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The pen is indeed mightier than the sword

‘Ink of Dissent’ is noted author Damodar Mauzo’s 16th book. It is a book that will remain special as it is his first book written in English and one that isn’t based on fiction, but the current day realities. His critical writings on language, literature and freedom will be released by celebrated historian and writer, Ramchandra Guha on March 17 at Ravindra Bhavan Margao. In his direct and unpretentious style, Mauzo speaks his heart and mind out to NT BUZZ

Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ

Nothing can stop 75-year-old author Damodar Mauzo from expressing himself, openly; not even a death threat. A proud Konkani, Goan, and Indian, the author has brought dignity and pride to the literary world in the state and the country.

‘Bhai’ (as he is fondly called) might have aged and become less active than he was 25 years ago, but his thoughts and beliefs have remained and continue to be exhorted with courage.

His book, ‘Ink of Dissent’ is divided into three sections – ‘Is The Pen Too Hot to Handle’, ‘Our Flowers Face The Wind’ and ‘Mix-bhaji – The Magic of Language’.

The foreword has been written by thinker, cultural activist and an institution builder, Ganesh N Devy.

Writer and critic Kiran Budkuley will also be present as guest of honour for the book release.

There will also be a lecture by Ramchandra Guha on the topic, ‘Eight threats to Freedom of Expression in Modern India’.

 

Excerpts from an interview.

 

  1. How is dissent being tackled in free India?

With democracy comes the right to dissent. It is unfortunate that dissent is being gagged or quieted in our country. This situation has led to curbing of freedom. How was the voice of dissent in the JNU campus subdued? How was Barkha Dutt moved away from NDTV? There are stories of intimidation of journalists who are forced not to tell the truth.

Gauri Lankesh’s assassination is a perfect example of how the dissenting voice is silenced. It is also a warning to other dissenters who would meet a similar fate. Today we cannot ask certain questions like how many are killed in Balakot strike or how hundreds of cows die in UP cow-shelters when the cow is so holy to the Yogi Government.

  1. We might be progressing to stake claim in the world as a global superpower, but there appears to be a restrictive atmosphere engulfing us through the media, writings, freedom, etc. Comment.

Yes, we are allowed to boast about ourselves, that we fit in the global superpower bracket. But we are not supposed to ask to substantiate that claim nor are we supposed to know the parameters that justify the statement.

Demonetisation was a total failure but people talk about it in a hushed tone. We are blatantly told that the present day opposition party ruled over India for 60 long years doing nothing and we are made to believe it by most of our TV channels.

The heads of our educational and art institutions are being kicked out unceremoniously and replaced by the yes-men to run the organisations by proxy.

Autonomy is a forgotten word. I do not have the freedom to voice my concern over the destructive Sanatan forces present in Goa. The restrictive atmosphere too is created selectively.

I was in BJP-ruled Arunachal Pradesh recently. The people eat beef freely and have unrestricted supply of the meat. Why these double standards? It is because eating beef has been turned into a political and communal issue that suits the present dispensation.

We have seen how the celebrated writer Nayantara Saigal was rudely told to keep away from the literary meet. Very few take a stance in protest or write about it.

 

  1. Though novels are not the major targets, we’ve had instances where novels have been banned and writers have had to live in exile. Could you explain this phenomena and its impact on society?

 

 

 

Intolerance to liberal writing is not new to us. It happened to Jew writers at the hands of the Nazis. It happened to Salman Rushdie two decades ago. At the PEN International Congress, I met a Vietnamese poet who lives in exile in France. In recent times Tamil writer Perumal Murugan not only had to withdraw his novel, ‘Madhorubagan’, but also declared that writer Murugan was dead. The Malayalam novelist S Hareesh was forced to withdraw his book in the face of threats.

There are others too, like Hansda Sowendra Shekhar, Kancha Ilaiah, etc. The recent outbreak of intolerance is the result of tacit support the perpetrators get from their political mentors. Why not, when they can go scot-free after committing such offenses? They even become heroes in their den.

