The year was 1942. The Second World War was raging. The movement for recognition of Konkani as an independent language was also gaining ground. In this background, amidst the Third Session of the All India Konkani Parishad, the Konkani Bhasha Mandal Bombay (later changed to Mumbai) was born in Mumbai. The Bhasha Mandal was the first ever Konkani representative body of India. Before this, the First and Second All India Konkani Parishads were held in 1939 and 1940 at Karwar and Udupi respectively. These two conferences took place largely due to the efforts of advocate Madhav Manjunath Shanbhag of Mumbai. When the Third All India Conference was held on April 4/5, 1942 in Mumbai, it was felt by Konkani stalwarts of that time that a permanent organization was necessary to further the cause of Konkani. Accordingly, on the second day of the Conference, i.e. on April 5, 1942, the Konkani Bhasha Mandal Mumbai was born.
It was natural that the Mandal became the representative body of Konkanies from Kerala to Maharashtra, because Konkanies from Kerala, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and from other parts India have come to Mumbai and settled down here for over two centuries. Mumbai had become their second home. Shennai Goembab , known as the ‘Father of Modern Konkani Literature’ was also living in this great city. He spearheaded the Konkani movement in this city and was the driving force behind the move to establish the Konkani Bhasha Mandal. Shennai Goembab had able supporters in stalwarts like Sumitra Mangesh Katre, Prof. Armand Menezes, Bakibab Borkar (Well known Konkani/Marathi Poet) Dr. H.O. Mascarenhas, and others.
Records are not available of the early years of Konkani Bhasha Mandal. Hence it is not possible to mention the names of all persons who did pioneering work in those years. This much can be said with certainty that the eminent Konkani leaders of that time took active interest in the organisation. It is known that Prof. Armand Menezes was the first President and the legendary Shennai Goembab was the Vice President in the first ever Executive Committee of the Mandal. In the year 1948, Dr. Jos Alban D’Souza was President. The Executive Committee consisted among others, six joint secretaries. They were Francis John Martyres (Who incidentally left a record of sorts being the Bhasha Mandal’s Secretary continuously until his death in 1986). Nagesh Sonde, Laxmidas Borkar, Leo Lawrence, Kashinath Shridhar Naik and Shridhar Narsimha Prabhu . Waman Raghunath Varde Valavlikar, popularly known as ‘Shennai Goembab’, Rev. Dr. Hubert Olympius Mascarenhas, Prof. Armand Menezes, Dr. Sumitra Mangesh Katre, poet Bakibab Borkar were some of the prominent pillarsof the Bhasha Mandal in the early years.
The Aims and Objects
The aims and objects of the Bhasha Mandal were:
1. To organise regularly conferences, meetings, exhibitions etc.
2. To run librearies and reading rooms.
3. To conduct Konkani schools and classes.
4. To publish pamphlets, books, dictionaries etc. and issuing magazines etc.
5. To co-operate with other institutions having similar objects.
6. Any other means which the Bhasha Mandal may decide from time to time.
There were three categories of Membership: Donors (Rs.250), Life Members (Rs.100) and Ordinary Members (Rs. 3 per annum). There was also a class of sympathisers. They had to contribute Rs.1 per year without voting rights.
Death of ‘Goem-bab’
On April 9, 1946 a staunch pillar of the Bhasha Mandal since its inception, was felled by death. Shennai Goem-bab who was instrumental in founding the Bhasha Mandal was no more. He entered like a comet and dazzled in the firmament of the Konkani movement at a crucial juncture. April 9 is commemorated as ‘Konkani Day’ throughout the Konkani region as a mark of respect to his memory. The Bhasha Mandal along with 20 other Konkani Associations held a public condolence meeting to on April 21, 1946 to mourn his passing away. Smt. Kamalabai Dongerkeri presided over the meeting.
Formation of Executive Committee
Every effort was made to give representation to different Konkani speaking areas while forming the Executive Committee of the Bhasha Mandal. It must be noted that from its inception in 1942 till the year 1962, the Bhasha Mandal of Mumbai was the sole representative body of all Konkanies. A look at the Executive Committee of 1950 will bear this out:
President : Dr. Mafald U. Mascarenhas
Executive President: Rev. Dr. H.O. Mascarenhas
Alternate Presidents: Principal Armando Menezes,
Dr. G.D. Talmaki,
Shri K.P. Bhaktha
Hon. Gen. Secretary: Shri Pandurang M. Bhangui (Nova Goa)
Hon. Joint Secretaries: Shri F.J. Martyres, Shri Mussolini F. Menezes
Hon. Treasurer: Shri S.Y. Hodarkar
Members: Rev. Fr. Bento D’Souza, Rev. Fr. A. Martin, Shri B.B. Borkar, Shri Enio Pimenta, Shri G.M.B. Rodrigues, Shri V.K. Nayak, Shri Saches D’Souza, Shri V.P. Borkar, Shri K.S. Lad, Shri Basil Sequeira, Shri S.V. Kamath (Karwar), Shri Armando Santan Pereira (Goa) Shri Faustin D’Souza (Mangalore)
S Seven All India Conferences in Mumbai
Konkani Bhasha Mandal has held seven All India Conferences in Mumbai since 1942. The Third All India Konkani Parishad in 1942, the Fourth in 1949, the Fifth in 1952, Sixth in 1957, the Ninth in 1967, the 13th in 1980 and the 21st in 1997. It could be noticed that of the seven, there were four successive Conferences ( 3rd, 4th, 5th and the 6th). As already mentioned, the Third Conference was historic one as the Bhasha Mandal was born in the midst of it. It was also known particularly for Shennai Goembab’s speech as Reception Committee Chairman which was printed in later years in a book form and titled ‘Ainn Vellar’ (At the right time).
