Basti Vaman Shenoy : Spreading Bonhomie Through Language
by Florine Roche - Mangalore
Jun 24, 2009
The title of “Vishwa Konkani Sardar” sits comfortably on his shoulders, an apt one considering his humungous contribution to make Konkani a movement, thus giving an impetus to its growth and revitalization. Basti Vaman Shenoy, 75, is an epitome of what an unflinching devotion can achieve for any cause. He is a man obsessed with the devotion of promoting Konkani language, literature, art, music and folklore. For the last 15 years since he retired from his banking career, ‘Vaman maam’ as he is popularly known to his close friends, has worked tirelessly devoting his valuable time, energy and experience in making Konkani movement a grand success. Credit goes to him for being that vital link between the Konkani speaking Christians and Konkani speaking Gowd Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs) in attaining that common goal of enriching Konkani and preserving its identity.
As if a testimony to his devotion for the cause of Konkani, the World Konkani Centre, an abode of Konkani heritage stands in all its majesty and splendor in a 3 acre plot in Shaktinagar, Mangalore. The centre is his brainchild. This Konkani centre is the outcome of the resolution which he mooted and succeeded in passing it unanimously during the First World Konkani Convention held in Mangalore in 1995. “Just like Christians have Rome, Muslims have Mecca and Hindus have Kashi etc., I felt Konkani speaking people irrespective of race, creed and caste should have our own institution that could be identified with Konkani”, he says. His long cherished dream became a reality when the foundation stone was laid for this dream project in 2001 and World Konkani Centre was inaugurated in January 2009.
MAN OF TEAM SPIRIT
A modest person that he is Basti maam doesn’t take credit for what he has achieved. “It was a collective effort” is his typical response giving credit where it is due. “I would not have been able to achieve anything unless I was supported by Konkani well-wishers and fellow activists in my endeavor. By god’s grace I have been successful at whatever I have put my heart and soul in”, he states.
Born in Bantwal Taluk Basti Vaman Shenoy has been very vocal on the impact the rustic charm of Bantwal had in his life and career. Talk to him for a few minutes and the name of Bantwal crops up in the conversation at least a few times, which shows his affinity to his native place. It was his father Basti Madhav Shenoy and mother Gowri who had profound influence on him, thus shaping his personality. Madhav Shenoy was a messenger of peace and was the link that ensured peace between the two major communities whenever there was a conflict. “It was his secular and impartial credentials that brought people of all communities to him. He was the first man to take harijans into the temple in Bantwal”, he reveals. Another personality which he immensely drew inspiration from is T.A.Pai. One can see Mr. Pai’s photo in his drawing room at Basti Gardens at Thumbe village, with “I saw god in him” written below it.
Needless to say Vaman Shenoy was greatly influenced by the benign personality of his father that became the guiding spirit for him in his endeavor to contribute his might for the cause of Konkani. Reading was a hobby he cherished since his childhood. He was a great fan of Jawaharlal Nehru and read his books during his youth. During his career as a banker he also cultivated the habit of writing in Konkani to the Panchkadai and other periodicals of GSB community. By this time he was a familiar name in Konkani speaking community and was a known name for his organizing capabilities.
THE KONKANI STRUGGLE
In the early 1990s the need of setting up a Konkani Academy in Mangalore had slowly come to gain momentum. One can call it destiny or pure co-incidence. Just a day before Vaman Shenoy was due to retire in April 30, 1992, the then President of Konkani Bhasha Mandal Paul Moras and others came to him seeking his support for the Konkani movement to fight for a Konkani Academy. He willingly extended his whole-hearted support and became the organizing secretary of the jatha that went to Bangalore with a delegation to impress upon the government to sanction an academy. Soon after, Paul Moras resigned and Vaman Shenoy became the President of Konkani Bhasha Mandal, through which the Konkani movement was spearheaded.
“Efforts were going on in a piecemeal basis for the cause of Konkani but it became a movement from 1992 onwards which culminated in the then Veerappa Moily government sanctioning the Konkani Sahitya Academy in Mangalore in 1994. A staunch Congressman, Vaman Shenoy used his rapport with Moily and the Konkani Sahitya Academy was formally announced. Late VJP Saldanha became the first president of Konkani Sahitya Academy.
