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

Racer Car at Sunday Mass

-Brian Mendonça

We were having a hard time paying attention to the priest at Sunday morning Mass. What with two kids under four, under the pews of the two rows where they were ensconced.

Our son occupies himself in various ways during the sixty minutes at Sunday Mass. Sometimes he takes to gazing out of the large church windows after standing precariously on the church benches which line the walls for latecomers. The last time he fell off with a loud thud. He doesn't gaze out of the windows any more.

These days he has taken to playing with my car keys during Mass. Earlier he used to yank off my wedding ring and amuse himself with it. Until recently he believed he was hired by the church authorities to keep the place clean, ferreting out both our spotless handkerchiefs to dust and wipe the benches. Somehow he finds playing with my C1 mobile phone passé.  Bangles and bracelets are other things he tries to take off – but why only during Sunday Mass?!

Last Sunday he was playing by himself putting the hymn books in (dis)order. In the pew in front of him was another kid – mischief written all over his face. Six ladies occupied the pew. I happened to notice that the kid used to erupt into laughter frequently. So I decided to watch closely.

The tyke had a small yellow racer car with him – the kind which if you draw it backward and release it, it shoots forward.  He was standing on the vinyl kneeler to the right extreme of the pew and releasing the yellow car on the top portion of the pew. As he did so, he followed its progress all the way down across the breadth of the pew to the left extreme with delight!  All the six sturdy ladies, two in sarees, two in dresses and two in skirts seemed to be complicit in this act. If the yellow car got stuck anywhere they innocuously set it free and helped it on its way. I guess Jesus would have done the same.

At the close of Mass the whole church emptied. In the shuffling our son noticed a beautiful brown rosary on the floor in our pew. Since the elderly lady in question was nowhere to be seen, I left the rosary in the pew, confident she would retrieve it, as this was her usual seat. We made our way to the cemetery and I noticed the elderly lady. When I asked if the rosary was hers she nodded in horror. ‘We’ll get it for you,’ I said. In a trice my son bounded across to the church, clasped the rosary in his little hands and gave it to the elderly lady. As we left the lady repeatedly saying ‘Thank you,’ the words of Jesus rang in my ear, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ (Lk 18:16; NCB)

Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 8 February 2015; Pix source 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Ragging and Reunions

-Brian Mendonça                                                                     

Frankly, I am not one for reunions. They seem to be quite fashionable these days. For better or worse the past just doesn’t go away. 

Reunions are ostensibly held to reminisce over old times and dwell on what great pals you all had been in the good old days.

This is often a lie.

What triggered off this article was an innocuous invitation by an acquaintance who was my senior in college in my hostel days in Goa. He breezes in, wishing the family and says that the old boys are meeting up in a shack nearby and would I please come?

The prospect seemed inviting. So as I reached him to the door I casually asked him, if the family was invited. He said no.

After prodding, I got wind of the fact that most of the probables at the reunion were to be from the senior batch. As he reeled off their names their images floated up before my eyes.

These were the same fiends who, in my student days used to make life miserable by subjecting juniors in the hostel to mass ragging and humiliation. Being the senior-most, might was right. They used to forcibly dunk juniors in the hostel sink near the senior rooms – after liberally splaying it with their urine. This was called giving you a ‘bath’ or more correctly a ‘piss-bath.’

If this was the level of respect they had for us then, surely it could not have changed over the years? So, why the need to fraternize now? Had time changed anything?

I think they believed that with time, all was forgotten. Some forget. Some remember. I remember.

So it did not make any sense going to the reunion. I was not on the same page anymore.  

Reunions may appeal to some. If it means meeting friends you have kept in touch with over the years, it could turn out to be quite wonderful. But calls out of the blue could be you are on a sticky wicket. It’s funny how what some people do in jest can load the dice against them.

Ragging has been the bane of our educational institutions. The case was made in 3 Idiots where freshers are subjected to ragging. Countless cases of ragging lead to mental torture and even suicide. The Goa Prohibition of Ragging Act 2008 explicitly enjoins heads of educational institutions to ensure a ragging-free campus.*

Months back I received a call from a friend at school who is now settled abroad. ‘Can we meet for lunch?’ he said at 11 a.m. on a Monday when I returned his call. Since I would be free at only at 1 from Margao and the meet-up was at Mapusa I declined. Further attempts to slot a meeting met with no success. And this was the person sending breathless FB and whatsapp updates around the globe like, ‘Now I am in the car going to meet Julian.’ He soon left Goa. Great.

*; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 25 January 2015; pix courtesy: slideshare

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Miss Understanding – Expect the Worst!

Brian Mendonça

One of the takeaways for me of pk is that it revolves around a misunderstanding. The girl (Jagat Janani aka Jaggu) thinks she is stood up by the boy (Sarfraz) on her wedding day.  To cut back to the chase, Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) arrives at the church to be married (this is, after all, Bruges in Belgium) and seats herself among the pews waiting for her fiancée. While she is waiting she observes another lady who has also come there to be wedded. When this other lady is asked by the pastor about her partner, she rushes out of the church looking for him -- in the process leaving her kitten with Jaggu. A young boy enters the church, searching for someone. He sees Jaggu dressed in bridal gown holding the kitten and gives her a letter. The letter (unsigned) is presumably from Sarfraz saying he cannot go through with the ritual – and she is not to contact him in future. Jaggu in a state of turmoil rushes out of the church – but leaves the letter in the pew – and returns to Delhi.

