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Goan writing is waiting to be translated -- Maria A. Couto

Maria Aurora Couto says she evolved as a writer by pure
chance. But the author of 'Goa: A Daughter's Story' (Viking,
2004) also has a lifelong involvement with literature behind

          She has a PhD in English and French literature,
          from Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, and her
          book is currently being translated into Konkani and
          Portuguese. Dr. Couto, who has herself translated
          Ethnografia da India Portuguesa (by A.B. Braganza
          Pereira) from Portuguese to English, explains why
          translations are so crucial to a State like Goa,
          with its own complex linguistic heritages.

Dr Couto has written in national and international journals.
She is on the executive committee of the Konkani Akademi and
the university executive council. She and her husband,
bureaucrat and government advisor Alban Couto live at Carona,
Aldona, and they have three children and four grandchildren.

Earlier, she taught English literature at colleges in
Dharwar, Goa and Delhi (Lady Shri Ram College). Excerpts from
an interview with Frederick (FN) Noronha:

FN: How do you rate Goan writing, and how does it compare
with the huge-sized Indian writing in English, even if such a
comparison could fail on scale itself...

Such comparisons are odious.

FN: Why is it that there is a sudden interest in Goan

          To a certain extent the interest has prompted the
          media to publicise the work of Goan writers, much
          of it published in the last decade or so. We need
          to remember that writing in English and the study
          of English has come after years of Portuguese
          domination. The English medium has opened up a
          wider universe of discourse and interaction that
          synchronized with Goa's Liberation.

There was a strong literary culture and a vibrant life of the
mind in Goa in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th

Some would call it elitist, but then it is bound to be. Would
it not, for it is only the landed class and the professional
class that had the leisure and the means for intellectual
activity?  But then it seems to have all died down for
various reasons.

It is poetic justice that the English medium has been turned
on its head, as it were, since most of the derogatory slurs
on Goa have come from English writers be they Richard Burton
or Nirad Chaudhuri.

To be fair to them, Goa was portrayed as a warning; a society
which they described as miscegenated and a doomed exemplar of
dissolute life. Now we have many glossy publications that in
a way perpetuate this warped image to 'sell' Goa to tourists.

However, as you rightly point out, there are many
publications in English (and an increase in Konkani which, as
Ravindrabab Kelekar has recently pointed out, has 2000 books

There are novels, short stories, dissertations, history,
books that straddle genres, and a recent translation of a
classic Ethnography of Goa by A.B.Braganza Pereira which
should occupy pride of place on the shelves of anyone
interested in Goa.

          Prestigious publishing houses are quite mindful of
          the commercial angle -- targeting buyers who may be
          tourists, non resident Goans who visit Goa
          regularly or readers within the State which has the
          highest literacy rate and best indicators of human

However, the reading habit has still to be cultivated in Goa.

          Bookshops often say that most books are bought by
          tourists; that is a very sad commentary on the
          place of books and reading in our lives. The
          Internet is active but, pardon me for saying this,
          it is no substitute for reading no matter how much
          good information is uploaded regularly.

FN: Since when did you get interested in Goan writing, and
what triggered your involvement?

My interest in Goan writing has been with me since my
childhood, and as one grew up there were unanswered
questions. How to create, for my own understanding, the
uncreated conscience of my people? How to deal with the
misinformation spread within the nation and beyond about Goa
and Goans?

My father who kept the languages -- Konkani and Portuguese --
alive at home in Dharwar, teaching me to read and write as
well, failed in his attempt to unlock the medium of music to
assuage his tortured genius. But he tried. I am not sure
whether his tragedy in the short term was a kind of challenge
to me.

I knew both languages. The families I met unlocked a great
deal to me and those of the generation of my parents spoke
with sadness, a sense of loss which is natural. I feel the
same nostalgia when I think of our idyllic life in Dharwar!

However, I have tried to find hope in a new paradigm of Goa,
with democracy, good governance for which we still strive,
tolerance and respect, appreciation of other cultures and
technology all of which have always been assets of Goa.

