Sunday, 13 August 2017

Saptah, Sonepur and Snows

-Brian Mendonça

Bazicha-e-atfaal hai duniya mere aage
Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha mere aage.

[The world to me is merely a children’s fairground
Every night and day the spectacle is enacted.]

-Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869)

Recently two annual events were observed in Goa, one on the heels of the other. The first was the eagerly-looked forward to Saptah or seven days, celebrated in the town of Vasco. The other was the Feast of our Lady of Snows church, Raia (popularly known as Konsanche fest).

It seemed as though the people were undeterred by the rainy months and pressed on regardless to buy their gram (chonne) and  kaddio-boddio at the fair. In this amalgamation of the hoi polloi I recall the earthy simplicity of ‘Flemish Fair’ a painting by Dutch master Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638) where he paints so expressively the tumultuous scenes of the peasants at the fair. Some are eating away, others performing on a stage, still others coming to blows, groups carousing, and there’s even a couple of saffron flags as an effigy is carried in procession. (See painting below)

Through squelchy tracts the villagers of Raia disappeared behind the wide plastic sheets to ferret their toys, balloons and cheap knick-knacks. There was also a football match to be witnessed, with pounding music to woo the early birds. The housie prize was not to be sniffed at – a cool Rs. 50,000 for the full house, by some estimates. What delighted me was that the stalls were strung up in the pathway leading to the cemetery. No spectre of death would dissuade the revellers believing in making the best of the moment in the vein of carpe diem / Make the best of the day.

Vasco being short on space, it had to use up an entire main road to host the saptah. This caused great inconvenience to the houses and shops along the road but patience is a virtue that Vascoites have cultivated. Even after emphatic announcements to shut down the shops at the end of the 7 days, the authorities always backtrack and allow it to continue ‘till Sunday.’

In places where there is ample open space the fair is zoned out off the city area. In Kharghar, Navi Mumbai the main attraction of the fair was a giant Ferris wheel. There was also a water park where kids could paddle their boats, a toy train in the shape of a snarling dragon, and Khurja pottery displays.  Howls of delight went up in the air as the brave-hearts went on their death-defying rides.

Near Patna, in Bihar is the Sonepur mela which I visited in 2009. Here ‘painted teens / shake it for the crowd.’ In the distance the Kali Gandak river flows by. At Kali-ghat, ‘You merge with the Ganges / as pilgrims bathe furiously / with soap and water.’ Monkeys, langurs, puppies and parrots squashed in a cage are sold for a princely sum. Earlier at this cattle fair elephants too would be sold, and of course, cows.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on Sunday, 13 August 2017. Pix top of the Raia feast on 5 August 2017 with the church spires in the background. Taken by the author. Second pix of 'Flemish Fair' by Breughel the Younger. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Funeral Etiquette

-Brian Mendonça

When one hears that someone has died, it is often difficult to calibrate your response to the event. How effusive must one be? How distanced and stoical is one required to be?

Here are some pointers.

1.     Stay with the subject. When you go to visit talk about the deceased and celebrate the person’s life. This will comfort the family. Often condolence visits end up as social occasions to catch up on the latest gossip.

2.     Call. If the family or the deceased is known to you take the trouble to call. It is difficult, but if sincere it is an immense source of strength. You can inspire by the sound of your voice and the words you choose. It is so much better than a WhatsApp message.

3.     Listen actively. People who are grieving are seldom coherent. Listen and try to make sense. Then try to join the dots offering comforting phrases like ‘I am very sorry.’

4.     Dress appropriately. In Goa the dress code for a Catholic funeral is uncompromising. Black or white, or a combination of these is a must. This goes for gents as well as ladies. Minis or thigh-high tight skirts, be they in black or white, are unbecoming. Anyway the dead can’t see you.

5.     Be brief. Having come on a condolence visit, be watchful for your small talk viz. ‘Was s/he ailing?’ ‘He loved visiting new places’ or ‘When is the month’s mind Mass.’ Some bores are so full of themselves that they inflict themselves on the family which is already devastated by their loss. To top it all they overstay and wait to be offered something to be eat and polish off their plates. 

