Monday, 24 October 2016

‘Teacher beat me’

-Brian Mendonça

We had been hearing about how a teacher in the pre-primary class used to scare everyone – students and parents included. But we held our peace. After all, our child was not affected.

Then one day we noticed he was very quiet. On gently prodding he opened up and said, ‘Teacher beat me.’ ‘S/he hit me on my face with a ruler.’ She also made him kneel down in front of the class for a long period of time. The pretext was, he did not remember his nursery rhyme completely:
Pitter patter pit pat
Here comes the rain
Pitter patter pit pat
We’ll go out again . . .

We tried to ignore the many times he used to cry not to go to school.  We were unaware what was happening inside the classroom. Sometimes the kids used to be too terrified even to ask to go to relieve themselves. As a result they ended up soiling their pants. Another child vomits regularly in class. The reasons have yet to be probed.

That was the last straw. I drafted a letter to the Principal. To it I attached the Advisory by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for Eliminating Corporal Punishment in Schools Under Section 35 (1) of the Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009. The 18 page document is available on the internet for free download.*According to it, the Act prohibits ‘physical punishment’ and ‘mental harassment’ under Section 17(1) and makes it a punishable offence under Section 17 (2).

5.2 Examples of physical punishment as defined by the Act are:
a)     Causing physical harm to children by hitting, kicking, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling the hair, boxing ears, smacking, slapping, spanking with or without any implement.
b)    Making children assume an uncomfortable position (standing on bench, standing against the wall in a chair-like position, standing with school-bag on head, holding ears through legs, kneeling etc.
c)     Forced ingestion of anything (example washing soap, mud, chalk, hot spices etc.)
d)    Detention in the classroom, library, toilet or any closed space in the school.

5.3 Mental harassment is understood as any non-physical treatment that is detrimental to the academic and psychological well-being of the child. It includes but is not restricted to:
a) Sarcasm that hurts or lowers the child’s dignity.
b) Calling names and scolding using humiliating adjectives, intimidation
c) Using derogatory remarks for the child
d) Belittling a child in the classroom due to his/her inability to meet the teacher’s expectations of academic achievement.
e) ‘Shaming’ the child to motivate the child to improve his/her performance.

6.3 Perpetrators of corporal punishment against children in an institutional setting can be booked under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), viz. Section 323 – voluntarily causing hurt; Section 326 – voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means.

The school management invited us to talk about the issue and the matter was resolved amicably. Grades have improved and the child is happy – for now.
* Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 23 October 2016,

Monday, 17 October 2016

Beef Stake

-Brian Mendonça

For as long as I can remember, the beef samosas at Dom Pedro’s were to die for. Dad says the samosas were priced at 75 paise in his working days in 1980. Today they are Rs. 15 a piece. It is good to see they have grown to 2 outlets in Vasco, one near the railway station and the other opposite the fish market. They also have a restaurant in Utorda.

At Sunday Mass it poured during the sermon. Surely a wet day like this called for Dom Pedro’s kheema-pao? We repaired to the somewhat pokey place opposite the fish market where we sat us down on seats under the staircase. For good measure I waded into a beef chop, not forgetting to observe my customary allegiance to the beefsamosa. The next day I contented myself with beef patties as I read Shakespeare’sWinter’s Tale. Sometimes I pop a beef croquette into my mouth when I am at the canteen.

Earlier in the week, saw us seated at Mickey’s, Colva. Undecided as to our order we were helped along when Russell calling from Bombay recommended  Mickey’s Special Beef steak with mashed potatoes. Backed by the fish cafreal and the pork amsol, there were no regrets. On my way to a book reading of ghost stories from Goa at Carpe Diem, Majorda, I strolled on to Majorda beach to sample a delectable beefbiryani for lunch. Queenie has high praise for the beef stroganoff at Seagull, Bogmalo beach. (I preferred the one we had at Souza Lobo, Calangute.)

