Sunday, 19 October 2014

Clear Light of Day

Clear Light of Day (1980) has an old world feel about it. You almost don't expect the redemption it affords -- somewhat tacky, I felt -- at the end of the novel to rescue it from its morass of misgiving. While I was thrilled it was an alaap by Mulk the failed musician who offers the insight into Bim's life, I was wondering why he was waiting in the wings for so long. His master who musters up a rendition which fails to ennoble seems to afford the obvious realization that youth and old age are two sides of the same coin.

The novel has the girth to push it to another 200 pages -- what with just finishing the gargantuan Glass Palace (2000) by Amitav Ghosh. Still, Anita Desai's cameos of her characters are compelling. But the novel is clearly written for Bim. Her self-knowledge and her openness to meet Raja shows her rising to maturity. But does the novel only hinge on reconciliation?

This is a kunstellroman is it not? Which is a tale of a girl's growing up to be a woman. In the novel there are 4 or if you like 6. The Das's daughters, the Misra's daughters and Tara's daughters. Raja's daughter Shabana in Hyderabad does not really qualify as she is hardly seen. The love-hate relationship between Tara and Bim is fraught with guilt, anger and painful reminisces of childhood memories. The absence of their parents who go to play cards in the club make the sisters lean on each other not always successfully. But the psychological complexity could be plumbed more, something that her daughter Kiran Desai seems to do with more vigour in The Inheritance of Loss (2006) (see this blog for a review). In a sense the two novels belong to two different moments in India's history. Clear Light of Day  is set at the time of the partition; Inheritance is about independence in the fractious frontier of Darjeeling. The latter is understandably more modernist.

It is sad to see how the close bond Raja and the sisters shared in childhood is riven in adulthood, by what one suspects is Raja's marriage to Hyder Ali's daughter.  Ultimately it is Iqbal and Eliot who provide the coda to life -- if we don't count Aurangzeb. The light offers its commentary on the blindness of obstinacy in the characters in the novel: 'The light of the full moon was so clear, surely it could illuminate everything tonight (247). It is the soft light of the night, not the clear light of day to which Tara implores to for healing.

Old Delhi is certainly a character in the novel. How time hangs heavy on an afternoon with the turntable rasping Baba's songs is lyrically portrayed. The soirees at Roshanara bagh invoke an old world charm safely tucked away from the horrors of Tamas or Train to Pakistan. Gandhiji's murder in 1948 raises the tempo of the novel in the middle (148) and is what causes Hyder Ali to go underground. In the end sanity prevails and Raja marries his daughter affirming Hindu-Muslim amity.

Some of the long sentences are tiresome. Mira Masi tethers on being a caricature inextricably linked to the dead white, 'bride-like' (156) cow whose cause she championed. Her pathetic end is a resounding indictment about the state of Indian women who are at the receiving end of their in-laws. The Misra daughters also have absent husbands to leave their wives to forget their wedded status in their frantic ministrations. Tara is the only one who seems to find fulfillment -- if only by leaving India with Bakul.

It is difficult to escape the pessimism of the novel. Lawrence's Ship of Death is quoted at length (155) where we are advised to prepare for the final voyage. Birth, childhood, adulthood, death are all contained in Clear Light of Day. Through a process of self-effacement we realize our meaning in this life. Time the destroyer, is time the preserver. (283)
Citations from Random House edition with an introduction by Kamila Shamsie. Pix courtesy flipkart.


-Brian Mendonça

It was 7 years ago that I wrote my first blog post. Returning from a performance of Meera at Kamani auditorium, Delhi, I simply had to share how excited I was from the viewing experience. Living alone in a barsaati in South Delhi, friends who would share my tastes were not always easy to come by. So I ventured out writing about it all on the internet! I named my blog after my first book of poems, viz.

As I look back on my first blog I feel the adrenaline surge through me as it did when I wrote the lines for the first time. I have not looked back since. With a modest 2 posts per month I was doing quite nicely. I drew my topics from the things I was doing. My Portuguese language classes at the Instituto Camoes spawned a blog post on José Saramago, the Nobel-prize winning novelist. A trip to Jamshedpur saw me posting my poems on Tatanagar and naxal-infested Dumka. ‘Goodbye Lalit’ was for Lalit an RTI activist who was murdered in Daltonganj in Jharkhand’s badlands and ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ was about a downspin when I could not sleep. 

Sometimes I wonder what I would have written if I had started blogging earlier. With each blog post I wrote I grew in confidence. Knowing that I was ‘publishing’ my writing made me take it more seriously. I always asked myself, ‘Will someone learn something from this blog post?’ I never whined about things or people however gross they were. Down and out in my blog post titled ‘Until Yesterday’ I meditated on the safeda tree outside my room. Yes, my blog helps me to live life in a creative way. It is a diary which is accessible across the world. Some shrink from this realization, because it is like sharing your life with someone you do not know.