Having started the movement there was no stopping Vaman Shenoy. Prof B M Hegde, known for his hold over many languages including Konkani, was the chief guest for one of the Konkani functions when he put the idea of organizing World Konkani Convention. Konkani Diaspora is spread all over the globe and Hegde suggested that the time was ripe for uniting the Konkani speaking people scattered all over the world. Vaman Shenoy took the hint and began to work earnestly to make the convention a reality. He put his organizational skills to full use, brought together people for the cause, set up committees and core committee and the Vishwa Konkani Sammelan was held in Mangalore in 1995 with great fanfare. He traveled a great deal meeting and organizing people from all walks of life. “Wherever I went people came together on the basis of Konkani. For the first time Konkani speaking people were longing to come together under one platform. This spurred me to work with more vigor and promptitude”, he reveals.
About 5000 delegates from 75 centers of India and abroad participated in the 7-day extravaganza held at the Mangala Stadium with the slogan “Integration through language”. The convention was a success as for the first time it created a feeling of bonhomie between the various Konkani speaking people. The success of this convention fetched the title of “Vishwa Konkani Sardar” to Basti Vaman Shenoy who was instrumental in making it a success beyond expectations. Never to rest on his laurels he has been working steadfastly to give a final shape to that resolution adopted at the convention resulting in the setting up of World Konkani Centre.
GUIDED BY THE VISION
At his age he has the grit and determination to fulfill the uphill task of realizing his vision, the vision to revitalize Konkani Language in its fullest glory. He feels setting up a brick and mortar building will inspire people to come near the cause. Many philanthropists have extended their support having realized the determination of this man. Intellectuals from different fields have come forward to contribute to the revitalization of the language and culture with detailed scientific road maps. The Kendra has initiated studies in various departments and a broad frame work has been put to work based on these studies which may result in Revitalization of Konkani language and culture.
The World Konkani Centre gives priority for research and documentation with regards to Konkani art, language, music, folklore etc. It houses a Vishwa Konkani Library, Konkani heritage museum, heritage home, conference hall, open air theatre, studio and hostels to promote research activity. With the work on the main block being completed other works will be completed in phases.
Basti Vaman Shenoy has embarked on a mass movement called “Vishwa Konkani Abhiyan” from October 2008. 35 places have been identified between Cochin and New Delhi to visit and organize Konkani people for awakening and providing impetus for the future growth of Konkani language. Age has not come in the way of his travel schedules. “I can’t live in isolation. I love being surrounded by people, meeting them and interacting with him”, he confides.
As President of Konkani Language and Cultural Foundation set up at World Konkani Centre, Vaman Shenoy is instrumental in preserving the rich cultural variety of Konkani and as a first step he has been publishing books to help promote Konkani. He travels all the way from Bantwal to the Konkani centre everyday to oversee the work associated with his responsibilities.
Commenting on the rumored differences of opinion he had with other Konkani activists, regarding usage of a common script to Konkani, Vaman Shenoy minces no words to say that efforts were made by some elements to give religious colour to the whole issue. “Its only because of non-usage of common script, the Konkani Literature has been unexposed to its own masses spread across four language areas. Konkani needs to be taught to revitalize itself. It needs to be taught in one common script which has the cross platform compatibility and a robust familial match. As Konkani is of Indo-Aryan Language family, Devnagari is its natural script.”, he contends. He welcomes the usage of Kannada script too. As President of Konkani language and Cultural Foundation he has published many Konkani Books in Kannada Script. But he says when we are taking the Konkani Language to schools we should not miss this opportunity to align with a standard platform which will create a large readership base in the future.
NO RESTING ON LAURELS
With age Vaman Shenoy’s enthusiasm has increased. He travels a lot, eats meagerly and suffers no major ailments. During his younger days he used to go to the gym in Bantwal where they used to teach traditional Indian form of exercises. He owes is good health and fitness to what he learnt in his younger days. He recently lost his wife and lives with his elder son in Bantwal. His three children are settled well. He does not have to worry much about home affairs due to his frugal needs and devotes his full time for the cause of Konkani.
His devotion and unbridled enthusiasm is an eye opener for all those who are willing to serve the cause dear to him. He is a workaholic, sure about his destination and does not give up till he succeeds in achieving his cherished goals. We need more people like him to continue the Konkani movement for the future growth of Konkani.