Thursday 30 August 2012

The rupea utsov of the Dalgado Konknni Akademi

Our Parish Priest at Soccorro, Fr Santan Carvalho, organized two busloads of people going to the Rupea Utsov (Silver Jubilee) celebrations of the Dalgado Konknni Akademi at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, 28 August 2012. I offered to join, spent much time wondering whether I should back out because of the rains, but in the end decided to go along, and was very happy finally that I did. First of all, because I had never been to to Ravindra Bhavan: quite well built, and culturally harmonious, though of course occupying what used to be the green fields on the way to Don Bosco Fatorda.

But also because I found the function itself instructive, interesting and even entertaining. Of course the cultural items were good, the very lively dances (was it really a group from Mongllur?), the band (Fr Lino Fernandes from Pilar with a group of youngsters), quite good really, though some parishioner said there was much better talent in Goa. The books on display, at 50% discount, were a steal, and I immediately bought a copy of Olivinho Gomes' Konkani Literature in Roman Script: A History for Rs 100, which I had been looking out for. But the most interesting part was the official program, the inauguration of the silver jubilee year of the DKA. I had known vaguely about the movement for the recognition of Konkani as the official language of the state, and about the sidelining of Roman script Konkani in the Language Act, but not with all details. Tomazinho Cardozo's speech was therefore informative. Cardozo is former Speaker of the Assembly, and also former president of the DKA. The most brilliant and powerful speech was that of Pratap Naik, SJ. His Konkani was utkrushta, and he made his points powerfully, with his 5 magnneo. All the speakers more or less put the Chief Minister, Manohar-bab Parrikar, who was chief guest, on the mat, and I found myself looking forward to a real performance, waiting to see how M-bab would get himself out of the situation.

He did it in great style. As the lawyer said in the film Chicago, distract the people, entertain them. M-bab was nothing if not entertaining. If you are able to entertain people, they tend to forgive you. It was a virtuoso performance. He went straightaway on the attack, but in a very mild and affable way. He said: "I know you are wondering what I am going to say after all these speeches, and how I am going to get out of this predicament." (laughter) "But I can tell you I am not tense at all. I knew all the things that the speakers were going to say. They are not new to me." He began by granting one demand right away: the demand for office space. Then he reminded his audience that Fr Pratap had spoken of the importance of the number 5, and that he had 5 years to deliver. So he had delivered one point (it was not really among the 5 demands of Pratap, but in Cardozo's speech), and he would deliver the others in time. Though, he said, as Fr Pratap has said, the last point was the most difficult - and that was the crucial point, the demand to make an amendment to the Official Language Act, to include Romi script Konkani there as an equal to Devanagari script Konkani.

M-bab came across as a common man ("I take a broom and sweep the mud from my office myself, I am not ashamed to do that, I cannot bear a single plastic bag on the street"), as someone who is knowledgeable and well-read ("I know how difficult it is, the Vatican process of making saints"; and "I know how much Sanskrit has entered into the Konkani that you use in the church, I have read about these things"). He came across above all as someone who not only loved Konkani but also spoke it fluently ("I was the first one to speak in Konkani on the floor of the Assembly"), and as a man who is efficient (this was vouched by some of the ladies in our bus too). And he declared quite categorically, and in English: "I don't hate."

It was a stellar performance. M-bab is no common man. He seems to be knowledgeable as well as efficient. If he grants equal status to Romi script Konkani, it would be a great thing; and it is probably to his own and his party's long term benefit to win over the protagonists of the Romi script, it would make even further inroads into the 'Catholic' votebank. Hopefully capable politicians like M-bab will serve ultimately the greater good, the human good. Hopefully the BJP is moderating and moving towards the centre. But what is policy, what is conviction, and what is merely strategy? There lies the rub.

Still, politics is the art of the possible, and the Rupea Utsov was a great exercise in this kind of thing. And here I mean to include not only M-bab but also all the others who spoke. 

