Wednesday, 23 April 2014

World Book Day


‘You live several lives while reading a book.’

                                                                                 - William Styron, American novelist

On the occasion of World Book Day on 23 April it was encouraging to see a spirited defense of books over movies at a recent school debate. The event was the culmination of Book Week being observed by the school. On display at the venue were colourful bookmarks made by the children, journals on the book or movie of their choice and even a book exhibition-cum-sale of children’s favourites.

Despite the prophets of doom sounding the death-knell of reading, here was a whole new generation that was hooked on books. ‘Books are portable,’ one said, ‘Can you cart your TV around?’ Another pointed out that books spur the reader’s imagination. In a movie the visualization is already done for you. The special effects which the Harry Potter movies incorporate, take the story beyond the scope (or intention) of the book.

Time was another factor which was debated. Movies have a limited timeframe of 2/3 hours. While going for a movie is an occasion to hang out with friends, it can never be compared to a 400-page novel.                                                                                 
In books there is more detailing of character.  Whereas most movie-goers go to see the movie only for the actors, in a book it is the story which is the criterion. Reading exposes you to new words and improves one’s language and IQ.  

The debate was so enthralling that at times I had to remind myself that I was on the jury – or else I would have rushed up on stage at Navy Children School (NCS), Dabolim and had my say!

Not all books have been visualized in movies. Both are independent genres and mediums with their own features. For me, a book offers amazing flexibility. You can read it on the train, at home after lunch, or while waiting for someone. Literature is always embedded in history and politics, says Catherine Belsey. Therefore a reading of a novel is always against the backdrop of its time. The discerning reader is always engaging with the text, searching for the multiple  implications of a sentence, be it in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness  -- a fable of imperialism -- or Saadat Hassan Manto’s short story, ‘Ten Rupees’-- the price for a girl in Bombay.

Poetry can never be translated into a movie, unless the prose itself is lyrical enough to be poetry like in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. Poetry takes the intensity of reading to its height. Most of Shakespeare’s plays have been made into movies, but give me the book any day -- preferably the handsome Arden edition with its elegant notes to quarry. World Book Day commemorates the birth as well as the death anniversary of Shakespeare on 23 April.

Today people spend too much time wading through the predictable pap of dailies which hoodwink you with manufactured news. Creative writing -- which is often an indictment of society -- is rarely published, let alone read.  But that’s another story.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on 28 April 2013. Pix courtesy This blogpost notes the amazing absence of a doodle on the google search website today 23 April 2014 on the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth as well as death! 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Polling – Those who made it happen

-Brian Mendonça

As the nation goes to the polls to elect the members of the lower house of Parliament, i.e. Lok Sabha, the exercise to marshal around a billion voters merits a closer look. Here in Goa voters exercised their franchise on 12th April. Delhi went to the polls on 10th April, while Tezpur in Assam started it all on 7th April.

 Elaborate training sessions for polling personnel in Goa began as early as the first week of March. During these trainings power point presentations were given by officials explaining the duties of the polling team and the use of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). Care was taken to issue Election Duty Certificates (EDC) to all polling staff to enable them to vote where they were posted, as they would be away from their home constituency.

On the day prior to the polls the teams were asked to collect the polling material from the designated collection centre, check the material and depart with security staff in government vehicles to the polling station. Having arrived at the venue the furniture is arranged as per Election Commission of India (ECI) guidelines to seat the first, second and third polling officer with the presiding officer overseeing the conduct of the poll. The EVMs are installed after connecting the control unit (CU) and the ballot unit (BU) away from a window but with adequate light source to ensure secrecy. This done, members of the polling team spend the night at the polling station, viz. a classroom, and arise early the next day, i.e. the day of polling to conduct the mock poll at 6 A.M.

The mock poll is conducted in the presence of polling agents of the candidates to demonstrate that the EVMs are working properly. During the mock poll votes are cast in favour of all the candidates including ‘None of the above’ (NOTA). The total number of votes cast should be 50. The machine result is then tallied manually; the machine memory is cleared; and the EVM is sealed for voting to start at 7 A.M.  Polling agents of the candidates with a copy of the electoral roll sit behind the polling officers to cross check the identity of the voters. For a period of 11 hours till 6 P.M. the polling team conducts the poll with regular reports regarding the voter turnout and percentage of votes polled being sent to the control room.  After the poll is closed the team completes the formalities and hands over the material to the collection centre which can take up to midnight.

The synergy and dedication of the polling teams working with the members assigned to them to ensure an incident-free poll is worthy of praise – which is why when a polling team on election duty carrying teachers, and a 108 ambulance was ambushed and blown-up in the red corridor in Raipur on the same day (12th April) it leaves us shocked and deeply saddened. Or does it?

For election updates see; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on 20 April 2014.

