Thursday, 18 August 2016

I-Day 2016 – The Other Picture

-      Brian Mendonça

Do 70 years of independence have a bearing on what we bring to the table today? What seem to be the impulses that drive India 2016? Are the values enshrined in the Indian constitution upheld in letter and spirit today?

The very idea of India as a unified entity seems to be challenged today. Indeed, there are many Indias. One can choose which one to belong to for purposes of convenience.  Should one like writer Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016) identify with the marginalized tribals of India whose land is being taken away for development purposes? Should one like Aamir Khan voice one’s insecurity at staying on in this land? Or should one like Salman Rushdie prefer to write outside India since he gets death threats the moment he makes plans to attend a book festival here.

Today it is possible to be told in India what one must eat, how one must dress, and indeed, what one must think. This is moving towards a totalitarian state – the complete opposite of what we are, viz. a pluralistic federal republic.

Today it is possible in India for the common man (and the armed forces in some places like Kashmir) to kill merely on suspicion.  Sarif Khan was murdered in full public view by a mob in Dimapur in Nagaland last year. Caitanya Holt was left to choke in mud and die in Pernem, Goa early this year.

The tongue of hate is now licking our children who, even when they go out to play, face physical and verbal abuse by other children. They taunt each other, push each other (sometimes down a staircase) and appear very pleased with themselves. Where has the sense of concern for the other gone?

It would seem, human life has no value in India. Despite several warnings about using the mobile while driving, last week college lecturer Anupama Aggarwal, mowed down a school boy in her car in Najafgarh, Delhi while talking on her cell phone. The vague statements by the police, the influence the Aggarwal family wields, and the state of denial by the culprit, make the outcome of the case a foregone conclusion.

Last week, we lost our neighbour – a loving dad and husband – when he was fatally knocked down by a speeding 2-wheeler at Alto Dabolim. Where is this speed taking contemporary India – on the highway to heart break.  

Recently the Rajasthan High Court absolved Salman Khan of shooting a black buck in 1998.  The Bombay High Court also absolved him last year of running his vehicle over pavement sleepers in Bandra, Mumbai in 2002. Now, given a clean chit he gets to go to the Rio Olympics as a brand ambassador for India. The trail of death is only incidental.

The systemic chaos in India has often been romanticized by the West. For us it is a reality we cannot afford to ignore.  For an age-old civilization, we are witnessing a break-down of values -- a fractured nation spiralling out of control. 

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 14 August 2016

16 July 1251

-Brian Mendonça

I thought I heard Fr. Mark from the Carmelite monastery, Margao say in his sermon on 15July that Mary appeared to Simon Stock of the Carmelite Order at 12.51. I reflected that it would be a good idea to say the rosary the next day at that precise time at home to commemorate the event. 

16 July was a holiday for us being the feast of Mount Carmel. Though there were pressing matters to be attended to, the rest of the family resigned themselves to follow my missive. The candles were lit and we prayed the rosary with full alertness during broad daylight. The rosary is usually said at night. After the rosary was said I took down the brown scapulars I had brought for the family and gave it to each family member.

The scapulars had been distributed the previous day at the Feast Mass observed by students, staff and management of Carmel College, Nuvem, Goa. The choir with their mellifluous voices heightened our devotion by singing the hymns ‘Crowned with the Glory of Carmel’, and ‘Pure as Carmel.’

On 16 July I went for the morning Mass at Don Bosco, Panjim. Fr. Lody Pires spoke about the significance of the scapular and how recalled Mother Mary’s promise that anyone who dies with the scapular shall be saved. But he warned that the scapular should not be worn merely as a superstition. One should endeavour to live a holy life to be worthy to wear the scapular. Filled with the joy of attending Mass I watched the children in their Don Bosco t-shirts and I reminisced about my school days in Don Bosco, Matunga Mumbai where every child kept a devotion to Mary Help of Christians.