When I used to dash down to Goa from Delhi sometimes for a day to ease the angst,beef was the best comfort food I could lay my hands on. With mum gone, one day I appeared, at the doorstep at lunch arriving breathless by the Goa Sampark Kranti which comes into Karmali station at 2 p.m. To grace the occasion I went down to Vasco town for the beef chilly fry at Vasco Inn. Mum’s signature dish used to be beefroast with fried potatoes. Now only the flat dish in which it used to be served remains. No train journey used to be complete without mum’s corned beef sandwiches, with butter, supplemented with boiled eggs. The carefully wrapped tissues spoke of mum’s meticulousness. Now I look forward to Queenie’s beef cutlets. Occasionally we havebeef assado. Shepherd’s Pie can be made with beef mince.

Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by people who thought he was consuming beef in Bisara, Uttar Pradesh in September last year. Ravin Sisodia one of the 18 accused of the crime died a few days ago. Sisodia’s body was kept in deep freeze draped with the tricolour for 3 days while his family made demands. The state government has agreed to give them compensation of 25 lakh and will initiate an inquiry against Akhlaq’s brother, Jan Mohammad on charges of cow slaughter.* What about justice for Mohammad Akhlaq?

*Indian Express, Mumbai City, 8 October 2016, page 1.   Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 16 October 2016.  Pix of beef steak at Mickey's Restaurant, Colva, Goa - courtesy 

Shakespeare Festival 14-15 October 2016

        ‘The Office Becomes a Woman Best’: Paulina’s Activism in The Winter’s Tale

Dr. Brian Mendonça


In The Winter’s Tale Shakespeare brings about the redemption of a woman through the ‘office’ of another woman, Paulina. 

Paulina’s first office is in the prison to visit Hermione. She has to prove Hermione, assumed guilty, to be innocent.  As a woman she understands the distress of another woman – her queen and one who has just delivered a child.

It is Paulina who adamantly states that she will plead her queen’s case before the king. Though it seems foolhardy to do so -- given the furious mood of the king -- she is most memorable when she appears before the enraged king with his new-born baby daughter just delivered in prison. Pauline pleads to the king’s humanity, but has to face all manner of curses, even being threatened with death. She endures it all and with her guile outwits the king and restores the status quo.

Faced with the inescapable guilt of his action, and the desperation of trying to redeem himself, Leontes looks up to Paulina who has the moral high ground. Though she is not royalty, she gradually assumes a hold over Leontes by trapping him in her moral universe. The mighty king becomes her vassal, and takes her, as his confidante. From here it is easy for her to influence the king’s actions and bring about the results she wants. Her activism is exemplary in the fight for justice for a woman scorned for no fault of hers. She is a beacon for our times.
Shakespeare Festival. Organized by Department of English, Goa University in collaboration with Institute Menezes Braganza, IMB Hall, Panaji, 14-15 October 2016.

Finding my umbrella – again!

-Brian Mendonça

Sometime around this time last year I lost my umbrella. So when we came back after a trip and noticed its absence, everything seemed normal. A few days passed with no sign of it and I had all but given up on it.  

Then all of a sudden, I received a call saying that my umbrella had been found. This was a few days after I had noticed its disappearance so I was a bit skeptical about the news. After all, had I not been losing umbrellas with unfailing regularity over the past few years? I had even written an article in these columns about it. It was titled, ‘Losing my umbrella – again!’

Today, however, I decided to set the record straight. The title of the present article had the facts to back it.  The black umbrella in front of me had been found not once but twice!

The umbrella had been left during a visit to a home for the aged.  When we heard that it had been found we decided that it would be pointless travelling over the distance just to reclaim an umbrella.  Why don’t we take something for the seniors in the same trip? So we placed an order for some samosas and Queenie made her signature ginger bread cake to take along.

The saga of the umbrella revealed itself further when we were informed that the umbrella had indeed been found the next day itself – but had disappeared again after being found.  It was only after dire warnings were issued – as well as prayers to St. Anthony – that the umbrella had resurfaced.  Our delight knew no bounds at hearing this -- the news coming at a time when I had already reconciled with its loss. In fact, when my son pointed out that I had come home without my stainless steel bottle of water, after the episode, I remarked wryly, ‘It things want to leave me, let them.’ I was past caring. Sullenly I went about the routines of the day.

