Sunday, 6 April 2014

Water from the Sanctuary

- Brian Mendonça

One of the things I remember of our hunt for a home in Goa is the view I got of the Mandovi river meandering behind the churches of Old Goa. We were standing somewhat precariously on the top floor of a structure under construction at what is one of the hottest property locations in Goa today – the Kadamba plateau.  The flats overlooking the river were sold out.  

Developers make it a point to mention if the dwelling is sea-facing or river-facing in their ads. The Mandovi as well as the Zuari, not to forget the Arabian sea itself, have their votaries. But would you pay a crore to see a river flow by your balcao when it has always been there for your viewing pleasure 24X7? Some -- in fact, many -- think it’s a good idea.

‘The river is within us, the sea is all around us,’ wrote the poet T.S. Eliot. Does our body chime to the river and the sea in different ways? Are we drawn to the water inexorably because our body is made up of 70% water? Do the tides affect us in imperceptible ways like the moon does?

Hearing the 6 p.m. Konkani Mass at the Cathedral at Old Goa I was thinking the view of the Mandovi I had, must have been so for so many centuries! I was just a wayfarer of time who like the river would soon be on my way. This river, so pristine, so stately, renewed my being as only Goa does. It was pure living water. 

A reference to living water from the Bible was inscribed on our wedding invitation as a blessing for our future life together. We were astounded when we found that the Lenten reading for the day after our site visits last week was the same! And he said to me, “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.” (Ezekiel 47). This was reassurance enough. It was like a prophecy which was about to redeem itself.

In Goa one is spoilt for choice. Exquisite views, warm people, spiritual solace, an unhurried lifestyle, the pleasure of seeing your child grow up in Goa, a lavish palette of seasons – all make Goa an unmatched destination. I use the word destination, since at some point in life you have to drop anchor and return to your roots.

‘You are an insider, as well as an outsider,’ a friend of mine once told me. Insider because of my Goan identity: outsider because I see Goa with fresh eyes every time.  Liquid terms like water supply, ground water, bore wells, water bodies, swimming pools are all part of the spiel of the seller. But it is the promise of Ezekiel, without which nothing can come to pass. 
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez. Goa on Sunday, 6 April 2014; Photo of churches at World Heritage site, Old Goa with Mandovi river in the background - courtesy Rajan Parrikar

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Woman from Samaria

In today's Gospel reading (John 4: 5-42) poised at the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Jesus has a discourse with the woman from Samaria. The reading which is unusually long (specially with a 3-year old kid, who won't sit still!) offers insights for our reflection.

1. Jesus chooses this road deliberately though it was not usually frequented. Perhaps he knew he would be meeting the woman from Samaria here.

2. Jesus is well-informed about the affairs of the woman. Nevertheless he still asks her a trick question, 'Bring me your husband.' She replies that she does not have one, after which Jesus points out that she has had five till date plus one with whom she is living with at present.

3. The woman sidesteps this intelligence but credits Jesus with superior power for knowing her deeply. Impressed with this knowledge she feels Jesus can bring change in her life and the life of others.

4. We cannot hide anything from Jesus. He has foreknowledge of what we have done and also for what we intend to do. Yet He offers forgiveness.

5. Jesus reveals to her the ultimate Truth, viz. that He is the source of Living Water. He chooses the woman from Samaria, who was looked down upon by the Jews, to reveal His divine mission. He prefers the lowly over the highly placed, and He prefers to reveal himself to a woman.

6. Overwhelmed by this knowledge the woman leaves her pitcher of water there and goes into the city. When we are touched by the Lord we find all our earthly possessions worthless.
Reference:Women in the Bible for Dummies at www.dummies(dot)com; pix. sawboyrick(dot)

The Disfigured Me

-Brian Mendonça

Shee is the name of a restaurant in Lulla Nagar, Pune. ‘Shee’ in Chinese means ‘double happiness’. The waiters however, were all men. Dinner at a wedding reception though, at the Poona Club, had girls in red mini dresses serving snacks.

In Uganda women wearing ‘anything above the knee’ are liable to be arrested in Kampala’s recent ban. This has been prompted by attacks and stripping of women who have been wearing miniskirts. Women’s groups are contesting the ban.

A pink and white 24/7 ‘She Taxi’ service has been started in Thiruvananthapuram by the Kerala government for women. These taxis are driven and owned by women. The taxis are tracked on a Global Positioning System (GPS) and have a panic button which can be pressed to alert the police. Drivers are also trained in self-defense.

