Thursday, 29 January 2015

Ragging and Reunions

-Brian Mendonça                                                                     

Frankly, I am not one for reunions. They seem to be quite fashionable these days. For better or worse the past just doesn’t go away. 

Reunions are ostensibly held to reminisce over old times and dwell on what great pals you all had been in the good old days.

This is often a lie.

What triggered off this article was an innocuous invitation by an acquaintance who was my senior in college in my hostel days in Goa. He breezes in, wishing the family and says that the old boys are meeting up in a shack nearby and would I please come?

The prospect seemed inviting. So as I reached him to the door I casually asked him, if the family was invited. He said no.

After prodding, I got wind of the fact that most of the probables at the reunion were to be from the senior batch. As he reeled off their names their images floated up before my eyes.

These were the same fiends who, in my student days used to make life miserable by subjecting juniors in the hostel to mass ragging and humiliation. Being the senior-most, might was right. They used to forcibly dunk juniors in the hostel sink near the senior rooms – after liberally splaying it with their urine. This was called giving you a ‘bath’ or more correctly a ‘piss-bath.’

If this was the level of respect they had for us then, surely it could not have changed over the years? So, why the need to fraternize now? Had time changed anything?

I think they believed that with time, all was forgotten. Some forget. Some remember. I remember.

So it did not make any sense going to the reunion. I was not on the same page anymore.  

Reunions may appeal to some. If it means meeting friends you have kept in touch with over the years, it could turn out to be quite wonderful. But calls out of the blue could be you are on a sticky wicket. It’s funny how what some people do in jest can load the dice against them.

Ragging has been the bane of our educational institutions. The case was made in 3 Idiots where freshers are subjected to ragging. Countless cases of ragging lead to mental torture and even suicide. The Goa Prohibition of Ragging Act 2008 explicitly enjoins heads of educational institutions to ensure a ragging-free campus.*

Months back I received a call from a friend at school who is now settled abroad. ‘Can we meet for lunch?’ he said at 11 a.m. on a Monday when I returned his call. Since I would be free at only at 1 from Margao and the meet-up was at Mapusa I declined. Further attempts to slot a meeting met with no success. And this was the person sending breathless FB and whatsapp updates around the globe like, ‘Now I am in the car going to meet Julian.’ He soon left Goa. Great.

*; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 25 January 2015; pix courtesy: slideshare

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Miss Understanding – Expect the Worst!

Brian Mendonça

One of the takeaways for me of pk is that it revolves around a misunderstanding. The girl (Jagat Janani aka Jaggu) thinks she is stood up by the boy (Sarfraz) on her wedding day.  To cut back to the chase, Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) arrives at the church to be married (this is, after all, Bruges in Belgium) and seats herself among the pews waiting for her fiancée. While she is waiting she observes another lady who has also come there to be wedded. When this other lady is asked by the pastor about her partner, she rushes out of the church looking for him -- in the process leaving her kitten with Jaggu. A young boy enters the church, searching for someone. He sees Jaggu dressed in bridal gown holding the kitten and gives her a letter. The letter (unsigned) is presumably from Sarfraz saying he cannot go through with the ritual – and she is not to contact him in future. Jaggu in a state of turmoil rushes out of the church – but leaves the letter in the pew – and returns to Delhi.

The audience is all teary-eyed that a blossoming relationship between Jaggu and Sarfaraz (read India and Pakistan) has sundered on the rocks.  Rajkumar Hirani, the director picks up the pieces almost 2 hours later in the final scene on the talk show where pk (Aamir Khan) is pitted against Tapasvi Maharaj - the Godman.  He asks Jaggu, who is now the anchor of a T.V. show, a simple question, ‘Are you sure the letter was for you?’ pk then unravels what actually happened. The letter was intended for the other girl. Sarfraz did come to church that day. He does not find Jaggu, but finds the letter. Assuming it is for him he thinks Jaggu has written it for him and returns crestfallen to Lahore.

This is a case of double misunderstanding. What pk drives home is the point that we tend to believe what we want to believe – not what is necessarily true. Negativity often gains the upper hand as our mind is already coloured by the anxiety of a worst-case scenario. In the case above neither Jaggu nor Sarfraz gave the other the benefit of a doubt. Though both pined for each other, none made any attempt to contact each other. It needed an alien to bring that about because as Shaw said commonsense is not very common.

