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A 77-year old Konkani Warrior fights on

Antonio Piedade Moraes is well known by another name, pills one he has earned through decades of passionate work for his mother tongue ? ‘Konkani’ Moraes. Over the last 50 years, he has campaigned for Konkani, built a library of over 11,000 books and established Goenkaranchem Daiz, an institution to preserve Goan identity and culture. Amazingly, this 77-year-old former civil servant still works enthusiastically to fly the Konkani flag higher, coining words for the new Information Age.

Goenkaranchem Daiz (Heritage of Goans), the institution he founded in 2005 along with like-minded citizens, maintains a library on the 2nd floor of Pioneer Blessings building, near the District & Sessions Court in Margao. The collection includes 3,000 of Moraes’ personal collection, Konkani books he began collecting in 1963, with the intention of showcasing the greatness of Konkani.

“The first printed grammar book was in Konkani – Arte de Lingoa Canarim by Fr Thomas Stephens? printed in Goa in 1640,” he says proudly, holding up a library copy. “Doutrina Crista, a catechism in Konkani, was another very early book.”

“Those 3,000 books embodied my heart, mind and soul,” says Moraes in flawless Konkani. “There are dictionaries, grammars, religious and secular literature, books on tiatr, natak and popular fiction.”

One cupboard of the library contains almost 200 copies of Konkani romances, known locally as ‘romans’, written by Romansicho Patxai (Emperor of Romances) Reginald Fernandes and others. Many of them are in fragile condition, dating back to 1905.

“I began my career as an ‘aspirante’ in the Portuguese regime, which was equivalent to an Upper Division Clerk,” he reminisces. “In 1961, I went to Daman as Chief Officer of the municipality. After Liberation, I returned to Goa in 1963 and worked at the Panjim Municipality. I felt that if Goa’s liberation were to be complete, our Konkani language must be given the rightful place of honour for use in administrative and practical life.”

Moraes travelled with his colleagues all over Goa to arouse awareness of Konkani as the language of Goa, at a time when it was scoffed at by those seeking to merge Goa with Maharashtra. Fuelled by people’s needs to know where Konkani books were available, Moraes collected books and conducted exhibitions in the sixties and seventies at his own cost. Awards came his way, from Goa Konkani Akademi, Konkani Bhasha Mandal, Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendr (TSKK), Dalgado Konkani Academy and other bodies. After TSKK awarded him 20,000 rupees, he decided to use that money to buy cupboards, tables and rent a place to set up an institution?Goenkaranchem Daiz. Dr Francisco Colaço, Edwin Pinto and RC Dharwad were its first office bearers.

‘Konkani’ Moraes hails from Cuncolim and presently resides in Fatorda, Margao close to his beloved library and institution. It is sometimes difficult to keep up with Moraes’ Konkani. He avoids speaking even a word of English, unless it is to explain a Konkani word. (He is fluent in both English and Portuguese.)

The Daiz has recently conducted a heritage walk in Margao and lectures on the history and architecture of Margao City and great personalities of Goa. Much more is planned, with a session on traditional Goan cuisine of all the major communities.

“I want this library to be a modern research centre on Goanness and Konkani,” he says. “I feel Konkani is dying. We must do what we can to preserve our culture.”

I browse the files of the Daiz. There are cupboards donated by Dr Arcanjo Menezes, books offered by Fr Ivo Conceicao de Souza, a former professor of Rachol Seminary, a copy of the Holy Quran given by Shaikh Mohammed Hanif, 3 books in Kannada script by the Mother Superior of Infant Mary’s Convent in Mangalore, cash books and ledgers by Sanjeev Naik, an electric kettle and 12 teacups….This is truly a labour of love by many people.

Moraes’ journey has been fraught with travails too.

He said when he started fighting on behalf of Konkani in 1963, the Goan government accused him of agitating.

“I replied that if Goa is free, I have every right to work for my mother tongue,” he said.

Another time the government threatened the Mando Festival – a celebration of traditional Goan dance – by taking action against the organizers and withdrawing tax exemption for the festival.

“I warned the government that I would not allow them to enter the venue of the festival, and that I was prepared to die for this. The government later backed off, and our festival carried on.”

Moraes has helped out with a Konkani vocabulary for the law courts in Goa and is keen on Konkani words for the Internet age.

“SMS – short message service can be called ‘Mottvea Akarant Nirop’,” he smiles, giving the exact translation.

“What about ‘cellphone’?” I ask.

Astir Doordvani (movable phone). And ‘land line’ would be ‘Thir Doordvani’(fixed phone).”

Internet? Maha Zallem (great net).

e-mail? Sangnakiy Nirop (electronic message).

Facebook? Mukhamollachem Mahazallem(the great net of the face)

I am a bit overwhelmed by the new Konkani jargon.

Sevek hajir!” says Moraes as I leave. Meaning always at your service. Always ready to serve Konkani.