Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Poetry Enrichment for Teachers

                                                  Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan School
                                                              Zuarinagar, Goa

                                                                23 June 2015

A day before San Joao feast (today) it rained ideas and inspiration at a workshop on poetry enrichment for school teachers which I mentored at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan school, a short distance away from Queenie Nagar on NH17B in Goa on a torrid Tuesday (yesterday)

The module was the brainchild of the dynamic Principal of Bhavans, Ms. Elizabeth Walsan whom I had met when we were judges at a debate competition at Kendriya Vidyalala 1, Varunapuri, Vasco last year. It is not everyday you come across a Principal who sees poetry as enrichment -- but that is what she resolutely had in mind -- and that is what (with the total participation of the teachers) it turned out to be.

As I sipped by ginger tea I was struck at the happy faces in the school, as the staff buzzed about with the logistics of the workshop. The enthusiasm was infectious and within no time the group of around 25 teachers, Mrs.Walsan included, were taking the road to poetryland.

My presentation was planned for a modest 2 hours (though I had my doubts it would be enough) between 9-11 a.m. As it turned out we were kicking poetry around till 1 p.m.! In the bargain we brought the mice on board as well singing to my accompaniment on guitar, in rounders, the traditional ditty 'Three Blind Mice'. We were inspired, as it were, by Rose Flyeman's delightful poem for Class 1 'I Think Mice are Rather Nice.'

Backed by a power-point presentation of 15 slides, which I had worked through the night till 5 a.m. of the day of the workshop, I set about unravelling poetry across the school life of a child.
My focus areas were three, viz.
Classes 1-2 (Lower Primary) - LEVEL 1
Classes 3-5 (Upper Primary) - LEVEL 2
Classes 6-8 (Middle School) - LEVEL 3

After having borrrowed a set of books the English teachers of the school were using across Classes 1-8, I supplemented it with poems from various ELT materials for the corresponding levels. Sets of these poems were photocopied by the school and made available before the session started. For good measure I also threw in a raft of poems from the Kingfisher Book of Comic Verse for children, selected by Roger McGough. As I arranged the material I chose separate coloured U-clips for each set to distinguish different groups by the colour. So I stepped into class confident of deploying group dynamics with the Blue house, the Green house, the Pink house, the White house and the Red house in attendance.

The teachers were off to a flying start and from the word go each group come up front and presented a poem in their own unique way. So they were actually practising teaching that poem in a class -- and we all became kids in the corresponding class! This enabled us to get into the shoes of a child and his/her learning experience or the absence of it. One of the groups used the cupboard in the room as a prop for Walter de la Mare's poem 'The Cupboard' for Class 2 which is so delightfully me-centric.

After we dealt with Level 1 we took a break around 10 a.m. Fortified by the breath of fresh air in the moody monsoon in Goa I then ramped up the pace by asking the teachers to become poets themselves because there were so few poems written by Indians for Indian children. I brought to their notice two of my poems written within an Indian context, viz. 'Barefoot Child' (Skyline Coursebook 4, published by Oxford University Press and on this blog elsewhere) and 'Hymn to Ravi' written on the Ravi river and about a boy by the same name in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh (Published in Friday Afternoon Comprehension Class 5 also by OUP).      

The fact is there is very little poetry to speak of in main coursebooks prescribed in school, maybe 2 poems and 11 prose units. This skewed scenario needs to be redressed, I told the teachers, by bringing in their own poems outside their 'syllabus' for learning is lifelong.

The features of each of the levels were discussed as poetry modulated from rhyme and rhythm in Level 1 through more complex sentences in Level 2 to Indian English poetry like 'Night of the Scorpion' by Nissim Ezekiel in Class 8 (which is also taught at the final year of the Bachelor of Arts course). The last level also made space to include African-American writer Lawrence Dunbar's poem 'Sympathy.' Kenn Nesbit's poem 'The Computer ate My Homework' brought in the use of humour in poetry (Class 7).

