Are you a Konkani?
If you are staying or travelling abroad, it is most likely that you have come across this question at least once: “Are you Hindi?”
Probably they mean to ask “Are you an Indian?” or “Are you a Hindu?” or “Do you speak Hindi?”
Yes, some languages denote nationality too – like The French or The German. But not Hindi.
I have come across this question many times in my life: “Are you a Konkani?”
Alas, most of the time, the intention behind the question is identification or generalization.
Konkani is a language. It, in fact, is one among 17 languages are present in an Indian Currency note.
Konkani is my mother tongue.
But, no, you cannot generalize people who speak a language. There is a huge mistake in generalization.
For, infamous people like Dawood Ibrahim, Zakir Naik and Vijay Mallya are Konkanis.
Yes, Indian film personalities like Late Guru Dutt (Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone), Deepika Padukone, Ganelia D’Souza, Amrita Rao, Urmila Matondkar, Illeana D’Cruz, Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, Anant Nag are Konkanis. Or Politicians like Late Abdul Rehman Antulay, Suresh Prabhu, Manohar Parrikar, Late George Fernades or journalists like Fareed Zakaria, Rajdeep Sardesai and M.V. Kamath are Konakanis. Or singers like Lata Mangeshkar or activists like Medha Patkar. In sports, you can find famous Konkanis like Sachin Tendulkar, Prakash Padukone, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar.
A significant number of Konkani speakers are found in Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and Portugal.
Obviously you cannot generalize any individual based on language, caste, creed, religion and even nationality.
How many of you know that Konkani is one of the oldest languages in Asia which dates back to pre-classical Sanskrit?
Ancient Hindus (I am using the word Hindus to describe people lived between Caspian Sea and Indonesian Islands before the birth of aggressive Semitic religions) were using the language “Prakruta” (meaning original, natural and artless) which progressively developed into Vedic Sanskrit (Pre-classical Sanskrit). Later Panini, an ancient Sanskrit philologist and grammarian, laid out in the grammar of Classical Sanskrit.
The script used to write was Devanāgarī was developed from Brāhmī alphabet. Konkani is also part of Prakruta language and used the Devanāgarī script. Hence Konkani existed in Devanāgarī Lipi.
Konkani has been used as mother tongue for the last (at least) 4000 years by broadly two divisions of people.
1. Communities following Vedic culture like Goud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB), Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins (CSB), Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins (RSB), Daivadnya (Daivajna) Brahmins, Chitpavan Brahmins (Konkanastha), Vaishya Vani, etc
2. There were lot of other communities which were not strictly following Vedic culture. They followed a mix of indigenous and Vedic culture. They were Kunbi, Kudumbi, Kharvis, Komarapant, Bhandary, Siddhi Hindu, Gaude, Velip, Gabit, Kumbar, etc. There are nearly 30 communities in this list.
Later during brutal Portuguese inquisition, the classical Konkani was destroyed by those lunatic invaders – especially by religious fanatics and evangelists. The barbarian pirate Chief Francis Xavier (who was later canonized by Pope as ‘Saint’ for his saintly act of brutally massacring of innocents) destroyed any books written in Sanskrit or Konkani that they could find in Goa. They introduced many alien words from alien culture and used Roman script. Hence people started using two scripts for Konkani then – Roman and Devanagari.
The original Konkanis, who faced terrible situation like that of Jews in Nazi regime, have lost everything – wealth, land, temples, institutions and took plight to Karnataka and Kerala. Later those settlers in the south states started using Kannada and Malayalam Scripts for writing Konkani. So most of them do not know the script of Konkani. We know no language will survive without flourishing economy of users.
And then, during invasion of Tipu Sultan, lots of Konkanis were forced to convert into Islam. The Muslims started using ‘Perso-Arabic’ which is known as ‘Bhatkali’, descended from inhabitants of the city of Bhatkal, in the south of Karnataka.
Thus Konkani became mother tongue for Christians and Muslims too. Among Christians various communities like Catholics, Charodi, Syrian and Siddi use Konkani. Among Muslims communities like Navyat, Jama-ati, Dalji and Siddi are using Konkani.
In short, Konkani is now written in five scripts: Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Perso-Arabic. (See pic)
My friend Shri. Payyannur Ramesh Pai, reputed linguistic scholar and renowned writer in Konkani, told me that during his service as a banker in the Middle East, he had met people from Pakistan who speak Konkani even now.
Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a Konkani language seminar – unfortunately I did not understand few words used by those Konkani speakers who were from outside Kerala.
This is the biggest challenge and tragedy with this Language. In Kerala, native Konkani speakers use 70% Malayalam words. Most of them do not understand the actual Konkani words and phrases.
There are nearly 50 GSB temples in Kerala. Among those who speak Konkani as mother tongue in Kerala, GSBs are the second largest community (first being Kudumbis – the statistics is unverified).
GSBs claim that the language and temple culture (which is different from typical Kerala temples) make them unique.
I have been to few GSB temples – but I have NOT seen any sign boards or display boards in any GSB temples written in Konkani Devanagari script!
I have also noticed that during the announcements in Konkani temples in Kerala, the announcers use a whopping 70-90% Malayalam words. Even temple priests do not speak full-fledged Konkani.
When I speak Konkani, many of my new generation relatives and friends (whose mother tongue is supposed to be Konkani) ask me meaning of some words – so, naturally, I will be compelled to use English, Hindi or Malayalam.
Same is the case in Karnataka too. And, if we go to Goa, we cannot understand many Konkani words. There is a growing domination of Roman vocabulary and dialects. They also mix up Marathi or Hindi words.
Yes, Konkani is an endangered language which may be dying fast. Even the champions of the languages do not use Konkani words. Endangered languages, much like endangered species of plants or animals, are on the brink of extinction. UNESCO says that a language is endangered when parents are no longer teaching it to their children and it is no longer being used in everyday life.
All languages have its own beauty. But mainly, a language is a tool to express or to communicate.
At home, even now, we speak Konkani only. I asked my kids to speak in Konkani till the age of 3. My reason was primarily not love to mother tongue, but science. If you learn genetics and DNA memory, you will know that the chances of children developing learning disability are more if you don’t use your parent’s mother tongue…
I am not a linguistic fanatic. But I know that mother tongue is important due to cultural, emotional and attachment values that we have.
As a human being it makes me sad to see that a language with such a vast rich cultural historical prominence is dying here. There are at least six million (sixty lakhs) people in India whose mother tongue is Konkani.
The government of Kerala has tried to support Konkani language as it is the third largest linguistic minority in the state. I heard that the government even printed few text books in Konkani. Unfortunately, there were no takers for Konkani. However, people are okay with learning Tamil, Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, Urdu and Bengali in the state.
Many people provide “free suggestions” as to how to improve the usage of mother tongue and uplifting the language. Though my friends like Ramesh Pai do their level best to save and promote this langauge, they are facing a lot of practical difficulties.
There are systemic practical solutions, which needs dedication, determination and devotion. It needs lot of time and efforts. We can easily develop lot of innovative ideas to promote the language. I have discussed with few influential people about it. But there was no positive response.
We can’t blame any. When we are immersed in zillions of daily cores of life, where is time for this? If two people join, there will be petty politics and conflicts of interests and ego pops up in the mind rather than the attitude to serve. So, let’s all watch this great language die peacefully…..
According to UNESCO, as many as half of the world’s 7,000 languages are expected to be extinct by the end of this century; it is estimated that one language dies out every 14 days.
Konkani will be extinct sooner than we expect.
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