November 3, 2023
The architect of Manipal, Dr T M A Pai raised this question to the Mangalorean Catholic community during the 11th All India Konkani Sahitya Parishad in Mangalore.
Considering the illustrative work being carried out Mangalore’s Konkani hemisphere, and in particular the two events – the Karnataka Konkani Bhasha Mandal celebrating its 50th year and the 25th All India Konkani Sahitya Parishad which will be held in Mangalore soon, my mind goes down the memory lane and stops me at the then Milagres High School Ground (now being divided to make provision for more buildings) in Hampankatta.
I am also aware of the fact that many of those who were witness to this historic event are not there today amongst us, but those who are, will remember and feel proud of those splendid three days.
T M A Pai
Austin D'Souza Prabhu
Fr Mark Vader
K K Pai
Manohar Rai Sardesai
V J P Sadanha
It was February 20 – 22, 1976, three days of the Weekend, that the newly inaugurated Karnataka Konkani Bhasha Mandal took the initiative to hold this giant parishad. In that direction, most of the arrangements had started much before. The new president of the Bhasha Mandal, Charles Francis D’Costa (Cha. Fra. De Costa), the parishad’s convenor V. J. P. Saldanha (pen name, Khadap) its General Secretary the young Austin D’Souza Prabhu, and treasurer Rev Fr Mark Valder, core committee members Fr Willie R De Silva and Dolphy Cascia were immersed themselves in the arrangements. They had strived to bring together two prestigious Konkani speaking communities of Mangalore, the Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB’s) and the Mangalorean Catholics. An exclusive core committee consisting of 40 members was formed.
While many were clear as to whom to be invited to be in the core committee among Catholic Christians, they were not aware of who’s who among Goud Saraswat’s, hence that task was assigned to Cha. Fra. De ’Costa who had good rapport with the three Konkani speaking communities – Mangalorean Catholics, the GSBs and top writers from Goa. He was given the exclusive rights to rope in the needy stalwarts. Thus Cha. Fra. who was a diplomatic journalist, brought together some of the best people from all communities, both in terms of personal status and those who are capable to bring in the much-needed revenue. They included the editor of the then ‘Panchkadai’, B.V.Baliga (fondly called ‘Balo Mam’), S. R. Balagopal (Balco Mam) owner of a photo studio near Hampankatta Bus Stand, Damodar Prabhu, a family business icon who was also managing ‘Prabhu Motors’ besides other businesses, two cousin brothers running their business in the port area, G. G. Vasudev Prabhu and G.G. Srinivasa Prabhu, S. L. Shet Diamond Merchant Group’s Raghunath Shet and so on. Quite tactfully all of them then impressed upon the great K. K. Pai., then the Chairman and Managing Director of Syndicate Bank to be the Chairman of the reception committee. In the history of Konkani within the undivided districts of South Kanara and Udupi the two communities came together for the first time, by pushing aside their personal or business differences or caste, creed, community, or colour. They became one as till then no one had ever witnessed such a mammoth crowd of Konkani speaking people in the history.
Behind these festivities two guys were exclusively thick and thin – like Laurel and Hardy - the president Cha. Fra. De Costa and his protégé the young Austin D’Souza Prabhu, the general secretary. I do not think they ate well or rested on those three days or beyond. A step further, they both published an exclusive a daily, ‘Udev’ (it was a Konkani weekly being edited by Cha. Fra. De Costa) in all the three days, perhaps it was the first time (and the last ) that a daily newspaper was published in Konkani in the Coastal district. The news and photos of all three days were published immaculately. (Those were the pre-digital days, the print media had its own challenges and the photos were printed through the zinc coated ‘blocks’ prepared and brought from Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu) Yet the enthusiasm and spirits were high in the veins of both these guys. According to Anthony D’Souza from Kadri (who was called as ‘Lambu’) Austin was to be seen 24x7 in Prime Press where the daily was being printed.
The delegates from different cities of India gathered in Mangalore. From the then Bombay (now called ‘Mumbai’) the editor of Poinnari the illustrative Konkani weekly, P. D’Souza, poet journalist J. B. Moraes, poet, entrepreneur J. B. Sequeira, Bhasha Mandal Maharashtra Gen Secretary Martinez had arrived. I remember seeing Purushottam Mallya, a Konkani stalwart from the city of Cochin.
