Wednesday , 26 September 2018

The tongue’s tale

Frederick Noronha

Every once in a way, you come across that hard-core Goan, who is so caught up with studying and understanding one aspect of Goa’s reality, that it becomes hard for others to even appreciate their work or contribution. It is Goa’s loss that we do not recognise such persons on time, fail to understand them altogether, or simply ignore their work.

Recently, I came across the work of L A (Lordino) Rodrigues. It has been republished by his son Tensing Rodrigues in two volumes titled ‘Glimpses of the Konkani Language at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century, Vol I and Vol II’. These are actually a series of articles published between 1978 and 1991 in the then extant Boletim do Instituto Menezes Braganca.

Each volume (published by the Margao-based Cinnamon Teal) is priced at a reasonable `200, in part perhaps thanks to a Directorate of Official Language Grant, and also because of the obvious labour of love put in, over long years, to garner this information, write it down, edit it and have it published in diverse formats.

At first glance, two aspects strike you about the books in your hands. For one, there is this neat and almost-artistic typesetting that printers of another era were known to have used. There are also some hand-made corrections in the text, which could be interpreted either as reflections of a hurried job, or signs of the thoroughness with which those deeply involved with telling the story of the past try to have it recorded. They did so to the best of their ability, the many limitations notwithstanding.

The other aspect one could debate is about the interpretations of our linguistic past. Historical linguistics, the linguistic history of India or the history of language are all complicated subjects, open to diverse interpretations. The nuances would be lost on the average reader or collector of Goa books like myself.

But Rodrigues, a former teacher of Portuguese whom some senior former colleagues at the Dhempe College remember vividly, has done a fascinating job here. What’s particularly helpful is that these books make understanding many intricacies of the Konkani language easier for those who might not be too steeped into that language.

This describes many of us today. It includes the children of expat Goans who have faced severe forms of language loss over generations of migration. It applies to those who might not have studied long years of Konkani, for reasons of age, availability or choice. It is also relevant to those who might be based in Goa for long but haven’t got down to studying the Konkani language for whatever reason, even the fact that there are only limited avenues to learn it outside of schools and colleges (or the university).

Rodrigues’ articles cover various aspects of Konkani. Even if you choose not to read these books from cover to cover, dipping into the wealth included would offer sharp insights to just about most readers.

His description of Konkani terms for currency takes us back to an era most would have forgotten or never encountered. Reading his description of the phases of the moon only makes one comprehend the complexity of local understanding of nature. Sometimes, you wonder how agriculturists still have such a deep knowledge of weather changes, even better at times than what our meteorologists can predict with all their sophisticated equipment.

This is his description of time, as understood by speakers of this language: “The natural day (of 24 hours) is divided into 64 ghoddio, and the artificial (solar) day into 32, so that an hour corresponds to 2 ghoddio and 15 minutes, i.e. 2/5 ghoddio; subsequently one ghoddi is divided into 4 panvollam, one panvollam into 4 khinn, and one khinn into 4 nimush.”

Rodrigues’ description of the Goan ‘village republics’ mentions as many as 58 terms linked with these small, almost self-governing areas of another era. His listings of other words focus on religious ceremonies, religious sacrifices, prayers, and even the weapons of the gods.

Besides delving into Konkani proverbs and idioms, Rodrigues gives us Konkani words for 14 kinds of smells, 11 kinds of tastes, eight kinds of moulds (fungii), and five types of ripeness of fruits! He lists 26 words connected with kinds of coconuts (a ‘bonddi’ is a little smaller than a ‘bonddo’) and coconut products, and about 17 words linked to the coconut tree. Language gives us a hint of how critical these trees were in Goa for long.

Of course, as everyone knows, Konkani (like most Indian languages) has very precise terms for the names of family relatives, unlike English. The influence of the Portuguese on the Konkani language has also been mentioned and acknowledged, even in more recent times.

Rodrigues also shows us the differences between Jesuit and Franciscan vocabularies. He mentions archaic Konkani and talks about words which were going extinct already in his times, which is almost a generation ago.

This work is not just about language, but it offers insight into the knowledge of those times, and how the Konkani speakers of another generation understood life around them. For instance, their marking of time, and the divisions of the day into different slots, is simply intriguing. (We often refer to noon-day as ‘don para’. If you’ve wondered why, the answer is here. Likewise, what intrigued me was the way in which time between dusk and late night was divided in those times.)

Goa absolutely needs more such individuals, men and women who live their dreams (at a great price, one may say) and take on such work. Their contribution is what keeps our understanding alive. Rodrigues and his family’s contribution undoubtedly is one such contribution, waiting to be acknowledged.

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