Monday, 5 October 2015

Travelling on the Mumbai Local Train

Brian Mendonça

This Ganesh holidays we were in Mumbai and did a lot of travelling on the Mumbai local train.

Admittedly in the not so recent past I was terrified of travelling on it, lately it has become second nature to me. Steered purposefully by Queenie, a denizen of Mumbai, our little son has also got into the act and nimbly steps on and off the Mumbai local without a care.

We mostly used the Harbour line, transiting mainly from Kharghar in Navi Mumbai to Kurla, a distance of about 35 minutes.  The trains used to start at Panvel, a couple of stations away and come down to the spacious, clean and uncluttered Kharghar station where we used to hop on for the ride to town. 

In almost all the instances we boarded the train young lads got up and offered a seat to Dwayne or to Queenie. I began to actually rely on their goodwill and used to tell myself, ‘Just get into the train and we’ll be alright.’

As we were swept into the train (or swept out!) we learnt to manoeuvre  ourselves between the seating areas in the train and place our bags – each of us carried one – on the luggage racks above. This left our hands free to hold on to the handrails and clasps for support and balance.

Once, after a weary day, I placed my black haversack – everyone carries haversacks on the Mumbai local trains, some of them carried in front of them  rather than behind – on the luggage rack above, along with our other bags. Next to it was another black haversack to which I paid no heed.

As Mankhurd station approached I watched one man gather his things from the luggage rack. I looked at our bags and noticed something amiss. My black haversack had suddenly sported yellow lettering on it. I panicked. The bag was not mine. A person had taken my bag by mistake – and he was about to get off!

I began to shout in the train asking anyone with a black bag to check his bag for it was the wrong one. No one paid much attention to me. Then Queenie got up and shouted and people started listening. There was a murmur from the crowd primed to disembark and lo and behold I saw my own bag being passed on by helpful hands from the exit towards me. I swiftly passed on the black bag with the yellow lettering and within seconds the train stopped.

I have a penchant for the Harbour line, having done my schooling in Bombay.  A dear aunt of mine used to stay at Wadala. I wrote a poem titled ‘Harbour Line’ in 2001:  Harbour line you make your way . . . / I grew up with you from boy to man . . . For me travelling once more on the Harbour line – this time from Navi Mumbai -- was like coming home and reclaiming my past.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 4 October 2015. Pix source: zeenews.india(dot)com

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Swimming as a way of life

 -Brian Mendonça

Perhaps the one of the singular joys of life is to swim. Those who do, know the surge of pleasure a few laps in the pool can give – especially after a hard day’s work. Curiously not many in Goa know how to swim. With the Arabian sea lisping at the coast, one would have thought it were de rigueur to learn swimming in the state, but this is not the case.

The water component in our body is as high as 60%. We are naturally drawn to water. Oh the thrill of floating on the water on your back looking up at the blue sky, and the tops of coconut trees! This scene is a reality if you use the pool at Bogmallo Beach Resort, Bogmallo. We used to often go there for a Sunday brunch which included a dip in the pool followed by a sumptuous buffet.

Sometimes when one goes for a weekend getaway, but the accommodation does not have a pool, one looks out for another hotel with a pool to use – just to pamper oneself. That’s what we did when we stayed at Turiya Villa, Canacona. Star hotel, Colva had a separate pool area for kids which my son loved. Longuinhos, Colva also has a pool on one side of the room and the sea on the other. The best of both worlds.

Recently I was teaching Dwayne (4) to swim in the pool at Devashri Garden, Porvorim. We brought along a buoy which he had to wear around his chest and arms which kept him afloat. As I did my laps in the deep end he shrieked in delight wanting to follow suit. Queenie kept a watchful eye on him, as she always does when the two of us hit the water.

My earliest memory of swimming in Goa was quite bad. There used to be place called Resort Hotel at Chicalim. I had gone for a swim with Arvind. I only half knew to swim and when we were in the deep end I panicked and started thrashing about in the water. Arvind was much lighter than me, and it was possible I could pull him underwater. With admirable presence of mind he gave me a tight slap on the face, hooked my head in an arm lock and brought me to safety. I always remember him for saving my life that day.

Since then I perfected the art of swimming when I was doing my research, at the Osmania University swimming pool at Secunderabad. My working life in Delhi was jazzed up by the monthly membership at the YMCA pool at Jai Singh Road near Jantar Mantar which was just below my office. I also enjoyed swimming at night in a pool in Bangalore in an executive apartment which was booked for me.

Swimming is wonderful exercise, especially for the lower back. You feel rejuvenated and alive – as though you have connected with yourself. You feel younger and in tune with yourself. Why not jump in the pool today?

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on Sunday, 27 September 2015. Pix courtesy Auburn masters swim team.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

‘You Don’t Get to See a Cow in Australia’

-Brian Mendonça

Time: 3 p.m.
Place: Calangute beach
Date: Sunday
I delved into my beef stroganoff. To the west of the lunch table was the pork chilly fry. Occupying centre stage was the prawn curry rice. We were at Souza Lobo’s restaurant by the sea. Driving down in the heat from Vasco at midday had given me a headache.