From Goa, there was a big team of delegates that arrived and was put up at the Pereira Hotel (known as ‘Inasam’s Hotel’) for their boarding, lodging, and other personal comforts. They included the parishad president Chandrakant Keni, the eminent Marathi and Konkani poet Bakibab Borkar, poet R. V. Pandit, Ravindra Kelekar, the only Konkani writer to receive the prestigious three awards, Sahitya Akademi award, the Padma Bhushan and the Jnanpith award. Goa (Akashvani) Panaji fame Nagesh Karmali (who passed away recently.) Wellknown poet, professor in French, Dr. Manohar Rai Sardesai, Dr Uday Bhembre, N. Shivadas to name a few. Needless to write, all of them had arrived following their friendship and proximity to Cha. Fra De Costa.
The president of the main inaugural session of the parishad was the Mangalore Bishop Reverend Basil D’Souza, whereas parishad chief was Chandrakant Keni, the editor of Konkani journal, ‘Sunaparant’ and Marathi daily, ‘Rashtra Matth.’ (On February 3, 2009, Chandrakant Keni passed away at the age of 75 in Goa.)
I still recall his impressive speech that had the title, ‘Novya Parvyache Humbra Voilyan’ (passing through a new horizon, copies of which were widely distributed to the delegates.) In his spirited talk he explained why Konkani is a distinct language that passes through so many regions, religions, and ethnicities. He initiated a new fund called ‘Konkani Nidhi’ and exhorted the audience, each person to contribute a single rupee. I am not sure what is the status of this ‘Nidhi’ today, but that evening, he received a good response and a great appreciation.
On the day of the parishad, good news awaited the delegates that the chairman of the reception committee, K K Pai read out from a telegram just received from the Sahitya Akademi president Sunithi Kumar Chatterjee in New Delhi. It read – “The Sahitya Akedemi has come to the opinion that Konkani is an independent language that will soon see its inclusion in the 8th schedule of the constitution as an independent Indian language. “This news gave impetus and much needed encouragement to the delegates that had gathered from all the corners of the country.
That same evening, a full team ‘exclusive Kavigoshti’ took place that consisted of home grown Konkani poets so also those who had come from Goa, Karwar, Mumbai and Cochin. As far as I remember, the Kavigoshti was presided over by the eminent poet, scholar Dr Manohar Rai Sardesai. He wrote a small poem on the stage itself following the announcement of K K Pai. He recited, “Aiche Sobhit Sunder Rathi, Sutli Konkenchi Sadesathi.” (On this beautiful night, Konkani attained its freedom from a bad Omen. Till then, it was made to believe that the Konkani was another sub dialect of Marathi language.)
There was a young 14-year-old Goan poetess, Madhavi Sardesai who recited a poem during the Kavigoshti. The famous shipping magnate of Goa, V M Salgaonkar was so impressed that he removed his gold chain and gifted it to her. (It pains me to announce that Madhavi who worked as the Head of the English Department at Goa University passed away in the year 2014, December 22 at the age of 52 following cancer.)
Many short dramas, skits, dances were presented during the three days of cultural festivity. As far as I remember, Cha. Fra’s short drama, ‘Vishentiche Bhav’ and Austin’s ‘Paray’ were two of the dramas played during the days. So also, Wilfy Rebimbus held a musical show compered by Austin D’Souza. Even artistes from Goa and GSBs from Mangalore presented some of the best cultural forms.
I wish to mention an interesting incident. On one of the interactive debate session the founder and the architect of Manipal, Dr T M A Pai was on the chair as the Chief Guest. He posed a distinct question to the Mangalorean Catholics – He said, “As far as I know, both we the GSBs and Mangalorean Catholics speak the same language, Konkani. Then why should you people call us as ‘Tho Konknnow’. Are you not ‘Konkanis?’
No one had an answer, to which Dr Pai himself responded, “because we GSBs speak in Konkani in our house, at the business place and with our children, whereas you Christians speak in English at all places except I believe - privately. Please keep in mind, if you people feel ashamed to talk in your mother tongue, it will be extincted someday, as soon your mother passes away. Keep our mother language alive, active, and kicking.”
There was pin drop silence among the audience. No one dared to say anything. But the next day Cha. Fra’s Udev published in bold letters, “Why should you people call us ‘Tho Konknow?’”
