Monday, 20 February 2017

Films from the North East

-Brian Mendonça

Far away from the brouhaha of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), was another event equally laudable in Goa.  Mallikarjun college tucked away on the Southern tip of Goa hosted an International Interdisciplinary Conference on Indian Cinema and Women from 3-4 February 2017. I chose to focus on films from the North East of India.

Although there is a fair degree of contribution of films from the North East to the Indian film industry, much of the efforts go unnoticed. Regional film has sadly lost out and continues to lose out to the exorcising influence of Bollywood, its glam quotient, its suave marketing and its allure for the youth.  North East films seem to explore more mature themes of men and women in their mature years. Set against a backdrop of insurgency, killings and dislocation, it is these voices which we seldom hear – or choose to ignore. 

The movie AFSPA 1958 (2006) written and directed by Haobem Pabam Kumar is a documentary film in Manipuri about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 which gives sweeping powers to the security forces. It reaches back to the episode of the torture and death of Manorama Devi and the consequent protest by Manipuri women who disrobed and walked through Imphal in 2004.  Journey to Nagaland (2011) is an animated film from Nagaland about a young girl led by dreams to her roots. The Headhunter directed by Nilanjan Dutta, is a film from Arunachal Pradesh which tells about the erasure of the old ways of life of the tribals.  

With regard to Assamese film, the latest poetic offering Dau Huduni Methai/ Song of the Horned Owl (2016) by Manju Borah catalogues the human cost of insurgency seen through the eyes of a rape victim Raimili. Adomya (2014) by Bobby Sarma Baruah tells the story of Juri infected by her AIDS-stricken husband who dies later. Juri has to bring up her daughter in these circumstances.

From Bhupen Hazarika’s trailblazer Shakuntala (1961) in Assamese to Santwana Bardoloi’s Adajya (1996) also in Assamese, directors have provided keen insights into the psyche of a woman. The themes have been bold. Adjaya, is about Giribala a young attractive widow who has to confront her needs when an American scholar comes visiting.  The film is based on a novel by Indira Goswami and is set in the 1940’s in Assam. 

Widowhood has also been the theme of Padum Borah’s Gonga Silonir Pakhi/ Wings of the Tern (1976). In Aparoopa (1982) by Jahnu Baruah, Aparoopa is forced to give up her University education to marry a rich tea estate. She later realises she was a pawn to repay her father’s debts. She begins a dalliance with an old classmate. Agnisaan (1985) by Bhabendranath Saikila dwells on the theme of the revenge of the first wife who has been discarded.  In Kothanodi / River of Tales (2015) Bhaskar Hazarika has taken recourse to Assamese folktales weaving in witchcraft, infanticide and snake worship – practised by women and endemic to Assam.
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 February 2017.

Advertising Chocolate: Configuring Desire


Dr. Brian Mendonca delivering his presentation.


Advertising Chocolate: Configuring Desire

Chocolate is all things to all people. But making them desirable is the business of advertisements. From cookies to condoms all are flavoured with chocolate. The ingenuity of the ad makers to get the message across has to be seen to b believed. From the staid Amitabh uncle image coaxing his wards to make the occasion special with 'Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye', Hindi being the operative register for Cadbury, to the blatantly sexual Oreo ad, 'Black outside, white inside,' ads can be loved or hated but never ignored. A glimpse of famous international brands and their ads like Vero, Ferrero Rocher, Frederici, Gioconda and Haagen Dasz enables us to see how they are conceived to captivate the audience. The target segment could be nubile teenagers, women, children, or old men. The goal is the same - to sell the chocolate. Some ads are mystifying others complex, but all arresting to the eye and beholder. All of them appeal to our basic instincts and desires. Unmediated by the superego they appeal to the senses first, the ego later. Id is the game player here. As Vero's ad for dark chocolate implores, 'Do not deny your dark side.' The feminization of chocolate in recent times is a far cry from the time chocolate used to be standard ration for soldiers for their instant, high energy content. Mona Lisa in a Bob Marley hairdo is just one of the attempts to subvert high art and Western iconography. Foot fetish is what Mars relies on advocating that when it comes to foreplay by a man sucking a Mars is better than sucking a woman's toe.

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College colloquium titled, 'Say it with Chocolate' held at Carmel College of Arts, Science and Commerce for Women, Nuvem, Goa on 18 February 2017



Sunday, 12 February 2017

‘Service is my motto’



-Brian Mendonça

After many months of preparation the elections to the Goa Legislative Assembly were held on 4 February. Being a Presiding Officer for 38 Sanvordem Assembly Constituency (AC), gave me a ringside view of the action. The last time I was posted in Curtorim, the experience was daunting.

