Great Goans: Bakibab Borkar (1910 – 1984)

Legendary Goan poet B. B. Borkar

bakibab borkarHis poetry is a celebration of his Goan-ness, every word drenched in a deep understanding and a passionate enjoyment of all things Goan. Only someone Goan to the core could have written:

Please Sir, Mr. God of Death,

Don’t make it my turn today,

not today,

there is fish curry for dinner.

Which Goan worth his salt wouldn’t identify with this crazy craving for fish curry? Or onfish curry rice reading these lines wouldn’t envision tanatalizing images of thick, fragrant fish curry trickling its way into the spaces between plump grains of steamed unpolished rice? And not just these lines, but all the works of Goa’s legendary poet Balkrishna Bhagwant Borkar exude the very essence of Goa, her sublime natural beauty and the character and foibles of her people.

A multi-lingual poetic genius

B. B. Borkar or Bakibab Borkar as he was fondly called was born on 30 November, 1910, in the village of Curchorem. Raised in a devout Hindu joint family, as a child he would wake up to the chants of bhajans and abhangas resounding through his ancestral house in Borim.

After his matriculation, he went on to complete the tough teachers’ training course at the Escola Normal in 1936, where he was exposed to world literature, thanks mainly to his Goan teacher, the scholarly Dona Propercia Correia Afonso.

He then taught in several schools across Goa before joining the Pune Akashvani Kendra in 1955. A stint at the Panaji Akashvani Kendra followed in post-liberation Goa from 1962 till his retirement in 1970. Bakibab was also the President of the Institute Menezes Braganza from 1964 to 1970 and was honoured with the Padmashri Award by the Government of India in 1967.

Bakibab Borkar was a polyglot and besides his mother tongue Konkani also knew Marathi, English, Portuguese and Hindi. His linguistic talents are evident from the ease with which he could write poetry both in Marathi and Konkani.

He was just 20 years old when he commenced his literary career as a Marathi poet. But it wasn’t long before poetry lovers began likening the lyrical quality of his poetry to that of the Marathi poet B. R. Tambe. It was only after he became well-known in Marathi literary circles that he took to writing in Konkani.

However, the seeds of the desire to write in his mother tongue were sown when he was a teenager. Babikab had once admitted that as a young lad of 13 or 14 when he read Shennoi Goembab’s story in Konkani Mhoji Ba Khoim Geli? (Where has my mother gone?) he was moved to tears.

Interestingly, the other person who tweaked his interest in Konkani literature was a humble toddy-tapper, Patris, who had the habit of singing simple but engaging Konkani folk songs and poems as he worked. So when he wrote his first anthology of Konkani poems Painzonnam (Anklets) in 1960, Bakibab dedicated it to Patris for opening his eyes to the great potential of Konkani as a literary medium.

But Bakibab’s poetry was shaped not just by the environs in which he grew up, but also 18th and 19th century romanticism. In those days, most Goan poets tended to use standard and done-to-death phrases or formal poetic diction and formats. In contrast, B. B. Borkar, like the poets of the Romantic era, such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Keats, believed that the language of poetry should express “the essential passions of the heart”.

Not surprisingly therefore, many of Bakibab’s poetic creations unabashedly portray the many nuances of the human condition. In the title poem Painzonnam, from the anthology of the same name, the poet remembers the thrill of meeting his beloved years ago under the banyan tree in the woods.

Tea disa voddakoden, goddod tinsanam,

Mond, mond vazot ailim, tujim go painzonnam.

(It was on that day, as I waited under the banyan tree, that the soft tinkling of your anklet bells came to me from the gathering darkness.)

A staunch nationalist, and resolute supporter of Konkani

B. B. Borkar idolized Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. But what pulled him into the liberation movement was attending the historic meeting addressed by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia in Margao on 18 June, 1946. Fired by revolutionary zeal, he began to write poems to awaken the spirit of freedom in the hearts of fellow Goans.

But soon, an arrest warrant issued against him by the Portuguese government made him flee to Bombay. But even from there, he kept the fight for freedom alive by editing the Marathi periodical Amcha Gomantak (Our Goa) in 1948 and the Konkani periodical Porjecho Awaz (The People’s Voice) in 1955 in both Devanagri and Roman scripts.

Bakbab was passionate about the Konkani language and Goa maintaining their separate identity. Appalled by the very idea of Goa merging with either Maharashtra or Karnataka, he had penned several anti-merger poems in the run-up to the famed Opinion-Poll of 1967.

