The book has received favourable reviews and was showcased in the India pavilion as an expression of contemporary Indian writing at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Oct 2006). It has been lauded in the annual bibliography for India in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature published by Sage, London (Dec 2007). The book is now travelling to the international Goan convention at Toronto this July - after a few poems are published enroute in a newsletter for Goans in Tanzania.
The volume - a gathering of lines across 20 years - comes with an audio CD of the poems recited by me to a score of the sounds of Goa. The CD is usually not necessary at my numerous poetry readings across India since I read my poems myself. The poems in this post (except the last) were recorded and broadcast by All India Radio, New Delhi on 24 Sept 2006.
The poems, with notes, are:
‘Last Bus to Vasco’ (1997)
‘Requiem to a Sal’(1987)
‘Father Joseph Rowland-Salema’ (1999)
‘The Bells of St. Andrews’ (2005)
‘The Smell of Burnt Leaves’(2006)
‘Last Bus to Vasco’ was written on a bus journey from Panjim to Vasco in 1997. In the early days when this poem was written, the last bus to Vasco from Panjim bus stand used to leave Panjim as early as 8 pm. Whatever one's business in Panjim or beyond the river Mandovi one was always anxious to make it in time to catch the last bus home to Vasco – or risk getting left behind.
Last Bus to Vasco
Cool zephyrs of night
Under the canopy of the western sky,
Places, smells, memories, distances.
Orion smiles in benevolence.
Full-busted fisherwomen urge their pantulems onto the bus.
"Maincho gho" seethes the conductor.
Mandovi bridge lights kiss me farewell
As I gaze down,
From Bambolim slope.
"2213," "PAGE ME" scream the hoardings.
"Fulancho Khuris," spires doffed in benediction
Matrimandir of the faithful.
"O Lord, hear my prayer"
"Siridao Siridao, vos vos."
Ancient palm trees, lonely sentinels
Penetrate the inky darkness.
"Kingfisher Bar and Rest."
Shrouds the brooding Goa Velha cemetery.
Sodium lights shimmer on the Styx.
Tourists whistle; "Iea maray!"
Hurry up please it is time.
Here time stands still.
Unlike the stormy Krishna, or the restless Jamuna
The lambent Zuari
Receives the prow of the ferry boat
In Cosmic harmony.
Must call home. It's late.
"Ieta?"says the matador van.
9.05 pm.Red tail lights flicker,
Cavalcade of vehicles head for home.
DEA, MH, GAO-2
The rim of land parleys with the river.
Goa Shipyard. Pothole crater ahead!
Where tyre wheels measure
The undulations of social interactions.
KTC bus stand, Vasco.
My two-wheeler sulks at my inattention.
On the road once more,
The short ride home . . .
To Goa, my own Ephraim.
Glossary pantulem: (Konkani) wicker basket; maincho gho: (Konk. derogatory); Mandovi: River in North Goa; fulancho khuris: (Konk.) Cross of flowers, Bambolim; Matrimandir: Meditation centre, Auroville, Pondicherry; Siridao: village in central Goa; vos: (Konk.) go; Styx: (Greek myth) river of the underworld; Zuari: River in South Goa; Iea maray: (Konk.) Let's go; Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: (Sanskrit) 'All creation is one family'; KTC: state-owned Kadamba Transport Corporation; Ephraim: (Biblical allusion) John 11.54 Desert town where Jesus stayed
My next poem ‘Requiem to a Sal’ was written in Mangor Hill in 1987. The poem is about the timber-providing Sal tree which is much sought after for construction purposes.
Requiem to a Sal
Armed with axes
And split its bark with gashes
In a frenzied madness
The glistening blade
The oozing gum, the ebbing life . . .
Stroke after stroke
They hack relentlessly,
With a mighty shudder
What was, ceases to be
'New building coming up' -- they said.
O hear my cry piteous Mankind!
As years roll by, and you multiply,
Will we be bereft of Nature's supply?
REST in Peace, dismembered One,
Condemned to oblivion by thankless sons.
Your sprightly shade, your laden boughs
The carefree twitter of morning birds.
We will miss you.
The world is too much with us!
Alas Man! You exact too high a price
To fashion yourself shelters through ruthless device.
Glossary Sal: Name of timber-providing tree much sought after for construction purposes; The world is too much with us: Wordsworth's sonnet by the same name
The next poem is composed on a little village in north Goa called Siolim. ‘Fr Joseph Rowland-Salema’ was written in 1999 during the parish feast of St Anthony the patron saint of the church of Siolim.
Fr Joseph Rowland-Salema
Fr Joseph Rowland-Salema
Is parish priest of St. Anthony’s, Siolim
‘That’s what they call me,’ he says
as he listens to Bach on CD.
He roams the chambers of his 16th-century church
With a grave poise, you’ll have to agree
Holding a finger on his lips, and a furrow of a frown
To silence the pixea of Siolim.
Of St. Anthony and his icons – the brown habit, the lily,
the tonsure, the Child
The village people know little
Save that in Padua he was born, in the 12th century (I think)
At the time of Francis of Assisi.
Like channels of peace, the rivulets run by
As marigolds of saffron set aflame a wayside khuris.
The tulsi manch metamorphoses into a plinth for a cross
As an old man in kaxti walks with a stick on the bridge.
Konkani music (Lorna) blares as drinks are served
Village belles wish you ‘Happy Feast’
looking straight in your eyes.
