Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Tears of Sand

-Brian Mendonca

Sand mining
has denuded you
of your waters
O Mighty Bharatpuzha
-Refuge of the ancients.
From Pallakad to Ponnani
your flanks brimmed with life.
At Shoranur station
the railway book stall
sells soft porn in Malayalam
When shall we receive Mukti
From our avarice?

(Shoranur Junction, 2008)

Published in Peace of India: Poems in Transit self-published by Brian Mendonca, New Delhi 2011. Pix of the Bharatpuzha river taken by the poet near Kittuppuram in 2016.

Sunday, 31 January 2016


-Brian Mendonca

If you are among those who are terrified about entering lifts, you have company. Me. The phobia set in after I was stuck alone in a lift during my school days as I was taking it to my aunt’s place on the 7th floor in Eucress Building, Antop Hill, Wadala, Mumbai. Somehow the lift stopped midway and I panicked. Uncle Edgar came around and coaxed me to be calm and press the right buttons. I could see him shouting through the grills above me. Eventually the lift was manually operated and I clambered out.

Unfortunately, one cannot think of life sans lifts. With all developers going skywards, no one can envisage climbing 8 floors or 18. In Mumbai ‘towers’ have come up which have floors reaching for the sky. Most often lift attendants are absent and one has to summon up the courage to DIY (Do it yourself). If a) you cannot stand heights or b) are claustrophobic, you’ve got trouble.

Often I hover around the lift entrance waiting for someone to use the lift so I can have company. It doesn’t matter if they are not going to the same floor as me – I can always come down a few floors, or climb up one or two. Besides I really need to work on my fitness.

Lift doors are unpredictable. You have doors that will wait silently after they are drawn to exit but with a built-in alarm to remind the user to close the door. There are others where after a few seconds, the lift automatically shuts. In case you are in between it could be messy.

In Delhi the story goes that in a building, housing offices related to defense deals, a person was likely to spill the beans. On the fateful day the person took the lift to reach the designated floor. He never reached.

On December 27 last year, an electrician was crushed to death working on an elevator on a cruise liner off Miami. A passenger on the ship saw a rain of blood as he was on his way to dinner on the 10th floor deck.

The first lift was called a ‘flying chair’ and was made in 1743 for King Louis XV of France. It was placed outside his balcony to be used by his mistresses to avoid the prying eyes of the court. It was originally made for Madame de Chateauroux. It was used later by Madame de Pompadour.*

In 1850 Elisha Otis introduced the first elevator as we know it. Lifts have been powered by rope, steam, hydraulics and electricity.

Numerous have been the cases when the lift has stalled midway. In Navi-Mumbai I witnessed some rather large people being helped out of a lift between floors when it stalled because it had exceeded its capacity. People usually want to rush in and crowd the lift oblivious of the consequences. If someone is asked to wait, it is doubtful they would see reason.
*http://thisisversaillesmadame.blogspot.in/; pix of Sophia Myles as Mme de Pompadour in the episode 'The Girl in the Fireplace' in BBC science fiction teleserial Dr. Who (2006), courtesy cinfulthings(at)blogspot.com; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 31 January 2016. 

A College by the Sea - MES Ponnani

I have brought some of the sand of Ponnani beach with me to Goa. Not in a bag, but some grains could be discerned in my shoes when I returned. I felt I had come back from Bogmalo beach in Goa which we often visit when we are free in the evenings.

The room I stayed in too had the gifts of the sea, the fresh breeze and the sand. It was just for a night but I was bowled over by the hospitality of the staff and students of MES Ponnani College established in 1968. I remember the simplicity of Kunjumohammad, the cook in the men's hostel. At the crack of dawn he came around to my room as if to ask what I was doing there. Thank fully he spoke Hindi. I asked if tea could be had. He said yes, at 7. When we got talking over tea I asked him about his life. He told me that he was very happy working at MES. The authorities were very understanding. Though he had received many offers to join elsewhere, he preferred to stay put. What would his wife do, if he went away? Their only son was in the Middle East. For breakfast he rustled up some delicious upma which was given with 2 bananas.