With some trepidation I went for my training session at the Government Primary School, opposite the Mamlatdar’s office, Tamsodo, Dharbandora. To add to that there was an international conference at Delem, Canacona on the day previous to poll day when we had to collect our material for polling.

That was when I furtively approached the desk of the Returning Officer (RO) to ask him if I could be allowed to present my paper at Canacona and then come to Tamsodo. It seemed preposterous, but the officers present said Agnelo Fernandes, RO and Deputy Collector, Dharbandora, was an understanding man. He smiled and nodded his head.

I had heard his speech at the training session which roused us from our sleep in the mid-morning. He fired us with a zeal to perform the task entrusted to us. He believed in us. The tension seeped out of me. Seated with the 5 members assigned to me, I too found the voice to stitch my motley crew, together.

Agnelo Fernandes struck me as a young, dynamic, unassuming officer keen to make a difference. Though he got into his chair with some awkwardness, he exuded positivity. His twinkling eyes searched the room. He was always smiling. He regaled us with jokes culled from his experience in the field. He went out of his way to make us feel comfortable.

‘Service is my motto,’ said Agnelo. ‘My greatest satisfaction, is to see a smile on the face of the poorest of the poor. The policies of the Government are on paper. We need to reach it to the people.’ 

Agnelo (48) cleared his Goa Public Service Commission (GPSC) exams in 2000. In17 years he has served in Panjim, Quepem and Cuncolim in various capacities. As Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) and Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Dharbandora he has to adjudicate cases and is in charge of law and order. Unfazed by polio at 6 years of age, he moves about fearlessly in his vehicle to maintain the peace. He is an inspiration to others.

Trained in law, he opted for Government service in view of his mobility issues. This year the government made a special thrust to reach out to people who could not walk to the polling booth. Agnelo identified 42 people in his jurisdiction and ensured that they are provided assistance to vote.

Agnelo takes as his model the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) -- a great athlete, who was stricken with polio. Despite his mobility issues, he was the only president to be elected four times. Roosevelt led the country through the depression and World War II.

A voracious reader, Agnelo says his greatest strength is that he knows his job thoroughly.
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 12 February 2017. Pix courtesy Agnelo Fernandes.



WordsUp 2017


WordsUp 2017 is a great initiative by my alma mater St. Xavier's College, Mapusa, Goa to bring the zing back into words and expressing them. Spread across 2 days over the weekend 10-11 February 2017, the sprawling campus witnesses frenetic activity as teams from various colleges vied for the top honours.

What took my breath away was the 'Writer's Corner' perched on the lip of the summit of the hill on which the college proudly stands.Under this leafy bower, sat a small group huddled in animated conversation when I made my appearance on Day 2. As I took as seat as unobtrusively as possible, I let the words wash over me. After I had listened to the drift of the conversation I decided to intervene.

Such is what I said: Young Adult (YA) fiction writers need not be fixed in their assumptions about what life is - or could be. When they hit their 30's life, they might realize, is a whole new ball game. ii) When you say you are writing for the market, don't compromise on your truth. iii) Who is your market anyway? Readers of print media are very different from readers on virtual media iv) Goan writers need not be hemmed in by the baggage of the past. They are free to draw on the history they are heir too, but this need not circumscribe a writer. v) Write you own stories -- not someone else's.

Rochelle Potkar was hesitant to venture into reading Jerry Pinto's Em and the Big Hoom (2014) because the characters in the book she is writing might start becoming like those in Jerry Pinto's work. This led to a discussion about what happens to a writer when his/her own work resembles someone else's. Nida Sayed author of Nasty Secrets (Cinnamon Teal, 2014) said she gave her draft to a reader and he said it read like Captain America. She refused to believe it at first, but later found it was true. I stressed the importance of ambiguity in a work of art. We try to give the readers all the answers. Cultivate the art of suggestion as one does in poetry.

When I met Rochelle later she offered me her card saying, 'I made a business card, because I don't have a business.' I had seen her read her poem 'Biscooti Love' at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival 2016. This one is by her from the same collection Four Degrees of Separation (20 Notebooks Press, 2016):

Don't ask a rose to wait.
There is no time in its petals
only the saga of one sunrise
and one sundown.

In The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories (2013) she reflects on the state of women in India. In the story 'A Place they Call Scary' she describes the life of young 12-year old devadasi in a temple. Sitting in in a conversation of drunk men in 'What Men Want' she observes, 'Every woman was one woman. The universal cunt. The wet, willing one. The juices that got herself and him flowing. . . . A woman was not her head or toe but the warm must-have place between her legs. Just like the colour of their whiskey was golden yellow, the same as their urine.'

