Wednesday, September 16, 2015


The writing of a second installment to my article ‘The Shame of Speaking Konkani’ (published a fortnight ago), is partly for emphasizing the problem at hand and partly fortuitous.  I say fortuitous because, in response to my article, Damodar K Kamat Ghanekar wrote a letter to the editor (4 September, 2015) and had a rather interesting anecdote to narrate in the same. The manner in which the abovementioned anecdote is narrated further allows us to see how shame and humiliation operates within Konkani language politics.

Recounting an incident which happened some 40 years ago, Ghanekar mentions how he came across Alfred Rose and his wife conversing in English in Panjim. When Ghanekar inquired whether it was really Alfred Rose, he indicates that Alfred Rose became painfully uncomfortable so much so that one could “well imagine the contortions of embarrassment [emphasis mine] on his face [Alfred Rose] which I [Ghanekar] still remember”.

There is something deeply unsettling about recounting a person’s embarrassment in a public place with such gleeful abundance. In Ghanekar’s telling, Alfred Rose not only appears to be a deeply shamed person but also a hypocrite. However, there is nothing hypocritical in what Alfred Rose did. In fact, as I have pointed out time and again it is quite normal for persons to use two or more languages to negotiate through their daily life. So why did Alfred Rose feel so embarrassed by the encounter with Ghanekar?

Unfortunately, I do not have an exact answer to this. This is because as students of history well know, we are confronted with only one side of the story. And, as we are aware, it is often the victor who recounts the story. Further, rather than being embarrassed about speaking in Konkani, Alfred Rose was allegedly embarrassed for speaking in English. It is highly unlikely that Alfred Rose’s English skills were the source of his embarrassment; surely his English was as good as his Konkani!

Presumably, Ghanekar approached Alfred Rose in Konkani, for if it was in English than we would not have had any problem. My suggestion here is that Ghanekar was using an Antruzi variant of Konkani and this, I believe, is the key to the source of the embarrassment. The problem is that the Antruzi boli, located within an upper caste location and politics, is the source of much shaming and humiliation to anyone who fails to adequately reproduce the speech and ways of being of this dialect. The failure to live up to the Antruzi dialect does not simply cause embarrassment, but also causes much pain and anguish – resulting in the silence of many in Goa.

Such a situation has been noted by some other writers as well. For instance, an anecdote recounted by Jason Keith Fernandes in his doctoral thesis seems to be apt in understanding the embarrassment (or silence) that Alfred Rose experienced. Fernandes recounts, “In the course of our conversations [with a priest] around Konkani, this priest indicated a strong friendship he enjoyed with a Hindu gentleman. At one point however, the priest recounted that he was reproached by his friend: ‘Why is it that you never speak to me in Konkani’ the friend asked. To this question the priest responded that he felt ashamed, since his friend’s Konkani was so perfect, so pure, whereas his own was the ‘impure’ version that the Catholics speak”. At the risk of stretching the anecdote that Ghanekar provides ad absurdum, I would like to suggest that Alfred Rose was doubly trapped as the language politics that Alfred Rose subscribed to privileged only Konkani, and being called out for speaking in English by a person speaking Antruzi Konkani meant that there was no hope for redemption!

And what are we to make of the abundant glee with which Ghanekar recounts a 40-year-old anecdote of sarcastically indicating to Alfred Rose that he should do as he preaches? The clever way in which Ghanekar slipped a line from Alfred Rose’s song in the conversation – “Tika [Konkani] shellant heddun menn diunk zai – is another way in which the shame of speaking Konkani is perpetuated. While Ghanekar’s encounter with Alfred Rose had resulted in “contortions of embarrassment” 40 years ago, the recounting of the same in the columns of a newspaper without any sensitivity or understanding has surely contorted many a Goan face with embarrassment today.

It is not surprising that in trying to prove the hypocrisy of Alfred Rose, Ghanekar reinforces a similar diktat that Alfred Rose does in his song Anv Konkani Zannam – to restore the pride in Konkani. Though Alfred Rose actively propagated some key tenets of the Nagri/Antruzi politics, he seems to have not escaped the shaming due to Konkani. After all, didn’t he say that we should feel proud about Konkani?

To reiterate, I strongly believe that Alfred Rose was not being hypocritical. On the contrary he was a product of his times as well as a victim of it. But to think that Alfred Rose was merely embarrassed for being ‘caught’ speaking in English is to not recognize the pain and suffering behind the “contortions of embarrassment”. By denying the real pain and suffering we perpetuate the shame and humiliation. As a linguist/lexicographer of Nagri Konkani, Ghanekar at least ought to have known this. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 16 September, 2015) 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


In this column I would like to discuss one of Alfred Rose’s most popular songs, Anv Konknni Zannam (I Know Konkani), which he sang along with his wife, Rita Rose. Given that the issue of language – particularly ‘mother tongue’ – is being hotly debated in Goa presently, this particular song provides an opportunity to reflect on a serious issue about the Konkani language that is rarely spoken about.