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Prester John, and the First Printing Press in India

Some other points gathered from Olivinho Gomes:

The earliest script in which Konkani is written is Kandvi – akin to but different from the Kannada of its onetime rulers. [xv.]
First European traveler to Goa, after its conquest by the Portuguese, is Tome Pires, himself Portuguese. Pires made notes of his travels in the East (1512-15). He indicates Konkani as quite distinct from Deccani or Marathi north of the Kharepattan river, and Kannada on the east and south. [1-2.]
The King of Portugal present a printing press to Matheus, envoy of Ethiopia, “to be delivered to its famous Prester John, the / legendary Christian king in the East, with whom the Portuguese wished to establish contact as an ally in their political and religious designs in the region”. [2-3.] This press landed in Goa, as was the custom for all things destined for other areas, and from there was dispatched to the king through the Red Sea route. [[remember that there was no Suez Canal!]] The ship was caught in a storm and had to return to Goa. It was then thought that this was God’s will, and was installed in Goa, in September 1556. In the College of St Paul, just taken over by the Jesuits and named from the Seminary of the Holy Faith started by the Francicans Miguel Vaz and Diogo de Borba. Its first printer, a Spaniard called Juan Bustamente. Started operations in the Roamn script for which he had the fonts and types ready. [2-3.]

Olivinho Gomes on Apostolic Christianity in Goa

Olivinho Gomes, in his last, posthumously published book, Konkani Literature in Roman Script: A History (Panaji: Dalgado Konknni Akademi, 2010), has an interesting note on pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa, which I reproduce here.
   “The arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in 1510 and the activities of evangelization / proselytization of their missionaries that came in its wake, in which language played naturally a major part, marks a watershed of great importance in the creation of a distinctively Christian literature of excellence in it. But theirs was not the first introduction of Christianity into Goa, as had been believed for long. For a tradition did exist here that St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, had brought and spread the Gospel in the Konkan region including God, in western India, as another of the Apostles, St. Thomas, had done in Kerala and Tamilnadu in the southern part of it.
   “However, while the latter’s apostolate not only survived but thrived in southern India and established itself on a sound footing, the former’s did not succeed in striking roots strong enough to survive the onslaught inflicted on it later by other interests, religious and political. The result was that its existence and influence had waned considerably to the extent of its deterioration and merger with local Hindu cults to its ultimate conversion of Berthalameu in the Portuguese of the time [[but is this relevant, when we are talking about pre-Portuguese Christianity?]] to Betal, the homophonous Hindu god of fertility, and its virtual disappearance at the time of the Portuguese advent.
   “However, their conqueror, Afonso de Albuquerque, mentions in his letters to the then reigning King Manuel I of Portugal, that he found in the excavations carried out in the fort of Banastarim that encircled and fortified the city of God, which he was repairing after his conquest of it, several crosses and an altarpiece with an engraved image of Lord Jesus Christ. This find was corroborated and reinforced by him by more blue and black crosses he stumbled upon on the Anjediva island off Karwar. [This is new, but I wish he had given references.]
   "The residue of Christianity that survived in patches, however, brought about a very strong strain of devotion to the Cross and the Virgin Mary, the latter syncretically blended with the Mother Goddess of the local autochtonous [sic] culture. This in course of time seeped into the folk beliefs of the rural population of the area, giving a vigorous fillip to the composition of devotional poetry and music at the lowest rungs of the society. These compositions are thoroughly indigenous and do not display any Portuguese influence in the matter of their lexis, but have more of a Biblical flavor reminiscent of the early Christians of the first century, when Bartholomew preached in the Konkan, as attested in the hagiographic Passio Bartholomei and whose suffering and martyrdom is reflected in its raw and harrowing depiction in Vonvallyanco Mollo (1658-59), the massive five-tomed Konkani magnum opus of the Portuguese Jesuit Miguel de Almeida.” [9-10]
Some samples of the pre-Portuguese Christian compositions:
Jesse-chi Talli, tum ge
Zolmoli aiz,
Tum Jezu-chi mata Mori,
Ankvar niz.
Davidachi gofinn tum ge,
Hatiar Golia-chem,
Sins kaplem tuvem
Moizeci betkantti tum ge.
Boli Kristanvancem.
Tem xar ibaddleim tuvem
Faravya rayacem.
Voikunttachem zhadd tum ge,
Foll am’rutachem;
Jivit rakhleim tuvem
Mon’xeakullacem. [11-12.]
Here's another one, on the Cross:
Santa Khursa,
Mornnachya tum polonga,
Ami somest loku,
Nomoskar kortanv tuka. [12.]
Olivinho adds this note: “But they do not seem to have any religious sanction behind them and are not normally sung within the precincts of a church or a chapel.” [13.]

