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

Monday, 8 May 2017

Begum Jaan – Freedom or Suicide? -


   -Brian Mendonça

At first glance the title promises a movie which would champion the emancipation of women. Looking regal in her kotha or haveli, Begum Jaan presides over all she surveys – at first.

However, as the movie progresses and she declaims her lines with bravado, we notice a disturbing capitulation to the patriarchal system.

The ritual self-immolation by the clan is suicide under Indian law. It is prohibited.

Begum Jaan’s whore-house is in no man’s land between India and Pakistan. In this space she is a law unto herself.  She ridicules the logic of the Radcliffe line conceptualized on 17 August 1947 which is to be drawn by means of barbed wire through the very innards of the kothi.  She says suavely that when it comes to sex there are no boundaries.

Throughout the film we have the nani telling stories of famous Indian women who laid down their lives to fight for their land and honour. The Rajput women who committed jauhar  at the fall of Chittor in 1568  and the rani of Jhansi who died fighting in 1858 are valorized and brought to life for emulation through the sutradhar  (narrator). Little do we realize that this coven will also be performing the ritualistic act.

History-- and Amitabh Bachchan, who provides the voiceover for the background to the Radcliffe line – will tell us that the movie is set in 1947. This was more than a century after Lord Bentinck abolished sati  in Bengal in 1829 through the efforts of  Raja Ram Mohun Roy.  Still, the movie with its medieval mindset traps women into a space without any option.

A menacing fear hangs over the film, with the women in the frontline of the violence perpetrated on them. From the food poisoning to the withdrawal of the Raja’s favour the noose tightens around them.

The two scenes of attempted rape, torn out of the pages of Mahashweta Devi show an evolution in a women’s response to a violation of  her body. In the opening scene the very heartland of the capital – Connaught Place – is the setting of the rape of a young girl with her boyfriend.  Reminiscent of the Nirbhaya case, the rapists are repelled when an old woman steps forward, shielding the young girl, and disrobes herself instead. In the ending scenes when the young girl is fleeing from the kothi, it is she who disrobes herself to protect the dignity of the woman behind her.

The closure to the film is deeply disturbing. The horror signalled by the incipient smirk which each woman in turn exhibits at the end, when it dawns on them that they too can achieve martyrdom, is still hidden from the viewer.

Women continue to be victims in a spiral of violence engineered by men.  When there is no way out their only recourse is to go up in flames chanting to the flames to devour them. 

Is this the message for today’s ipod-wielding women?

We need films to redeem and rescue women from this obscurantism. 
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Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 7 May 2017. 

Through pain and suffering we are made whole again.


Brian Mendonça

One of the most striking lines in the homily by Fr. Jovit on Easter Sunday was ‘Through pain and suffering we are made whole again.’

As the words seeped into me I paused to think why this was sounding so true -- that too on a Sunday which is supposed to celebrate the triumph over death. Perhaps because suffering -- and inevitably death -- is a part of our lives.

Even as I write these lines I am confronted by news of the mishap at Corlim last week in which five people lost their lives. Driving down from Bombay the car veered off the road and came into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Death is all around us. But few are prepared for it.

Easter- the festival to celebrate the rising of Jesus from the dead-- reminds us that we can only share in the joy of resurrection if we have journeyed to Golgotha – the place where He was put to death on a cross.

Though I have not been very particular about Lenten observances, the Triduum is something I hold sacrosanct. The Triduum is made up of three consecutive days, viz. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Holy Thursday is the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday is the day when the passion and death of Jesus is commemorated. Christ’s sacrifice is beautifully explained in the Bible in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 53.  

Holy Saturday is the day when the entire Church keeps vigil at the tomb of Jesus, silent, in grief and in prayer. The Easter midnight Mass is celebrated on the intervening night of Saturday and Sunday. The service avails of natural elements viz.  fire that burns and purifies; light that dispels darkness; God’s word that enlightens and empowers; water that washes and cleanses; bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Jesus that nourishes our spirit.*

This is a time we meditate deeply upon death. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche is a classic spiritual text which guides one through the death experience. It is divided into three sections, viz. Living; Dying; Death and Rebirth. The mid-section has practical chapters like, Heart Advice for Helping the Dying; Practices for Dying; Spiritual Help for the Dying; The Process of Dying. Death is seen as the beginning of a journey.