Hindi Magazines: Reading Another India

            by Dr. Brian Mendonca 

A study of Hindi magazines in India suggests a system of ‘othering’ vis a vis their more countenanced English magazines. From occupying the last racks at the bottom of displays in bookshops, to being ignored by mainstream English readers, Hindi magazines --despite their wide variety, modest presence on the internet and being comparatively lower priced – have seemingly to struggle for their readership in a country which boasts Hindi as its rashtrabhasha/ National language. This irony merits an examination of Hindi magazines and their English counterparts (or vice versa) to see whether two Indias are being addressed. Hindi magazines occupy a niche market which deal with their own set of variables in terms of cost, colour, pricing, advertising revenue, content, editorial policy and even page layout. Even when two issues – one Hindi and one in English --are published the same week by the same media conglomerate, the linguistic nuances in translation connote different meanings for the Hindi reader and the English reader though the base text is the same. Assumptions about the semiotics and respective readerships lead us into ghettoes, mindsets, and stereotypes which we are called upon to rise above after 67 years of India’s Independence. We are one people -- why think in two different languages? The study examines Hindi and English editions of India Today, Femina and Cine Blitz.
UGC-sponsored National Seminar on  ‘Janasanchar Madhyam evam Hindi’ / Mass Media and Hindi, Carmel College, Nuvem , Goa,  18 March 2014.  Pix of Dr. Brian Mendonca presenting his paper at the seminar taken by Dr. (Sr.) Aradhana A.C.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Water from the Sanctuary

- Brian Mendonça

One of the things I remember of our hunt for a home in Goa is the view I got of the Mandovi river meandering behind the churches of Old Goa. We were standing somewhat precariously on the top floor of a structure under construction at what is one of the hottest property locations in Goa today – the Kadamba plateau.  The flats overlooking the river were sold out.  

Developers make it a point to mention if the dwelling is sea-facing or river-facing in their ads. The Mandovi as well as the Zuari, not to forget the Arabian sea itself, have their votaries. But would you pay a crore to see a river flow by your balcao when it has always been there for your viewing pleasure 24X7? Some -- in fact, many -- think it’s a good idea.

‘The river is within us, the sea is all around us,’ wrote the poet T.S. Eliot. Does our body chime to the river and the sea in different ways? Are we drawn to the water inexorably because our body is made up of 70% water? Do the tides affect us in imperceptible ways like the moon does?

Hearing the 6 p.m. Konkani Mass at the Cathedral at Old Goa I was thinking the view of the Mandovi I had, must have been so for so many centuries! I was just a wayfarer of time who like the river would soon be on my way. This river, so pristine, so stately, renewed my being as only Goa does. It was pure living water. 

A reference to living water from the Bible was inscribed on our wedding invitation as a blessing for our future life together. We were astounded when we found that the Lenten reading for the day after our site visits last week was the same! And he said to me, “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.” (Ezekiel 47). This was reassurance enough. It was like a prophecy which was about to redeem itself.

In Goa one is spoilt for choice. Exquisite views, warm people, spiritual solace, an unhurried lifestyle, the pleasure of seeing your child grow up in Goa, a lavish palette of seasons – all make Goa an unmatched destination. I use the word destination, since at some point in life you have to drop anchor and return to your roots.

‘You are an insider, as well as an outsider,’ a friend of mine once told me. Insider because of my Goan identity: outsider because I see Goa with fresh eyes every time.  Liquid terms like water supply, ground water, bore wells, water bodies, swimming pools are all part of the spiel of the seller. But it is the promise of Ezekiel, without which nothing can come to pass. 
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez. Goa on Sunday, 6 April 2014; Photo of churches at World Heritage site, Old Goa with Mandovi river in the background - courtesy Rajan Parrikar

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Woman from Samaria

In today's Gospel reading (John 4: 5-42) poised at the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Jesus has a discourse with the woman from Samaria. The reading which is unusually long (specially with a 3-year old kid, who won't sit still!) offers insights for our reflection.

1. Jesus chooses this road deliberately though it was not usually frequented. Perhaps he knew he would be meeting the woman from Samaria here.

2. Jesus is well-informed about the affairs of the woman. Nevertheless he still asks her a trick question, 'Bring me your husband.' She replies that she does not have one, after which Jesus points out that she has had five till date plus one with whom she is living with at present.

3. The woman sidesteps this intelligence but credits Jesus with superior power for knowing her deeply. Impressed with this knowledge she feels Jesus can bring change in her life and the life of others.

4. We cannot hide anything from Jesus. He has foreknowledge of what we have done and also for what we intend to do. Yet He offers forgiveness.

5. Jesus reveals to her the ultimate Truth, viz. that He is the source of Living Water. He chooses the woman from Samaria, who was looked down upon by the Jews, to reveal His divine mission. He prefers the lowly over the highly placed, and He prefers to reveal himself to a woman.

6. Overwhelmed by this knowledge the woman leaves her pitcher of water there and goes into the city. When we are touched by the Lord we find all our earthly possessions worthless.
Reference:Women in the Bible for Dummies at www.dummies(dot)com; pix. sawboyrick(dot)

The Disfigured Me

-Brian Mendonça

Shee is the name of a restaurant in Lulla Nagar, Pune. ‘Shee’ in Chinese means ‘double happiness’. The waiters however, were all men. Dinner at a wedding reception though, at the Poona Club, had girls in red mini dresses serving snacks.

