Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Writing Skills Workshop - 22 June 2016

                                     Workshop on Writing Skills for teachers by Dr. Brian Mendonca
                                                            Bhavan's School, Zuarinagar, Goa, 22 June 2016

The brief was simple. Get the teachers to tune in to the finer aspects of report writing.  Last year on the same day, I had done a workshop at Bhavan's on teaching poetry to children. This was all due to the dynamism of the Principal of Bhavan's Ms.Elizabeth Valsan.

This year I warmed up to the task of teaching writing. I planned for a 2-hour presentation divided into 3 sections:

What happened in class was slightly different.

As a warm-up  exercise I asked the teachers to read any news item from the newspapers I distributed. After this was done I asked each teacher to paraphrase what s/he read. I used the oral paraphrase done by teachers to spot errors of grammar, sentence construction, tone, and cohesion. One participant used 'actually' too often and unnecessarily; another ended his sentence with a rising tone, leaving the listener waiting for more; another used far too long sentences and got mixed up with the ideas. I asked the teachers to use simple sentences,speak clearly and end confidently.

Since the newspapers were still in front of them, I asked the teachers how many of them read an English newspaper every day. The response was feeble. I urged them to read many newspapers. Over the weekend I asked them to pick up the Weekender and read it through the week. Pulling out a copy of the latest issue I went over its pages introducing them to its features and articles. 'The more you read, the better you will write,' I suggested. I shared with the group that I read papers in different languages for different perspectives. Hindi, Marathi, Konkani and English are a staple fare. On the internet,  so helpfully provided by the school, I showed the e-editions of the Hindustan Times and The Hindu newspapers.  Ramdas, one of the students, like the idea saying it would 'save paper.'

The next activity was doing a report on the workshop done the previous day on the theme 'Life is a Song' by Cyril Fernandes. I differentiated between a report and an essay where the former was a factual account of the way things went and the latter was an assessment of the event with one's own point of view. I was floored when one participant offered an essay in shudh (if Sanskritized) Hindi.

I felt it was too premature to do creative writing with the group. I opted for creative non-fiction instead. CNF is the in-thing nowadays and I sallied forth sharing with the group my weekly writings for Gomantak Times Weekender. I had remembered to bring a folder of all my articles over the past 3 years. I had arranged the articles week-wise over the months of the years.  As I took them through some of the articles I found an echo in their eyes. We spoke about subjects to write about, and what inspired the articles.'Travelling in a Mumbai local train' was much appreciated. The group was pensive when I discussed 'Caitan-ya' about the murder of a US youth in Pernem, Goa on suspicion of theft.

From here the transition to blog writing was smooth - simply because all my Weekender articles are uploaded  on my blog. I dwelt on the reach of the internet and the shelf-life of an article on the blog. We looked at the merits of print media for a local populace and digital media for a global audience. For me the blog served as an excellent way to archive all my writing. One also gets paid for writing for the media and it could be examined as a source of income.

Finding interest ebbing as we reached 1 p.m. we looked at my blog (this one) on the internet. I showed the group my blog site, the labels on the right and how to post comments. We then meandered to my blogpost of 2008 when I read some of my title poem from my first book of poems Last Bus to Vasco: Poems in Goa (2006) on AIR Delhi. We all said an ode to Vasco for providing the poet so much inspiration so as to name a book of poems after it.

Writing can help you in your loneliness. 'Last bus to Vasco' was written when I was alone travelling from Panjim to Vasco in 1997. That was before the bypass at Agacaim and before the point to point buses came. So in a sense the poem is a documentation of Goa's past. At Weekender too my byline is 'a chronicler of our times.' We looked at the difference between 'chronic' and 'chronicler.' Nida Fazli's shayri met with applause from the group:
Apne gam leke, kahee our na jaya karo
Ghar ke bikhre hue cheezein ko sajaya karo.

Reminiscing in the Principal's room after the workshop I thought how we had transited from the often mundane report writing to the Elysian heights of poetry writing and appreciation. I left them with a few tips on writing, viz. Find a writing partner with whom you can share your work; write something daily; perfect the basics of grammar; if you find an article you like, analyse what made it a good article. Finally if you are searching for topics to write about, make your life interesting - meet unconventional people; do interesting things; think out of the box. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

From Killing to Quilling

Brian Mendonça

I love the rains in Goa. When I was away I used to yearn to be here in the monsoons to see how the weather would beguile everyone.

