FROM THE KONKANI WORLD: TRIBUTE TO FELICIO CARDOSO -- THE UNASSUMING GIANT
By Xavier Cota
xcota at sancharnet.in
The tragic death of Felicio Cardoso a year ago on May 17, 2004
brought down the curtains on a great man who walked most
unassumingly amongst us.
A man for whom Truth was an uncompromising credo but who, ironically was
often accused of being anti-religious! A generous soul whose left hand did
not know what his right hand had given and who could yet be charged with
being un-Christian! A true freedom-fighter who despite suffering years of
brutal imprisonment for his beliefs, never made a fetish of it, nor wore his
scars on his sleeve. A teacher who never stopped learning. A chef par
excellence, a dramatist, a magician who had mastered hypnotism. A linguist
with fluency over English, Portuguese, Kannada, Hindi and Marathi but who
prided in most often speaking only his mother-tongue Konkani which he served
with brilliant distinction. A writer with mastery over several literary
genres, but who nevertheless chose the difficult path of Roman-script
Konkani journalism when all that we had at the time were a handful of
gossipy weeklies and monthlies in rundown, anaemic, Konkani, and a religious
weekly catering to a very limited readership....
Felicio, though virtually penniless and in indifferent health after his long
stint at the infamous Aguada Jail, managed to string up the finances and
almost single-handedly launched a high quality Konkani weekly GOENCHO SAD in
tabloid format in the Roman script. It was to become the first Konkani
weekly in Liberated Goa. From the inception, there were articles of high
standard written by eminent Goan writers, both Catholic and Hindu.
Felicio Cardoso's contribution to the standardization of written
Konkani and the introduction of pure Konkani and Antar-Bharati or
pan-Indian vocabulary to Goans in general and the Catholic community
in particular is unparelleled. He did it with the flair of a natural
teacher as he gradually introduced more and more sophisticated
syntax and terminology with the colloquial word in parenthesis.
These were subsequently gradually withdrawn.
GOENCHO SAD, which hit the news stands early on Sunday morning became a
weekly habit for thousands of Goans from the well-educated to the
semi-educated. With its mix of bold, accurate reporting, informed comment,
poems and creative literature, sports and quizzes, puzzles and competitions,
GOENCHO SAD was a success. With the readership clamouring for more, Felicio
was emboldened to transform it into a daily within a year.
Thus, was born SOT.
Continuing the Goencho Sad tradition, a host of top Goan writers wrote for
it. Goa's Poet-Laureate Manohar Rai Sardessai contributed a poem every day!
Inspired by this, young Goan writers tried their hand at poetry and prose
and SOT provided a platform for their creativity. They were heady times.
During the four years of its life, SOT played a heroic role in exposing
corruption and above all in safeguarding Goa from merger with Maharashtra
during the Opinion Poll and for the recognition of Konkani. Later he trained
his guns on the Deputationists -- the colonial-type bureaucrats from across
the border who were lording it over the Goans in the Goa administration and
looting Goa. It would be no exaggeration to say that though GOENCHO SAD and
SOT lasted for only half a decade, the standards they set for responsible
journalism, bold exposure, informative comment and uncompromising adherence
to Truth, is a beacon for Goan journalism for all time -- that too on
antiquated machinery and a shoe-string budget!
However, unknown to most readers, publishing the SOT was a daily struggle
for its editor-publisher who had to sell off the few family heirlooms (that
still remained unlooted by his relations and others during his sojourn in
jail), to finance it. His uncompromising love for Konkani and his
intolerance of corruption and injustice inevitably placed him in the bad
books of the powers that be.
Corrupt businessmen irked at his espousal of the cause of labour,
even hired hoodlums to beat him up as he cycled home one night.
Unmindful of the pain, he heroically brought out the next day's
edition! Stung by his exposures, the then MGP Government shut off
government ads to the fledgling paper.
As the red ink mounted, well-wishers mooted what appeared to be a good idea
-- the merger of the struggling SOT with A VIDA the Portuguese daily (which,
after Liberation found its circulation dwindling), to produce DIVTTI the
first broad-sheet Konkani daily with a page in Portuguese. But the chemistry
was not right. Unyielding Truth is not a sought-after commodity especially
for the establishment to whom some of the new partners belonged. After a
few months, Felicio quit rather than compromise his editorial independence.
After his departure, DIVTTI sputtered on for some time before folding up.
For a short time after that, he published LOKSAD, a weekly.
Thereafter, another broad-sheet daily UZVADD was launched from the house of
Chowgules. He was invited to be its editor, but because of the conditions
imposed, which would compromise his editorial independence, he declined. He
was then asked to suggest a name. Eminent freedom-fighter Evagrio Jorge
whose name he suggested only agreed on condition that Felicio would be its
Margao correspondent. Ironically Evagrio also met his death in a tragic car
After the demise of UZVADD there was yet another attempt called NOVEM GOEM.
