Friday, 23 June 2017

Writing Reports, Writing Poetry


                                       Workshop on Writing Reports and Writing Poetry
                                             Bhavan's School, Zuarinagar, Goa, 21 June 2017
                 

A School for Dwayne

- Brian Mendonça

Tears stung my eyes when I saw my son sit proudly on the bench, in his new uniform, on the first day of his new school.

It had been a long journey. Shifting my son Dwayne (6) from his school near Vasco to one in Panjim had been no mean achievement. Family wisdom had derided the move, as being whimsical at best. Besides how were we to account for an elder who we were staying with?

But putting Dwayne in a school of our choice was our dream. It was a long shot, no doubt, but we were definitely going to give it a try. So the first week of January saw me standing in the line for an admission form in the wee hours of the morning.  At the interview Dwayne faltered at some of the activities, but Queenie waded in and said he had not been taught to spell numbers one to ten in school.

The much awaited letter, terse though it was, saw our joy break forth. Dwayne had got admission. Things were still in uncertain though, in Vasco, with the elder fretting about how it would work out. He even put it in writing.

As captain of the ship I had to steer an even course. I was taken aback when I received an email from a relative anxious about the trauma that the elder would be facing. I objected to the word ‘trauma’ because it gave scant regard to our own aspirations in life. I replied saying that those who preach to us about how to live our lives, should offer to take care of an elder themselves.

With the days flying past I scanned the calendar anxiously. Nothing seemed to be happening. Then I said that on 1 June we would be shifting. The elder was free to decide what to do.

Time stood still when one day I lobbed the question again and the elder said that he was ready to come to my place in Porvorim.

It’s been several days now and my son loves his school. He should, I was in the same school in Bombay and would vouch for it.

A fortnight in our new home, and we have got our systems in place. We even fixed the transport to and fro to school from our society gate.

Wet blankets are not limited to the monsoon alone. To survive, I prayed to Mary Help of Christians. I also ramped up my communication with the family circle, (rather than being silent and evasive) through calls and WhatsApp pictures of how it was a better option to shift.

When your heart is set on a goal, the universe will align itself to your purpose.

We are very happy in Porvorim. The elder watches the lush foliage outside his balcony. He has a room to himself.  Dwayne has a new circle of friends. I enjoy my swim in the pool when I can. The lift makes things easier for Queenie.

In some sense, we have arrived.
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 18 June 2017. Pix of Dwayne taken by the author on 5 June 2017 - the first day at school.

Walking for a Dosa


-Brian Mendonça

Every time we come to Kharghar I usually walk from our place in Sector 10 to the market in Sector 7. The distance of 1 km. is usually covered in the early morning. The mission is to walk the distance and reward myself with a dosa naram  (soft dosa) at Sai Puja restaurant in the imposing Hiranandani complex.

As I made my way tentatively at first, I wondered if I had the same fitness levels as before. Moreover, after I had bought myself a new pair of sports shoes a week ago, my ankles seemed to be protesting. Whether my balance was not right, or it was Mr. Triglycerides playing up again, I was not sure.
The road stretched before me ‘like a tedious argument’ to quote T.S. Eliot. I tried to steady my frame. I even sat myself down at the kerb. But I recalled the wise words of an AIR colleague of mine in Delhi. She used to say ‘Bhet gaya, tho bhet gaya’. Roughly translated it means ‘If you sit down, you will not reach your goal.’  So I rose, remembered Vivekananda, and took the plunge.

I was surprised to see that after the warm-up I began to get into my stride and I was actually enjoying the pace. The uneasiness around the ankle was dissolving. With the Pune-Mumbai Expressway to my right and the open spaces on my left I knew I was going to make it. Even the sun was smiling.

As I walked on the Tuesday morning I saw many faces. Most of them were of young harried executives rushing to work. They were scanning the road impatiently for that elusive autorickshaw, or their expected mode of transport. Some gents with bloodshot eyes sucked on their cigars. I also saw a poor aged woman sitting down on the median. Very few were like me, relaxed in capris and a cap to shield from the sun, with a pair to sports shoes to boot.

It crossed my mind that it seemed like I had already retired. Yet there was a job to be done. I had to collect breakfast for the family. So with a spring in my step I reached ‘Kharghar Mode’ i.e. Kharghar junction and headed for Sai Puja ‘Pure Veg’ restaurant.

As I made my way, at first I saw the area deserted. But as I walked closer I noticed vendors selling tea and poha to single men who gulped morsels before rushing off to their destinations. For a moment I wondered whether these roadside start-ups had squeezed Sai Puja out of business.

Lo and behold, there it was. A crowd of respectably middle-aged men and women with families had congregated outside the entrance. There was no place! I was thrilled. Perennial values of good food, courteous service, and a comfortable ambience had won out.

As I sunk my teeth into the soft dosa at Sai Puja I felt in tune with life. The walk had made me fitter. I had made the grade.
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 11 June 2017. Pix of Sai Puja restaurant taken by the author.

Bandra fare


-Brian Mendonça

I have decided, that when Queenie goes shopping at Sagar on her next visit to Mumbai, I am going to head to Crossword. The first is on Hill Road, Bandra, opposite Elco Arcade, while the second is on Turner road, Bandra. 

