RELIGION, POLITICS DESTROY, LITERATURE UNITES! Jnanpith Award comes to Goa…

GOA’S MOTHER TONGUE KONKANI GETS A BOOST: At the Jnanpith Award Ceremony at new Durbar Hall of Raj Bhavan on May 27, 2023 when Goa’s Damodar Mauzo received the 57th Jnanpith Award, 2022. The award-winning writer says that writers must walk the talk or something like that (read his acceptance speech reproduced here elsewhere), they also cannot be cheerleaders for a government! He says Konkani is his mother tongue and has never failed him…here he poses for a group photo with a host of literary dignitaries beginning with Governor of Goa PS Sreedharan Pillai, visiting chief guest from Mumbai lyricist and writer Gulzar, Minister of Art & Culture Govind Gaude, Bharatiya Jnanpith President Justice Virendra Jain, Chairperson- Jnanpith Awards Selection Board’s Pratibha Ray and other dignitaries. Goa’s Konkani literary fraternity, friends, family and well-wishers were also present on the occassion…a happy moment to remember!

THE highest Indian award for literature in any of the scheduled languages of India goes to niz Goenkar and Konkani writer-novelist-short story writer and litterateur extraordinary Damodar Mouzo this year. It was presented to him at a warm and friendly ceremonial affair at the new Durbar Hall of the new Raj Bhavan on May 27, 2023 scheduled for 4pm. Only when I got there I realized it was actually 5pm.
This is because the formal function was preceded by a soft tea service which offered thirst-quenching nimbu pani, tea, coffee, a bite of samosa-pineapple halva if one wished to refresh oneself, and then it was on to the hall. It looked like all of south Goa’s literary and artistic community was present with family and friends including a lot of media too. The new Durbar Hall of the Raj Bhavan has been seeing quite a few literary and cultural programs, several book releases with Governor Sreedharan Pillai himself a writer in his native Malayalam with several books to his credit and more brewing in his literary cap.
This is the first time the Bharatiya Jnanpith trustees including president Justice Virendra Jain were coming to Goa to bless a Goan with an award in his own home state – to Damodar Mauzo or “Bhaee” as so many refer to him in Konkani literary circles. Mauzo’s body of work includes 25 books published in Konkani and one in English, his most famous novel of “Karmelin” (1981) available now translated in several Indian languages including English. “Karmelin” won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983.
The much respected Jnanpith awards were established in 1961 and are akin to the Nobel award for literature for Indian writers in India. It is the oldest and highest Indian literary award presented annually by the Bharatiya Jnanpith trust to an Indian author for outstanding contribution towards literature in any of the 22 scheduled languages recognized in the Indian Constitution. Famous Jnanpith laureates are G Sankara Kurup, Tarashankar Bandhyopadhyay, Mahadevi Varma, Ashapurna Devi, Mahashweta Devi, Kunvar Narain, Nirmal Verma, BK Bhattacharya, Ravindra Kelekar (the only other Goan with a Jnanpith award).
Others who spoke on the occasion were key trustees Justice Vijendra Jain (president) and Aparajita Jain Mahajan (life trustee) along with Governor PS Sreedharan Pillai who did the honours by giving the 57th Jnanpith Award to Damodar Mauzo and later in his speech describing him as the “epitome of the Konkani literary culture.” The governor also compared Mauzo to the Charles Dickens of Konkani! Perhaps because Mauzo in his acceptance speech had ended by quoting Charles Dickens, quoting Mauzo, “I conclude, let me assert my firm belief in love and compassion. I would like to wind up my speech with the words of Charles Dickens: Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” He got some loud applause for that from the audience.
Jnanpith Jury Dr Pratibha Ray, in her charming speech noted that “It is always religion and politics that divide people, while literature unites…” and she too got a great applause with her words. Special guest for the occasion was noted Urdu and Hindi lyricist, writer, filmmaker Gulzar who was all praise for Damodar Mauzo’s passion for his mother tongue of Konkani, while Art & Culture Minister Govind Gaude welcomed everyone for the occasion. Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant was in Delhi but his felicitation message was beamed online. After the function there was a rush from the audience to congratulate the author and it was quite a melee on the lawns outside with folk from south Goa anxious to get back home before it got dark.
We remember Damodar bhaee from an earlier interview in which he categorically stated that writers cannot be cheerleaders of any ruling government. As the co-host of the annual Goa Literary Festival at the Goa International Centre he always played a binding role between those writing in regional languages and those in English; even in Konkani writing there is considerable distress that while Konkani writing in the Devanagiri script is acceptable for awards, Konkani writing in Romi Konkani is not because even Goa has to still officially recognize Konkani literature in the Romi or English alphabet! The irony is: How many Goans read Konkani literature either in the Devanagiri or Romi Konkani today?
Personally, I would say that I’m just an outsider in Goa although I’ve lived here for 23 years! My understanding of Marathi and Konkani is minimal although I much prefer the sound of Konkani than Marathi (having lived in Bombay that was Mumbai for 30 years) – Marathi itself was a Konkan dialect once upon a time but got an earlier boost in standardizing of script and of course a much larger readership. There’s no reason why Konkani literature should not grow more fulsomely and Goans encouraged to read in Konkani! It is after all their mother tongue and everyone in Goa at least should learn it if they want to earn their livelihood in Goa.
It’s a pity that the Goa’s only Konkani daily brought out by the Konkani-loving industrialist Dattaraj Salgaocar, “Sunaprant,” did not grow from strength to strength and had to close down. Sad, to this day it is the Marathi newspapers which continue to flourish in Goa! A real shame.
ON that note it’s avjo, poiteverem, selamat datang, aur revoir, arrivedecci, hasta la vista and vachun yeta here for now!