The title of the seminar 'Dar Voz' i.e. 'Give Voice' was resonant with Spanish and Portuguese overtones. The imperative mood called upon the delegates to present the focus areas of the seminar with diligence and honesty. The areas were transgenders; sex workers, Dalits, and slum dwellers. This was a bold theme for the Department of English, MES Ponnani College which is affiliated to the University of Calicut. A.M Ameera, seminar coodinator and Professor Abdul Ali, Head of the Department, with the Principal Prof. A.M. Rasheed steered this 2 day event on 28-29 January 2016 to its safe harbour.

The book exhibition and sale at the venue under the gracious trees invited book lovers to peruse translations of Che and Plath. I came away with Ram Puniyani and Sharad Sharma's Communalism Explained - a graphic account (www.explainedseries.com, 2014); Retrieving the Beauty of Blackness:  A Brief Study of the Evolution of Dalit Poetry in Malayalam by S. Chandramohanan (Raven Publications, Thiruvananthapurum, 2011), and Pranayasatakam - a bilingual volume of verse in Malayalam/English by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan (Matrubhumi, 2013). The poetry book was beautifully illustrated with paintings by Kavita Mukhopadhyay. These are wonderful efforts by small, alternative presses to publish books relevant to local issues and contexts. These issues are often sidestepped by mainstream publishers. There was also a book on Iranian film and Kerala historiography.

It was spell-bounding to listen to the likes of Teesta Setalvad, Dr. Ram Puniyani and Kalki Subramaniam who addressed the plenary sessions. Murugan founder of 'Child Care' also touched our hearts as he shared his experience of trundling around with his rickshaw picking up homeless children from the streets and caring for them. The students and the volunteers endeared themselves by their smiling demeanour and willingness to make you feel comfortable. After the first day's proceedings I had an impromptu poetry reading with the students reading one of my poems which featured Ponnani from my self-published collection A Peace of India: Poems in Transit.

Convenient trains connect Madgaum station in Goa with Ponnani which is in Mallapuram district in North Kerala. The nearest rail-head is Kuttippuram. The 12618 Nizamuddin-Ernakulam Mangala Express and the 16346 Thiruvananthapurum-LokmanyaTilak Terminus Netravathi Express are good options. Of course a stop at Calicut / Kozhikode is mandatory to pick up the famous banana chips, black halva, jackfruit chips, banana bits coated with ginger, and of course the Kerala bananas themselves.

The last time I visited Kerala was for a seminar on film organized by NSS college, Pandalam in 2013. Do view my blogpost of the trip on this blog. Go to the 'Label' menu on the right and click on Pandalam for the blogpost 'Tripping in Pandalam.'The abstract of my paper read at Ponnani is under the label 'Slums in Goa.' A poem I wrote on sand mining on the ancient Bharatpuzaha river is listed under the blogpost 'Tears of Sand' (2011).

Slums in Goa

                                                                29 January 2016
                                                      MES College, Ponnani, Kerala


There are at least 4 major slums in Goa, but serious literature on them is sadly lacking. One has to rely merely on local media reports which are often hyped to suit the exegesis of the day.  This blind spot which is often echoed in conversation needs to be redressed. The paper is divided into 4 sections. After providing a context, a brief survey of the issues affecting slums in India is attempted. Research on this paper has led to studies on Mumbai – both scientific and cultural. In an attempt to theorize the issue of slums in Goa, this paper has presented the discourse of poems, photographs, installation art, and the literary technique of the novel – all of which have slums as their theme. These artefacts have been backed by investigative reporting on slums in Goa. Issues of migration, politics and real estate are discussed. Care has also been taken to note the modalities of representing what has come to be known as the Other. The paper concludes with examining the demographic fallout of the influx of slum dwellers into the state of Goa.

