Edited by damian lopes and Dominic Lopes
This collection of Goan proverbs represents a unique mix of Mediterranean and South Asian cultures. Now a state of India, Goa was a Portuguese colony for over four centuries. The proverbs blend South Indian sarcasm in the face of destiny with a European delight in the weakness of others.
Includes a foreword, map and glossary.
Read the Foreward
Cheeky fellow, you know to talk.’
This was my grandmother’s assessment of me when I explained how the dog came to eat the last mango or why watching Star Trek should come before preparing for visitors. Her words were meant as a mild rebuke, but they were spoken with a smile betraying her appreciation of verbal ingenuity. I heard them with a smile of my own, because their grammar belied their meaning, and yet they succeeded in humbling me. I recognized them as literally translated Konkani, a rapid and laughing speech those of my grandmother’s generation spoke among themselves, but lost to their away-born grandchildren. Konkani was the language I did not know to talk.
If I could not speak Konkani, I gained a sense of its spirit from my grandmother’s translations. These were often idioms and proverbs whose humour and impudence scuttled any chance of a come-back in my reserved Canadian English. Depending on context and tone, ‘You know to talk’ could mean ‘Your verbal evasions aren’t missed on me, young man’ or ‘You’re all talk and no action’ or even ‘People who live in glass houses.’ For emphasis, my grandmother might have added, ‘How you stayed in your mother’s stomach!’ Too much talk is the sign of an upstart. Yet Konkani proverbs are all about the pleasure of talk, in using it to tease, to scold, to cajole, perhaps even to advise.
Konkani is the language of India’s Konkan Coast, which stretches from Bombay south to Mangalore. At the midpoint is Goa, a trading centre that became the hub of the Portuguese empire in Asia during the sixteenth century. Many Goans converted to Catholicism, adopted western dress, and laced their language with Portuguese. In recent decades Goans have migrated to East Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the West, so that those overseas now outnumber those in India. But unlike some other immigrants, Goans do not teach their children their language. Few Goans living abroad know more than a few phrases of Konkani.
This collection is inspired by the thought that these proverbs are seeds of Goan culture, and bear transplantation into English, the language of Goans worldwide. They also offer non-Goans a taste of a unique heritage that draws equally on east and west. As the proverb says, ‘The rice of home cooks in the water of many countries.’
64 pages, paper, ISBN 0-9698172-0-7
first edition of 500 copies
Caju Press, Toronto, 1996
Small and almost understated … this petite collection of proverbs by Damian and Dominic Lopes says things it takes other writers whole pages – or even books – to relay. ‘A chameleon doesn’t need to run’ (p 38), or ‘If the mad fellow’s ours, we cry; if he’s another’s, we laugh’ (p 46). Sometimes the older wisdom is the most profound.
– Rob McLennan, The Ottawa X Press, 25 June 1998
This book includes proverbs that are very well chosen … Some proverbs … do credit to the richness of the Konkani language – despite the difficulties it faces in coping with today’s fast-changing, technology-oriented world – and also to the selection of Lopes & Lopes … Above all, those behind this work have contributed by making the wisdom of yesterday’s Goa available to a wider audience.
– Frederick Noronha, Deccan Herald (Bangalore, India), 16 March 1997
A friend of mine who is well read in South Asian literature, seeing this book on my desk, picked it up, thumbed through a few pages, and then took it home with him. When I asked him a few days later what he thought, he told me that, more than many novels he had read about India, this slim volume of ‘quirky and profound’ proverbs succeeded in dislocating him and drawing him into a distant culture Continue reading...
The truth about human life is always local, always tied to a specific place at a specific moment, and it is folk literature such as this, with its everyday turns of phrase and concrete, down-to-earth images, that really gives us a chance to get inside that place at that moment.
The proverbs in A Handful of Grams come from Goa, the tiny former Portuguese colony on the coast south of Bombay. Most of them started out in Konkani, some in Portuguese, and the flavour of both languages comes through clearly in English. Like proverbs everywhere, they address universal problems: mortgages, marriage, snooping neighbours, the ministrations of concerned government (as in ‘The service of the government is like a lamp on the head of a cat’). Some deal with matters of theological importance (‘The blind man asks for one eye and god gives him two’). Others reflect the colonial experience, in a lighthearted way (as in ‘His manners are too Portuguese – he leaves meat on the bones’). But all embody values and employ metaphors that can come only from India.
Reading through a book like this it becomes obvious at once how difficult it must be to arrange two or three hundred brief sayings in a way that doesn’t dampen their spirit. After all, proverbs are laced throughout daily speech, not rattled off one after another. At first I thought they should have been arranged by subject matter, but then I realized that six consecutive proverbs about the wisdom of saving for a rainy day equals no proverbs at all. And a random selection would have been just as bad.
The editors of A Handful of Grams have hit upon an ingenious solution (one of them told me the inspiration came from A. K. Ramanujan’s translations of Shaivite devotional poetry). On each pair of pages proverbs have been selected that play off, comment upon, or undermine each other. For example ‘Picking lice from your loincloth won’t make it lighter’ is echoed on the next page by ‘Stepmother hunted lice by moonshine’ (an image no wicked stepmother in Disney can beat). The hunting theme is picked up on the same page by ‘The ghost has hidden the exorcist’ and ‘You need a looking glass to see your bangles?’ These all give solidity, depth and colour to the platitude, ‘There’s no witness
like the conscience.’
The book comes with a witty and evocative foreword and a glossary of words the editors have chosen not to translate into English. (‘Grams’ are defined as ‘chick peas or garbanzo beans eaten roasted and spiced as a snack food.’) Like many books published by small presses, it is beautifully designed and printed. As my friend remarked, it deserves a place on the bookshelf of everyone interested in Indian culture or literature.
– TX Lobo, Toronto, 1996