Sunday, 21 December 2014

Kathryn Hummel - Poems From Here

In the intimate setting of the Zuari hall, International Centre Goa, Donapaula, Goa, yesterday, Kathryn Hummel regaled poetry lovers to a reading of her poems.from her debut volume Poems from Here released in October. It is not everyday that we have an Australian poet of the calibre of Kathryn amongst us. So when Vivek asked me to anchor the session I was more than pleased. As it turned out Kathryn and me were on the same page. We were both in some sense traveller-poets.

Considering herself nothing less than an explorer, Kathryn opened her poetry reading with: 'I always confuse / the sextant and the speculum . . ./ Maybe they are joined / in my mind / as tools of navigation / for worlds vast as oceans, / steered in conference with the night sky.'

Widely travelled, Kathryn has spent years in Bangladesh, Japan and India. But it is in the in-between places, gazing at the moon, when she is lost and 'homeless,'  that she writes her sometimes sad lines. She writes in 'Paradise Inn', Allapuzha, Kerala : The moonlight outside my blinkered range, / has the same pale pressure of the lover I wanted nights ago,/ the one I summon to this continent from another:/ with a touch to bleach the misdeeds and the bruises they left,/ though never their memory.'

A doctorate in ethnographic studies, Dr Kathryn teaches creative communication at the University of South Australia, Magill campus. But she is not a stuffy academic. Rather, she pulsates with life, as a teenager, many of whom she has encouraged to look at poetry itself as valuable material for ethnographic study.The slim volume Poems from Here has been brought out elegantly by Walleah Press, North Hobart, Tasmania.

'Last Drinks in Adelaide' is a wonderfully evoked poem where friends sit around with the knowledge one of them is going to leave. The Australian mannerisms are retained, along with the minute details of Pip her dog: Near the pier where Pip got kicked (we think) / by a bogan out-of towner,/ we take in our drinks; at the same time, the sea. Her poetry is often self-reflexive. In 'Fatty Sobji' she masquerades as her acquaintances in Bangladesh reproving her for her weight: 'In terms of Rabindranath's Romanticism,/ You are like the dahl of tomorrow left out in the monsoon of today: /You are expanding the bideshi border by your bottom alone.' In a recent poem Kathryn read 'Letter from Emily Bronte' in which she speaks as Bronte and replies to her detractors.

Kathryn is off to Kathmandu on Tuesday. As I read my poem 'Kali Gandak' written on the Gandak river on the Indo-Nepal border I bid farewell to Kathryn with the awareness in her words that, 'outside the syntactic torture / of the poetry workshop / waits the warming cordial / of friends and wine.' That, and her allusions to Mayakovsky, Neruda, Wordsworth, Pascal and Jibananda . . .

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Konkani Poetry

Yesterday I gave a PPT on the topic 'Glimpses of Contemporary Goan Poetry in English and Konkani' for students of a college. The request was made by a student of mine who I had taught around 20 years back in the college I am teaching in now. She still remembers, she said as she introduced me, me teaching Wordsworth's 'Tintern Abbey' in class. I tried to remember but the memories escaped me.

There were a goodly number of students, around 40, who took time off from their hectic 'Fun Week' which seems to be the rage these days, to hear a poet read his lines. The deafening music outside the lecture hall soon mellowed into the cadence of poetry.

For me this was a learning experience since I had never handled Goan poetry in Konkani and English on the same platform. But I realize that using Konkani, can have many benefits to leverage English in L2 classrooms. True enough, the students which were mostly from the Konkani department (The talk was jointly organized by the Konkani and English Departments of the college) came alive in their reading of the Konkani poems I had selected -- many from  Kaavyfulam -- the book of Konkani poetry prescribed for their study at the under-graduate level.

The point I made was that while Goan poetry in English generally sheds its angst through addressing lofty themes like exile and immortality, Konkani is more preoccupied with the 'mundane' everyday experience in Goa, which is used with devastating effect. Nutan Shakardande's poem, 'Yo Disa Bar Pota' is about how as the month progresses the fare on the table becomes more austere. From eating chicken and mutton on the first of the month, one is reduced to 'Tees tarke, sukhi sungta.' The rhythm of the lines simply has to be heard and marvelled at.

