Monday, 5 December 2016

The differently-abled and what they teach us

-Brian Mendonça

It was in the space of a day that I was privileged to see many differently-abled persons. What struck me was that they were going about their lives with dignity and optimism. Some were working at jobs and others were, well, walking.

I say, walking, because some of the most mundane actions we perform need herculean effort by those who are differently-abled. They may need to go through tremendous effort to move the muscles of the face to smile; or experience excruciating pain to get the leg muscles to move in alignment.

On Sunday morning, my sister needed to urgently get tickets for her family travelling back to Pune.  At 11 a.m. the chart was ready – our tatkal status was WL 25 on the Goa Express which left in 4 hours and 10 minutes from Vasco.

Having picked up chocolate brownies for my sister, I walked across to Atmaram Tours and Travels. This little kiosk at Vasco used to be my saviour in the early days when I used to travel to Pune. We were greeted by Dinesh. He smiled at us and reassured us that the required tickets would be available. There was a bus at 9 p.m. from Patto, Panjim. Dinesh gently counselled us to be quick about booking the bus tickets as in a few moments the status would go online. We lost no time in booking the tickets and heaved a sigh of relief with the confirmed tickets in our hand. 

Dinesh is blind in one eye. Yet he looks at the computer screen, makes calculations and advises the clients according to their needs. He always has a smile on his face to chase away all the stress you may have. When I ventured to ask him what happened he said a stick went into his eye when he was young.

Having the grace time of half a day with my sister and her family, I decided to stand the family, lunch at Babazin’s bar restaurant and chill out at Nerul. Under the immensity of the Reis Magos fort we discussed a trip to Sawantwadi. 

As the steward served I looked at his hand and froze. His entire right forearm was scarred by burn marks. Yet he was serving us without flinching or being conscious of it. When Babito, the owner, came over sat at our table I asked him about it. He said he had not asked him about how it happened. ‘Over the past 10 days, his performance has not improved,’ Babito was saying. Yet Babazin’s offered him an equal-opportunity environment and a space to learn on the job.

Standing behind an elder for the 6 p.m. Sunday Mass at Don Bosco, Panjim the same day I noticed his fingers behind his back keeping time to the hymns. Later I realised they were trembling by themselves. Still he was there for Mass, as sprightly as ever. 
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 4 December 2016. Pix courtesy Dinesh taken by Brian Mendonca. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Free-kick Specialist

-Brian Mendonça

When Brian passed away I felt a part of me had died with him.  Not only because we shared the same name, but because he was living in Goa -- and I did not know it. Brian was in my batch – the class of ‘81’ – in school. Don Bosco High School, Matunga, Bombay was the place where it all happened. We were boarders and so we along with the other mates took the good times and the not-so-good times together.

35 years later I land up at his home in Nachinola, for his funeral. To be frank I have never visited the place in my life. But for Brian I did. From Vasco I went to Nuvem to work and from there I drove to Nachinola to be in time to pay my last respects at 3.30 p.m. Family had come from around the world, but no one was with him when he died.

It appears Brian had gone to a hospital without informing anyone to carry out a procedure. In the process he suffered a cardiac arrest and pushed off without a by-your-leave. His mother was informed later the same day. ‘Baba, he never told me he was going,’ she said.

Brian was born less than a week shy of a month after me and was gathered to his fathers a fortnight before he was 51.

I came to know about his untimely demise when I received a call in the canteen from Anthony our buddy who put together this WhatsApp group of our batch. He was calling from Kuwait to inform me about the funeral. So I went, to represent Brian’s batch mates from around the world. With due permission, I took photos and videos and WhatsApped the group. They even sent a virtual wreath.

When we started a wallpaper on Brian everyone went back to the time Brian won the match for us. This is what Llewellyn Basilio, from Dubai wrote on the WhatsApp group:

“I remember staying back after school in grade 10 back in 80 or 81 to watch a football match vs our highly rated rivals St. Paul at our Bosco’s school ground.

We got a free kick and I was wondering what’s going to come out of it.