He dashed off scorching lines warning Goans about the reprehensible intentions of “those from over the ghats/borders” saying: “Gharak chudd lavun sodta, oddunk apli viddi.” (They are trying to set our house on fire to light their bidis.)

But within a few years of Goa acquiring statehood, B. B. Borkar was a disillusioned man. The shameful antics of some of the elected representatives prompted him to compose the poem Swatantrya Nhoi! (This is not freedom!) His anguish is clearly discernible in lines like (translated into English):

… Where living is nothing but slow death

… Where the mind is full of fear

… Where tomorrow is hedged in by today

That is not freedom then, not freedom!

…Where highway robbers and rank assassins

Themselves become the common man’s leaders

That is not freedom then, not freedom!

The multi-faceted poet of Goa

Bakibab Borkar made a mark in diverse forms of literature including short stories, novels, translations, and essays. But his real forte was poetry for which he received several prestigious awards including the Sahitya Academy Award in 1981 for Sasai (The Divine Presence), his last anthology of Konkani poems.

There are many shades to B.B. Borkar’s poetry. Some poems are sensual, others pastoral, and still others philosophical. You could say that like Walt Whitman he was a ‘poet of the body’ and a ‘poet of the soul’.

But above all, Bakibab was a poet of Goa. A true-blue Goan till his last breath, he had written, “When I die, I would like my body to be consigned to the ocean. For, all my life I’ve eaten fish; now let them eat me.” Well, after Bakibab Borkar breathed his last on July 8,1984, in Pune, his ashes were immersed by the Indian Navy into Goa’s Mandovi River.

Let us salute this great son of Goa and pledge to keep his memory and his celebrated literary works alive for the benefit of future generations of Goans.

pt. jitendra abhishekhiIn conclusion, here’s a link to one of Bakibab Borkar’s immortal Marathi poems Nahi Punyachi Mojani (No stopping to make an assessment of good deeds) set to music and sung by another great Goan – Pandit Jitendra Abhishekhi.


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22 Responses to Great Goans: Bakibab Borkar (1910 – 1984)

  1. Nandakumar Iyengar says:

    Read your post. Shri B. B. Borkar’s son-in -law, Shri D. S. Vajram, has done an excellent job of translating many of the late poet’s poems into English. Makes for fabulous reading, although I am not sure if the local flavour of the original can ever be adequately captured in any other language.

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Shri Vajram has made the joy of reading Bakibab’s poems available to a much larger audience by translating his lyrical poems into English. And for that he certainly deserves the appreciation of all Goans and fans of this great poet. But you’re right Nandakumar. Even if a poem is translated with great skill so that the meaning of the lines is conveyed correctly, the flavour and the spirit of the original version gets lost in translation.

      • Vaibhav Shetkar says:

        मी वयानं लहान असेन तुमच्यात…आणि अर्थातच तुम्हा सर्वांपेक्षा “सर बोरकर” फार कमी वाचलेत…३/४ वर्षापूर्वी या इंग्रजीतल्या ओळी मला नेटवर सर्फ करताना सापडल्या…

        Please Sir, Mr God of Death
        Don’t make it my turn today
        Not today
        There is fish curry for dinner.

        वाटलं कुणा इंग्रजाने लिहिलंय, मला नव्हत माहीत हा अप्रतिम thought / संकल्पना बाकीबांची असेल…
        माझी विनंती समजा… मी शोधतोयच, पण तुम्हाला जर सापडलं तर प्लीज मला त्यांच्या इंग्रजीत translate केलेल्या कविता कुठे मिळतात ते कळवा… धन्यवाद ! अप्रतिम blog मी फेसबुक twitter वर शेअर करतोय…

        • Veena Patwardhan says:

          खूप खूप धन्यवाद वैभव.
          The translation of the lines regarding fish curry is taken from the book: Great Goans – by Mario Cabral e Sa and Lourdes Bravo Da Costa – published in 1991. I got this reference from the internet. I don’t know if the book is still available, but the authors have profiled a number of Goan achievers in that book, one of them being Bakibab. It is possible that a few lines of some of his well-known poems could also be translated into English there. In the meanwhile, you could check out these links for a few translations, though in the second one, the blog writer has attempted a translation of just one poem, the one sung by Pandit Abhisheki ( नाही पुण्याची मोजणी…)

  2. Shri Borkar was a true nationalist and a great poet of his era. His love for nature and our mother India is clearly visible in his poetry which I read in one of the books his grand daughter Monica had given to me. His struggle for liberating Goa and of course the Konkani language, and for protecting their identity was remarkable and will always be a part of Goan history. At the same time his love and respect for being Indian, for all things ‘desi’, and for other national languages like Hindi inspires Goans wherever they are to be proud of their Indian identity. To be inspired by national feelings, everyone should read the literature of different languages like Shri Borkar did.

