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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 her. 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 writing? 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 Century. 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 published). 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 development. 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 Creoles. 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 Bramanes'. 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 documents. 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 not? 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!