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

Monday, 13 November 2017

‘I’m scared to post on the group’

-Brian Mendonça

The other day I decided to leave seven WhatsApp groups in one fell swoop. That’s right. Seven.

I thought it would be a nice number as I have always had a fondness for the number seven. Besides its Biblical significance, it is also my birth date. Significant things have happened in my life in years which have had the number seven -- this year for instance.

Only a year back had I braved my finances and both of us migrated to Android phones. We were ‘with it.’ Or so I thought.

Later I realized huge chunks of my time were being consumed by an amorphous entity called the ‘group.’ I was expected to respond to usually inane forwards and say how delighted I was – at least by a smiley. For fear of offending the sentiments of the group, one was reduced to being a passive spectator and acquiescing to almost everything.  If you did otherwise you were served a show cause or vilified on the group. The group called the shots.

Things that mattered to me – like my article on Gauri Lankesh – did not cut any ice on the group. My personal bereavement became just a statistic. Anyway, a WhatsApp group may not be the right forum to publicize grief.

Add to that the inappropriate content in terms of explicit adult images, misogyny, and pious platitudes -- and you have a scenario where you don’t know if you are coming or going. In a culture of compromise, my identity was being eroded.

A WhatsApp group is not without its bullies. Bullies are those who stymie any expression on the group – often diffident – and steam roll it with their own version, which of course, is the ultimate truth. Unless other members of the group rise to the defence of the member who was shouted out, the affected person recedes into the background, humiliated and hurt. It is out of such a sharing that one person recently confided, ‘I'm scared to post on the group.’

The other aspect of being on multiple groups is that the same forward appears, in my case, on an average of five times! The groups I am still on, have a strict ‘No forwards’ protocol.

Groups are nowadays made at a drop of a hat. They are usually made with the intention of facilitating a common agenda. However, being dynamic and hopefully evolving beings, that agenda is always subject to change or even dismissal. Not everyone appreciates that. After the event is over, or the objective accomplished the group should be dissolved. There are umpteen other ways to contact people apart from doing so through a group.

Agreeing to be on a WhatsApp group merits careful thought. I realized I was not growing, and neither were many others on the group. To keep abreast of the various messages I used to frenetically flick my phone, much to my little son’s disdain and impatience. Now I have all the time to play with him.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 12 November 2017. Photo courtesy digitaledge(dot)org.  

‘Tuvem ghovak garbage kelia’

-Brian Mendonça

 Disha revolves around a man who is determined to use his land to set up a waste disposal plant in Goa. His son-in-law, who is a builder, has other plans. He marries the landowner’s sister Shenaya. When his black money is rendered useless after demonetization, the builder pleads with his father-in-law to transfer the land to his name so he can repay his debts.

The son-in-law stoops to the extent of threatening to kill Shenaya. The ‘doll scene,’ with echoes of Annabelle, had a few little children wailing in the audience. In this scene, the son-in-law/ husband suspends a rope from a beam in the roof. One end he ties to the neck of a doll. Then he strings the hapless doll up.  The backlights come on and only the grotesque dangling silhouette of the dangling doll is seen as the curtain falls. Faced with third degree, the brother relents. But there is a slight hitch. The document will only be valid if it is signed by the sister.

The brother’s descent into madness, and his subsequent death are vividly portrayed on stage. He chastizes himself for not living up to his dead parents’ dreams of doing something for society. Following her brother’s death, Shenaya is resolute about not giving her brother’s land to her husband. She castigates him of not being around when her brother dies. In exasperation, her husband says, ‘Tuvem ghovak garbage kelia.
In a memorable scene the entire stage is just lit up by a pontio (tongue of  flame) with the rest in darkness. This signifies the depth of depravity and utter hopelessness of the situation.

The subplot between the sidekick and the flower-seller, Shakuntala  --endearingly called Shakuntale by her lover -- is a burst of relief in an otherwise sordid tale. They come across as very human, their exaggerated courtship and asides drawing chuckles from the audience. In her quest for a good husband, Shakuntala prays at the khuris complaining to God that He is taking too much time to do the needful.