In Goa, it is good that some floats took up themes of women’s empowerment.  Last Saturday, a woman constable who was allegedly sexually harassed by a drunken passenger in a DTC bus in R.K. Puram, South Delhi, overpowered him and handed him over to the police. Pakistan’s first animated TV series has Nasreen – a female superhero - created by graphic artist Shahan Zaidi. Women must be equipped to stave off any physical attacks --witness the film Gulaab Gang. But it is also our mindset which needs a revamp, as expressed  in the poem below.

The Disfigured  Me

-Elsie Coelho

I drag my feet in the wet sand
The coolness soothes my blistered feet
I was once this sea,
So free, so pure, with no worries
With people who loved to be in my presence.

I was a wonderful she
Like a flower of tenderness and beauty,
Of lovingness and chastity.

But then some brute or worse could not bear my happiness,
Or perhaps did not want his own.

That evening-
Was the darkest to me and for all those who are yet to be
The victim of this 100 times death,
By a werewolf, once a man.

I struggled like a butterfly
Hurting my softness, my body,

That grip, that harness
That evening-
Its darkness still haunts me.

He destroyed my purity, so sacred 
My treasury 
I had protected it from so many before.
Every time I walked a crowded street or boarded a crammed train
I had protected this purity.

But that evening,
That evening-
I failed.

Today I am an outcast to my community
A stranger to my family
An image of filth, disrespect and shame to society
A stranger to my own identity.

I can tell you worse tales
Of people whose deeds deserve suffering and pain.

So tell me, will you blame the one who raped?

What is my folly?
I laughed normally
Played so joyfully 
Lived so lively
Dressed so modestly

 Answer me. 

Something . Anything.
Apart from blaming my luck and destiny.
Because these taunts are all that I receive
If you can help let me know, my name is a she.
This is I. A Disfigured Me.

8 March is International Women’s Day; Pix. Oil painting by Picasso 'Three Women' (1908);  Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez,  Goa on Sunday 9 March 2014

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Goa Express

 -Brian Mendonça

Ever since I can remember, I have been travelling on the 12779 Goa Express train.  For me it was like second home considering that it took  -- and still takes – all of 40 hours to cover the 2000 km. from Vasco to Delhi.  Most of my journeys were alone coming to Goa for that brief weekend and that oh so short spell of holidays I used to take during Christmas or Easter. The blue tiers of the sleeper class used to be my constant companion as I used to write my poems, nose pressed against the iron grills of the windows, to feel as many sensations as I could.

Travelling from the South West coast to the hinterland of the North was a many-splendoured journey. Apart from meandering through the many states of India, the Goa Express was a foodie’s delight affording you the opportunity of tucking into all the savouries enroute. Unike the Mangala Express or the Rajdhani both of which emanate from Kerala, the Goa Express which starts its journey from Vasco, Goa has a more leisured pace.

As the Goa Express ambles along, numerous people spill out or are swept in of its heaving sides enroute. This was India on the move. There were so many friends waiting to be made, so many stories to be shared. At Pune station I used to be greeted by Rajan my colleague at Poona University and my sister who has settled down there. At Bhopal I remembered Keswani who had invited me there and set up a visit to view the Bhimbetka cave paintings. Sanjay was from Agra – he always referred to the lunatic asylum there.

But that was when I was single.  Last week when I travelled on the Goa Express with my family I noticed our son pressing his nose to the window grills in S6. Where did he learn that from! Now I wasn’t desperate to make conversation, even if it was small talk. For me just a smile from Queenie was enough fulfillment. After Dwayne pranced on all three of the upper berths, while I chased him around to sleep, he finally called it a day and slept on the bottom berth cuddling up next to mama. So much for my efforts.

The lone signal man waving the green light in the darkness on the porch of a signal room past Belgaum station reminded me of Uttara – a movie I viewed at the last IFFI. Uttara/ The Wrestlers (Bengali, 2000) is a chilling film by Buddhadev Dasgupta, on the lives of two railway signal men who pass their time wrestling ignoring the mayhem around them.

The train clatters into Miraj junction at 10 p.m. We used to change trains here from the metre guage track to the broad guage line when the train was first introduced in 1987. 

