Professor Olivinho Gomes (b. 1943) has over two dozen books to his credit,
and handled the Vice Chancellor's post at Goa University for awhile. But it
was his student-days fascination with the verse of the Portuguese national
poet Luis de Camoes. 

        So he spent the better part of his spare time over five years to
        translate this great poet's work into one of India's smallest
        national languages, but his mother-tongue, Konkani. On the lines of
        the classical Sanskrit epic of India, the Ramayana, Gomes has called
        his translation 'Luzitayonn'.

Camoes, or Camoens (1524?-1580) is considered as Portugal's national poet
and greatest literary figure. Among the events of his turbulent life were
study at the University of Coimbra, banishment from court, loss of an eye in
the Moroccan campaign, imprisonment for street-fighting, military service in
India, dismissal from an official post in Macao, and being shipwrecked. 'The
Lusiads' ('Os Lusiadas', meaning the sons of Lusus, i.e. the Portuguese), is
a Vergilian epic, encompassing the voyage of Vasco da Gama and much of
Portuguese history. Camoes received a meagre royal pension, but died in
poverty. His highly regarded sonnets and lyrics appeared posthumously.

This Santo Estevam-born scholar, just finishing his teens when the jerky
linguistic post-1961 transition took place in this former Portuguese colony.
Some recall it as a time when the local elite went to bed one night speaking
Portuguese, to wake up the next dawn to find languages like English (and in
lesser measure, Hindi, Konkani or Marathi) were the favoured tongues

Dr Gomes was one who weathered those changes, did his PhD in Sociology, got
into the Customs and Central Excise higher echelons through the Indian
Revenue Service, and then gave up that all to shift back to Goa in 1987 for
a life as a scholar.

Recently, he completed an ambitious and arduous work of translating Camoes'
Os Lusiadas into the local language of Konkani (spoken around Goa and in
pockets of western coastal India, by an estimated 2 to 5 million people). Dr
Gomes' earlier well-known works include the sociological study of Chandor
and Goa generally called 'Village Goa', and another titled 'The Religious
Orders in Goa: XVI-XVII Centuries'. He told FREDERICK NORONHA about his
747-page translation. Excerpts: 

What inspired you to undertake this work?

We had this text for study for the Portuguese Lyceum, and was very much
enamoured of it for its fascinating poetry and descriptions of unrivaled
imagery in terms of international oceanic lore and flora and fauna of the
most varied and interesting glimpses of the history of Portugal.

In the latter are some episodes that are portrayed most engagingly and in
lovely and memorable poetry. I thought of the beauty of the epic and the
majestic sweep of the poetry in it, and felt that an epic of this magnitude
should come into my lovely (language of) Konkani with all its versatility.

For it extols the greatness of the numerically-small Lusitanian people who
did wonders with their courage to embark on the high seas and 'discover'
lands and places unknown to Western man earlier, somewhat akin to the
Konkanis in their own variegated achievement including founding and ruling
an empire in India in the person of the Rashtrakutas.

        The epic praises also the greatness of India, which the Portuguese
        were seeking. It states (in the voice of the Melinde pilot) that
        their labours should end there for this country contains everything
        they desire to have, in terms of human and material wealth. It gives
        perspicaciously accurate descriptions of several parts of India,
        including Goa, the social fabric of the places and the like.

Therefore, I wanted to explore and assert the literary potential of Konkani
to come up to the high expectations demanded by any venture of this size and
value, which has been accomplished in substantial measure. Besides,
excepting "Ev ani Mari", an epic of small proportions, in Konkani, composed
by Eduardo Bruno de Souza, in 1889, and reconstructed in Devanagari and
edited with notes by me in 1989, there is no other epic in this language. 
We need to see one in it for emulation, and to see the world classics in

How long did it take you to complete?

Some two-three years, for the first draft. This meant snatching whatever
time I could from my then very-busy schedule. One had to check stanza by
stanza for accuracy of the translation, comparing it with the original, to
ensure that nothing was missed out in terms of content and meaning. 