As Fr. Lody continued his sermon he spoke how Mary appeared to Simon Stock of the Carmelite Order on 16 July 1251. I realized, quite amused that 1251 stood for the year, not the time!

In the evening, I decided to go to the Carmelite Seminary, Peddem, Mapusa for the Mass at 6 p.m. The energy was awesome. The Mass was concelebrated by about 13 priests. The choir was superlative and the distribution of scapulars by the young seminarians was orderly and graceful. Right from the time the cars nosed their way up the road to the seminary, perched just off NH 17, the young seminarians were on their toes guiding the vehicles to the parking space behind. 

On the 17 July I stepped out in the morning to bring the Sunday papers. At the infamous junction outside Holy Family church I was waiting for my signal to turn to green. As the light turned green I moved my car forward only to see a speeding red maruti jumping the red light on my left. We braked in the centre of the road with inches to spare. At 9 a.m. the Mass at Holy Family church was over and there was another car emerging out of the gate. I gave thanks to Mary. I was wearing the scapular.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 7 August 2016.

Chicken Curry, Pulao and Sevaiyan

-Brian Mendonça

During my years in Delhi, Id was always very special for me. I used to be invited on Bakri Id for lunch with the Zafar family. Two thousand kilometres away from Goa, their place at Sheikh Sarai, Phase II was second home for me. Their two young children Salman and Simi would share their day’s exploits with me. Often aunty and uncle used to give me wise counsel if I was experiencing a problem at work.

So, putting on a ceremonial kurta befitting the occasion, I used to go round to the Zafar household where everyone would be dressed in their finest. With their gracious hospitality they would ask me to sit at one end of the table while Mr. Zafar sat at the other end. Then aunty would serve her delicious meat curry, but not before a succulent plate of mutton shami kebabs was proferred. The aroma of the rice dish was most tantalizing. After the repast thick sevaiyan (kheer of vermicelli) would be carefully ladled in bowls.  

Dinner on Id would be at my friend Anis Ahmad’s place. We would arrive after negotiating the warren of lanes at Govindpuri. Anis would then spread thedastarkhana  (ceremonial carpet) and serve the mutton biryani with the gladness of his heart. Anisbhai painstakingly did the maps for my book A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (2011). He spent several Sundays taking the trouble to come across to mybarsaati (roof top residence) to do the work. Since at that time I was between jobs he did it for free.

I met Professor Mohammad Aslam during my days working for Cambridge University Press at Daryaganj, Delhi in 1998. He took me to see the Hazratbal mosque at Srinagar. I felt like an honoured guest when I was waited upon with a samovar(copper kettle). This was at a traditional Kashmiri lunch at his place with the customary mutton Rogan Josh. I called him to wish him on Ramzan Id this year. He said he had already celebrated it the previous day as the Id ka chand (the moon) had been sighted in Srinagar by then.

When we returned to Goa, the kitchen cabinets at our new home were made by Bashir Ahmed. Last Id he called us over to his place and served us his delectable dinner with his family. This year on Id-ul-Fitr (Ramzan Id) he came across on his motorbike, his son, sitting pillion. They had brought for us his wife’s preparation of mint-laced pulao, delicious chicken curry and sevaiyan. The tradition could not be broken.

I pressed into Bashir’s hand a box of fresh ladoos we had specially bought fromPunjab and Sindh sweetmeat shop, Vasco. They had been flown in from Goregaon, Mumbai for Id.  ‘Aur teen ghar ko dena heh,’ Bashir said as he rode off. Out of his modest means he gave in abundance. ‘Bakri Id pe phir ayega’  he said later when I called to thank him for the food.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 31 July 2016.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Ó Mar Salgado

-Brian Mendonça

We were at Babazin’s restaurant at Nerul for lunch, just 200 metres beyond Reis Magos fort. We had passed the imposing Reis Magos church on our right and an almost hairpin bend took us almost into the mouth of the sea. It was a Sunday and our hearts were filled with joy.

