Sunday, 10 July 2016

Ó Mar Salgado

-Brian Mendonça

We were at Babazin’s restaurant at Nerul for lunch, just 200 metres beyond Reis Magos fort. We had passed the imposing Reis Magos church on our right and an almost hairpin bend took us almost into the mouth of the sea. It was a Sunday and our hearts were filled with joy.

The setting on the road as we came by it was quite ordinary. But when I looked around I noted the welcoming parking space on the other side of the road.  Nothing could prepare us for what waited for us inside. The beautifully designed interiors, almost stark in their simplicity, with the trademark Goan red cemented sitting area of a balcao gave us the heady feeling of being at home. There were two levels, ‘decks’ I would like to call them. One on the rim of the river and the other further inward with a well-stacked bar behind it. The beautiful cartoons of Goan life on the wall gave us a feel of the timeless quality of Mario Miranda.

We don’t come to these parts often. But when time was on our side after we finished our work at Taleigao, I thought it would be a good idea to explore a bit of Goa.* Not for us were the frenetic pace of Calangute and Candolim where the road headed to. Verem was just right and the sleepy village road could barely keep awake as we drove through.
Verem is on the leeward side of the hill as it were. The windward side, and the more happening side is Porvorim to the North and Calangute to the West.  To your left is Betim and Terry’s restaurant. You also need to cross the imposing Gurudwara on your right after you come down from Panjim and descend after crossing the Mandovi bridge. 

Babito was telling me the restaurant is named after his brother (31) who passed on in 2005. ‘We are both foodies,’ he said, using the present tense. He likened the restaurant to a pousada. The word has many meanings in Portuguese like, a place to rent out, an inn, a hostel. People call me up to book the space and remain there from 11 till midnight, he said. Another favourite is the conxem (‘corner’ in Konkani) at the far end of the open vista which people ask to reserve for them. This is a cemented bench where couples can cozy up. In the distance one can fish.

Both Goa and Portugal are united by the sea. No wonder that the sea continues to fascinate us. Transfixed by the fury of the sea in the throes of the monsoon in July, I recalled the poet Pessoa’s lines from his poem ‘Mar Português’ (1934):

Ó mar salgado, quanto do teu sal
São lágrimas de Portugal!
[O salty sea, how much of your saltiness
Is tears of Portugal!]

The cadence of the Portuguese rang in my ears and I was glad to have heard those lines. Somehow at that instant the sea seemed to be speaking Portuguese!
*See Love Goa: A Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond by Fiona Caulfield (Bengaluru: Hardys Bay, 2011) pg. 41. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 10 July 2016. Pix courtesy 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Confronting the Pikuesque

Brian Mendonça

When our irrepressible in-law Lyn was asked what she thought of the movie Piku she replied without missing a beat, ‘It’s all bloody shit.’ Viewers of the movie would see her point as the  movie is about an elder who cannot pass motions.

The movie, though I have not seen it – the subject being too odious -- was firmly on my mind when an elder was admitted to hospital for the same reason. Believing a simple enema would do the trick we hauled him to Sanjeevani hospital, Vasco for the procedure. However we were dismayed when Dr. Kanekar the RMO opined that he would need to be admitted. Considering his advanced age they would need to stabilize his ‘vitals’ and then administer the enema.

Views flew thick and fast on why we took him to Sanjeevani hospital when Salgaocar Medical Research Centre (SMRC), Chicalim was obviously the better choice. They had cardiac facilities, were better equipped, and had treated him as recently as last week. Since the elder was a heart patient this made a lot of sense. So they thought.

I, on the other hand, felt quite at peace with our decision because it was what the patient wanted.  He was comfortable in the ICU and the evacuation -- that’s how they term it in medical parlance  -- was happening. The other reason was that mummy had passed on in this hospital in Room number 9 (now it is 109) on the first floor. It was the corner room with the balcony facing the road. I had not stepped into this hospital since – except to visit the doc’s consulting room on the ground floor.