Rajay Pawar and myself were teaching in the same college once. His poem 'Computer ek Upkar Kar' is about the sea-change in the way of life brought about by the introduction of the computer in our lives. His acerbic asides drive home the home-truths. He observes that when one opens Windows on the computer, one closes the windows in the house. The windows could be metaphoric as well. Instead of playing outside the child is stuck to the computer and even forgoes his mother's warmth as he is put straight to bed from the table. Spouses have separate passwords, and the CV of the person next door is obtainable on the internet. In the end the poet entreats the computer not to take away the childhood from the child and let the spouses communicate with each other once more. 'Ata ekuch upkar kar / Je , je, tuvem kela erase / titlya partun feed kar.

Pundalik Naik's lyrical 'Tu Aylona'  reminded me of a poem I wrote in Hindi once, 'Aap nahi aaye / phir bhi aap aaye.' In this poem Pundalik Naik examines the many reasons why his beloved has not come. As he concedes, 'Tashi na yopachi karna khub aastat'. The poem is Romantic in character.and whilc commiserating with the poet we are privy to his thought process of putting himself in his beloved's shoes. Nagesh Karmali's poem 'To Dis Aata Gele'  is about how land reform and how the bhatkar can no longer ill-treat the mundcar.  He catalogues the obsequies the indigent are forced to proffer to the landed class. Walter Menezes extolls the virtues of his poetry which will make him immortal in 'Hanv Urtolom, Utor Zaun.'

The session ended with a students reading two of her Konkani poems and a discussion on the interplay of themes in both languages. Konkani poetry was said to be the poetry of detail and rising from the land of Goa. The English students said it is not understood outside Goa. The Konkani students pointed out the availability of translations . . . and so it went on.

The Goan poets writing in English which I touched upon were Mary Mendes 'Goa-Skirmishes'; Margaret Mascarenhas 'Missing Person in Goa'; Jose Lourenco 'Who Exiled the Goan Intellectual?'; Ethel Da Costa 'Madness' and Brian Mendonca 'Pilar.'
I am grateful to Queenie Viegas for mediating the Konkani poems to me; Pix of Nutan Sakhardande from google+, Rajay Pawar from Kavita Fest 2015

Monday, 15 December 2014

Follow his footsteps, live your faith

-Brian Mendonça

As I drove home to Vasco after visiting Old Goa the early winter night had already fallen. The newly-tarred expansive roads at Old Goa shrunk into the narrow village roads of Carambolim, Mandur, Neura emerging out on to National Highway 17 at Agaçaim. Miles away from Old Goa in pitch darkness a tall, well-built priest in cassock was cheerfully walking briskly to the Rome of the Orient, a young lad by his side brandishing a torch.

Nothing seems to have changed here at the Exposition of St. Francis Xavier. The faith of the people is so strong, it is almost as if he lives today. Perhaps more so. When he died in Shang Chuan hardly anyone followed him to the grave. Today the world venerates him as Goencho Saiba.

We had spent the day at Old Goa where our college performed a play on the life of St. Francis Xavier. There were 6 shows in all for a duration of about 35 minutes each. As I put the cast through their paces I marvelled at their commitment, and how they grew better each time they performed. Audience feedback was taken cheerfully and acted upon to rectify the faux pas. What was this unseen energy which was bringing us all together? Surely it was the spirit of St. Francis Xavier.

The most important aspect, for me, of Francisco’s life (1506-1552) was his transformation. He had money, fame, and honour – and he gave it all up. He was at the peak of his career but he put his life in the service of God. He was, as our play was titled, ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (which is also the name of a play by Robert Bolt on the life of Sir Thomas More). It was at the University of Paris that Francis met Ignatius of Loyola in 1528 who changed his life with the words, ‘What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul?’

Francis was a traveller. In 1536 he left Paris for Venice and from then on to Rome to meet the Pope to receive the sacred orders. Francis Xavier set sail for Goa only in 1540 – that too in place of someone else. Just 5 years later Francis arrives in Malacca. In 1549 Francis visits Japan. His last days come as he lies in sight of China.

Everywhere he went Francis Xavier wrote. He was a writer par excellence. No less than the King of Portugal, Dom João III asked him to write to him frequently and to report to him all what was being done to spread the faith.

When Francis stepped into Goa he spent a lot of time with children. He learnt the local language.

There is so much to learn from Francis. He was a man like us. As the souvenir T-shirt at the Exhibition Hall exhorts us, ‘Follow his footsteps, live your faith.’
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 14 December 2014. Pix of cast and crew from Carmel College, Goa, on stage in the Exhibition Hall, Old Goa on 11 December 2014.