The next step was to make sure that all the beauty and potential of my
language was utilized in it to the maximum possible extent, in all its
opulence, and that the five metric syllables or emphases for each line of
poetry I had adopted were properly done and the eight-line stanza of the
original was adhered to. Without the sense being curtailed or spilling over
but remaining compactly within the verse pattern.

Doing it on a manual typewriter to begin with, having little knowledge of
computers ... and four revisions, preparing the first copy on the computer
in the Roman script, with notes and meanings in English of difficult words
... all this took a about three-four years. Later, it had to be  turned into
Devanagari and checked for proofs, adding another eight months. You can say
it took about five years from the first effort until the book could be

Of course other work was on in that period, including book-length
manuscripts like the one on Goa -- under the land and the people series of
the National Book Trust, of New Delhi. 

In a post-colonial situation, with interest in the Portuguese language (and
literature) fading here, how relevant would this be for a reader in Goa?

I took it up purely as a literary work of the highest order. One was not
bothered about any post-colonial discourse or colonialism or its
manifestations in any form for that matter. I have never been weighed down
by any inferiority complex vis-a-vis the European or oppressed by
colonialism of any sort, for during my student days we were fortunate to
have the Portuguese treat us on an equal plane and not moved by racism, as

But despite this benevolence, we always expressed ourselves in favour of
independence from Portugal and affirmed our distinct identity. In fact this
work, except for extolling the greatness of the Portuguese heroes and the
nation, as every nationalist would do and is expected to do, does not
disparage the Indian people. On the contrary, it gives India and its people
their due and high praise, except for some remarks about idolatry, 'our
yoke' and the like in sharp contrast about it in the popular mind.

        A reader in Goa can read and appreciate it as a piece of lovely epic
        poetry, as also one heaping praises on his own land and people,
        without being bothered about any colonial hangover in relation to
        it. Perhaps, and it is my ardent hope, it may inspire our writers to
        produce quality work in Konkani and take it to greater heights, in
        alliance with Hindi, our national idiom.

Do you feel Os Lusiadas is given its due place in world literature?  Is it
recognised in the world of English, or in Asia?

"Os Lusiadas" ranks as one of the ten or so greatest epics of the world. In
fact the greatness of it was first discovered by German litterateurs in the
form of the episode of Adamastor or the Rock at the tip of the Cape of Good
Hope in southern Africa. 

There have been several versions of it in English, including one by Mickle,
which is most quoted. That shows the importance of it for the
English-speaking world of the Classical and Romantic periods.

The importance of epic poetry has diminished in our times, as this is no
longer produced, though we have had some epics in prose. In Asia of course
Portuguese was confined to Goa and Macau and East Timor. The last, now an
independent country called Timor Lorosae, will be added to places of this
influence, where this national epic of Portugal has importance and mentions
these places in it, for the poet lived most of his fruitful life in and
around these places. 

But the English have a tendency to look down upon the literary and
intellectual achievements of others especially the Latins like the
Portuguese and Spaniards, excluding the French. English and American
encyclopedias however do mention this work.

The view that Camoes could have been inspired in Goa, is that backed by any
evidence? Has it been referred to often?

        Camoes was inspired to write the epic and did it while in Goa, this
        is based on facts relating to Camoes. For he landed in Goa in 1553,
        took part in two military expeditions to the Red Sea and the Persian
        Gulf, lived in the city for a number of years, fell in love, wrote
        poetry including that of a satirical cast against the government of
        the day, and befriended one viceroy, became employed as his clerk,
        till 1557.

In that year, he went to Macau as "chief purveyor of the defunct and the
absent". In 1558, he was shipwrecked while returning to Goa, and it is said
that he saved his manuscript of his epic 'Os Lusiadas' in that mishap. Then
he was again in Goa after that till 1567, and might have given final touches
to the epic while here. Then he left the city of Goa for Mozambique, and he
reached Lisbon in 1570 and the epic was published in book form in 1572.
All these facts go to prove by a preponderance of probability that he wrote
the epic or a substantial part of it in Goa, where he wrote most of his

Shennoy Goembab refers in his "Konkani Bhashechem Zoit" (p.65 of the English
translation of it done by S.M.Borges, 2003), to the fact that he was
inspired to write it in Goa . I have mentioned this fact earlier in my
dedication to Camoes in the English translation of "Os Simples", a
collection of poetry of the great Portuguese poet, Guerra Junqueiro,
translated under the title of "Simple Folk" (1998). 