—Mme Butterfly

From the 57th Jnanpith Award , 2022 brochure…

We do believe that some speeches are worth reproducing and this one by 57th Jnanpith award-winning Damodar Mauzo is certainly worth reading and remembering!

The Acceptance Speech
FRIENDS, seventeen months have passed since the Chairperson of the Jnanpith Jury, my writer friend, Dr Pratibha Ray called me to convey that the jury had unanimously taken the decision to confer the Jnanpith Award of the year 2022 to me.
Even today I vividly recall the 7th day of December 2021, that precise moment of mixed feelings. I may as well share that experience with you now. It was a Tuesday. I have just finished writing an article on one of my favourite writers of Hindi, Manu Bhandari. By the time I emailed that article to Zaag monthly, it was lunch-time. Shaila kept calling me to have my meal. I sat at the dining table and the phone rang. Shaila generally gets irritated when I get calls at lunch-tie. I seemed that the phone too was irritated. It got cut. But the phone was persistent. It rang again only to give the incredible good news. Though the voice of Pratibhaji was recognizable, I couldn’t believe it, `Let us listen to the news,’ I said cautiously. Shaila rushed to put on the TV. The news came on and the first scene we witnessed was heart-breaking. Three days prior to that fourteen innocent workers were mistakenly killed in Nagaland by the Security forces and now their bodies were being handed over to their families. The mothers, sisters, wives and children of the civilians were crying over the loss of their kin. It was an unbearable sight. I changed the channel. This one was lamenting the sorry situation in Ukraine. The scene was that of the US President Biden on High Stake call with the Russian Premier Putin discussing how to put an end to the war tensions. Yet another channel as engaged in evoking the 80 years old memories of the Japanese Bombings of Pearl Harbour, precisely on the 7th of December 1941. And now the NE state of Nagaland was mourning over the accidental killing of innocent family en at the hands of the Indian Security Forces due to mistaken identity. What a paradox! It was a revelation or me, a testament to the reality of life. Well! It isn’t it true that it is such contradictions and incongruities in life that lead us writers to pen stories?
With dampened spirits, I returned to eat my meal. I don’t remember how much I ate. But I am sure I did not do justice to Shaila’s cooking that day.
Once settled, the first thought that came to my mind was that of several talented eminent writers of India who deserved the award. I am sure the jury had a hard time zeroing in on one writer when there were many contenders, many nominees. However, I admit, the announcement did make me feel overwhelmed by joy. But frankly, I did not feel ecstatic or euphoric. I gradually took it in my stride. Because I believe, after all, tomorrow is another day. And the day after, yet another.
This the second time that the Konkani literature has been considered and hailed by the Jnanpith Jury for this prestigious and e highest literary award in the country. My one-time Guru, Ravindra Kelekar who spearheaded the post-Liberation literary movement , was, rightly, the first recipient. We, the Konkani writers have every reason to be proud of him. More so because he is the first essayist to bag the Jnanpith and is second to none so far.
Friends, the most awkward moment arrived when I received the official letter, which read, “You have joined the august league of Jnanpith laureates like G Sankra Kurup, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Mahadevi Varma, Ashapaurna Devi, Mahashweta Devi, Kunvar Narain, Nirmal Vrma, BKBhattacharya, Ravindra Kelekar and others.” I felt with due respect to the trust, they were making a mountain for a mole! Even today, I become self-conscious when compared with these tall giants.
Yet another awkwardness I often face is when I am invited to different events where I am placed on a higher pedestal. That is probably because of the notion that writers live in ivory towers. I am yet to meet a true writer living in the ivory tower. Some believe that writers need not live in ivory towers, but may write in ivory towers. I do write in the ivory tower – my ivory tower is my writing table in my house.
Friends, I am a voracious reader. When I read some lofty readers like Maheshweta Devi or UR Ananthamurthy or T Vasudevan Nair or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Jose Saramago or Haruki Murakami I am in awe. Then a question arises in my mind – why do I write, when thousands of excellent writers have written on almost all the topics under the sky? Why do I experience this urge to write? I write because I have something different to tell and/or to tell something differently. Even to my surprise, some inventive topics come to me prompting me to write. Only last week a writer friend from Kolkata called me excitedly to tell me how, during his research, he had accidentally come across an interesting occurrence related to Goa, in some declassified diplomatic files. How many of you know that the writer Octavio Paz, who was the Mexican ambassador to India then, has played a crucial diplomatic role in the pre and post-Liberation of Goa? Pundit Nehru had used him as a go-between Portugal and India. Such pieces of information stir the imagination of writers. Furthermore, the diverse humanity of Goa, of India, and that of the world has so much to offer than literature will continue to exist and lead the world for centuries to come.