Annual Day 2014

Dwayne had a ball for his annual day this year. For a long period of time, in the run-up to the big day we used to pester him about what part he was playing for the performance. But he kept mum. We gave up after that, resigning ourselves to viewing it in the magnificent Rabindra Bhavan instead. His studied silence quite intrigued us but we took it as a sign of growing up. Earlier he was quite at home on the stage at the Goa Arts and Literary Festival frolicking with the mike et al.

The day finally arrived and I whisked him off to Ravindra Bhavan at 4 p.m. to get ready for the evening. He had this lovely orange outfit on and we got a hint of what he would be doing when a few days before he came home and to our repeated queries stunned us with permitting 4 precious syllables out of his mouth. 'African dance' was all we got. Still it was something to go on.

Queenie had riding practice at 4.30 p.m. So we went there. She was happy at the learning experience. At 5 we headed to RB to watch our son perform. Baina beach never looked so crowded before. There were cars everywhere and in the melee I was glad I had clicked baba's photo (above top) at 4 itself.

The programme for the Annual Day was a tasteful display of a variety of items all performed by the little ones.  They surpassed themselves in the Fancy Dress event where about 20 of them dressed up as a famous personality of India.Traditional dances were performed from the states of India like Assam, Maharashtra, and Punjab. Captivating skits and natak driving home home-truths were staged much to the delight of the audience. One was of the passers-by who refused to remove the stone in the middle of the road, preferring to go around it. When one finally did he is rewarded by the king. The other was about how the lost necklace of the king is retrieved.  The audience gasped when the curtain opened to show around 20 girls about the age of 3, dressed in pink satin in perfect ballet pose waiting for the music to start..

Undoubtedly, a lot of effort had gone into the preparation. Baba could be barely seen in the group on stage, being in the back row, As he shook his hand this was and that we felt more steps could have been added to make it more lively. The evening ended with the national anthem with the entire cast and crew on stage. While the Annual Day had a distinctly pan-Indian flavour -  the compere shifting from English to Hindi, as the show went on -- I missed the cadence of Konkani which signifies our roots. Dwayne and us after 5 were there from 4 to almost 8 p.m. in the hall without a bite to eat. The elaborate circular had expressly asked us to refrain from bringing any eatables for the kids - or even water. These, they said, would be provided -- and it wasn't. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Tilting at Windmills

No we don’t have windmills – at least not in Goa. Pity. Gazing on them is so meditative and relaxing. But I am sure we can recall an experience – an activity to be precise – where we put in all our effort on an imaginary objective and find it all wasted (or wasn’t necessary).

Welcome to the world of Cervantes, the pioneer of the novel. The idiom emerges from the main character of Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote (1605) wherein the intrepid Don Quixote charges at a windmill to subdue it thinking it is a giant with flapping arms.

This derision with which this seemingly meaningless action has met with, has been somewhat undercut in recent times by a reappraisal of his humanity. In the sleeve notes on a film by James March titled ‘Don Quixote: Lessons for Leadership’ he writes, ‘Quixote reminds us that if we trust only when trust is warranted, love only when love is returned, learn only where learning is valuable, we abandon an essential feature of our humanness.’*

When an invitation to participate in a conference with the acronym TILT careened into my inbox I was wondering if it entailed a whiff of Spain. The short form however, stood for Techniques and Innovations in Language Teaching. As teachers we are always tilting this way and that in the classroom simply (sometimes desperately) trying to teach the nuances of the English language. So I decided to send in a research paper preceded by an abstract of what I intended to say.

In hindsight, I found the idiom had some resonance with the conference. The perceived duality between English language and English Literature seemed to pose hurdles where there weren’t any. Some bemoaned the dethroning of Shakespeare in favour of more language-oriented courses – ‘In the context of globalization, English Language Teaching [ELT] is moving away from Literature, more focus being given to soft skills, computer applications etc. Hence literature like pure sciences, finds itself pushed to the walls, languishing in the margins.’

Yet there was a spirited defense of Literature as well. One paper quoted José Hernández Riwes Cruz stating, ‘Literature enhances ELT [English Language Teaching] through elements such as authentic material, language in use and aesthetic representation of the spoken language, as well as language and culture enrichment.’

The conference provided a lot of food for thought for our teaching practice. There were 3 parallel sessions – each subdivided into 4 thematic sessions, each featuring about 15 papers – over two days. It was impossible to be in 2 (or 4!) seminar halls at the same time. Perhaps this was the only way to accommodate the 168 papers scheduled for TILT 2014.