Queenie and me found each other through my blog writing. I am sure she read the anguish with which I wrote of my mum who passed away in ‘Happy Birthday Mum.’ We discussed my blogs together and she came to know the writer in me and the anchorage for my thoughts.

I always encourage others to begin creating and writing their own blogs. It’s a free service at I also write blog posts on topics which I think will benefit my students. In an open access e-learning world they are free to read it off-site instead of in the classroom. I’ve added recipes and book reviews, and black and white photographs of the family. Your own blog is a very convenient single source where you can archive your writing, your poems, and your thoughts.

FB and WhatsApp condemn people to be consumers of news. Blogging is more reflective. You hone your writing skills. You make the news in so far as it is relevant to you. You think for yourself. You don’t let others do the thinking for you.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 19 October 2014; pix source: www.prosperouscoachblog(dot)com

Monday, 13 October 2014

Sunday by the Sea

Photo shoot of the Mendonca family, Vasco, includes Brian and Queenie Mendonca with Dwayne and grandpa Alex George Mendonca soaking in the sea. All photos taken at Bogmallo Beach Resort, Goa on Sunday 12 October 2014.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sleepy Hollow

Have been watching snatches of American movies of late. Quiet time rules the house between 4.30 - 5 p.m. when I make the tea. For company I flick on the TV. Recent fare has been Sleepy Hollow (1999) starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. I've also been in on the action at Wall Street starring Michael Douglas and all the double crossing. The latest is Shooter but I was shot out of the film when the lights went out :(.

What has struck me is the fertility of the American imagination to make/produce movies as varied as these. Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton is based on a story published in 1819-20 along with 'Rip van Winkle' by NewYork City-born writer Washington Irving (1783-1859). It is set in the county of Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1799 where Depp as Ichabod Crane is an investigating agent. There is a throwback to the American Revolution of 1776 as the masked marauder responsible for the deaths rides on a confederate(?) horse. I love period movies and the costumes and the macabre took me back to the heaths of Heathcliff. Having seen The Conjuring and noting the release of its sequel Annabelle this week I wanted to see horror in a different guise.

The Gothic is unmistakable in this movie heightened by cinematic effects. The haunted house and horseman; steeds careening wildly a la Dracula (Dir. Milos Forman) set in Transylvania; beautiful women and unbridled sexuality-- and of course, a dark secret. A scarred childhood as a reference is a nice touch and serves as a leitmotif. Shot predominantly in dark tones of black and mostly sepia, Irving's Ichabold is much like Poe's investigator Dupin in his detective story 'The Purloined Letter.' The headless horseman may be overplayed for its sheer shock value and closely parallels Durer's woodcuts of Death as the avenging horseman.

Critics write:
Irving’s take on the classic ghost tale has a decidedly American slant, owing perhaps to the author’s interest in New York history. Written during a time when Americans were trying to create an identity for themselves and their new country, Irving’s stories lent the young America its own sort of mythology. Sleepy Hollow, for example, is set in Tarrytown, a bucolic real-life location along the Hudson River in Upstate New York. The mythic horseman in Irving’s Legend was rumored to be the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier, tragically decapitated by a flying cannonball. “Crane is also the archetypal Yankee,” notes Catherine Whalen, a professor and expert on American material culture at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City.

Wall Street (2010) directed by Oliver Stone is a much more recent movie about Gordon Gekko (Douglas) trading Wall Street to build his empire. 'Money Never Sleeps' is the tag line for this one and the ruminations over global capital looks like a page from Cronenberg's Cosmopolis.

Shooter (2007) by Antoine Fuqua is a conspiracy film about a shooter who is framed for killing the President. The movie is based on a novel by Stephen Hunter, an American novelist and Pulitzer prize-winning film critic.

Images: Title page of 1899 edition of Sleepy Hollow, quoted text and image courtesy designsponge(dot)com; map idecide(dot)com real estate

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bridal Gown or Designer Suit?

-Brian Mendonca

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.  
       -Emily Dickinson

When a young lady died in an accident in Goa I was struck by the fact that she was buried in a bridal gown, in a white coffin, carried by girls. For an insider the semiotics are plain to see, viz. the lady was unmarried.

What did not escape me was why should she be dressed in her bridal gown? It is not as if she was there to see it. Is it some kind of wish-fulfillment to have her don the vestments on her last journey? Or is it the parents’ desire to express regret that she did not get married? The choice for the lady in question does not exist anymore. So society makes it for her.

Dressing a lady in a bridal gown seems to be circumscribing her choices, her destiny, her freedoms. Is a woman defined only by marriage, or an association with a husband? What about her own identity? What if she never intended to get married?

To get some answers to these questions I asked some young women what they thought of it. While many agreed vociferously with the practice, wagging their heads in dismay that someone should dare question their belief, a significant silent section differed. The bubble burst when one rose and said, ‘I’d like to wear a designer suit – as it would be the last time I would be wearing it.’

