No Indian language has been as splintered as Konkani. This “oldest of modern Indo-Aryan tongues", according to the polymathic scholar Jose Pereira, has undergone extraordinary tribulations—persistent pressure from more powerful regional languages like Marathi and Kannada, a long period of violent suppression during the Inquisition years in Goa (1560-1812), the consequent struggle for survival through waves of diaspora, and then a ferocious postcolonial agitation, which finally resulted in its acceptance in 1992 as an official language under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

That roller-coaster history has produced a unique situation—native speakers now write the language of the Konkan in five different scripts: Devanagari, Kannada, Malayalam, Perso-Arabic and Roman. And while just over two million speakers of Konkani are distributed along India’s western coastline, they have developed dozens of variant dialects and pronunciation styles, almost to the point of mutual incomprehension. It has taken considerable revivalist energy over a full century in Goa (where it is the official state language) and Mangaluru to restore Konkani’s literary trajectory.

Given that bumpy ride back to literature, the 14 stories in translation that comprise Damodar Mauzo’s wonderfully varied compilation, Teresa’s Man And Other Stories From Goa, definitely indicate that contemporary Goan-Konkani writing merits far greater attention than usually comes its way.

While Mauzo and his close contemporaries, Pundalik Naik and Mahabaleshwar Sail, have consistently won Sahitya Akademi awards and national recognition, it is only recently that a substantial corpus of their work has begun to appear in English translation. The lively, consistently surprising Teresa’s Man holds out the promise of many more unexpected pleasures in the Goan-Konkani literary storehouse.

More than any other writer in contemporary Konkani literature, Mauzo epitomizes the multilayered, profoundly confluent identity of Goans. He grew up in a Hindu family surrounded by Catholic neighbours in the gorgeous seaside village of Majorda, where the sense of community blurred all boundaries. He often recounts that at a particular time in his infancy, he was nursed by his mother’s friend, whose own baby grew up to become “Maestro" Anthony Gonsalves, the legendary musician who helped create “the sound of Bollywood".

Most of Mauzo’s books and short stories are about Goans with Catholic names, but he writes about this world strictly as an insider. Which makes perfect sense in Majorda (and the rest of India’s smallest state) but almost certainly wouldn’t work anywhere else.

Then, as though specifically to further confound stereotypical conventions, many of Mauzo’s most important stories have been written from a woman’s perspective. This includes the stellar novel Karmelin, a courageous and tender portrayal of a guest worker in Kuwait that is probably the single greatest achievement in Konkani literature.

Teresa’s Man And Other Stories From Goa: Translated by Xavier Cota, Rupa, 200 pages, 250.
Teresa’s Man And Other Stories From Goa: Translated by Xavier Cota, Rupa, 200 pages, 250.

The first story in the new compilation is set in Saudi Arabia. From The Mouths Of Babes is a finely drawn stream of thoughts flowing through the mind of Mithila, a young Goan woman chafing under the strictures of the religious police even as she tries to evoke a more open display of physical affection from her husband.

From that very urban setting—with its mention of emails and “netiquette"—Teresa’s Man makes for prismatic reading as Mauzo’s writerly eye perches on a dazzling variety of shoulders. We sit among Goan politicians on a hedonistic break in New Delhi, accompany a Dalit cattle herder across the Karnataka border into Goa—he has been told “you’ll live like a human there"—and drive around the back streets of Margao with enigmatic Baboy, who “knew only one thing: accept everything with a laugh".

Xavier Cota, the translator of Teresa’s Man, mentions in his “Translator’s Note" that these stories were written over four decades. But while it is true that a few stories are set in the kind of village culture that does not exist any more, that passing of time has not lessened the impact of Mauzo’s plots and characters; just a sentence or two and you can’t resist being drawn in.

Until recently, Mauzo made his living running the family general store—one-stop shopping for generations of Majorda residents—and says his story ideas came to him in conversations with customers. A deep empathy is reflected throughout Teresa’s Man, and Mauzo often packs a substantial political punch on behalf of his people and their distinctive identity.

In Bandh, which is about the “language agitation" of the 1980s in which Mauzo was a prominent leader, the motorcycle “pilot" Dattaram is faced with an odd situation. Caetan and Peter warned him against seeking fares, but now beg him to take Rosy to the temple at Fatorpa (in Goa, Hindus and Catholics freely pay respects to both traditions). They depart with Rosy’s mother “putting her hand on Dattaram’s arm, (saying), ‘Son, take care of my daughter and bring her back safely. May Our Lady bless you.’"

But the two run into trouble. A dozen men block their way at Cuncolim and try to kidnap Rosy. “For a brief moment, Dattaram was tempted to leave. In the very next moment though, he saw Rosy’s mother on one side and Shantadurga, the goddess of Cuncolim, on the other." So Dattaram waded into the group of thugs, and managed to escape with Rosy.

“He rode straight to Caetan’s house, stopped at the doorstep and dismounted. Alarmed, Caetan ran up to them. ‘What happened, Dattaram?’ Dattaram’s eyes were bulging. He was speechless. Getting back on the bike, he started it. Finally finding his voice, he spat out; ‘This is our language! This is our culture!’"

Vivek Menezes is a writer, photographer, and founder and co-curator of the Goa Arts and Literary Festival.

For an excerpt from the book, click here.

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