Sunday, 15 January 2017

A New Year Breakfast

-Brian Mendonça

How does one host a breakfast for 20 people? This was the question which loomed before us.

We were keen to host a group of people who were breezing into Goa for a few days. The only free slot in their frenetic schedule was a few hours after the Mass on Sunday before they rushed to catch the train back in the early afternoon the same day.

We decided to go ahead and host breakfast as a gesture of goodwill. I racked my brains on what is usually served on these occasions. Colleagues gave helpful suggestions. The previous day Queenie asked me to get 2 dozen eggs, Heinz beans, pork salami and pork frankfurters (alas, the sorpotel was just over). To that I added my old favourite – corned beef.

Early morning the next day, the day of the dreaded breakfast, I rose and stalked the breadman who trundled his cycle up the path at a few minutes past 7. Prior to that, another breadman on a motorbike came along shattering the stillness of the dawn. He honked perfunctorily, but I balked at this brash behaviour of busking bread.

I picked up 40 loaves of bread, 10 of katre pau (scissors-shaped bread), 10 of poes (coarse-wheatish bread), 15 of mou pao (soft squarish bread) and 5 of hard toasted bread. In addition I picked up 10 poes for an aunt who loves to carry them back with her, and savour them at home. The weight and volume of my cloth bag assured me that even if the breakfast was a disaster they would appreciate our fine taste for Goan traditional breadmaking.

For 8.30 Sunday Mass in Konkani, Fr. Joaquim Fernandes, Chaplain at Candelaria chapel, Porvorim preached about the 3 kings. He made his own 3 wishes on behalf of the laity for the new year, viz. prayer – so we may always discern the will of the Lord; participation – to involve oneself in activities to help the community and lastly, positivity. When we are discouraged we droop into negativity and in the loop, unwelcome things happen to us. If we choose to be positive, we spread positive energy and good things happen to us. I decided to make these wishes for 2017 my own.

Queenie asked me to get some idlis.  Things fell into place in my mind. Breakfast was either Western or Indian or both. It was 9.40 a.m. For the Goan touch I slided into Cafe Kalpana opposite Holy Family church and picked up chillies fried in batter, and vegetable samosas. Then came idlis, puri-bhaji and upma (10 plates each) from Sanskruti Restaurant. At home, boiled eggs, and corned beef was ready. Tea vessels were boiling away on the burners.

The New Year breakfast was hearty, though most protested there was too much to eat. Some gallants swigged away at Blender’s Pride. What food was remaining, the group carried with them on the train. There was no wastage and even the security staff on duty relished a surprise lunch! 
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 15 January 2017. pix courtesy casasusegad

Ekuch Rogot

-Brian Mendonça

As I write these lines the title ‘Ekuch Rogot’ play on my mind. The Konkani words can be translated as ‘One Blood’ or ‘Similar Blood.’ The words are the title of a Konkani song by Goan tiatrist and lyricist from Aldona, Alfred Rose (1932-2003).

As an elder lay in the hospital with plummeting haemoglobin levels, there was no choice but to infuse packed cells of blood from the Goa Medical College blood bank to boost the levels. An endoscopy showed nothing and we now await the findings of a bone marrow biopsy.

Setting off as we did to GMC from Vasco at 11 p.m., made us reflect how vital blood is to life. If the body does not generate its own blood, it is simply a walking cadaver – dependent on an outside source for blood. Two points of packed cells roughly sustain the body for a week. After that one has to replenish the supply.

In such cases, a blood sample of the patient is taken and then cross-matched with the blood that is available in the blood bank. The procedure costs Rs. 1050 for one pouch and can take 2-3 hours. Only one pouch can be given per day for the patient’s use. A request is also made by GMC blood bank to donate blood at GMC to make up for the blood taken out from the blood bank. Blood donation cards can be given for this purpose.

Once the packed cells of blood were given to us by GMC at 2.30 a.m., we carefully put the pouch in a thermacol box with ice packs. We then drove to the hospital and gave it to the staff on duty to start the transfusion.

This scenario saw all the family pitching in to do their bit. We took turns bringing blood. From visits to the hospital, to coordinating the pick-up for blood, to refreshing snacks, to even bringing along a trusty radio (not to forget WhatsApp forwards) everyone did their best to uplift the elder. For a week or more life was at a standstill, hovering between this world and the next. Every phone call was dreaded. Yet with trust, faith and surrender God steered us through.