Inspired by all the action, the Hindi teachers took it upon themselves to present Harivansh Rai Bachchan's poem for Class 7 on the vehicle of the sun in Hindi. They were met with huge applause. As they spoke about a poem written in Hindi it came across as very culture friendly.

Since a number of poems emphasized the world as one family we ended singing 'We are the World' accompanied by 2 guitars -- the music teacher's and mine. It was a fitting riposte to the morning's intensity which tried to demystify poetry among teachers. A crucial factor which made it such an invigorating morning was the size of the class and the size of the classroom which was not too big and not too small. It was possible to 'be yourself' and and be swept away in the ecstasy of poetry.
Pix. The teachers having fun teaching a poem with Brian (right) looking on during the programme.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Varca 2015

-Brian Mendonça

As we sped from Vasco to Varca end-May I was wondering whether we would be afforded any glimpses out of a poem by Eunice de Souza titled ‘Varca 1942.’

The last time I was on these roads was when I had gone to pay a condolence visit at Carmona. On that occasion too I was spurred by resident of Carmona and noted author Savia Viegas’ Tales from the Attic written about the goings-on in Zonkar vaddo of Carmona. We almost dropped in to the sprawling old Goan house and Saxti Kids, --Savia’s initiative -- but felt that our mission was one of bereavement after all. The dead would frown on this levity.

We were on our way to Varca, 30 km. away, to visit friends from Bombay who were putting up in a prominent club resort, complete with a fun zone, on the lip of Varca beach. Meeting the same people in Bombay is not quite the same, as the pace of life is so frenetic. The conversation is not as placid and intimate as it is in Goa.

I was overwhelmed that the family agreed to forego their morning programme on the eve of their departure to spend time with us. As the tête-a-tête ripened we found the clock nudging 1 p.m. Even though they were on holiday the couple said they went for Mass daily to the imposing Our Lady of Gloria church, Varca. On Sunday they heard the 9.30 A.M. English Mass at Colva. The ’boys,’ their sons, were very well-behaved. As we sat in the lounge one of them, a teenager, emerged from the room and asked his mother permission to go out. Here were the Catholic Goan values at their best. For lunch we were offered sausage-bread which the mother had prepared. The smell assailed our nostrils the moment we entered the suite.

We drove back after a satisfying conversation. I was keen on going to Fisherman’s Wharf a little way up the road to Mobor beach, Cavelossim. But we had left baba at home and good times need to be enjoyed with the family.

On the inner roads, advertisements of Moods condoms were displayed prominently. A vegetable vendor read me the riot act -- in Hindi – when I parked in front of his stall at Betalbatim where we stopped to pick up some beef, prawn and chicken patties for our guests.

We had gone to visit our friends during our visit to Bombay, when they said they were in Goa. Our friends had been coming to the resort for the last 5 years, we discovered. As we left we told them we looked forward to their next visit to Goa (hoping they would inform us about it!)

The opening lines of Eunice’s poem distinguish it as one of her ‘Catholic poems’:

The Archbishop said
Great landlords and peasants
must worship together.
So the great landlords of Varca
shot at their Archbishop
(they missed)

We would need another trip to Varca to ascertain whether the classes live in amity now.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 21 June 2015. Pix from flickr.

Nursing in Fear

 -Brian Mendonça

In the several reports of Aruna’s death which flooded the newspapers in Mumbai on 19 May one dimension was glaringly absent.

In a bid to milk the death the previous day to its fullest, print media sought to sensationalize the event. The Times of India went to town with coverage from banner headlines up to even page 7. The Hindustan Times came out with an additional quarter page cover with ‘R.I.P. ARUNA’ supported by a black and white sketch of her done by Siddhant Jumbde. Dna front-paged a teary scene at the crematorium. Mint stayed with a staid obituary on the bottom of the front page which continued not on the inner pages but on page 32 --the last page. The Economic Times sought to tuck away a ‘By Invitation’ 4 column article by Pinky Virani who petitioned the Supreme Court for Aruna’s death by euthanasia in 2009.