When the situation is not conducive to dissent the people at large prefer to remain mute. The silence of society is then misconstrued by the rogues as approval.

 

  1. Undoubtedly we’ve had a glorious history, a diverse culture. But, many believe that history cannot be looked at only from one direction and try to demystify things of the past or tell another version. Comment.

I personally like to revisit, reinterpret, and rediscover our past. But I am against the distortion of history. The present tendency of the rightists is to rewrite history on their own terms. When a writer from a European country recently asked if Sardar Patel was greater than Mahatma Gandhi because of the tallest statue, I had no answer except to tell him that Patel is also a revered leader of this country.

The way Pandit Nehru is being censured on different counts by a certain group of people clearly indicates the direction from which they are looking at him.

 

  1. Several groups or fringed organisations use history, religion and culture to bring about patriotism, promote a culture, and create an identity for India and Indians, thereby thrusting their ideas and imposing culture. Could you tell us your take on this?

I am very proud of our Constitution that has bestowed upon every Indian the fundamental rights including rights to freedom, liberty, justice and equality. However, though everyone likes to enjoy these rights there are some who prefer others to be deprived of their Constitutional rights.

The right wing activists have chosen to believe that it is their prerogative to decide what is right and what is wrong for ‘their’ country. The incidents like lynching for suspected motive of slaughtering have sprung out of the hatred they have nurtured against the beef-eating communities. The present ruling party that has come to power with a large mandate presumably is amenable to the same line of thinking. Post assassinations of Dabholkar, Kalburgi, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh, the fringe elements have become emboldened. Now they are bent on attributing new meaning to terms like nationalism and patriotism.

Any dissenting voice against the Hindu practices is called unpatriotic and any criticism of the ruling party is termed anti-national. To me, nationalism is one’s loyalty and devotion to the country and readiness to defend her against any attack, external or internal.

Patriotism is one’s love, pride and attachment to one’s country, its culture and heritage, where one upholds the virtues and hits out at the shortcomings in the overall interest of the country.

It’s time we make certain that we shall not play in the hands of the jingoistic elements.

 

  1. Freedom is either being abused or misused in today’s India, more so by politicians and media. Comment.

Political leaders have always been abusing and misusing freedom to meet their own ends. But the media which are expected to keep the readers or viewers informed of the news and views, without any bias, have changed tracks and are seen blasting news and views that suit their lords.

Knowing that the print and TV media can greatly influence the public opinion, the political parties woo them to toe their ideologies.

Most of the media is owned by the corporate sector that is ever ready to please political parties, particularly the one at the helm. To add to this state of affairs, the social media has emerged as view makers.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to form an opinion based on the information that is fed to you or even to distinguish between truthful and fake news.

 

  1. And the last one…what led you to write this book? Also, why did you choose to write it in English?

I am a fiction writer who writes in Konkani. I write in Konkani because the stories come to me in my mother tongue. I can best express myself in Konkani. However, I am not averse to writing in other languages that I know. I have written extensively in Konkani on varying topics like Hindutva, demonetisation or lynching incidents. A few friends would then ask me to write in English for the benefit of a larger readership. I recollect how one of my articles in Konkani was translated by professor Edward D’Lima for greater readership. This is why I started writing articles in English. The book has other articles that include my presentations and articles on Konkani language and literature at various places in India.

I am thankful to my writer friend Jose Lourenco who painstakingly collected, selected and edited these essays, as well as Frederick Noronha of Goa1556 for promptly taking up the book for publication. If everything goes well there will be another book in English, a collection of selected papers read by me at different seminars.

I am not a prolific writer. But I am happy to inform my readers that more books of fiction in Konkani are in the offing, waiting to be published this year.

 

 

(The book launch will be held tomorrow, Sunday, March 17 at 5.30 p.m. at the conference hall, Ravindra Bhavan. Open to all.)

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