Sunday, 19 March 2017

Nagoa to Nerul: 36 Years After School

-Brian Mendonça

When some of us from our school batch of 1981 decided to meet, I knew this was going to be a trip down memory lane. In hindsight I realize this was also an invigorating learning experience.

Back then in Bombay, we were just kids, finding our fledgling feet in the world. Most of us were in the boarding school. This gave us a sense of bonding.

Anthony was down in Goa for a few days. I had to pick him up and join the guys at Nerul for lunch. We were now all scattered across the globe. There were clumps of us in Kuwait, Canada, Bahrain, Bombay, New Zealand and here in Goa. Some of us had families, some preferred to stay single, and some were living separately. There was so much we brought to the table after all these years. 

When I used to pass the tacky signboard saying ‘CONSUA’ on my way from Vasco to Verna I often wondered what going down this road must be like. Finally I had a reason to go there. Anthony needed to be picked up from there. He sent me his location on WhatsApp. Driving down from Nuvem I took the left turn towards Nagoa.

It was like going back in time. Faced with the frenetic onslaught of development here were tall trees to greet me. The winding roads had sunlight at every turn. There were spaces by the road with benches to sit down and rest – the red tiles clean and inviting. There was even a railway crossing. Sometimes the road was so narrow two cars could not pass through. At the turn, the church of Our Lady of Livra-Febres, Consua looked majestic in white. The village has preserved its natural heritage. Quaint names like Mazilvaddo and Pimpalkota with the ward number, on signboards greeted you as you drove past.

Anthony and me spoke of life, about the page we were on, and about our friends. He had a wisdom which came from being a globetrotter, a family man, and a down-to-earth human being. He was the catalyst who brought us all together, and the peace-maker who stepped in when things got nasty.  Every guy retains some to the character he had in school, Anthony was saying. If he was a show-off then, he is a bit of a show-off now. It made it easier to read one’s personality.

With the boys from the batch which passed out of SSC in 1981 it was okay to use the register - almost an idiolect - we used in school. It made us feel young again. Here surprise was punctuated by the exclamation ‘What the fcuk!’ Using expletives was okay to show you still belonged to the group, and shared their sense of identity. The joke on the WhatsApp group was ‘After Monday and Tuesday even the calendar says WTF.’

As I swerved around the bend at Reis Magos fort, Nerul, Anthony said the sharp turns were so dangerous. Like Consua, I thought to myself.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 March 2017. Pix (Top) Anthony with the verdant fields of Consua, Goa in the background, 9 March 2017 ; (Centre) Schoolmates at Babazin, Nerul, 9 March 2017; (Below) Good times at Claudi's, Bogmalo, 6 March 2017.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Rani, Lakshmi or bai?

-Brian Mendonça

At a seminar on women poets in Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu a speaker said women in India face the Rani Lakshmibai predicament. When they are born they are queens (rani) for their parents, as brides they enter the house with much fanfare as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), but the reality is they end up as bai’s (top servants) in their homes.

This tongue-in–cheek remark in the face of the feminists was nevertheless borne out on Women’s Day this year. After I breathlessly wished one woman a happy woman’s day, I asked her what she was doing to commemorate the day. She said, ‘I did the jhadu (sweeping), now I have to do the pocha (swabbing).’

Today two issues appear before us. One is the courage of a Gurmehar Kaur (20) student from Delhi University, the daughter of a Kargil war hero. She boldly took a stand on social media saying, ‘Pakistan did not kill my father, war did.’ Faced with threats of rape and murder she nevertheless withdrew to her hometown in Jalandhar in the safety of Punjab. The fact she pulled out of the campaign is a sad comment on the fabric of a nation which prides itself on democratic values.

The other issue is why Karan Johar is in the news. The media is ga-ga over his twins. The babies were born through a surrogate mother. The children will probably never know who their biological mother is. What KJ, who is gay, has done is to do away with the mother altogether. The fact that he is averse to a relationship with a woman, does not stop him from depriving his children from a nurturing bonding with a mother for all their lives.

What really got my goat was the WhatsApp forward below about Goan girls and ‘Goan English’:

First Goan Girl: What men! Not talking? Become big or what?
Second Goan Girl: Why you told her that I told you about Perpet going to movie with Pilot?
First Goan Girl: Told foo men? Ah that Concessao? But I told her not to tell annnnnnnybody that you told me.

What one can see, beyond the titters, is that the snatch of conversation projects a negative stereotype of Goan ‘girls’. A sociolinguist would ask is this language specific to female Goan speakers? If so why? Why do we persist in forwarding content which projects us in bad light?

