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The life and times of Bonaventure D’Pietro

Frederick Noronha

Some people promote themselves. Others do a little to make their work visible. There are still others who feel embarrassed about talking of their work. Bonaventure D’Pietro clearly belongs to the last category.

A small-built man, a quiet type and a most modest personality, D’Pietro, his preferred nome d’plume though born as Boaventura Pedro Fernandes, was the kind of personality you could easily miss noticing. Somehow, my attention was drawn to the man, thanks to common friends like the late journalist Joel D’Souza of Assagao, cartoonist Alexyz, and journo Alister Miranda.

It would not be wrong to say that we have a kind of linguistic apartheid in Goa. If you’re in the arena of English, you would know nothing of what’s happening in the world of words in Konkani or Marathi. And vice versa, to a slightly lesser extent. What is worse is that even one script of Konkani might largely ignore the work done by the other, or pretend it doesn’t exist.

In my flawed Konkani, I did a short interview with D’Pietro, which is still somewhere online, on YouTube. He told me about the books he had written, and how Alfred Rose had referred to him as the James Hadley Chase of the Konkani world. Besides his written word, D’Pietro was also deep into music. Not just him, but even his sons played a prominent role in a family-run band, and one of his musician-sons spent a career with the Indian Navy, and retired from there too.

Tomazinho Cardozo has called D’Pietro one of Konkani’s great story-tellers. But, while commenting on an earlier work of his, Cardozo has also argued that, despite his merit, it is unfortunate that D’Pietro did not get the attention he deserved. I recall buying a novel called Tichea Mornea Uprant (or, After Her Death, 1990), published inexpensively in the Romi Konkani style and priced, if one recalls right, at just `20 then.

Before 2019’s torrential and devastating monsoons, Bonaventure D’Pietro passed away unexpectedly. It came as a shock to all who knew him, because just a few days later, his autobiography was to be released. It was called Vattliechea Avazan: Mhoji Jivit Kotha. The book title could be translated to ‘With the Sound of Bowl: My life-story’. It is a reference to his dad’s style of announcing D’Pietro’s birth to the vaddo.

We can’t turn the clock back, but need to go on with life. Fortunately, the scheduled book-release function went ahead. The Dalgado Konkani Akademi has allowed a lot of Roman-script writers to have their works in print, which otherwise might not have happened. That was a good way to pay tribute to the work of a writer.

D’Pietro’s book is unusual because it is one of the few first-person autobiographies that we have from local writers in Goa. In any language. It tells his story in a simple language, filled with varied and rich experiences, plus details of the struggle he went through in life to make it in writing.

Earlier, D’Pietro told me how he would work in a printing press in Mumbai, in a modest technical capacity, and would then convince the press to let him compose his own novel there after office-hours.

In his autobiography, there’s a list of all his work – around ten novels, one novella, a collection of short stories, a set of stories for children, and religious writing. These include books like Sankoll (20133), Janya Celi (2006), Jimmy (1986), Mhaka Jieunk Zai (1977), Tera Numbrachi Kottri (1976), From Goa with Love (1975), Mhojea Paicho Fondd (1975), Clara (1972), Kallea Vistidachi Choli (1972) and Soitanacho Ghutt (way back to 1958).

One of D’Pietro’s books is a translation into English called Forever Yours. This is a description of traditional Goan weddings, as carried out by rural Catholics in varied parts of Goa. Professor Isabel Santa Rita Vaz has termed it a “docu-novel”, a term with helps one to better appreciate this form of writing.

What is interesting about D’Pietro is that he represents a new kind of voice in Goan writing, one that emerged mostly after the 1960s. From his autobiography, it becomes clear that he emerged from extremely modest roots, and struggled to get into writing.

Unlike the writers of an earlier generation, especially among Catholic Goans, writers like D’Pietro were not part of the elite. Far from it. Till very recently, you had to be born with a golden spoon in your mouth to be able to devote a lifetime to writing, fiction, or (till the 1960s) even journalism.

Told in chronological format, D’Pietro’s story talks about the many struggles faced in those times. The 1960s and 1970s were particularly hard on India, and by implication, on Goa too. But those who came up, like D’Pietro, had it even harder, as they were literally the first generation into writing.

His father had the talent, in music. But that could not be easily converted into earnings. D’Pietro talks about this in a section titled adleam muzganchi poristhiti (the conditions of the earlier musicians). Most musicians still have it tough in Goa. Migration was a way out, for his father too, who landed up in ‘Bomboi’, as Goans then called the city.

Parish schools, the love for reading Konkani, the bhattcar’s home, Panaji and Taleigao of those times, the Colva beach…  these are some of the author’s memories that stretch back decades. He remembers his native village of Anjuna, and some prominent individuals who shaped his life, particularly priests.

D’Pietro takes the reader to the Margao of the time, the tiatrs, Christmas and Carnival. It is tough to summarise the flavour of his details, but suffice to say that his narrations are vivid with details and colour. On reading it, one almost feels transported back to the Goa of another era.

What is amazing is that D’Pietro doesn’t tell his story with any self-pity. He narrates the tough times he lived, without any regret or anger. For a change, used as we are to reading glamorised pictures of the Goa of the past, here we encounter life seen from ground up. The narrator’s voice views the world from the eyes of someone who has little, is struggling to make it, and needs to cope with an affluent Goa on whose life-changing decisions he would survive.

D’Pietro finds his way from Mapusa to Saligao, Manora in Raia, and Mazal Vaddo in Assagao. Sometime along the way, persistence pays. He begins with an award, and that perhaps changes his self-perception.

At the end of the book, some of his photographs tell a neat story-in-pictures of the Goa that was. One of these shows a cupboard full of awards. (There are also other images of the author himself across the decades, handbills of tiatrs which he staged, playing as part of his family band, and so on.)

But a real writer is really awarded by the impact of his writing. It is when people agree (or disagree and critique) with his work, that a writer can be said to be relevant. In this way, Goa as a society has failed many of its writers, whose work await being more fully understood. One hopes we could do better.

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