This year, we were away for most of May. We only descended in Goa in the first week of June. In vain did I sit in the balcony at Kharghar watching the Mumbai-Pune Expressway watching for rain. Scouring for clouds left me defeated, so the only thing to do was to head for Colaba and do a boat ride at the gorgeous Gateway of India. The previous day my niece Melanie had watched the Ram Gopal Verma film The Attacks of 26/11 (2013) and was holding forth on Nana Patekar’s sangfroid in this docudrama of the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Listening to the film commentary at the actual location of the attacks with the sea stretching in front of us made us realize how iconic these buildings like the Taj hotel and Leopolds were.

The weekend we landed we set off for Siolim, the seat of our forefathers where Natty showed us around the property. Baba kept clear of the piggies and would not be persuaded to go within a mile of the cows. Seeing her work in Kurla I had promised Michelle (Melanie’s sister) I would organize a paper quilling workshop in Goa for her to showcase her skills. Many rainy days were spent by her making beautiful quilling shapes like dolls, coconut trees and 3-dimension flower pots with flowers. Dodging the heavy rain we did go down to Bogmalo beach for snacks after dark. Mabelle and Michelle (sisters) tripped outside in the drizzle, confronted the foaming sea, and gaily wrote their names in the wet sand – and of course photographed it in the pitch darkness. Queenie cooked their fav dishes and they feasted on mancurada and manilar mangoes. Indoors, dad, the carom ace, showed us a few tips when we hauled our carom board into the hall.

The quilling workshop on Sunday 12th June went very well. We were kindly allowed to use the society clubhouse at Porvorim for a nominal fee. Varsha  Naik, one of the participants, who works at the Central Library was full of praise for Michelle (16) for cultivating her hobby at such an early age. Zoe Rodrigues (84) was full of enthusiasm to learn. Her joie de vivre bowled us all over. The little children, some accompanied by parent(s) were reluctant to leave. At the end Michelle made cards for the participants, stuck some quilling work on it, signed it and gave it to them.

The next day, 13 June, as they were packing their bags to leave I read my poem to the 3 sisters. The poem was titled ‘Fr. Joseph Rowland-Salema’ (1999) written on 13 June, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, and the feast of Siolim church. This year the feast is being celebrated the following Sunday (today) in Siolim. See the poem on my blog.*
*; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 19 June 2016. Pix taken at the quilling workshop conducted by Michelle David (centre in black top) at Devashri Garden, Clubhouse on Sunday,12 June 2016.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Queen of the Sahyadri Hills: Mahableshwar

-         Brian Mendonça

I wish I had more time to stay in Mahableshwar. It is a world of its own, even though the mall can be unbelievably crowded. It is a remnant of a colonial legacy and has played host to many a British sojourn. Ensconced in the hills I felt like Ruskin Bond in his hideaway in Mussoorie.  I am sure I could settle down and write an elaborate novel here about the place.

We hired an Innova and proceeded to Mahableshwar from Pune. Our destination was the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) resort.  The journey was somewhat dramatic with our driver spurning the highway and preferring to take the ‘short’ route to Mabi – which I came to realize was the short form for Mahableshwar. It may have been a shorter route but it was also a steeper one with many perilous descents. The missal-pav we had at a wayside shack was out of this world and we took some gorgeous photos when the little one was throwing up. One of our group was in constant touch on social media giving a blow by blow account of the dire proceedings. The advice at the other end  -- Why did he take the short cut!!! – was duly conveyed back to us in the car.

The MTDC cottage had some beautiful, if old (some would say tatty) furniture. The mirror, the wardrobe, and the cupboard seemed to harbour the secrets of yore.  The veg. thali was sprightly at the MTDC cafetaria but they could not make French toast to save their lives. And the monkeys! They stopped just short of being a menace, but their leaping on the rafters made us very wary. The next day a pony trotted by and baba was up on it in a trice! As I ran alongside him I felt this was a good way to bond with my son – if I was game to shell out Rs. 100 for every ride!

The quaint Holy Cross church in Mahableshwar, built by the British in 1831, could almost be hidden among the looming concrete jungle around it. It serves as a welcome refuge for weary travelers who literally lay their bags down and rest or wait for others to catch up before they head to their next destination.

On the way back we stopped at the Mapro farm and picked up a lot of squashes, jams, and pulpy fruit chews. A lot of their produce comes from Shendurjane, Wai. The items are sold at factory price and are a little cheaper here.

The way back was a lot faster – we took the highway – and so uneventful. Zipping along frenetically from one destination to another seems to miss the point of discovering a new place. Pratapgarh Fort remained to be seen, as the deal was Rs. 6000 for 300 kms. It was at this fort in 1659 that Shivaji plunged his tiger claws (wagh nakhas) in Afzal Khan’s side even as the latter raised his sword to kill him.
Pix courtesy Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 12 June 2016.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Alsane Bhaji at Café Public

-Brian Mendonça

Ever since we have been making our weekend forays into Porvorim, I have been trying to take in the life in the North.