The setting on the road as we came by it was quite ordinary. But when I looked around I noted the welcoming parking space on the other side of the road.  Nothing could prepare us for what waited for us inside. The beautifully designed interiors, almost stark in their simplicity, with the trademark Goan red cemented sitting area of a balcao gave us the heady feeling of being at home. There were two levels, ‘decks’ I would like to call them. One on the rim of the river and the other further inward with a well-stacked bar behind it. The beautiful cartoons of Goan life on the wall gave us a feel of the timeless quality of Mario Miranda.

We don’t come to these parts often. But when time was on our side after we finished our work at Taleigao, I thought it would be a good idea to explore a bit of Goa.* Not for us were the frenetic pace of Calangute and Candolim where the road headed to. Verem was just right and the sleepy village road could barely keep awake as we drove through.
Verem is on the leeward side of the hill as it were. The windward side, and the more happening side is Porvorim to the North and Calangute to the West.  To your left is Betim and Terry’s restaurant. You also need to cross the imposing Gurudwara on your right after you come down from Panjim and descend after crossing the Mandovi bridge. 

Babito was telling me the restaurant is named after his brother (31) who passed on in 2005. ‘We are both foodies,’ he said, using the present tense. He likened the restaurant to a pousada. The word has many meanings in Portuguese like, a place to rent out, an inn, a hostel. People call me up to book the space and remain there from 11 till midnight, he said. Another favourite is the conxem (‘corner’ in Konkani) at the far end of the open vista which people ask to reserve for them. This is a cemented bench where couples can cozy up. In the distance one can fish.

Both Goa and Portugal are united by the sea. No wonder that the sea continues to fascinate us. Transfixed by the fury of the sea in the throes of the monsoon in July, I recalled the poet Pessoa’s lines from his poem ‘Mar Português’ (1934):

Ó mar salgado, quanto do teu sal
São lágrimas de Portugal!
[O salty sea, how much of your saltiness
Is tears of Portugal!]

The cadence of the Portuguese rang in my ears and I was glad to have heard those lines. Somehow at that instant the sea seemed to be speaking Portuguese!
*See Love Goa: A Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond by Fiona Caulfield (Bengaluru: Hardys Bay, 2011) pg. 41. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 10 July 2016. Pix courtesy 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Confronting the Pikuesque

Brian Mendonça

When our irrepressible in-law Lyn was asked what she thought of the movie Piku she replied without missing a beat, ‘It’s all bloody shit.’ Viewers of the movie would see her point as the  movie is about an elder who cannot pass motions.

The movie, though I have not seen it – the subject being too odious -- was firmly on my mind when an elder was admitted to hospital for the same reason. Believing a simple enema would do the trick we hauled him to Sanjeevani hospital, Vasco for the procedure. However we were dismayed when Dr. Kanekar the RMO opined that he would need to be admitted. Considering his advanced age they would need to stabilize his ‘vitals’ and then administer the enema.

Views flew thick and fast on why we took him to Sanjeevani hospital when Salgaocar Medical Research Centre (SMRC), Chicalim was obviously the better choice. They had cardiac facilities, were better equipped, and had treated him as recently as last week. Since the elder was a heart patient this made a lot of sense. So they thought.

I, on the other hand, felt quite at peace with our decision because it was what the patient wanted.  He was comfortable in the ICU and the evacuation -- that’s how they term it in medical parlance  -- was happening. The other reason was that mummy had passed on in this hospital in Room number 9 (now it is 109) on the first floor. It was the corner room with the balcony facing the road. I had not stepped into this hospital since – except to visit the doc’s consulting room on the ground floor.

When I drove down the precarious slope from Mangor hill to Sanjeevani hospital, I had to confront the angry sea at Baina beach. The frothing waves, insatiable in their monsoon fury, seemed to be clamouring for another life – like they had claimed my mother. Would they prevail?  I shuddered at the thought.