When I drove down the precarious slope from Mangor hill to Sanjeevani hospital, I had to confront the angry sea at Baina beach. The frothing waves, insatiable in their monsoon fury, seemed to be clamouring for another life – like they had claimed my mother. Would they prevail?  I shuddered at the thought.

The elder pulled through and we seem to be on a good wicket. Suddenly all the voices who  harangued us about the insanity of our decision to admit at Sanjeevani subsided, and were singing the praises of the hospital. One even wanted them to attend to his chest congestion ‘because it would rain very heavily in the next few days.’ The patient was also comfortable with Dr. S.N. Desai with his amiable bedside manner, and because, ‘He knows my case.’

Shoojit Sircar, director of Piku (2015), has struck a chord with his movie. One has to confront the realities of life -- and death.

After many years I opened my volume of poems Last Bus to Vasco to page 48:

Room No. 9

Blue on white
Azulejos reprieve,
Porch to the East
Sunlight streaming in
White moderna chair
Bathroom of castanha
Curtains of Orkay
In crepe de chine.
MPT railtracks
Across the road
Cheerful windows
Of iron grille.
Beyond the bubble
Of seamless traffic
I hear you breathing
Your nearness
Embraces me.

(Sanjeevani Hospital, Goa, 2005)
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 3 July 2016.  Pix courtesy

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Of Jovito and Joet’s

-Brian Mendonça

On the first day of college,  an ‘Orientation’ was slated in the mid-morning and we all looked forward to it. The ambiguity of the word left us wondering about the nature of the orientation, viz. would it be an orientation about teaching practices? Would it be one about NAAC procedures? Why was this orientation so critical for the teaching faculty?

The speaker was Jovito Lopes. Lopes went on to cover a range of issues from health care, water resource management, and teacher effectiveness.  He kicked off with the hymn ‘Count Your Many Blessings.’ Signposting sugar as the number 1 killer in heart-related diseases in Goa, he cited a case of how leaves found in Goa could be used to propel out kidney stones – rather than opting for expensive laser surgery.  Stressing on communication in the class he urged the staff to empathize with the students. ‘Students don’t need us,’ he reasoned. ‘Everything is there on the internet.’ ‘But we can develop values, character and critical thinking.’

Lopes was India’s chef de mission at the Lusofonia games in Lisbon 2009 and was closely associated with the 3rd edition of the games in Goa in 2014.  In fact, he said when we needed a break we should make the time-out sign!  His wide range of experience interacting with students as a member of the local managing committee of Don Bosco college, Panjim, and now with Prudent Media, made him present his ideas with an elan I envied. His marshalling of his power point presentation with numerous clips, jokes and anecdotes was quite effortless. He had an original, if wry, take on the 21st century where everything could be suffixed with ‘LESS.’

At the end when Lopes asked for feedback some zeroed on to two slides they felt should be modified. Mired in a predictable, linear way of thinking we could not care ‘LESS’about the larger picture and value the wealth of information Lopes had so painstakingly prepared.  

As I sat on Bogmalo beach in the gathering dusk the same evening, I was thinking that Lopes’s presentation was an orientation for life, not just an academic year. As we sang ‘Count your many blessings’ as a family in the sand (some of it blackened by tar) I felt it would take a lifetime to unpack what Lopes had said. His dire predictions that Verna would be out of water in a few years, and his appeal for in-house expertise to do something for Goa showed how concerned he was for the environment.

Nursing my Woo-woo – a cocktail at Joet’s bar and restaurant founded in 1979 -- at the deep end of the near-pristine Bogmalo beach, I watched Russia and Slovakia battle it out on the screen for the European championship.  The young couple who we had seen coming to the beach at dusk were still there. Locked in embrace they just held on to each other as the waves lashed the shore. This was life. It was too precious to let go. 
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 26 June 2016. Pix of Jovito courtesy Goa Football Development Council Bottom pix of Joet's from  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Writing Skills Workshop - 22 June 2016

                                     Workshop on Writing Skills for teachers by Dr. Brian Mendonca
                                                            Bhavan's School, Zuarinagar, Goa, 22 June 2016

The brief was simple. Get the teachers to tune in to the finer aspects of report writing.  Last year on the same day, I had done a workshop at Bhavan's on teaching poetry to children. This was all due to the dynamism of the Principal of Bhavan's Ms.Elizabeth Valsan.

