A Brush With Manoharrai Sardessai’s Poems

Manoharrai Sardessai was a Konkani poet from Goa who contributed immensely to modern Konkani poetry. He was fluent in several languages including French. However, Sardessai wrote extensively in his mother tongue Konkani. This essay will look at a few poems of Sardessai in the light of his close connection to Goan soil.

Manohar_rai_sardesai.png
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Konkani poet Madhav Borkar, during the launch of The Works of Manoharrai Sardessai: A Meeting Point between India and France by Edith Noronha Melo Furtado in 2014, talked about Sardessai’s style of writing saying “he could retain his individuality, the flavor of his soil” despite being interested in French poetry. The essence of Goa is seen in several poems, for example in the collection Goya Tujea Mogakhatir (For Thy Sake O Goa), he echoes the troubles faced by Goans:

Land of cattle and of paddy fields,
thirsty is my Goa for a drop of milk
My Goa sweats blood on the cross of the Portuguese.

The presence of mango trees in Sardessai’s poetry is noteworthy. Goa is known for its mangoes. From Shah Jahan to adventurers such as the Italian Niccolao Manucci, many people have held Goan mangoes in high praise. An article in The Scroll mentions that:

Shah Jahan spent state resources to carve out a special “fast track” route from the Konkan to Delhi, to ensure rapid supply of the fruit through the summer months.

Balakrishna Bhagwant Borkar, a Konkani writer, wrote:

Like a drop of honey
soft as a bride’s lips
our pride, our wealth
is the Goan mango

In his poem Jinaen Makka Saglle Dile (Life Gave Me Everything), Sardessai talks about how life has fulfilled all the needs that one requires for survival, that is shelter, food, water, and family. There is a reference to the shade of the mango tree:

Life gave me the shade of the mango tree

Here, Sardessai is celebrating the simplicity of life and the pleasure he derives from the landscape of his home. He also is grateful to life for giving him the soil and land which is rich and fertile.

Loving, fertile soil
a village sized farm to toil
in my home and garden takes root
a rich harvest of children and fruits.

(Translated from Konkani by Poorva Gude and Amey Hegde)

The non-materialistic approach to life reflects a rural and simplistic means of existence. Simplicity is a trait in Sardessai’s poetry. His short poems are suggestive of this. Sardessai was inspired by poets such as Arthur Rimbaud, Jacques Prévert, Pablo Neruda, Garcia de Lorca, Paul Eluard among many others. Sardessai’s use of simple language paved the way for his work to be direct in conveying his message. In this sense, his poems can be compared to Prévert’s works such as The Garden and For You, My Love. The tone of hope pervades in the poems, which is also present in Sardessai’s poem:

(Life gave me) Roses as well as thorns that smart
to bear these thorns, a strong heart
in my eyes in the dark night
gave dreams of the full moon light.

The vibrant mood contributes to the sunny image of Goa, which is resplendent in its sunshine. The mango tree appears in yet another poem of Sardessai’s in Otthra Jun (18th June):

It was a Tuesday,
Heavy rains lashed the earth.
Beneath a mango tree, a Gavddi boy
Stood shivering and weeping.

So many times it has come and gone
The 18th of June!
The poor Gavddi-boy
Still shivers beneath the mango tree.
The golden Goa of our dreams
How far from us is it still?

Each year on that day without fail,
My heart is set aflame.
My brother, do you remember,
The 18th of June?

(Translated from Konkani, acquired from https://www.veenapatwardhan.com)

The poem commemorates the civil disobedience movement launched in Goa by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia and Dr. Juliao Menezes on 18th June in 1946 against the Salazar regime in Goa. It is one of the most evocative poems in Sardessai’s portfolio. The presence of the mango tree as a constant image and symbol of Goa’s landscape is essential in the poem as it offers solace to the young weeping boy, who in retrospect is essentially any Goan individual who has had to experience the violent and discriminatory actions of the Portuguese. The brutal beatings and torture endured by the Goan protesters leads to the boy in the poem shivering under the tree much after independence has been won. It suggests that the scars and bruises left by the Portuguese will take time to heal.

Yet another poem about time and the passing of years is seen in a short poem:

Deva kasli tuji karni;
Kens zale dhove, nazar azun torni.

O God, the paradox of the work of your hands;
Hair already white with age, but the mind still youthful

(Translated from Konkani, acquired from https://www.veenapatwardhan.com)

He is talking about how his body has become ripe but his mind is still raw and young. It is a possible suggestion of the immense attachment to his land and culture which has kept him grounded and active on a psychological level, while his body has been worn out through the years. In another Konkani short poem, he writes:

I told the flower not to bloom
The flower told me not to talk

The blooming of the flower can be compared to growth, and the natural course of things, while the speaker seems to be attempting to prevent this growth. This poem can be studied as a response to the previous poem where the speaker is asking God why his hair is white with age while his mind is still young and active. Sardessai is possibly poking fun at the humorous side of man who attempts to prevent nature from taking its course. It depicts the triviality of human existence and the idea that people make life complicated for no reason whatsoever, instead of enjoying the little things in life like the speaker in Life Gave Me Everything.

Sardessai proved that simplicity in diction and tone can bring up winds of change, which he managed to evoke through his Konkani poems. His contribution to the corpus of Konkani and Indian literature is immense and unique in its own way. To conclude, the poems studied represent the struggles, sorrows, joys and happiness that Konkani poets experienced in Goa. This has been brought out by each poet in his own style and manner.

 

 

 

 

 

This essay would not have been whole without the help of these valuable resources:

  1. http://www.ameyhegde.in/blog/english-translation-of-a-konkani-poem-on-attitude-of-gratitude-by-poorva-gude-and-amey-hegde
  2. http://sahitya-akademi.gov.in/library/meettheauthor/manohar_rai_sar_dessai.pdf
  3. https://scroll.in/magazine/837450/goan-mangoes-are-the-best-in-world-history-proves-so-too
  4. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/When-civil-disobedience-won-Goa-its-freedom/articleshow/52802707.cms
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBwZKrvmhto
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeNXNTWrJZo&t=206s
  7. http://sahitya-akademi.gov.in/library/meettheauthor/manohar_rai_sar_dessai.pdf

 

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