We all have dreams to nurture. We need to stand by ourselves – and others -- and believe these dreams will happen; not cave in to accidents of chance which erode our conviction.  In pk, both ‘Miss’ Jaggu and ‘Mr.’ Sarfaraz misunderstand the situation. As Rajeev Dhavan writes, ‘PK is not a person but an idea that interrogates, even scolds us  . . . it asks us to re-examine who we are.’ The next time when something goes wrong, before we leap to conclusions, let’s probe why things went wrong. Expect the best in life.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 January 2015. St. Anne's Church, Bruges at https:(backslash)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Kenna Kenna Man Majhe

-Brian Mendonça

Kenna kenna man majhe
Pixe kashe bauvta vanyar
Kenna talyar, kenna malyar
Man mhaje ravna tharyar.

The opening verse of this beautiful poem by Sushmita Naik, is full of the cadence of Konkani poetry. The inversion of the syntax, the musicality, the tautness of phrase and the elegance of thought enable complete identification of the reader with the sentiments of the poet. An inadequate translation could be: Sometimes my mind /loses its senses and wanders like the wind / Sometimes by the lake, sometimes with the earth / my mind doesn’t stay in one place.

Those who understand the original are blessed indeed. They need no intermediaries. The poem was published in Devanagri in the Sunday edition of the Konkani daily Sunaprant (28 Dec. 2014).  Just below the poem was Dr. Rajay Pawar’s review of young Konkani poets titled ‘Yuva Kavita Apeksha Vadaita.’ Pawar, a colleague of mine, was one of the Konkani poets I spoke on at a recent talk I was invited to deliver in a college in Goa. His poem, ‘Computer Ek Upkar Kar’  on how the computer has displaced the old way of life in Goa is very popular and prescribed for college students in the volume titled Kavyafulam.  The Konkani poems of Nutan Shakardande, Pundalik Naik, Nagesh Karmali and Walter Menezes, were also read and discussed.

I titled my talk, ‘Glimpses of Contemporary Goan Poetry in English and Konkani.’ It is vital for the youth, I said, to bridge the schism between English and Konkani writing in Goa. Students of English literature and students of Konkani literature are stuck in their own silos blissfully unaware of writing in the other languages of their own state. While this focus may get them better marks it is cultural suicide for Goa.

In a memorable line at a culture conclave at Ninasam in Shimoga district, Karnataka, social scientist Shiv Vishwanathan pointed out, ‘To be an Indian you have to be illiterate.’ Only an illiterate in India, he argued, can speak five languages, thereby keeping cultural memories and stories alive.  English-speaking Goans must shed their shyness to speak, read and write Konkani.  After I had written about Yuvamahotsava  last year -- the annual inter-collegiate meet on Konkani language and literature, one remarked that Konkani needs more presence on the internet.

In a grim scenario Charlie, who is down from London, bumps into uncle Duming in Goa. Charlie wants to learn Konkani because he needs to communicate with his tenants who are refusing to vacate. Uncle Duming tells him, ‘Ti famil, ji tujea pai-n bhaddeak dovorli ti Madrasi famil, ani atam tim besbori Konkani uloitat, ani itli vorsam tim tumchea ghorant ravtat. Tim atam bhair soronk kotthinn re baba.’ A sadder but wiser Charlie returns to London vowing to learn Konkani and speak in Konkani to his children. Uncle Duming’s words ring in his ears, ‘Tujea bapain tujem Gõykarponn kaddun ghetlem. Tum atam Gõykar uronk nam. Tum Konkani ulounk noko zalear tum Gõykar mhunn koso sabit kortolo?*
*See ‘Gõykarponn?’ by Willy Goes in Gulab – a monthly published in Romi Konkani (XI.32 Nov. 2014); Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 11 January 2015. Pix source Venchille Khin- Collection of Konkani Essays  by Dinesh Manerker at Konkani Shoppe on ebay.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Scenes from a Goan Wedding

 -Brian Mendonça

Scene 1
There she was. Almost 3-- in tears. Dressed in satiny yellow, she was a flower girl; part of the bridal entourage. As their entry was announced she somehow lost her way. The bridal entourage was by now skirting the perimeter of the dance floor.  With all the guests ranged in a circle she was in the wrong place at the right time. Everyone stared. But no one moved.  Her accompanying page boy looked a bit confused in the entourage. So I did what I thought was the best thing to do. I cut through the crowd, took the little girl’s hand and led her to her page boy. The bridal entourage complete, it resumed its sedate progress. Only later I noticed her blowing bubbles by herself, least interested in the momentousness of the event. Oh well! 

