Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A traveller’s take on Goa

-Brian Mendonça

Numerous travellers come to Goa. What do these travellers think of Goa? Travelling in outbound and incoming trains to Goa one often hears travellers’ tales of Goa. Some speak about the people; some speak of how they got ripped off; others lament the absence of tasty vegetarian food; still others prattle about what they did when they were here.

The internet is full of sites which advise you about what Goa is and how best you should immerse yourself in the Goa experience. The travel portal Lonely Planet proclaims ‘GOA is Sun, sand and spices.’

We learn that Reis Magos fort, Verem was built in 1551 by the Portuguese and fended off the Marathas in 1737. It was under British control from 1799-1813, turned into a prison in 1900 and abandoned in 1993. The fort was restored in 2011. It now houses an exhibition of Mario Miranda’s cartoons.* On Sunday evenings you can even learn yoga from its ramparts. It is fascinating how the fort space was used over 450 years, serving different needs, and continues to be relevant today.

A sense of Goa’s history hovered over the hall at a vibrant conclave titled ‘Goa Through the Traveller’s Lens.’ The one-day seminar organized by the Department of English of the Goa University on 30 March 2017 was peopled by historians, anthropologists, academics, mariners, litterateurs and at least one traveller-poet.

A traveller’s life is a charmed one. The work of Portuguese botanist Garcia de Orta (1501-68) who lived in Goa was highlighted. Several gardens including one in Panjim have been named after him. Though he died, before the Inquisition in Goa (1560-1812) became effective, his remains were exhumed and burnt. This was on the basis of a confession extracted from his sister who was burnt at the stake a year after his death.  

A fascination with Tagore brought José Paz Rodrigues, a professor, all the way from Spain to spend time in India, in Shantiniketan and in Goa. His collection of 34 slides titled, ‘Percepçao e influência de Tagore em Goa e no Mundo Lusófono’ is available on slideshare.net. It gives a vivid account of how Tagore influenced writers in Goa and Portuguese-speaking countries and inspired them to translate his works into Portuguese. These include Telo de Mascarenhas (1899-1979), Cecilia Meíreles (1901-1964), and Wanda Ramos (1948-1998). Tagore himself also comes through as a traveller who made several journeys across the world. One of the earliest food critics on Goa was the French navigator François Pyrard de Laval (1578-1623).

Goa is becoming a world space. Contemporary accounts include blogs by travellers to Goa and expats living in Goa. In social media travellers can be caustic and even use cuss words. Digital nomads – those who work on a beach out of a laptop – despair of the poor internet connectivity in Goa.

Living in Goa one could also look at Goa through a traveller’s eyes. That would make one more aware of the surroundings and its plenteous gifts.
*www.lonelyplanet.com; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender,St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 2 April 2017. Pix of Garcia de Orta on Portuguese coin; courtesy numisgaia.com

Goa Through the Traveller's Lens

                            Through the Eyes of a Traveller-poet: Goa Yesterday and Today

                                                                Dr. Brian Mendonça


Travel-writing has usually been confined to prose. In this inquiry, I place my poems on Goa written during my sojourn so far as a traveller-poet.  Though identifying with the larger matrix of India, the Goa poems have nimbly yielded a collection of a book of verse by itself. The last decade from my debut volume Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa (2006) to my blog writings today have tried to mediate what it means to be a traveller in Goa. In this pursuit I have shifted genres from poetry to prose, reviews to reportage.  Always the subject has been the shifting signifier - Goa.  The first poem, ‘Requiem to a Sal,’ (1987) lamented the hacking down of a tree, a horrific reality even today, thirty years on. Similarly there are poems which are descriptions of the places I have spent time in like, ‘Good Friday in Cuncolim,’(2003) or the march of the tides in ‘May Queen,’(2004). This is a poetic documentation of a rapidly changing Goa, of a landscape under erasure. The prose narratives are more based on incidents, like the killing of a man by villagers in Pernem, or the vast untamed outback one sees when one travels in Dharbandora taluka for example. Along the journey several social oddities of each place are noted and merged in the creative work. These minute observations give a sense of rootedness to the reader with that place. This paper will explore the terrain of my published writings on Goa and attempt to theorize Goa through its lens. It will also consider in its purview critical studies on my work so far.
Seminar on ‘Goa Through the Traveller’s Lens,’ Department of English, Goa University, Taleigao, Goa, 30 March 2017

Maids of Honour

-Brian Mendonça

Sometimes life can give you a raw deal. These are stories of women who serve the community to support themselves and their families.