This year I warmed up to the task of teaching writing. I planned for a 2-hour presentation divided into 3 sections:

What happened in class was slightly different.

As a warm-up  exercise I asked the teachers to read any news item from the newspapers I distributed. After this was done I asked each teacher to paraphrase what s/he read. I used the oral paraphrase done by teachers to spot errors of grammar, sentence construction, tone, and cohesion. One participant used 'actually' too often and unnecessarily; another ended his sentence with a rising tone, leaving the listener waiting for more; another used far too long sentences and got mixed up with the ideas. I asked the teachers to use simple sentences,speak clearly and end confidently.

Since the newspapers were still in front of them, I asked the teachers how many of them read an English newspaper every day. The response was feeble. I urged them to read many newspapers. Over the weekend I asked them to pick up the Weekender and read it through the week. Pulling out a copy of the latest issue I went over its pages introducing them to its features and articles. 'The more you read, the better you will write,' I suggested. I shared with the group that I read papers in different languages for different perspectives. Hindi, Marathi, Konkani and English are a staple fare. On the internet,  so helpfully provided by the school, I showed the e-editions of the Hindustan Times and The Hindu newspapers.  Ramdas, one of the students, like the idea saying it would 'save paper.'

The next activity was doing a report on the workshop done the previous day on the theme 'Life is a Song' by Cyril Fernandes. I differentiated between a report and an essay where the former was a factual account of the way things went and the latter was an assessment of the event with one's own point of view. I was floored when one participant offered an essay in shudh (if Sanskritized) Hindi.

I felt it was too premature to do creative writing with the group. I opted for creative non-fiction instead. CNF is the in-thing nowadays and I sallied forth sharing with the group my weekly writings for Gomantak Times Weekender. I had remembered to bring a folder of all my articles over the past 3 years. I had arranged the articles week-wise over the months of the years.  As I took them through some of the articles I found an echo in their eyes. We spoke about subjects to write about, and what inspired the articles.'Travelling in a Mumbai local train' was much appreciated. The group was pensive when I discussed 'Caitan-ya' about the murder of a US youth in Pernem, Goa on suspicion of theft.

From here the transition to blog writing was smooth - simply because all my Weekender articles are uploaded  on my blog. I dwelt on the reach of the internet and the shelf-life of an article on the blog. We looked at the merits of print media for a local populace and digital media for a global audience. For me the blog served as an excellent way to archive all my writing. One also gets paid for writing for the media and it could be examined as a source of income.

Finding interest ebbing as we reached 1 p.m. we looked at my blog (this one) on the internet. I showed the group my blog site, the labels on the right and how to post comments. We then meandered to my blogpost of 2008 when I read some of my title poem from my first book of poems Last Bus to Vasco: Poems in Goa (2006) on AIR Delhi. We all said an ode to Vasco for providing the poet so much inspiration so as to name a book of poems after it.

Writing can help you in your loneliness. 'Last bus to Vasco' was written when I was alone travelling from Panjim to Vasco in 1997. That was before the bypass at Agacaim and before the point to point buses came. So in a sense the poem is a documentation of Goa's past. At Weekender too my byline is 'a chronicler of our times.' We looked at the difference between 'chronic' and 'chronicler.' Nida Fazli's shayri met with applause from the group:
Apne gam leke, kahee our na jaya karo
Ghar ke bikhre hue cheezein ko sajaya karo.