6.     Visit the dead when they are living. Rather than weeping copiously when it makes no difference, make the effort to visit people when they are approaching death. Offer to take turns to sit besides the ailing person.

7.     Pray. Sometimes prayer is all we have. Saying the rosary, singing hymns, reading the Mass readings aloud with the psalms can be a constant source of comfort.

8.     Make a collage. If you have the time, try to piece together the life of the person. Support it with photos, incidents, shared jokes, fun times. Display it on family occasions.

9.     Start a WhatsApp group for the family. Share condolences messages received individually on the group. It will surprise you how differently a loved one is perceived by others.

10.Don’t chat in the cemetery. When the body is taken for burial it is unseemly to discuss job prospects or tax issues. Particularly while waiting to condole with the family the never-ending queues are forbidding. Proceed in silence recalling memories of the dead.

11. Jokes are out of place. Jokes are in bad taste. You may touch a raw nerve, as everyone is on edge.

12. Hard copy is the best. Condolence cards are a rarity these days. But in their austere design and often lofty thoughts they keep us clued in to the hereafter.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on Sunday, 6 August 2017

Losing Dad

-         Brian Mendonça

When dad passed away I was relieved. The pain he had been through would now be a thing of the past. The removal of the phlegm was the latest instrument of torture inflicted upon him. How he struggled, biting and snarling at the cord which was inserted. With every breath he took, a rasping guttural sound wheezed out of him. The death rattle had begun.

The doctor came in and said it could be that very night. And so it was. Around 4.27 a.m. in the ebbing darkness dad passed on. The massive heaving chest was finally still. All the gadgets in the room stared in stupefaction. Their innings had hardly begun.

But dad was at the crease for a long time. He was 55 days short of his 88th birthday. He was husband, father and grandfather. Along the way he touched several lives, including that of the family. He travelled widely, working in an oil refinery to support his family. His mission was accomplished.

It seemed appropriate that he chose that day to pass on since the reading said it all, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Mt.11:28)

Rest is what dad dearly needed. Almost a month in hospital had drained, drugged and demeaned him. He could hardly open his eyes when we spoke to him. Yet in his lucid moments, despite his pain, he would always ask about our day,. His one delight was to see my son Dwayne (6) and listen to him jabber.

When the hospital could do nothing, he kept pleading, ‘Take me home,’ ‘Don’t waste time,’ ‘I packed my suitcase.’

We were racing against time to bring him home. Before that a hospital bed, an air mattress to prevent sores, and oxygen had to be put in place.

Sometimes when he was fighting his condition, his eyes blazed with a red-eyed defiance. In these moments he often reminded me of Beethoven and how he raised his fist when Death came to call him.

Sometimes he used to raise his hands as though he was saying Mass. He complained of back pain often and the body grew heavy with water retention.
But through the many stints in hospital he made a special effort to be a good patient, joking with the staff, and making light of his condition.

Now that he is gone I feel a void that can never be filled. His magnanimity in fighting a losing battle, humbled us. Holding Queenie’s hand and mine in each of his hands as we stood by his side, he forced out those simple words, ‘Thank you.’
Rigor mortis set in soon. It was difficult to bend his limbs. What we had revered and respected became a cadaver. As the undertakers wrenched it away from us in a bed sheet, they flung it on the stretcher on the ground,  like a sack of potatoes. The lifeless corpse was bound for the icy coldness of the morgue.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on Sunday 30 July 2017 

Bed and Bear Fast

-Brian Mendonça

When we were bringing home an elder after a stint in hospital, there were a host of things we had not bargained for.

To begin with, the bed which happily accommodated him earlier could no longer do so now. Given his increased indisposition, a hospital bed was needed on which he could be raised by means of a lever. The bed also needed to have railings on the sides so he would not fall off.

As I scoured places to source such a bed, I learnt that such a bed was called a Fowler bed. There were full Fowler beds and semi-Fowler beds. 

On a tip-off, I began my search opposite Goa Medical College at the unmistakable landmark off NH 17, viz. Cafe Coffee Day.