Safina Khan Soudagar put out her debut novel The Arranged Love Marriage (Broadway, 2017). These are creative impulses which need to be nurtured. It appeal to YA fiction and the speculation about a life partner sits well with the newly spawned genre of speculative fiction. Frederick Noronha, proprietor of publishing house Goa 1556, spoke of how the years of life swept by, 'Our 20's went in studying, our 30's went in marriage, our 40's in children. And all the time we were trying to make ends meet. Only now in our 50's we can do what we really like.' He mooted the idea of creating spaces for a designation of Professor Emeritus. Thus a Professor need not retire from active teaching but can plough back all his/her experience into the University system in the golden years.

In the afternoon session I was the poet in the Writer's Corner. Gail Pinto, Words Up volunteer opened the session by asking When did you begin to write?  I smiled saying as one grows older the question appears simplistic. I was always contributing to mids in the Navhind Times. But writing poetry came much later when I saw a tree being cut down in our backyard. Alice Barneto asked Why did you self-publish? I spoke about my journey. My trek to various publishers. The rejection I faced. But this was my moment and this was my space. So I self-published Last Bus to Vasco.  I was helped twice by the Government of Goa with ads, the first time by Menino Peres and the next time by Sandeep Jacques. The next book A Peace of India I published alone as Govt. of Goa would not be interested in poems across India. I approached Incredible India but I was too small for them.

Prema Rocha enquired Do you miss Delhi and your work, now that you are into teaching? I said I have no regrets. I enjoy my teaching and it is good to give back to Goa. Anyways I am always editing my students' English. Gail asked, Can one teach creative writing? I said there are guidelines for writing. I shared with them my experience of how one lecture segues into another. Since we were doing Candida for the final year students I decided to ask my creative writing students to write a dialogue. One of them was going for a driving test that afternoon. I suggested that the dialogue be between the instructor and the student. What emerged was realistic. I asked the students to add one more level, viz. of creativity. Give it a surprise ending, spice it up a bit. Next you research and edit it and then prepare the final version.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Crossing the Bar


-Brian Mendonça

There are no dearth of bars in Goa. My mother used to say, ‘If you throw a stone in Goa, it would fall on a bar, a D’Souza, or a pig.’ Times were different then.

Yet the allure of bars remains. As evening drips into night one can see them filled to capacity. Bereft of their soul in the day, the often-crammed spaces, spring to life at dusk. There in the noisy banter of drinkers, you realise that the troubles of this world are not on your shoulders alone. Even if you are alone, you can always swoop on an unsuspecting lone tippler and jettison your cargo of cares.

Being so well-frequented bars have become landmarks of a place. Like proliferating garbage dumps -- which have long ago been enlisted for the same purpose – bars have their unique sense of place and identity. Different types of people will frequent different types of bars. They also have their favourite place to sit.

So it is with some reluctance that I cross the bars in the city on my way home. Given the time (the inclination is always there) I should slip in surreptitiously and take a seat well away from the dim light. No matter if I am having water (it looks like caju feni anyway), what I would like most to do is to watch the people in the bar. From the swagger in their stride to the smirk on their lips every gesture tells a story. Here you will meet raconteurs of the first order, uninhibited, fearless, and happy.

People in bars speak about the day, office politics, elections, deals, or business. A little liquor does much to loosen the tongue and there are brands for the asking. The pungent smell of the various brews make you want to taste all, if the night be young. The flourish with which each drinker steps forward to order his poison; the controlled impatience of the bar-tender waiting for the drinker to make up his mind; the hurried pouring out of the elixir from the goblet to the glass – are a delight to watch.

There are delicious snacks to go with your drinks. From a pleasingly proffered plate of peanuts in their pods to more spicy starters, companions abound to help you nurse your drink. As you sip on your glass you can always give the dinner order.

Names of bars have been quite fascinating. From the long-standing Alex Bar in Vasco, to Unique Bar and Restaurant in Dona Paula, I was delighted to learn of Perish Bar in Merces. I have decided to go and see this bar for myself.

Excessive drinking has ruined families and lives. Another of mum’s words of caution were, ‘First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes another drink, then the drink takes the man.’ Women drinkers, particularly teenage girls, are on the rise in Goa. Proceed with caution.
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‘Crossing the Bar’ (1889) - title of poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 5 February 2017. Pix of Alex Bar, Vasco taken by author on 10 February 2017.

Assamese Film and the Portrayal of Women



                                                            Dr. Brian Mendonça
                                                           brianlibra@gmail.com

Preview

A survey of films emerging from the North East shows an abiding preoccupation with themes concerning women. From Bhupen Hazarika’s trailblazer Shakuntala (1961) in Assamese to Santwana Bardoloi’s Adajya (1996) also in Assamese directors have provided keen insights into the psyche of a woman. The themes have been bold. Adjaya, for instance, is about Giribala a young attractive widow who has to confront her needs when an American scholar comes visiting.  The film is based on a novel by Indira Goswami and is set in the 1940’s in Assam.  Widowhood has also been the theme of Padum Borah’s Gonga Silonir Pakhi/ Wings of the Tern (1976).  This is a compelling story of Basanti who thinks of her freedom after her husband’s death and of a new life with her lover Dhananjay. Adomya (2014) by Bobby Sarma Baruah tells the story of Juri infected by her AIDS-stricken husband who dies later. Juri has to bring up her daughter in these circumstances.

