Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sali boti -- Zuperb!

-Brian Mendonça

Saturday before last was a holiday being Gudi Padwa. If one had a look at the local  papers on that day one could be forgiven if one had no clue it was also another major festival, viz.  Navroz – the Parsi New Year day heralding Spring. While there was ample coverage in print media about the ceremonies associated with Gudi Pada, with special supplements to commemorate the same, Navroz largely went unnoticed.

Having had one of the best guides for my PhD research in Professor Lakshmi Chandra from the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, I make it a point to wish her every Navroz. We still continue to be the best of friends. She has helped me on life’s journey and has been there every step of the way with her counsel and prescience. She SMSed us that she had been to the agiary in the morning and attended open house with her friends.

This year to commemorate Navroz, I was determined to take my family out to Zuperb-- the restaurant in Calangute which specializes in Parsi food. Driving down from Siolim I made a call at 2.40 p.m. to announce that we were planning to drop in for lunch. Mani picked up the phone and chased my anxieties away with her breezy reply, ‘We usually serve throughout the day, but today since we have an order on account of Navroz, we are open till 4.’

Anjuna, Arpora and Baga swept by until we reached what is known as ‘Holiday street,’ Candolim, marked by the chapel in the middle of the road. Of course this was familiar territory, having dropped in many a time to Literati, Gauravaddo for its numerous dos.  Across Calangute mall we turned in to our right towards Zuperb after seeing a red signboard showing us the way. Tucked away at the end of the street on the left was Mani and Zubin’s spacious and airy edifice which with its wooden furniture, glass top tables, and an unhurried pace looked very inviting.  Not finding place to park with the numerous signboards prohibiting parking within 50 metres of the signs, I steered the  i10 plumb in front of the restaurant with Mani guiding me as I reversed.

Our mutton Sali boti was delicious with the hot chapatti’s that kept coming. The prawn pulao came next with the most delectable of flavours, laced with fresh green capsicums and wedges of fried potatos. Little Dwayne was lost in his caramel custard and polished off his plate. Mani was saying the Parsi sweet dish, the Lagan nu custard, was a tad too tedious to take on, so how about the specially-made brownie? It was gooey, warm and fresh without the ice-cream.

It wasn’t a good time to remember Cyrus Mistry’s recent Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (2012), on the Parsi corpse-bearers of Bombay. But then we also remembered the famed mutton biryani at another favourite Parsi restaurant, viz. Dorabjees, at Pune Camp where we recently devoured it along with the Dhansak.
Pix of a beaming Mani and Zubin with Queenie and Dwayne at Zuperb, Goa on 21 March 2015 (taken by me); Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 29 March 2015.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

‘Town where the big water flows’

-Brian Mendonça

              When I travelled through Dimapur years ago, it was a sleepy town. I would never have believed it had the guts to beat someone to death and hang him from a clock tower to be displayed -- for a crime he was not proven guilty off and in full view of the CRPF.  
               The troubled North-East, ‘the seven sisters,’ comprise of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.  People from the North East have flocked to the metros in ‘mainland’ India for jobs. My instructor in classical guitar at the Delhi School of Music was the friendly Lallawmzuala (Lawmte) from Mizoram. He even invited me to visit Aizawl for his wedding.
             Sarif Khan (28 or 35?) was murdered in full public view by a self-righteous mob in Dimapur. He was from Karimganj district, Assam and had been living in Dimapur for over two years. He chose to marry a Naga woman and had a young daughter. Following local media hype he was mistaken to be an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant (IBI).  Sarif, suspected for rape, was dragged out of jail by a crowd of 1000, led mostly by women, beaten, tied to a vehicle and dragged for almost 7 kms. before his dead body was hoisted up on the clock tower for public derision.  Nagaland government issued a statement later that the rape charge could have no basis.
            Nagaland, a Christian state, doesn’t take kindly to those from the plains, particularly small traders and workers who they believe are taking their jobs, their land – and in this case, their women. The labour does blue-collar jobs like maintenance services which the Nagas won’t do.
             The scenario is similar to Goa with an antipathy simmering against ‘outsiders.’ The lynching of Nigerians in 2013 and the burning alive of tribal leaders Manguesh Gaunkar (26)  and Katu Velip (28) while agitating over reservation in Government jobs at Balli, Quepem in 2011 are cases in point.
             ‘Octave 2015’ organized jointly by North East Zonal Cultural Centre, Dimapur at Darya Sangam, Kala Academy, Campal 18-22 March, for the first time, is a laudable state event showcasing the art and culture of the North East.
             Dimapur means ‘Town where the big water flows.’ The reference is to the Dhansiri river in Dimapur, Nandita Haksar informs us in her book Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in Northeast India (2013). Superintendent of Police,  Assam, Satyaraj Hazarika showed me Majuli island on the Brahmaputra  when I went to read my poems in Jorhat 10 years ago. May the mighty river which the Dhansiri, rising from the Naga hills, meets upstream, bring peace to the troubled region.
             On my way back I had brought with me a beautiful red cloth bag from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, with a tribal motif of zig zag white lines. It used to be an extension of myself on my travels across India.
            Now I hide it -- it is soaked in Sarif’s blood. 

