Sunday, 23 February 2014

Goan Literature: Fixing the Blind Spots



-Brian Mendonca

Goan literature has largely come to be represented by a clutch of writers who have the benefit of mainstream publishers to publish their work. The larger community of writers writing in Goa and on Goa has been largely consigned to the dustbin of history simply because they have no publishing agents for themselves and because they are more concerned to do what they do best, i.e. write.

Further, Goan literature is rarely seen as a simulacrum of thoughts of a number of languages – Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese to name a few– rather than only in English. This linguistic chauvinism does disservice to the body of literature written about Goa, inspired by Goa, as a whole. With a house divided, English language publishers have been content to romp home with bankable writers to the gross neglect of closet genres like poetry, or to the utter chagrin of Goan writers in other languages.

Goan literature rarely figures on the radar of Indian literature, in journals, or other publications on the internet. Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature which routinely showcases creative writing from all the states of India has rarely featured Goan writers in English or in translation. This may be due to the reticence of Goan writers to share their work with a wider community. Inserting Goa in the discourse of the nation – or even internationally - has not received the priority it deserves. Recent anthologies despite their seemingly inclusive titles have given contemporary Goan poetry in English or in translation a wide berth. (D’Souza 2012; Sen 2012) Often it is poets writing outside Goa who routinely speak for the state with depressing regularity. A matter of lament is that the Goa University itself does not prescribe any Goan poetry in English or in translation at the final year of its undergraduate course misleadingly titled ‘Goan Writing.’

This collection of writings by Muse India – the first of its kind – attempts to address some of these blind spots. It has stayed away from the beaten path and has tried to recuperate a tradition of Goan writing which is inclusive both linguistically and generically. While it is in no way comprehensive, it points the way to a third space where a comity of linguistic traditions can throw light on the prism of creative writing on Goa.

Using painting as a literary trope, Benedito Ferrão follows the Goan artist Vamona Navelkar across three continents to chart a narrative of the post-colonial. Vamona’s lost suitcase becomes the signifier of an essence of what has been. Ben Antao takes a call on Goan fiction in English from Lambert Mascarenhas’s Sorrowing Lies My Land (1951) to Savia Veigas’s Let Me Tell You About Quinta (2011). He also profiles a few contemporary Goan poets and their poetry in English. Dr Kiran Budkuley traces the evolution of modern Konkani classics from the time of the suppression of the language in Goa by the Portuguese decree of 1684 to its flowering in the poetry and novels of ManoharRai SarDessai and Mahableshwar Sail respectively. Dr.Paul Melo e Castro profiles the Portuguese-language Goan short story from the turn of the 19th century. Vidya Pai writes about her project of translating Konkani into English. English theatre in Goa is presented by Isabel Santa Rita Vas the theatre enthusiast of the Mustard Seed Art Company. On the process of writing , Jessica Faleiro shares with us what went into writing Afterlife (2012) -- her collection of ghost stories from Goa. Amidst all this, Dr Rajan Barrett calls for introspection on the ‘gap’ in Goan literature.

From the parched land observed by the palm tree in ‘Maad’ -- Pundalik’s Naik’s short story in Konkani -- to the remorse felt by the rain child in Tanya Mendonsa’s poem in English, we see the many moods of Goa. From Banda, a village across the border of Goa, Sant Sohirabanath Ambiye exhorted us in his abhang in Marathi: Haribhajanavin Kaal Ghalawu nako re/Antaricha Jnandeep Malawu nako re [Do not while away time without praising Hari, the Lord; Do not extinguish the lamp of insight in your heart.] (Sonak, 2013) Taking a more secular stance, Silva Coelho in his Portuguese short story lays bare the intricacies of love observing, ‘Amar é Sofrer’ ‘To love is to Suffer.’

Candid interviews by Damodar Mauzo and Margaret Mascarenhas project Goan literature as a trans-global phenomenon with over-arching themes yet rooted in a search for the Goan self. In a  refreshing ‘Perspective’ entitled ‘Goa to Me’ Dr Teresa Albuquerque lays out the enduring allure of Goa over the years. Short stories, poems, novel-excerpts and book reviews give a sampling of Goan writing. Anita Pinto opens the field to a delightful garden of Goan stories for children.

Goa defies description – or classification. What we can offer are only routes to understand Goa through the creative writings on Goa.  This is not the Goa which abounds in clichés – created and consumed by the cabal. Since the past, writers and poets, and dramatists have responded to the vicissitudes of the times in Goa, its tumultuous history, its ever-changing landscape. This assemblage taps into the Goan diaspora in Goa as well as elsewhere.

Stalwarts who have led the way have placed Goan literature in English on a firm footing. Victor-Rangel Ribeiro’s novel Tivolem (1998), Manohar Shetty’s and Eunice D’Souza’s poems on Goa, and Aurora Couto’s magisterial Goa: A Daughter’s Story (2004) are literary signposts in their own right.

What is fascinating are the numerous titles being brought out in English today exploring Goan themes. On my table are Modern Goan Short Stories (2002) by Luis S. Rita Vas; the trilingual effort by ManoharRai SarDessai, My Song, Ma Chanson, O Meu Canto (2008); Goa Masala: An Anthology of Stories by Canadian Goans (2010); Songs of the Survivors(2007) edited by Yvonne Vaz Ezdani on Goans in Burma and inside/out: New Writing from Goa (2011) edited by Helene Menezes and José Lourenço. One collection of memoirs on Goa – A Matter of Time (2013)-- follows on the heels of another of short stories. Home-grown publishing ventures in Goa like Goa 1556, Goa Writers, and Broadway Books have been in the forefront in making possible this literary cornucopia.

It is unfortunate that Parmal an elegant socio-literary journal published by Goa Heritage Action Group no longer publishes its volumes. More such literary magazines – preferably multi-lingual -- devoted to writing on Goa are the need of the hour.

I have been overwhelmed by the response to this issue on Goan literature. Submissions for this issue were invited through press notes in Navhind Times, the local daily, the entire month of May 2013. Similar appeals were made in online forums like Goanet and Goa Book Club. I thank all the contributors to this golden jubilee issue of Muse India. Special mention must be made of Benedito Ferrão and Frederick Noronha whose valuable suggestions and networking changed the complexion of the issue. A big thank you to the genial Mel D’Souza for his meticulous illustrations on Goa. Thanks are also due to Anne Ketteringham for making available the images of Vamona Navelkar’s paintings.
It is my privilege to thank Muse India and its dynamic team led by Surya Rao for conceptualizing an issue – their 50th – on Goan literature.
Basking on the banks of the Zuari river at Bonney’s restaurant, Cortalim before a Goan fish curry rice -- and a thunderous shower -- you can just about notice the fishing net on the clothesline behind me. Awed by the vastness of the Goan waters I have somewhat tremulously cast my net. Welcome to the literary repast in Goa.
Works Cited
D’Souza, Eunice and Melanie Silgardo. Eds. These My Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry. Delhi: Penguin, 2012.
Sen, Sudeep. Ed. The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry 1950-2010.Noida: Harper Collins. 2012.
Sonak, Sushama. (2013) 'Goan Literature in Marathi'. Working Paper.
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Editorial Comment by Brian Mendonca, Guest Editor of issue 50 on Goan Literature in  of Muse India - the literary ejournal (July-August 2013) http://www.museindia.com/viewarchive.asp?myr=2013&issid=50; Pix of river Zuari from Bonney's restaurant, Goa by Brian Mendonca

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