Trains unify people. I need to call up Gaikwad to see if he will meet the 12780 Goa Express at 7.15 p.m. when it passes through Satara, where he lives, when I return on the same train to Vasco.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 2 March 2014. Pix source irfca(dot)org

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Goan Literature: Fixing the Blind Spots

-Brian Mendonca

Goan literature has largely come to be represented by a clutch of writers who have the benefit of mainstream publishers to publish their work. The larger community of writers writing in Goa and on Goa has been largely consigned to the dustbin of history simply because they have no publishing agents for themselves and because they are more concerned to do what they do best, i.e. write.

Further, Goan literature is rarely seen as a simulacrum of thoughts of a number of languages – Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese to name a few– rather than only in English. This linguistic chauvinism does disservice to the body of literature written about Goa, inspired by Goa, as a whole. With a house divided, English language publishers have been content to romp home with bankable writers to the gross neglect of closet genres like poetry, or to the utter chagrin of Goan writers in other languages.

Goan literature rarely figures on the radar of Indian literature, in journals, or other publications on the internet. Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature which routinely showcases creative writing from all the states of India has rarely featured Goan writers in English or in translation. This may be due to the reticence of Goan writers to share their work with a wider community. Inserting Goa in the discourse of the nation – or even internationally - has not received the priority it deserves. Recent anthologies despite their seemingly inclusive titles have given contemporary Goan poetry in English or in translation a wide berth. (D’Souza 2012; Sen 2012) Often it is poets writing outside Goa who routinely speak for the state with depressing regularity. A matter of lament is that the Goa University itself does not prescribe any Goan poetry in English or in translation at the final year of its undergraduate course misleadingly titled ‘Goan Writing.’

This collection of writings by Muse India – the first of its kind – attempts to address some of these blind spots. It has stayed away from the beaten path and has tried to recuperate a tradition of Goan writing which is inclusive both linguistically and generically. While it is in no way comprehensive, it points the way to a third space where a comity of linguistic traditions can throw light on the prism of creative writing on Goa.

Using painting as a literary trope, Benedito Ferrão follows the Goan artist Vamona Navelkar across three continents to chart a narrative of the post-colonial. Vamona’s lost suitcase becomes the signifier of an essence of what has been. Ben Antao takes a call on Goan fiction in English from Lambert Mascarenhas’s Sorrowing Lies My Land (1951) to Savia Veigas’s Let Me Tell You About Quinta (2011). He also profiles a few contemporary Goan poets and their poetry in English. Dr Kiran Budkuley traces the evolution of modern Konkani classics from the time of the suppression of the language in Goa by the Portuguese decree of 1684 to its flowering in the poetry and novels of ManoharRai SarDessai and Mahableshwar Sail respectively. Dr.Paul Melo e Castro profiles the Portuguese-language Goan short story from the turn of the 19th century. Vidya Pai writes about her project of translating Konkani into English. English theatre in Goa is presented by Isabel Santa Rita Vas the theatre enthusiast of the Mustard Seed Art Company. On the process of writing , Jessica Faleiro shares with us what went into writing Afterlife (2012) -- her collection of ghost stories from Goa. Amidst all this, Dr Rajan Barrett calls for introspection on the ‘gap’ in Goan literature.

From the parched land observed by the palm tree in ‘Maad’ -- Pundalik’s Naik’s short story in Konkani -- to the remorse felt by the rain child in Tanya Mendonsa’s poem in English, we see the many moods of Goa. From Banda, a village across the border of Goa, Sant Sohirabanath Ambiye exhorted us in his abhang in Marathi: Haribhajanavin Kaal Ghalawu nako re/Antaricha Jnandeep Malawu nako re [Do not while away time without praising Hari, the Lord; Do not extinguish the lamp of insight in your heart.] (Sonak, 2013) Taking a more secular stance, Silva Coelho in his Portuguese short story lays bare the intricacies of love observing, ‘Amar é Sofrer’ ‘To love is to Suffer.’

Candid interviews by Damodar Mauzo and Margaret Mascarenhas project Goan literature as a trans-global phenomenon with over-arching themes yet rooted in a search for the Goan self. In a  refreshing ‘Perspective’ entitled ‘Goa to Me’ Dr Teresa Albuquerque lays out the enduring allure of Goa over the years. Short stories, poems, novel-excerpts and book reviews give a sampling of Goan writing. Anita Pinto opens the field to a delightful garden of Goan stories for children.