Reminiscing in the Principal's room after the workshop I thought how we had transited from the often mundane report writing to the Elysian heights of poetry writing and appreciation. I left them with a few tips on writing, viz. Find a writing partner with whom you can share your work; write something daily; perfect the basics of grammar; if you find an article you like, analyse what made it a good article. Finally if you are searching for topics to write about, make your life interesting - meet unconventional people; do interesting things; think out of the box. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

From Killing to Quilling

Brian Mendonça

I love the rains in Goa. When I was away I used to yearn to be here in the monsoons to see how the weather would beguile everyone.

This year, we were away for most of May. We only descended in Goa in the first week of June. In vain did I sit in the balcony at Kharghar watching the Mumbai-Pune Expressway watching for rain. Scouring for clouds left me defeated, so the only thing to do was to head for Colaba and do a boat ride at the gorgeous Gateway of India. The previous day my niece Melanie had watched the Ram Gopal Verma film The Attacks of 26/11 (2013) and was holding forth on Nana Patekar’s sangfroid in this docudrama of the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Listening to the film commentary at the actual location of the attacks with the sea stretching in front of us made us realize how iconic these buildings like the Taj hotel and Leopolds were.

The weekend we landed we set off for Siolim, the seat of our forefathers where Natty showed us around the property. Baba kept clear of the piggies and would not be persuaded to go within a mile of the cows. Seeing her work in Kurla I had promised Michelle (Melanie’s sister) I would organize a paper quilling workshop in Goa for her to showcase her skills. Many rainy days were spent by her making beautiful quilling shapes like dolls, coconut trees and 3-dimension flower pots with flowers. Dodging the heavy rain we did go down to Bogmalo beach for snacks after dark. Mabelle and Michelle (sisters) tripped outside in the drizzle, confronted the foaming sea, and gaily wrote their names in the wet sand – and of course photographed it in the pitch darkness. Queenie cooked their fav dishes and they feasted on mancurada and manilar mangoes. Indoors, dad, the carom ace, showed us a few tips when we hauled our carom board into the hall.

The quilling workshop on Sunday 12th June went very well. We were kindly allowed to use the society clubhouse at Porvorim for a nominal fee. Varsha  Naik, one of the participants, who works at the Central Library was full of praise for Michelle (16) for cultivating her hobby at such an early age. Zoe Rodrigues (84) was full of enthusiasm to learn. Her joie de vivre bowled us all over. The little children, some accompanied by parent(s) were reluctant to leave. At the end Michelle made cards for the participants, stuck some quilling work on it, signed it and gave it to them.

The next day, 13 June, as they were packing their bags to leave I read my poem to the 3 sisters. The poem was titled ‘Fr. Joseph Rowland-Salema’ (1999) written on 13 June, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, and the feast of Siolim church. This year the feast is being celebrated the following Sunday (today) in Siolim. See the poem on my blog.*
*; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 June 2016. Pix taken at the quilling workshop conducted by Michelle David (centre in black top) at Devashri Garden, Clubhouse on Sunday,12 June 2016.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Queen of the Sahyadri Hills: Mahableshwar

-         Brian Mendonça

I wish I had more time to stay in Mahableshwar. It is a world of its own, even though the mall can be unbelievably crowded. It is a remnant of a colonial legacy and has played host to many a British sojourn. Ensconced in the hills I felt like Ruskin Bond in his hideaway in Mussoorie.  I am sure I could settle down and write an elaborate novel here about the place.

We hired an Innova and proceeded to Mahableshwar from Pune. Our destination was the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) resort.  The journey was somewhat dramatic with our driver spurning the highway and preferring to take the ‘short’ route to Mabi – which I came to realize was the short form for Mahableshwar. It may have been a shorter route but it was also a steeper one with many perilous descents. The missal-pav we had at a wayside shack was out of this world and we took some gorgeous photos when the little one was throwing up. One of our group was in constant touch on social media giving a blow by blow account of the dire proceedings. The advice at the other end  -- Why did he take the short cut!!! – was duly conveyed back to us in the car.

