Tuesday, 24 November 2015

November Rain

by Brian Mendonca

November rain in Goa
The intoxicating smell
of wet earth, of love
of promise.
The semi-dark sun
unveils the day.
I rise and open
the windows to the West.
I peer outside
to see if my son's cycle
is still there.

It is. I make my breakfast
while the house sleeps, still.
Flicking on the FM channels
on my car radio, I find none
to my liking.
At 7.30 we pull out
of the driveway, wishing 'Good Morning'
/ 'Namaste' to an elderly gent
who has stepped out for an
early morning walk.

I breathe in the dampness
even as the sound of
semi-insistent cars elbow onward.
An Air India flight
swoops into the sky
to begin the day
in another city.
At Dabolim, I hear the sound
of the hooves of a train
I strain my eyes but
my vision is blocked
by rows of squat houses.
The Belgavi-bound KSRTC bus
nudges past me
Could I follow it today?!

Past Sancoale all the cars
from Vasco catch up.
Still doing 60, I let them pass
oblivious to the gifts of the morning.
At Titan crossing
I turn towards Margao
and then it strikes me
There is no rain here.
The road's flat and uncompromising
like an algebraic equation.
Dried leaves in senescence.

November seems like July
and additional 4 months lease of life
to do what you wanted to do
before December.
The end of the year is nigh
A time for rest, review and
the reassurance of rain.

(NH17B, Goa 24 November 2015)

Monday, 23 November 2015

A place to make tea

When we entertained the idea of picking up a place in Mumbai we knew we were asking for the moon. I braced myself saying let's find a place just 'to make tea' in Mumbai.  The prospect of a toehold in the metropolis made us giddy with anticipation. We scouted a few places but inevitably zeroed on to Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, where the rates were still affordable, connectivity was great through Panvel station and the place was poised for a future of development. The Indian Super League football matches were also played at DY Patil stadium, Nerul.

So without much ado we expressed our interest and began the process of acquiring a little nook of Kharghar. With things finalized we dashed down to Kharghar to take possession post-Diwali. Of course, when we finally got there we noticed the plumbing was wanting, the geysers needed to be operational, and the water filter needed to be figured out. The builder helpfully suggested that we could request a gas connection before we arrived. When the gas was put in place we were presented with a bill a little over a grand more than the quoted price of Rs. 5500. Frenetic trips to D Mart in sector 5 saw us coming 'home' with hands laded with items for the new house. In the locality itself we got the mattresses made with pillows. The hardware shop supplied the rods for the curtains, and we got the furnishings guy to bring in the catalogues to decide the curtains.  We had liked the finish of the flat the moment we saw it. The dynamic colours of the walls and ceilings brightened our day and infused a zest for life. For the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary we trekked to David and Co. at Dhobitalao opposite Metro.

We took possession of the flat and signed the papers on Children's Day. We held the blessing of the house, the next day at 5 p.m.  A few snacks with ribbon cake from Monginis set the tone. Fr. Louis Kajar of Kharghar parish willingly came to conduct the blessing. Close relatives made the effort to come and be part of the moment. Debajit, my friend from college days graced the occasion with his wife Luna and her mother. During my working life in Delhi I used to often stay over at Debajit's place enroute to Goa to visit my mum who was ailing. He used to always find the time for me, keeping up at ungodly hours to receive me after the graveyard flights landed, or seeing me off for another graveyard flight back to Delhi with great composure. As we sat in the consecrated space we spoke of old times and looked forward to new ones. When I mentioned that we would be catching the train hours after the blessing of the house, he said it was 'just like you.' I requested Debajit to take a few photos. What he clicked on his Canon is pure poetry in motion. All the snaps have been taken by him on his camera.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Blessing of the House

-Brian Mendonça

Be our shelter, Lord, when we are at home, our companion when we are away, and our welcome guest when we return, and at last receive us into the dwelling place you have prepared for us in your Father's house, where you live forever and ever. Amen.

The above words are from the rite of the Catholic blessing of a house. They sounded so awe-inspiring when the priest intoned these words for the blessing of our house at Devashri Garden, Porvorim.

We had planned the day, 2 October, a holiday, many months back since the family would be together on that day. Queenie made all the dishes for the menu. Since we had not got the gas in place yet, we took all the food from Vasco, where we currently stay, to Porvorim. The logistics were a bit daunting.