Aruna lingered for 42 years in coma after being assaulted as a nurse by a ward boy while on duty at the Bombay Municipal Corporation’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital in Mumbai on the night of 27 November 1973. She was 25. All these years she was cared for by the nurses at KEM while she was allegedly disowned by her own family.

However in the media blitz following her death due to cardiac arrest, no newspaper reflected on improving the working conditions of nurses. This should have been the logical fallout of such a heinous act, but the media chose to ignore it completely. As Sandhya Nerurkar, retired nurse at the BMC’s Sion hospital, and who was in service at the time of the incident says, ‘Ye sab tamasha heh. Uske baad nurses ke liye kya kiya heh? Har patient ka hath pakadna hota heh, pulse lene heh, temperature lena heh. General ward mein jahan 50 male patients hota heh waha khali ek trained nurse aur ek student nurse rehte hain.’*

The grim fact is that nurses today continue to live in fear for their lives while discharging health care at grave personal risk. The way the nurses of KEM chose to care for the comatose Aruna for 42 years needs to be seen as a silent protest against a system that has failed them. 

Recently we celebrated Nurses Day. The nurses of a prominent hospital in Goa put up a programme on the occasion. When the head nurse at the ICU unit was asked if she was coming to witness the drama that was being staged, she icily replied that that there was enough drama in the ICU. Sure enough 2 patients in coma passed away during the night.

Health care is a major issue. We owe it to those trained in the profession to discharge their duties without fear or favour.

Let Aruna Shanbaug’s death not have been in vain. Born in 1948 she was freedom’s child. Plucked when her career was just blossoming the eternal fragrance of her struggle lives on.
*This is all a big farce. What has been done to improve the working conditions of nurses after that? We have to hold each patient’s hand to take the pulse, take the temperature. In the general ward just one trained nurse and one student nurse are assigned to 50 male patients.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender,  St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 14 June 2015. Pix of Aruna Shanbaug's ward a day after her death by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.

Cycle of Life


When we gifted our son his first cycle, I had to conceal the fact that I was more excited than him. A survey of the block where we live, led Queenie to the conclusion that a cycle would be the most obvious choice for baba’s 4th birthday. There were compelling reasons. Lately he would refuse to come home from school and slip into his friends’ houses -- only to be able to try out their bikes. This was however not approved by me as I saw it as a distasteful example of social climbing which should be nipped in the bud. 

So while I was at work, Queenie did some footwork and scouted around for the best bike in town. That done, on baba’s birthday I spelt out to her that we were going to hop down to town to pick up the C-Y-C-L-E. The spelling out of the word was to preempt any bawling scenes in case the project had to self-destruct. The last time we discussed going for a tiatr and didn’t go, he created quite a din. 

Curiously Queenie settled on the same shop, ‘China Bazaar’, from which I had first bought baba’s first tricycle. As baba tried out the bike he looked like poetry in motion. It was a red Hero Sundancer complete with extra wheels on either side to prevent falls. One side-wheel was slightly above the ground to help the child to learn to balance. What I heaved a sigh of relief at was the little basket up in front of the handle bar – finally someone else would get the veggies!

Every part of the cycle was carefully wrapped in cardboard and some parts in plastic to prevent scratching. Behind was the Hero label – the original from Ludhiana. Begun in Amritsar by four brothers in 1944 as a store for bicycle spares it is now a super brand – making 18,500 cycles a day – a global record! I marvelled at the quality --and endurance! -- of the products India produces. From the land of the 5 rivers, ‘Punj-ab,’ came this cycle which my son would ride in Goa. I grew up with Hero cycles in the days when they were the epitome of the Indian Middle Class. But seriously, was this snazzy bike, an avatar of the same staid humble hired black Hero cycle I fell off when learning to ride in my school days?

