Taking the contentious romi-nagri issue as a case-study in his recently submitted doctoral thesis on the “Citizenship Experiences of Goan Catholics”, Jason Keith Fernandes argues that as caste plays a central role “in moulding the figure of the ideal citizen-subject” anybody who “fail[s] to embody the figure of the Konkani munis, a figure that is modelled on the Saraswat Brahmin” (p. 22) is considered to lie outside the boundary of legitimate Goan citizenship. This claim is made by borrowing the context of nation-states wherein there is only one ideal citizen-subject. Thus, in the case of the cultural productions of the Roman lipi as well as the persons who embody the culture of the Roman script are seen as lacking in standard. It is with this insight in mind I would like to place before the reader an alternate ideal-type, a Konkani munis who has as much a legitimate right to represent and take the culture of Goa forward on the road of progress.
Brazinho Soares, from Santa Cruz just ahead of Bambolim is one such person who represents and embodies this alternate Konkani munis. Soares, nearing his seventy-fifth birthday this October, is a man who is crazy for the cultural productions of romi: romanxes, tiatrs and its handbills, cantaram and virtually anything and everything that bears the impression and inflection of the Roman script. A brief visit to his house (last month) revealed the wealth that he has collected – spending his own money! – for well over six decades. Soares has also published a book on Konkani proverbs Motiam and a tiatr, Konn To Khuni. He is also the recipient of the Goa State Award 2004-5 for literature among others.
Why is Soares so addicted to romi? He explains, “When I was working at the lab of Dr. Tamba [later he joined the Goa Medical College till his retirement], I would get some free time and due to which I would read all the newsmagazines published from Bombay. Soon, what happened was one of my friends who would study music with me in the parish school, brought a copy of the Salesian published Aitarachem Vachop. This friend who worked in the printing press suggested to me to write a poem. I did write one and sent it to Aitarachem Vachop. Fr. Caitan Lobo, who was then the editor, published my poem…this proved to be an encouragement for me. I would read and bring the newsmagazines back and keep them safely in my home. I would buy all the publications issued from Bombay: Sot, Sot Uloi, Cine Times etc. I would even keep the handbills in Concani that I would find on the road. I started collecting from 1953. Since I would very meticulously keep all the newsmagazines, in no time a huge collection swelled in my house, much to the discomfort of my family! Later, when we had to renovate the house, I shifted my collection to another place and a few months later when I brought it back, I found that most of it was eaten by termites. I had to burn what was destroyed. That day I cried a lot. This was in 1986.”
Given the fact that the self of the Goan Catholic is made through markers such as the Roman script, and that these markers if denied or destroyed results also in a loss of self for the Goan Catholic, is perhaps, the reason why Soares cried while watching his beloved collection of romi works being consumed by the flames. So passionate was Soares about reading in romi that he once even spent a fortune on romi books! “My sister took me out to do some sight-seeing of Bombay [this was his first trip to that city]. I purchased whatever romi books I could find from all the shops that we passed by. Books worth 150 rupees. I had exhausted my money.” He would even go to as far as Margão by taking a day off from his work just to buy romi books!
Soares started reading and collecting romi books and newsmagazines at a time when many would read such literature. Many still do even now. It was from Soares that I learnt of the writings of Reginald Fernandes, hailed as the patxai (king) of Konkani novels, who in Soares’ estimation may have written more than 200 books of which Soares possess around 97. Being an avid reader of Reginald Fernandes, Soares would often communicate with Reginald Fernandes. Here is what he had to say, “I have many letters from Reginald Fernandes. I would write to him after reading his book. The publishers would pay Reginald about 500 rupees for a book, there was very little money involved in writing. Reginald would wrap up a book in as little as eight days! He would wake up at 5 in the morning and write till 12 noon while having his breakfast right at his work station!”
By briefly acquainting ourselves with the life-history of Soares, an alternate Konkani munis is made available to us. This is not to suggest that the concept of ‘Konkani munis’ is the only framework to construct an alternate model of legitimate citizenship in Goa. Also what needs to be stressed, as Jason Keith Fernandes briefly identifies in his thesis (in the context of tiatrs), is the role of dignidad in the schema. This concept which needs to be developed further, stresses in its most elementary form, on the universal value of human dignity and which does not exclude anybody. Reginald Fernandes in his earlier novels did talk about dignidad (albeit briefly). Sadly, such a type of Konkani person has been cast aside by the dominant groups in the linguistic politics of Goa. While wishing Soares a long and prosperous life ahead, we also look forward to his continued inspiration to the field of romi cultural productions.
See Jason Keith Fernandes. “Citizenship Experiences of the Goan Catholics.” Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon, 2013.
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: August 7, 2013).