In the Fourth All India Conference held in 1949, Dr. Mafald U. Mascarenhas was the President and Rev. Dr. H.O. Mascarenhas, an expert on Oriental studies, was the Chairman of the Reception Committee. He argued in the conference that Konkani was quite different from Marathi. He also said that reorganising the Indian States on linguistic basis was not in the interest of the country but if that could not be avoided, then Goa should be made a Konkani State.
The Mandal also organised the Fifth All India Conference in Mumbai in 1952. Dr. Mariano Saldanha, a scholar of international repute (He was teaching Sanskrit in Portugal) became President of the Conference. The renowned Konkani/Marathi poet Shri Bakibab Borkar was the Reception Committee Chairman. Borkar’s speech was so scholarly that it was compared favourably with the speech of Shennai Goembab made in the Third Conference and was described as ‘a gem of a speech’. President of the Conference, Dr. Saldanha revealed that a library in Portugal had manuscripts of the Konkani translations of Ramayana and Mahabharata written in the 16th century. This was exciting news to the Konkani people. (Many years later, Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendra of Goa published a book in Konkani titled ‘Konkani Mahabharata of the 16th century). Goans in large numbers attended the conference, India’s first cardinal, Valerian Cardinal Gracias inaugurated the conference. For the first time, I attended an All India Konkani Conference as a delegate and the experience was unforgettable.
The next 4-5 years were significant for the Konkani movement. Linguistic States had been formed. The Goa freedom movement and the struggle for the recognition and uplift of Konkani had to go hand in hand. This was the perception of Konkani leaders. Konkani Bhasha Mandal did not lag behind in this endeavour and came forward once again to hold the Sixth All India Konkani Conference in 1957. Dr. Sumitra Mangesh Katre, the wellknown research scholar was elected President and Shri Ramchandra Narayan Naik was made the Reception Committee Chairman. In an effort to make this the united show of all Konkani speaking people of Bombay, invitations were sent to all Konkani Organizations of the city to participate in the conference. A public meeting was held under the Chairmanship of Dr. Simon Fernandes to create awareness of forthcoming conference among Konkani people. Acharya Kakasaheb Kalelkar inaugurated the All India Conference.
Silver Jubilee of the Bhasha Mandal
After the Seventh and Eighth All India Conferences were held in Karwar and Madgaon respectively, the Ninth All India Conference was held yet once again in Bombay in 1967. The great Konkani poet Bakibab Borkar was the President of the Conference. This was an important year for the Konkani Bhasha Mandal. The Bhasha Mandal established in 1942, had completed 25 years of fruitful service and was on the threshold of its Silver Jubilee. The occasion of the Conference was a God-send to the Bhasha Mandal to celebrate the Jubilee. The Silver Jubilee celebrations were made an integral part of the Conference. A successful itinerary of four day celebrations was chalked out and the celebrations were held at various locations in Bombay. Monsignor Ayres Fernandes, a well known Konkani scholar was the Reception Committee Chairman. A galaxy of Konkani personalities of Bombay was associated in organising these celebrations. Some of the prominent names were Dr. Menino D’Souza, Shri Devrai Byndoor, Dr. Rogaciano Moraes, Adv. L.M. Henry D’Souza, Shri F.J. Martyres, Shri Mussolini Menezes, Shri P.A. Mudur, Dr. G.D. Talmaki, Shri Eliot de Eli and others. Shri Vasantrao Naik, Chief Minister of Maharashtra came to inaugurate this joint function. The souvenir brought out on this occasion gives complete information of the jubilee and also contains useful articles.
The 13th All India Konkani Conference was held in Bombay in 1980. The eminent Konkani leader of Kerala, Shri N. Purushottama Mallaya was the President and Shri F.J., Martyres was the Reception Committee Chairman. Shri Pratap Singh Rane, the then Chief Minister of Goa inaugurated the Conference. The long standing demand for inclusion of Konkani in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution was stressed once again.
The last (7th in Mumbai) All India Conference to be held in Mumbai was the 21st Session held in 1997. Dr. William Madtha, the linguistic scholar, was the President and Shri S.F.X. Pereira, Reception Committee Chairman. Monsignor Alexander F. D’Souza inaugurated the Conference. Shri Ullas Kuppepadav of Dubai (currently the force behind the popular ‘Konkaniworld’ website) was one of the eminent persons felicitated on the occasion. The Book Exhibition organised during the conference was a great success. It was inaugurated by the great Kannada fiction writer and a Konkani, Shri Yeshwant Chittal.