With the day fast approaching we set about finding a priest to perform the blessing of our flat. Our first stop was Holy Family church which is a stone’s throw away from our new home. We were told that Devashri Garden falls within the jurisdiction of the parish of Socorro, so we would need to contact them. Besides the Holy Family church would be having an event for senior citizens during the day and it would be difficult for the priests to be free.

A little baffled by this logic I obtained the number of the Socorro parish church and spoke to the priest there. He said they too had a programme on 2 October so he would be very busy. But Devashri Garden, he informed me, was administered by the chaplain of Candelaria church, close by. He advised me to meet the chaplain and request him personally.

Late evening of 1 October in blinding rain found me desperately trying to locate Candelaria church. ‘Ask anyone,’ the priest had said. No one seemed to know. Although I had taken the help of google maps, the precise location of the church eluded me. Rather than risk an accident on the dark unknown roads flooded now with fallen barks of trees blocking my path, I decide to abort the search.

Keeping my hopes alive, I started to call another priest from Jesuit House, Panjim whom I had spoken to in the morning. When I finally spoke to him on the LAN line (he has no mobile phone) at 8.30 p.m. on my way back to Vasco he said that he had been out and when he returned he saw a note stuck to his door informing him that a friend from Singapore would be arriving the next day, and he would need to spend time with him.

I had lost all my aces. I prayed fervently to God to do something! It was nearing 9 p.m. when I got into Vasco. I decided to meet the parish priest of Vasco. Fr. Gabriel Coutinho gave me a patient hearing and readily agreed. He conducted the service most befittingly at Porvorim the next day. God bless him.
Published in the weekly feature 'On My Mind' in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 22 November 2015. Pix of the blessing of the house by Fr. Gabriel Coutinho at Devashri Garden, Porvorim, courtesy Vanessa and Felix Mendonca.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Mapusa Market

by Brian Mendonca

And I missed you
aunty and uncle
in the Mapusa market,
amid the chillies
the gud, the tamarind
and the vinegar.
Your voice
whispering over my shoulder
as I stumbled onward
sans refuge.

Cancer claimed you
when you were feeble
flattened by chemo,
baldness, a witness to your pain.
I miss your loving smile
Your gestures of welcome
The way you used to say 'Let it be!'
When baba used to romp around your house.
You perhaps knew she was sinking, uncle
In your whimsical way you remained
stoic yet unstable.

When you left, ailing for Mumbai
at your only daughter's call
You perhaps knew you would not return.
You 87 and aunty 86
What more could life offer you?
A good job in L and T
an officer's post at Mantralaya
You both lived
and worked in Mumbai.
Goa seemed an interlude
for the Fall years.

You used to proudly show me the visiting cards
of your sons
-- in Borivili, Australia and New Zealand--
as though they were sitting in your living room.
Once you had cradled them
Now they have cradles of their own.

So now we cannot look forward
to spending the day with you
when we drive in from Vasco
to taste the breezes of Corjuem
sitting on the steps towards the river
where the trucks from Assnora lie unmoving.
Your lives bridged Mumbai and Mapusa
Like the cable-stayed bridges of Worli and Aldona.

Grandfather and grandmother
fended for life alone
in an old Goan house
sprawling with memories.
Now interred in a cemetery
in far away Kandivili.
No local papers announced your death
as a last salute to an exemplary life.
You were a fan of my articles.
We used to discuss Krishnamurti
Now the hall is silent
Waiting to be sold.                                          

So take away the Moira bananas
Put away the new brooms
Hide the fragrant mogra flower.
Wrap those ropes for the fields.
No more salt fish are needed for this house.
The sausages can wait for another day.
The Bombay ducks seem out of joint
and I'll say no to the tendli pickle.
There is a void in my being today
our ancestors have gone to their rest.
a piece of Goa has died.
The market is in mourning.

