Romi Dailies - A Lost Cause?

Peter Raposo sfx. Article in the O Heraldo, 12th April 2004
The writer is a young priest, and editor of the Vavraddeancho Ixtt (Workers' Friend), a Konkani weekly published from Pilar.

So far, almost a hundred Romi Konkani papers or periodicals have been published at different point of time since the year 1889. Undentechem Sallok by Eduardo Bruno de Sousa was the first Romi Konkani periodical that started in 1889. Initially this paper started as a monthly but later came out as a fortnightly and lasted till 1894.

Most of these periodicals were weekly, fortnightly or monthly with an exception of few dailies. In all there, there were a total of around nine dailies that thrived at different points of time in Romi Konkani journalism. Started in 1907 in Bombay, by Bernardo Francisco Cabral, Sanjechem Noketr (Evening Constellation) is the first daily in Romi Konkani. Later, in 1932, Antonio Vicente da Cruz started Concani Bulletin, another daily paper in Bombay. These two dailies were followed by the Goan Observer (a Konkani-English daily) started in 1933 by Joao Lazaro de Sousa and the Emigrant by Inacio Caitano, which was started in 1934 as a weekly but later was published as a daily.

These dailies were all flagged off on a high note, but there apparently wasn't enough steam to keep going. Besides, these being mostly a one-man show business, after a short span of time they all closed. This was the first phase of the daily papers. Most of these papers did not follow any rules of grammar or syntax. Portuguese words crept in extensively.

The second phase of the daily papers began in 1963 soon after Goa's Liberation. Felicio Cardozo started Sot (The Truth) in Margao. This was followed by Divtti, which started in 1967 of which Felicio Cardozo, again, was the first editor. (Incidentally, Sot and A Vida, a Portuguese daily, joined forces and combined to form Divtti).

In 1970, Gomantak Private Limited started Uzvadd (Light) in Panjim. This was edited by Evagrio Jorge. In 1982, Novem Goem (New Goa) was started and Gurunath Kelekar became its first editor. Goencho Avaz is the last Romi Konkani daily on our list, which was started by Fr. Freddy da Costa in 1989.

This second phase saw changes come in by way of language used, grammar and syntax. Many writers emerged during this period. However none of these papers outlived more than five years, except the Concani Bulletin, publishing for 13 years.

Sot: Sot started by Felicio Cardozo evolved from Goencho Saad, a weekly periodical, also started by him. It was printed on all the days except on Mondays. It carried news, columns, editorials, cartoons. A tabloid, it published in four to six pages. It covered prevalent corruption. Rules of grammar and syntax were followed and spellings tended to be more consistent. Portuguese words were avoided. Readers slowly got used to it. During the first seven months a thousand copies were printed from which only 400 copies were sold. Sales later grew to 5000. During the course of time, Sot made enemies due to its exposures on corruption. It also lost advertisers, this being one of the factors for it becoming financially unviable. This led to its merger with A Vida, a Portuguese-language daily run by Veritas Publishers in Margao and Divtti was formed.

Divtti: Felicio Cardozo took over as its editor. It closed down after a few months due to differences between the editor and publishers, and financial difficulties. A tabloid, it had four pages (weekday editions) to six on Sundays.

Uzvadd: Started by Gomantak Private Limited in 1970, with Evagrio Jorge as editor. Readership touched 4000, but slowly dwindled, in part for seeking to promote causes like merger with Maharashtra and Marathi. Jorge finally left the paper due to differences with the publishers. The paper ran for almost six years. Prior to ceasing, it turned weekly. Lack of funds and advertisements also aggravated its demise.

Novem Goem: This publication was started with help of public funds at the initiative of Dr. F.M. Rebello. Gurunath Kelekar was its first editor. It ran a loss due to mismanagement and had to be closed after three months. However it was restarted and Felicio Cardozo appointed as its editor. In its new avatar it carried six pages on weekdays and eight pages on Sundays. Again, it too had to be closed down due to mis-management and lack of funds.

Goencho Avaz: Fr. Freddy da Costa, the founder and editor of Gulab started Goencho Avaz (Goan Voice), the last Romi Konkani Daily. A significant section of the Konkani readership in Goa had been asking for a Konkani daily paper, says Fr. D' Costa, who also considers this as the main reason to have started the paper.

