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

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Resham Firiri

-Brian Mendonça

Resham firiri, resham firiri
Udera jaunkee dandaa ma bhanjyang
Resham firiri . . .

[My heart is fluttering like silk in the wind
I cannot decide whether to fly or sit on the hilltop]

10 years back I read my poems in a leafy bower at Pilgrim’s Book shop, in Thamel, Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. The Sahitya Akademi had just published my poems. As I read to an enthusiastic audience my poem ‘I am not alone’ was translated promptly into Nepali. The listeners included faculty from Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, 5 km. from Kathmandu.

Hotel Yak and Yeti was just across the road at Durbar Marg, Kathmandu while I stayed at the more modest Hotel Sherpa. Planet Bar and Restaurant beckoned and the adult entertainment had young Nepali men (and women) flocking in droves – most on their motorbikes and leather jackets.

Beside me in my room was The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche which I had bought at Indira Gandhi International airport, New Delhi before boarding.  It was not even 2 months since mum had passed away in Goa. The book with its precepts of Tibetan Buddhism helped me come to terms with my loss. However as some of my boisterous colleagues – this was an official trip after all – swept into my room for drinks that night, one kept his glass of beer at my bedside table. The icy frost seeped down the glass on the side table and wet the pages of my priceless book. 

But there was trouble in the city. Emergency had been clamped down by King Gyanendra who sacked the government on February 1, 2005 and dismissed the Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. We were advised to return to India immediately. 

The most fun-loving person in our New Delhi office was Chandra Chhetri.  She was always smiling and refused to get into office bickering. When I made the decision to quit she was the only one who crossed the floor of the office and wished me well, saying I made the right decision. My other so-called friends refused to be caught seen with me, lest they become unpopular with the management. 

On my return from Kathmandu, sometimes I used to greet Chandra in the standard Nepali greeting ‘Koso hunun cha?’/ How are you? When I spoke to her last week to inquire about her family in Nepal after the earthquake, she was still in office at 9 p.m. putting away some urgent work. Others would have been wont to admit they were still slogging away. It was that honesty which set her apart.

As I write this article I realize the day is Buddha Purnima – the day when the birth and the death of the Buddha are commemorated. I am reminded that Siddhartha (a.k.a. the Buddha) was born in Lumbini in Nepal. Gazing at the full moon, so distant, yet so full of compassion, I am assured that Nepal will rise to sing once more, the Nepali folk song ‘Resham firiri.'
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 10 May 2015; pix courtesy: Music from Nepal - Peace and Harmony in Bamboo Flute by Sushil Bishwakarma, and Chandra Chhetri. 

Monday, 4 May 2015



-Brian Mendonça

The kaxanvkar, or the  coffin maker,  is going out of style in Goa. This is message that the tiatr directed by Prince Jacob, deftly puts across. Though people continue to die, there seem to be no coffins to put them in! Gen-next thinks it is odious or outrageous to be knocking nails in someone else’s coffin.

This serious subject is exploited to the full in the tiatr. Just as apartments are being sold in Goa at street corners, so are coffins. You can purchase a 1BHK coffin or a 2BHK coffin depending on the size of your wallet or handbag.  You can even try out a coffin to see if it fits your size. How is this possible? You will have to go to watch the tiatr. You could also pre-book your coffin, because some coffin makers make coffins which have the power to resurrect you!

Coffins and coffin makers were also the subject of Veena Bakshi’s debut feature film The Coffin Maker (2011) shot in Goa and which was screened at IFFI in Goa in 2013.  Anton Gomes played by Naseerudin Shah, is fed up of his occupation as a coffin maker and is determined not to allow his son to follow him.

The high point of Kaxanvkar is that when the son of the house gives up his traditional occupation of being a coffin maker (because his fiancée – who comes from a family of builders -- sees it as beneath their status), it is the daughter and the aged mother who carry on the tradition.

Kaxanvkar showcases different kinds of wailing. The hired mourners make a scene by lamenting for the dead person. This tradition of professional female mourners has been documented in Rudaali (1993) directed by Kalpana Lajmi starring Dimple Kapadia as Shanichari the mourner. Set in the bewitching beauty of Rajasthan, the mourners dressed in black against the pale yellow of the desert sand sing a paen to death.

It is estimated that there are around 50 coffin-makers in Goa with the price for a coffin ranging from Rs. 4500 to Rs. 20,000. In Goa funeral services have become sophisticated. They can be booked online. (Estbd.1988) offers services which include coffin, hearse, flowers, obituary, graveside, backdrop and niches. Britto and Sons, Undertakers of Kurla West and now Vashi  in Navi / Mumbai are well known. Established in 1980 it is a family enterprise though some of the children are branching out.