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 22 March 2015; Pix source; See also ‘Christmas in Kohima’ (2007) by Brian Mendonca on Goanet

Sunday, 15 March 2015

‘Y should Xpectations Change with Chromosomes?!’

-Brian Mendonça

In the upsurge of events, rallies, outbursts and reflections concerning women on 8 March, I noticed a poster with the slogan, ‘Y should Xpectations Change with Chromosomes?!’
The slogan was conceptualized by Dextra Pereira and Ryodan Pereira, a sister-brother duo from Betalbatim, Goa. Dextra, an under-17 gold-medallist at the National Taekwondo Championship at Ranchi 2011 feels that expectations for women are lower than those for men. Their slogan seeks to change the status quo.

We receive 23 chromosomes from each parent. It is the Y chromosome that decides if the child will be male (46, XY) or female (46, XX). Most psychologists argue however, that beyond our biological sex (male or female) our gender roles arise from socialization – our learning histories, through which we accept our society’s expectations for our behavior.*

Only one chromosome, can tilt the balance and decree a human being’s destiny. Today finds us asking why the Y chromosome in some humans has led them to commit unspeakable acts. What is often discounted is the process of acculturation, of abject poverty and, feral license which these perpetrators have grown up with in a lawless universe.

Men and women today are more interdependent than before. With the blurring of roles, (some) women drive and go to work while (some) men stay at home and mind the baby. Marriage between a man and a woman celebrates this bond where you make a decision to spend your life with one person who you love, or come to love. A child is nurtured in the loving embrace of the mother and father.

Virtual offices have made it possible to work from home, giving women with soft skills an edge over men in a communication-driven corporate culture.  The Vishaka guidelines empower women with a court of appeal to deter unsolicited attention.

I set my students the task of choosing one image associated with women and to speak about it. One group spoke of woman as ‘salt’ – without it, food, and our existence, is tasteless.  Another group saw woman as a ‘light’ which goes from her house to another to illuminate it. Still another group saw woman as a ‘utensil’ which spent itself cooking food, but at the same time which could be used as a weapon if need be. The last group saw a woman as a ‘chameleon’ – changing her roles as a sister, as a mother, as a wife, and as a daughter-in-law.  A woman blended so completely into her role so as to be almost unseen.

On my way to work today I saw ads which showed a woman in a sari in the kitchen, another smiling coyly showing her gold jewelry, the third was of a woman applauding a man on a winning streak in the casino, and the fourth showed a woman in shorts on a scooter. How come none of the ads portrayed women highlighting her strengths as a light, salt, a utensil, a chameleon – or a fist?
*See; pix courtesy Bill Bickel at cidutest@wordpress; published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa, on 15 March 2015. 

Happy Streets

-Brian Mendonça

Pune is abuzz with a new civic concept called ‘Happy Streets.’ This of course is a figure of speech, a transferred epithet, i.e. the streets are not happy -- you are. One could extend the analogy to say that you, in some way contribute to making the streets ‘happy.’

So like the NoMoZo which was held very successfully years back in Panjim and Vasco, ‘Happy Streets’ cordons off a street every Sunday for fun-filled activities for 3 hours between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.  The effort to reclaim the roads – a Times of India initiative -- is laudable except for the sometimes dank weather. In Goa the NoMoZo was from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ‘Sun’day where the sun itself seemed to step out on the streets to play ball!

‘Happy Streets’ has been carefully steered away from Main Street, Pune --where there was a similar move earlier -- following objections from shop owners complaining that it affected business. Tucked away in Kalyani Nagar ‘Happy Streets’ features zumba, yoga and aerobics, rent-free bicycles and a live musical jamming corner. There is even a ‘Bachpan gully’ where one can relive childhood games like hopscotch, marbles or pitthu. What fun it would be to sail those paper boats, those kagaz ki kashti in the puddles by the wayside!*  ‘Happy Streets’ is also a drive to clamp down on needless noise pollution created by mindless motorists and ‘to improve the quality of life in the city.’

