Can you imagine a speech that ran up to the length of two books while printing ? The first part contained the main speech; the second was a treatise on the first, seeking to conclusively prove, once and for all, that Konkani is no hand-maiden of Marathi; but a language with a separate, individual identity of its own. Rich in terms of culture, and vibrant from the viewpoint of heritage. The magnum opus, "Grammatical Construction of Konkani Language"  (Lekar Odhekshalem Ulvop), remains to even this day - over a half-century later - the cornerstone of Konkani ethnic pride and a beacon for its revival, renaissance and resurgence.
The voluminous two-part compendium is based on the speech delivered by Vaman Raghunath Shennai Varde Valaulikar, popularly known as "Shennai Goem Bab' and widely acknowledged as  "Father of Modern Konkani Literature'. Rated as the greatest Konkani writer ever and lodestar of Konkani-speaking people wherever  they live, Shennai Goem Bab was merely addressing the reception committee in his capacity as its Chairman during the 3rd Convention of the All-India Konkani Parishad. But so lofty, profound and meaningful was the tone as well as the content of his talk, the document occupies as paramount a place in the saga of Konkani as the historic speech of Gettysberg in the annals of world history.

Parishads come and go; movements are started and they perish. What, however, makes the sterling performance of Shennai Goem Bab so memorable was its timing and intrinsic worth. He was the fountainhead of Konkani culture from 1911 right up to 1946, when he breathed his last - an epoch that witnessed a grand display of his mastery over the Konkani language and deep and scholarly understanding of the history as well as the ethos of the Konkani people.
What makes the speech of 1942  so special is the moment of unusual turbulance in which it was heard. The Second World War was raging then. The tension ridden atmosphere was quite hostile to any volatile activity on the part of the native Indians. Even Shennai Goem Bab's efforts to uphold the cause of Konkani, a language moth-eaten by constant neglect and sadly lacking political or governmental support were looked upon not too kindly. Worse still was the Cold-War being waged  by the staunch proponents of Marathi, who sought to brush aside Konkani as a lowly dialect with no script, no grammar, nor any vocabulary.

That  is why Shennai Goem Bab's  tryst with destiny - retirement from a lucrative service and life-long devotion to only the promotion of Konkani - becomes all the more significant. In a spirited bid to prove that Konkani descended from Vedic Sanskrit through the Prakrit Apabhramsha and, hence, senior to Marathi in the chronological order, the young man took a wild plunge into printing and publishing.
Shennai Goem Bab edited "Novem Goem", a quarterly, for three years, from 1934 to 1936, publishing it from the Gomantak Press, Bombay. But it was the publication of "Goemkaranchi Goemyabhaili Vosnnuk", a studied research work tracing the history of the Goans who had migrated to other countries in search of livelihood (published in 1928), which proved a watershed of the Konkani movement he was spearheading.
What triggered off the venture was an invitation that Shennai Goem Bab received from the Secretary, Saraswat Brahman Samaj, Bombay, to deliver a few talks on his theory. Each of his lectures, which held the audience totally spell-bound because of the amazing scholarship, lasted not less than two hours. It also succeeded in  firing the innate zeal of yet another young man, the printer-owner of the newly launched Gomantak Press in Girgaum.

It is an irony of history that the Konkani identity vis-a-vis the Goan ethos was brought alive in this new Gomantak in Bombay, and that too with the help of an excuse for a press -  because it boasted of
only a hand-treadle printing machine and just a handful of type-faces ! - run by Kashinath Shridhar Nayak. Alongwith Shennai Goem Bab, he embarked upon a hazardous venture - printing and publishing of Konkani books one after the other !
The publication of the 1942 speech, a huge tome which fired the Konkani masses with the sudden realisation that they needed to preserve their own language, idiom and identity, was a turning point for not only Gomantak Press, but for the movement for a revival of Konkani itself.

The selfless effort that went into all that is hard to believe. Shennai Goem Bab wrote for the people. He did not earn any living out of his writings. As for Nayak, he, alongwith his brothers, personally composed and printed books upon books in their tiny press, whose treadle machines were run without electric power, without any profit motive. When the Konkani Basha Mandal, Margao, came of age, Kashinath Nayak, gifted it his entire treasure-trove of Konkani books, bearing even the cost of transport.

Nayak hailed from rural Goa. All that we know about him is that when he was around 10 to 12-years-of-age, he worked as a compositor-cum-printer-cum-binder in a small press at Margao, shifted to Bombay in 1918 as a hand-compositor and started his own printing press in the living room of his tiny home in a chawl.
As for Shennai Goem Bab, who spent only 16 years of his life (1877 onward) on the Goan soil, Bombay remained his Karma Bhoomi till his death in 1946. By then, however, the duo, who were like two faces of the same coin, had turned the big metropolis into a Konkani crucible from which had emerged the Konkani Basha Mandal, Mumbai.

Deepak Rao Moodbidri

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