In Alfred Rose’s song ‘Ekuch Rogot’ he sings about two brothers who have such a good relationship that they are the envy of all. However their slings were deflected by the crows:

Amcho ekvott polloun thodde bou, martat ujeache inglle,
Tosle inglle amcher poddonam, punn uddon vetat zaun kanvlle.

As time goes by the younger son asks for the property to be divided. This leads to litigation with both brothers contacting their advocates. The advocates are in fact good friends, and they plan to swindle the brothers. Finally a letter from one advocate to the other revealing their schemes is intercepted and the brothers realise their folly. Rose ends with the advice not to be duped by others and to maintain the solidarity of the brothers:

Lokacheam sangnneamcher patiumchem nhoim, lok bhavank zaitench sangot
Thondar ulounchem, monan nhoi dorchem, bhavachem ekuch rogot.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Translated by Alex George Mendonça. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 8 January, 2017. Pix courtesy of blood bag

Cash vs Cashless

Brian Mendonça

Reeling under a crippling cash crunch, many tourists stayed away from Goa this season. Christmas week in Vasco was like a deserted village, though some pockets did put up a brave front with stars and feeble music.  There was just not enough money to go around. And even if you had the money, they didn’t have the change.

As I picked up a pair of formal shoes for my son, I proffered a Rs 2000 note to the shopkeeper. His swipe machine was not working. Just after me another local tourist did the same. The shopkeeper flatly refused to take his note saying ‘Change nahin heh.’ I thought he would give me the same treatment. However, he peered into his drawer and gave me 15 hundred rupee notes he had stashed away earlier. I came away with the shoes but could not help thinking what the other person might have done. Did he not need the shoes as much or more than me? Was it also for his son or daughter?

The bravado with which a slew of measures was announced to ferret out black money is fast losing its sheen. In the fields farmers have no money to pay wages. They are borrowing at higher rates of interest so as to thresh the paddy before the rains. Harsh Mander notes while travelling in rural Odisha, ‘As in times of drought, people are learning to eat less. Most households have stopped buying vegetables. Cow owners said they were unable to sell milk as people had no currency. People in many villages spoke of gravely ill people at home who could not be taken to hospital, lacking money.’*

 ‘This Christmas, spend time with the family,’ said Fr. Gabriel Coutinho for the Mass on 25th December at St. Andrew’s church, Vasco. Inspired by his homily I decided not to be glued to WhatsApp – until the messages touched 200.  Before midnight they did and when I checked, most of them were forwards. I was glad I did not waste my time on them during the day, which was anyway frenetic with the traditional family lunch and the opening of the gifts under the Christmas tree.

Leaving things for the last minute I had 60 minutes to buy about a dozen gifts on Christmas day. Thankfully I purchased most of them at one shop which had something for everyone from 8 years to 80 years. I came away with a rich haul of gifts (including those which Santa was supposed to bring). They included mugs, a remote-controlled racer car, a ball, a craft box of Warli-inspired motifs, sweets, after-shave lotion and deos. In the evening I went to town and bought a lovely burgundy top for Queenie. I also picked up a pack of 2 boxer shorts I had been eyeing for me. I placed them both under the Christmas tree in the evening quietude. We both presented the gifts to each other amidst squeals of laughter.

*'Crisis of Cashlessness,' Indian Express. Mumbai. The Ideas Page. 24 December 2016. Page 9. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender , St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 1 January 2017. Pix of detail of Warli painting courtesy Pinterest

Sunday, 25 December 2016

For Unto Us a Child is Born (Isaiah 9: 6-7)

 -Brian Mendonça

Isaiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem – the capital of the Kingdom of Judah - in the second half of the 8th century before Christ. He was born around 765 BC and is believed to have been sawed to death by Manasseh, King of Judah who reigned from 687-642 BC. Last Sunday’s reading for Mass from Isaiah 7: 10-14 recalls the prophecy for the birth of Jesus eight hundred years later.

The Context

At that time the kingdom of Judah (the Southern kingdom) was trapped by Israel (The Northern Kingdom) and powerful Assyria to the North East of Judah. Ahaz, King of Judah (764-710 BC) is in peril of losing his kingdom.

The Prophecy

Isaiah counsels Ahaz to ask God for a sign that he will save Judah. Ahaz says he will not test the Lord. Isaiah says the Lord will give a sign anyway. The sign is that a virgin will give birth to a son and the threat of the enemy kings will be over by the time the child grows up. His name will be Emmanuel meaning God is with us. The prophecy was made in 734 BC.