          And then there was the influence of the Catholic
          writers, Evelyn Waugh who came during the
          Exposition of St Francis Xavier in 1952, and Graham
          Greene whom I studied as a special author for my
          Master's degree.

          He stayed with us in Goa in 1963 and we used to
          have long discussions late into the night, four of
          us which included Alban, my husband and also Prof
          Eusebio Rodrigues (who has recently published a
          novel Love and Samsara, in the US).

Greene was surprised that there were no Portuguese in Goa,
and what surprised him even more is that there were no

This discussion was pursued twenty years later when I was
writing my book on the politics of Greene's fiction and he
encouraged me to write a much bigger book that would
encompass the entire region under the Portuguese from
Southern India extending to the Moluccas and Macau!

FN: Many readers may not be aware of your involvement in
making Pundalik Naik's Acchev: The Upheaval happen in
translation. What were the lessons you learnt while doing it?

Pundalik Naik's Acchev is one of the glories of Goan
literature. Written in Konkani, it deserved a wider
readership which English could give.

When the publisher requested me to vet the excellent
translation by Vidya Pai, I did help in working on the
translation and confirming wholeheartedly that he is a great
writer and that his theme of the destruction of Goa's
exceptional environment by mining had a resonance that would
be appreciated both in India and abroad.

I was happy that the publishers sent him to the USA where he
was able to talk feelingly about the destruction of rain
forests, and about the communal harmony in Goa.

FN: As far as a multi-lingual society like Goa goes (we also
change our languages every few decades!) what role do you see
translation playing? Is enough being done?

This is a problem that all Indian languages have to face.

Katha, Macmillan and now Oxford University Press have done a
lot. But we have yet to build a body of good translators.

I saw the problems of translation when reviewing the
translation of Acchev as also when translating the
Ethnography of Goa Daman and Diu. It is not enough to know
the two languages. Familiarity with the cultures and ethos is
also essential.

          There is a lot of good literature in Konkani which
          needs to be translated. In my efforts to help in
          this, I find that publishers usually respond by
          saying that they can take only a limited number and
          too many languages competing for publication.

Market considerations are also important. So they look for
books with a wide appeal. Perhaps we have to find the means
to cope with this. Maybe by involving bookshops like
Broadway, and Government departments -- Art and Culture, for
instance, to fund these projects.

FN: What are the books waiting to be translated?

'Prosas Dispersas' by Luis de Menezes Braganza, which shows
the level of intellectual discussion that existed in Goa at
that period and other writers of the time. Perhaps a
contemporary translation of Francisco Luis Gomes' 'Os

FN: Do we in Goa have sufficient skills to undertake
translation tasks?

Sadly, no. It is also a lot of hard work and little
remuneration, unless it relates to technical work and

FN: Of all the writing you've done, which gives you the most
satisfaction and why?

A Daughter's Story, because I discovered a lot about my
cultural inheritance which spans Goa within an Indian matrix.

          It deepened my sense of being Goan. I am also
          delighted by the response from various readers,
          apart from those who enjoy literature , historians,
          political scientists, priests who have taken the
          book very seriously and have looked at it from a
          prism that some critics in Goa have chosen to
          ignore, which I understand. After all, many of hem
          know Goa much better than I do and hopefully will
          write better books some day.

FN: "Goa: A Daughter's Story" -- what do you see as the
high-points (and also the weak points) of this work of yours?

If I were to do what my economist daughter calls a SWOT
analysis of my work, I would fail. For some readers the
weaknesses are the strength and for others the strengths are
the weaknesses.

I was flattered and reassured to find Dr Teotonio de Souza,
recently describe it as a masterpiece of cultural studies.
And it has appealed to a wide cross section of readers
outside Goa, including a few scholars from Portugal and
Brasil who have found their way to Aldona clutching the book.

That is my reward and it is best to ignore the mutterings
within Goa that refer to caste and elitism.

