Manoharrai Sardesai’s French connection


ny mention about Goan Konkani literature would be incomplete with the mention of prolific Goan writer, Manoharrai Sardesai. He was a poet whose poetry touched people’s hearts and that is probably one of the reasons why he was referred to as ‘Lok Kavi’ or People’s Poet.
Sardesai, who also wrote for children, was in addition a French scholar. He obtained his doctorate in French literature in 1958 from the Sorbonne University, Paris and taught French at colleges in Mumbai and also at the Goa University.
Many of us are aware about his poetry in Konkani, but not many are exposed to his interest in the French culture and language. He was a master in the French language and even wrote poems in French. Revealing such details about Sardesai’s French connection is the book by author Edith Furtado titled ‘The Works of Manoharrai Sardesai: A Meeting Point between India and France.’
The book, which is a compilation of Sardesai’s poems in Konkani and French, also contains critical comments by the author on Sardesai’s work.
Edith mentions that the interest to write about Sardesai came about after she started going through his poems in Konkani.
“It was soon after his death, in the year 2006, that I actually started going through his works and found them interesting. I even presented a paper to UGC on the same topic. Then I realised that I need to take this information to a wider audience”, says Edith, former head of the department of French, Goa University.
Edith says, “This book is an attempt to take Sardesai’s poetry to a wider audience and that’s why I have translated some of his poems with the help of my colleague Amita Akshikar. It includes a collection of poems – ‘Pissoli’ ‘Zaayat Zage’, ‘Zayo Zuyo’, and some individual poems that I liked.” In this book one will also find Sardesai’s poems that he penned in French.
“Sardesai’s French poems are loaded with humour, love and longing, but at the same time they give a glimpse into his personality. In his poem ‘Goodbye Paris’ (where he spent five years while completing his PhD) he mentions that his years in Paris were full of learning and opening up to realities of life. In his poems he always mentions Goa. This shows not only his longing for his soil, but also his patriotism. It is important to note that even though he was not physically a part of Goa’s Liberation movement, he reflected this emotion and the need for liberation through his writings. The compilation of poems in ‘Zayat Zage’ is the best example of his patriotism,” says Edith.
Edith also throws light on little known facts about Sardesai’s writings. She mentions that when you analyse his work, you realise that Sardesai was highly inspired by 18th and 19th century French writers. “A lot of his writings were hugely influenced by French writers and French romanticisation, like that of 19th century poet and writer, Victor Hugo. Hugo was considered a prophet poet, one who spoke to people, and that’s what Sardesai did through his poems. In the ‘Zayat Zage’ collection he spoke to Goans about freedom and liberation,” says Edith, who further mentions that Sardesai’s political thoughts developed while he was in France studying for his doctorate in French literature in the 1950s.
Edith, who has been researching Sardesai’s works for the last eight years, mentions that Sardesai even presented various papers on French writers. “Sardesai presented a paper on French writer Voltaire, on how intolerant he (Voltaire) was about intolerance. Sardesai also presented a paper on the educational system by comparing the works of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and 18th century French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau and showing how similar they were. Sardesai also opined that Rabindranth was also inspired from Rousseau’s work”, says Edith.
Edith is one of the few who actually got a chance to learn about French literature from Sardesai. “I was his only student, way back in 1972. I would say that more than a teacher he was a poet in the classroom. He taught me a very important thing, to appreciate literature, and I believe that’s the best part of teaching”, concludes Edith.
(The release of the book “The Works of Manoharrai Sardesai: A Meeting Point between India and France” by Edith Furtado will be held on November 7 at 6 p.m. at Fundação Oriente, Fontainhas, Panaji. It will be released by Vice Chancellor of Goa University, Satish Shetye. The release will be followed by a panel discussion. Panellists for the discussion are Maria Aurora Couto, Vijaya Rao and Madhav Borkar. The evening will conclude with a performance by the Cotta Family Ensemble, who will sing songs by the poet.)


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