‘I am independent’ says Cardoze as he delves into his Xacuti
‘The next time you come to Bombay, you must stay with me.
Of Remo of Siolim I see little
But Natty, Constance, Milagrin are glad to have me,
Of the baby with the cleft lip, inquires are made
‘This is their daughter, you now,’ I’m told.
And Fr Joseph Rowland-Salema
(They say he was earlier at Vasco parish)
Adjusts his soutane in the afternoon heat
And as the kadio-bodios wind down their stalls
– ‘This time much earlier!’
The baskets of mangoes in the boot of the wind-god
-Saved from the bhat specially for us –
Jiggle in our memories
As we rumble over the hills.
Glossary pixea: (Konk.) the insane; tulsi manch: platform to place the basil plant; kaxti: (Konk.) loin cloth worn by traditional villagers; Lorna: Popular Goan singer of Konkani songs; Xacuti: spicy Goan chicken curry; soutane: white cassock worn by Catholic priests; kadio-bodios (Konk.) sweets of sugar and jaggery made on feast days in Goa; bhat: (Konk.) portion of land which belongs to the bhat-kar (landowner)
From the river to the sea, now listen to the love and longing which permeates ‘Sonya’ a person I met beneath the stars, and travelled with in Goa in 2002
from the whistle to the kiss
i have known you for many lifetimes
in the afternoon shade of panjim church
in the dusky waves of calangute
over the winding roads of sinquerim
to the pitch dark waters of betim,
Basel, setubal, goa, madras
homes of the self, anchor of the fugitive
where are you going? where are you now?
dawn girl, gazer of sunsets,
sand in your shoes, moonlight in your face
aqui o mar acaba e a terra principia.
Glossary aqui o mar: (Portuguese) 'Here the sea ends and the land begins' opening lines of Jose Saramago's novel O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis / The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1984)
Across a span of almost 20 years from ‘Requiem to a Sal’ in 1987,‘The Bells of St Andrews’ written in 2005 seems to come to terms with the truths of life. Here death and life mingle in acceptance of the cosmic design.
The Bells of St. Andrews
The dazzling white
of St. Andrews Church
Its tolling bells
remind me of who I am
Those whom we love
Red mud, white stars
Blossoms of gold
The rising sun
slants through the
eastward church door
shuffling in for the 6.30 AM Mass
At 7 the Goa Express trudges in
to Vasco station
Its horn coinciding with
the final blessing.
Egrets over the marsh
reeds lisp to coconut trees
Steeple over the rooftops
River Zuari beyond
Place of origin
White meets blue
in the liquid sky.
Glossary St Andrews: The parish church of Vasco built in 1564. Vasco: The town and railway station of Vasco-da-Gama in South Goa named after the Portuguese explorer Vasco-da-Gama (1460-1524).
Even though the poet works in Delh, he breathes in Goa. ‘The Smell of Burnt Leaves’ was written in July 2006 on a flight from Goa to Delhi inspired by a weekend getaway to Goa to read poetry at Candolim. The axes of the places of Vasco and Candolim are lovingly described, melding childhood and memory, space and time. This poem is not in the Last Bus collection, but is loving proof that Goa is , and will always be, the poet's abiding inspiration.
The Smell of Burnt Leaves
From Santacruz to Matunga the time is about the same
‘Haywire’ Agnihotri steers 255 to Goa
Divya Sandilya serves up the cookies
At 30,000 feet Icarus confers with Ra
Souza meets Souza, the river flows between
From a duck to a dragon, then a royal steed
A field of giant cauliflowers sprouts up in the sky
A little dog running, I can hear the yelps
In the prism of time, space is an illusion
Vasco to Mapusa, Delhi to Goa
A fishnet beckons, poetry by candlelight
School buddies connect 26 years on
The Green house goalie with wife and 2 kids
In the blinding rain, is the sound of the monsoon
Life becomes clearer on a Saligao road
16 A for a seat with a view
The sun sets on your left, ‘Take him safely back to base’
Newton and Nunz sing at the top of the stairs
Beside the hush of the sea, nothing else matters.
Glossary The smell of burnt leaves: After an evening of poetry and dinner at ‘Souza Lobo’ the poet's father recounted to his grandchildren how he used to love the smell of burnt leaves when his mother used to keep the water for him on the fire for a bath. This poem is dedicated to dad; Santacruz, Matunga: When the poet was a boarder in Don Bosco High School in Matunga, Bombay, he used to wait for his aunty Aggie to pick him up on weekends. The bus from Matunga to Santacruz was No. 255. And now years later the poet travels on SG 255 to Goa; Haywire: the name of the captain on board SG 255 sounded like this; Divya: airhostess on SG 255; Icarus: (Gk. myth) The man who wanted to fly but was burnt when he came too near the sun; Ra: Egyptian God of the Sun; Souza: The bakery ‘Souza and Sons’ in Vasco, and the restaurant ‘Souza Lobo’ in Calangute; Duck: shapes of clouds in the sky. The poet used to play with his mother describing these shapes as she sat him on her lap; Fishnet: draped over the gate at ‘Literati’ Candolim, where the poet read his poems during a power failure in blinding rain; Take him safely . . .: A father’s prayer for his son at the family altar before departure; Newton and Nunz: singing duo performing songs of yesteryears like Abba at ‘Souza Lobo’; … at the top of the stairs: From Eddie Rabbitt’s 1978 song ‘Room at the top of the Stairs’