The elder pulled through and we seem to be on a good wicket. Suddenly all the voices who  harangued us about the insanity of our decision to admit at Sanjeevani subsided, and were singing the praises of the hospital. One even wanted them to attend to his chest congestion ‘because it would rain very heavily in the next few days.’ The patient was also comfortable with Dr. S.N. Desai with his amiable bedside manner, and because, ‘He knows my case.’

Shoojit Sircar, director of Piku (2015), has struck a chord with his movie. One has to confront the realities of life -- and death.

After many years I opened my volume of poems Last Bus to Vasco to page 48:

Room No. 9

Blue on white
Azulejos reprieve,
Porch to the East
Sunlight streaming in
White moderna chair
Bathroom of castanha
Curtains of Orkay
In crepe de chine.
MPT railtracks
Across the road
Cheerful windows
Of iron grille.
Beyond the bubble
Of seamless traffic
I hear you breathing
Your nearness
Embraces me.

(Sanjeevani Hospital, Goa, 2005)
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 3 July 2016.  Pix courtesy

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Of Jovito and Joet’s

-Brian Mendonça

On the first day of college,  an ‘Orientation’ was slated in the mid-morning and we all looked forward to it. The ambiguity of the word left us wondering about the nature of the orientation, viz. would it be an orientation about teaching practices? Would it be one about NAAC procedures? Why was this orientation so critical for the teaching faculty?

The speaker was Jovito Lopes. Lopes went on to cover a range of issues from health care, water resource management, and teacher effectiveness.  He kicked off with the hymn ‘Count Your Many Blessings.’ Signposting sugar as the number 1 killer in heart-related diseases in Goa, he cited a case of how leaves found in Goa could be used to propel out kidney stones – rather than opting for expensive laser surgery.  Stressing on communication in the class he urged the staff to empathize with the students. ‘Students don’t need us,’ he reasoned. ‘Everything is there on the internet.’ ‘But we can develop values, character and critical thinking.’

Lopes was India’s chef de mission at the Lusofonia games in Lisbon 2009 and was closely associated with the 3rd edition of the games in Goa in 2014.  In fact, he said when we needed a break we should make the time-out sign!  His wide range of experience interacting with students as a member of the local managing committee of Don Bosco college, Panjim, and now with Prudent Media, made him present his ideas with an elan I envied. His marshalling of his power point presentation with numerous clips, jokes and anecdotes was quite effortless. He had an original, if wry, take on the 21st century where everything could be suffixed with ‘LESS.’

At the end when Lopes asked for feedback some zeroed on to two slides they felt should be modified. Mired in a predictable, linear way of thinking we could not care ‘LESS’about the larger picture and value the wealth of information Lopes had so painstakingly prepared.  

As I sat on Bogmalo beach in the gathering dusk the same evening, I was thinking that Lopes’s presentation was an orientation for life, not just an academic year. As we sang ‘Count your many blessings’ as a family in the sand (some of it blackened by tar) I felt it would take a lifetime to unpack what Lopes had said. His dire predictions that Verna would be out of water in a few years, and his appeal for in-house expertise to do something for Goa showed how concerned he was for the environment.

Nursing my Woo-woo – a cocktail at Joet’s bar and restaurant founded in 1979 -- at the deep end of the near-pristine Bogmalo beach, I watched Russia and Slovakia battle it out on the screen for the European championship.  The young couple who we had seen coming to the beach at dusk were still there. Locked in embrace they just held on to each other as the waves lashed the shore. This was life. It was too precious to let go. 
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 26 June 2016. Pix of Jovito courtesy Goa Football Development Council Bottom pix of Joet's from  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Writing Skills Workshop - 22 June 2016

                                     Workshop on Writing Skills for teachers by Dr. Brian Mendonca
                                                            Bhavan's School, Zuarinagar, Goa, 22 June 2016

The brief was simple. Get the teachers to tune in to the finer aspects of report writing.  Last year on the same day, I had done a workshop at Bhavan's on teaching poetry to children. This was all due to the dynamism of the Principal of Bhavan's Ms.Elizabeth Valsan.