The opening song (‘Sakor’) lists the pitfalls of eating sugar. Excessive eating could lead to triglycerides going over the top. In extreme cases limbs also needed to be amputated. ‘Xezari’ was between two young ladies, each distinguished by their distinctive attire. One was dressed in Western wear, the other in Indian wear. Each was listing the foibles of the other in a humorous way.  In ‘Film Actress’ a young girl presents her case for making a career singing Hindi songs. The huge payouts, wider audience, and hip lifestyle of Bollywood actors are presented as prime allurements. However in this duet, the other singer is a wizened uncle who counsels her to stay in Goa to make her living. He distrusts the industry abroad, and says she will have to make many compromises though she will earn well. These were tracts for the times presenting to the audience the reality of living in Goa.
Disha, written by Carlos Fernandes and directed by Shirish Naik, was staged by Merxechim Porzolith Kirnam, Merces for the 43rd Kala Academy ‘A’ group Tiatr Competition 2017-18, at Kala Academy, Panaji, Goa on 19 October 2017. 

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 5 November 2017.

All Souls Day

I am sitting on the bed that dad spent his last days. Not the hospital bed we brought for him at home, but the regular double bed in 'his' room at our place in Porvorim.

As I gaze upon the photo on the left, it is so difficult to believe that he is six feet below.  Where are the happy times we shared? Where are the sounds of laughter which made us joyous in the company of each other? And where is the quiet presence which filled the home.

Those moments are just a memory now. Though it is a little over three months when you slipped away in this room, we remember you everyday. I cannot forget the gentle smile on your face when you left this room  for your eternal journey. You did not want to disturb our sleep. Before daybreak, minutes past 4 a.m. you took your leave. Before that happened, in the final days, you took Queenie's hand and mine and forced out the words 'Thank you.' The death rattle would not allow you to speak coherently.

Yet we still could not believe this was the end. All life comes to an end one day. It simply could not be true.

So when we gathered as a family around your grave on All Souls Day we remembered the precious hours with you. You gave so much of yourself, seeking little in return. You bore all your pain without a word. In fact you used to joke about it.

Gathered together in prayer with the moon overhead there seemed to be a destiny we were deemed to fulfill. As every family grieved their loss, we felt comforted in our grief. In losing you we returned you to the Lord.

Every priest on the altar in the open air Mass in the St. Andrew's cemetery, Vasco had a deep connection with our family. Fr. Januario from Delhi had said the Mass when mum died in 2004.  It seems like yesterday. Fr. Gabriel, the parish priest was always in touch with dad with his encouraging word. Fr. Camillo gave dad the anointing of the sick at SMRC hospital, Chicalim, and Fr. Jovito said his funeral Mass. The entire community was praying for dad with the priests leading from the front. A profound peace came over me. It is not what you do at the last minute, when a person is dead that matters. What matters is what you do when the person is alive.

After the Mass I invited the family for snacks and tea at Goodyland, Vasco, the place we often visited with dad. We ordered what he liked to eat and joined two tables to talk about life.

As we drove back to Porvorim we remembered the times when we would often bring him from Vasco to enjoy the amenities of our new flat. I am glad we did that when we could. We knew the clock was ticking.

All Souls Day helped me to come to terms with dad's passing. I was brave enough to don a blue shirt the next day with lines of red over it. For me the lines of red symbolized the network of blood in dad's body which finally finished him. The shirt was a cryptic reminder of what dad once said when he was complimented on his good health. He said, 'You don't know what is happening inside.'

As I migrated from black to grey to blue with a combination of colour, I felt I needed to get past grieving and live a fuller life. The sunlight and the green in the background beckoned.
Pix taken by the author. Above at St. Andrew's church cemetery, Vasco on 2nd November 2017; below at college, Nuvem on 3rd November 2017.

Shamayel Interviews Brian


-Brian Mendonca

da cidade
para o mar
O mar
para a cidade


(Enroute Goa Express train

Translated from the Protuguese as:


On the run
From the city
To the sea
From the sea
To the city


Shamayel Amin from the Goa University came to interview Brian Mendonca. Some of the questions fielded were:

How did you get into writing?
I think the poems wrote themselves. My first poem 'Requiem to a Sal' was written when a tree was being hacked in our backyard. I felt I need to express myself. I felt this urgent desire to document a Goa which was changing rapidly.

How did you go forward with your publication?
No publisher cared for the poems I wrote. Even though the concept of writing a poem in every state of  India was never attempted before. So given my experience in publishing I self-published my poems in two volumes.

What was the response to the book?
Overwhelming. Everyone welcomed the poems. The poems resonated with the people specially when they were on the place they lived in or were familiar with. The first book of 500 copies -- Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa (2006) -- was sold out and so was the reprint. The next A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (2011) is almost sold out.

How do you manage teaching and writing simultaneously?
One will find the time if one loves what one is doing.

What message would you give for today's youngsters?
Stay with the written word. Your rewards will be great.
Pix taken by Brian with interviewer Shamayel Amin in the college campus on 1 November 2017.