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Well said Rekha. Reading literature is so enriching. But to read and appreciate literature in different languages requires a different mindset. Bakibab read literature in Marathi, Konkani, Hindi, and English as well. Absorbing the essence of the human condition and of life from all of these shaped his thinking and his personality. At the same time, it made him the broad-minded nationalist that he was. Interestingly, his Marathi poem (featured in this post) – Nahi Punyachi Mojani – reflects Bakibab’s motto in life, which by the way, I endorse as well: Live and let live. His poem insists we shouldn’t stop to judge people for how much good they have done, or taunt them for their failings. We should rather keep flowing like the Ganga unhindered by thoughts of judging others. Only a great soul could express thoughts like these.

  3. Dr Samir Parag Heble says:

    Dear Veena,
    I am the grandson of Bakibab and we used to fondly call our grandfather ‘Aba’. I truly loved your article and shared it via facebook with the Borkar family. The article captures with grace and elegance the creative genius, the poetic music, and the genuine and unconditional love my dear grandfather had for poetry. I still have nostalgic memories of Aba coming to our St Inez, Goa house, playing ‘rummy’ (the card game he adored) with my paternal grandfather Vasant Heble (who was also a poet) and reciting his blissfully divine poems… My mother, Bharati (Bakibab’s daughter) too loved your article and has invited you to visit and stay with her whenever you visit Goa. On behalf of the Borkar family, a big thank you for your excellent piece of work.
    Samir Heble, from Bunbury, Australia

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Samir, it’s such a pleasure to make contact with a relative of one of the great sons of Goa. Thanks for the generous compliments. And please thank your Mum too on my behalf for her appreciation and kindness. I would love to meet her on my next trip to Goa.
      Researching the lives of great people who are an inspiration to others is always fulfilling. I thoroughly enjoyed searching for interesting nuggets of information on Bakibab. However, only a family member can throw light on the human qualities and traits of great personalities, like you have done. Thanks for sharing this with other readers.
      Let me quote a few lines here from a poem (The Psalm of Life) by another great poet, H. W. Longfellow, who like Bakibab was also strongly influenced by Romanticism and the Romantic poets.
      Lives of great men all remind us
      We can make our lives sublime,
      And, departing, leave behind us
      Footprints on the sands of time.

  4. Dr. Borkar Surendranath Vasant says:

    Dear Veena, I am a nephew of the late Bakibab and reside in Sydney Australia. I was surprised to come across Samir’s comment to this post and your reply. But it was a sweet surprise indeed! I was fortunate enough in my childhood to enjoy the literary feast offered by great people like Bakibab, P.L.Deshpande, Mangesh Padgaokar, Vasant Bapat. But I am saddened by the way the standards of tradition, culture, and literature have been waning, possibly due to the “Bollywood” culture sweeping India today. Your writing on your blog has given me a ray of hope! It would be nice to rekindle that flame of good writing again. Keep in touch.

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Suri, it’s wonderful that my humble effort to keep alive the memory of a great Goan like Bakibab and his contributions to his home state has brought about contact with yet another relative of this great personality. My aim in writing about great Goans is to inspire today’s youth to follow in their footsteps and motivate older Goans to educate their children and grandchildren about the illustrious sons and daughters of Goa.
      You’re right, standards are falling to shamefully low levels in many fields, but all of us can do our bit to prevent this in our own way. Thanks for writing!

  5. utpal wakade says:

    परमेश्वराचा अंश असलेला हा कवी. ज्ञानदेव, तुकाराम यांचे काव्य प्रत्यक्ष जगलेला एक महान कवी गोव्याच्या भूमीत होऊन गेला.
    त्यांच्या काव्याला आणि पवित्र स्मृतीला त्रिवार वंदन !!!
    त्यांच्याविषयीचा एक अमर लेख (पोएट बोरकर आणि मी) श्री मनोहर नाईक, पेडणे, गोवा (मोबा. नं. ९९८७९४६६८६/ ९८२०४४२६९७ ) यांनी अंतर्नाद अंकात (जुलै २०१४) लिहिला आहे. अप्रतिम लेख असून नाईक साहेब खरच धन्य आहे ज्यांना बोरकरांचा सहवास मिळाला.
    अनंता तुला कोण पाहू शके ?
    तुला गातसा वेद झाले मुके.
    मतीमंद अंधा कसा तू दिसे ?
    तुझी रूपतृष्णा मनाला असे.