Three of our players clustered around the ball while their defence formed a wall.  First Flavel Monteiro ran as if to take the kick and jumped over the ball, in a split second Anthony Machado sold a dummy and then Brian Lobo stepped forward and coolly kicked the ball and I could only watch in awe and anticipation and gasped as it sailed over the defense in what seemed like slow motion, curved beautifully and glided with inch perfect precision into the far corner of the net leaving their rivals with a WTF expression.

Up until then, I had never ever seen this concept and such amazing skill. No run up, just concentration and confidence, pure class.”

Rest in peace brother. Until we meet on the playground of heaven.  

WTF: What the F#@%.  Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 27 November 2016. Pix of Brian in violet by Anthony Rodrigues.

Monday, 21 November 2016


by Brian Mendonca

In the heart of India
at the midnight hour
One can always return
to where one started from
if one wishes.
or Delhi
on what you consider
your point of origin
at that point of time.
On the margin of night
or the break of day.

(Jhansi station, 2007)

Self-Published by the poet in A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (New Delhi, 2011) page 30.

19313 Indore-Patna Express derails near Kanpur at about 03.00 a.m. on Sunday 20th November 2016. Passengers reported a loud sound under S1 coach at Jhansi hours before the incident. This poem is uploaded as an elegy to the travellers who lost their lives on the train. Pix courtesy

'Origins' was written in 2007 while travelling in the 12779 Goa Express from Vasco, Goa to Hazrat Nizamuddin station, New Delhi.  It was written at midnight at Jhansi station. The scheduled arrival of The Goa Express at Jhansi station is 23.50 and departure is 23.58. As I got down from the train - having already spent more than a day in it - I noticed the 12190  Nizamuddin-Jabalpur Mahakoshal Express standing on the platform opposite. The scheduled arrival of the Mahakoshal Express at Jhansi station is 22.50, departing at 23.15. Homesick for Goa,  I consoled myself I need not be bound by predetermined destinations. I was free to return home -- in my own time.

In the same year I travelled by the Mahakoshal Express to Jabalpur to view Bhedaghat and the mighty Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Mai Ge Dhobitalao

-Brian Mendonça

It’s been less than a month since I bought my smart phone and I am wondering what took me so long to upgrade.

I was diffident of the new technology and firmly believed that a handset had no business to define the status of my intelligence. Still, it seemed time was passing us by. We were left out of the loop when things were happening – not being on WhatsApp. We somewhat admired the infinite ease with which people massaged their phones and worked wonders. Finally there were no games like Talking Tom, our kid could play with (and give us some space!).

The first barrier was the price differential. We were used to shelling out 2k for a phone. 5 was way too pricey. Now the asking rate for a decent phone was 9.5 upwards. This was a dilemma. Was it worth it? The harsh light in the mobile store turned me off – they don’t even show you java phones anymore. In a separate display are phones costing upwards of 1 lac.

What pushed me was that my modest digital camera had failed me miserably. Several instances of the battery swelling up and rendering it unusable, left me crippled with no record of the swirl of events. I needed a camera on the go – especially to support my posts on my blog. A family phone seemed like a good idea.

Now Queenie looks through my phone when I get back from work and checks out the offers and sales. We also share the jokes being passed on by way of WhatsApp at the table when we eat; Dwayne plays his games for a fixed time; and I stay connected for the occasional call. I use the word ‘occasional’ advisedly because the current features of a smart phone far exceed a phone’s original function, viz. to speak to someone.

I even found myself at the DevFest2106 of the Goa Android User Group (GAUG) hosted by Google, at ICG recently. Sessions on ‘Android App Monetization’ and ‘Ingredients for a Tasty Social Media Gravy’ showed how far one could push the English language. To a decidedly teenagy crowd, words like Freemium, soak test, shit rich, and WTM (Women Tech Makers) were lapped up like the holy grail. And yes there were free pizzas for lunch.

