Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Woes of Paradise

Dr. Brian Mendonca moderating a panel discussion on Goa titled, 'The Woes of Paradise' in the studio at AIR, Panaji on 15 May 2018.  The panelists seated from left to right are Hartman de Souza, journalist; Tallulah D'Silva, architect; and  Ralph De Souza, entrepreneur. Cynthia Rego, Programme Executive, AIR, Panaji is seen standing.

The presentation by AIR, Panaji is conceptualized by Naveen K. Gupta, PEX, AIR, Delhi. It is scheduled for broadcast by AIR, Delhi, on the National Programme of talks on the occasion of the World Day for Biodiversity on 22 May 2018. Pix courtesy AIR, Panaji.

Chorla Ghat

Pix taken by Brian Mendonca at Hotel Shree Krishna, near Kankumbi, enroute to Belgaum from Goa on Sunday 13 May 2018. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Bollywoodization of ‘Goan’ river cruises

Brian Mendonça

-Are you Goans?
-We are Indians.

As we were about to enter the AC seating area on the lower deck of the cruise boat, Deepak asked, ‘Are you Goans?’ His eyes twinkled as he held the door open for us to clamber into the space. Inside the boat numerous people were already seated. There were children, families, groups of men, newly-married couples – and us. They seemed to be in a mood for fun. But they did not know what to expect.  Some of them had vacant looks on their faces. Others looked tired as though the cruise was the last thing on their bucket list for the day.

Ironically we seemed incongruous, and entirely out of place.

‘Indians,’ I replied. A bit affronted by my defensive answer, Deepak disappeared into the bowels of the boat to attend to his duties.

I was surprised when he went to the front of the seated crowd and assumed the avatar of an MC.  ‘Bhaiyo aur beheno,’ he boomed. He was evidently playing to the gallery. In the numbers game tourists outnumbered Goans. It simply didn’t matter that we were on the Mandovi river in the capital of Goa.

This was a land of syncretism.  A land where the Portuguese influence was felt the most, stretching over a period of no less than 400 years. Its forts, its altars, its maands, and its hills told a story of conquest and ceding. Yes, it was the Rome of the Orient. Could we not offer even a slice of this to visitors?

Deepak was exhorting the crowd to indulge in ‘masti.’  And then the capitulation to the naach-gaana of Bollywood film songs. All were urged to sing along through a Karoake act, with the transliterated Hindi words projected in English on a screen.

Rather than becoming an immersion into the legacy of Goa – like a sound and light show of Goa’s history -- the cruise, in its offering, bordered on the banal. On an overcrowded stage couples took their turn to shake a leg. Then there was a set only for the ladies. (‘No pictures or videos please!’) And finally a set only for the men. By then the men had downed drinks available on the top deck, and were in a mood for fun. They danced with abandon, shedding their earlier inhibitions. Disco lights fretted feverishly above.

Of course there were four Goan dances of a few minutes each. The koti dance was one. The last was the Portuguese dance ‘O malhao, malhao.’ The dancers seemed listless, unenthused by the charade.

Seeking refuge from the din, we headed to the top deck to take in the view. As the raucous sounds of merriment and music floated in the air from another boat I wondered what impression tourists would take back with them.

I hope it was not that Goa was a place with a permissive culture, with masti as its middle name, pandering to their whims for thirty pieces of silver. 
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 13th May 2018. Pix of Mandovi river at dusk on 8th May 2018, courtesy Brian Mendonca.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

LSRW Workshop at Bhavan's School

Pix: Vote of thanks being given by one of the participants of the workshop on LSRW skills by Dr. Brian Mendonca (in pix) at Bhavan's school, Zuarinagar, Goa on 7 May 2018. Principal Mrs. Elizabeth Valsan looks on. 

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Electrifying Edison

-Brian Mendonça

A stitch in time,  saves nine.
                           English Proverb*

I connected my laptop power cord to a multiplug and put the multiplug into the socket in the wall. To the multiplug I stuck in the two-pin plug for my light-emitting diode (LED) desk light – so the light would shine on my keyboard.  A few minutes later we were startled by the sound of a small explosion.

The wire for the desk light had for some days been recalcitrant. There was a loose contact somewhere. Whenever I tried to plug it in, it sometimes refused to light up.  I shrugged it off saying I would attend to it later. Until this happened.

Frightened out of my wits, with the light going off, I moaned the fact that my stylish appliance with its ‘minimalistic design’ had been damaged beyond repair. Why oh why had I let matters deteriorate like this?

I soon discovered that the altar light and a couple of other lights too were not working.  When I called up the electrician, he calmly asked me what the problem was.  ‘Go to the door,’ he said. ‘On your right is a fuse box. One of the fuses will be down. Push it up and the lights will come on.’ I did that and the hall lights were restored.

But my desk light still needed attention.

When the electrician came he showed me that the wires were partly frayed. When the current passed through, the circuit was broken and the fuse tripped.  The circuit breaker immediately shut down the power supply for the connections to that switch so that the rest of the wiring would not go up in smoke.

The electrician pulled out a rather nasty knife out of nowhere and expertly sliced off the plastic coating on the wire. He cut away the offending segment and proceeded to pin down the wires in the crevice of a new two-pin plug I had procured. The lamp is working fine now.

My seven-year old son hastened to inform me, to trip is to fall.