Dar Voz 2016 - UGC National Seminar on 'Giving Voice to the Silenced: Presentation and Construction of Subaltern in Literature and Media' on 28th -29th January 2016 organized by Department of English,  MES Ponnani College, Ponnani South, Malappuram, Kerala 679586

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


-Brian Mendonça

Caitan was a man everybody knew in the village. He had a way about him which made you remember the small interactions you had with him – whether he greeted you with an extra-wide grin in the morning or helped pick up the bag of groceries you had dropped.

His was a special life. He was a special person.  From birth he had a mental condition which made it difficult for him to comprehend things. Yet he was always trusting. He believed in the goodness of his fellow human beings, to help him stumble through life.

There were moments when he fancied the beauty around him, in nature and in people. At times he approached people to kiss them out of his tenderness for them. These gestures were most often misinterpreted by those around him. He was cast as a misfit in society. As people grew busier and more impatient they had less time to understand Caitan.

Caitan was a man with the intelligence of a child. He could not sense when danger was approaching. He was often found in the mornings, ragged and disheveled lurching in the path of vehicles speeding furiously to work. In the evenings he slept in the fields with the tattered shirt he wore.

He lived alone. His family had disowned him. Who could take care of a mentally unstable adult when there were already so many mouths to feed?

Caitan was alright when he was in his adopted village. People knew him and he survived on their largesse – on the pau the child across the street had brought for him, the rotis the lady of the house felt were surplus, and the occasional tenner he got which could fetch him a fistful of rice.

That day Caitan was burning with fever. He tried to communicate his pain but no one could understand him. They were all busy with their own lives. As the fever mounted Caitan grew more and more frustrated at not being able to handle his condition. He made the fateful decision of walking away to see if someone else could be of help.

Caitan left the familiar streets in the afternoon sun. He walked for many miles. He did not know how many. Then he came to what seemed to be a human habitation. They would be able to help him, he thought. He ignored the reproach in their eyes. A lady came by who reminded him of his mother. He reached out in desperation and relief to caress her face, when she screamed in terror. The villagers started chasing him. They chased him all the way to the fields where they tied him to a tree, hit him mercilessly and watched him die choking in the sludge.
On 12 January 2016 Caitanya Holt (30) a resident of Ohio, USA, was beaten to death allegedly by villagers in broad daylight in the rice fields of Korgao village of Pernem, Goa who suspected him to be a thief.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 24 January 2016; Pix courtesy indianrailinfo.com

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Salaam Manguesh

-Brian Mendonça

When eminent Marathi poet Manguesh Padgaonkar left us in the final hours of last year I was struck by the accolades he evoked. Maharashtra Times the local Marathi newspaper published from Mumbai, carried banner headlines on 31 December 2015 in Devanagri script from his poem  ‘  . . . Sanga Kase Jagayse’  [‘Tell me how does one live’]. I treasure this copy of Maharashtra Times (which I subscribe to) and which has a selection of his poetry printed in its pages on the last day of last year.

Intrigued by the affection he commanded, and of course his goatee beard, I was wondering which paper in Goa would do that if a Goan poet passed away. As a tribute to Manguesh,  a week later, a reading of the poet’s work by eminent poets, titled ‘Ek Hota Gypsy’ [Once there was a Gypsy] – again a line from his poem --was held at Ruia College hall, Mumbai on Friday, 8 January.  Noted Marathi poets like Ashok Naigavkar, Arun Mahtre, and Neerja graced the occasion. Manguesh Padgaonkar’s sons Ajit and Abhay also attended the event. It would seem  it is the vernacular press rather than the mainstream English press which champions the writings of its sons and daughters.

