An Author in
Iris CF Gomes
Damodar Mauzo is a name well known to connoisseurs of good literature. A Konkani novelist and short story writer, he has won fame in the world of English literature too; having had his short stories and novels translated into English and his short stories, Teresa’s Man and These are my Children, included in Goa University’s syllabus for the BA course in English Literature. He has earned countless awards for his work, which include the Sahitya Akademi award (1983) for his novel Karmelin and the Vimla V Pai Vishwa Konkani Puraskar (2011) for Tsunami Simon.
A childhood attachment to books that grew from the age of ten, serves as the foundation of Mr Damodar Mauzo’s skilled authorship. He confesses his earliest choices, for lack of guidance, were not desirable in the sense of literary value. As time passed, however, he came upon writers who would shape his intellect and understanding, and enhance his skill as a litterateur. Sane Guruji, Sharadchandra Chatterjee, Premchand and others of their ilk certainly had a profound effect on the young mind of Mr Mauzo and fuelled his aspirations to become a writer, as he says, ‘I was stirred from within as if I had found my ground.’ In 1963, he ventured to write his first story which appeared in the magazine, Novem Goem, and was edited by Gurunath Kelekar. The English translation was seen in Eves’ Weekly a short time later. Aside from acting as a catalyst to Mr Mauzo’s writing career, the story strengthened his resolve not to mislead his readers through his writing. He relates the impression his story created, albeit unintentionally, ‘A friend who read the story complimented me for the ‘ghost story’. I never meant to write ghost stories. But that story was indeed a ghost story. I don’t like to make my readers believe in what I disbelieve. I never again wrote a story of that kind.’
Mr Mauzo professes not to imitate any author, though he does concede that author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and others, have indeed had a deep seated impact on his creativity. What they have bestowed on him is the knowledge of differentiating between good and indifferent literature. He leaves it to the critics to discover the influence of any other author on his writing.
Once the idea of a story bites him, Mr Mauzo feels compelled to write tirelessly, capturing the crux of it in his penned down lines, usually at one sitting of three to four hours. Details follow later with the process of refining the story. Once the ball is set rolling, with the overwhelming urge to capture the subject matter already present in his mind, the characters and situations fall into place with adept precision. Therefore, he says, ‘This is precisely why I say that I don’t write the stories because “I” want to write them. I write because the stories have chosen me to write them.’ He paces himself just before he begins writing, notably as he conjures up the names of characters. On occasion, he does pause before the climax if he fears he has become emotionally entangled with the narrative and may be precariously close to losing sight of the objectivity he wishes to maintain.
His latest book to be released is Teresa’s Man and Other Short Stories. The title story was written nearly fifty years ago and is also included in Ferry Crossing, edited by Manohar Shetty. These are characters he met in his daily dealings in his shop, wrapped in an enticing packaging of fiction and offered to the reader. The short story most lately written, In the Land of Humans, was the outcome of his personal approach of compassion towards marginalised migrants who are usually denigrated by ‘good natured’ Goans. Mr Mauzo says, ‘The span of time depicted in these stories is considerable. Yet, the fact that they continue to be read, is something very encouraging.’
Of the fourteen stories in the book, some are based on his own experiences while others are derived from episodes related to him. At the helm of affairs as part of Konkani Porjecho Avaz (KPA), to give Konkani its rightful place as Goa’s mother tongue, Mr Mauzo felt obligated to participate in ‘bandhs’, which were the weapon of choice of the political parties of the time. Despite this participation, he commiserated with the suffering this brought to the common man, and hence, Bandh was written as a protest against the culture of strikes. From the Mouths of Babes is about a four-year-old boy’s innocent kiss that is built up into a serious affair by the principal, who gives a warning to the boy’s parents. This was an incident related to him by his daughter living in Saudi Arabia. Another story, Happy Birthday, was an extension of the experience of a childless couple who would scribble on the wall to create the ambience of having children. This was told to him by poet and lyricist Gulzar.
There are other stories that are closer to home than others, for example, the main protagonist in The Cynic is really Mr Damodar Mauzo, the character Baboy is a relative of his and the incident is a true one. He says, ‘It is difficult to write a story when the writer is personally and emotionally involved. But I think I have managed to maintain objectivity.’
It is noted that most of Mr Mauzo’s characters tend to be Goan Catholics. The reason lies in the environment of his upbringing, which he maintains will always influence a writer to a great extent. He grew up in Majorda where familiarity with Goan Catholic customs was more distinct. Besides, with Catholics as best friends, he has a completely non-discriminatory attitude and does not believe in distinguishing between communities. But the bottom line is that it is the demand of the story that is pertinent. It defines the characters he chooses to write about and the tone colouring the story. He explains, ‘The tone in From the Mouths of Babes’ is different from that in Teresa’s Man. I have also gone beyond Goa’s geographical boundaries in The Land of Human Beings, where you will notice the voice of the Kannadiga migrants. Therefore, I maintain that the tone is set by the stories themselves.’
Mr Mauzo has produced short stories as well novels with equal success. He declines to compare the two literary forms since he believes each has its beauty. He has the highest respect for poetry, a form of literature for which he confesses the least proficiency of the three. He stresses that he is foremost a short story writer and there is a requirement of an immense amount of skill in this form as it does not provide the scale of time and volume that a novel does. He quotes, ‘I tend to agree with what my writer friend, the late Nirmal Verma, once said, “A short story is born out of a desire to expand on a poem and write it in the narrative prose of a novel”.’ His novels and novellas have allowed him the understanding of the level of difficulty involved in writing them. He asserts that in the case of a novel, an author needs to persevere, have a great deal of experience and the ability to research. He says, ‘Another writer friend Vishwas Patil told me the other day, “One has to live in that realistic but imaginary world for months to write a novel”. I am in awe of writers like Amitav Ghosh who do wonders with this form.’
Xavier Cota, winner of the Katha Award for Translation, has translated three of Mr Mauzo’s books, including Teresa’s Man and Other Stories. Mr Mauzo is all praise for him as he feels the translations stay true to the original and he has great appreciation for Mr Cota’s painstaking efforts to obtain the exact translation of a Konkani term in English.
Translation is the means to empower and spread Konkani literature. Lack of it has largely contributed to good writers such as Mahabaleshwar Sail, playwright Pundalik Naik, young writers Prakash Paryekar, Guadalupe Dias and Ramnath Gavde, not garnering recognition on a national level. He laments the deplorable manner in which the Konkani language and literature has been treated by State and Central Government on the whole.
Despite all the challenges a career in writing will be confronted with, Mr Mauzo encourages aspiring writers, saying, ‘Develop the reading habit. Master the language in which you express yourself. Read across the gamut of the language. Start writing and you will know where you stand. Then, keep raising your bar.’