 We have a morbid fascination for coffins. In the short story ‘Angel Wings’ set in Goa by Victor Rangel-Ribeiro,  a man lies down in his coffin shocking his sister, just to see what it feels like. One person has put up his ‘dark knight’ coffin on the internet and has invited likes/dislikes. For 10$ you can be buried alive in a simulated ‘coffin ride’ in Melbourne. A night vision DVD recording would cost you an additional 5$. For a graveside view, watch the chilling ‘Buried Alive’ scene of Kill Bill 2 in HD.*

*; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St.Inez. Goa on Sunday, 3 May 2015. pix courtesy: Joegoauk on flickr 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Travelling Into Exile: Amitav Ghosh's 'Glass Palace'

-Brian Mendonca

One of the most striking features of The Glass Palace (2000) by Amitav Ghosh is the theme of travel. The lengthy forays into travel in the novel are almost mind-boggling, serving in an intricate, if subtle way, to knit the novel in a kind of geographic certitude which makes up for the absence of any real meaning in the lives of its central characters. The constant motion of the novel displaces the characters, exposing them to the vagaries of circumstance and their aftermath which is often tragic as in the case of Saya John. In many ways the exilic returns home to reaffirm his/her roots although in a reified dimension, viz. Dolly finds her destiny in becoming a nun in a Buddhist monastery in Sagaing, Burma; Dinu returns to set up shop as a photographer in Burma.

However, the travelling is both voluntary as well as involuntary. Pushed by the exigencies of the moment, Rajkumar leaves his dead mother in the boat and proceeds with the boat captain to seek his fortune and his life upstream. King Thebaw and Queen Supalayat have no choice but to be carted off to Ratnagiri in a stunning sea voyage from Mandalay to Madras to Outram House. Of course they would like to continue living in the Glass Palace in Mandalay, but at the risk of being eliminated by the invading British colonial forces. Travel and exile is not the comfortable binary as is usually assumed. In The Glass Palace both notions are problematized. Set against the tumult of resistance moments in India, Burma, USA overarched by the mercurial Mrs. Uma Dey, travel propels the characters into the centre of the conflict zones where at ground zero, like Arjun they are forced to examine their motives. This paper will examine these themes.

-‘Travelling Into Exile: The ‘Little Empires’ of Amitav Ghosh’s Glass Palace.’ Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS) Annual Conference on ‘Space, Place, Travel, Displacement and Exile,’ BITS, Goa Campus, 12-14 February 2015; pix of Brian being felicitated by IACLALS officials at the valedictory function while Damodar Mauzo (seated) looks on.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Goan Teenagers and the English Language

-Brian Mendonça

 ‘Religion: In India there are many religion and the three which I know brifley are Catholic, hindus and Muslim. People say that there are different gods but I believe that there is only one and just one god.
Politics: Earlier politics and today’s politics there has been a lot of change. Earlier politics was clean, smooth and fare all were treated equally whatever goods were there were distributed equally and everyone was loved equally but today if we go to be our politican and politics it has been rough and dirty politican only feel their pockets they don’t give a sheet to see the people, their needs only think of their self and their family. Even if others people die they don’t care. It’s full of corruption. The roads today are full of ‘holes’ but the poiticans don’t repair them because of them today many young youth have died. Other main thing and that is politicans have entered our religion . . . They made the Catholic people suffer a lot our nouns what harm they made why they are suffered a lot?? They made our Catholic hope less but as I have seen through this our Catholic faith has been increasing day by day there have a rally which was recently done by our Catholic brothers and sisters and in which many people took part lot number of priests and nouns were also there . . . Its important and one must not get politics into religion. Religion is separate and politics.’

Commentary: The above is an excerpt from an English essay by a teenager in Goa.

While it is plain to see that the student has ideas, command over the English language to provide a vehicle for these ideas is sorely lacking. Is the teacher going to go back to the drawing board and begin to teach spellings, homonyms, punctuation and palindromes?

Is the world view of the Goan teenager inscribed only by three religions? This is a pathetic perception of India. Still, festivals like Navroz – the Parsi New year is scarcely commemorated in school. Why is there such a disjunct between theory and practice?

In another question on diary entries for a festival of India spread over 4 days, most students gushed over generalities like ‘many cultural performances,’ ‘great music,’ ‘lovely dances,’ and ‘boring’ poetry readings. What was absent was any confidence to name any thing unique to a particular state, viz. Bihu from Assam; Khakra from Gujarat, Bhangra from Punjab or Kamala Das from Kerala. Students seem to shy away from this cultural immersion.

The problem is systemic. Teenagers hardly read the papers. IT and smart phones have given most of them a false sense of eloquence. Take-home assignments are ridden with material copied from the internet, and passed off shamelessly as one’s own.