Translation issues

The word ‘virgin’ emerges from the Greek translation of the original Hebrew. In Hebrew the word is ‘almah’ which means ‘young woman’. One literal interpretation is that the young wife of King Ahaz will bear another son to him and before he comes of age Judah would not have cause to fear the attackers. The gospel of Mathew in the New Testament quotes the Greek text to proclaim that the child referred to in the Old Testament is Jesus. He is the living sign that God will never abandon his people.


In the swirl of events in December in Goa – each push their own agenda. The Yule Tide Bazaar early December at Green Acres, Tonca; the Family Christmas Party at St. Andrew’s church, Vasco last week; and the Christmas Fair at Stonewater Eco-Resort, Bogmallo, last Sunday were some of the acts this year. In this revelry is easy to forget how remarkably Jesus came to be born.

How does one visualize the perplexity of Joseph, who was engaged to be married to Mary – when she was already with child? Fr. E. Miranda reflected on the dilemma at the anticipated Sunday Mass last Saturday at 7 p.m. at St. Francis Xavier church, Chicalim.

Jewish law decreed that such a woman would be stoned to death. But Joseph prefers not to bring this to the notice of the authorities and thinks of sending Mary quietly away. But the angel says ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid of taking Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.’ (Mathew 1:18-24)

In our own lives too we look for signs. Both Mary and Joseph implicitly trusted in the Lord. They offered their lives to be instruments of change. ‘Signs can be very ordinary events, but we need faith to recognize in them the finger of God.’*

*Commentary on Isaiah 7, New Community Bible. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 25 December 2016. Pix by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese, courtesy

Lovers and Leavers

-Brian Mendonça

Every year around this time, when the weather is perfect, holidays are around the corner, and the year-end is nigh, I come home with a stack of books. This serves almost as a kind of reproach for all the reading I could/should have done during the year and didn’t do.

Leading the pack this year was The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions by Nidhi Kundalia. With India hurtling through change, what becomes of the water bearers of Calcutta or the street dentists of Baroda? In this age of a conspiracy of silence comes Words Matter: Writings Against Silence.  Featured are writings of Kalburgi, Pansari and Dabholkar – all killed for their views. Edited and introduced by the poet K. Satchidanandan, these essays seek to awaken the atrophy of the nation.

From the soil of Goa, the cover with its timbres of ochre, the book The Salt of the Earth: Stories form Rustic Goa beckons you. Engendered in Konkani by Jayanti Naik and translated by Augusto Pinto the eleven stories have the tribals, the toddy tappers and the fisher-folk of Goa as their canvas.  

Morpakham: Bhurgeam Kannio is a slim book in Romi Konkani by Vincy Quadros.  These stories for children entice with their large print and pictures. This is a brave venture by Snows Akademi, Raia to publish local content for a local readership – something which we don’t see as much as we would like to.  Given the wider market base of English, Vincy has nevertheless preferred to bring out the book in amchi bhas.

Helping to discover Goa is Bookworm’s Cholta Cholta: Walking Tours of Panjim. The ten walks give the seeker much to do while basking in the melange of history and sight-seeing. The charming sketches by Pritha Sardessai in mauvish-brown provide the perfect companian for this endeavour.

And then there is The Lovers and the Leavers by Abeer Hoque. This is a medley of photography, poetry and prose. All the twelve stories are linked, the events transiting through India, Bangladesh, America and Europe.

A picture book for my son Dwayne! Our Incredible Cow was lying there waiting to be lapped up. Originally in Bengali by Mahasweta Devi, this story of Nyadosh the cow with an insatiable appetite is part of a Tulika project ‘to build a rich and varied collection of literary writing for young readers.’ Ruchir Shah illustrates this book replete with vivid photo collages and doodles.

All the books were picked up from the book exhibition at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival held at International Centre, Donapaula, Goa from 9-11 December 2016. For the three days the place is transformed into a literary hub where the who’s who of the literary firmament descend to showcase where work. On view is the latest writing across the country and its neighbours, and often overseas.