  6. Rajiv Shah says:

    Many thanks for the info on the Goan poet – the late Mr. Borkar.
    I remember in my college days I had come across a poem “Dawat Alis Bhalya pahate… Shukrachya Toryat Ekada. Is this Mr. Borkar’s poem? Can someone post the full poem?

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Sorry for replying so late Rajiv. Glad you liked the post on Bakibab.
      The poem you have mentioned is not the work of Bakibab Borkar. It was written by the great Marathi poet Bal Sitaram Mardhekar. Sorry, can’t help you out with the words. But I hope some reader or visitor to my blog will.

  7. Vinay Rajwade says:

    Namaskar…sadhya Ba bha Borkaranchya kavitanche copyrights kuna kade ahet? mala ek kavita ganyachya roopat record karaychi ahe….krupaya margadarshan karave…

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      Sorry Vinay, he mala mahit nahi. Pann tyanchya natwachya contact details ahet majhya kade. Kadachit tyanchya kadna tumhala copyrights baddal mahiti millu shakel.

  8. Deepak khare says:

    I want the lyrics of the B. Borkar poem ” Swarg nako, Surlok nako, Maj lobhas ha ihlok hava”.
    Can you help me?

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      The name of the poem is Ihlok (This world), and here are the words, Deepak:
      इहलोक – बा. भ. बोरकर

      स्वर्ग नको, सुर्लोक नको,
      मज लोभस हा इहलोक हवा
      त्रुप्ति नको, मज मुक्ति नको
      पण येथील हर्ष नि शोक हवा.

      शोक हवा परि वाल्मिकिच्या परि
      सद्रव अन सश्लोक हवा,
      हर्श हवा परि स्पर्श्मण्या परि
      त्यांत नवा आलोक हवा.

      शंतनुचा मज मोह हवा
      अन ययातिचा मज देह हवा,
      पार्थाचा स्नेहविकंपित
      स्वार्थ सदा संदेह हवा.

      इंद्राचा मज भोग हवा
      अन चंद्राचा हृद्रोग हवा
      योग असो रतिभोग असो
      अतिजागृत त्यात प्रयोग हवा.

      तापासह अनुताप हवा मज्
      पापासह अभिशाप हवा,
      शिळांत पिचतां जळांतुनी मज्
      निळा निळा उःशाप हवा.

      मार्क्साचा मज अर्थ हवा
      अन फ़्रॉइडचा मज काम हवा,
      या असुरां परि राबविण्या घरिं
      गांधींचा मज राम हवा.

      लोभ हवा मज गाधिजमुनिचा
      अखंड आंतर क्षोभ हवा
      पराभवांतहि अदम्य उज्ज्वल
      प्रतिभेचा प्रक्षोभ हवा.

      पार्थिव्यांतच वास हवा परि
      दिव्याचा हव्यास हवा,
      शास्त्रांचा अभ्यास हवा परि
      मानव्याचा ध्यास हवा.

      विश्व हवे, सर्वस्व हवे
      अन मृत्यु समोर सयंत्र हवा
      शरांत परि ही विव्हळतां तनु
      उरांत अमृतमंत्र हवा.

      हविभुक सुरमुख मी वैश्वानर
      नित्य नवा मज ग्रास हवा,
      हे सुख दुर्लभ वाढविण्या मज्
      चौर्यांशीत प्रवास हवा.

      • Deepak Khare says:

        Great. Thanks!! In fact I had the text which I had copied by listening to Pu. La. and Sunitabai’s rendition. But ‘Gadhijmunicha’ somehow did not sound right because I could not get any information about Gadhijmuni on the net. Can you throw some light on it. I hope I am not troubling you too much.

        • Veena Patwardhan says:

          Not at all. According to Hindu mythology, Gadhij was a king who resented his Kshatriya lineage and the destiny it had forced on him. So he undertook penance for 60,000 years, as a result of which he became a Brahmin with the name of Vishwamitra. So Gadhijmuni is in effect another name for Vishwamitra.

  9. Kathleen Morrison says:

    I was on a recent trip to Australia when I was fortunate to meet the daughter of B.B.Borkar who was going to visit her son and his family there for an extended holiday. She told me about her father being both a poet and a writer which inspired me to find out more about his work. So I am really pleased to have discovered your blog.

    • Veena Patwardhan says:

      You were indeed fortunate Kathleen. B. B. Borkar is a much revered poet in my home state of Goa and also the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. Thanks for appreciating my writing.

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