Goa defies description – or classification. What we can offer are only routes to understand Goa through the creative writings on Goa.  This is not the Goa which abounds in clichés – created and consumed by the cabal. Since the past, writers and poets, and dramatists have responded to the vicissitudes of the times in Goa, its tumultuous history, its ever-changing landscape. This assemblage taps into the Goan diaspora in Goa as well as elsewhere.

Stalwarts who have led the way have placed Goan literature in English on a firm footing. Victor-Rangel Ribeiro’s novel Tivolem (1998), Manohar Shetty’s and Eunice D’Souza’s poems on Goa, and Aurora Couto’s magisterial Goa: A Daughter’s Story (2004) are literary signposts in their own right.

What is fascinating are the numerous titles being brought out in English today exploring Goan themes. On my table are Modern Goan Short Stories (2002) by Luis S. Rita Vas; the trilingual effort by ManoharRai SarDessai, My Song, Ma Chanson, O Meu Canto (2008); Goa Masala: An Anthology of Stories by Canadian Goans (2010); Songs of the Survivors(2007) edited by Yvonne Vaz Ezdani on Goans in Burma and inside/out: New Writing from Goa (2011) edited by Helene Menezes and José Lourenço. One collection of memoirs on Goa – A Matter of Time (2013)-- follows on the heels of another of short stories. Home-grown publishing ventures in Goa like Goa 1556, Goa Writers, and Broadway Books have been in the forefront in making possible this literary cornucopia.

It is unfortunate that Parmal an elegant socio-literary journal published by Goa Heritage Action Group no longer publishes its volumes. More such literary magazines – preferably multi-lingual -- devoted to writing on Goa are the need of the hour.

I have been overwhelmed by the response to this issue on Goan literature. Submissions for this issue were invited through press notes in Navhind Times, the local daily, the entire month of May 2013. Similar appeals were made in online forums like Goanet and Goa Book Club. I thank all the contributors to this golden jubilee issue of Muse India. Special mention must be made of Benedito Ferrão and Frederick Noronha whose valuable suggestions and networking changed the complexion of the issue. A big thank you to the genial Mel D’Souza for his meticulous illustrations on Goa. Thanks are also due to Anne Ketteringham for making available the images of Vamona Navelkar’s paintings.
It is my privilege to thank Muse India and its dynamic team led by Surya Rao for conceptualizing an issue – their 50th – on Goan literature.
Basking on the banks of the Zuari river at Bonney’s restaurant, Cortalim before a Goan fish curry rice -- and a thunderous shower -- you can just about notice the fishing net on the clothesline behind me. Awed by the vastness of the Goan waters I have somewhat tremulously cast my net. Welcome to the literary repast in Goa.
Works Cited
D’Souza, Eunice and Melanie Silgardo. Eds. These My Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry. Delhi: Penguin, 2012.
Sen, Sudeep. Ed. The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry 1950-2010.Noida: Harper Collins. 2012.
Sonak, Sushama. (2013) 'Goan Literature in Marathi'. Working Paper.
Editorial Comment by Brian Mendonca, Guest Editor of issue 50 on Goan Literature in  of Muse India - the literary ejournal (July-August 2013); Pix of river Zuari from Bonney's restaurant, Goa by Brian Mendonca

‘Radioche dis gele’