Few hilarious anecdotes during the three days of the ‘Parishad’ -
1. Most of the Goans were accommodated at Pereira’s Hotel in Hampankatta. Goans call fish delicacies as ‘Nustem’. One of the days, as they did not find their favourite Mangalorean fish curry (they used to call it as ‘Sheeth Kadi’), one of the delegates asked, “Aij Nustem na-re?” (Is there no fish curry today?) In Mangalore, we call vegetarian dish as ‘Nistem’ hence one of the staff member replied, “Hens Nistem, Bendanchem. Dusrem Nistem Na.” (We have only this vegetable dish, ladies’ finger. no other.) The next day the funny incident appeared on Cha. Fra’s Udev daily.
2. The treasurer of the Parishad, Rev Fr Mark Valder made an announcement on one of the first days of the parishad – “Those who do not have the arrangement of accommodation may stay under the tree at the extreme end of the Milagres School Ground. What he meant was that the people standing under the tree will soon be shifted to Pereira’s Hotel for accommodation.
3. I was busy selling tickets for three days of parishad and I had no arrangement to stay overnight. Cha. Fra. who had assigned me the job of selling tickets had promised to take care of my accommodation, but he was not to be seen around. I had a few friends, such as Deacon Stany D’Cunha who came from Nilagres in Tamil Nadu, Gladys Rego from Kuwait, and the local writer, Richie Pereira but I had no idea where they vanished. Finally, I could trace Walter Cyril Pinto (currently owner of Feather Communications Centre in Udupi) who was doing his apprentice course at Balmatta Polytechnic and I remember spending the most memorable night in his hostel.
4. We could observe two cousin brothers, going around in those days, without wearing footwear. They were G.G. Srinivas Prabhu and G. G. Vasudev Prabhu. They had special task to carry out, to look after our guests from Goa. Subsequently a Konkani poet, Richie Pereira wrote a poem on them that read, Barefoot Konkani Mission. (I hope Richard Pereira has that poem in his custody.)
5. I wrote about the daily ‘Udev’ published during the three days of the Parishad but if I miss to mention about a hilarious incident, I would feel something is missing.
One of those days, Austin D’Souza was returning from Codialbail Press in his motor bike, carrying the block of the bishop Basil while he met with an accident and his bike fell in the roadside ditch. Austin abandoned the bike and reached Cha. Fra’s Prime Press in auto rickshaw as he was supposed to compere the Wilfy Musical Nite being held in the evening. So much for his commitment to a parishad duty!
6. Cha. Fra. De Costa had forced me to sell ten ticket books of Rs 200 each and each book contained 100 tickets. I sold all of them and Cha. Fra mentioned that I will be eligible to receive a handsome gift for collecting Rs 2 lakhs. (The total budget of the session was Rs 10 lakh out of which K. K. Pai had sponsored through Syndicate Bank, Rs 3 lakhs.) But Parishad got over but there was no sign of any gift to be given to me.
7. There was a person called Ramachandra Bhat in Kinnigoli who was the member of Indira Gandhi Congress. I believed he is a Konkani person and forced him to buy two tickets. He said – “I am not a Konkani person, although I speak in that language after selling insurance policies to Gulf based Catholic ladies.” He willingly bought two tickets. Another Konkani GSB doctor staying nearby said – “Both my daughters mentioned to me that you are making quick bucks, I suggest that you concentrate on your studies,” But another doctor, Dr Champa who was a non-Konkani, Old Congress Leader bought two tickets of the parishad.
8. Ahead of the parishad, a preparatory cum felicitation program was organised in Moti Mahal Hotel at the behest of the Karnataka Konkani Bhasha Mandal. As I was supposed to collect the tickets I was invited by Cha. Fra. to that meeting. The Chief Guest of the meeting was Mrs Octavia Albuquerque, the then member of Karnataka Legislative Council. In what language she spoke was beyond our imagination. In the same meeting was Edwin J F D’Souza (well-known in his pen name Vasu Valencia in those days) He was to be felicitated as a newly married novelist and for winning the Goa Bhasha Mandal Award for his existential novel, ‘Hanv Jiyetam’. His new bride, Jane was also present.
