Cultural (air)waves: Konkani in Canada

Sometime last week, an email from Canada pointed to an interview done for the radio with Ben Antao. This ex-Velim former Navhind Times journalist who worked here in the 1960s, is now a novelist and non-fiction book author in Canada. Someone else complained they could not reach the site.http:// Out of curiosity, one went along; and what an unusual experience it turned out to be.

There must be at least a couple of Goan villages settled in France, many more in Portugal (who went there earlier), and in the UK too. Swindon is now a household word in Goa. The same is true in Canada. In recent times, more expats have gone to these places directly from Goa, changing the composition and cultural preferences of the diasporic communities there.

Turns out that the Canadian Goans have gone ahead and put together a weekly two-hour community radio programme, which you can visit online too via radiomango.ca Not just that, they were bold enough to get out the show in Konkani, with a few words in English thrown in.

“Amchi bhas, amchem music. Every Saturday, 7-9 pm. Toronto FM 101.3,” reads their proud claim on their site. Radio Mango calls itself “Canada’s first Konkani radio program”.

It goes on to explain itself: “In a market saturated with Bollywood, Punjabi and Hindi programs, comes a program so niche, so unique, you wonder why it took so long!… It caters to a target audience, which, because of the Mediterranean influence, is unique in its own right.”http://

Community radio programmes and niche-language broadcasting overseas is not very new or surprising in itself. For instance, Marathi speakers are known to have their occasional programme in Australia. In Germany, two decades ago, one encountered Turkish broadcasting.

But even as the discourse back home laments the disinterest in the ‘mother tongue’, it was indeed a bold initiative by a small group of expats. Not just that, the Radio Mango experiment attempts to link up both Goan and Mangalore speakers of Konkani, each conversing in their own dialect, but quite comprehensible on the whole.

Strangely enough, while debates around language revolve around cliches and simplistic perspectives here, Goa has itself long been guilty of unenlightened and unhelpful approaches to language. Promoting Konkani has consequently been a major victim.

In the first place, learning Konkani can be a challenging task even in Goa itself, leave aside globally. There are few options to do so, and courses are held, at best, occasionally. Ever so often, a scholar wanting to do work in Goa will come up with the question of where is the best place to learn conversational Konkani. The answer is: there’s hardly any. Of course, one can go through the rigmarole of finding an individual tutor, working out terms and timings, and hope for the best. But this is a cumbersome and often unworkable way of doing things.

In a world where audio files can be share internationally at the speed of light, and at minimal cost, you would have thought that there would have been a number of online ventures helping those interested to learn the Konkani language. Far from it!

Added to this, we have that approach in Goa where some dialects of Konkani are priviledged, and others are laughed off. Sashti is often the language of the clown in the tiatr. Bardezi is not good enough for academic purposes, but dominates the ever popular Cantaram song form or the Romi press. The Pednem dialect gets occasional space as a form of protest, or when someone wants to make a point. Other remote variants also get ridiculed, so much so that speakers of Konkani sometimes prefer to cast aside that language and its markers. Besides, it’s not only geography which can create dividing lines here.

On Radio Mango (someone back home suggested its name came from a mixup of MANgalorean and GOan) there’s the Goan dialect of Milena Marques-Zachariah, who studied and taught in Parra in the 1970s, and the Mangalorean tones of a Wilson D’Souza. Now, with such attempts at bridging the difficult geographical divide, can our expats also lead the way in narrowing religious gaps which the always-seeking-differences human mind is so good in creating?

At a third level, the problems of Konkani in part also stem from the fact that the language has, at times, been used as a tool to exclude, rather than include. When combined with the above two challenges (limited possibilities to learn the language, and a lack of acceptance of the dialects), this makes for a lethal combination.

The Radio Mango experience reminds us of a basic home-truth about language usage in Goa. It has often been said that Goans look down on their language, and are unwilling to use it. But here, one important point is being missed: that of language loss.

Language loss can occur at the person or the familial level. Goan families that have migrated for two or three or more generations have faced this reality, only to feel like strangers in their own home. Goans might have started their outmigration in large numbers earlier, but today other communities — even Malyalees — are also facing problems in keeping in touch with their written languages; maybe to a slightly lesser degree still.

One Goan expat responded to the audio programme saying: “Thanks for the link to Radio Mango and the songs. I only listened to parts of the program and enjoyed it very much. Even though my Konkani is very rusty, I was thrilled that I was able to understand a lot of it. Thanks to my grandmother who spoke no English — it forced me to learn Konkani.” This is more common than one would suspect.

With so much possible, thanks to technology nowadays (audio technology isn’t new, though the Net opens up many more possibilities), one hopes creative talent here and elsewhere gives a new boost to language and culture.

Which brings us to another point: Goa is perhaps the only State in the country which does not have any genuine community radio station of its own, as that Goaphile of Malyalee origin, Sajan Venniyoor, has pointed out time and again.

St Xavier’s at Mapusa almost made it, but some difficulty at that time blocked their efforts to start broadcasting. If culture is to get a boost, it perhaps need the involvement of not just government and commercial outlets, but something beyond that too.

LINKS: http://bit.ly/radiomango1 http://bit.ly/radiomango2

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About fredericknoronha

Alt.Publishing. Journalism. Books. Cyberspace. Networking.

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