In my quest I stepped into the inviting place called Thirsty Bear next door. The name seemed appropriate for a watering hole as it promised tasty snacks and eats. The decor left me spellbound. The wall was plastered with colourful drawings of various personalities with an inspiring quotation by them. There were Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Marilyn Monroe and several others. Many of the youth icons seemed to personify the counter culture of the 6o’s in America. When I pleaded with the person at the counter to go upstairs to see the decor, he asked me sourly to place my order first. Since most of the items were in 3 digits I said I did not want to place an order – but could I still go upstairs and have a dekho? He relented.

But this was not where they had the hospital bed. In fact when I enquired here and at CCD about one, they almost shrank back in horror as if to say ‘Woe betide you who are in the company of sufferers!

Fortunately I rang up the person who gave me the lead and I was given the number of the concerned person. The place turned out to be along the inner road going to Santacruz, about a kilometre away from GMC, also known as Kalapur. RUGNASHRAYA was the name of the facility which advertises itself as ‘Short stay and ambulance facility for patients and relatives.’ The place offers a hospital bed for a month free against a refundable deposit of Rs. 5000.  After one month the rent for the bed is Rs. 300 per month. The use of the bed is renewable after placing an application for extension. I found the energy there having an immediate calming influence on me. It had an ashram-like ambience where everyone was motivated in the service of others. They also taught yoga and other life skills.

We finally picked up a new Fowler bed from Laxmi Health Agencies, Panjim (Opposite Damro). We had to pay separately for the foam mattress, the air mattress and the side rails.

It reminded me of the story by Tolstoy, ‘How much land does a man need?’ ‘Six feet to be buried in.’

Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender,  St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 23 July 2017

Requiem for a Father


-Brian Mendonca

Today I tire not
of waiting
My father has
been gathered to
his fathers
and so will I
 one day.
Of what merit is
 it to rush unbidden
when everything comes
down to a speck
of mud.

25 July 2017)

When you died

-Brian Mendonca

When you died
the clock in our room
stopped at 3.30 -
The time when you
were taken out for the last time
for your final journey.
The car startled
by your demise
sustained scratches on its side
my limbs out of joint.
The candles ranged at your bier
remained unlit
as if reluctant to let you go
And the house rat
called it a day
a few days later
claws upwards
dying before you
felled it with your
hockey stick.

25 July 2017)

I surrender

-Brian Mendonca

Dad I surrender you.
I surrender you
to the water
the giver of life.
I surrender you
to the earth
the mud soaked in rain.
I surrender you
to the wind
unseen, everywhere.
I surrender you
to the flame
the fire of being.

25 July 2017)

Requiem for a Father

-Brian Mendonca

The domblers scurry
neath the blossoming tree
The rain in July
brimming with promise
wet mud, lemon fragrance
wombic water.
We return you to the earth.

In Siolim and Salcette
your name is mourned
as a candle flame
lights up your face.

I search for you
on the roads I ride
Over the Mandovi
and across the Zuari
On your bed
In your room
At the table
and at noon.

'I'll ask ganpa to come back
for Christmas,' says my son.

Family times, going for drives,
Exploring Goa,
with wayside coffee.

You gave us so much
In the time we had
together we looked
at life anew.

You braced yourself
for any outing
Pushing yourself
to be part of the fun.

So lay me down
in a bed of roses
Carnations, lilies,
sprays and poesies.

Thank you dad
for the gift of you.

25 July 2017)

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Alex George Mendonca - Funeral Oration

Funeral Oration for the Mass of Alex George Mendonca
St. Andrew's Church, Vasco, Goa
Saturday, 22 July 2017,  4.50 p.m.

On behalf of the family by Dr. Brian Mendonca

We  thank you for all for making a special effort for coming to bid daddy farewell.

We thank all of you for being part of daddy's journey.

We thank Fr. Jovito for saying the Mass and inspiring us with his homily.  Special thanks to             Fr. Gabriel Coutinho, parish priest of St. Andrew's parish for his support and cooperation in overseeing the arrangements for this service.

We thank the choir and Vinita D'Sa for being the chorus of angels.