The first is in her thirties. She came from a large family. Her parents died when she was still very young.  Eager to be relieved of her, her relatives got her married to a widower with two children.  After having one child with her, her husband walked out to marry a third person. She now takes care of the three children while doing shifts taking care of those people who need her.

Another lady, a senior person, is well-known in the hospital. During one of her stints in the hospital she shared the responsibility of caring for a foreigner, with a colleague. When the time came to be paid, her colleague denied that she had taken care of the patient and pocketed the entire amount.  She was dispossessed of her family property by her own sister who, along with her brother-in-law, made her sign away her property without knowing what she was doing – since she was illiterate.

The third lady is waiting to go to the Middle East. She was on the verge of leaving when the plans fell through and the agent balked out of the agreement.  Though one can earn better abroad it is important to be assigned to a good family, she says. Only lately the local papers had reported that a maid was thrown down from the 2nd floor by her employer abroad.  She was now appealing to NGOs to take her back to India.

One lady was travelling with her husband on a train. In high spirits he moved out towards the door of a running train to spit out. He lost his balance, fell down and died. His wife now earns by being a day-care attendant, and brings up her two children along with doing an eight-hour job elsewhere.

These maids give up spending time with their own families and their own children to be with those who need them. With the little money they earn they bring up their families. Most are single parents, playing the role of a mother and a father to their children.

What is really inspiring is the commitment of these women. They are ever-willing to accommodate to the needs of the patient and the household. They eat what is given to them without any fuss and maintain vigil through the night, attentive to the patient’s call.

Many of the maids know each other. If one cannot make it the other will fill in for her.  Most of them are uneducated but they would like to see a better life for their children. They are seldom bitter with their lot and go about their duties with dignity. Some are fluent in no less than four languages. They adjust to the energy level of each member of the household, and when a child demands that she plays with him/her, they oblige without ignoring the patient.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 26 March 2017. Pix courtesy blogs.reuters.com 'Health Start-ups tap India's Growing Home care Sector'

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Nagoa to Nerul: 36 Years After School

-Brian Mendonça

When some of us from our school batch of 1981 decided to meet, I knew this was going to be a trip down memory lane. In hindsight I realize this was also an invigorating learning experience.

Back then in Bombay, we were just kids, finding our fledgling feet in the world. Most of us were in the boarding school. This gave us a sense of bonding.

Anthony was down in Goa for a few days. I had to pick him up and join the guys at Nerul for lunch. We were now all scattered across the globe. There were clumps of us in Kuwait, Canada, Bahrain, Bombay, New Zealand and here in Goa. Some of us had families, some preferred to stay single, and some were living separately. There was so much we brought to the table after all these years. 

When I used to pass the tacky signboard saying ‘CONSUA’ on my way from Vasco to Verna I often wondered what going down this road must be like. Finally I had a reason to go there. Anthony needed to be picked up from there. He sent me his location on WhatsApp. Driving down from Nuvem I took the left turn towards Nagoa.

It was like going back in time. Faced with the frenetic onslaught of development here were tall trees to greet me. The winding roads had sunlight at every turn. There were spaces by the road with benches to sit down and rest – the red tiles clean and inviting. There was even a railway crossing. Sometimes the road was so narrow two cars could not pass through. At the turn, the church of Our Lady of Livra-Febres, Consua looked majestic in white. The village has preserved its natural heritage. Quaint names like Mazilvaddo and Pimpalkota with the ward number, on signboards greeted you as you drove past.

Anthony and me spoke of life, about the page we were on, and about our friends. He had a wisdom which came from being a globetrotter, a family man, and a down-to-earth human being. He was the catalyst who brought us all together, and the peace-maker who stepped in when things got nasty.  Every guy retains some to the character he had in school, Anthony was saying. If he was a show-off then, he is a bit of a show-off now. It made it easier to read one’s personality.