The ‘lost’ umbrella made me mindful of my concern for the aged. It gave me a chance to reunite with them and to see the bliss on their faces.  The distance did not count – though some stretches we negotiated in blinding rain. At some points we were asking ourselves why we were doing this, when it would have been more convenient to just tell the home to keep the umbrella for their use.

Perhaps it was because this umbrella had been found once before. We had gone for Sunday Mass and we came away without it. It was only when we were placing our breakfast order did I realize that the umbrella was missing. Filled with trepidation I betook myself to the church. The faithful had already filed out, but there, just where I had left it, seated prayerfully in the pew was the black umbrella. Like its brand name ‘Wolf’ it is a loner, and knows how to take care of itself!
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 9 October 2016. Pix courtesy 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make

-Brian Mendonça

Spaces of confinement, have often brought out the best in people. Where would you get so much time to yourself, anyway? You could flesh out that manuscript you always wanted to. Or you could actually write letters to your friends.

Holed up in hospital, what can you do? For starters you could read. I used to read passages from the Bible when mum was in hospital. Proverbs were her favourite – and mine too. Amazing how time would fly. 

I am watching Calvin and the Chipmunks at the part he says, 'You got me fired.' Confined in his house the song-writer (which is his true calling) now has much more time to devote to what he most wants to do.

Recently I had the opportunity to see the work of someone on parole. When he was asked whether he would have turned to poetry and painting if he was not in the circumstances he was in, he said, ‘No. Who has time for poetry!?’

Sometimes life gives you that time. You just need to recognize it. When I was out of a job in Delhi, for a while I felt confined, bottled and useless. Then Queenie and me brought out my second book of poems A Peace of India: Poems in Transit. Given my otherwise frenetic schedule on a normal working day would I have done it if life did not give me a break?

There’s this person who is handicapped and confined to bed. But he figured he could do something to touch someone’s life. So he wrote chits of paper with inspiring messages and tossed them out of the window. One thing led to another and now it has a global avatar in

Antonio Gramsci wrote his best work in prison in what is now known as Prison Notebooks.  Anne Frank penned The Diary of Anne Frank in hiding. Many prisoners wrote their most inspiring works in prison. In fact there is a whole genre called prison literature. Gandhi wrote his autobiography – My Experiments with Truth -- in Yerwada jail.

A TED talks video by poet Cristina Domenech given in Buenos Aires, Argentina throws light on how poetry can liberate people in confined spaces. Invited to conduct a writing workshop in prison by the University of San Martin, she dwelt on how poetry is firstly silence – the art of the unsaid. She goes on to say, ‘We plunged into the seventh circle; they learned that they could make the walls invisible, that they could make the windows yell, and that we could hide inside the shadows.’ Quoting poet Nicolas Dorado  she says, ‘I will need an infinite thread to sew up this huge wound.’*

Richard Lovelace’s poem written in Westminister’s Gatehouse prison is apt here:
Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
-‘To Althea, from Prison’ (1642)
*Domenech, Cristina. ‘Poetry that frees the soul.’ Ted Talks 2014. 12 min. (Spanish with English subtitles). Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 2 October 2016. Image untraced. From https://advocacyautismspecialneeds(dot)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Beyond Faith

-Brian Mendonca

What does it mean to be a good human being? Can one be a good human being without having any religion?

Religion is a means to be a good human being. It means respecting fundamental human rights. A virtuous life leads to inner coherence and outward harmony.*

Recently I attended a programme on inter-faith dialogue (IFD).  It was felt necessary, the compere said, to have such initiatives in the light of the atmosphere of distrust engulfing the nation.

At the IFD three religions were represented. The most persuasive speaker, a poet, did not speak of religion at all. He spoke in Konkani and warmed our hearts with his words. He said when we were born we did not have any markers distinguishing ourselves as belonging to any particular faith. We were as Kahlil Gibran would say, ‘arrows from the quiver of life.’ When the sun rises, he continued, it does not differentiate between who it will shine on. It shines for everybody. The speaker’s inclusive mysticism -- like Thomas Merton’s -- emerging out of his poetic practice, made a deep impression.