In Mumbai with the proposed move to annex the verdant Aarey Milk colony green cover for a (hideous) parking shed for metro rail  -- which would mean the hacking down of 2298 trees -- they seem to be doing just the opposite. It was here that I romanced Queenie --we even took a brief boat ride in the lake at Chotta Kashmir searching for the words to say. The place made its way into a poem of mine, eulogizing the spirit of Mumbai with its well-designated breathing spaces. Putting streets here would only tilt the balance against us. Let’s preserve the ‘quiet, wet green’ at #SaveAarey the mass tweet campaign.

It was on the streets that 82-year old veteran Pansare was shot down in nearby Kolhapur last month. Dabholkar was shot in the streets of Pune in 2013. The cases have not been solved. Like the overcoat that is stolen from the simple clerk Akaky Akakeivich on his way home in Gogol’s story ‘The Overcoat,’—and who dies later -- death did not spare critic Boris Nemtsov who was gunned down on the street outside the Kremlin around last week.

Perdido nas avenidas, e achado nas vielas, [Lost am I in the avenues, but I find myself in the bylanes] go the lyrics by Portuguese singer Rui Veloso. Many of our streets in Goa are so suffused with garbage and night soil that a morning walk is out of the question now. Can we make our streets happy?

*Song on childhood sung by ghazal singer Jagjit Singh; pix of 'Dream Streets' by Gandha Key inspired by Jorge Luis Borges' poem 'Daybreak' - courtesy britishphotohistory; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 8 March 2015.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Brian Mendonça

No. This is not the name of a new helmet in town. It is the name of a font -- a style of writing the alphabets which you can choose when you type your words on Microsoft Word on the computer. I was delighted to see that Helvetica -- a film inspired by this font-- was screened recently at Design Centre, Povorim.

Working as an editor in the publishing industry my life had been ruled (or ruined) by typefaces. Once the manuscript (MS) was in, the editor had to generate a style for the book. Since we were dealing with children’s books we used to use child-friendly fonts like Baskerville, Garamond and Lucida. Sometimes the typesetters to whom we would give the MS to lay out as per the approved style would not have the required font in their catalogue. One typesetter used pirated software for a particular font with the result that when printed, the angle of the words tilted precariously to the right. It was promptly named the ‘sleeping font’ which may have had something to do with the fly-by-night typesetter who couldn’t care less if the font slept -- or knelt for that matter!

Editors agonize over fonts as though they are choosing a partner for life. It is true a printed book has a life of its own and the reader’s reception of it is largely determined by the font, its size, the readability, and aesthetic appearance. So when I self-published my book of poems Peace of India I chose Perpetua. This font was created by a sculptor and was used to etch words in stone. Somehow I felt my poetry through Perpetua would also be perpetually preserved.

Corporate houses have their own font for official correspondence. However, depending on the version of information technology (IT) infrastructure, the font used by the programme – say Windows XP – becomes the default font --in this case Calibri.

Font styles exist in Hindi like Kruti Dev. With the matras and various diacritical marks, sometimes software glitches arise when the computer omits printing a certain part of a word like a bindu thus altering the meaning. Some of my favourite font styles are Cambria, and Sabon – which I used for my first book of poems Last Bus to Vasco. The accepted style for academic writing is Times New Roman 12 point size. Helvetica like Calibri and Ariel is a sans serif style, i.e. it does not have the curves and loops at the edges of the alphabets like Georgia or Palatino. The ethereal nature of fonts can be misleading though. While checking assignments I come across exquisite fonts camouflaging hideous language!

Helvetica was designed by Max Miedinger in 1957 in Switzerland. The name is derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland.* As the promo of the documentary film made by Gary Hustwit in 2007 puts it, ‘Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.’
See Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 1 March 2015; image from poster of the movie.