Is it history? Not in the sense of dates and battles but as a
critic pointed out, the Zuari in some form the mythical
Saraswati still flows, carrying with it the past and the
future, all the wrongs and the compassion.

So the book starts with a boat ride and meanders like the
Motorcycle Diaries through the heart of Goa, Hindu, Catholic,
and as some critics have said, an implicit Brahmanism -- and
when I did point out that other classes are also there, it is
still called elitism.

          My own life in Dharwar was one of hardship and yet
          there was pride in family, not inculcated but
          implicit. However, my parents in their dealings
          with people and in educating us reached out beyond
          caste and creed. Hence our friendships stretched
          far beyond the Goan community or Goan Brahmins for
          that matter, and it is those friendships that
          continue to sustain us.

FN: Your writing style in the above book is really readable
and informative... but some of your readers (particularly in
Goa, I believe) were upset by the 'face' of Goa you chose to
depict. Do you feel their criticism was valid? Why or why

I was warned by my editor that the book may elicit such a
response from some quarters and be seen as dealing with the
upper classes.

But I was writing about transformation of culture since 1510.
The culture that was transformed, which I critique rather
than wholeheartedly endorse, was that of the upper classes
who sought power within the colonial world.

I did write to a friend who is active as a Dalit writer to
ask him how to deal with this problem. His reply was that it
would be most unnatural for me to attempt to recreate an
experience of which I had no first hand knowledge whatsoever.

Perhaps the upbringing in Dharwar was a blessing since it is
only those who have lived in Goa all their lives who have
complained of the 'face' of Goa , whatever that may mean. I
would have thought the book has a myriad 'faces' since Goa
has a complex, multi-layered, rich culture.

          What gives Goan writing its relevance is its angst,
          elegiac requiems for what is dying. (A Dutch reader
          wrote in about how the book mirrored his own
          problems -- he felt the uniqueness of Dutch
          identity was being eroded by the new Euro identity.
          Where individual nations, currencies, and much else
          are being swept into an European identity.)

More importantly is the fact that we endeavour to endure if
not resolve these contradictions. Nehru called them
peculiarities but Bakibab Borkar called it the still
persistent heartbeat of humanism.

I think it is this special characteristic that gives the best
of Goan writing its special dimension. It resolves the
contradictions: the terrors of the Inquisition, yet the
persistence of social harmony that mitigated the crudities of
social engineering, the claim of Lusitanisation that
vanished, and what in a sense has stayed: the influence of
the European Enlightenment and the Rights of Man, equality,
the links with the Indian mainstream of myth and culture.

All this may be in the past but what endures is the
persistence of memory, of transformations and transitions,
Hindustani and Carnatic music, Gregorian chant, the loud
throated singing of hymns in chapels and churches, the
bhajans in temples, the architecture to temple and church,
and above all the unique Goan home, no matter how humble,
always surrounded by a garden.

Yes there are problems. Identity is an onion, if you peel it
you will shed tears, but there would be nothing left. And
there is a danger of nothing being left.

          Goans, like the French and Germans, do not have
          children to attain even the replacement rate. So is
          the answer multiple identities, the language and
          the soil? The creation through literature, music
          and the arts of a Goan ethos that is pluralistic,
          secular yet deeply religious, a joy in life not
          fetered by prudery and hypocrisy, and the undimmed
          flow of various forms of art including our vibrant
          tiatr and the new found interest in film.

What one hopes will always remain is curiosity and the
courage to face challenges -- a fractured society, a
fractured identity, the globalised village, the two cultures
of India and the West combining and often separating, 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.

FN: Finally, what are your own writing plans?

          I have no plans. I evolved as a writer by pure
          chance and, of course, a life long involvement with
          literature. Besides, I have a lot of commitments to
          family that are always the priority.

Living in Goa has placed us somewhat in the public eye with
involvement in public functions which are a new dimension to
our lives. Both my husband and I lived very private lives all
these years which left more time for reading and writing!

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