It is possible to teach language and literature at the same time. In fact, in the coming semester at the second year Bachelor of Arts programme in college, we have a compulsory paper titled, ‘Language through Literature.’ Currently I am helping a student from Canada with her Grade 12, ENG4U course. We do language and literature-related activities – and it works.
*; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 30 November, 2014; pix source spanishsaharaset

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Changing Classroom Climate at the Under-Graduate Level

Changing Classroom Climate at the Under-Graduate Level: Techniques and Innovations
                                                             Dr. Brian Mendonca
                                                             ELT Professional


Teaching English to undergraduate students today has become extremely challenging. Across the 3 years of their ‘internship’ of the B.A. degree course (6 semesters) they are exposed to a variety of English skills from ‘Spoken English’ in the first year to Indian Literature in English in the final year. Whereas students who opt for literature and subjects allied to literature in English, viz. American studies, the rest in the large, unwieldy compulsory English classes get by with a smattering of English. Overshadowed by their more adroit Allied students in the same class with superior English skills --and often the teachers’ favourites -- these students usually from the mother tongue medium fare pathetically.

Many resort to cut and paste for their intra-semester exams (ISA), or force sentences with no clue of idiomatic meanings. Students prefer to stay in cliques reinforcing the same abysmal performance levels. They rarely stay back for remedial teaching. An open book exam produces better results. can be leveraged by asking students to sign up for courses with content allied to syllabus. Role plays; group discussion and one-on-one interviews break the ennui of classroom teaching. With students in classrooms on mobile phones with internet, generation Z would like to excel in English but are not motivated enough. This paper will address these issues by offering techniques which have worked at the 3 levels of under-graduate teaching.

Keywords: Under-Graduate Teaching, ELT, SL, ISA, SEE, Language Learning, Techniques, Innovations 
International Conference on Trends and Innovations in Language Teaching (TILT 2014), Department of English, Sathyabama University, Chennai, India, 14-15 November 2014; Pix above of  Dr. Brian Mendonca delivering his presentation at the conference venue on 15 November 2014. He was invited to chair the session.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Naam Japo, Kirat Karo, Vand Chakko

-Brian Mendonça

Thank you Sanjana, for sending me a mail greeting me on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti on 6 November. The last year, on Guru Nanak Jayanti – the birth of Nanak, the first guru of the Sikhs – I wanted to relive the experience of partaking of lunch/ langar at the gurudwara close by. I did not make it and the wish remained unfulfilled.

It was almost 2 p.m. when I saw Sanjana’s mail. Could I make it for langar this year? I feverishly selected my glass-brocaded kurti from Kolhapur, jumped on my scooter and was off. As I reached the gates of the gurudwara at Mangor Hill, Vasco, I beheld the Sikhs elegantly dressed and milling around in a festive mood.  But could I venture in alone?

 I became more resolute when I remembered how I had partaken of langar at the gurudwara at Anandpur Sahib, Punjab on my way back from seeing the awesome Bhakra-Nangal dam in 2008. Those were the years I was the traveller-poet discovering the soul of India.

Furtively, I entered the premises unsure of what to do. I told myself, this was the faith that kept India together -- a respect for another’s religion and a magnanimity of sharing the best tenets of one’s own.

I spotted two lads, looking regal in their turbans, washing their hands at the sink. I plucked up courage and introduced myself as a poet and asked where the langar could be had. I covered my head with my kerchief, as I was instructed to do, and followed them as they went in to pay their respects to the Guru Granth Sahib– the holy book of the Sikhs. I noticed the harmonium and mikes at the side but no players. I was told the keertan (religious singing) concluded at 2 p.m.

On the way to lunch I noticed a team of women energetically making rotis. This is the spirit which is so inspiring where the entire community works to serve food to whoever wants it. Langar is served here every Sunday as well. I was briskly given a thali, a glass and a spoon. In the packed hall my friends found a place where the 3 of us could sit together. Langar of black dal, steaming rotis, cauliflower vegetable with potatoes, raita and kheer was delicious. 

Guru Nanak was born in Pakistan in 1469 and died in India in 1539. His 3-fold teaching in Gurmukhi  script was simple and socially relevant, viz. Meditate on the name of the Lord (Naam japo); do your work diligently (Kirat karo); and share what you have with others (Vand chakko).

I learnt that the lads had come on the INS Viraat – India’s aircraft carrier which was docked at Mormugao harbour. As we watched the gigantic carrier the next day heading for the high seas, I knew I was a little more enriched – and humbled – by the plenitude of India.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, on Sunday 16 November, 2014; Pix of Nanak with childhood friend Mardana. Mardana was a Muslim. He was also a musician; Source