 The warm, placid interiors and the subdued gaiety seemed a marked contrast to the hordes outside headed for the beach. As I parked my car I noticed a group of male tourists spilling out of an eatery clutching bottles of Kingfisher Strong. Many were bare-bodied waist up.

It looked as though the whole of India had congregated here this afternoon! The feeble whistles of the life guards punctuated the air at Souza Lobo as waiters briskly served succulent preparations of lobsters and crabs. The superb view the restaurant offered made it possible to observe the various activities of a multitude of people enthralled by the sea. Some were posing and clicking selfies, others talking frenetically on the phone, still others just gazing at the sea.

I gazed at a foreigner who came and sat alone at the table beside us.  Suddenly he took out his camera, adjusted the zoom and leaned precariously out of his chair trying to photograph something on the beach.  I tried to see what it was and was most amused. As we moved out of the restaurant I happened to see the gent beside us. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked, ‘Got any good photos?’ ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘You don’t get to see a cow in Australia.’

Time: 4.30 p.m.
Place: Porvorim
Date: Sunday
We made it in time from Souza Lobo’s for the 4.30 p.m. Sunday Mass at Holy Family Church, Porvorim. Away from the bacchanalia of the beach, I was thankful of the serenity of faith. It was drizzling outside. The drive from Calangute to Porvorim had offered us spectacular views of a brooding monsoon-sky. At the Saligao circle, lads were putting up stalls to sell their evening snacks. The headache had ebbed with the cool showers. How could there be so much of difference between two places in Goa which were not that far from each other, I wondered.

I suppose this was ‘Goa’ and that was ‘India.’ But that would be over-simplifying . . . . The tumult of people mostly in groups, from all strata of society, speaking all kinds of languages, doing all kinds of things on the beach was a culture shock, where I felt literally elbowed out of my own turf. Nothing could come in the way of them taking their pleasure – no matter what the cost.

And I was reflecting on the words of Jesus from the gospel, before jumping to conclusions, ‘Nothing that goes into someone from the outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that make a person unclean. For it is from within the heart that evil intentions emerge.’
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 20 September 2015.  

Making a Memorial Card

-Brian Mendonça

They say that making a mortuary card gives you something to do instead of being enveloped by grief, at the passing away of a loved one. When I set out to make one for the Month’s Mind Mass offered for a family member, I was daunted by the task. I had in mind the old ones which came like a book in black and white. The photo too was b/w to signify grief.

When I asked for a similar card I was told they did not make them anymore. All they had was what was now called a ‘Memorial Card’ or MC for short. The website of the printers had various styles of these termed MC104, MC 105 and so on. All you had to do was pick one, select which words you wanted out of a plethora of verses, choose a holy picture for the back, quote your quantity, and your card was done.

Somehow this assembly line manufacturing of Memorial Cards did nothing to take away my grief. I felt I was belittling the memory of the dear departed. Worse still, the jazzed up colour photos seemed inappropriate to mark the occasion. Nowadays the trend is to give a takeaway of something the departed person used to like. It could be a music CD of the songs s/he liked or even her/his favourite recipe. What could I offer as a suitable memorial?

I ended up writing a poem for the person, one I had composed when I was present for the funeral. I read it out to the family members and they said it would be a good idea to print it on the Memorial Card.

Choosing the photo was not easy. We did not have many digital images of the deceased and in many he was looking away from the camera, preoccupied, pensive or aloof. How could such a photo grace a Memorial Card? We always choose the best photo of the person to remember him/her by. In this case, the family liked one and I liked another. So we ordered 2 sets of cards, 1 for each picture. Mourners could choose how they wanted to remember the deceased.

Imagine my shock when I paid the advance and in the space provided for the name of the person who booked the order, was put the name of the deceased! As though he had just walked out of his grave to order his mortuary bookmarks! The printers said it was easier to identify the order that way.

As I sent the Memorial Cards across the world, Charmaine from the US wrote in to say, ‘Thank you for the mortuary card it is sooo [sic] nice that we can, thanks to the internet, receive memorial cards and feel that we are part of the family.’

The rate is Rs. 6 per card. Rs. 6 extra for lamination. I opted for plain card without lamination as I wanted the Memorial Card to be fragile – like life.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 13 September, 2015. 

When’s the Next Bandh?

-Brian Mendonça

‘Bandh’ is taken from the Hindi word to mean ‘closed.’ It is a unique form of protest where shops and establishments are expected to down their shutters in support of a demand. I use the word ‘expected’ because the general public is usually coerced into following the diktat of bandh leaders or to face the consequences. The word bandh has now passed into Indian English.

The comments of the Chief Minister of Goa were laudable when he said that a bandh may be called by anyone, but they cannot force anyone to observe it.

