I am a sporadic, spontaneous writer: Jnanpith award-winning writer Damodar Mauzo

Jnanpith award-winning writer Damodar Mauzo speaks to Kankana Basu about his latest collection of short stories, what inspires him, drives him and what annoys him.

Published: 10th July 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2022 12:03 PM   |  A+A-

Damodar Mauzo

Damodar Mauzo

Express News Service

In The Wait, ordinary people caught in ordinary situations play out as the leitmotif. You say so much while saying so little. Do you have to work on this unique style of writing or does it come spontaneously?

I usually wait for a story to come to me. When the story comes, it comes with the style. Spontaneity is the right word. My writing stems from reading good writers for over 40 years. Certain words, a certain phrase in a book move something inside me, and I get galvanised into writing. I generally write my short stories in a single sitting (either from late evening to late-night or late night to early morning), the novels however tend to stretch over days.

While my writing tumbles out very naturally, I have trouble crafting the starting point of my stories and I’m fastidious about the names of my fictitious characters. Everything else generally falls neatly into place. Writing the climax of a story makes me strangely uneasy and restless and I tend to pace around a bit during this part. I like to keep the climaxes leashed and crisp and I don’t allow myself a single superfluous word. As a shopkeeper, I was standing at the shop counter on a Sunday morning many years ago and watched as a farmer passed by, dragging two bulls with him. They were on their way to the fair where cattle are exchanged. In the evening, I saw the same cattle headed home dragging a disheartened farmer. They hadn’t been sold. The stark contrast of the situation fired my imagination and I wrote a short story that very night. Such stray incidents often fuel my fiction.
Tell us a little about your writing schedule.  
I like to socialise. I move about quite a bit among young and old alike. In villages and in towns. At home or abroad. With the same ease and with my antennae on. But when it comes to writing, I like to be left alone. No interference, no visitors, no calls (as far as possible, of course). I write long hand and at a stretch.
Being a Mumbai-bred Bengali who reads, writes and thinks in English, I feel a bit of a traitor to my mother tongue. Do you see this betrayal syndrome in the current generation of Goan writers?
 I wish I could see the betrayal signal. The youth take pride in knowing good English. They hardly feel any guilt over their ignorance. It’s something of a national calamity the way the youth is turning away from their native languages.

I blame the education system for its thrust on marks-oriented learning and emphasis on English. I make it a point to get all my fiction translated so that I reach out to not just Konkani readers, but readers of multiple languages. My existential novel Should I Kill Myself originally in Konkani has been translated into Hindi, Marathi, Kannada and English. Being awarded the 2022 Jnanpith Award brought in a lot of visibility and appreciation from all parts of the globe and I seriously hope this gives a fillip to Konkani literature.
Do you find the intense romanticising of Goa by outsiders beneficial or detrimental to the place?
 Goa is as good and as bad as any other place. What makes the difference is the lifestyle, culture, language and thinking. Harmonious living is our speciality, which of late is being threatened. I don’t like Goa being romanticised for reasons that are detrimental to its image. For example, the merrymaking, drinking and laid-back nature of the people are often misjudged. The sossegado attitude is often misunderstood as laziness. We are/were a contented lot. But now in the rat race of making a quick buck and cut-throat competition, we are diluting our Goanness. The influx of people from other regions is not a threat to Goa unless they understand Goa’s liberal worldview. The right way to experience the ambience of Goa is to get under the skin of the native Goan.

Does being awarded a host of prestigious awards put performance pressure on you?     
Awards make no difference. Yes, a few months may be lost in basking in the glory of being felicitated and invited to events extensively. But that only adds to my understanding of certain situations. In fact, I’m quite embarrassed when people continue to introduce me as a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award, given to me in 1983 for my novel Karmelin. The novel was written more than four decades back and people still continue to identify with it.
The recent Booker win for a Hindi novel has put the spotlight on regional literature. Do you see this spurt of excitement sustaining itself?
Yes. The Booker has attracted the attention of the literary world outside India. Translations are no more taken for granted. It is a positive sign. I firmly believe that translators should not be deprived either of credit or profits of a book. But finding a good translator is not always easy; a translator can make or mar a book. They have to possess the ability to adhere to the spirit of the original book. I am fortunate to have my good friend Xavier Cota translate The Wait and Other Stories from Konkani.
Do you feel there is a lot remaining for you to say, and write?
A lot more is waiting to come out. There are many unpublished short stories in the pipeline. Few novels had to be abandoned for lack of authenticity; I felt inadequate writing about second-hand experiences. One of the novels revolved around gay relationships and another around Goans settled in East Africa. I am not a prolific, disciplined writer but rather a sporadic, spontaneous one. But I still have a lot to say.

 The characters in your stories are so relatable. Do you cast real-life people as your templates?
They are partly real and partly imaginative. To relate an incident, I was touring around Goa in a taxi. I asked the driver his name and he hesitated. I guessed he was wondering if, in these days of communal edginess, he should give himself a Hindu, Muslim or Christian name. And thus, was born my fictitious driver of the forked tongue, in the title story of The Wait.


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