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Of fish and more…

Frederick Noronha

For a state which lives so close to the sea, Goa has a strange equation with its waters. Many of us might not know how to swim. We love eating fish but are largely ignorant about all its many varieties.

Often, you’d find someone in Goa who knows the Konkani name of a fish, but not the English equivalent. Or the other way round. It’s hard to come across a detailed listing of local fish; the best one can get is from central government organisations, like the Fisheries Survey of India. But those are not exclusively local fish.

Once, the Konkani-teaching, Porvorim-based Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, came out with a listing of Goan fish, and their names in English. But, that was published in their academic journal which the centre publishes, called ‘Sodh’, and is now
hard to find.

In such a context, the translation of a low-cost book on fish by Dinesh R Manerkar is indeed a welcome addition to our local discourse and knowledge-base. Dinesh’s book, the Konkani version of it that is, is called ‘Udkantli Aparoop Susht’. If you’re wondering what a complex term like that means, it is a translation of the slim book whose original title is ‘Wonder World Under Water’.

This book was originally published in 2011 by the National Book Trust, of Delhi, and authored by B F Chhapgar. It is priced at just `35 in Konkani, but like other National Book Trust publications, might be difficult to locate. In 2017, it came out in its tenth edition, and the English version is priced at an also reasonable `40.

The 72-page, colourful book is all about fish, sea-life and related issues. It describes itself as “An illustrated book giving an account of the wonderful life under water”. It is aimed at readers in the 12-14 years age group.

The Konkani version of the book too is very lavishly illustrated. As the author tells us at the start of the book itself: “Nearly three-quarters of our earth is covered by water. Yet we, living on land, usually know more about land creatures than our aquatic denizens”.

This is a fairly complex book that uses a number of specialist terms; so one can imagine the difficulty in translating the language sometimes included. Some of the terms translated included words like sponge, sea anemone, sea fan, comb-jelly, various kinds of worms, skeleton shrimp, robber crab, horse-shoe crab, cowrie, limpets and more. One can only imagine what a tough job this is to get equivalent terms in the local language, Konkani.

There are also the kind of fish and sea-life that we in Goa are more than familiar with such as shrimp, lobster, the “Christ” crab (with a cross on it), the sacred chank (shank – a word which according to some accounts is believed to have created the name Shank-walkar), mussels (‘shinani’), squid (‘manki’), the shark (ranging from 30 centimetres to 15 metres in size), the whale shark (‘waga mori’), the frog (‘bebo’), sea snakes, crocodile (‘mangemn’), turtles, and dolphins. By the way, the Konkani word used for the dolphin is

The importance of this book is two-fold. First of all, it makes us aware of a whole lot of information which we might not know, though it’s very relevant to our lives. Secondly, by putting it across in Konkani, it makes this knowledge accessible to those who use this language, including students studying it and badly needing more non-fiction information accessible to them.

The translator deserves credit for taking on this challenge, though some might wish for an easier-to-follow language. Besides, Manerkar has also taken the pains to make some copies of the title available here, by purchasing the same from Delhi at his own cost. As we are all aware, NBT books can be hard to come by, ironically enough, perhaps because they are so inexpensively priced.

This book deserves to be noticed for another reason. Konkani has received official government support for some time now, and there have been campaigns in favour of promoting the language. Yet, Konkani perhaps lacks sufficient material in the world of non-fiction. This means that we lack the information that our region so badly needs. Many books that emerge in Konkani comprise of poetry, short stories, or even novels. There is clearly a need for more non-fiction.

As noted above, there could be one problem though: since the book deals with such a technical subject, and so many complex names, the translation could be tough to follow in some cases. For instance, what would you understand as the difference between a ‘congo’, ‘cowdee’, a ‘videa kongo’ and a ‘dhungur congo’? If you, like me, didn’t guess, then these are a button shell, a cowrie, a cone shell, and a periwinkle. Complex in any language…

To overcome this, more copies of the book could be made available in Goa, together with the English version of the same – which is fortunately available online. In case you were wondering what all is in this book, you can find a full-text copy (of the English version) online, here: The PDF copy might be the best to download or to read.

One suggestion here: it might be helpful to make Konkani texts easier to read by explaining some hard words alongside, in parenthesis. This is done in some Romi (Roman) script Konkani texts, especially the weekly newspapers published in Bombay of the past. It helped these publications to get understood by as many as possible. This only makes it easier for the reader to
comprehend the text.

There are other issues too: a scholar based in the US, Robert (Bob) Newman, who has studied Goa deeply, once pointed out that all the varieties of Goa fish are not adequately named or even understood. For instance, the name of a fish from the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean is sometimes used for a fish found in Goan waters. Yet, there is only a slight resemblance between the fishes there and here, he suggested when we once discussed the topic.

But whatever the other issues, this book is a good start and certainly deserves being better noticed and wider discussed.

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