It was with that reassurance that I headed to work last week. A strong posse of police at the Titan junction showed me that all was under control. When I reached my place of work at Nuvem, there was excited chatter among those who shared their exploits about how they got to work. It was interesting how some who had reached their destination dissuaded others from doing so. Grave misgivings were expressed about what could happen later in the day.  

Not giving a fig about bandhs whether in Delhi, Hyderabad, Pune or Goa for that matter, I deliberately sallied forth to Margao at 11.30 a.m. when the ‘bandh’ would be at its peak. For the second time I called David and Company to inquire if they were open. ‘Is it ok to come in to Margao?’ I asked furtively. ‘It’s ok till now,’ was the sagacious reply. I admired their will to work inspite of the circumstances. ‘I don’t support bandhs,’ said Lawrence Coutinho when I reached David and Co. ‘There are enough holidays for religious festivals in India. And then they say India is not progressing.’ I needed some memorial cards printed urgently, so I was most relieved I could confirm my order on that day. I chatted with Lawrence about visiting their main store at Dhobitalao, Mumbai established about 60 years ago.

After I bought the traditional fruit cake from Morning Star bakery, Margao, I decided to nip into the Margao branch of Furtados, (established 1865) for some music. Every Wednesday I teach students who are interested to play the guitar. I was overjoyed to find the store open and spent a great time there with Sean D’Souza showing me around. The guitar chord circles I picked up were a great favourite with my students later that day. I told Sean that I had visited the Furtado stores in Delhi and the iconic one in town in Mumbai which I visited as a schoolboy.

I had an uneventful ride back to Vasco, giving a lift to two somewhat desperate colleagues. I gobbled my lunch and sped down to State Bank of India, Vasco to ascertain my balance. On the way out I activated my internet banking, swept up to the first floor to the home loan section, and nudged over to the PPF desk.

I got more work done – and parking space! -- on a bandh day than on any other. When’s the next bandh?
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 6 September 2015 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Goodbye Linus

They were still selling patoyos
When you saw them coming
The recent showers paused
As if holding their breath.

You looked so young
In your beige wedding suit
Your open eyes
Bidding everyone welcome.

Your red tie and shoes
The spectacles in your pocket
Just the way
You wanted it to be.

But they bore you away
With our tears as well
And the weight of the red bangles
Near your heart.

Lime too was sprinkled
To disintegrate your frame
And hasten your journey
From grave to niche.

We miss your smile
Your helpful ways
Your hands that reached out
To hold little children.

On the table
Your new music system waits
Beside the doctor’s file
And a crucifix with candles.

The music is still
Quiet descends.
Candles burn in unison
On the mound where you rest.

-Brian Mendonça
Pix of Linus David (1966-2015) taken in May 2013 at Vasco, Goa. Pictured here with his daughters Mabelle, Michelle, and Dwayne my son.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Music is Still

-Brian Mendonça

When  Lloyd died it was difficult to believe. He was only 48, was married and had three girls. As his eyes stared defiantly at you from the coffin, you almost expected him to jump out of it and attend to the drinks of the mourners.

Drink. That was what took him in the end -- an obsession with the spirits coupled by smoking beedis. Often times he used to slink away to grab his sustenance and come home sozzled. At other times he used to down the liquor at home, plunging the family into anxiety with his aggressive behavior and oaths. Incensed by liquor he sometimes attacked his family members.

One night when he chased his sister out of the house with a knife, she called on the landing of the building but no one came. All peered through the peepholes of their doors – and stayed inside. Only one brave girl, whose husband was away, managed to push aside her in-laws who were holding her back, opened the door and thrashed him with her umbrella. ‘If you ever touch her again, I’ll kill you,’ she said.

Owing to his chronic dependence on alcohol, he was often given a wide berth by those who knew him. He abused those who paid for his treatment in hospital, so the next time they didn’t.  Heavily into borrowing for his gambling, he soon got into debt. His job did not fetch him much, as he had not completed his SSC, dropping out from school after falling in bad company.

But he was full of joie de vivre (joy of life) and would always offer you a drink after the small talk was done.  He was helpful to the core. He loved little children and used to stretch out his hands to take them in his arms. Konkani music was his passion and he used to blast it on his system at home, to the ire of the neighbours. Always dressed impeccably with his somewhat wide pants, he would swagger down the road with not a care in the world.

Time was ticking. Recently he had a close shave when he was admitted to hospital. He came through but the doctors warned him not to touch drink – not even beer. He threw caution to the winds and indulged himself.  Days before the end came doctors asked the girls to take him home. There was nothing more they could do. ‘Renal failure’ was what they said. His liver was done for. It was only a matter of time.

The day before he passed on he was feeling much better. They gave him the ice cream he wanted. Just after midnight he rose in terror saying he had seen three women coming for him. He had instructed his family to dress him in his beige wedding suit, with the red tie, beedis in his pocket with a matchbox as well, the watch on his wrist. He was buried a few graves away from his mother. May his soul rest in peace.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 30 August 2015; Pix courtesy shutterstock.