This daily tabloid, despite the back-breaking labour put in by Felicio, who
was not even thanked for his efforts, did not last, because of the venality
of those in charge.
Meanwhile he resumed his education 23 years after it was interrupted by his
involvement in the Liberation struggle, consequent incarceration in Aguada
Jail and his involvement in journalism . He completed his SSCE, went on to
finish his graduation and almost completed his LLB while beginning a new
innings as a teacher in Rosary High School, Navelim, where he made his mark
as a real guru with encyclopaedic knowledge and a rational, liberal outlook.
He gave vent to his literary and journalistic urges by contributing a
regular column 'Dixtti Kon' to the first Devanagari Konkani daily SUNAPARANT
and by his close friendship and association with Fr. Freddy da Costa.
Together they forged the GULAB into a class Romi Konkani monthly with a
large circulation both inside Goa and abroad.
It was firmly anchored on the bedrock of Truth and Justice and regularly
gave its readers gleanings from the best of Indian literature by its
translations from other languages and by transcribing quality Konkani
literature from Devanagri and Kannada scripts. GULAB reflected its editors'
concern for the loss of values, environmental destruction and above all
stood for the primacy of Konkani in safeguarding Goa's patrimony.
On special occasions, the newspaper GOENCHO AWAZ would be brought out.
The death of these two stalwarts together in a tragic car crash dealt a
double blow to Goa -- two powerful voices for truth, justice, rationalism
and open inquiry have been forever silenced. More tragically, a beacon for
leading a large segment of people back to Konkani has been snuffed out.
Is all lost?
Truth and Justice are eternal values. They reside in each and every
one of us even though many a time we do our best to sacrifice them
at the altar of untruth and expediency.
Can we continue to be myopic and pretend that Konkani is only for the
semi-literates and die-hard protagonists, that it will not feed us, that it
is undeveloped, that it is a dialect etc etc?
When shall we Goans realise that Konkani is the very soul of Goa, the thread
that binds all Goans irrespective of caste and creed. Remove it and you have
an empty shell of selfish groups dancing to the tunes of out-of-state
puppet-masters and jostling for the crumbs thrown out by them.
Do we want to be masters of our destiny? Or will we continue to be ruled by
bureaucrats from all over India except Goa. Does any other state of this
country tolerate so many non-local civil service officers? Goa does it
because we never implemented the Official Language Act unlike other states
where no affront to the mother tongue is tolerated. The cause of
implementing the Official Language Act and safeguarding local jobs for Goans
is left to valiant groups like the Hitrakhan Manch fighting lonely battles
while the official bodies like the Official Language Cell remain mute?
Prophets, unlike the pompous pygmies that strut about on the political
stage, puffed with ill-gotten wealth, ego and self-importance are largely
ignored in their lifetimes, but, unlike those ludicrous figures, they are
not immediately forgotten, but are remembered even centuries after their
Perhaps at this yearly milestone of the death of Felicio Cardoso -- genuine
freedom-fighter, champion of Truth and Konkani savant, we should rededicate
ourselves to reclaiming the soul of our Goanness.
Who knows, the spirit of Felicio Cardoso who recognised Romi-script as a
necessary bridge to lead thousands of marginalised Goans back into the
Konkani mainstream, may yet inspire a high-quality self-sustaining
Romi-Konkani daily which will be a byword for courageous, credible
journalism for a new Goan Renaissance!
FOOTNOTE: At the end of the anniversary mass at Seraulim Church
which had a touching homily based on the Sermon on the Mount by
Mons. Jaime Couto (a professor at Saligao Seminary)and the blessing
of the grave, Felicio Cardoso' friends and admirers gathered at his
house where Goa's Poet Laureate Dr. Manohar Rai Sardessai unveiled a
commemorative plaque. He remarked that a person like Felicio turned
up very rarely. He expressed the wish that every politician who
aspires to be a minister today, should first undergo at least one
month's solitary confinement at Aguada jail and taste a hundred
strokes of the infamous Agente Monteiro's cane as did Felicio
Cardoso. Adv. Uday Bhembro said that we as Goans do not treasure and
preserve our history. He remarked that we should have converted into
museums and pilgrimage centres of learning the residences of Goan
greats like Francisco Luis Gomes, Mon. Dalgado and Xennoi Goem Bab
so that posterity should know that such towering persons are our
ancestors. Writer Damodar Mauzo appealed to the heads of Asmitai
Pratisthan and Konkani Akademi to bring out a collection of Felicio
Cardoso's writings and his biography,. Soter Barreto, close
confidant of Felicio, thanked the people for coming announced that
the house which had been renovated by him and where Felicio's
considerable collection of books was housed, was available to
students of Konkani for reference work and for small literary
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tanzania-born Xavier Cota is a Salcete-based former banker
who retired early to spend more time with his first love -- writing. He is
one of the few skilled translators of Konkani works into English, and his
translations have earned him praise from Konkani writers like Damodar Mauzo.