I am an early riser, and I usually get up around 6. Once I get the bread from the bread man I twiddle my thumbs till the house wakes up. Of course the ‘Breakfast Show’ on 105.4 FM beckons but that begins only at 8 a.m. So how do I explore my surroundings till then?

I am of the opinion that if you catch an early morning Mass, the day will go well. So here I was, this side of the Mandovi, scouring places for the morning service. Holy Family Church, Porvorim on NH17 has a Sunday morning Mass in English at 8 a.m. but  today was a Monday in May. It was past 7 a.m. on my watch. I decided to cross the Mandovi river and head to the shrine of Don Bosco to see what the Mass timings there were.

As I parked my car, imagine my delight as I heard the strains of the entrance hymn ‘Here we come’ emerging from the shrine. As I hurried to take a place I asked a gentleman what time was the daily morning Mass in English here. He said 7.15 a.m. At the end of the Mass I was thrilled to partake of the novena to Mary Help of Christians. We hope to attend the Feast Mass at Don Bosco, Matunga, Mumbai on 24 May. This was my old school from the 7th to the 10th standard.

After Mass I was really hungry. As I turned left from the main gate of Don Bosco, Panjim, I ventured to ask a sprightly lady where I could get some ‘bhaji.’ She pointed straight ahead to the Panjim municipal market. I had my doubts, but soon it dawned on me that the ‘bhaji’ she was talking about was not the ‘bhaji’ I had in mind! She assumed I was referring to the vegetable market. Nevertheless I came away with a stash of mancurada mangoes at Rs. 250 a dozen. I also picked up a raft of newspapers along with a lottery for Rs. 20.

The next person I asked was a young lad on his bike. He immediately recommended the parotha-bhaji at a place he wagged in the distance. The curiously named Café Public, was full of earnest early risers rushing to work and parceling some of the famous bhaji. Gajanand who was at the counter was bouncing up and down to attend to the needs of his customers. As I waited for my variety bhajis to take back to Porvorim, I sampled the alsane-bhaji with parotha, along with tea. It was 8 a.m.

Spiritually and physically nourished, I stepped into the cool morning air looking forward to a swim in the pool back home in Bardez. The river-crossing  had made my day! Plus I got a lesson in sociolinguistics of how men and women can perceive the same word differently.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 5 June 2016. Pix. courtesy 'Alsanyache Tonak'

Khargar, Family Lunch - Sunday, 29 May 2016

Having celebrated our wedding anniversary in Goa we thought of observing Queenie's birthday on 27 May - 2 days later on a Sunday - in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai. Since we ourselves got in on the 23rd of May for aunty Ann's birthday we did not have very much time to host a lunch for 40 people in a new place with nary a chair, not to mention a bed to rest on!

Nevertheless, as the days rolled by we put things in place and everyone had a wonderful time that afternoon. Aunty Teresa and Uncle Mathew Albuquerque came in from Santacruz, Mumbai. Their daughter Angie came too. They were driven by Fr.Sundar, uncle Mathew's son. Fr. Sundar had celebrated the wedding Mass for us in Kurla. Along with Fr. Sundar in the car was Vicku another son from Mulund. Vicku is dad's godchild and both were delighted to see each other. It is quite amazing that Fr. Sundar drove all the way from Kharghar right up to Bishop's House, Colaba where he serves.

Two cars came in from Pune on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The first one was driven by Alten, my brother-in-lay and his son Duran. The second car was driven by my sister Vanessa.  In the car was her family of Felix who she married in 2001 and their daughter Maegan.  Iincidently Felix's family are also Mendoncas. During my days in Poona University, doing my M.Phil, I often used to pass by the seat of the Mendoncas in Pune at 849, Dastur Meher Road, Camp, after the 5.30 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Xavier's church, Camp -- little knowing that we would be family in time to come. Irene, my sister-in-law, and Gus my brother-in-law with his wife Lynn graced the occasion with their vibrant presence.

Eliza, my sister-in-law came in from Colaba with her daughter Becky.  They came via Vashi where Irene's daughter-in-law, Rochelle joined us.

Queenie's brother Linus's children Melanie, Michelle and Mabelle -- the helpful 'elves' -- came in the morning to help.  Believe it or not Michelle brought the precious sannas in the Mumbai local train from Kurla to Kharghar. Though as she says she took the dhakas the sannas emerged unscathed. 