The beautiful drapes of Delhi, by Mayank Austen Soofi  swayed into your consciousness as you strode purposefooly to the Abolim, Zuari or Mandovi halls.  In a few days it would all be over – and the lovers would be leavers.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender , St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 December 2016.  Pix courtesy

Monday, 12 December 2016

‘Cutting chai’ at Sawantwadi

-Brian Mendonça

Border-crossing. The idea thrilled me. Why don’t we drive across the Goa border and see what it’s like. My car was recently souped up after a servicing where we replaced all 4 tyres. The grip was good, the mind on a roll.

We had hardly seen much of Pernem and our knowledge of the rivers of Goa was mostly Mandovi and Zuari. Down by the fisherman’s wharf in the South we added Sal. Up north proceeding from Porvorim we hurtled by the Colvale river and then past the Tiracol river – the bridges belying the depth of the waters.

Our destination was Sawantwadi. Leaving at 3 p.m. we were inside the city gates by 4.30 p.m. Just before we got into Sawantwadi there was a steep ghat road for a few anxious minutes when our 5-year old son felt he was flying out of the window. Hearing his banshee wail made us all burst into laughter. He was not wearing a seat belt. It served as a stern reminder to listen to dada henceforth.

I loved the slow pace of life in Sawantwadi. Billed as a transit point for travellers coming into Goa or proceeding into Maharashtra, Sawantwadi was a bit bemused we had come specially to see her. We checked in to Mango 1 hotel and I stepped out to bring back hot vadas and malpuas. We sampled the cuisine of Malvan, and their distinct way of cooking varieties of fish. I preferred to stay with mutton Malvani on the menu.

Strolling in the city we picked up an ancient dice game at Kanekar’s shop for wooden toys. When we asked how it was to be played, the store had no idea but advised us to ask the Queen! Rajwada – the royal palace of the Bhonsales – is an imposing structure sprawling over a landscaped garden overlooking the picturesque (though polluted) Moti talab / lake. Nearby is Shilpgram, an artisans’ village. Queenie made sure she picked up Malvani masala and even traced some of her folks in Demello vaddo. The garuda temple and the lamp tower looked ethereal in the gathering dusk.

My favourite haunt became Nandu’s where I had picked up the malpuas on the first day. It was there that I saw the men ordering ‘cutting chai.’ The steaming chai is served in small glasses which are filled upto 60% of the glass. It was so quaint and user-friendly that I promptly ordered my ‘cutting chai’ as though I was a regular!

The expression, used widely in Mumbai and Maharashtra, has inspired a wireless start-up in Powai, Mumbai called Cutting Chai Technologies Private Limited. They have come up with a new proximity-based networking app called Ohai.

When I ordered 7 cups of tea to take to the hotel, the friendly Mr and Mrs Porob at another tea and snacks shop insisted on giving me their flask. When I asked, ‘Suppose I don’t return it?’ he replied, ‘Naseeb heh.’ / (It’s my fate.)
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 11 December 2016. Pix taken by me of our car at Rajwada, Sawantwadi on Friday,11 November 2016.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Multilingual Poetry Reading at GALF 2016

Brian Mendonca hosting a multilingual poetry reading at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival 2016 at International Centre, Donapaula, Goa on 10 December 2016. Seated left to right are Brian Mendonca (English), Ramesh Veluskar (Konkani), Darshan Darshi (Dogri), Manikuntala Bhattacharya (Assomiya), Suresh Rituparna (Hindi) and Sailabala Mahapatra (Odiya)
It was a singular honour to be invited to host a multilingual poetry reading session at GALF 2016. Stepping out of the pages of my self-published book of poems  A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (New Delhi, 2011), this was India on a platter of poets. Opening with my own poem 'A Peace of India' the poets on the dais regaled the sparse audience with the lilt of their own specific language. 

Overwhelmed by the occasion Sailabala from Puri, Odisha prefaced her reading with a preamble stating her joy at being present for the festival. My mind went back to my visit to Bhubaneshwar c. 1995 and the triangle of Konark-Puri-Bhubaneshwar which we tried to cover. Sailabala spoke about Puri being the home of Jaganath - the Lord of the world, and famous for the rath-yatra, viz. the only time in a year when the Lord comes out to meet his people. Quiet and soft-spoken I am reminded of Jayanta Mahapatra and his first lines of a poem, 'At Puri / the crows'.