(Mapusa Market, Goa, 17 November 2015)
Written in loving memory of Anthony D'Mello and Victoria D'Mello from Corjuem, Aldona, Goa who passed away this year. Pix of  aunty and uncle with family outside their home taken on 12 May 2013. Pix of Corjuem bridge  Aldona and of seller at Mapusa market courtesy joegoaUk. This poem was presented by the poet at Kavya Mahotsav, on the occasion of National Book Week celebrations organized by Institute Menezes Braganza, Panaji Goa on Saturday 21 November 2015.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The paper bag at the fancy dress competition

-Brian Mendonça

A fancy dress competition in school, usually gets the parents, not the kids, into a tizzy. So when the dreaded announcement was made in Dwayne’s school we were sent into a spin.

What do we send him as?! Agreed that he is all of 4 years and at that age you can usually carry it off in style. No more hackneyed elephants for him, as someone had helpfully suggested, a hired costume of which was readily available at Luis stores.

It had to be something out of the box.  We had once watched a kid dress up as a paper bag for a fancy dress show at Nuvem. This was in keeping with our policy where we eschew plastic. So Dwayne was put through his routines and began to parrot his lines:
I am a paper bag.
Use me.
Do not use plastic.
They spoil our environment.
Thank  you.

After the lines were rehearsed we needed to make him look like a paper bag. The night before the competition saw us examining the huge Bata paper bags they put their customers’ shoes in. We had stapled together a number of newspapers to make it look like a packet through which we put Dwayne. But how to hold it up? The bottom of the paper bag quite foxed us, and without the fold, Dwayne was looking more like a Roman guard with pleats.

At our wits end and with time running out Queenie jubilantly produced a readymade paper bag with two rope-like handles. The handles just about went round Dwayne’s neck. I preferred a bag made out of newspapers, but with the paraphernalia in peril of falling to the floor in mid-sentence, the option was hastily discarded.

What made us most happy was that on the day of the competition, Dwayne said his lines confidently. He didn’t do any actions and quite forgot the last minute tutoring of the line, ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle.’  Many parents had gone to great lengths to dress their children up, but were dismayed when they simply refused to come on stage. Others were dressed exquisitely but did not open their mouths.

The fancy dress competition was for the pre-primary children, viz. the Lower Kindergarten and the Upper Kindergarten. A total of 120 students ‘performed’ that day. As Dwayne was telling me, ‘Reza dressed as a gift box, Garima became a guitar, Zara became Gandhiji. Keean, that big fellow, was becoming a pilot but he didn’t come. Zoya was becoming grapes. Sidaksh was a kangaroo. Jaris sang ‘Kai borem bande vajta.’  Queenie said there was also a little chef who taught the audience to make fruit salad.  His parents had brought along for him a table and the various kitchen items!

A little child’s world is a world of make believe. They readily mimic the roles they play. So happy are they with their little pleasures, and the moment it is over they forget the experience least bothered about the outcome.
Pix courtesy Tinkerlab. Published in the weekly feature, 'On My Mind' in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 15 November 2015.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Peas, Tomatoes and Chillies

-A poem by Brian Mendonca

'Peas, tomatoes and chillies'                                        
My wife said.
'Bring them from the market.'
But I was busy at the internet
booking a rail ticket for a seminar.
'Why was the bank rejecting my payment?!'

'The fish van must have gone by now.
When are you going?'

Oh oh, I typed my CVV
instead of my PIN --
but still the payment was not going through.
I consulted wifey
I had written my PIN in the wrong order!

'It's time for lunch
Why are you going now?
Have lunch, then we'll see.'

Having bought tickets to and fro
from MAO to KTU
I felt I had to make amends.
I put on my capris and my hat                                                
and asked if my son was coming.
Of course he had to ask mama first.

'I have to give you bath and then feed you.
It's so hot outside.'                                                    

When baba went in for a bath
I slipped out for the chores.
Elgar's 'Nimrod' at the touch of the ignition
relaxed me. I was made for other things.

The bank was closed.
The post office was closed.
The LIC office was closed.
It was Diwali in Goa.

I scoured for solace
searching for red tomatoes
in a sea of yellow flowers.
A fistful of chillies
for that touch of green.
The frozen peas I would get
from Sai store near our place.

Was it a wasted trip?
No, I'd say.
I enjoyed my own company.
I confirmed the car AC wasn't working
I wore my beach hat at a slant
And I did get the tomatoes and chillies
--if not the peas.

