Sunday, 7 January 2018

Between your Buns

-Brian Mendonça

A nice burger is always welcome on a moist, cold, windy day. Especially when you are travelling. We happened to discover one bravely titled Between Your Buns.  It was located on Salunke Vihar road, in the Kondwa area of Pune.  When I asked Michael how he chose the title he said he and his friends came up with it back in college. ‘Since college kids are usually thinking about these things, we felt they would connect with the name.’ When we told him we had breezed in from Goa he said his fiancé was from Cansaulim and he was getting married at Quinta de Valladares, Verna. Small world.

So we sat down and ordered a takeaway of a lamb burger and a fish burger. It set us back by about four hundred rupees. Pushing fifty, we seemed out of place in a space where teenagers hung out.  At spare wooden tables they sat, hunched forward talking delicately with the occasional chuckle. An enormous king burger, almost a foot in height was carried past us as we waited. In the background, sounded the strains of Cold Play.

We were in Pune for a first holy communion in the family. As I watched little Maegan open her gifts, I felt like a child once more.  I felt I was also privileged to receive the host for the first time. Medals, rosaries, Bible stories, prayer booklets, necklaces and key chains were offered to Maegan to accompany her on her spiritual journey. We picked up a card for her from St. Paul’s on East Street with the beautiful words, ‘I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.’ (Psalm 32:8).

As we meandered along Pune’s famous Main Street (M.G. Road) in Camp I indulged myself with a teak-coloured low waist trouser and matching choco-checked shirt for an afterparty the day following the FHC. The Brooklyn fit styling of Indian Terrain suited me well as I emerged from the blues with a splash of rust. From Oceanic Sound and Vision just after St. Paul’s, we came away with a CDs of Amy Winehouse and Ray Coniff.

Lunch was an inspired mutton biryani at George Restaurant. This was a stone’s throw away from what used to be the bustling Irani eateries Naaz and Mahanaaz. We used to trot over for the delicious samosas in the early nineties. Marzorin, a strong contender, was always overcrowded with the swish set. The irony is that Naaz is history but Marzorin holds its ground till today. We were dismayed to learn that the iconic Kayani Bakery on East Street had been closed down due to issues with the Pune Cantonment Board. Where would we buy their famous shrewsbury biscuits now?

Let me chew on that while I munch on my grilled chicken burger with cheese. This one is  from Fatwich, another burger joint I happened on, along the CHOGM road on the fringe of Porvorim.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 7th January 2018. Pix taken by Felix Mendonca at Salunke Vihar Road, Pune on 20th November 2017.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Christmas in Kochi

-Brian Mendonça

When aunty Thelma invited us to her home in Ernakulam this Christmas we did not think twice.  A state that is proximate to Goa, my affair with the teardrop on the west coast has been watered by many intermittent visits.

                                                                  Midnight Mass in the Roman Catholic rite was celebrated at Santa Cruz basilica in Fort Kochi about twenty minutes away from Ernakulam by car. As you enter the approach road to the basilica you are greeted by numerous stars which line either side of the road. It really feels like Christmas with the narrow roads packed and the faithful scurrying between churches of CSI and RC. The churches are beautifully decorated like brides to welcome the saviour of the world. The Mass is relayed on the public address system while the laity jostle for space with cars in the parking area as they bravely stand to attend the divine service.

The Santa Cruz basilica is a fine example of Portuguese architecture. Built in 1503 by the first Portuguese Viceroy, it is one of the eight major basilicas in India. (The basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, the basilica of Our Lady of Good Health in Vellankani, Tamil Nadu and the basilica of Our Lady of the Mount in Bandra, Mumbai are three others. ) It is distinguished by two front minarets and reminds you of the church in Monte Hill, Margao. 

Vasco-da-Gama, who scripted a city of Goa in his name died in Kochi on Christmas eve in 1524. His body was interred in St. Francis church, Fort Kochi and moved fourteen years later to Lisbon. It was also here that the body of St. Francis Xavier was brought from Malacca in 1553 and kept for veneration for three days before being taken to Goa.

The traditional annual Christmas lunch is hosted by aunty Thelma on 25th December. Three generations of the David name came together under one roof at aunty’s table at Johnson’s Villa in Kaloor. Queenie’s dad and uncle Johnson were brothers. Both died at fifty-three.