As woman all have common concerns, so aptly put across by Kalki Koechlin’s womanlogue. Women get stared at, so much so, as their chest heaves, it becomes difficult to even breathe.

At a fancy dress organized on Woman’s Day girls dressed up as an airhostess, a clothes designer, a Bharatanatyam dance teacher who pursues her calling after marriage, and a business woman. One could also be a maternity and post-delivery photographer like Ranisa Pires, a professional boxer like Sonia Parab or a conservation diver like Gabriella D’Cruz. Great careers, limitless choices. Your life is what you make of it.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 12 March 2017. Pix source

Sunday, 5 March 2017

HOGging the Limelight

-Brian Mendonça

One has often seen on the road a cavalcade of motorbikes on Goa roads. Riding along with nary a care in the world, they epitomize the saviours of humanity. Of course when they are in packs they ride in the daylight with their headlights on (which is a little weird).

These riders bring out the travel bug in me. They ride free, they ride perhaps wild. With not a care in the world it seems, they seem to regard the world with disdain. Not for them a comfortable bed or the trappings of home. They belong to the great outdoors.

As they file along slowly in perfect formation, they are a force to reckon with. They are going to wipe out the bad guys and go after those who harass the damsels in distress.

Iconic bikes like the American Harley-Davidson, established in Wisconsin in 1903, have elevated the worship of their mean machines to cult status. To ride a Harley means to have arrived. The website for the Harley-Davidson Owner’s Group (HOG) uses an acronym which also stands for a pig. ‘The world was meant to be seen from the seat of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,’ goes the tag line on the HOG website at

‘Hogging  the limelight’ is an expression to mean drawing undue and perhaps undeserved attention to oneself at the expense of others. It emerged from the nineteenth-century stage where an actor on whom the spotlight was more than others was seen as hogging the limelight.

Last month HOG organized a rally from Pune to Goa. Anand Pawar was one of the bikers. At Amboli ghat he had a tragic accident in the dead of night where it appears his bike collided with another vehicle.  Since medical care was inadequate at the primary health care centre he was moved to a government hospital at Sawantwadi where he breathed his last. This was the first time his wife Saroj was also accompanying him in a 4-wheeler at the rear of the formation.

There are conflicting reports about what happened after Anand Pawar died. His wife says the bikers abandoned her with her husband’s body and drove in to Goa (40 km. away), rather than heading back to Pune (400 km. away).  Another source says bikers in fact did give their statements to the police. The ladies in the jeep whose husbands too were part of the rally offered assistance to Saroj.

I did not see any report in the English print media in Goa.  Only Pune Mirror carried in Times of India, and online sources like scoopwhoop reported it. Despite the rally being such a prestigious event there was no arrangement for an ambulance. None of the bikers was carrying a medical kit.* Next time I look at those mean machines, I will remind myself there is a thin line between romance and reality. It is so easy to appear macho. It is also an illusion.
*Namrata Dadwal, ‘Harley biker abandoned after accident,’, 19 February 2017; Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 5 March 2017. Pix courtesy

Writers Meet - Pernem 4 March 2017

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Say it with Chocolate

-Brian Mendonça

Chocolates. Can anyone resist them?

At this moment I am munching into a chocolate bar with Galaxy written in brown chocolaty cursive on the crimp. It is a 42 gm bar, with the writing ‘Smooth Milk’ to go under the G word. Each of the bits has ‘g’ on it as if to reinforce the brand.  The chocolate is from the Mars stable which has a plethora of choices. When i went to their website I was informed that I had just taken a bite of history. It read, ‘Smooth and creamy GALAXY chocolate is your perfect partner in chocolate indulgence. Since its launch in 1960, GALAXY has seen strong growth that continues to strengthen year on year. The GALAXY brand, which includes GALAXY Smooth Milk, MINSTRELS and RIPPLE, stands for 'me-time' indulgence, femininity and sensuousness.’*

The feminization of chocolate deserves attention. Countless international brands like Ferrero Rocher, Leonidas and Oreo have women as the subject of their advertisements. The chocolate is  projected as being as desirable as the woman in the ad – or adding to her desirability. In a blatant appeal to basic instincts the Vero ad promoting dark chocolate, appeals to its viewers not to deny their dark side. Exploring race relations, Haagen Dazs, has a submissive black woman with a white lollipop  in her mouth.