The audience is all teary-eyed that a blossoming relationship between Jaggu and Sarfaraz (read India and Pakistan) has sundered on the rocks.  Rajkumar Hirani, the director picks up the pieces almost 2 hours later in the final scene on the talk show where pk (Aamir Khan) is pitted against Tapasvi Maharaj - the Godman.  He asks Jaggu, who is now the anchor of a T.V. show, a simple question, ‘Are you sure the letter was for you?’ pk then unravels what actually happened. The letter was intended for the other girl. Sarfraz did come to church that day. He does not find Jaggu, but finds the letter. Assuming it is for him he thinks Jaggu has written it for him and returns crestfallen to Lahore.

This is a case of double misunderstanding. What pk drives home is the point that we tend to believe what we want to believe – not what is necessarily true. Negativity often gains the upper hand as our mind is already coloured by the anxiety of a worst-case scenario. In the case above neither Jaggu nor Sarfraz gave the other the benefit of a doubt. Though both pined for each other, none made any attempt to contact each other. It needed an alien to bring that about because as Shaw said commonsense is not very common.

We all have dreams to nurture. We need to stand by ourselves – and others -- and believe these dreams will happen; not cave in to accidents of chance which erode our conviction.  In pk, both ‘Miss’ Jaggu and ‘Mr.’ Sarfaraz misunderstand the situation. As Rajeev Dhavan writes, ‘PK is not a person but an idea that interrogates, even scolds us  . . . it asks us to re-examine who we are.’ The next time when something goes wrong, before we leap to conclusions, let’s probe why things went wrong. Expect the best in life.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 January 2015. St. Anne's Church, Bruges at https:(backslash)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Kenna Kenna Man Majhe

-Brian Mendonça

Kenna kenna man majhe
Pixe kashe bauvta vanyar
Kenna talyar, kenna malyar
Man mhaje ravna tharyar.

The opening verse of this beautiful poem by Sushmita Naik, is full of the cadence of Konkani poetry. The inversion of the syntax, the musicality, the tautness of phrase and the elegance of thought enable complete identification of the reader with the sentiments of the poet. An inadequate translation could be: Sometimes my mind /loses its senses and wanders like the wind / Sometimes by the lake, sometimes with the earth / my mind doesn’t stay in one place.

Those who understand the original are blessed indeed. They need no intermediaries. The poem was published in Devanagri in the Sunday edition of the Konkani daily Sunaprant (28 Dec. 2014).  Just below the poem was Dr. Rajay Pawar’s review of young Konkani poets titled ‘Yuva Kavita Apeksha Vadaita.’ Pawar, a colleague of mine, was one of the Konkani poets I spoke on at a recent talk I was invited to deliver in a college in Goa. His poem, ‘Computer Ek Upkar Kar’  on how the computer has displaced the old way of life in Goa is very popular and prescribed for college students in the volume titled Kavyafulam.  The Konkani poems of Nutan Shakardande, Pundalik Naik, Nagesh Karmali and Walter Menezes, were also read and discussed.

I titled my talk, ‘Glimpses of Contemporary Goan Poetry in English and Konkani.’ It is vital for the youth, I said, to bridge the schism between English and Konkani writing in Goa. Students of English literature and students of Konkani literature are stuck in their own silos blissfully unaware of writing in the other languages of their own state. While this focus may get them better marks it is cultural suicide for Goa.

In a memorable line at a culture conclave at Ninasam in Shimoga district, Karnataka, social scientist Shiv Vishwanathan pointed out, ‘To be an Indian you have to be illiterate.’ Only an illiterate in India, he argued, can speak five languages, thereby keeping cultural memories and stories alive.  English-speaking Goans must shed their shyness to speak, read and write Konkani.  After I had written about Yuvamahotsava  last year -- the annual inter-collegiate meet on Konkani language and literature, one remarked that Konkani needs more presence on the internet.

In a grim scenario Charlie, who is down from London, bumps into uncle Duming in Goa. Charlie wants to learn Konkani because he needs to communicate with his tenants who are refusing to vacate. Uncle Duming tells him, ‘Ti famil, ji tujea pai-n bhaddeak dovorli ti Madrasi famil, ani atam tim besbori Konkani uloitat, ani itli vorsam tim tumchea ghorant ravtat. Tim atam bhair soronk kotthinn re baba.’ A sadder but wiser Charlie returns to London vowing to learn Konkani and speak in Konkani to his children. Uncle Duming’s words ring in his ears, ‘Tujea bapain tujem Gõykarponn kaddun ghetlem. Tum atam Gõykar uronk nam. Tum Konkani ulounk noko zalear tum Gõykar mhunn koso sabit kortolo?*
*See ‘Gõykarponn?’ by Willy Goes in Gulab – a monthly published in Romi Konkani (XI.32 Nov. 2014); Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 11 January 2015. Pix source Venchille Khin- Collection of Konkani Essays  by Dinesh Manerker at Konkani Shoppe on ebay.