The incredible courage with which aunty built the villa single-handedly is awe-inspiring. Twenty-one years after her husband Johnson David died of cancer she believes he still loves her. ‘He is in the Gulf,’ she said. ‘So many wives in Kerala have not seen their husbands who work abroad.’ ‘He sends me money like them. I get his pension.’   

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 on art and culture will be held from 12 December 2018 to 29 March 2019. Preparations are on in full swing for the numerous events that are planned.  Visit LuLu, the best known mall in Kochi, is one of the sponsors.

Ten years back I breezed through Ernakulam to write my poem on Kerala titled ‘Chingam I’ (2008) for the Kerala New Year. The flavour still remains as we make our way to visit Mr. and Mrs. Vijayanadhan in Thiruvankulam, an hour’s drive from Kaloor. A scent of place, a sense of home.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, on Sunday, 31 December 2017. Pix of Thelma Johnson, flanked by her son Rohit, his wife Indu and son Hrithik on the right and Queenie, Dwayne and myself on the left. Taken after midnight Mass on 24th December 2017 at the door of Johnson'sVilla, Kaloor, Ernakulam. (Middle)selfie of shikara ride on the backwaters, Alleppey. (Bottom) Spicy pork vindalho prepared for the Christmas meal. Scan of my poem from A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (2011). Courtesy Brian Mendonca.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Away in a Manger

-Brian Mendonça

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.

I have played this carol, ‘Away in a Manger’ (1885) so many times before. But this time it speaks to me with a new meaning. As time goes on, as one becomes older, sadder, perhaps wiser the same lines are reinvested with new emotional anchors.

The saviour came into the world in the most humble of ways - in a stable, for there was no room for Him in the inn. Yes he was born in a cowshed, but that did not bother Him. He was God incarnate. Nobody recognized Him. He did not have a crib, the basic requirement of a newborn baby. He was content to have the mute animals for company and they in turn comforted Him with their gently mooing. And the divine babe acknowledges their love, and does not wail. Babies are prone to burst into tears at the drop of a hat but baby Jesus does not. He is protected by a divine power. His not crying manifests to us that He is God made man.  Yet baby Jesus and the animals were on the margins of society, not the mainstream.

But history was going to change all that.

The same child would become God one day. And manifest Himself in his greatness. And the world would implore this harmless baby born in a stable to purge them, cleanse them, deliver them through His divinity. After ostracizing Him when He was most helpless, when he could not lift a finger to protect himself, the world now realizes its folly. In a stark inversion of the original scene, the shoe is on the other foot now as the singer pleads to the baby to ‘stay by my cradle / till morning is nigh.’ S/he wants the baby Jesus to be always near during his/her earthly life.

The cradle and the crib, with their images of repose, also allude to the bed as the place where a person takes his last breath. And who would not want the baby Jesus to hover around the place when we breathe our last? The carol for me is about a journey from life through death to eternal life.

Being child-like endears one to God.  Children have no malice, no preconceived notions. They are happy to be themselves. My son informed me very seriously that he would not be able to sing for the carol-singing programme in school. When I asked why, he said, ‘Because teacher made me a donkey.’ And he was most happy to play the part.

I am looking at the little children go through their carol-singing practice, under the watchful eyes of the trainer. A general invitation was put on the group and kiddies from all faiths responded. Every child, however tiny s/he may be is given a part s/he is capable of doing. In the ‘Drummer Boy’ song a few have to simply sing ‘pum pum’ throughout. 

Little Baby pa-rum pum pum pum . . .
I have no gift to bring pa-rum pum pum pum . . .
Shall I play for you, pa-rum pum pum pum
on my drum?
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 24 December 2017. Pix of      Haver Vaz and  Martina Da Costa with children's Christmas choir 2017 taken by Brian Mendonca.

'It is the Lord'

Pix of Ajit Jani, his wife, Queenie and me at our place in Goa on 17 December 2017. Pix taken by Dwayne Mendonca.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Teresa Albuquerque: The Portuguese Impress

- Brian Mendonca

Today, the final day of the Goa Arts and Literature Festival 2017 in Goa opened with the exclusive book release of The Portuguese Impress: Glimpses of the Portuguese Possessions of Goa, Bombay and Bassein by Teresa Albuquerque in the august Mandovi hall of the International Centre, Goa.

