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

Spring Cleaning

-Brian Mendonça

 Several festivals have marked the onset of  Spring, viz. Holi, Navroz, Gudi Padwa, and now Easter.  But what does Spring do for us?

Spring heralds a new season, a time to do new things, and relook at old ways of doing them. It suggests a ‘spring’ in the step, a ‘springing’ to action from being otherwise dormant, and a new awareness of the gift of being alive. Like Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring (1912) the flavor of the season is to be bold and path-breaking.

Spring cleaning suggests that we clean up our homes, our work spaces, and  often our minds. It is a time to take the plunge and do things one may have not done in any other season. Most importantly it is deciding what to discard among the burgeoning heap of books, clothes, toys (yes, baba’s), scraps of papers, bills, etc. For the lady of the house it may be the chipped teapot in the kitchen, ill-fitting wear, but absolutely NOT the old photographs!

The moment the space is cleared away a new energy inhabits the cupboard, the book rack or the cabinet. The space is ‘tabula rasa,’ a clean slate, waiting for the new to impinge on it. Cleaning up can make us feel very pleased with ourselves and can lift us out of a low mood.  Nida Fazli put it eloquently, ‘Apne gam leke, kahi aur na jaya karo /Ghar mein bhikre huay cheezey ko sajaya karo.’ [Take not your sadness to another’s place /Instead gather the scattered things in your house and arrange them.]

While the move to tidy the place appears nobel, I have often been prodded into spring cleaning simply because I can’t find something. As I embark on this activity hopping for the truant item to show up, the untidy spaces automatically tidy themselves. In the bargain, items long thought to be lost are detected triumphantly from drawers and suitcases!

There are so many who are not here to share this Spring with us today.  We lost our grandma from Corjuem last week. Newly-wedded Lieutenant Kiran Shekhawat, became the first female naval officer to die on duty when their Dornier crashed into the sea off  the coast of Goa.

‘April is the cruelest month,’ wrote T.S. Eliot.  Shakespeare, born on 23 April and now a super brand, might not have agreed. * April is also the month devoted to autism awareness.  TIES, Goa --A parents support group for children with disabilities (Towards Inclusion Everywhere In Society), has special programmes to reach out to the autistic.

One day I was preoccupied with my thoughts on my way to work. I noticed the windshield was dirty. I braved the traffic. Minutes later I parked, got out of the car and wiped the windshield. That started my ‘Spring cleaning’ for me. I also began to ‘see’ more clearly as I stepped into Summer.

*See ‘Branding Bill: The Shakespearean Commons’ in Economic and Political Weekly, March 21, 2015.; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 5 April 2015; pix courtesy Huffingtonpost.

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.