Darshan Darshi spoke about the unrest in Kashmir. He took me back to the days I visited Kashmir in the days of militancy in 1998 and the anxious moments when there was firing across the Dal lake. Here are 2 poems from his blog

By Darshan Darshi

                     I hate mirrors of all types,shapes and sizes
                     becau'z their overt and exact reflections
                      support not the perceived images of my self.
           I love truth and am averse to lies of all sorts
           but many a times a lie is more soothing than truth
           and is destined to bring you nearer to your life
                        So on this day of  september twentynine 
                        when world is visiting the world heart day
                        I promise to say, good bye to all those things
                        which are not in sync with my heart and soul.....!!
                           Mirrors have no heart,emotions or sensitivity
                           so I will never look into the inside of these infidels
                           In fact I propose to break all mirrors
                            to save my image of my perceptions.   

Standing Upright
by Darshan Darshi

I can scale
all steep hills
with the ease of mountain goats.
can slope surreptitiously
between the boulder stones
of an un-culled path.
And, like that tiny hill brook
which trundles clumsily
down the hill...
I too can
descend a top without fright
to tread a trail
which knows not
the width of a path

or the beauty of
urban walkways.
As a matter of fact
I could easily pass
for a scug or squirrel.
For I can only walk
with a bend
Or, a helimical haunch!
I am a man of those hills
risky paths and basket loads
on my back,
have gently stolen the
erectness of my spine

Sorry sir, I know not
what is a flaccid gait
or a back called straight.
Ask me not to be a flag-staff!
You dear live in plains
and know not my mountains...!
They are rabid rulers
and love bent backs!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

(Translated from my fresh Dogri poem,"Akedai Khdoo" -A tribute to those hill-people who still are  sans connectivity, despite seventy years of India's independecence and seventy thousand  political promises).

Monikuntala Bhattacharya has a work with the intriguing title I want to be Desdemona. Monikuntala works in the shadow of insurgency in Assam. She opened the poetry reading session with her lines on love in Assomiya. Her poem said that if you love somebody leave him free. Don't uproot the person. The generosity of spirit and frail voice epitomized the courage of a writer writing in troubled times.

Suresh Rituparna was born in Mathura, and is now based in Delhi. Suresh gently asked us not to forget Hiroshima. Inspired by Greek myth, and the legend of Prometheus, he read a poem on the theme. Beautifully nuanced, the Hindi language came across as the voice of an oracle. In the poem below he hearkens back to Kalidasa's Sanskrit poem Meghdoot / Cloud Messenger. He expresses his mistrust about the black clouds today which may well be harbouring an atom bomb and its plume.

एक और मेघदूत  

कहीं दूर से
थके चले आते
काले धुएँ के बादल
मुझसे आ लिपट जाते हैं
मेरा चेहरा
सफ़ेद होता जाता है

मुझे लगने लगता है
कालिदास झूठा था
कैसे ले जाते होंगे
वे काले मेघ
यक्ष का प्रेम संदेशा ?
कि ये काले बादल तो
हर बार
भय का ही संदेशा
लाये हैं मेरे नाम

भविष्य का युद्ध
मेरे वर्तमान से आ चिपकता है
मैं देखता हूँ---
युद्ध पीढ़ी की नसों में
भर दिया गया है बारूद
फेफड़ों में छिपा दिये गए हैं
एटम बम
न जाने कब
कहाँ से
ऐसा ही कोई काला बादल
उमड़ आयेगा
धुएँ में छिपी
बारूद में घुस जायेगी
फेफड़ों में छिपे एटम बम
एक-एक कर फूटते जायेंगे।

कहीं कोई नहीं
मैं असहाय......

Instead of reading, Ramesh Veluskar started singing. He said in the garb of development we are losing so much, We are unaware of the kind and extent of this loss. In the face of rampant destruction of the environment Ramesh imitates the thrr thrr of the birds and the gushing waters to mimic their presence when he cannot find them.

To illustrate the multi-lingual nature of a poem I read my poem, 'May Queen'* which has English, Portuguese and Konkani words. The poem is included in my debut volume of self-published poems Last Bus to Vasco: Poems in Goa (New Delhi, 2006).

The poetry reading session came to a thrilling close with Anubhav Tulasi, the Assamese poet, from the audience coming on stage to share a poem. The poem was translated by Mitra Phukan. We were awed to be in the presence of such distinguished writers - and humbled by their humility.

P.S. When we visited the book stalls at the festival venue the next day in the hope of  picking up some volumes of poetry by the featured poets, there were none to be had. One would need to pursue these elusive poets with more zeal . . .