This fact, however, is not very frequently mentioned.

How much work has been done in terms of translation into and from Konkani?
Is this sufficient?

Translations from Indian and European languages in Konkani have been done
from the 16th century onwards. I have recorded these in the "Bibliography of
Translation in Indian Languages", published by the National Sahitya Akademi
(Academy of Letters), in the volume pertaining to Konkani. 

But  big spurt in translations has occurred recently, from Indian languages
like Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, done from them directly
into Konkani, by our Konkani-speakers settled in the regions where those
languages are the State official languages or known to others not so placed.

>From European languages and Indian languages too into Konkani, several of us
in Goa have done so. I can mention Pandurang Bhangi, Prakash Thali, Ravindra
Kelekar, Manohar Sardessai, Madhavi Sardessai and myself as translators in
this field. 

Substantial work has been done, and is being done, into Konkani, with a view
to enrich the language with the injection of world classics into it. 

        Very little has, however, been done from Konkani into English. But
        amends are being made there also, as a few titles have recently been
        translated into and published in English.

        But this is not sufficient at all. Much more needs to be done. In
        the absence of little organised publishing in the language and lack
        of sufficient reader-buyers, and above all the expected government
        support, such work has suffered.

What was the most difficult part of your work here?

I would not be able to pin-point exactly the most difficult part of the work
at this point of time. But I think they were some of the dull passages that
are there in every great work of art, where enthusiasm to do the translation
of it flags at times and one has to prod oneself to go through the ordeal. 

There were these bad patches sometimes, where I abandoned the work
temporarily to could come back to it in better spirits.

Tell us something about your book...

It's of a demi-octavo size, with a thick hard-cover sporting a rather
unusual portrait of the poet with the manuscript of his epic entitled "Os
Lusiadas" very visible in it. 

It contains 28 pages -i-xxviii of introduction in English and in Konkani in
both scripts.  It is followed by the ten Cantos of the 'Lusiadas' as
'Luzitayonn' in Devanagari and Roman scripts side by side, with meanings in
English of difficult words for the reader in the Roman script done
laboriously in the footnotes. 

This will also help the Roman script reader to find the corresponding
textual part in the Devanagari script and learn from it. Each page has three
stanzas of eight lines each on either side in Devanagari and Roman scripts.
The total comes to another 747 pages of text in poetry. It's priced at Rs
900 in India, and higher abroad.

Why the decision to use both scripts? 

Most of my work in Konkani has been in the commonly-adopted Devanagari
script. In some of my books of poetry, I have tried to give the text in both
the scripts, with a view to get both the major communities in Goa and others
to read it. For my works in Devanagari could not be read by people who do not
or cannot read in Devanagari script. Hence, I felt that this work of
outstanding literary value should be available in both the scripts so all
have the opportunity to read it and savour and appreciate the rich poetry in
it and be proud that their language could come up to those heights.
In fact I was asked by my Goan friends in Portugal not to forget the readers
like them in Roman script who would be happy to have a work like this in
Konkani. I hope they will welcome it. I have not been able to reach them so

Who do you see as primarily being interested in a work such as this?

Besides those above, the Goans in the diaspora would be interested in
knowing and flaunt that fact that they have a book of this value and
magnitude in their own language even if they are not able to read and
understand it. 

I remember the joy they displayed when I read out at a gathering of 'Casa de
Goa' in Lisbon, some of my translations in Konkani of the poetry from the
famous Fernando Pessoa's "Mensagem", translated in both scripts as 'Sondesh"

The Konkani readers in Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra would also be
interested and colleges where Konkani is a subject would benefit from having
a copy of it. (ENDS)
Frederick Noronha (FN)        |
Freelance Journalist          |     |
T: 0091.832.2409490 or 2409783 M: 0 9822 122436
* Writing with a difference... on what makes the difference *

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