The makeover was perfect. The gleaming rims opened the door to my childhood. The fresh smell of the tough rubber tyres beckoned my wanderlust. The anti-skid pedals, caliper brakes and sturdy steel frame reassured me. Back home, we heaved the cycle up the stairs. As we readied the long corridor to provide practice, baba pedalled his way with increasing confidence. On the way, I seemed to sense that, to keep him close to my heart I needed to let him go, to find his song – to dance in the sun.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------; Pix of Dwayne taken at home on 14 January 2015. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 7 June 2015.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Watch it!

 -Brian Mendonça

Suddenly my wrist watch stopped working. It was as though my life had stopped. I was so dependent on seeing its reassuring dial as I made my way through the day. Now the seconds handle just did not seem to move – no matter how much I prodded those knobs that protruded over it.

The watch was a beauty. A solid brown Kenneth-Cole which watch repairers have seldom seen. It was a gift from Mario Lismar from Angola. Weaned completely on Portuguese, I used to teach Mario to speak English in Delhi. When he and his wife Alda were transferred, he gifted me this watch. No – it was not digital.

Now it was not working. Of course the TATA group had gifted me a Titan watch (in fact, several) for services rendered, but the gleaming gold/cold metal strap was not my cup of tea. I pined for the smart musk brown leather strap which adorned the Kenneth-Cole. Of course the strap itself was one of several which had to be replaced at intervals owing to constant use.

Earlier watches were priceless. Today you can wear one every week as per the fashion of the day. Watches can be had at discounts, but is one really necessary when there are wall clocks, clock towers and time settings on your mobile phone – not to mention the laptop on which I am typing this?

It must be something to do with the battery, I thought. An earlier watch repairer we used to go to, used to sit on a watch for several days until we finally retrieved it –at a price. He definitely had no sense of time! He also used to ask daft questions like, ‘Do you want me to put this cheap cell from China or the more expensive one?’ Having no clue what was what, we usually nodded vigorously leaving him to – of course – give us his most expensive cell. Surely that was small price to pay for keeping our status intact?!

Nowadays every time we pass by a toy shop Dwayne never fails to spy a watch and throw a tantrum so that we buy it for him. He has forgotten he already has 3 back home. Somehow it makes him feel grown up, but I still don’t understand why he has to sleep with it.

As we waited in the market space at an elderly watch-repairer’s Spartan cubicle, I felt the joy of waiting in peace. He carefully pried open the surface on the reverse, inserted a fresh cell (with no spiel), brushed the insides and handed it to me. The earlier strap had a deep gash in it, so I asked him to change that too. As he did so he gently advised me not to use the same hole every time. It was that simple.

I read somewhere that my earlier watch in my school days, an HMT, was heavy because the Indian middle class seemed reassured by its weight. I still have not figured that one out.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 31 May 2015. Pix courtesy thinkgeek(dot)com. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Prince William

Brian Mendonça

It was an ordinary day like any. I had to head to Bardez where I had planned some work post-lunch.

Being a stranger to the area I did some asking about a place to eat. A security guard of a gated colony enthusiastically pointed to a haunt opposite. Though he had been manning the gate for many moons he was not aware that the joint was closed on Mondays. As I trudged in the afternoon sun hoping to find succour I was directed to a place a little distance away. Helpful signboards proclaimed the way to my destination. Though I was wondering why folks were a little hesitant when showing me the way to the place.

When I finally reached the place it did not look like a restaurant at all. It was almost 3 and a few men eyed me curiously when I approached. As I entered, the plush interiors proclaimed the understated luxury of the corporate class. I decided to play safe and order the fish curry rice. I also needed to pack some veg. dish with rotis for my accomplice on the job. When I finished I had coughed no less than Rs. 1000 for both dishes, inclusive of a Rs. 50 tip and a bottle of water. But the perk of the afternoon was meeting William.

After being served food by several non-Goans waiters in Vasco, who blink when we speak Konkani, here was a lad who was Goan to boot. The lilt of Bardez Konkani provided the wine to our conversation and William – I don’t know why – began to tell me his story.