Thus, the Konkani Bhasha Mandal organised in Mumbai 7 out of the 23 All India Konkani Conferences held till to date since the first Conference in 1939.
After the death of General Secretary Shri John F. Martyres in 1986, the Bhasha Mandal was stagnant for nearly six years. It was revived in 1992 mainly due to the efforts of Shri J.B. Moraes helped by a few Konkani lovers like (late) Shri G..M.B. Rodrigues, Shri J.B.Sequeira and others. Shri Moraes has been the General Secretary continuously for the last 12 years of the revived Bhasha Mandal and his residence has been its office during this period. The resurgent Bhasha Mandal celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1993 with a grand function. Shri Uday Bhembre, the well known Konkani leader of Goa graced the occasion as Chief Guest and Shri John D’Silva the then Chairman of the Abhyudaya Co-op. Bank presided over the function. A galaxy of eminent Konkani persons from different walks of life was felicitated on the occasion. A beautiful souvenir containing a wealth of information was also released during the function.
Again, under the leadership of J.B. Moraes, the Diamond Jubilee of the Bhasha Mandal was celebrated in 2002. Several meaningful programmes such as Talent Contests, Drama Workshop conducted by Prof. Jayadev Hattangady, Seminars, Kavi Sammelan, ‘Bhasha Bandhavya’,.’Speak Konkani; Teach Konkani’ etc. were held as part of the Diamond Jubilee throughout the year. Bishop Percival Fernandes, General Secretary – CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India), inaugurated the main jubilee function, while Shri R.H. Mendonca, IPS (Retd.) was the Chief Guest and Shri P.N. Shanbhag, Chairman of the NKGSB Co-op. Bank, presided over the function.
In the Education Field
One of the most significant endeavours of the Konkani Bhasha Mandal in the early years was to strongly represent to the then Bombay Government of the need to impart basic education in Konkani language to Konkani speaking children. This movement began in 1950. In 1951, the Bombay Government wrote to the Executive President of the Bhasha Mandal Dr. H.O. Mascarenhas, that the Bhasha Mandal should prepare the text books for this purpose and at least 40 parents should demand that Konkani be taught to their children. The Bhasha Mandal responded immediately by putting an advertisement in the newspapers offering a prize of Rs.500 to any one preparing suitable text books in Devnagari for the First Standard to the Fourth Standard. The Bhasha Mandal also initiated a Mass Petition from Konkani people demanding basic education for their children in their mother tongue. The correspondence between the Bhasha Mandal and the Government was also mentioned in the petition. One of the main demands in this petition was that the Government should appoint a Text Book Committee for Konkani as it did for other languages. However, the Government did not respond favourably to the petition and so the plan of the Bhasha Mandal of bringing out text books was not fructified. The considerable amount of work done in this direction was sent to Goa for further use.
On the Literary Front
The Bhasha Mandal undertook several activities to cater to the literary tastes of the Konkani people of Bombay. In 1952, ‘Saad’ a Konkani monthly magazine was launched under the editorship of Dr. Manohar Sardessai the then President of the Bhasha Mandal. The Bhasha Mandal strove hard to popularise this periodical. However the periodical did not last long and folded up after three years. The main problem was the use of different scripts by Konkani people coming from different regions. The periodical was revived nearly 50 years later in the year 2000, as a quarterly news bulletin since with Shri J.B. Moraes as its editor. It is printed in Devnagari and Kannada scripts with occasional write-ups in Roman script too. There were literary contests like Poetry, Short Story and Essay Contests. There was a Best Book Award in some years. There was also Elocution Contest. In some years Hasya Kavi Sammelans were held bringing together well known poets of Mumbai.
In the Cultural Field
The Konkani Bhasha Mandal since its inception has striven might and main to preserve the cultural heritage of the Konkanies. In the seven All India Conferences held in Mumbai, the Bhasha Mandal succeeded in presenting the best of our multifaceted culture to the delight of the Konkani audience. The Mandos of Goa, Kunbi dance and music, popular plays, mimicry and other folk items have been staged during these conferences. A ‘Mando’ festival was organised in 1970 and 1971 which brought together several musical groups on one stage. A ‘Kunbi’ festival was organised in 1973 . In an unique effort to raise funds as well as to popularise a good play, the Konkani Bhasha Mandal staged Prem Kumar’s ‘Ordhi Bhakri’ in nine theatres in Mumbai. In 1994, the famous ‘Mand Sobhann’ cultural group of Mangalore, presented a show in Mumbai in aid of Konkani Bhasha Mandal.
This article is written by:
Shri J.B. Moraes
13/Ritz, Convent View CHS
Ghatla Village Road,
Chembur, Mumbai 400 071
Tel. 2555 2324
(Shri Moraes has been the Gen. Secretary of the KBM Mumbai since 1992)