Scene 2
It seemed like three hours into the reception – and A26, the Goan band, had played just 3 songs. When we really got grooving it was 11.15 p.m. After listening to their music we were wishing we had got more of them and less of the M.C! I love the way they started with Eagles (I refuse to put it down to retro!). The Goan masala had the whole crowd delirious, with the enticing beats of the birdie dance bringing children on to the floor as well. One young lady was swinging away with her baby girl who was wriggling her toes all the way. A26 played with verve. They had a new sound, were versatile, and were obviously enjoying it.*

Scene 3
Dinner is announced. Three/or four drinks down and people are quite ‘happy.’ Goan lads and lasses emulate elders and drink as if there is no tomorrow. Dinner comprises of no less than about 20 dishes. As plates are heaped and drink beguiles appetite, huge mountains of food lie wasted on the table. Guests wobble to their cars, to reach home on a wing and a prayer, ferrying their precious cargo, and fighting sleep.

After attending countless weddings in Goa here’s what I usually do: i) I carry my own water. I don’t drink -- not even beer, when we travel far – because I am driving my family back home on village lanes in Goa which are often pitch dark past 1 a.m. ii) I try not to do an event in North Goa for lunch and South Goa for dinner on the same day. It doesn’t work for me or our kid. We need a decent quantum of sleep. iii) Nibble at the food. We eat to live not the other way around. Food is tastier when you focus on a few dishes. iv) Gift your dessert away. Trust me – you will feel lighter on the way home. v) Don’t forget to get your tyre pressure right when you tank up to head to the venue.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------* (A26 is the number of the house the group practises in at Baga, Goa). Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 4 January 2014. Cartoon of typical Goan wedding reception or Tornaboda by Mario Miranda

Monday, 29 December 2014


Brian Mendonca

For the family lunch on 25th December I thought I’d get some flowers to put in the vase on the mantle piece. This was a special day since all the children with their families were going to be there with dad. Except mum.

Mum slipped away on 20th December, but not before she instructed us that come what way the show must go on. So she selected the menu and had a word with the cook who specialized in Goan dishes. This 25,th   10 years on, we remembered her again. She used to love flowers.  So I picked up 3 stalks of chrysanthemums, white, yellow and blue to represent the 3 families who were gathered together. (Later I realized they were not really chrysanthemums but a sprig of flowers which seemed wild in their abandon.)

Mum also used to like bougainvillea. The blaze of colour which often perimetered a courtyard or garden used to often elicit a breathless remark of admiration. Crotons were her favourite. These flowerless plants demanded all her attention, but their presence with their splotches of bronze, ensured a sedate outlook on life. These were the simple joys of nature that used to thrill her heart. Like getting up early in the morning and listening to the chirping of the birds.

Flowers are gentle reminders of the presence of a person. Earlier I used to adorn her grave with carnations – white, but now they seem too lush to stitch up the grief.

There was also a funeral on 25th December – of a 2-year old infant. Her name was Angel Merry. Perhaps the parents knew she was going to be an angel soon.  Sometime ago a young couple had a child which had a rare lung condition. They knew Gabriel was going to die. After a wait which might have been excruciating for the parents, one more little angel fluttered into heaven. Who ordains the time we live on this earth?

As the year draws to a close, it is indeed dying away into history. However some memories never die. No matter how many years roll by.

Flowers help us come to terms with the inevitable. Personally, I love the sprightly lilies, but each stalk retails at Rs. 50. You don’t see too many hollyhocks these days. Like the sparrows they seem to have all disappeared. Poinsettias, though often dwarfed, look vibrant and vigorous. But they seldom last long.

I used to have pots of Jasmine (mogra) just outside the window of my barsati in Delhi. The sweet fragrance was almost like the presence of a person in my solitary existence.

Every morning, in the garden outside my window, a gent comes along and plucks all the radiant hibiscus from the only plant there is – ostensibly to offer it for prayer. On a previous occasion I have hollered at his wife to spare some on the verdant bush so the people around too may beautify their lives through the day. So far it has fallen on deaf ears.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on  Sunday, 28 December 2014. Pix of Alda Mendonca and Alex Mendonca, with Kevin and Brian.  c1965

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

‘I Only Came for Dinner’

-Brian Mendonça

When we visited an old age home last week in the run-up to Christmas, we took along used clothes, and a snack for the inmates. Preparations were underway for Christmas, i.e. the crib was being made up and fronds were enlisted to give the stable the right look. In the distance an old lady was having her hair cut in the winter sun.  Other ladies sat on benches looking vacantly ahead of them. A few giggled.