There was also a need among a vast section of the people who neither read English nor could follow other languages and who wanted to be informed about daily affairs. Within a year's times, the readership of Goencho Avaz had reached over 5000. Goencho Avaz carried four pages on weekdays and eight pages on Sundays.

Fr. Freddy accepts that this venture being a one-man show, it had to close down. He gives two main causes as reasons for its closure: it was not managed professionally and the lack of adequate income meant it could not continue paying the employees. Today Goencho Avaz still continues, but comes out only occasionally.

Why is it that not a single Romi Konkani daily survived is one question that will haunt its readers and those behind the launching of these papers. Most of these papers had common pitfalls. They were either a one-man show or were not managed professionally.

It could be argued that the 'lack of funds' followed from these reasons and vice versa (this being a vicious circle). As a result not a single daily or even the numerous periodicals that existed were consistently able to deliver to the Romi Konkani reader what it should have and what it could have.

To argue that there were insufficient readers to support a daily would be inaccurate. No doubt the onslaught on Konkani during the Portuguese regimes, the merger-with-Maharashtra and pro-Marathi controversies and the division on the basis of script certainly affected the growth of Konkani and Romi Konkani journalism.

But that no one actually capitalised or exploited the opportunity that existed is a fact that will always continue to haunt. After Goencho Avaz, no one else has come forward to start another Romi Konkani daily.

Is there a scope for a Romi Konkani daily, the question is still being asked. If a person like Dattaraj Salgoancar (publisher of the Sunaprant) supports such a daily, would it work? People working in Romi Konkani journalism feel that the scope for such a daily is still there.

At Vavraddeancho Ixtt our readers frequently ask us: "Can't you give us a daily Vavraddeancho Ixtt?" The same is true at the Gulab. This demand comes from a large section of people in Goa who needs to be informed and who can follow only Romi Konkani. It also comes from a lot of people of Goa, more precisely the Christians, who follow Romi Konkani and want to read the daily paper in their own mother tongue besides an English-language paper. There are those who may find it difficult to understand any other language, say English, as well.

Looking at the past, it would appear that the Romi Konkani dailies failed on two accounts: They were more often than not a one-man show (no corporate backing) and none of them was managed professionally.

Once the running of the content and the personnel is managed professionally, a Romi Konkani daily could surely run successfully, lasting for another 30 to 50 years and may be even more.

But the million-dollar question here is, who will bell the cat? Enthusiasm and ideas alone are not enough. Someone with the managerial skills and abilities to sustain such a venture needs to take the lead.

In fact, time is ripe for the third and the final phase to start another Romi Konkani daily paper. It is now, or probably destined to never be. Besides a person with corporate backing, the Church in Goa is also in a good position to run a daily paper for several and good reasons. The Church is the only institution that extensively uses Romi Konkani; a dialect mostly used among the Catholic segment.

It has enough qualified persons to run such a venture or has the potency to prepare such persons, if needed. The Church in Goa has a network of about 160 parishes, including ten major parishes able to subscribe to a thousand copies each. For the remaining 150 parishes to buy even 100 to 500 copies is not far-fetched.

A paper run by the Church could easily fetch over 25,000 subscribers without much effort, a figure that could grow given the proper strategy and promotion. Such figures can help attract advertisers. Besides, the huge market relating to death announcements, anniversaries, weddings, and the like will be another regular and guaranteed source of income that could ensure such a publication's longevity and standards.

Finally let not this suggestion be understood as an attempt at creating a communal divide (as we've seen happening in the case of Konkani and Marathi). On the contrary it will bring Goa's two major communities together, as it will keep a large section of people (in this case the Christians) who are alienating themselves totally from the Konkani fold.

Further, it should be seen as exploiting the existing scenario for the enhancement of Konkani journalism and Konkani as such irrespective of its scripts. No one should see it as a threat to Devnagri Konkani, the official script of Konkani. Devnagri Konkani will develop in its own time and the support of the Church is evident from the 125 Konkani (nagri) primary schools it runs and promotes.

In fact, in the course of time, the new Romi daily can slowly start introducing Devnagri and, when and if Romi Konkani becomes irrelevant, it can be changed to Devnagri itself. Otherwise the story of Konkani journalism may end up in the words of the wise Konkani saying: 'Dada-i na puddvem-i na'. Simply, a tale of lost opportunity.
Lucio Mascarenhas.
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