The wise lament neither for the living nor the dead, says the Bhagavad Gita in Chapter 2, verse 11. This is because it is believed the essence never dies. Just as the embodied soul [mortal frame] experiences the different states of the body like childhood, adulthood and old age, so will it acquire another body after death.

The mystery of pain and death confronts us deeply. We are wise to be prepared. As the sign in Konkani reads on the cemetery gate, Aiz mhaka, faleam tuka.
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*Bible Diary 2017, Claretian Publications, Bangalore; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 30 April 2017; Pix courtesy http://www.orthodox-christian-comment.co.uk

Writing or Writhing?


When I was asked to do a session on 'Writing for Print Media' I was wondering what should I focus on. My long journey as a writer for the past 30 years seemed far too varied to compress in 90 minutes. When I stepped into the classroom at PES college, Ponda, Goa, I opted for the grass roots approach.

I had just wrapped up the corrections for the compulsory English paper for the undergraduate course. Apart from the numerous creative spellings I encountered the one that leaped out of the answer sheet was 'writhing' for 'writing.' I felt this was an apt topic for the day -- considering the apathy of some of my students towards the act.

Breaking the tyranny of the formation of  a lecture hall, we all rearranged the chairs in a circle as in a creative writing class. Then I placed a handbag of one of the student on a chair in the centre and asked them to write about the bag. Later I asked them to imagine that they were the bag, and to write from the bag's point of view. We made some headway with this. I asked each student to read what they had written, for a writer needed to have the capacity to share his/her work.

As they read in their hesitating way, I picked up finer points which could be improved upon. These included, the omission of the definite article; the inability to end a paragraph successfully; cliched expression, imagery (one person compared the lines on the bag to a tiger's stripes); and the importance of a good opening line. We then had an open and free discussion on all the samples we had read together. Many students came to understand why some writing was more effective than the others.

After this we moved to a deeper level about what makes a writer write. Where does one get the matter to write about? Does it matter if you are an Arts / Science / Commerce student? As long as you could empathize with the sadness of someone else there was plenty to write about. A writer is a humanist. I shared my experience of how at the time of supervising students for an exam, one of the students looked flustered. When I spoke to her kindly, she shared with me later that her father had passed away recently. Writers have a duty to write about society and its malaise. This girl's father died because he took to drinking after his brother cheated him off his property.

Does a writer write for himself/herself or should the write keep his/her audience in mind? This was the subject of a debate. We divided the students into two groups and many views were put forth.

To round up the session I gave the students a tour of my published work displaying samples from my collection over the years. Writing has morphed into the digital space, and one can have a global readership through blogging. But to be a writer who is read one has to have diligence, discipline and daring. Daring because you need to be bold enough to write about topics no one has written before. Only in this way can you develop your original style.

Translation was another area one could explore. Learning a new language would help to access another culture and offer more subjects to write about. We ended with a plea to preserve the impetus of the students by starting a WhatsApp group to share the writing of the interested students.
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Pix of Dr. Brian Mendonca conducting a session on 'Writing for Print Media' at PES college, Ponda, on 27 April 2017. Ms. Jasmine Kurien, Faculty, Department of English, PES College, Ponda looks on.

Sail's Title Verso

           
          

               
              Title Verso: Sail’s Journey from Konkani to English Publishing

                                                   Dr. Brian Mendonça
                                                   brianlibra@gmail.com

The publication of  Mahableshwar Sail’s Aranyakand translated into English by Vidya Pai, (Oxford University Press, 2015) breaks new ground in the context of the modern Konkani novel. Slickly produced by OUP, Delhi and deftly promoted in a niche market called ‘Oxford Novellas,’ the move bodes well for many unsung and unseen Konkani writers in Goa or elsewhere who need to reach out to a wider (English or International) readership. The English translation of Sail’s Hawthan/ The Kiln by Vidya Pai was released by the World Konkani Centre, Mangalore in 2011. Kali Ganga translated by Vidya Pai was published by National Book Trust, Delhi in English in 2003 priced at Rs. 80.

From the humble beginnings of a Khol Khol Mulam in Konkani published a decade ago in 2005 with not a number to its name, today Sail has both a 10 as well as a 13 digit ISBN. The title verso page of Khol assigns the copyright to his wife Shalini Sail and is indexed charmingly as Publication No. 46.  Writing for Sail is this intimate, home-grown, family practice  nurtured  by his dextrous readings in English, Kannada, Konkani and Marathi.  South of  Margao where Sail resides is Shristal, Canacona where the publisher of Khol i.e. Milind Kamalakar Mhalsi of Padmaja Prakashan is based. The printer is Manguesh Dhavlikar of Kasturi Graohics, Dhavli, Ponda, Goa. The price a modest Rs.150 as compared to OUP’s Rs. 295.