With few exceptions, when it comes to Goan teens, there seems to be a general apathy towards India, academics and English language skills – a crucial matrix --with scant hope in sight.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 26 April 2015; pix courtesy

Arranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

-Brian Mendonça

If you were sailing on 15 April on the Titanic you would probably have gone down with the others. At 02.20 a.m. give or take a few hours, the biggest ocean liner afloat stuck an iceberg and sank. She was on her maiden voyage from Southampton in England, to New York. She had been sailing for 5 days since she left on 10 April with stops at Cherbourg (France) across the English Channel, and Cobh in Southern Ireland (11 April). The year would be 1912.

Cunard’s Carpathia which responded to an SOS on a Marconi radio, picked up only 705 passengers from the lifeboats on the icy Atlantic of the 2224 souls on the Titanic. Ironic, since as ship builders go, Cunard was the sworn competitor of the White Star Line which made Titanic. The water was -4 degrees below freezing point.

It would have been just another day last week if BBC had not announced on the morn of the 15th that a few deckchairs which were on the Titanic were now up for sale. For a few hundred thousand pounds, that is.

The case of the sinking of the Titanic is often cited by mothers (mine for certain) who hold it as an example of God’s vengeance – for didn’t someone say, ‘Even God cannot sink this ship!’? As the ship was sinking the band played, ‘Nearer My God, to Thee,’; others exercised in the gym, still others played cards.  These scenes have been immortalized in Titanic (1997) the film by James Cameron starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo diCaprio.

I suggested a solemn candlelight dinner on 15th night but was only met with incredulous looks in the kitchen. But seriously, why is the sinking of the Titanic one of the world’s most memorialized disasters?

The sad outcome of the sinking of the Titanic has spawned an idiom. ‘To arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic’ means to perform an action which, though well-meaning, will not change the outcome of a situation.

The ship’s remains have been sighted off the coast of Newfoundland just a little beyond Long Island the New England of USA. She was that close to New York, her destination.

Disaster tourism seems to have had a field day with people flocking on to the Balmoral for the Titanic Memorial Cruise, 100 years after it went down. The ship also traced the original voyage.  There were also services in Belfast where the ship was made, and in Southampton.

Many a Goan has been on a ship abroad or works on one.  Russel Rebello (32) perished in the Costa Concordia last year. Unlike the captain of the Concordia who fled the cruise ship, smiling Russel went back to the ship. Russel was not content to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. He saved the lives of as many as he could on the Concordia. Sometimes you can change your destiny and those of others – just by moving a deck chair.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 April 2015

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cuba Libre

-Brian Mendonça

Perhaps what epitomizes Cuba most is jazz -- Cuban jazz. We had the rare opportunity to swing to slow jazz as the evening dripped into night. This was right here in Goa, deep South by the bay.

Cuba, which looks like a crocodile in the water, is in ferment these days. That’s not unusual considering its tumultuous history and the revolution of 1959 which brought Castro to power. Today the buzz is about the USA beginning to resume full diplomatic relations with the nation after a crippling economic and political embargo stemming from the cold war years. Along with the new thinking on Iran, US relations and the normalizing of them with Cuba and Iran have set in motion a new horizon of opportunity for its people and its businesses.

Swept by the seeming euphoria, I steered my trusty i10 along the winding roads of Salcette, branching left at Queenie Nagar and going downhill all the way. First came the Betalbatim circle and then the Colva circle. As we nudged into Sernabatim, the fields as yet untouched, greeted us with a somnolence which seemed a bit forbidding. As we swept right to the sea and negotiated the sharp, blinding curves, only the moon kept us company. Soon enough muted jazz music began to seep through the night – the strains were of ‘Besame Mucho’ – my mum’s favourite.

As we shuffled into our seats we were awed by the presence of Dutch drummer Lucas van Merwijk whose group Music Machine was showcasing Cuban Golden Classics on their India Tour 2015. Mesmerized by Cuban pianist Ramon Valle I sat on the edge of my seat leaving Queenie to do the ordering and dish baba his dinner. In the break Ramon and I shared the poetry of Cuban poets Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989) and Nancy Morejón (born 1944). Hugo Chavez is dead but Samuel Ruiz from Caracas, kept the music alive with his latin bass. Bert Boeren from the Netherlands on the trombone gave the night that unmistakable feel that we were on the streets of Havana.

Music Machine was hosted by The Live Music Project (TLMP) at Baywatch, Sernabatim. These lads Vinesh Iyer and Darryl Noronha are bringing down great music to Goa. There is no entry fee. You just lounge around soaking in the music and feasting on the eats. (The fish fingers in tartar sauce and the kheema pao were particularly good.) And knowing that it is Saturday gives you the perfect reason to unwind . . .*

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had Russia and the US eyeball to eyeball over a nuclear base in Cuba. Amazing how the world has changed in 50 years. Cuba Libre / Free Cuba is the toast of the season where many Cubans can look forward to being reunited with their loved ones in the US. The evening of Cuban jazz made me go Caribbean once again. Right now I am reading ‘The Scissors’ by Cuban short story writer Antonio Benitez Rojo.

*; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 12 April, 2015; pix courtesy