After waiting uncertainly to be ushered into their presence, we decided to mix among the inmates who were seated at tables at a refectory. I alternated between ‘Good morning’ and ‘Merry Christmas’ and looked hopelessly around to hold a conversation when someone said, ‘Why are you running?’ I froze. I promptly sat down at the table beside her and tried to make conversation.

Gina Lopes, for that was her name, she said, was easy enough to talk to. She asked me if the little boy was my son. When I ventured asking her how long she was in the home, she said brightly, ‘I only came for dinner.’

Since she didn’t look the part, I engaged in small talk and waited till a care-giver joined us at the table. She said Regina had been in the home for the last four years and her mind is often unhinged. How could this pleasant person sitting in front of me be insane? Of course her hair was cut a bit too short and seemed to be shorn of any lustre. I remember her greeting me with, ‘You are handsome.’ ‘You look very nice too,’ I sputtered.

I recalled a chilling short story by Columbian writer, Gabriel García Márquez. In that story María de la Luz Cervantes (27) needs to use the phone because her car breaks down and she has to inform her husband – a circus performer -- that she will not be home before seven. She gets a lift in a bus ferrying sedated mental patients to a sanatorium and is trapped within its walls, against her wishes. When she desperately tries to plead her case she repeatedly says, ‘I only came to use the phone,’ which is also the title of the story. Her husband thinks she has run off with another man and leaves her to her horrific fate even though he has discovered where she is.

 Out of their circumstances, many are pushed to spend their lives in old age homes.  Christmas perhaps will be just another day. Amidst the grand buffets and rollicking times, there are people for whom a square meal may be a mirage. Several times when Gina was at table she insistently inquired of the caregiver when food was going to be served. The caregiver chuckled and motioned for her to have a little more patience. It was business as usual.

This Christmas let’s share some of our dinner with the needy. Let’s try to listen to them and understand their stories.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 21 December 2014. Pix taken by Agnello Fernandes of Nazareth Home for the Aged, Navelim, Goa.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Kathryn Hummel - Poems From Here

In the intimate setting of the Zuari hall, International Centre Goa, Donapaula, Goa, yesterday, Kathryn Hummel regaled poetry lovers to a reading of her poems.from her debut volume Poems from Here released in October. It is not everyday that we have an Australian poet of the calibre of Kathryn amongst us. So when Vivek asked me to anchor the session I was more than pleased. As it turned out Kathryn and me were on the same page. We were both in some sense traveller-poets.

Considering herself nothing less than an explorer, Kathryn opened her poetry reading with: 'I always confuse / the sextant and the speculum . . ./ Maybe they are joined / in my mind / as tools of navigation / for worlds vast as oceans, / steered in conference with the night sky.'

Widely travelled, Kathryn has spent years in Bangladesh, Japan and India. But it is in the in-between places, gazing at the moon, when she is lost and 'homeless,'  that she writes her sometimes sad lines. She writes in 'Paradise Inn', Allapuzha, Kerala : The moonlight outside my blinkered range, / has the same pale pressure of the lover I wanted nights ago,/ the one I summon to this continent from another:/ with a touch to bleach the misdeeds and the bruises they left,/ though never their memory.'

A doctorate in ethnographic studies, Dr Kathryn teaches creative communication at the University of South Australia, Magill campus. But she is not a stuffy academic. Rather, she pulsates with life, as a teenager, many of whom she has encouraged to look at poetry itself as valuable material for ethnographic study.The slim volume Poems from Here has been brought out elegantly by Walleah Press, North Hobart, Tasmania.

'Last Drinks in Adelaide' is a wonderfully evoked poem where friends sit around with the knowledge one of them is going to leave. The Australian mannerisms are retained, along with the minute details of Pip her dog: Near the pier where Pip got kicked (we think) / by a bogan out-of towner,/ we take in our drinks; at the same time, the sea. Her poetry is often self-reflexive. In 'Fatty Sobji' she masquerades as her acquaintances in Bangladesh reproving her for her weight: 'In terms of Rabindranath's Romanticism,/ You are like the dahl of tomorrow left out in the monsoon of today: /You are expanding the bideshi border by your bottom alone.' In a recent poem Kathryn read 'Letter from Emily Bronte' in which she speaks as Bronte and replies to her detractors.

Kathryn is off to Kathmandu on Tuesday. As I read my poem 'Kali Gandak' written on the Gandak river on the Indo-Nepal border I bid farewell to Kathryn with the awareness in her words that, 'outside the syntactic torture / of the poetry workshop / waits the warming cordial / of friends and wine.' That, and her allusions to Mayakovsky, Neruda, Wordsworth, Pascal and Jibananda . . .