Forgotten writers and fragments of another era
A young US-born, Gujarati-origin, Tamil Nadu-bred Indian scholar has been running a fascinating page on Twitter, the instant messaging network on social media, called @TianChengWen. When I asked Kartik Malli, still in his 20s, what the name meant, he smiled and told me it was a literal translation of the word Devanagari into Mandarin (meaning something like, the Sacred Language on the Hill, if I caught it right).
Kartik has dabbled in many languages. His own small, migrant community’s mother tongue is called Saurashtra (right, the same name as that of the place). By the way, Saurashtra is an Indo-Aryan language spoken primarily by the Saurashtrians of South India who migrated from present-day Gujarat over a millennium ago.
Kartik himself has self-taught himself languages like Spanish and Mandarin. His page (Indian Linguistics — Bhāṣāśāstra) looks at “historical and comparative linguistics especially from South, West and Central India”. If interested, see an interview with him titled ‘Kartik Malli, a curious young man looks at language’ here http://bit.ly/TianChengWen
Probably because of his own eclectic background, Kartik has an interesting understanding of the modern faces of Indian languages. He wrote recently: “Goa was once home to a vibrant literary tradition in #Portuguese, now forgotten. The short stories, in particular, stand out. I got a small taste of Goan lit in Portuguese….”
To our generation, names like Mariano Gracias, Floriano Barreto, Nascimento Mendonça, Paulino Dias, Lino Abreu, Agostinho Fernandes, Adeodato and Francisco Luis Gomes might mean little or nothing in the world of literature today. If it wasn’t for the educator-priest-scholar Dr Eufemiano de Jesus Miranda’s work later crafted into a book ‘Oriente e Ocidente na Literatura Goesa’, we would have forgotten these names even faster.
It was with some surprise, therefore, the other day I came across a lavishly produced volume left on my work desk called ‘Inside Myself’. Packed in a neat box, the book is a centennial commemoration of Edward Mendonça, the son of the noted writer Nascimento Mendonça, and himself a prominent man of letters in his own right.
Those who grew up in Bombay (before it became Mumbai) remember Mendonça as a professor of English at the then towering St Xavier’s College. He was born in Goa in 1914, grew up with Portuguese as his first language, and, as the book tells us, “mastered English only after moving to Bombay in the 1940s and went on to become a professor of English Literature and write extensively in that langauge.”
One has heard a lot about Mendonça. But, like many other aspects Goan, there is (or was, till now) so little reference material to know more about him. The professor, poet, and philosopher now has his own lavishly crafted book of verse. It also has a foreword by his daughter Vatsala (if not mistaken, that was the very name also of a poem written by the professor’s dad, in times when a section of the intellectual Goan Catholic’s mind was also enraptured by Indian culture a century ago).
In addition, the book has excerpts from Edward Mendonça’s unfinished autobiography (sad that it didn’t get completed!) called ‘Inside Myself’. It has stories about death in the family, the Monarchy-Republic disputes in the Goa of another era, strict parents and grandparents, and more.
Mendonça has been praised for his mastery over the English language and his ability to teach. But we, in our times, are already losing touch with even the distant memories of those born a century ago, leave alone their own work.
In 1986, the Instituto Menezes Braganca published a selection of his poems. But, as we ignore our past, we’re losing fragments of what’s left even by the minute. His daughter Vatsala writes: “So many of the scraps of paper, which were the unassuming canvas for his writings, had been defaced by us with algebraic equations, mushy quotes and stick figures of self-anointed angelic daughters! Still others have simply been savaged by time.”
The tributes give hint of the man, his times, his achievements, his weaknesses. To me, it was also surprising to learn that he once taught at a school in my village, Mater Dei. It is the tragedy of our generation that we don’t recognise those who have contributed because we know little of them, and we know little of them because we don’t recognise them!
Continuing the circle, the daughter of Prof Mendonça, Vatasala Mendonça, has also penned a novel called ‘Shadow of the Pen Tree’ (Zero Degree Publishing, Oct 2018). This is a work with a lot of the Goan past, and how it is understood, woven into it. It is a story set in Goa, features conversions, Goan involvement in the slave trade, Goan links with the world of Mozambique, “the diasporic nature of the Goan community”, and the Siddhis. Looking forward to reading that….