Monday 27 August 2012

Apostolic Christianity in Goa

Another interesting piece of conversation with Fr Almiro was about pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa. There is a huge church of St Bartholomew in Chorao, overlooking one of the inlets of the Mandovi, and facing the Pomburpa church. The Chorao Seminary was also facing the river, as is evident from the drawing. Fr Almiro was very enlightening on this point: he said the main mode of transportation in those days was water, and so naturally the biggest and richest houses faced the river, as also the churches and seminaries. Chorao was the abode of the fidalgos, until the plague, and of rich Christian bhatcars. There were almost no Hindus at the time, according to him, and no Muslims at all. (He did not seem to have heard of the old temple near the Divar ferry in Chorao, however.)
So back to Bartholomew and pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa: Fr Almiro said he believed this was true. When the Portuguese came, they found local Christians dating from Bartholomew and Thomas. They accepted them but destroyed all traces of their pre-Portugese Christianity. Unfortunately, Bartholomew had degenerated into Betal. The Portuguese heaped ridicule on Betal, which is why the familiar ditty:

Nagdo Betaro, xetan bhounvtalo
Xetcarachem mut pieun ghara ietalo.

I remembered this ditty from childhood days, but I had always heard it as “nagdo petaro”. It would seem the right thing is Betaro, or Betal or Vetal.
Despite this, there is indeed a church to St Bartholomew on the island, and it must count as one of the oldest churches in Goa, seeing that the Portuguese first settled on the islands, Ilhas. There is of course another one in Betal-batim in South Goa, or at least a famous altar to St Bartholomew, which, according to a recent editorial in the Herald, the locals still refer to as Betal or Sao Betal. And then the Aldona Church is dedicated to St Thomas.
The interesting thing is that Fr Almiro knew H.O. Mascarenhas, and had even met him in Madras in the old days, and it was from Mascarenhas that he learnt all these things.
He did not seem to know that St Francis Xavier, a few months after landing in Goa, wrote to Ignatius or to Rome speaking about the great devotion of the Goans to St Thomas, and asking for the possibility of celebrating the feast on 3 July…. Cosme Costa concludes that this devotion must antedate the Portuguese presence.
In addition, there is the fact of the surname Nazareth in Vaddem and around. Nazareth is not a Portuguese form, but an Anglicised form – of what? Probably Nozru – I remember Longinus Nazareth telling me that the old ladies of Vaddem would call him Nozrucho put, or Nordrucho put. Nozru – very close to Nasrani, which is the way Christians are still referred to in the Arabic speaking world.
And then the discovery of the St Thomas cross by Cosme Costa near Agacaim.

The Chorao Seminary

A drawing of the Chorao Seminary hanging in the Grace Church Rectory

Stone from the Chorao Seminary
The visit to Fr Almiro at Grace Church, Chorao, near the Madel Ferry to Ribandar, was extremely interesting. Julian had been mentioning the existence of a Seminary in Chorao, but I had never ever heard of such a thing, so I discounted it straightaway. What a surprise to find a drawing of a magnificent seminary precisely at Chorao, hanging in the little sitting room of Grace Church Rectory. Fr Almiro said that the ruins were still visible, but that the property, which belonged to a Christian bhatcar now, was filled with Hindu tenants who were naturally unwilling to leave. The bhatcar seems to have some intention of returning the property to the Jesuits, to whom it had originally belonged. Probably because of the plague, the seminary was eventually shifted to St Paul’s in Old Goa. Eventually that seminary or college also fell into ruin.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Good memories of Chennai

I can't help thinking back to my brief visit to Chennai at the end of July, and most especially to the several libraries I visited: the Connemara Public Library, the Library of the University of Madras, the Regional Language section of that same Library on the Marina Campus, and the Adyar Library and Research Centre at the Theosophical Society Headquarters at Adyar.

At the first three libraries, the staff mostly spoke Tamil, but what I found was a very helpful and obliging attitude. We managed to somehow communicate in Tamil and English; I guess they had passive knowledge of English. Some of them even went much out of their way, like the senior ladies at the University Library who allowed me to go up to the stacks with one of the junior librarians, and the other gentleman at the language library who suggested a Telugu speaking PhD student to help me out. The people at Adyar, once I managed to get through the guards at the gates, were also extremely helpful. And, besides, the atmosphere on the campus is something undescribable. I guess that is what the earth might have been like - or should I say, the Garden of Eden? No wonder people like Krishnamurti and Teilhard tended to forget the fallen condition.

My one regret now is that I did not make the time to visit the Kotturpuram State Library - state of the art, biggest in Asia, and so on. 