This year I warmed up to the task of teaching writing. I planned for a 2-hour presentation divided into 3 sections:

What happened in class was slightly different.

As a warm-up  exercise I asked the teachers to read any news item from the newspapers I distributed. After this was done I asked each teacher to paraphrase what s/he read. I used the oral paraphrase done by teachers to spot errors of grammar, sentence construction, tone, and cohesion. One participant used 'actually' too often and unnecessarily; another ended his sentence with a rising tone, leaving the listener waiting for more; another used far too long sentences and got mixed up with the ideas. I asked the teachers to use simple sentences,speak clearly and end confidently.

Since the newspapers were still in front of them, I asked the teachers how many of them read an English newspaper every day. The response was feeble. I urged them to read many newspapers. Over the weekend I asked them to pick up the Weekender and read it through the week. Pulling out a copy of the latest issue I went over its pages introducing them to its features and articles. 'The more you read, the better you will write,' I suggested. I shared with the group that I read papers in different languages for different perspectives. Hindi, Marathi, Konkani and English are a staple fare. On the internet,  so helpfully provided by the school, I showed the e-editions of the Hindustan Times and The Hindu newspapers.  Ramdas, one of the students, like the idea saying it would 'save paper.'

The next activity was doing a report on the workshop done the previous day on the theme 'Life is a Song' by Cyril Fernandes. I differentiated between a report and an essay where the former was a factual account of the way things went and the latter was an assessment of the event with one's own point of view. I was floored when one participant offered an essay in shudh (if Sanskritized) Hindi.

I felt it was too premature to do creative writing with the group. I opted for creative non-fiction instead. CNF is the in-thing nowadays and I sallied forth sharing with the group my weekly writings for Gomantak Times Weekender. I had remembered to bring a folder of all my articles over the past 3 years. I had arranged the articles week-wise over the months of the years.  As I took them through some of the articles I found an echo in their eyes. We spoke about subjects to write about, and what inspired the articles.'Travelling in a Mumbai local train' was much appreciated. The group was pensive when I discussed 'Caitan-ya' about the murder of a US youth in Pernem, Goa on suspicion of theft.

From here the transition to blog writing was smooth - simply because all my Weekender articles are uploaded  on my blog. I dwelt on the reach of the internet and the shelf-life of an article on the blog. We looked at the merits of print media for a local populace and digital media for a global audience. For me the blog served as an excellent way to archive all my writing. One also gets paid for writing for the media and it could be examined as a source of income.

Finding interest ebbing as we reached 1 p.m. we looked at my blog (this one) on the internet. I showed the group my blog site, the labels on the right and how to post comments. We then meandered to my blogpost of 2008 when I read some of my title poem from my first book of poems Last Bus to Vasco: Poems in Goa (2006) on AIR Delhi. We all said an ode to Vasco for providing the poet so much inspiration so as to name a book of poems after it.

Writing can help you in your loneliness. 'Last bus to Vasco' was written when I was alone travelling from Panjim to Vasco in 1997. That was before the bypass at Agacaim and before the point to point buses came. So in a sense the poem is a documentation of Goa's past. At Weekender too my byline is 'a chronicler of our times.' We looked at the difference between 'chronic' and 'chronicler.' Nida Fazli's shayri met with applause from the group:
Apne gam leke, kahee our na jaya karo
Ghar ke bikhre hue cheezein ko sajaya karo.

Reminiscing in the Principal's room after the workshop I thought how we had transited from the often mundane report writing to the Elysian heights of poetry writing and appreciation. I left them with a few tips on writing, viz. Find a writing partner with whom you can share your work; write something daily; perfect the basics of grammar; if you find an article you like, analyse what made it a good article. Finally if you are searching for topics to write about, make your life interesting - meet unconventional people; do interesting things; think out of the box.