Interview of Damodar Mauzo with Sivasankari
Born in the year 1944, Damodar Mauzo is one of the outstanding short story writers in the world of Konkani literature. His contributions have been recognised and honoured by several literary organisations including the Central Sahitya Akademi, Goa Kala Academy and the Konkani Bhasha Mandal. .
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.
Courtesy: KNIT INDIA THROUGH LITERATURE – Volume III (The WEST)