Colva Calling

-Brian Mendonça

Saturday, 14 February
 00.30 a.m. :  Queenie surprises me with a T shirt for Valentine’s Day
09.30   :  Leave home to participate in the final day of a 3-day conference on Commonwealth               literature.
11.00   : SMS Queenie to ask if we have zeroed on any beach resort for the weekend. She SMS’s back saying yes. ‘Confmd with * beach resort.’ ‘Is this going to be a surprise?!’ I SMS.
02.30 p.m.  :  Conference lunch over. I head for home. Pick up fuel, cash and select two blouses for Queenie as gifts.
03.30  :    Queenie calls enroute. Says it will be evening by the time we leave!
04.00     : On the road to Colva.
04.30 :    Check-in at Star Beach Resort, near a fallow football ground.
05.00 :    I teach Baba (4) how to walk in water in the kids pool, under Queenie’s watchful eye. I do a few laps in the regular pool.
06.00  :  Back in the comfortable room. Order pakodas, sandwiches and tea. Ask for more sauce. Have tea in the balcao overlooking the mango trees. Laze around. Watch TV. Check out places in Colva on the internet on my laptop. Call up family.
08.15 . :  Leave hotel for dinner. As we pass Colva church we inquire                                            about the timing for English Mass on Sunday.
09.00. :  Have home-cooked meal at Durigo, down the road from Colva church. 
10.00   : Return to the hotel.  Say the rosary. Retire. The night is young and vigorous.
SUNDAY, 15 February
07.00 a.m. : Arise. Hear the twitter of birds. Read pages from Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. Order breakfast.
09.30  : English Mass at Colva church. The priest says the Church is not supporting Carnival.
10.30 : Return to the hotel. Head for a swim in the pool. Still a nip in the air.
11.00: Baba walks in the kids pool again. Gains more confidence now.
11.30 : Return to the room. Pack up.
12.30 p.m. Check out.  Move to Colva beach.
01.00 : Splurge on beachwear for all of us at Amit’s beach shack near Manisha’s restaurant.
01.30 : Stroll on the beach, complete with hats et al. Quite crowded with local tourists having a gala time in the water. Watch the breathtaking feats of parasailing and adventure sports. Sit on the sand and take in the action. Take pix and selfies. Head to Mickey’s  restaurant, Colva.
02.30 : Park at Mickey’s.  So want to step in to Bollywood Resort – just curious about its décor.  But hunger calls . . .
04.15 : Satiated with lunch. The sea at Mickey’s shimmers. People leave only reluctantly. We realize it’s time to go only when the waiters come around to change the tablecloths for dinner! Leave for home.
05.00 : Back in our home town. Head to my newsagent to pick up my copies of Weekender on Sundays. Did not spot a single newspaper vendor in Colva! Of course there were better things to do!
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 22 February 2015. Pix taken by me at Colva beach on 15 February 2015.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

We Did it for the Music

-Brian Mendonça

Just before the end of the first act the lovable Chic Chocolate on-screen reminisces with Lorna’s father – perhaps about the way her father spirited her to the station for a show-- and says ‘We did it for the music.’

It was people like Chic and Lorna’s father who understood what it meant to be an artist.
Nachom-ia-Kumpasar is about how Chris and Lorna eternalized Goan music. At a price. Christopher (Chris) Pereira (Perry) is shown restless as the film opens, seeking as an artist, to tame the daemon within him.  In the film, he comes through that epic walk in the fields, with his sidekick, which will change his life forever. He chances on Lorna singing in the village and the rest is history.

Many scenes are about tense waitings at the railway station, because Chris and Lorna lived their lives in transit. They knew that peril awaited them at both destinations, Bombay or Goa. But they still made their music.

At different times of life we are called to hear a different kind of music. This was the moment for Chris and Lorna and they would not let it go. They knew it would destroy them but they would not let it go. They did it for the music – and for love. Nietzche, the German philosopher once said, ‘The artist is above morality.’

The film is loosely arranged around a set of songs Lorna and Chris performed in tandem, he playing the trumpet, she crooning – always being the inspiration for each other. As the ecstasy of their union reaches its zenith a new kind of music is born. Goan musicians in Bombay in the 1960’s make a comeback with jazz. Lorna and Chris with their band of musicians performed at the Venice nightclub, Bombay in 1971 with their banner displayed at the Astoria Hotel opposite Eros cinema.*

From the scenes shown of Goan life in Bombay one sees how difficult it was to make a living in those days. But the Goans were there for each other in the kudds ­– the shared living spaces for Goans outside Goa; in the bars where they got together to share their dreams; and in the celebration of Goa in their songs. They exported Goa, their USP (Unique Selling Proposition).   Though both Lorna and Chris were living in Sonapur, between Dhobi Talao and Dabul they had an intimate knowledge of the Goan way of life and set that down to music. In this home away from home, they created a space – a diaspora - where one could be a Goan without actually living there.

While Chris Perry left us to play his trumpet elsewhere in 2002, Lorna is among us today. When Crimson Tide opened with Lorna’s song for the final night at the Semana da Cultura Indo Portuguesa (Goa) at the Taleigao Community Centre last week, I could not but evoke the pathos, despite the swinging to the jazz.  
*See Naresh Fernandes, ‘The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age.’ This article published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 15 February 2015. Pix courtesy