Though the distance between them is around 2 kms, they are worlds apart. Sagar is a garment store stocking apparel for ladies, gents and children of all ages. It is on the swank street which is  a virtual fashion parade with all the young crowd strutting their stuff as they descend on the established shops and the hawkers to select their ware.

Crossword, is a book store tucked away in a quiet lane. The atmosphere is rarefied here, with intellectual types draped over the shelves immersed in a book of their choice. At a corner of a nether end in this vast phantasmagoria are a young couple who have found the perfect place to smooch. There are books for all ages here, with the children’s section on the first floor further divided into, ‘Pre-school,’ ‘Girls 6 to 10,’ ‘Boys 6-8,’  teens, and YA (Young adult). At several places Kindle was being advertised as though the writing was already on the wall for the brick and mortar book stores. With Strand bookstore closing down in town, the death knell has already been sounded.

While I am in Bandra next I should like to go to 5Spice, at Pali Hill, which serves delectable Chinese cuisine. As I munched into our chicken pot rice with aromatic herbs and vegetables (prefaced by the Peking soup), I marvelled at the philosophy of 5Spice. The five spices which combine to make the unique taste are those which make up the following flavours, viz. sweet, spicy, sour, salty and bitter. When I was about to draw the attention of the server that the crispy chicken tasted a tad bitter, I held my peace smugly surmising that it was probably intentional.

No trip to Bandra is complete for us without the customary mutton biryani at Lucky’s. The iconic Iranian restaurant at the junction of Swami Vivekananda road and Hill road, a little away from the lip of Bandra station has had its regulars since 1938. They have expanded in a big way with several AC and non –AC spaces for its fervent clientele.

Not far down the road from Sagar is the imposing St. Stanislaus high school founded in 1863 where dad passed his metric in 1943.  The majestic old colonial buildings seem offset by the squat tiled one-storey structures with a common verandah for around fifteen living spaces. (see pix.)

I was transfixed by the Victorian architecture of Bandra railway  station built in 1867.  It surveys the chaos in front of it with impassive mien.  

The feast of the Basilica of Mount Mary, Bandra is on 8 September – the birthday of Mother Mary. The following Sunday marks the beginning of the week-long Bandra fair, to which multitudes throng from various faiths.   
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 4 June 2017. Pix of old house on Hill road, Bandra and us before Bandra railway station taken by the author.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Travelling to Mumbai in May


-Brian Mendonça

It is impossible to get a ticket in May for Mumbai.

The story begins a little earlier though. It was in March that we tried to book our tickets to Mumbai from Goa. No tickets in sleeper class were available on any of the direct trains, viz. the Matsyagandha, the Mumbai Express, or the Konkan Kanya. These have always been our preferred trains since they depart from Margao in the late evening and reach early next morning.

I decided to take a devious route when there were still tickets available. So I booked on the Goa Express to Pune. I also booked a connecting train from Pune to Panvel. From Panvel it is a short ride on the Harbour line to Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, where we have a small hideout of our own.
The trip was fraught with misgiving. Considering the uncertainty of the times, the reigning wisdom about the journey was, ‘We’ll see.’ The assumption was that we could always try Tatkal quota.  However, going by past experience, I had scant regard for Tatkal as it always seems to be rigged - which is why ‘GE’ was my Plan B.

When May came around and it became clear the trip was on, I kept checking the Indian railways website for more options. No tickets were in sight.

Tatkal was the only option left. On the previous day I sat at my system at 10.30 a.m. keeping vigil for the internet booking which begins at 11 a.m. for the sleeper class. Just before 11 came around I received a terse message saying ‘Timed out.’ This meant I had to log in to my account again. When I tried to do so the captcha (access code) was so complicated that several attempts went by unsuccessfully.

Precious minutes ticked by. I was about to book my ticket when a line in red informed me that only two tickets could be booked for Tatkal between 10 a.m. to 12 midday from any given internet address. This defeated my purpose as we were three of us travelling. My sister in Pune called to say the ‘Master List’ of passengers failed to open. When it did we were already waitlisted at 21. She asked me if I wanted the tickets. I said ‘No.’

I was thanking my stars we had made alternate travelling arrangements. Flight tickets were in the region of eleven thousand for the three of us, which did not make any sense.

The Goa Express reached Pune at its scheduled time of 3.55 a.m. Instead of the connecting Nanded-Panvel Express on which we were booked -- and which was scheduled to leave at 6.20 a.m.-- we opted to head out to Kharghar by road. The ride on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway was exhilarating. We left at 5.15 a.m. and were home by 7.15 a.m. This included a 20 minute tea break at Lonavla which the driver decided he wanted, while we sat fuming in the car. The train would have got us into Panvel station at 9 a.m.
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Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 28 May 2017. Pix by self of dawn breaking on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway on 22 May 2017.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Buddham,Saranam,Gacchami


-Brian Mendonça

Last week I was in hospital, watching the nurses jabbing a patient’s arm repeatedly with an injection. They were trying to find the vein to give the intravenous medication.

Although painful, the exercise was necessary to sustain life and restore health, healing and happiness.