We thank all the doctors who did their best for daddy.

Daddy was born on 14 September 1929 in Bombay. He was baptized at Holy Cross church, Lower Parel in Bombay.  His father's native place was Parra, Goa.

He did his schooling in St. Stanislaus, Bandra and then joined Khalsa college, Bombay.

He excelled in playing hockey in the 1950's, as centre-forward for the famed Lusitanian club from which many players for the India team were selected.

He worked for Burmah Shell (now Bharat Petroleum) for more than 30 years and retired in 1987.

He got married to Alda Mendonca at Holy Cross church, Lower Parel on 1 February 1959. Mummy and daddy gave us three children --Kevin, Vanessa and myself -- a home and family of love, laughter and living.

Dad was a traveller, having visited several parts of India on work. He took the family too for memorable holidays across the country. He was a devoted husband, a loving father and a doting grandpa.

In 1977 dad came with his family to Goa. He was the founder member of the senior citizens of Vasco and was felicitated on their 18th anniversary.

He gave back much to society with his time, his good counsel, financial support and most of all his wit and humour.  He was an avid reader and a writer par excellence.

Mummy passed away in 2004 and daddy became mum and dad for us.

Ill-health overtook him and since December last, the writing was on the wall.

But, like a sportsman, dad never gave up.

In every stint in hospital he radiated his charm, his patience and immense faith in God.

In the pre-dawn hours of 20th July he slipped away without a murmur.  He was 55 days shy of his 88th birthday. He had lived a full life.

The Mass reading for the day was, 'Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.'

Goodbye Daddy.

You were the best.
Studio photo of mum and dad on the occasion of their wedding on 1 February 1959. A few more inputs added to the oration.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Mellow Mud

-Brian Mendonça

To connect across geographies and cultures with ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and to realize that in some way we are all one family has been the exhilarating effect of all great art, and film is no exception.
                                                                                                   Tomasz Kozlowski
                                                           Ambassador of the European Union to India

I managed to see one film of the European Union Film Festival 2017 (EUFF). It was on a Saturday after I held my English classes in college.

As I stepped out of class and into the theatre at Maquinez palace, Panjim,  where the film was being screened, I was unsure which was which. I had used the EUFF as a theme for my class. I asked the students to provide the dialogue for the French film 3 Coeurs / Three Hearts (Benoît Jacquot, 2014). In this film Marc falls in love with two women at different times and later discovers they are sisters. The plot seemed to appeal to them and they set about it tittering away in glee.

In a role play of the movie the girls enacted an engagement scene of Marc with his second sister Sophie. At the event Sylvie, the first sister, appears and he is surprised to see her. Sophie demands an explanation. When she is told the truth she forgives him.

The quest for love continues in the Latvian movie Es Esmu Šeit  / Mellow Mud (Renārs Vimba, 2016). Here Raya (Elina Vaska) the 17-year-old girl living in rural Latvia is the focus of the story. She comes from a broken family. Her father is unknown and her mother has remarried and shifted to London forsaking Raya and her kid brother Robis. ‘Please forgive me,’ she says when she slams the door in Raya’s face when Raya looks her up in London asking her to return.

Using mud from the marshes as a leitmotif anchored the film in squelchy sounds and tones of ochre. The sound track had so much clarity is seemed as though the very earth was speaking. It reminded me of the eerie and strident moans of the earth as you drive in Goa in areas where deep excavation in going on. Right from the first scene when Kaya and Robis are walking in the marshes till the end where Kaya in her virginal white dress walks in the mud staining it, ripping it, the film explores the theme of mud very creatively. The cake for the missing Olga, Kaya’s grandmother --who Kaya has buried away to continue to receive her pension -- is gobbled up by Kaya and her English tutor-lover after a torrid roll in the mud.

Kaya’s story is universal. How she is pushed into adulthood and desperately tries to cope with it is sensitively rendered. Her relationship with Robis is poignant as she is sister as well as mother to him. The film ends with them in the frame walking towards the water. The camera pans out slowly, leaving only both of them for each other in the world.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, on 16 July 2017; Pix courtesy