Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Miss Anne Menezes – My Teacher, My Friend

-Brian Mendonça

‘I want you to come for my 90th birthday,’ said the frail voice on the phone. Still drowsy after my afternoon nap I struggled to focus. It was a voice from out of the past – one that was strangely familiar. It was a weekday so I said I probably might not make it. ‘It’s quite all right. I understand,’ the caller ended the conversation.

But you just don’t miss an invitation to a 90th birthday – even if it is lunch. Not if it is for a dearly loved teacher. My students too urged me to go. Miss Anne Menezes taught me in college. She was the one who shared the treasures of Shakespeare’s plays, i.e. As You Like It, Twelfth Night and Antony and Cleopatra. But it was not only the lectures which remained.  It was more of the character formation which we imbibed from Miss Anne. Highly principled, she was always first in the class, while we sneaked in sheepishly.

‘Make friends with at least one member from every community,’ she used to say. This missive motivated me throughout my life. It made the world a better place for me and in my years away from home every community became my family.  She often used to ask me if I would join politics because Goa needed good leaders. She used to extol the virtues of Uday Bhembro.

When we met her lately she advised one to join politics only if one had the support of a group. Having been sarpanch of Aldona on two occasions, on both she was voted out on a no-confidence motion. Why? - simply because she would not give her assent to her team members to amass wealth unethically.

Miss Anne taught me in college in 1986. We never really lost track of each other. She was always interested in how I was doing and used to inquire about each member of my family. She was the ideal teacher whose students were students for life. When we came to Goa to settle down we paid her a visit and she gifted baba a huge box of shapes to play with.

And now here she was on her 90th birthday being celebrated at Asilo, Home for the Aged, Aldona. With 3 cakes in front of her she looked quite bemused. Happy in the fold of her friends and family she was a picture of contentment. And by her side was the faithful Annama (72) who had constantly been looking after her after Miss Anne’s mother passed on. Later Miss Anne thanked us for the shawl we presented her and the sheaf of Weekender articles I saved for her.  

Miss Anne kept her interest in literature alive by writing a column for the Navhind Times on great books and great writers. She also contributed to Renovaçao. She reviewed my book A Peace of India. 

When I told her I would be writing about her, she quipped, ‘Better to read it before I die.’ 
Published in Gomantak TimesWeekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 4 September 2016. Pix taken at Asilo, Aldona on 31 July 2016.

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