In Uganda women wearing ‘anything above the knee’ are liable to be arrested in Kampala’s recent ban. This has been prompted by attacks and stripping of women who have been wearing miniskirts. Women’s groups are contesting the ban.

A pink and white 24/7 ‘She Taxi’ service has been started in Thiruvananthapuram by the Kerala government for women. These taxis are driven and owned by women. The taxis are tracked on a Global Positioning System (GPS) and have a panic button which can be pressed to alert the police. Drivers are also trained in self-defense.

In Goa, it is good that some floats took up themes of women’s empowerment.  Last Saturday, a woman constable who was allegedly sexually harassed by a drunken passenger in a DTC bus in R.K. Puram, South Delhi, overpowered him and handed him over to the police. Pakistan’s first animated TV series has Nasreen – a female superhero - created by graphic artist Shahan Zaidi. Women must be equipped to stave off any physical attacks --witness the film Gulaab Gang. But it is also our mindset which needs a revamp, as expressed  in the poem below.

The Disfigured  Me

-Elsie Coelho

I drag my feet in the wet sand
The coolness soothes my blistered feet
I was once this sea,
So free, so pure, with no worries
With people who loved to be in my presence.

I was a wonderful she
Like a flower of tenderness and beauty,
Of lovingness and chastity.

But then some brute or worse could not bear my happiness,
Or perhaps did not want his own.

That evening-
Was the darkest to me and for all those who are yet to be
The victim of this 100 times death,
By a werewolf, once a man.

I struggled like a butterfly
Hurting my softness, my body,

That grip, that harness
That evening-
Its darkness still haunts me.

He destroyed my purity, so sacred 
My treasury 
I had protected it from so many before.
Every time I walked a crowded street or boarded a crammed train
I had protected this purity.

But that evening,
That evening-
I failed.

Today I am an outcast to my community
A stranger to my family
An image of filth, disrespect and shame to society
A stranger to my own identity.

I can tell you worse tales
Of people whose deeds deserve suffering and pain.

So tell me, will you blame the one who raped?

What is my folly?
I laughed normally
Played so joyfully 
Lived so lively
Dressed so modestly

 Answer me. 

Something . Anything.
Apart from blaming my luck and destiny.
Because these taunts are all that I receive
If you can help let me know, my name is a she.
This is I. A Disfigured Me.

8 March is International Women’s Day; Pix. Oil painting by Picasso 'Three Women' (1908);  Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez,  Goa on Sunday 9 March 2014

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Goa Express

 -Brian Mendonça

Ever since I can remember, I have been travelling on the 12779 Goa Express train.  For me it was like second home considering that it took  -- and still takes – all of 40 hours to cover the 2000 km. from Vasco to Delhi.  Most of my journeys were alone coming to Goa for that brief weekend and that oh so short spell of holidays I used to take during Christmas or Easter. The blue tiers of the sleeper class used to be my constant companion as I used to write my poems, nose pressed against the iron grills of the windows, to feel as many sensations as I could.

Travelling from the South West coast to the hinterland of the North was a many-splendoured journey. Apart from meandering through the many states of India, the Goa Express was a foodie’s delight affording you the opportunity of tucking into all the savouries enroute. Unike the Mangala Express or the Rajdhani both of which emanate from Kerala, the Goa Express which starts its journey from Vasco, Goa has a more leisured pace.

As the Goa Express ambles along, numerous people spill out or are swept in of its heaving sides enroute. This was India on the move. There were so many friends waiting to be made, so many stories to be shared. At Pune station I used to be greeted by Rajan my colleague at Poona University and my sister who has settled down there. At Bhopal I remembered Keswani who had invited me there and set up a visit to view the Bhimbetka cave paintings. Sanjay was from Agra – he always referred to the lunatic asylum there.

But that was when I was single.  Last week when I travelled on the Goa Express with my family I noticed our son pressing his nose to the window grills in S6. Where did he learn that from! Now I wasn’t desperate to make conversation, even if it was small talk. For me just a smile from Queenie was enough fulfillment. After Dwayne pranced on all three of the upper berths, while I chased him around to sleep, he finally called it a day and slept on the bottom berth cuddling up next to mama. So much for my efforts.

The lone signal man waving the green light in the darkness on the porch of a signal room past Belgaum station reminded me of Uttara – a movie I viewed at the last IFFI. Uttara/ The Wrestlers (Bengali, 2000) is a chilling film by Buddhadev Dasgupta, on the lives of two railway signal men who pass their time wrestling ignoring the mayhem around them.

The train clatters into Miraj junction at 10 p.m. We used to change trains here from the metre guage track to the broad guage line when the train was first introduced in 1987. 

Trains unify people. I need to call up Gaikwad to see if he will meet the 12780 Goa Express at 7.15 p.m. when it passes through Satara, where he lives, when I return on the same train to Vasco.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 2 March 2014. Pix source irfca(dot)org