8. Many spoke about Edwin and his literature, including Austin D’Souza Prabhu, B.V. Baliga, and so on. When his turn came, the president of the meeting, V J P Saldanha tried to translate the speech of Octavia Albuquerque from whichever language. Fr Willie R DeSilva, Rev Fr Mark Valder, and Fr Alexander D’Souza (then the Vicar General of Mangalore Diocese) conducted the proceedings. In fact, Fr Alexander spoke vehemently condemning the protest of the Marathi protagonists who kept arguing that Konkani was a sub dialect of Marathi language.
9. The main office of the Konkani Parishad was located at Hampankatta, in Cyril Mahal (Kind gesture, Mrs Octavia Albuquerque in love of her mother tongue Konglish. One could see V J P Saldanha and Cha Fra Decosta officiating from this office.
10. My best friend Baptist Mendonca (Bams Bahrain) had arrived on his annual vacation from the Gulf. He happened to see another stalwart dramatist Sri Gabbu (Gabriel D’Souza) who invited us to his drama, ‘Kajarachem Pishem Sutamche Koshem”, the next day at Don Bosco Hall. Bams jokingly asked him. “When you think our craze for Konkani dramas will end?” “When we die,” Gabbu replied. It is so sad that today both the dramatists who played many dramas which the audience claimed had ‘sexual instinct’ are buried in the books of Konkani history.
11. There was one more stalwart novelist/journalist who published Mithr and Jhelo simultaneously, Jo Sa Alvares. He had personal and professional enmity with Cha Fra DeCosta from their days in Bombay. According to my information, Jo Sa had vowed that he will never attend a program organised by Cha Fra. But when he was convinced that the program in Moti Mahal was organised by Fathers Alexander, Mark Valder, and Willie De Silva, he came with Richard Rodrigues (then writing under the pen name, Tatab Niddodi.) During the meeting, he did not utter a single word but we saw him walking away after sometime.
12. Two brothers were seated on the front row during the meeting. Both were Konkani Catholic Community stalwarts; one was J B Rasquinha and the other was his brother Simon Rasquinha. When Fr Alexander read out a resolution to oppose Marathi protagonists’ protest on Konkani, J B Rasquinha suggested amends to the resolution and his every word was counted in. Such was the spirit and power of ‘Rasquinha brothers in those days.
13. Poet Maridas (Rev Fr Anthon John D’Souza) was at his best during the Kavigoshti, as the power went off as soon, he came on the mike to recite his poem. There was total black out. But he thundered in his base voice, that the night is still young and spirits are high and no darkness can make them run away. By then the lights flickered.
14. I had started a publication called ‘Ujwal Prakashan’ and was publishing a short story collection of stories by ten writers of Kinnigoli under the title, ‘Jeevan Sapna’. Both my book and ‘Udev’ Konkani weekly were printed at Cha Fra’s Prime Press. While being a student then I was facing financial hitch, my grandmother contributed Rs 1000 to motivate me. But this amount was not sufficient to pay the printing bill.
At this juncture, Austin D’Souza provided a life time opportunity. He gave me a chance to sit next to K K Pai who was the reception committee chairman. During the meeting, I got closer to Pai Mam and said – “Sir, I am publishing a Konkani book but I am short of funds.” He stared at me and asked, “what do you do besides publishing Konkani books?” I said, “I attend Vijaya College in Mulki. (This college was managed by his family trust, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE). He was so impressed that he took out his pen and a paper and wrote on it, “Give Rs 3000 to this boy.” Then he said, “Show this chit to my secretary in Syndicate Bank HO in Manipal and he will pay you.”
I went to Manipal and got the money. While Cha Fra charged Rs 2000 to the printing work, I made a handsome profit of Rs 2000 for printing 1000 copies. If you happen to read my book, “Jeevan Sapna,’ you will find the advertisement of Syndicate Bank on the inner page of the back cover that read – “Money Grows at Syndicate Bank. On the back cover page Cha. Fra. wrote his last words. It is sad that today, both K K Pai and Syndicate Bank, the greatest financial institutions the Coastal Karnataka had are buried under the debris.
(I am extremely grateful to Austin D’Souza Prabhu and Dolphy Cascia, two of the core committee members of 11th All India Konkani Sahitya Parishad, who went through this article and gave their feedback and also reminded about a few persons in preparation of this exclusive article and the hilarious anecdotes.)