When dad was in hospital, those who wanted to reach out to his bedside did so by sending music videos of songs like ‘This is my Prayer’ by Charlie Dicks, and ‘How Great Thou Art’ on whatsapp with little notes like, ‘This one is for dad.’  When I attended the funeral of our school friend, I sent photos and video recordings to our school group across the world on WhatsApp and even to the family. The music video of the Konkani song ‘Mai Ge Dhobitalao’ sung by Andrew Ferrao (Lyrics: Roque Lazarus) was sent to me on WhatsApp this morning. This is alternate media at its best – and the technology to support it to boot.
Published in Gomantak TimesWeekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 20 November 2016. Pix courtesy

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The story of a 1000-rupee note

-Brian Mendonça

When we heard the news, we could not believe it. By midnight, the existing Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes would cease to be legal tender. That left us with 2 hours – or less.

Of course, we could always return the notes we had within the time window offered. But for today (and tomorrow) banks and ATMs were shut.

I had just a few Rs. 1000 notes with me. How do I tide over 24 hours?

After I lit the candles for the rosary I trusted that all would be well.

The next day, I had to organize breakfast for the family. Lunch was a distant dream. But I did seem to remember vaguely Queenie saying we needed some fish.  As I stepped out of the house, I heard the insistent screech of a scooter. It was a fish vendor on wheels. There before him were a variety of fish laid out in separate sacks. There were lepo, bangda, pomfret and prawns. He was giving a kilo of black pomfret for Rs. 400.

I shifted the Rs. 1000 I had to my rear pocket. I had to bump up the total to at least Rs. 500 to make a bid for change. ‘Take some prawns for Rs.50,’ he said eyeing my son hollering for the miniscule specimens. That left another Rs.50. ‘Could I get some mackerels?’ I ventured hopefully. He took out both with a flourish and handed the 3 packets to me.

I took out the Rs. 1000. He demurred. I pressed my advantage. I told him he was already charging so much. The least he could do was to take it offer the change.‘Aaj ke liye chalega’ he said, pocketing it and was off.

Emboldened by my success, I strode to the store and got myself 2 milk packets and a packet of sannas. Meanwhile, the store keeper was chatting up my boy. I smiled and handed him the Rs 500 note.

He was fishing for the change when a stolid lady in brown walked in and screamed ‘500 notes and 1000 rupees notes are banned!!.’ The store-keeper jerked to life, didn’t make a move to take my note, and said, ‘Please take it on credit.’ Feeling defeated, I handed him a precious Rs. 100 note, and took the change.

I tried to give the Rs. 500 note at the restaurant where I picked up idlis and channa-bhaji with bread. This was a place I usually frequent. I was amazed when he declined the note. I pared my order to make it come to Rs. 110 – that was all the change I had. He put in an extra samosa (Rs. 10) for Dwayne.

The pomfret turned out to be modso when Queenie cooked it for lunch. She also managed to use the Rs. 500 note later at the same store when she bought the items necessary to cook the fish.

And we both told Dwayne the story of a Rs. 1000 note over lunch.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 13 November 2016. Pic courtesy

Taking the local Train in Goa

Brian Mendonça

Despite the many services, the Indian Railways offers in Goa, rail travel within Goa is hardly taken seriously. Just suggesting a jaunt from say Vasco to Margao is met with exclamations of horror or bewilderment or both. You may as well be in the boondocks, as it were.

Take Bombay for instance, where trains are the lifeline of the city. You’ve simply got to know your onions, when it comes to hopping on to the Panvel Fast (Projected) or the Churchgate Slow. When you are changing over from ‘Western to Central’ you need to have your wits about you. Watching others do it with practised ease certainly makes you feel like a moron in the morning.

Now take Goa for instance. My car was stuck at the servicing centre overnight. The person I usually thumb a lift with was attending a course in Gwalior. Being used to the breezes of the car, I detested being squashed like a reixade mackerel on a tottering bus to Nuvem.