William was 31 but he did not look it. He told me he was down from Dubai after working there for a couple of years. He had forfeited a month’s salary saying he was going to return from Goa. He was fed up with the discrimination he had to face there --especially during Ramzan. Once, a Pakistani eating an ice-cream was bashed up during the season of abstinence by two motorbike borne locals who took umbrage at his indulgence.

Now that William was back, there was pressure on him to get married. ‘All my friends are married and have kids!’ he confided to me incredulously. I asked him if he was seeing anyone. He said he did, and in a rare gesture flipped open his wallet to show me a photo of a staid girl – who I didn’t feel would have a clue to handling him.

I asked if he had any siblings. ‘I have a brother. I don’t speak to him,’ he said. This had been going on for years. His brother was married and had his own family.

Before we parted I asked if he liked being a steward in a place like this. He shrugged, and said he did before he buzzed off on his scooter to Mapusa.

He had a life before him. He was my ‘Prince’ William – the original from the British Royal family is 33 years -- of a Goan family in Goa.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa  on Sunday, 24 May 2015. Pix of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Kate Middleton at their wedding on 29 April 2011; source Wikipedia

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Stayin’ Alive

-Brian Mendonça

The last time I was in the Nuvem church, it was for the month’s mind of a young girl from Nuvem who we lost because of a case of undetected diabetes. There were also hushed whispers of dixtt playing a part. I am still unnerved by the eerie stillness in broad daylight in the village when we went to pay a condolence visit.

We dropped by for the Nuvem parish festival in the second week of May. The attractive ads announcing the events for 3 consecutive days over the weekend made it impossible to ignore. The total absence of the mention of a very prominent MLA in the ad -- who usually graced all occasions (and ads) -- was a reminder of how an oft-feted person can become a fugitive overnight. I also wanted to see the way local communities generate funds for social events.
Since the stated time for kick-off every day was 7 p.m. I was wondering if there was any sense setting off from Vasco at 9 on a Saturday. We had just checked out the Consumer Expo at Chicalim and baba refused to come away before a ride on the gleaming motor-car merry-go-round.

NPF (Nuvem Parish Festival) 2015 reminded me of NCF 2005 (National Curriculum Framework). Both NPF and NCF were branding exercises. NPF even had bright yellow unisex t-shirts sported gaily by volunteers. The tees which surged through the crowd gave a sense of the bonhomie of Brazil – yellow being Brazil’s national colour. It also proclaimed that all the parishioners were pitching in to make this a success. At the far end of the Nuvem church grounds where it was all happening I spied the tees mounted on a backdrop on sale. The entire open-air festival venue was enclosed with a single-entry system for close monitoring. Entry was a nominal Rs. 30 per head. Kids free. Table Rs. 100.

Feasting over a plate of chicken grill (Rs. 150), we enjoyed the acts. The extremely talented 4-some Jukebox with Tanya and Andre Souza was by far the best. They ripped out some classic covers and almost had us on our feet with ‘Stayin Alive’ (1977) by the Bee Gees, which went back to my school days! Andre did a Spanish number too which had soul, and the elderly gent Francis D’Costa, from Bollywood Bombay, regaled us with his virtuoso violin. The kid played a mean guitar. Tanya gave it tone ending with Lorna’s sobering morality tale ‘Bebdo’ with the foot-stomping refrain ‘Yeo baile yeo.’

The local musicians and comedians showcased homegrown talent. One had to guess the correct number of bananas on a stalk. The correct number  was 240. The lucky couple to guess it right were invited on stage to take the bananas home! There was Housie at 11. An over head projector flashed ads for a price.

On the way back at the Verna roundabout we saw the mangled relic of the trailer truck which lost control and claimed the Mergulhao’s from Majorda. This May stay safe. Stay alive.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 17 May 2015. Pix courtesy paxonbothhouses.blogspot(dot)com