With the boys from the batch which passed out of SSC in 1981 it was okay to use the register - almost an idiolect - we used in school. It made us feel young again. Here surprise was punctuated by the exclamation ‘What the fcuk!’ Using expletives was okay to show you still belonged to the group, and shared their sense of identity. The joke on the WhatsApp group was ‘After Monday and Tuesday even the calendar says WTF.’

As I swerved around the bend at Reis Magos fort, Nerul, Anthony said the sharp turns were so dangerous. Like Consua, I thought to myself.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 March 2017. Pix (Top) Anthony with the verdant fields of Consua, Goa in the background, 9 March 2017 ; (Centre) Schoolmates at Babazin, Nerul, 9 March 2017; (Below) Good times at Claudi's, Bogmalo, 6 March 2017.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Rani, Lakshmi or bai?

-Brian Mendonça

At a seminar on women poets in Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu a speaker said women in India face the Rani Lakshmibai predicament. When they are born they are queens (rani) for their parents, as brides they enter the house with much fanfare as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), but the reality is they end up as bai’s (top servants) in their homes.

This tongue-in–cheek remark in the face of the feminists was nevertheless borne out on Women’s Day this year. After I breathlessly wished one woman a happy woman’s day, I asked her what she was doing to commemorate the day. She said, ‘I did the jhadu (sweeping), now I have to do the pocha (swabbing).’

Today two issues appear before us. One is the courage of a Gurmehar Kaur (20) student from Delhi University, the daughter of a Kargil war hero. She boldly took a stand on social media saying, ‘Pakistan did not kill my father, war did.’ Faced with threats of rape and murder she nevertheless withdrew to her hometown in Jalandhar in the safety of Punjab. The fact she pulled out of the campaign is a sad comment on the fabric of a nation which prides itself on democratic values.

The other issue is why Karan Johar is in the news. The media is ga-ga over his twins. The babies were born through a surrogate mother. The children will probably never know who their biological mother is. What KJ, who is gay, has done is to do away with the mother altogether. The fact that he is averse to a relationship with a woman, does not stop him from depriving his children from a nurturing bonding with a mother for all their lives.

What really got my goat was the WhatsApp forward below about Goan girls and ‘Goan English’:

First Goan Girl: What men! Not talking? Become big or what?
Second Goan Girl: Why you told her that I told you about Perpet going to movie with Pilot?
First Goan Girl: Told foo men? Ah that Concessao? But I told her not to tell annnnnnnybody that you told me.

What one can see, beyond the titters, is that the snatch of conversation projects a negative stereotype of Goan ‘girls’. A sociolinguist would ask is this language specific to female Goan speakers? If so why? Why do we persist in forwarding content which projects us in bad light?

As woman all have common concerns, so aptly put across by Kalki Koechlin’s womanlogue. Women get stared at, so much so, as their chest heaves, it becomes difficult to even breathe.

At a fancy dress organized on Woman’s Day girls dressed up as an airhostess, a clothes designer, a Bharatanatyam dance teacher who pursues her calling after marriage, and a business woman. One could also be a maternity and post-delivery photographer like Ranisa Pires, a professional boxer like Sonia Parab or a conservation diver like Gabriella D’Cruz. Great careers, limitless choices. Your life is what you make of it.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 12 March 2017. Pix source indiglamour.com

Sunday, 5 March 2017

HOGging the Limelight

-Brian Mendonça

One has often seen on the road a cavalcade of motorbikes on Goa roads. Riding along with nary a care in the world, they epitomize the saviours of humanity. Of course when they are in packs they ride in the daylight with their headlights on (which is a little weird).

These riders bring out the travel bug in me. They ride free, they ride perhaps wild. With not a care in the world it seems, they seem to regard the world with disdain. Not for them a comfortable bed or the trappings of home. They belong to the great outdoors.

As they file along slowly in perfect formation, they are a force to reckon with. They are going to wipe out the bad guys and go after those who harass the damsels in distress.