The latest poetic offering Dau Huduni Methai/ Song of the Horned Owl (2016) by Manju Borah catalogues the human cost of insurgency seen through the eyes of a rape victim Raimili. Mention must be made of Aparoopa (1982) by Jahnu Baruah. Aparoopa is forced to give up her University education to marry a rich tea estate. She later realises she was a pawn to repay her father’s debts. She begins a dalliance with an old classmate. Agnisaan (1985) by Bhabendranath Saikila dwells on the theme of the revenge of the first wife who has been discarded.  In Kothanodi / River of Tales (2015) Bhaskar Hazarika has taken recourse to Assamese folktales weaving in witchcraft, infanticide and snake worship – practised by women and endemic to Assam. Woman as destroyer is seen in her terrible forms. He gives us four stories instead of one and disrupts the linearity of the traditional film length.

With more sensitive films from the North East being made, recognition has been global. Though all the films discussed so far have been Assamese films from the rest of the seven states do make their contribution as well. These films seek to map the territory of a woman’s destiny. While empowering their women characters they offer role models to a society caught up in conflict. The field is yet fertile and these gallant efforts have still to reach a wider audience – given the sway of Bollywood. 
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International Interdisciplinary Conference on Indian Cinema and Women, Mallikarjun College of Arts and Commerce, Delem, Canacona, Goa,  3-4 February 2017

Thursday, 2 February 2017

‘Fonda fudde’

                                                                            
Brian Mendonça

Dharbandora is a place I had only vaguely heard about.  Last week I had to reach it. Armed with my GPS on my phone I filled in the coordinates ‘Vasco’ to ‘Dharbandora.’ What fascinated me the most was how the app gives you the location of your vehicle as you are driving to your destination. Soon, with two hands on the wheel, I realised how futile it was to check your phone map and continue driving. The first time I checked my GPS was at Holy Cross chapel behind Kesarval. I had by then put 10 kms. behind me. I had driven down from Vasco via Birla, negotiated the steep descent on the road to Ponda a little beyond Kesarval motel, and plummeted into an oasis of green. Verdant fields behind him, a boy in blue school uniform, perched himself on a culvert and eyed me curiously.

In the distance Borim blinked on my GPS. Before that I would need to pass Rassaim and Loutolim. At the fork towards Borim bridge I stopped the car and consulted my GPS again. We were 20 kms. away from Vasco. This is the most lyrical of drives, with the Zuari river on your left lazing towards the South, and even a ferry crossing thrown in.

The Borim bridge shuddered as we passed it. As though we had passed some hidden signal, traffic picked up. Huge trucks made their appearance, and the grind started as we headed to Ponda. We skirted Ponda city and took the road to Dharbandora. We had now driven 40 kms. On the way we saw the MRF plant at Usgao, Tisk. We also spotted the Nestle plant. The Bondla wildlife sanctuary looked inviting but there was no time. After a while, after the heat and the gathering dust, after 50 kms. of driving we reached our destination at Government Primary School, Tamsodo, Dharbandora.  

A TTK map showed Dharbandora as part of Sanguem taluka. Another Goa map by Star publication showed Dharbandora as a separate taluka. Dharbandora was created on 4 April 2010. It comprises of five panchayats of Sanguem, viz. Dharbandora, Kirlapal-Dhabal, Mollem, Collem, and Sancorda. Laterite mining is carried out in Dharbandora. Dudhsagar waterfalls is in Dharbandora at its South-East end.

Tanking up on the night before my journey to Dharbandora I asked the pump attendant at Vasco where the place was. He spoke to his colleagues and replied crisply, ‘Fonda fudde’ [Beyond Ponda]. He also said it was about 15 kms. Beyond Ponda. I noticed how in Konkani the utterance is ‘Fonda’ rather than ‘Ponda’ as it is in English.

With this trip to Dharbandora, I realized I had set foot in all the 12 talukas of Goa. From Pernem to Palolem and Mormugao to Mollem I had seen several slices of Goa. With the rampant tree cutting for the 4-laning on NH 17 from Sancoale right up to Bambolim, our centuries old intangible heritage lies uprooted and discarded. The trip to Dharbandora showed how fragile our ecosystem is.
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 29 January 2017. Pix.(above) Buffaloes laze under the open sky at Tamsodo, Dharbandora.