Waman Shenoi was born on 23 June 1877 at Bicholim, Goa. He attended primary school in Marathi till 6th standard and then joined a Portuguese primary school, where he completed Fourth Standard. After discontinuing studies due to financial constraints, he taught himself Sanskrit and English at home. He went to Mumbai in 1893 and continued with his studies there, completing High School in 1898. He was married to Shantabai in Mumbai and had two sons and two daughters.
It is believed that he earned the nickname “Goembab” when he was going along with his uncle Chintamanrao to Mumbai aboard a steamer. A friend on board the ship remarked to his uncle “I hear you are taking this Goembab (Gentleman from Goa) with you to Mumbai.” The young and idealistic Waman later used “Shennoi Goembab” as his penname.
Waman Varde had started writing in Konkani at the time he was working in Mumbai. His wife was illiterate but had a very good knowledge of Konkani language and folklore. He made her recite the tales and proverbs and put them in writing which were published later. “Goenkaaranchi Goianbhaili Vosnook” (Goan migrants outside Goa) was a series of history lectures given by Shenoi Goembab at the Saraswat Brahman Samaj, Mumbai, in 1927. Another historical book he wrote was “Albuquerquan Goen Koshem Jiklem” (How Albuquerque Won Goa).
“Mhoji Baa Khuin Gelli?” is regarded as the first modern Konkani short story. It was published in “Gomantopnishat”, which is a two-volume collection of fiction and non-fiction. The second volume contained “Sonvsar Budti” (The drowning of the world). It used the story of the Great Flood to discuss various philosophies and includes parts from various religious works.
According to him the only way Konkani language can be popularized is, if it is brought about by its youth. This was revealed in his essays “Amrutacho Pavs” (The Rain of Nectar) and “Konkani Vidyarthiank” (For Konkani Students) Infact one of his major contributions was towards children’s literature. “Bhurgianche Vyakran” (Children’s Grammar) was written in a series of question-answers that he used to teach his son and “Bhurgianlo Ishtt” was a collection of short stories.
He also translated many works into Konkani the chief among them being Molière‘s Le Médecin malgré lui, which he translated as “Mogachen Logn” (Love Marriage) and Shakespeare‘s Othello, Hamlet and King Lear. He is most remembered for his translation of the Bhagavad Gita into Konkani: “Bhagwantalem Geet“.
In an autobiographical reference, Goembab credits the Barão de Cumbarjua (Baron of Cumbarjua), Tomás Morão, with opening his eyes to the fact that it was Konkani, and not Marathi, which was the mother-tongue of Goans. In anecdote he recounts in Konkani Bhashechem Zoit, Goembab indicates that in about 1899, he had written a book “O Mestre Portugués” for use in the Marathi-Portuguese schools that had been established by the Estado da Índia in Goa since 1871. In that book, Goembab indicates that he had introduced lessons covering grammatical rules, meanings of words and sentences for teaching the art of translation.
He had observed how Konkani had diminished in status among Goans and Marathi and Portuguese had taken the place of respect among the educated, upper class Hindus and Christians respectively. Konkani was used only to communicate with their employees, the poor and downtrodden castes.
He believed that no matter how many languages a person could communicate in to earn a living, he was lost if he could not communicate in his mother tongue, the “language of your soul” as he called it. “We have been shining under others’ lamps”, observed Shenoi Goembab. He began telling Konkanis about the sweetness of their mother tongue and of its rich past. He started writing books to propagate his views. Not only did he see the Konkani language as an inseparable part of every Goan’s and Konkani’s identity. He also saw it as a movement against Portuguese rule in Goa. Shenoi Goembab wrote 7 books in the Roman script and 22 in Devanagari. This included short stories, dramas novels, poetry, essays, linguistics, philosophy history.
Konkani language was in decline, due to the use of Portuguese as the official and social language among the Christians, the predominance of Marathi over Konkani among Hindus, and the Konkani Christian-Hindu divide. Seeing this, Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar set about on a mission to unite all Konkanis, Hindus as well as Christians, regardless of caste or religion. He saw this movement as a nationalistic movement against Portuguese rule. Almost single-handedly he crusaded, writing a number of works in Konkani. He is regarded as the pioneer of modern Konkani literature.
Some of his notable works are as under:
- Goenkaaranchi Goianbhaili Vosnook (Goan migrants outside Goa)
- Albuquerquan Goen Koshem Jiklem
- Mhoji Baa Khuin Gelli?
- Sonvsar Budti
- Amrutacho Pavs (The Rain of Nectar)
- Konkani Vidyarthiank (For Konkani Students)
- Bhurgianche Vyakran (Children’s Grammar)
- Bhurgianlo Ishtt was a collection of short stories.
- Mogachen Logn (Love Marriage) and
- Shakespeare‘s Othello Hamlet and King Lear.
- Bhagwantalem Geet (Bhagwat Geeta in Konkani
Shenoi Goembab was ahead of his time and often stressed on the need to eliminate caste barriers and get the lower castes educated. He said, “let’s make Pandits (scholars) out of Gawdes (farmers)”. In a short span of about 69 years Waman Shenoi did so much for Konkani’s. No other Amchigello has ever achieved so much for Konkani’s as him. Kudos to his dedication and a spark of activism that stayed on during his entire life.
Despite all the financial hurdles he faced, his efforts for the language of Konkani are why we all are still speaking this beautiful language. It has also been the precursor for being recognised as the State language in Gomantak or Goa today. One can also say that all this and more resulted in Konkani being recognized as one of the 29 official languages of India.
His death anniversary, 9 April, is celebrated as World Konkani Day (Vishwa Konkani Divas. So this April 9th don’t forget to cherish these memories.
Shenoi Goembab was posthumously awarded the Konkani Person of the Millennium award by Mandd Sobhann (a Mangalore based Konkani organisation), on his 54th death anniversary.
Proud to be a Konkani
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