Iconic bikes like the American Harley-Davidson, established in Wisconsin in 1903, have elevated the worship of their mean machines to cult status. To ride a Harley means to have arrived. The website for the Harley-Davidson Owner’s Group (HOG) uses an acronym which also stands for a pig. ‘The world was meant to be seen from the seat of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,’ goes the tag line on the HOG website at www.hog.com

‘Hogging  the limelight’ is an expression to mean drawing undue and perhaps undeserved attention to oneself at the expense of others. It emerged from the nineteenth-century stage where an actor on whom the spotlight was more than others was seen as hogging the limelight.

Last month HOG organized a rally from Pune to Goa. Anand Pawar was one of the bikers. At Amboli ghat he had a tragic accident in the dead of night where it appears his bike collided with another vehicle.  Since medical care was inadequate at the primary health care centre he was moved to a government hospital at Sawantwadi where he breathed his last. This was the first time his wife Saroj was also accompanying him in a 4-wheeler at the rear of the formation.

There are conflicting reports about what happened after Anand Pawar died. His wife says the bikers abandoned her with her husband’s body and drove in to Goa (40 km. away), rather than heading back to Pune (400 km. away).  Another source says bikers in fact did give their statements to the police. The ladies in the jeep whose husbands too were part of the rally offered assistance to Saroj.

I did not see any report in the English print media in Goa.  Only Pune Mirror carried in Times of India, and online sources like scoopwhoop reported it. Despite the rally being such a prestigious event there was no arrangement for an ambulance. None of the bikers was carrying a medical kit.* Next time I look at those mean machines, I will remind myself there is a thin line between romance and reality. It is so easy to appear macho. It is also an illusion.
*Namrata Dadwal, ‘Harley biker abandoned after accident,’ www.scoopwhoop.com, 19 February 2017; Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 5 March 2017. Pix courtesy http://www.harley-davidson.com

Writers Meet

-Brian Mendonça

What does it mean to be a writer? What do other writers think about their calling? How to juggle one’s umpteen responsibilities with being a writer? These were some of the questions that raced through my mind as I headed from Nuvem on a Saturday afternoon for the Writers Meet at Pernem, 4-5 March 2017.

An initiative of the Institute Menezes Braganza, Panjim, the programme felicitated creative writers across languages in Goa and invited them to speak about their work. The proceedings were conducted in Konkani. When the writers were invited to introduce themselves, they did so in Konkani, many in Marathi, one in Hindi, and one, me, in English.

One of the languages missing was Portuguese. This amnesia seemed to close the door to a shared linguistic and cultural heritage. Languages need to be nurtured for their own sake. I felt that I could articulate the occident through my poetry and prose. I had already used Portuguese in my debut volume of poems Last Bus to Vasco: Poems in Transit (2006). The legacy of a language lives on in the life of a poet. Times change, people change, a language evolves.

Many of the writers around me, were stalwarts in their own sphere. However I had not read any of them in English translation. Some writers spoke at length of their work in translation, viz. translating sacred texts from Konkani to Gujarati. None spoke about any translations into English. Here was a market waiting for them, since they were already big names in the Konkani firmament. A few writers in Goa have made impressive forays into the English-speaking world by securing publishers who bring out their works in English translation.

As the writers made their introductions I listened to what their other lives were. There were around fifty of us with an equal number of gents and ladies. Ladies sat mostly in their finery and saris facing the dais to the right, gents sat to the left somewhat outclassed, except for a senior writer resplendent in his red kurta-pyjama.

The overnight weekend getaway was held in the sylvan surroundings of Heera farm, at Ozri, Dhargal. Here in the northern tip of Goa, writers came across as normal human beings. Some worked in the bank; some were teaching languages and literature in schools and colleges; others were writing fulltime or travelling to neighbouring states to pursue writing assignments. Many of them had retired. But they kept themselves glowing and active. The silver-haired gent beside me specialized in making wines – no less than twenty varieties. Many writers were involved in social work, viz. dealing with special children, or remedial teaching.

The Writers Meet inspired us. It gave us a reason to live – and a reason to write. There were thought-provoking sessions like ‘Why do I write? / For whom do I write?’ and ‘E-literature: enemy or friend?’  An early-morning yoga session was scheduled, ‘as writers need to be fit to write.’ A variety programme was specially put up for us. Thank you IMB.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 16 April 2017.