The MTDC cottage had some beautiful, if old (some would say tatty) furniture. The mirror, the wardrobe, and the cupboard seemed to harbour the secrets of yore.  The veg. thali was sprightly at the MTDC cafetaria but they could not make French toast to save their lives. And the monkeys! They stopped just short of being a menace, but their leaping on the rafters made us very wary. The next day a pony trotted by and baba was up on it in a trice! As I ran alongside him I felt this was a good way to bond with my son – if I was game to shell out Rs. 100 for every ride!

The quaint Holy Cross church in Mahableshwar, built by the British in 1831, could almost be hidden among the looming concrete jungle around it. It serves as a welcome refuge for weary travelers who literally lay their bags down and rest or wait for others to catch up before they head to their next destination.

On the way back we stopped at the Mapro farm and picked up a lot of squashes, jams, and pulpy fruit chews. A lot of their produce comes from Shendurjane, Wai. The items are sold at factory price and are a little cheaper here.

The way back was a lot faster – we took the highway – and so uneventful. Zipping along frenetically from one destination to another seems to miss the point of discovering a new place. Pratapgarh Fort remained to be seen, as the deal was Rs. 6000 for 300 kms. It was at this fort in 1659 that Shivaji plunged his tiger claws (wagh nakhas) in Afzal Khan’s side even as the latter raised his sword to kill him.
Pix courtesy Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 12 June 2016.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Alsane Bhaji at Café Public

-Brian Mendonça

Ever since we have been making our weekend forays into Porvorim, I have been trying to take in the life in the North.

I am an early riser, and I usually get up around 6. Once I get the bread from the bread man I twiddle my thumbs till the house wakes up. Of course the ‘Breakfast Show’ on 105.4 FM beckons but that begins only at 8 a.m. So how do I explore my surroundings till then?

I am of the opinion that if you catch an early morning Mass, the day will go well. So here I was, this side of the Mandovi, scouring places for the morning service. Holy Family Church, Porvorim on NH17 has a Sunday morning Mass in English at 8 a.m. but  today was a Monday in May. It was past 7 a.m. on my watch. I decided to cross the Mandovi river and head to the shrine of Don Bosco to see what the Mass timings there were.

As I parked my car, imagine my delight as I heard the strains of the entrance hymn ‘Here we come’ emerging from the shrine. As I hurried to take a place I asked a gentleman what time was the daily morning Mass in English here. He said 7.15 a.m. At the end of the Mass I was thrilled to partake of the novena to Mary Help of Christians. We hope to attend the Feast Mass at Don Bosco, Matunga, Mumbai on 24 May. This was my old school from the 7th to the 10th standard.

After Mass I was really hungry. As I turned left from the main gate of Don Bosco, Panjim, I ventured to ask a sprightly lady where I could get some ‘bhaji.’ She pointed straight ahead to the Panjim municipal market. I had my doubts, but soon it dawned on me that the ‘bhaji’ she was talking about was not the ‘bhaji’ I had in mind! She assumed I was referring to the vegetable market. Nevertheless I came away with a stash of mancurada mangoes at Rs. 250 a dozen. I also picked up a raft of newspapers along with a lottery for Rs. 20.

The next person I asked was a young lad on his bike. He immediately recommended the parotha-bhaji at a place he wagged in the distance. The curiously named Café Public, was full of earnest early risers rushing to work and parceling some of the famous bhaji. Gajanand who was at the counter was bouncing up and down to attend to the needs of his customers. As I waited for my variety bhajis to take back to Porvorim, I sampled the alsane-bhaji with parotha, along with tea. It was 8 a.m.

Spiritually and physically nourished, I stepped into the cool morning air looking forward to a swim in the pool back home in Bardez. The river-crossing  had made my day! Plus I got a lesson in sociolinguistics of how men and women can perceive the same word differently.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 5 June 2016. Pix. courtesy 'Alsanyache Tonak'