In his opening remarks Vivek Menezes, curator of the Festival, spoke about how indebted he was to the writings of Dr. Albuquerque. He fondly recalled how she had visited GALF in an earlier edition. Condoling the death of Landeg White and Eunice D'Souza, he spoke wistfully of Dr Teresa Albuquerque who also passed on this year.

After the book was introduced by the publisher Leonard Fernandes, it was released by Archbishop Philip Neri Ferrao, Patriarch of the East Indies and Archbishop of Goa and Daman.  Dr. Teresa's son Fr. Sunder Albuquerque attached to the Bishop's House in Colaba, Bombay and Lulu, her son-in-law, had specially flown in from Bombay for the occasion.

The Archbishop spoke of the sweep of the book and how Ms. Albuquerque meticulously researched the Portuguese outposts in India. He began with an anecdote about the perception of Goa in the eyes of a traveller who observed that Goa had its own special charm. This charm, the Archbishop put down to the Portuguese influence. Dr. Albuquerque's book gives readers a glimpse of the essence of the Portuguese way of life -- the 'impress' -- through her outstanding work.

Ivan Arthur, former national creative director of Hindustan Thomson Associates was invited to speak next. Ivan, the author of A Village Dies (Speaking Tiger, 2016) spoke about the days in Anjuna with Dr. Teresa Albuquerque. He recalled how on a trip to Chapora fort in connection with Dr. Teresa's research, he accompanied Mathew Albuquerque to a certain spot when Dr. Teresa's was unable to climb that far. Dr. Teresa's directions were unerring and they found what they were looking for. It showed how meticulous she was with her research.

I am eagerly looking forward to reading this book. The maps help take me back in time and the quaint names of the places like 'Tana' make this discovery that much more rewarding. As one nibbles into vignettes of history from the book, whether it be on the botanist Garcia da Orta, or music for the silent screen, or Goan tailors in Bombay one cannot but help notice that Teresa supped well of the banquet of history. What set this singular life apart was that she, with her beloved husband Mathew, set her impressions down in writing for posterity.

To look at a place we currently inhabit, whether Goa or Bombay, through the prism of its history is to understand the layerings of culture across time, which we apprehend only in its final form. It is the accidents of history which make the centuries more intriguing -- a herculean task which Dr. Teresa Albuquerque has executed with finesse. This is her farewell, her swan song. It stands tall as a paean to her meticulous scholarship.

The publishers of the book are Cinnamon Teal, Margao, Goa and all credit to them for making this book happen.

Albuquerque, Teresa. The Portuguese Impress: Glimpses of the Portuguese Possessions of Goa, Bombay and Bassein.  Margao, Goa: Cinnamon Teal, 2017. ISBN 978-93-86301611. PB. 379 pp. Rs. 450. Cover image from an impression of the city of Goa by Jan Huygen van Linschoten.
Photos at ICG, Donapaula, Goa taken by Brian Mendonca on 10 December 2017. Pix of the book, courtesy the publishers.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

GALF 2017

This year the Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF) 2017 was a special year for me as on one day, 8th December 2017, destiny smiled on me.  The day was the first day of GALF 2017 and I was invited to do a poetry reading of my poems at 2 p.m. The dais was shared was shared by Rochelle D'Silva and Tibetologist Shelly Bhoil. Rochelle took us through a few very powerful performance poems. Shelly transported us to the world of the mandala and her poems took on a different hue.

Early that morning GALF kicked off with a retrospective on Landeg White and Eunice D'Souza who sadly are no longer with us. So I began with my recent poem 'Vanity' which I wrote when we lost dad.  Later, though the mood was light, I was determined to read my poem on Gauri Lankesh, 'Weep India.' (Both these poems are featured on this blog elsewhere). I ended the brief 'concerto' with 'Good morning Goa' which I find has not been featured on my blog. Yet.

'Good Morning, Goa' was written on the eve of the BRICS summit at the end of last year in Goa on the heels of the abuse and murder of a designer in her own flat in North Goa. Through imagery it tells of the state of Goa -- a reply to the umpteen people who have asked me,'So, what's it like in Goa?'