Spurred by a chocolate-making workshop, I felt it would be a good idea to ride on the crest of the wave.  On the heels of Valentine’s Day, when the young are inundated with sweetness, this would be the right time to go in for the kill.  How could I involve, often apathetic students in college, in activities which had something to do with chocolate? Considering the aversion of students to write these days, we invited poems, writings, experiences, and recipes on chocolate. Where the submissions were not forthcoming we went into class and solicited them.  Interestingly, some of these reluctant students, after due prodding, walked away with the first place! The synergy saw a flurry of activity, with even android phones decidedly taking a back seat. It prodded young adults to emerge out of their comfort zone and gave them something to talk and write about. As votaries of  incidental learning we deployed the cliché ‘Say it with chocolate’ for English language skill development.

On a day dedicated to chocolate on campus, students marshalled power-point presentations and journeyed across nations to discover how chocolate was made, its literary influences. They waxed eloquent about the chocolate-making workshop conducted by Planet J and coordinated seamlessly by Maria Fernandes.  Jovito Lopes spoke about the health benefits of dark chocolate.  To generate interest he showed several intricate figures – all made in chocolate.  Roxana Singh regaled the audience with her reading from Como Agua Para Chocolat [Like Water for Chocolate] written by first-time Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel in 1989. Curtains came down on the event with a screening of the film Chocolat (2000) starring Juliette Binochet, Judy Dench and Johnny Depp. 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------* Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 26 February 2017

Friday, 24 February 2017

To the Maiden from Satna

-Brian Mendonca

And you night-woman
with the faraway eyes
bedecked in bangles
Why do you scoop your belongings
into a small travel bag
carefully folding
your black shawl?
Are you fleeing
from, or to, love
in such precocious haste?
You keep the vrat of Shiva
obeisance to the Destroyer
Life or Death
-what have you decreed today?
as you stretch yourself
on the berth besides mine.

(Mahashivratri 2007
Enroute 2190 Nizamuddin-Jabalpur Mahakoshal Express)

I travelled on the 2190 Mahakoshal Express from Delhi to Jabalpur, taking advantage of the Mahashivratri weekend in 2007. Since today is also Mahashivratri, my mind went back to my journey 10 years back and I decided to upload the poem on my blog. The poem appears in my self-published volume of poems A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (Delhi, 2011)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Films from the North East

-Brian Mendonça

Far away from the brouhaha of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), was another event equally laudable in Goa.  Mallikarjun college tucked away on the Southern tip of Goa hosted an International Interdisciplinary Conference on Indian Cinema and Women from 3-4 February 2017. I chose to focus on films from the North East of India.

Although there is a fair degree of contribution of films from the North East to the Indian film industry, much of the efforts go unnoticed. Regional film has sadly lost out and continues to lose out to the exorcising influence of Bollywood, its glam quotient, its suave marketing and its allure for the youth.  North East films seem to explore more mature themes of men and women in their mature years. Set against a backdrop of insurgency, killings and dislocation, it is these voices which we seldom hear – or choose to ignore. 

The movie AFSPA 1958 (2006) written and directed by Haobem Pabam Kumar is a documentary film in Manipuri about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 which gives sweeping powers to the security forces. It reaches back to the episode of the torture and death of Manorama Devi and the consequent protest by Manipuri women who disrobed and walked through Imphal in 2004.  Journey to Nagaland (2011) is an animated film from Nagaland about a young girl led by dreams to her roots. The Headhunter directed by Nilanjan Dutta, is a film from Arunachal Pradesh which tells about the erasure of the old ways of life of the tribals.  

With regard to Assamese film, the latest poetic offering Dau Huduni Methai/ Song of the Horned Owl (2016) by Manju Borah catalogues the human cost of insurgency seen through the eyes of a rape victim Raimili. Adomya (2014) by Bobby Sarma Baruah tells the story of Juri infected by her AIDS-stricken husband who dies later. Juri has to bring up her daughter in these circumstances.

From Bhupen Hazarika’s trailblazer Shakuntala (1961) in Assamese to Santwana Bardoloi’s Adajya (1996) also in Assamese, directors have provided keen insights into the psyche of a woman. The themes have been bold. Adjaya, is about Giribala a young attractive widow who has to confront her needs when an American scholar comes visiting.  The film is based on a novel by Indira Goswami and is set in the 1940’s in Assam. 

Widowhood has also been the theme of Padum Borah’s Gonga Silonir Pakhi/ Wings of the Tern (1976). In Aparoopa (1982) by Jahnu Baruah, Aparoopa is forced to give up her University education to marry a rich tea estate. She later realises she was a pawn to repay her father’s debts. She begins a dalliance with an old classmate. Agnisaan (1985) by Bhabendranath Saikila dwells on the theme of the revenge of the first wife who has been discarded.  In Kothanodi / River of Tales (2015) Bhaskar Hazarika has taken recourse to Assamese folktales weaving in witchcraft, infanticide and snake worship – practised by women and endemic to Assam.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 February 2017.