If women are given the choice they will exercise it. So some think it is best not to give it. While all sympathies rest with the bereaved family, the practice has repressive connotations. The message that it conveys to the rest of the community is, ‘Marriage –or the grave – is your final destination.’

‘The women in his canvas pray, work and mourn,’ writes Maria Aurora Couto about Goan painter F.N. Souza in  Such a stoic Greek aspect is the character delineated for a woman in Goa. This is the role she is expected to fit into. She cannot aspire to be anything more.

Breaking of her bangles when her husband dies indicates her abject dependence and a fall from grace. Hindu and Christian traditions merge here as in many other practices.*

When women make choices of their own they are often ostracized. A woman has a right to do what she wants with her life. Can we give her that chance?

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden paths   
In my stiff, brocaded gown. . .
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace   
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead . . .
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

-From ‘Patterns’ by Amy Lowell

*        See Fatima da Silva Gracias. Kaleidoscope of Women in Goa 1510-1961 (Concept, 1996)

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 5 October 2014; Pix of Sincy courtesy newindianexpress(dot)com of 14 January 2012.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

To view Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) is to have your fill of a Western -- complete with lovely horses, shootouts, money and mayhem, What strikes one it the marked difference in the personalities of Butch (Paul Newman) and the Kid (Robert Redford). Apart from the fact that they share the same woman Etta (Katherine Ross), which complicates things. Butch is just not cut out to be in the annals of a shootin hero. 'I have never killed a man,' he tells the Kid when he is queasy about taking down some gringos in Bolivia. 'A fine time to tell me,' retorts the Kid. The scene seconds later is just smoke form the guns which is the epitaph on Butch's baptism by fire.

Though Etta tries to make them eschew violence and their life of crime she gives in anyway because in this lonely world it is these two men after all who love her. She leaves the security of her (too?) cosy home and becomes a drifter with the other two. The threesome are not unlike the trio in Jack Kerouc's On the Road. They wilfuly break the law, experiment with life and refuse to take no for an answer. In so doing they realise some modicum of happiness in the togetherness they share, even if they have to pay the price for it. They have the courage to stand for their beliefs.When the Kid surprises Etta in her bedroom the reader is caught off guard, only to realize minutes later that it was part of the foreplay.

But there is an innate goodness and likableness of the duo. Even when the friendly Sheriff warns them  that their heyday is over, they ignore him good naturedly. The fresh start they aim for in Bolivia sees them repeating their old ways and the Bolivian troops which hunt them in the end for some reason reminded me of Che.

Cinematically the movie of almost 2 hours directed by George Roy Hill grips you, even though there is not much headway in the plot. The long shots of the country are poetic and the close ups detail the whimsicality of the Kid and the terror of Butch. You seem to feel for these fellas and ask what pushed them into this life of crime.

As history informs us Butch and the Kid robbed trains in the Wild West of the 1890s. Butch was born in Utah in 1866 and saw action in Wyoming. With the law at their heels the three fled to New York for a better life and then sailed to Argentina. Reports by Bolivian police say the duo was killed in 1908.
History source:; pix source:

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Country Omelette

The morning saw me hungry and the household asleep. What to do? On a holiday, pequeno almoso demanded something different. So when I browsed into my Weekender collection of recipes in their weekly 'A La Carte' page I came out with parathas -- and omelette. Though I drooled at the memory of aunty Ahuja's parathas on a hungry Sunday morning in Delhi after Mass at Masigarh church, Ohkla, it was beyond me to produce it myself! What I had was the recipe of 'Country Omelette.' Now what was that?!

I can make a passable omelette -- a spiffing one at a pinch -- I was drawn to this one because it used milk. Here's how it went.

Country Omelette

(Serves 2)


3 eggs
1/3 cup milk
Hint of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Amul cheese)
1 tbsp chopped green onion (spring/bulb onions)
1/4 tsp salt
Pepper to taste


-In a large bowl, beat the eggs until slightly frothy, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.
-In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Pour in the egg mixture.
As the egg sets, lift the edges of the omelette and tilt the pan slightly to allow uncooked egg to reach the pan's surface.
-When egg is nearly set, cover the pan and cook for 2 more minutes until the surface looks dry.
Top one half of the omelette with cheese and chopped green onion. Fold in half.
-Garnish with extra chopped green onion. Serve hot.

Soon Queenie joined me and we both did a duet making the breakfast. Baba helped by breaking the eggs. With FM radio music belting out ABBA from its perch on the fridge, our morning was made. We used Amul cheese and ordinary onions. When I was foxed by 'Worcestershire sauce' imagine my delight when Queenie produced it. She said she used it for steaks. The sauce has quite a history, and nudges you to read up on its culinary and cultural antecedents. It contains anchovies, tamarind, garlic and tamarind.

Ham, hash browns and sauteed onions are also recommended at sheknows(dot)com.

The omelette turned soft and fluffy and melted in the mouth. Let's do it again!
 Recipe from Weekender 20 April 2014; Pix courtesy mrbreakfast(dot)com