A multilingual poetry meet – Kavyamahotsav –  was organized by the Institute Menezes Braganza, Panaji, as part of National Book Week on 21 November 2015. It was a moving experience to witness and listen to the poetry of poets in Goa reading their poems in Konkani, Marathi, English, Hindi and Urdu among other languages excelling in their own poetic conventions. I was also invited to read my poem in English. I read ‘Mapusa Market’ about how the smells, sights and sounds of Mapusa market remind me of the void created by the death of the aged Goan couple Mr. and Mrs. Demello  from Corjuem, Aldona within a month of each other in Mumbai last year. The programme which spanned a number of days, and which also featured a session on Tukaram’s abhangs,  was put together by Gorakh Mandrekar,  Member Secretary, IMB.

Awarded the Padmabhushan in 2013, Manguesh was born in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra in 1929. An avid translator, Manguesh translated some plays of Shakespeare. He also translated the New Testament of the Bible into Marathi in 2008.  The obsequiousness of the common Indian not to stand up for anything is ridiculed in his famous poem ‘Salaam’ translated from the Marathi by Vinay Dharwadker:
To everyone, salaam
To the hand that holds
And brandishes the rod, salaam,
With my left hand on my rear
For fear of the boot,
A right-handed salaam,
To the one who watches me closely, salaam,
To the one who doesn’t watch and doesn’t care, salaam . . .
If I had several arms and hands,
Like our sacred pantheon,
With every one of them I would have salaamed.
Forgive me, mortal as I am,
That I have only two:
The left I reserve for my rear,
And with the right I offer you
A simple, one-handed salaam.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender  St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 17 January 2016.  Pix of Manguesh at IIT, Mumbai (2009), courtesy YouTube video.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

‘Yahweh Provides’

Brian Mendonça

Past-midday.  With xumta (prawns) and modso (red snapper) in the boot, I was getting the fish home to cook for lunch. That too after waiting an eternity for the fish to be cleaned in the Vasco fish market. Just as I hovered around the tree stump on which the fish was cut, another person in front of me – evidently from one of the hotels -- came and emptied a whole sack of fish to be cleaned and cut!

Traffic was crawling. That black Xylo up front did not seem to be moving at all! The car immediately in front of me swerved to the left and overtook the Xylo on the wrong side. As I moved in behind to fill in the empty space we were already at the turn at St. Andrew’s church, Vasco. Another car behind me overtook mine from the left and wedged itself into the empty space pushing me to the kerb. I had no choice but to slow down and let the boor have his way.

By the time I reached the Hiralal crossing to slip into Mangor, the car had found its lane and headed onto the highway. I heaved a sigh of relief. It was then that I saw it. Behind the black Xylo on the rear windscreen were two words which simply said, ‘YAHWEH PROVIDES.’

The tenseness immediately ebbed out of me. Here in the melee of a traffic snarl stood one of the most important messages. I was struck by the reference to Yahweh, the God of the old Testament before the coming of Jesus. In ancient times people believed in Yahweh implicitly in all their doings. They knew He would provide. How many have that trust now?

As I looked to see the vehicle more closely I saw it was full of local tourists. The windows were up and the AC was on. A little girl tried to peek out of the left rear window but her efforts were fruitless. No doubt she felt unhappy not to have the winter breezes of sunny Goa caress her cheek. The number plate read KA 03 M 2958.
I am fascinated by travelers who come in to Goa by road. No matter what, they make the journey with families, little kids and even aged people. They are there for the thrill of the journey, the happiness of travelling together, and the promise of adventure and a bag of new experiences -- and the quiet reassurance that Yahweh provides.

All through our lives we have found this to be true. In times of difficulty we raise our thoughts to God and He has always provided. Stone by stone, brick by brick we build our lives with the awareness of the Almighty.

This article is a tribute to these intrepid travelers who travel into Goa by their own vehicles. As I continue my hobby of carspotting I spy MH 02 AQ 548 -- an Esteem – resting in the shade of a tree. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam [Sanskrit] ‘All Creation is one family.’ 

Pix of traffic on Mandovi bridge, Porvorim end, Goa; courtesy yahoogroups. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 3 January 2016.