                                                                                                                                                             -Brian Mendonça

A chance mention of World Radio Day on radio made me take those two battered and bruised portable radio sets down to town for repair. To begin with, no one repairs radios anymore and secondly new radios are hard to find. Undeterred by the pathetic comment ’Radioche dis gele’ and determined not to be denied the just pleasures of static, I set off in search of my holy grail.  I walked into an electronics shop and there on the counter -- somewhat sheepishly –  were 3 radios by the Dutch giant. Overshadowed by the hulks on the wall -- the HD LED LCD TV screens -- these handheld  radios looked demure as brides, but packed a punch!
I finally settled on the steel grey which boasted of Medium Wave (MW); Short Wave (SW), Frequency Modulation radio (FM) and even a TV band. The metre band stretched from 19m to 60m corresponding to 520 kilohertz (khz) to 1600khz. The shiny aerial telescoping into itself promised the required boost for a low signal. I was ready to take on the world!
 And the world it is. Wherever you may be, radio provides a source of knowledge, news, entertainment and perspective. Early this morning I listened to a programme on Kabir on Akashwani on MW. Nevertheless I have usually been a short wave buff. British Broadcasting Coporation (BBC) from London offers the news at 7 a.m. followed by ‘Outlook: Stories from around the World.’ Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting from Washington brings in stories about the USA and its activities worldwide. China Radio International (CRI) broadcasts from Beijing – you can even learn Chinese. All of these radio stations are on SW and have their own websites. All state owned radio stations project a usually positive image of their country, its achievements, culture, personalities and global impact. My favourite programme on BBC used to be ‘Letter from America’ by Alistair Cooke. These ‘letters’ have now been archived by the BBC.
Come rain or shine, radio announcers have to be at their stations at the appointed hour for their live broadcasts. They have a huge fan following and can quite swing the popularity of a station. I cut my teeth as a radio announcer for English programmes at the Panaji station of All India Radio (AIR) in the eighties. At AIR, New Delhi we had a 5-day week. To beguile the time I used to do one of the AIR shifts over the long weekends. I learnt precision, commitment and endurance. The night shift was from  6 p.m.--11 p.m. If I was doing the morning shift (5.55 a.m. to 9 a.m.) the AIR car used to pick us up at 4.30 a.m. from home in the biting winter cold.
 World Radio Day on February 13 was proclaimed by UNESCO as recently as 2011. Radio, according to remains the medium that reaches the widest audience worldwide. This year there is a push to use this medium to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Published in Weekender  Gomantak Times, St. Inez , Goa on 23 February 2014. Pix courtesy www.thecommentator(dot)com

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Pearl S. Buck - The Patriot

At the end of the novel The Patriot (1939) one feels let down. What for example happens to Tama, I-wan's wife? Does I-wan (the patriot in question) cross the seas and go back to be reunited with his Japanese wife and two children? We are only left in abeyance with the terse last line of this 371 pate novel, 'And he went to find his father.' As if, till the last, he looks for his future course of action to others.

Patriot, Pearl S. Buck's novel is replete with history -- with love intertwined. It takes place we are told in the opening paragraph in China in 1926. It documents the sad lot of the poor and the hope for a better order by En-lan and his band of communists. Chiang kai-shek does come to redeem the lost but suffers a change of heart and instead takes Shanghai at the cost of the loyalists. I-wan is discovered as a traitor by Chiang kai-shek and is roused by his father Wu in the middle of the night and commanded to flee to Burma to escape certain execution. That his father is a rich banker on whom Chiang relies heavily is the ticket to freedom.

Thus begins the second part of the novel, viz. in Burma where I-wan conveniently forgets his revolutionary days organizing the mill workers in Shanghai and laves his conscience by believing En-lai would be dead following the purge. Here he is seduced by the beauty of Japan and takes Tama, a Japanese wife. That he does so to the daughter of his host and father's friend, seems convenient to the plot.

Buck (1892-1973) lived at the same time as the Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Like him she was heir to a nation in ferment, finding its feet. So the novel is well structured with the necessary verisimilitude. Where Buck scores is not really in her charting of a tumultuous period of nation building but in probing the cul-de-sacs of ethics and loyalty. By having I-wan love and marry a Japanese woman -- a nation at war with China -- Buck heightens this tension to the fullest.

'I shall send for you and the children,' he said to Tama. As soon as I can do it you shall all come.'
But Tama shook her head.
'When shall we be wanted?' she said.
Her words, her voice, her quiet fatal eyes, recalled him and swept him out of this moment again into the vaster hour where their individual lives were lost.
'I must go,' he said quickly.  
He seized her in his arms, pressed his cheek against hers, looked at her once, and in her face saw eternity between them. (302)

The savagery with which En-lan allows his men to torture the prisoners from Japan cannot be borne by I-wan. He says, 'It is not only that a Japanese is a man also. It is that I am ashamed to see Chinese do such things.' (355) True, I-wan is an idealist. But then why fight? We are drawn into a vortex not of our/his own making and often we have conflicting loyalties -- which only time can resolve.

Buck's characterization is a study in understatement. Bunji, I-ko, Peony even MacGurk the American are finely and convincingly portrayed. Filial relationships are dealt with great psychological insight. Age and youth are lavished equal care by the writer with a deep understanding of these life stages. The case of the Muraki loot is not resolved. We are not told from where the shipments arrive though we do know whence they go -- to the Western markets. Patriot is a book which leaves us questing for the answers to the questions that it raises. But at the end we pause feeling the desolation of the futility of war.

See commentary in; pix courtesy; edition used London: Methuen, 1939