Herald: Mai Bhas, Bye Bhas?
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Mai Bhas, Bye Bhas?

01 Jul 2018 05:42am IST
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01 Jul 2018 05:42am IST

Konkani zali amchi rajya baas/punn urtolim kai amchi mai baas? Remixing an evergreen song from yester years  after it swept and electrified the Goan landscape, the question that one is left asking is did we build upon that pride, that revolution?

This is bad news, very bad news; for all those who swear by Goem, Goenkar, Goenkarponn. And the data is official. Konkani has emerged as the language showing the maximum drop in the number of people referring to it as their mother tongues at 9.54% as per the latest Census of India Languages, 2011. The language of Nawabs, Urdu, has declined by 1.58% as per the latest Census of India Languages, 2011. What this means to most of us is that we are speaking and reading less of Konkani and more of other languages. And no, it is not Sanskrit or Portuguese that is gaining ground. It is more of the forced monolith, the language of the migrants – Hindi and the language that is the ticket to a successful career overseas – English, which is gaining ground. 

One of the greatest insults to Goa’s intelligence has been The Goa, Daman and Diu Official Language Act, 1987. Section 2 (c) of the Act says “Konkani language” means Konkani language in Devanagari script. End of the story. What the Act did not take into cognisance is that not only is Konkani spoken by over 12.6 million people worldwide but is one of those unique languages that is also written in Roman, Kannada and Malayalam writing systems (script) besides Devanagari. Konkani in its glorious past was also written in Brahmi and Goykanadi scripts. However, it was Romi Konkani that became the oldest preserved and protected literary tradition beginning from the 16th century that kept Mai Bhas alive uninterrupted in the books. Maybe it’s time to look beyond the narrow confines of regionalism and chest thumping nationalism to arrest the slide of the language. 

Check this. There are over 135 languages in the world which use the Latin or Romi script. These include practically most of the languages including the popular ones such as English, French, German, Portuguese and lesser globally found such as Indonesian, Kurdish amongst others. The simplest possibility that these languages present to you is while typing a message on your phone or keying a document on the computer. The script offers a universality in use not compromising on its character or its soul.

About half a million people use Latin or Romi Konkani. The number may seem an insignificant 4% as compared to the 12.6 million who use the language but there is an universality to it. The Romi Konkani reader or writer can seamlessly adapt between English (which is officially used more) and Konkani without having to remember punctuation and script that at the best seems like mathematics to a student of humanities. It isn’t statistical but empirical that children from Christian communities (particularly those who study in English medium schools) score poorly because Konkani in school is quite different from that at home. Why? Because reading/writing Devanagari Konkani is as complicated as learning similar scripted Marathi or Hindi.

As Konkani slides, maybe a change to a more global script could arrest that. In Goa’s schools, students opt for French and Portuguese as it is easier to study a similar script as compared to Devanagari Konkani. Therefore they score much better. So in Class X Board where a few marks would decide whether a student gets the first or second class, Romi could not only get them good marks but keep the language robust and enduring too. Students from the tribal community (Catholic and Hindu ST/ SC OBC) would surely benefit. Even Muslims and Migrant children studying in government schools would benefit. As more young people opt for English and Hindi thanks to films, television and multimedia engagement, Romi Konkani could just be a game changer.

With over a four and half-century-long history, Romi Konkani wouldn’t be that tall an order to adapt to for Goa. While Diocesan Schools can do it overnight, it won’t be difficult for others to adapt and adopt. There exists a rich repertoire of literature written in Romi Konkani. Romi Konkani dictionaries where spellings and grammar are standardised abound and new words are naturally assimilated. It would be much easier writing our mother tongue in a foreign script than struggling with a script that was thrust upon us due to a statute.

Maybe it is time to rediscover the global Konkani in the globally acceptable Latin script if we need to go beyond speaking to relishing and reliving our Mai Bhas.
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