Indigenous publishing of Konkani writing needs to be saluted, even if it must give way to multinationals like Oxford. Yet the home-grown version of the original Konkani is far more moving than its translation, despite its hype – and OUP would balk at publishing in Devnagari Konkani.

It is heartening to see that sans English, Konkani literature is extending its footprint across genres into Konkani film like Paltadcho Munis (2009) directed by Laxmikant Shetgaonkar based on Sail’s Adrusta (1997). The Goan paintings of Mohan Naik from Balli, Cuncolim  grace the covers of Pundalik Naik’s Acchev. This matrix of literature, painting and film nurturing the local idioms needs to be nurtured wholeheartedly rather than being lured to jettison this sacred anchorage for a rootless international language, viz. English.

Multilingual symposium on Mahableshwar Sail, Institute Menezes Braganza, Panaji, Goa, 13 April 2017. Pix of title verso pages of Aranyakand (OUP, 2015) and Khol, Khol Mulam (Padmaja Prakashan, 2005)

Cecília



-Brian Mendonça

Once again the Lusophone Society of Goa has brought a veritable feast of cultural events to Goa. A wide range of activities covering film,  song, music  and exhibition is here. Arching across a month, from February 17 to March 18, 2017 the 3rd Lusofonia festival, Goa attempts to bring together 10 Portuguese-speaking nations to offer a peep into their culture.

To curate such a festival might have been mind-boggling but as the schedule shows, it has been accomplished with élan. This year’s fare includes nature walks – the Portuguese experience and the Goan way; contemporary Brazilian cinema; a photography exhibition of the cultural heritage of Macao; a photography exhibition of the land and the people of East Timor (13-15 March), and even a photography exhibition of a documentary on the Makonde tribe of northern Mozambique. The festival culminates in a ‘Feijoada and Samba’ fest – an alchemy of food, music and dance from Lusophone countries on 18 March.

What I found fascinating was the exhibition of newspapers published during the visit of the Brazilian poet Cecília Meireles (1901-64) to Goa in 1953. For a poet to have the savoir faire to hobnob with the political echelon in India was a lesson in social graces. But it is her poetry written in Brazilian Portuguese which humbles the reader. In a collection of poems written in India she sees India as a vast canvas in which to paint her poetry.

In ‘Bazaar’ she is riveted to the ‘olhos negros’ the black eyes, which lurk behind the sandals, sweets, toys and grain. ‘Estudantes’ describes the students as they ‘scatter around the square.’ She ends with a query ‘Que mundo construirão?’ /What world will they construct? ‘Marinha’/Seascape took us to the Goan beaches. In this poem she contrasts the blue colour with the black: ‘Black are the voices of the fishermen / words cast over the blue.’ Ever on the road  in ‘Poeira’/ Dust she philosophizes, ‘However much I shake my hair / however much I shake my clothes / the dust of the roads lies on me.’*

Lusophone countries include Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guiné-Bissau, the region of Macau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São-Tomé and Príncipe. Of special mention on the website are ‘the Indian State of Goa, the Union Territory of Daman and Diu in India.’ The brainchild of Aurobindo Xavier, the website lusophonegoa.org  has events listed from 2013.

Goa with its rich Portuguese legacy is called to preserve its traditions. More importantly it is the young who need to feel at home in the language. Nuggets of poetry from the Portuguese poet Sofia de Mello Breyner Andresen have shaped my nostalgia for Goa when I was away:

INSCRIÇÃO

Quando eu morrer voltarei para buscar
Os instantes que não vivi junto do mar 
[When I die, I will return to search
For those moments which I could not live beside the sea]
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Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 9 April, 2017. Pix of Nizia Moniz Barbosa do Carmo Lobo reading the poems of Cecilia Meireles in Portuguese to students on the sidelines of the Meireles exhibition at State Central Library, Patto, Panjim, Goa on 3 March 2017. Jovito Lopes looks on. Pix. courtesy Brian Mendonca.

*Cecília Meireles, Travelling and Meditating: Poems Written in India and Other Poems. Translated by Rita Sanyal and Dilip Loundo. Embassy of Brazil, New Delhi 2003.