‘A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to detect a fault condition and interrupt current flow,’ notes SS Verma in his blog post on electrical circuit breakers featured in the website

The circuit breaker was the brain child of Thomas Alva Edison in 1879. ‘With the installation of lighting in large cities, Edison realized that short circuits that raised the current to very high levels could damage the filament of the bulbs and destroy them. He explored a couple of options to mitigate this.’ (Nathalie Gosset in

Enterprising companies have devised plastic supports which can be fixed on to the one inch or so of wire cord emerging from the two-pin plug to prevent the wire from bending leading to short circuit.
*Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British, 1732. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 6 May 2018. Pix courtesy

Soro Mhaka Di Poilo

-Brian Mendonça

Nunc vino pellite curas
Cras ingens iterabimus aequor.*

-          Horace Odes

On a day when the spirits were balmy in the tepid April air we decided to take a leaf out of the Roman poet Horace’s philosophy. Yes, all we had was today and today must be celebrated with wine.

We were at Grape Escapade 2018 at the spacious Campal grounds. The stage set was amazing and Lorna even more. The area near the venue was overflowing with cars. The crass drivers thought no better than to haul their 4-wheelers over the delicate pavements blocking the pathway. This left pedestrians to their fate risking their lives in front of the speeding traffic on the road. We parked mindfully at the yawning parking slots at Panjim Gymkhana.

We reached after 9.30 p.m. and Lorna was on a home run. Her robust voice held the evening in thrall, even if she hit the high notes on thin ice.  Dressed in a shimmery peach gown Lorna belted out her by now legendry songs. But she slipped in one new song, I had not heard before. It was a kind of swan song, thanking God for the music in her life. All of us have to die some time, the lyrics went. But my songs will go on forever.

At 72 years Lorna, the spectacle in front of me, was doing what she does best.  She was bringing music to her listeners, enfolding them with the Konkani tunes they were so familiar with. She saved her piece de resistance for the last. In her husky, hoary voice she impersonated the drunk husband singing ‘Ieo baile ieo/ Soro mhaka di poilo /Soro mhaka dinam zalear / Tuzo foddtolom toklo. This song ‘Bebdo’ was composed by Chris Perry in the 1970’s. An enduring favourite, the song perhaps tells the tale of many a Goan household devastated by drink.  Lorna’s energy was unsurpassable. She ruled the stage even when the curtains came down dutifully at 10 p.m. She would sing for another day.

And this was the day we were coming to terms with the death of Swedish musician Tim Bergling aka Avicii who was only 28.  Avicii was the prince of global Electronic Dance Music (EDM). However, in view of the drink and drugs, Himali Thakur writes, ‘Avicii becomes a segue to understanding the neon-coloured “live fast, die young” message of EDM.’  News of the doings of Rhythm & Blues singer R. Kelly was still to trickle in.

For dinner at the Grape Escapade we quite fancied fare from the stall quaintly named House No. 2. The rates were more reasonable and the food well-done. (I could say that for the pork ribs). For a dash of spirit I braved a Sangria which is usually made of wine, fruit juice and fresh fruit. We called it a day by coming away with a bottle of Dia from the Sula vineyards, Nashik.
*Now drive away your cares with wine / For tomorrow we sail once more on the boundless sea. Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa, on Sunday 29 April 2018. Pix of Lorna taken by Brian Mendonca at the venue on Saturday, 21 April 2018.

‘Subhash -- as in Subhash Chandra Bose’

-Brian Mendonça

If you visit the ruins of Cabo de Rama fort in Northern Canacona, chances are you will run into Subhash Naik. Our initial acquaintance was quite dramatic. As we were making our way into the fort across the moat, he appeared theatrically at the mouth of the fort warning us to watch our step.  Once in, my eyes tried to size him up. But my nose gave me a different clue. He was smelling of  spirits. It was afternoon.

As we headed past St. Anthony’s church, he led us on towards the ramparts of the fort.  We gave the precarious rocky steps from the ramparts to the sea a miss. Instead Subhash told us to come away and led us to another spot from where we got spectacular views of the Arabian sea. All the while he was talking in his high-pitched loquacious way. Sometimes he spoke English, sometimes Konkani and often Hindi. Desperate to strike a chord by speaking the same language he thought we did, he alternated between languages.

He plied us with questions hoping for answers to sum us up. At one point he proceeded to tell us his life story –of how, owing to circumstances in life, he had been reduced to a bhikari (beggar). His voice broke at this point and he added that he survived on what people gave him.  He kept repeating that he meant no ill to anyone. God after all sees everything.

But Subhash was no guide. Through his mental meanderings he hoped to target unsuspecting visitors to the fort and earn a quick buck.  He was quite the entertainer though. When a group of young visitors from North India swayed in, he hovered obsequiously around them before shooting his question, ‘You, Punjabi?’ They laughed and asked him to dance for them on a tune that was playing on the stereo system they had brought along. I imagine he did.

He proudly showed us his photo identity card which proclaimed him a resident of South Goa. This was to reassure us that he was no tramp. When I asked what his name was, he replied grandly, ‘Subhash -- as in Subhash Chandra Bose.’

In some ways Subhash in his mendicity symbolized the fort itself. Like the fort which had a chequered history, Subhash too had seen better days. Today he was forced to pirouette to the gallery to earn money for a morsel. The momentous state of neglect and disrepair that has befallen one of the most picturesque forts of Goa has to be seen to be believed. At the entrance we did not even see details of when the fort was constructed – a must for all sites under the purview of the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI). Cannons lie strewn around the fort and there is no official assistance whatsoever.

The fort is believed to have been built around 1598 by the Karwar Desai’s and the Soundekar kings. The Portuguese wrested this fort in 1763. They abandoned it later.  

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, on 22 April 2018. Pix taken in the precincts of Cabo de Rama fort on 15 April 2018. St. Anthony's church appears in the background.