Good Morning from Goa

-Brian Mendonca

Good Morning from Goa
Goa, the land of bricks.
Where many are gallant
but others just pricks.
Where you can take a ride
With time on your side
Get stoned. get honed,
With nowhere to hide.
The hillside is barren
The workers disaffected
No jobs, no food
Is it rhyme, wine, or mine?
Come the pretty girls
Their allure holds sway.
When the night is done
Keepest thy deed at bay?
Enjoy the season
The charters have arrived.
It's festive time, enGALFing times.
Goa's greener - not anymore
Prithee, hark now, the rents do show.

The piece de resistance was the release of the much-awaited bilingual volume, Goa: A Garland of Poems, edited by Rochelle Potkar soon after the poetry readings. The Irish-language transcreations are by Gabriel Rosenstock. This beautifully produced volume features 30 Goan poets from Namdev to Nagesh Karmali. There is a short bio note on the poet which prefaces his/her voice. But on the facing page there is a Konkani proverb which has the proverb in Konkani, the literal meaning, the implied meaning and the Irish translation. e.g. Aang udkan nitodd, mon sotton nittod. [As the body is cleansed by water, so is the mind purified by truth.] Here are to be found Joseph Furtado, R.S. Bhaskar and Edwin Thumboo.

What was electrifying was that some of us who were featured were invited to read a poem from the anthology after which Gabriel would render it in Irish. It sounded like the voice of thunder.  It gave me the opportunity to read a hidden poem of mine called 'Praia.'


-Brian Mendonca

Mum, you never told us
Your middle name was seaside.
What use is it now
When I see it
On the cross
Beside your grave.
To see the world
In the language of the sea
Was not your cup of tea.
But this 'fish-fosh' fusillade
Has tamed your son
Who dreams of you
In the courtyards of the heart.

I realized later that on the same day, in different session I had marked the passing of my dad and mum.

As if my cup were not full I had to head to Fundacao Oriente, Fontainhas for the awards ceremony of the Goan short story competition 2017. My story 'Maria's Boutique' was one of the stories that was selected to be published. 

‘Dada, morning became.’

-Brian Mendonça

To be in the presence of a child is to be privileged. Often one fritters away the opportunity to be enfolded in the amazement with which they see the world. Small children are curious about anything and everything. Adults with their jaded lives have long lost the ability to be struck into wonderment about the many miracles which happen every minute of every passing day.

Somewhat trapped in the AC coach of a train, in the wee hours of a new day, a voice floated up from below my berth. It was my son Dwayne giving me his weather bulletin around 6 a.m., ‘Dada, morning became.’ It was not an announcement I was looking forward too since I desperately needed to catch some sleep on the overnight train to Mumbai.

Undeterred by my silence, my son (6) kept repeating the phrase. For him it was an awesome experience to watch the embers of darkness fall away and discern the first fingers of the daylight. I clambered down my berth and watched the dawn with him. As the sun rose higher, we could see it like a fiery orange ball. ‘Baba, kick the ball,’ Queenie said. ‘If baba does that, it will be night,’ I said, playing along. Those precious moments, in the embrace of cosmic forces, were so very dear to us. In that instant, the immensity of nature, forged us together as a family.

At home, it is a different story. I ask him how his day was at school, and he ignores the question. He is more concerned to make a beeline for the TV or to play by himself with the remote-controlled car we bought him on Children’s Day. He is developing a mind of his own and we have to qualify to be part of his priorities.

We try to wean him away from senseless watching cartoons and expose him to children’s films. At first he makes a scene but later when he sees us both watching with him, he settles down to enjoy the movie. Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid (2012) is a gripping film in Hindi of Shreya, a tom boy, who stumbles on practice of female foeticide in the village. I specially liked the way the daayan (female portent of evil) is reinstated into society. Windstorm (2014) is a German movie about the relationship of Mika, a young girl, with Windstorm a misunderstood horse.

Dwayne has still to come to terms with grandpa’s passing on. The other day when we were saying the rosary he nudged us saying he wanted to speak to grandpa and ask how he was. He misses the times he had with him. A few days back he declared that he wanted to die. When we overcame our disbelief and asked him why, he said he wanted to go to where grandpa was.

We know these times like November rain, will not last forever. For now it is enough to keep pace with his sense of wonder.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 26 November 2017. Pix by Brian Mendonca