So I set forth on my trusty (if ancient) scooter from home in Mangor hill to the Vasco railway station to take the 07.35 a.m. Vasco-Kulem local. Having carefully parked my scooter near Vishwa Surya’s shop (He’s the local newspaper vendor), I walked briskly to the station. Imagine my shock when I saw a train leaving from platform number 1. I reassured myself it could not be the passenger train I wanted to board since it was not  time for departure yet. Sure enough it was the 18048 Amravati Express a.k.a. Vasco-Howrah with leaves at 07.10 a.m. on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Funny when a train is leaving, your heart is in your mouth because you think it’s yours.

I stepped up to the ticket counter and bought a ticket to Margao for the princely sum of Rs. 10. It was past 7.30 a.m. and platform number 1 was yawning gracefully – the 18048 just having departed for the East. I asked the ticket officer where the Vasco Kulem would leave from and he indicated towards platform 1. In a little while the coaches rolled in and I boarded the train.

Imagine an almost empty train! -- to travel in comfort to my destination. My intention was to travel up to Majorda.  The train finally pulled out.  But just as it did I saw another train pulling in. It was the Goa Express coming all the way from Hazrat Nizamuddin station, New Delhi. I excitedly told my family to watch the train wind its way past our kitchen balcony in the valley below.

We reached Majorda station in about 20 minutes. As I stepped out, it took less than 10 minutes before a minibus bound for Margao came waltzing by. I was delighted to see my students in it all buried in their books preparing for the exams which began at 10. One of them sweetly rose and offered me her seat. From Nuvem church I biked it to college. It was 8.27 a.m.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender , St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 6 November 2016. Pix taken by the author after alighting at Majorda station, Goa.

Monday, 24 October 2016

‘Teacher beat me’

-Brian Mendonça

We had been hearing about how a teacher in the pre-primary class used to scare everyone – students and parents included. But we held our peace. After all, our child was not affected.

Then one day we noticed he was very quiet. On gently prodding he opened up and said, ‘Teacher beat me.’ ‘S/he hit me on my face with a ruler.’ She also made him kneel down in front of the class for a long period of time. The pretext was, he did not remember his nursery rhyme completely:
Pitter patter pit pat
Here comes the rain
Pitter patter pit pat
We’ll go out again . . .

We tried to ignore the many times he used to cry not to go to school.  We were unaware what was happening inside the classroom. Sometimes the kids used to be too terrified even to ask to go to relieve themselves. As a result they ended up soiling their pants. Another child vomits regularly in class. The reasons have yet to be probed.

That was the last straw. I drafted a letter to the Principal. To it I attached the Advisory by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for Eliminating Corporal Punishment in Schools Under Section 35 (1) of the Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009. The 18 page document is available on the internet for free download.*According to it, the Act prohibits ‘physical punishment’ and ‘mental harassment’ under Section 17(1) and makes it a punishable offence under Section 17 (2).

5.2 Examples of physical punishment as defined by the Act are:
a)     Causing physical harm to children by hitting, kicking, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling the hair, boxing ears, smacking, slapping, spanking with or without any implement.
b)    Making children assume an uncomfortable position (standing on bench, standing against the wall in a chair-like position, standing with school-bag on head, holding ears through legs, kneeling etc.
c)     Forced ingestion of anything (example washing soap, mud, chalk, hot spices etc.)
d)    Detention in the classroom, library, toilet or any closed space in the school.

5.3 Mental harassment is understood as any non-physical treatment that is detrimental to the academic and psychological well-being of the child. It includes but is not restricted to:
a) Sarcasm that hurts or lowers the child’s dignity.
b) Calling names and scolding using humiliating adjectives, intimidation
c) Using derogatory remarks for the child
d) Belittling a child in the classroom due to his/her inability to meet the teacher’s expectations of academic achievement.
e) ‘Shaming’ the child to motivate the child to improve his/her performance.

6.3 Perpetrators of corporal punishment against children in an institutional setting can be booked under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), viz. Section 323 – voluntarily causing hurt; Section 326 – voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means.

The school management invited us to talk about the issue and the matter was resolved amicably. Grades have improved and the child is happy – for now.
* Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 23 October 2016,