The song is a duet featuring one singer as a crooner who desires to get a break into the Konkani tiatr industry and the second singer, Alfred Rose, essays the role of an interviewer, scrutinizing the singing skills of the crooner in question. However, there is one problem: the crooner cannot speak Konkani ‘properly’. Her Konkani is highly anglicized, which provides much fodder in the song for ridicule. For example, when this highly anglicized Konkani is being scoffed at, the crooner protests saying “Mhaka eok chance diun, why don’t you try”. To which the ‘interviewer’ retorts: “Try try try kitem kor mhunntai try,/…Osli Konknni bhas Goenkar uloit zalear,/ Konknnichi, zali chili fry”.

Further in the song, the aspiring crooner actually tries to demonstrate her Konkani skills – albeit in her anglicized Konkani – by singing some popular mandde (or Indo-Portuguese folk songs in Konkani). When she is abruptly stopped by the ‘interviewer’, the aspiring crooner sings, “Why are you angry, I’m very sorry,/…I’ve asked my daddy, I’ve asked my mummy,/To teach me to speak real Konkani”. What needs to be noted is the emphasis placed on “real Konkani”. At this point, the song takes a preachy turn, wherein Alfred Rose sermonizes about the necessity to speak Konkani. I would argue that this song also reproduces some of the oppressive strands of Konkani language politics. But more on this later.

Alfred Rose as the ‘interviewer’ superciliously reasons with the crooner saying that in Africa she would speak Swahili, in Germany she would speak German, and Arabic in Arabia, so how did she forget Konkani, which undoubtedly is her ‘mother tongue’ owing to the fact that her parents are Goans? It is at this juncture that the crooner reveals that in reality she did not forget the Konkani language; rather she was feeling “shy” to speak Konkani. Further, she had learnt Konkani from the cooks (kuzner). Hence, Alfred Rose sings that when the parents speak Konkani, why should the children be brought up in English? Rather than treating Konkani as a second-class language, we should all be proud of it, he adds.

Although ‘shyness’ is given as the cause of the crooner not speaking in ‘proper’ Konkani, in reality it is the shame and humiliation associated with speaking Konkani publicly that generally prevents people from robustly using the language. This feeling of shame and humiliation is not a rarity, but in fact is deeply symptomatic of the public experience of Konkani. This means that one would not experience this shame or humiliation whilst speaking to or conversing among friends and family, but would certainly do so in a Konkani language classroom or while interviewing for a job, both situations that require fluency in the Antruzi dialect and the nagri script in the Goa of today. These feelings are strongly tied to the caste system, and dialects are markers of caste, religion, and region that are used to discriminate people who associate with such dialects.

Within the current Konkani language establishment, Romi Konkani and the various types of accents and dialects other than Antruzi-nagri Konkani are not given public legitimacy. Hence, many bahujan Catholics and tribal peoples across Goa feel shamed and humiliated to speak their Konkani outside the comfort zone of friends and family. In fact, on the public level, speaking and standing up for these non-Antruzi-nagri forms of Konkanis would certainly be nothing short of an ordeal by fire! Being humiliated for speaking other forms of Konkani is a very serious problem.

It is this problem of a large number of Goans, of feeling shy, ashamed, and humiliated, that is not taken into consideration by either Alfred Rose in his song or even by Romi Konkani activists. Instead, what is generally done is to blame the mass of Goans (for instance, the Catholics) for failing to serve the Konkani language – and thus their Goan identity – by refusing to speak or support it publicly.

Further, by emphasizing on a ‘real’ and ‘proper’ Konkani, this song also privileges a singular form of Konkani as acceptable. Making fun of anglicized accents can also mean that the ‘foreign’ influences on Konkani need to be shunned. This particular song (along with others) of Alfred Rose reproduces a vision of language politics in Goa that values only the Konkani language. If such prejudices were handed down by the dominant or Nagri Konkani establishment, it can be observed that the Romi Konkani activists have not done much to rectify the problem.

So in conclusion one can say that Alfred Rose was both right and wrong simultaneously. He could see the problem but not in its entirety and seriousness. This has been the failure of Konkani activism till now. Perhaps, this is also one of the reasons why the mass of Goans demand English for the primary schooling of their children. In this grim scenario, English seems the only way out of being shamed and humiliated on a daily basis. Before we can read, write, speak, and preserve Konkani forever (vach, boroi, uloi sodamkal), this chronic shaming and humiliation needs to end.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 2 September, 2015)