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

-Brian Mendonça

After many years I got the opportunity to go to the imposing seminary of the Society of Pilar, at Pilar. The occasion was the Priestly Ordinations 2016 of four deacons. The ordinations were conferred by Most Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas, sfx, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi in an open air service overlooking the hills. He was beaming with happiness, blessing the people, as the solemn entrance procession of about 100 priests made its way to the altar.  What struck everyone was his youth. He celebrated the Mass in Konkani. He was based at Ranchi yet he was supremely confident in his mai-bhas.

The opening hymn sung by the Pilar choir was the magnificent ‘Ecce Sacerdos Magnus’ which means ‘Behold a Great Priest.’ The motet sung in Latin was composed by the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese of Linz, Austria in 1885. Two years later the Society of Pilar was formed in Goa.

The full translation of the motet from Latin is: ‘Behold a great priest who in his days pleased God./ Therefore by an oath the Lord made him to increase among his people. / To him He gave the blessing of all nations, and confirmed His covenant upon his head. /Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.’

After the Mass we were all given a snack box by Mi Casa. Perched on a balustrade I tucked into the patties with my son. During the service he had been playing with his angry birds cards and making shapes with the colourful hymns docket. I was glad to see so many of the Pilar Fathers in their cassocks. Nowadays it is sometimes difficult to spot a priest in the market in Goa because the cassock is missing and so is the cross.

I had reviewed a book on the Founder of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier by Fr. Sergio Mascarenhas sfx. It was titled Leading Teams of Leaders: Fr. Bento Martins, S.F.X.: A Zealous Missionary. (2013) I noted it was ‘an important book to understand the history of the church in Goa, and more specifically the genesis and endurance of the Society of Pilar.’ The next year Fr. Sergio was called to the Lord.

At the time of offertory the aarti was performed. Flower arrangements from the mission at Nagar-Haveli were presented after the Mass to the priests on the altar. The rituals to indigenize Christianity took me back to to my earlier visit to Pilar, where an exhibition of paintings on biblical subjects was on view in 2007. I was inspired to write the poem below.


Christ in kaxti
Or in jeans
The somnolent smell
Of the caju tree
Warli paintings
The finding in the temple
Magdalene prostrates
Before the feet of Jesus
Batim to Pilar
For the early morning Mass
Filii tui India administri tibi salutis.*

(Pilar seminary, 2007)

*‘Your own sons India, will be the ministers of your salvation’ – Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) Poem included in A Peace of India: Poems in Transit  (2010) by Brian Mendonca. Pix courtesy

This article published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 29 May 2016.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Lovable Rat

-Brian Mendonça

Would you like rats in your kitchen? Then you have not seen Ratatouille.  The Walt Disney animation film is a charming story of how Alfredo a young worker in a restaurant befriends a lovable rat named Remy who bails him out – and even leads him to his lady love Colette!

On the surface it is a movie for children. But there is much to learn for anyone.  Kids have no problem if rats speak or knives dance. It is with a sense of wonderment that they see the world. There is that effortless willing suspension of disbelief which Coleridge spoke about and which is so necessary to a fertile imagination.

Remy is determined to believe that all humans cannot be bad – a notion which his father Django and his clan are at pains to remove.  In one of the darker moments of the film he takes his son to a display of rat traps with various kinds of rats caught in the clamps. Belief in one’s ideals is what makes a person stand out. So you are hoping against all odds that this noble perception will not be belied.

To begin with, the young novice has to own up that the delicious meals he dishes up are not his concoction but the genius of a rat. This particular rat resides under his chef’s hat and literally tears his hair. Viewers are made to believe that pulling certain combinations of tufts of hair stimulate certain areas of the brain to produce specific responses or articulations.

The subplot of Ratatouille  (2007) which is the name of a posh restaurant in Paris – is that the neophyte is actually heir to the elite restaurant, though he does not know it. The scheming present owner Linguini wants to cheat him of his inheritance and employs a detective to trace his progeny. The will is also discovered by Remy, who makes off with it along the balustrades of Paris with the owner in hot pursuit.

The ante is upped when Egon the severest food critic announces that he is going to visit the restaurant. Wont to queer the pitch, Egon asks the waiter, ‘Get me some perspective.’ What the young lad serves up with the Remy’s help, transports Egon back to his childhood and the taste of his mother’s cooking. His rave review helps Ratatouille  to get back into business – but he still has to win the affection of his lady love – a Latin American-sounding femme fatale.

What is heartening is the bonhomie between rats and humans. Much like the lion and the mouse each helps the other.  Animation films like these for kids help humanize us. It is amazing how animation movies grip the attention of the young and old alike. Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Frozen, Cinderella, Shrek, Madagascar and Up all have their fan following. Jungle Book is now in 3-dimension. Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava, Ratatouille will change the way you look at rats.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, May 22, 2016. Pix courtesy disneystore.