The Hindu and Christian communities are drifting away from each other according to Jnanpith Award-winning writer Damodar Mauzo as quoted in Outlook (magazine). He insists it is not death threats that have shaped his opinion. The 78-year-old Konkani writer sees "slowly altering social ethos in Majorda, a quiet south Goan beach village where he lives. Mauzo was in news recently as the alleged killers of Bengaluru-based Gauri Lankesh are reported to have planned to target him too.
Mauzo says Hindu and Catholic communities are increasingly feeling uneasy in the company of one another in Majorda. It's the village from where the art of baking bread spread across Goa in the colonial era. He says both communities have grown an exclusivist streak in them. "I have played football with fellow Catholic students. Nowadays, it is slowly brewing… Earlier, say ten years ago, I was invited very often to functions at the Church during Christmas, New Year… Of late, it has stopped… Probably, they are not on bad terms with me, But they do not want to give exposure to me or maybe look at me as ‘the other’, which I am opposed to," Mauzo said in the interview with the magazine.
The writer says Hindus hardly get invitations from Catholic villagers for housewarming ceremonies these days. "Many of my well-wishers, good friends in the village would invite me to conduct their house-warming ceremonies in my presence or to raise a toast at (Catholic) weddings. I have raised a toast at not less than a dozen church weddings till some years ago. It has stopped now, why? I am not haunted by this, but I see this change happening," Mauzo said, noting that his relationships with villagers at the individual level remain cosy.
Like many other parts of the Christian-dominated Salcete subdistrict where the Portuguese empire undertook a barbaric military campaign, forcing locals to convert to Catholic Christianity, the religious demography of Majorda has had a dominant Catholic skew. But Christians are moving out even as Hindus are trickling into Majorda, the writer says. "There was a time when this village was predominantly Catholic. Now, the ratio is reducing. Many new people have come. Hindus are still here. (But the) Catholics are migrating. I am not generalising… The Hindus here have become more Hindu, whereas Christians are also becoming conscious, that they have to retain their identity or exit," Mauzo said.
The writer sounded positive about the trend reversing, though. Mauzo said, "I am optimistic. I think 10-15 years later, people will realise their folly and we will be able to re-establish democracy."
"In the immediate future, I do not see (it happening). Because I move around, I find people who are educated, who are sensible otherwise, they speak about things which I cannot even imagine. People are thinking in such terms, particularly when it comes to Hindu-Muslim or Hindu-Catholic (issues). Earlier, even during the Portuguese times, I have never felt this,” Mauzo said. The writer was in his adolescence when the Indian armed forces liberated Goa from Portuguese rule in 1961.
The short stories that Mauzo writes show he is disturbed by social trends like lynching and "beef politics" years before they erupted nationally. But one can see where the problem with his thinking is. Hindus point out that in his short story "Burger", for example, two school-going friends, a Christian called Irene and a Hindu called Sharmila, see their relationship sour when Irene offers Sharmila a beef burger at a picnic and the latter eats it with relish while Mauzo wrote no story where a Christian offers a Muslim friend pork.
It may be noted here that Hindus in Goa do not generally consume beef, just as upper caste Hindus in the rest of the country don't. "The Catholic girl becomes so guilt-ridden that she is scared that she would lose a friend and feels sorry for the suffering she has put her friend through by making her eat a beef burger. She goes to church for confession, etc. But it turns out at the end that the Hindu girl and her father also eat beef," Mauzo said.
Mauzo says writers should be able to foresee trends and articulate such social tendencies in their work as soon as they spot them. "The beef-eating story came before the beef ban. Many writers sometimes foresee things. Not deliberately. I spotted this too and it is best to hit at such a tendency at the earliest," Mauzo said.
It is not that Mauzo does not have Muslim characters in his stories, as his district has very few of them. In "Yasin, Austin, Yatin", readers wait for the lead character who is a driver who masquerades as a Muslim, a Christian and then a Hindu to be in the good books of his client at a given point in time to check whether he ever gets exposed. There is no instance in the story where the driver as Yasin would do something that would challenge the essential teachings of Islam.
In another story, the only educated person in a village is callous, who says communal tensions do not matter. His apathy, however, leads to the lynching of an innocent Muslim character wrongly accused of slaughtering a cow.
Story after story, Mauzo does not create even one plot where a Hindu has been wronged.
Works of the writer
Mauzo debuted with short stories. His first collection Ganthon was published in 1971. So far he has authored six short story collections, Tishttavni in 2020 being the latest. He wrote Karmelin (novel), which won him the 1983 Sahitya Akademi Award. The novel deals with the suffering and sexual exploitation of the housemaids working in Gulf countries. It has been translated into twelve languages.
His novella Sood (1975) is about the revenge of a freedom fighter's son. In 2006, a film with the same title was made based on this novella.
After the tsunami hit coastal Tamil Nadu in 1996, he wrote Tsunami Simon, which won the Vishwa Konkani Kendra's Smt Vimla V Pai Puraskar. He has written screenplays and dialogues for five Konkani films namely Shitoo, Aleesha, Sood, O Maria and Enemy?
At the Goa Film Festival, he won the Best Screenplay Award for Aleesha and the Best Dialogues Award for Shitoo and O Maria. His stories have been televised. He critiqued stories appearing in the daily Sunaparant, a premier Konkani daily. Although his creative output is in Konkani, he writes in English quite often for different local and national journals and periodicals.
In 1985, he presided over the Akhil Bharatiya Konkani Sahitya Sammelan, which is a national literary conference. The Ministry of Culture under the Congress-led UPA government awarded him the Senior Fellowship in 2011-12 for the project on "Pre and Post Colonial History of Konkani Literature".
Activism by Mauzo
Damodar Mauzo participated in the historic Opinion Poll held in Goa in 1967 to decide the political status of a newly liberated Goa. He motivated the people of Goa to vote in favour of retaining their distinct identity by rejecting the merger with the neighbouring state of Maharashtra.
He was a part of the steering committee of Goa's successful popular movement Konkani Porjecho Avaz (1985–87) that raised three demands, namely the official language status for Konkani, statehood to Goa and inclusion of Konkani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. He has served a five-year term as a member of the executive board and finance committee of Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. He is the co-founder and co-curator of the Goa Arts and Literary Festival, an annual event that was started in 2010.
In 2015, following the assassination of Prof Kalburgi, Mauzo spoke up against the freedom of expression in the country, as well as the "moral policing by the protagonists of mono-culturism". In a letter to the then president of the Sahitya Akademi, Mauzo demanded that the Akademi send a strong message to those in power that the writers’ body would not tolerate any threat to their freedom. He expressed concern over the threat to the creativity of "free-thinking" writers, and what he called the rising trend of intolerance in India.
It was in June 2018 that Mauzo was allegedly threatened for the first time. A special investigation team of Karnataka Police, which was probing the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore, informed Goa Police about the threat to Mauzo's life. The threat was allegedly from right-wing organisation Sanathan Sanstha, but the organisation denied the allegations.
In the aftermath of the threat, the author was given police protection. Several activists and writers got together to condemn the threat to Mauzo's life, while also calling for a ban on the Sanathan Sanstha.
Most of the stories in the latest tome from the Konkani writer are as usual set in Goa. "Jhel Vitalltana" (As the Ice Melts) is set against the backdrop of the Kargil War. "Sundarkayecho Upasaka" (The Aesthetic), is about the fallacy of a wealthy man who claims to have aesthetic wisdom. The backdrop of this story is the affluent stratum of society in Mumbai.
The leftist leaning as well as the reach and influence of the writer is pretty evident.