Jnanpith Awardee Damodar Mauzo: 'As families living close by, festivals are a way to erase differences'

Jnanpith Awardee Damodar Mauzo: 'As families living close by, festivals are a way to erase differences'

The author, and activist shares his fond memories about what makes Christmas special

Nicole SuaresUpdated: Saturday, December 23, 2023, 07:22 PM IST
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‘All festivals are occasions to spread joy, and so are Christmas and Chovoth in Goa. Happiness has a rare ability to grow when it is shared,’ writes Jnanpith awardee Damodar Mauzo in an essay, A Village Christmas (Indian Christmas, edited by Jerry Pinto). He shares his vivid recollections of celebrating a Goan Christmas with friends, indulging in the customary sweet delights of dodol, baath, bebinca, and those in his ancestral village in Majorda.

Despite his atheistic beliefs, Mauzo, ‘Goa’s Honorary Catholic,’ as a Doordarshan Delhi commentator called him, is entrenched in celebrating the festivals in his village. He attributes this affinity to his close circle of Catholic friends. “I never looked at them as Catholics or the other. I was invited to raise a toast on several occasions and to share meals at the house of the Festa President. We even go to church for feasts and funerals,” he shares with The Free Press Journal.

When his daughter as a youngster was taken for midnight mass by her friend, Mauzo and his wife Shaila had no objections. “The question of raising any objection didn’t arise. I have always given them a free hand,” he adds.

As a businessman running a local store in the village, Christmas was a busy time. He recalls stocking on fireworks of a ‘quieter variety,’ unlike the loud bangs of the rockets popular today. During the hectic Christmas week, his shop catered to his faithful customers throughout the week and remained open even on his usual Thursday holiday. With his shop closed on 25 December evening, he was free to keep his yearly tradition of visiting his friends, Xavier Cotta and Willy, and others.

Of the many changes in customs, the Konkani author and activist observes the loss of the old Konkani carols. “Unfortunately,” he says, “We are losing our carols in Konkani. There were thousands of carols earlier. I was informed of a book of carols at the Rachol Seminary. Maybe someday somebody will work on that and revive them.”

Time may change the way we commemorate our festivals. But Mauzo points to an underlying, ever-pervasive sense of brotherhood and cultural unity that ties all communities together in Goa. “We have an inherent bond between the Goan communities that dates back 500 years ago when we lived as one community. That feeling of oneness or belonging persists even today between all people whether Hindu, Christian, or Muslim.”

This, he explains is why ‘neori,’ a favoured sweet, exists in both communities. “You won’t find neoris eaten amongst the Catholic community anywhere globally during Christmas, except Goa. In Goa, we remember our roots when we prepared sweets for a festival like Chovoth. Neori doesn’t belong to a particular community.”

He suggests following our collective wisdom and continuing the practices we have been following for the past 50 years. “I don’t think we have to look at any force from the outside. The ‘other’ factor is imposed from the outside. The changing circumstances, the political situation, and the elections are the obstacles to this oneness,” he warns of the divisive factors trying to create new identity markers based on religion. He writes in his essay, ‘This intolerance damages the whole fabric of our society. This othering hurts the health of our community. We have to live as one. We must learn to hold together, to respect the traditions of unity and amity which will hold intolerance and religious hatred at bay.’ As families living close by, festivals are a way to erase differences. ‘It doesn’t matter who took the first step, and for most of us it still doesn’t.’

Perhaps, this Christmas we could take the first step to reach out to our neighbour in the same communal harmony that runs in all our veins.

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