‘Who bombed Hiroshima?’ the second speaker demanded to know. He said he was pained that when he asked a student the question a particular community was named incorrectly. The speaker went on to say that nowadays it is common for the common person to lay the blame for all ills at the feet of a particular community – even when evidence proves to the contrary. He cautioned us not to rely on the media and to be aware of the many cases where people from one community have been falsely implicated. 

The third speaker said the message of religion is to care for the downtrodden. He recalled the murder of an aged priest in Paris by a radical outfit. ‘They are all followers of Satan,’ the speaker thundered, quoting Pope Francis.

Somewhere, I was thinking the very purpose of the IFD was being undermined by this toxic rhetoric. Though all speakers solemnly lit the lamp before the programme (to a snatch of borrowed western classical music), it seemed they used the stage, tacitly, to expose each other’s folly.

We need to beyond half-hearted attempts like these. To begin, why are not persuasions like the Parsi faith or Buddhism represented? Always harping on the predictable, visible faiths only empowers the dominant discourse while alienating the rest. The practice should precede the preaching. I often muse over the fact that my second volume of poems was unwittingly a collaboration of a Hindu, who did the artwork, a Muslim who did the maps and me, a Catholic who wrote the poems.

At the close of the session which had lasted more than 90 minutes with few audio visual clips I happened to notice a slide when the Power Point was being turned off. It was a quotation from the Dalai Lama. He said, ‘I am beginning to feel increasingly that religion cannot be relied on to bring peace and harmony in these times.’
*Epictetus (55 A.D. – 135 A.D.), ‘Why be Good?’ Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 25 September 2016

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Chillifying the Nation

Brian Mendonça

Chillies. You see them everywhere. In their myriad hues of red they defy the senses. Each variety is carefully selected for its flavour, its pungency, and taste. By far the favourite in Goan cooking is the Kashmiri chilli which no xacuti can do without. Queenie shares with me that in samarachi koddi there is a combination of three different types of chillies, in specific proportion, to get the authentic flavour.

Even when I slink away to the vada pav cart to feast on a succulent snack, I always ask for the long green mirchi  fried in batter. Indeed, as Mr. Paresh Joshi pointed out to me the true chilli is one that takes your breath away, forcing you to gasp and inhale through your lips saying ‘hoo.’ Any dish that elicited this reaction -- ‘hoo-munn’ (say-‘hoo’ in Marathi) -- was deemed as having good taste.

Much as chillies are an aphrodisiac they are also used as a deterrent. Ladies are instructed to carry chilli powder in their handbags to stave off unwanted attention.

Now chillies have been enlisted to grace grenades in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K). Following the outcry against the pellet guns used by the Border Security Forces (BSF) to control crowds, the Home Ministry has despatched the first batch of 1000 chilli-filled grenades to the Kashmir valley.  Called PAVA, these shells are seen as the panacea for all ills. Much thought is given to the suitable measure of force to be used against civilians including women and children, while major issues lie deadlocked. We are further informed that ‘Before PAVA, Bhut Jolokiya – the world’s hottest chilli from the North East – was a weapon for crowd control.’*

On the heels of such depressing news I was elated to find that a packet of chillies helped to recover Diya Ray’s laptop. The 18-year-old college student had left the laptop on the Bhusaval Express from Pune when she got down at Karjat station on 24 August around 2 p.m.  She then boarded a local train to Badlapur station. When she realised her laptop bag was missing she registered a complaint at Badlapur.

The laptop bag was spotted by Karjat railway station constable GS Masane. In it was a packet of red chillis with a tag of D Mart mall located in Ambernath. Karjat RPF inspector Satish Menon called up Ambernath police station but no complaint was registered. He tried Badlapur station and struck gold. The bag was returned to Diya on 30 August. It had taken 6 days to track her – the same number of alphabets to spell c-h-i-l-l-i.#

In Mumbai there is the bedki variety of chilly used in cooking. In the Friday market bazaar in Mapusa you will find the Belgaum variety of chilly which is very spicy. But it appears Kashmiri chillies hold sway over all. It is ironic that what Kashmir is so famous for, is also what is to be most feared now by way of PAVA – the chilli.
* 8 September 2016; PAVA: Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide  2 September 2016

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 September 2016.