories of Chandrakant Keni are the core of writing in these languages in the first years after Liberation.

However, some of the best writing today expresses the voice of the subaltern. The earliest to focus on exploitation particularly of the Gaudde and Kunbi communities was R.V. Pandit who brought modern techniques to the writing of poetry; he famously burst into print with five volumes of verse published at once. An individualist, an official photographer to Mahatma Gandhi and something of a maverick genius, he is one of the few Konkani poets to have his work translated into English. The plight of the landless, the powerlessness of the mundkar (feudal tenant), the cry of a village devastated by mining as in Pundalik Naik's Acchev (Upheaval), Mahabaleshwar Sail's Yuga Sam war which addresses the experience of the Inquisition, Damodar Mauzo who bridges the Catholic-Hindu cultural ethos in his work, all represent the variety and relevance of contemporary writing. Sheela Naik Kolambkar's short stories and essays illumine the experience of women from varied strata of society, while Jayanthi Naik concentrates on Goan folk culture. Suresh Amonkar's unique project of translation has introduced the Goan to major religious texts of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity in Konkani in Devanagari script. Amonkar's greatest challenge was the translation of the 17th-century Christie Purana by the English Jesuit Thomas Stephens. His seminal work of outstanding scholarship reflects an inter-faith understanding underpinned by deep spirituality.

In the last decade, creative writing workshops led by Victor Rangel Ribeiro and the formation of the Goa Writers Group has provided stimulus and momentum--with the establishment in mid-2007 of an alternative book publishing venture focusing on Goa, which has already published two dozen books and from all accounts has a steady stream of manuscripts that await publication.

What gives Goan writing its relevance is its angst often expressed with wit and irony. We seem to write elegiac requiems for what is dying. What is important, surely, is the fact that we should endeavour to endure if not resolve contradictions. Nehru called them peculiarities but Bakibab Borkar called it the still persistent heartbeat of humanism--veglench munxaponn. It is this rare characteristic that gives the best of Goan writing its special dimension. This quality helped the Goans resolve contradictions and live through the terrors of the Inquisition.

Just as the traumas of Partition are now being explored in literature and film with openness and creative freedom, Goans too have begun to look both at their past and the degradations and issues of the present: conversion; transformation of culture; caste and religious divisions that persist; the despoilment and exploitation of Goa's best resource, its environment; a headlong plunge into the culture of greed. Writers have drawn strength from the persistence of memory, documenting transitions, envisioning renewal, drawing strength from a heritage of music and prayer in which the Goan soul is embedded: Hindustani and Carnatic music, Gregorian chants, the loud-throated singing of hymns in chapels and churches, the bhajans in temples, the architecture of temple and church, and above all, the unique Goan home, no matter how humble, always surrounded by a garden, the blessedness of a landscape now being violated.

Yes there are problems. Identity is an onion: if you peel it you will shed tears, and there will soon be nothing left. And there is a danger of nothing being left of our Goan identity since we seem to have become adept at peeling it away to look for something that is lost in the face of abrupt and unstoppable change. Today Goans do not bear enough children to attain even the replacement rate. So are we headed towards multiple identities and languages? Whereas writers and journalists of earlier times castigated the hypocrisy and prudery of society, writers today explore threats to the secular state in a society where communal harmony was once the norm, demographic changes which affect language and way of life, and pressures on our inherited composite identity that emanate from an agricultural base having been abandoned for a headlong plunge into quick-fix solutions through unplanned growth.

What one hopes will always remain is curiosity and the courage to face challenges--a fractured society, a fractured identity, the globalized village, the two cultures of India and the West combining and often diverging, and the articulation of a new grammar of tradition and modernity. This is what will give Goan writing its market and significance. A multilingual society can articulate itself in the Panglossian tradition of creating separate worlds, with the modification that the Goan does not claim to write about his world being the best of possible worlds. Perhaps this humility and confession is what endears him to the reader. Who cares for the critic's frown, locked up in a straitjacket of regimented and dogmatic forms? None of this is for Goa.
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Title Annotation:PERSPECTIVES
Author:Couto, Maria Aurora
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Previous Article:Literature from the Konkan coast.
Next Article:Notes of a Native Son.

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