Monday 6 August 2012

Devotion to the Sacred Hara of Jesus

Hans Waldenfels points out how difficult and misleading it is to translate 'the Sacred Heart of Jesus' literally into Japanese, because the Japanese have two different expressions: kokoro is 'the heart of the matter,' while shinzo is the physiological heart. If, instead, they need to talk about a part of the body representing the centre of life and existence, they point to the belly - hara. Hara is what we concentrate on in meditation, while we are breathing, where our emotions are assembled. Hara, I remember, occurs often in the many Japanese themed novels I have read. So Waldenfels suggests a new translation of 'the Sacred Heart of Jesus': Iezusu no mihara no seishin, which translates are Devotion to the Sacred Belly of Jesus. And this is not just meaning equivalence, because Scripture has splagnitsesthai, Jesus being moved, having mercy, having pity, but literally, 'his bowels being churned.' And then he makes an interesting connection with the Divine Mercy devotion and the new feast introduced by Bl. John Paul II. Wonderful. (Waldenfels, In-Between: Essays in Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue, Dharma Endowment Lectures 12 [Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2011] 81-2)

The abstract

From where does the abstractness of (some) thinking arise? In my case of some minutes ago, from the desire to preserve privacy, and also from a certain sense of charity and fairness. In other cases, from a desire to generalize from the particular case or cases. And here there is Lonergan who would speak of the intellect pivoting upon the insight to 'abstract' from whatever is not necessary in order to produce the inner word... How do we know what is not necessary? Well, if you have the insight, if you really understand, you know. Ha ha. 

Honour over life

Toranaga again. The fascination of the Japanese culture is that it is so completely different from others. I have the feeling that honour is, in that culture, more important than even life itself. It is better to die therefore than to lose one's honour. And if your boss feels you are in the way, he can ask you to commit seppuku. You are standing in the way: be kind enough to take yourself out of the way.

Horrible? Yet connected to what Hans Waldenfels is hinting at: that the sense of connectedness is far more important and alive in the East than in the West, at least the West that originates from the Cartesian shift to atomic individuality. This is what I learnt first sharply from De Smet's articles on the person, the loss of the person, and its replacement by atomic individuality - all now found in Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet.

What would it have been like if a religious superior could ask one of his subjects to take himself out of the way?

But that is not the point. The point is: Toranaga did not have to fight against his expectations, because he had none, at least where his adversaries were concerned. I suppose that is how it is with our modern day politicians too. Sonia really does not expect - or should not expect - anything from Advani. There are no expectations to be betrayed. One can then act from something approaching niskama karma

A Toranaga reflection

I find myself suddenly thinking of Toranaga in James Clavell's Shogun. Toranaga is surrounded by enemies. But he has one luxury: he has really no expectations that can therefore be betrayed. He knows they are his enemies. He does not trust them. He has to act against them and for his own survival, or perhaps for the realization of his plans. The feeling component - friendship, ties of belonging, trust, expectations - is not there, or else is minimal. And that is a great freedom.

If all this sounds very abstract and unconnected, I want to remember that all thoughts, even the most abstract, arise from the magma of experience.

The art of a good teacher is to be able to connect - or re-connect - seemingly abstract thoughts to the experience from which they might have arisen. Then we have a Heidegger who makes Plato and Aristotle come alive, and whose teaching leads to the Rumour of a Hidden King in the universities of Germany, and that much before the publication of Being and Time. Such after all is also the aim of a very different kind of thinker like Lonergan: to make philosophy empirical, to make even metaphysics empirical - though of course empirical here does not equate to sense data, but to the generalization that includes the 'data of consciousness.' 

Thursday 2 August 2012

Why do Indian babies cry?

Yesterday, coming up to Nashik in the Panchavati Express, we had a baby that cried - bawled, really - almost all the way up. I often think I have never heard babies crying in any of the countries I've lived in outside India. Why do Indian babies cry so much? There must be a simple explanation. If babies cry, it must be either that they are hungry or that they have wetted or dirtied. Could it be that Indian mothers are too shy to feed their babies in public places like trains? Could it be that they are still following outmoded forms of timetable feeding? I don't know. What I do know is that we had to bear the bawling all the way up to Nashik. Added to that, was all the old guys blasting music on their phones or whatever. They probably did not know they could use earphones. I tried to tell one of them to lower his volume. He gave me a dirty look, or maybe it was a puzzled look. 

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