Though the Jnanith award is conferred upon me, I consider, it also to my language, as also to may state as much as it is to me. Goa and Konkani are close to my heart. I can give umpteen reasons why I am proud of my tiny state which is beautiful and bountiful in nature and greenery. But it is the people that beckon my attention. The exponent of Pali and the Buddhist scholar Acharya Dharmanand Kosambi and his mathematician wizard son, DD Kosambi are the jewels of Goa. Goa is a homeland to many forms of art. It has contributed richly to Music, Theatre, Painting and Literature. We have produced giants like architect Charles Correia and the theologian and Sanskrit scholar Dr Jose Pereira. Indian classical vocalists like Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Kishori Amonkar and Pundit Jeetendra Abhiseheki. We also boast of our world-famous versatile painters like Angelo da Fonseca who struggled to Indianize Christian art, the modernist FN Souza, known for absurdity, Vasudev Gaitonde known for his abstract paintings and Laxman Pai whose works put Goa on global art map. We have given the best jazz maestros to Bollywood in the form of Anthony Gonsalves, Chic Chocolate and the famous Chris Perry; the living legends Remo Fernandes, and Lorna and the fado singer Sonia Sirsat. Goans are known for their love for theatre. Dinanath Mangeshkar was the product of Goa. The living celebrity writer Pundalik Naik is a master playwright. Pioneered by Pai Tiatristo Agostin Fernandes, the popular Teatro (a form of drama) continues to draw thousands. Take almost any field and you will find Goans excelling in that genre.
I draw my inspiration from my land, my people, and my language. To express my ideas, my language has never let me down. I love my language so much – that today I feel overwhelmed when I see my language Konkani, in turn, loves me as much.
Jnanpith has come to Konkani for the second time. It is a shot in the arm for my language which is not known to many of my countrymen, and not without reason. How many of you know that Konkani has suffered tremendous blows at the hands of its history? Has anybody heard of the decree passed by the Portuguese in 1684 banning the use of Konkani, even in speech? And its sufferings at the hands of its geography of Kokanis? I am referring to the exodus that happened four centuries back that led to the diaspora of Konkani people, mainly to the south of Goa to Karnataka and Kerala. It is to the credit of two nineteenth century giants that they restored the literary language. Eduardo Jose Bruno de Souza who started the first periodical, Udentachem Sallok, and the backbreaking efforts of Shenoy Goembab who is known as the Father of Modern Konkani Literature. Goa was liberated from colonial rule nearly fourteen- and-half years after India earned her independence. Linguistic states were already formed by then. Konkani language and literature had to struggle hard to earn their glory even after the liberation of Goa. But the sacrifice of her sons has yielded fruit as we see her grow in steady strides. Nevertheless, very few people in the country know that literature is thriving in Konkani.
I recently met at a lit fest the Nobel laureate Abdul Razak Gurnah who hailed originally from East Africa. He was curious to know about my language. He admitted that he had never heard of Konkani even though there were hundreds of Goans living in Zanzibar when he was young. This reminds me of yet another Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk whom I met in Goa some years ago. I was invited by my writer friend Amitav Ghosh to dine with him when Mr Pamuk was curious to know about the state language. He took keen interest as I spoke of the multiple scripts that were adopted to write Konkani. I remember, how he lamented that the Turks had lost their original script. Of late, as I roam all over, I realize that people have started looking at Konkani with a sense of admiration and respect. Thanks to Jnanpith.
Friends, at many interviews I was asked about the state of affairs on the Indian literary front. Frankly, I feel that true and good literature is forging ahead along the not-so-pucca road. We need to identify and address the problems that are blocking the literary roadways. Our Minister for National Highways is doing excellent work. But we also need another kind of a highway that will smoothen the fast pace of literature by clearing the hurdles and the apprehensions in the minds of our writers, by strengthening the linguistic bridges of translations, and by creating an atmosphere that will ensue the freedom of expression.
I often hear people complaining that the present generation is drifting away from literature. I don’t agree. If we introspect we will realize that our writers and our writings are drifting away from people. Make people identify with the writings and they will turn to literature, I feel.
As I conclude, let me assert my firm belief in love and compassion. I would like to wind up my speech with the words of Charles Dickens: Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.
—Damodar Mauzo, Panaji, Goa,
May 27, 2023

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