Preserving Konkani for Posterity

Iris C F Gomes

Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK), named after the eponymous Fr Thomas Stephens (1549 - 1619), an English Jesuit priest, functions as a research, cultural and educational centre focused solely on the propagation and preservation of Konknni (Konkani) as the mother tongue of Goans. TSKK belongs to the Society of Jesus (Goa Province) and in 1982 was registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. Since June 1999, it has been recognised as a Konkani research institute by Goa University. In 1986, it was located at Loyola Hall in Miramar, Goa, and now has its premises alongside the Xavier Centre of Historical Research in Porvorim.

Fr Matthew Almeida, SJ, was its first director from 1985 to 2002 and worked closely with Fr Pratap Naik, SJ, the next director, for 23 years at TSKK. Both were passionate in their devotion to the promotion of the Konkani language and research in the area. The present director is Fr Apollo Cardozo, SJ, who is carrying on the work of elevating the status of the mother tongue of Goans.

Fr Thomas Stephens arrived in Goa on the 24th of October, 1579 and soon mastered Konkani and Marathi to the extent that he was able to write skilfully in the languages, producing classical works such as the Krist Purann, a Marathi epic presenting the Bible using the lyrical verse form of the Hindu Puranas. Fr Thomas Stephens was the first person to write a Konkani grammar, which was the first grammar written in any Indian language. He never saw the Arte da Lingoa Canarim, as the revised version of the grammar is called, in print because it was only published in 1640. Doutrina Christam em Lingoa Bramana Canarim, a catechism of Christian doctrine for children and new converts to the faith, is another of his famous literary accomplishments. With the rest of Fr Stephens’ life dedicated to the Konkan language, it is fitting that the centre is named after him.

TSKK endeavours to bring together all people of Konkani heritage despite the difference in territorial identity and religion, and the variations in dialect and script. The institute has undertaken the task of writing grammars and research articles, listing a linguistic glossary of the Konkani language and compiling a Konkani dictionary.

Material has been prepared to teach basic and intermediate Konkani courses. Workshops have been conducted for teachers and students, and encouragement has been provided to students of Konkani by way of scholarships for students of the language. An example of a scholarship is the Lorenco ani Umbelina de Souza Scholarship awarded to underprivileged Christian students studying in the XI or XII standard. PhD students have been rendered guidance and permission to use library facilities.

Apart from attempting to standardise the orthography of three different Konkani scripts, TSKK has been transliterating literary works from one script to another to make them available to more readers. Devonagori lipient Konknni borounche nem' is a book that contains 24 orthography rules for writing Konkani in Devanagari script and is the first book in the TSKK Linguistics Series. Fr Matthew Almeida, SJ, and Fr Pratap Naik, SJ, are responsible for writing many of the books published by TSKK such as the TSKK Linguistic Glossary: English-Konknni and Konknni-English which has linguistic and grammatical technical terminology of the Konkani language. Loka Sangatim Misachi Manddavoll is an example of transliteration, presenting Mass prayers in Devanagari script.

Children’s books, cassettes and CDs have been published by TSKK. The institute is responsible for the editing and publishing of Sôd, Goa’s only Konkani research bulletin.

There are fiction works such as Magirchem Magir (Devanagari) by C F D' Costa and Tichea Mornna Uprant (Kannada) by Bonaventure Peter Fernandes and transliterated by Pratap Naik, SJ, that are a result of collaborations between TSKK and other enterprises.

The media has been used to propagate Konkani through radio, television and audio-visual material such as non-denominational Konkani devotional songs, Konkani nursery rhymes, TSKK Darshan (a documentary on TSKK), etc.

Besides this, awards have been presented annually in Goa and Karnataka. The Carvalho Ghorannem-Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr Kola *Puroskar is awarded in Karnataka to those in the performing arts who have dedicated at least 10 years to furthering the cause of Konkani as a language. The Konknni Martir Floriano Vaz Puroskar, in memory of Floriano Vaz who was shot and killed in 1986 during the Konkani Movement, is bestowed on the best Konkani book in the Roman script. People who have contributed to Konkani in the Roman script are eligible to receive the Jack Sequeira Konknni Puroskar. Other awards include the Dotor Jack Sequeira Konknni Puroskar, Maria Afonso Konknni Puroskar, etc. (*Puroskar means ‘award’).

Government recognition of Roman and Kannada scripts of Konkani has been supported. The scholars at TSKK have acted as resource persons at seminars, workshops, and so on.

The structure that houses the labours of TSKK has a library, which in 2008 had about 14,700 tomes on subjects like Konkani language and literature in Devanagari, Roman, and Kannada scripts; linguistics; literary criticism; history of Goa and Konknni; folklore and so on. Scholars can refer to photocopies or microfilms of Konkani books and manuscripts that are rare. Classrooms, a computer room, residence block and an administrative block make up the rest of TSKK.

TSKK continues on its journey of providing a strong voice and foundation for Konkani and striving towards nurturing a love for the mother tongue in the younger generation of Goans.

*All pictures have been taken from the TSKK website and Facebook page.