As I captured pictures of the full moon outside I marvelled at its power. Tonight was Buddha Purnima – the day when Gautama the Buddha got enlightened.

Siddhartha Gautama (490 BCE – 410 BCE) was born in Lumbini in Nepal, about 2500 years ago. He grew to be a prince of a small kingdom. It was prophesied that he would become a great conqueror, or a great sage. To prevent him becoming the latter his father cocooned him in a palace of sensual delights and married him at 18 to a beautiful woman.

On a chance foray out of the palace he saw an old man, a suffering man and a procession carrying a dead man. He asked his charioteer, ‘Will I become like this also?’ He was told, ‘Yes.’

Deeply troubled, he left his wife and child of one and a half years and slipped out of the palace. After many years of searching and self-denial he came to sit under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya (in Bihar). He realised that the key to apprehending the nature of suffering is within oneself.

Gautama, propounded the four noble truths, viz. i) All existence is suffering (dukkha) ii) All suffering lies in attachment iii) By liberating one’s mind of attachment one can overcome suffering iv) This quest can be realised by following the 8-fold path.

The 8 fold path is 1. Avoid the wish to hurt others or covet other things (Correct thought) 2) Avoid gossip (Correct speech) 3) Avoid killing, stealing and sexual misconduct (Correct action) 4) Make your living with correct thought, speech and action (Correct livelihood).

The remaining 4 are, viz. 5) Develop genuine wisdom (Correct understanding) 6) Strive with joyful perseverance (Correct effort) 7) Be aware of the ‘here and now’ rather than dreaming of the ‘there and then’ (Correct mindfulness) 8) Develop a calm, steady and attentive state of mind (Correct concentration)*

This path does not depend on a God to help you attain self-realization. The nature of truth can be attained by one’s own spiritual practice.

I visited the Deer Park at Sarnath, where the Buddha preached his first sermon. We had travelled the distance of 10 kms. from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, where we were holed up for our annual editorial conference in 1999.

It is from the Deer Park that the chant in Pali of ‘Buddham, Saranam, Gacchami’/ ‘I take refuge in the Buddha,’ emanates. The intricate carvings on the massive Dhamekh stupa, and the Ashoka pillar, give you a sense of timelessness.

On Buddha Purnima on 10 May,the masthead of the Navbharat Times in Hindi displayed a banner depicting various scenes from Gautama’s life. The rest of the papers simply ignored the event.
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*www.viewonbuddhism.org; Pix of masthead of Navbharat Times (Hindi), Mumbai on Buddha Purnima, 10 May 2017.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Chiquitita tell me the truth




-Brian Mendonça

Recently we had the curious phenomenon of a crowd screaming their guts out for a tribute concert to the legendary group ABBA. The inescapable ease with which the switch was made was, like most media events, heady and scary at the same time.

The ability of the Waterloo team to mime the original ABBA act along with, of course, original saxophonist Ulf Andersson needs to be lauded.

Yet niggling questions remain. What happened to the other three members of the original band? As the crowd coasts on the brand recall of the original sound where are the legends who started it all, slinking?

A chance remark in a discussion about the Waterloo performance revealed that one of the original members has actually turned her back on the world and lives now in isolation.

Benny Anderson, Anni- Frid Lyngstad (Frida), Agnetha Faltskog and Bjorn Ulvaeus were the original four in 1974.  Their journey is as fascinating as their music. Both couples were married at the height of their fame. Bjorn and Agnetha separated  in 1979, Benny and Frida  in 1981.

The next year ABBA disbanded as if to bear out the case that when the love between the couples was no longer there, the band could not survive. In fact the Abba logo was designed to reflect that the bands singers were two committed couples, ‘by having the B’s oriented towards the A’s.’ The iconic logo was designed by Swedish artist Rune Soderquist.

Thirty-five years later ‘ABBA’ are resurrected in Goa.  Of the original four only the 77-year-old Ulf Anderson survived. Frida would have been 72 years and Agnetha 67 years of age. Audiences may not have been prepared to shell out to see a grandmother perform, but a grandfather would be passable.

Throwing light on the possibility of a reunion Agnetha’s words were full of pathos, ‘I think we have to accept that it will not happen,’ she said, ‘because we are too old and each one of us has their own life. Too many years have gone by since we stopped, and there's really no meaning in putting us together again." (Interview of May 2013)

Frida now lives with her British boyfriend Henry Smith in Zermatt, Switzerland. She lost her daughter in a car crash in 1988.  Agnetha has gone on to record in English and Swedish spawning an autobiography The Girl With the Golden Hair. Bjorn who suffered from episodes of memory loss now oversees the abba museum at www.abbathemuseum.com

To my mind, this awareness of the terrible beauty of life is lost when an act that masquerades for ABBA is held. It glosses over the fact that the original voices have chosen not to sing again. Masses are always ready to consume the past if it is packaged properly.  

I prefer to enjoy the voices of the originals. Yes they walked into the sunset. They lived, they loved, they went their ways. So don’t give me a sugar-coated ABBA and have me believe it’s for real.
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Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 14 May 2017. Pix courtesy www.jellynote(dot)com