'What about the eggs?'
Pix courtesy economictimes.com; dir.indiamart.com

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Poetry in English for Children

                          Saturday, 7 November 2015
                                     Bookworm, Taleigao, Goa

I was invited to do a poetry session for Bookworm, Taleigao, Goa way back in August this year. When it finally happened, with Alia's nudgings, this afternoon it was pure magic. 

I had been following NGO Bookworm’s very interesting activities like poetry on the beach and the signature pre-school mornings on Saturdays billed as ‘a fun early literacy programme.’ When Dwayne (4) began his holiday yesterday I snapped up the opportunity to have him attend the pre-school morning today. This week’s story was ‘Pot of Light’ between 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. Fee Rs. 250.

Mini lunch was at Café Sao Minguel, just across from Bookworm, with chicken biryani, chicken curry and flavoured jeera rice, finished off with some heavenly serra durra. When we trooped in for the session at 2 p.m. I had no idea how it would turn out, but the ambience of Bookworm put me at ease. When I was directed upstairs in the cosy meeting place where the team all sat down on dhurries I knew we were on a good wicket.         

I began by problematizing the title, viz. ‘Poetry in English for Children.’ Deepali pointed out that we need to take on board other languages as well while teaching poetry. This was right on target as much or all poetry for children is assumed to be in English! Poetry needs to be able to transit between languages to be effective in the Indian context. 'Tambde Rosa' in Konkani and 'Pausa Pausa' in Marathi were shared by the team as useful in establishing a connect with L2 learners and a route to poetry in English. I shared my experience of translating my poem 'Barefoot Child' (2006) into Hindi for children who listened with rapt attention at the NGO Salaam Baalak trust in the lane opposite New Delhi station.< 

Poetry combats the desensitization and the drivel of mass media and sometimes of social media. Though one may enter a poem at any age and at any level it is useful to classify poetry for children within the school format. Dwayne rose to the occasion and recited all the poems he knew at the Lower KG. ‘I hear thunder,’ ‘Teddy bear,’ and ‘Two little monkeys’ all had their day. We took up for discussion the poem:


Leaves are falling (2)
To the ground
Without a sound.

Days are getting shorter
Nights are getting longer
Fall is here (2)

This beautiful poem ‘shows’ how Fall /Autumn is, rather than ‘tells’ us the way it is. This is a crucial difference between an successful poem and a mediocre one. Like out of a scene from the movie Forrest Gump we saw a yellow leaf cascade onto the road from on high when we were driving in from Vasco.

The group debated on the word ‘fall’ and its efficacy in the Indian context.  Would an Indian child understand its nuances? Samuel said the word ‘fall’ is used as a noun and a verb. Sujata observed that the clutch of poems taught in India did not have the same semantic density as ‘Fall.’ The switch to more difficult poems later becomes that much harder, she felt. We need to free-fall into poetry with no inhibitions. Only then can we become worthy to be anointed at its fount.

Several poems were read across classes 1-8 with particular emphasis on figures of speech like, alliteration and repetition. Themes like freedom and the immensity of nature were mulled upon. Several times we paused in mid-sentence ravished by the visual in the accompanying power-point presentation. I then asked the group to write a poem on the visual. Many laudable attempts were made – one even a haiku.

Poems are contextual. When we read 'At the Seaside' by R.L. Stevenson, Sujata queried whether a child living inland would be able to identify with it. The group came round to the awareness that poetry gives you the gift of imagination. A child must be able to 'feel' the pain of another child in war-torn Sarajevo through a connection with the images on the page. 'The Balloon Man' by Rose Fyleman made us ponder over the lines in the last verse which begin with, 'Some day perhaps he'll let them go . . .' What do possessions mean to us? Can we let them go, just for them to 'look pretty in the sky'? Sarojini Naidu took us 'In the Bazaars of Hyderabad' with the somber realization that all the baubles and all the silks lead to garlands, 'Sheets of white blossoms / To perfume the sleep of the dead.'

I tried to coax the group to find their own poetic voice inspired by the zillion images India offers. Unheeding this warning would lead us to be parasites on Western models like Frost and Dahl. For this we need to be receptive to unlisted and unknown authors as well. As long as a poem touches you, for me that author is great. To beckon the muse Niju gallantly served tea and coffee to the group.

Queenie shared with the group the case of a child who was abandoned in a dustbin in dead of night with its mouth taped. The child survived till the next morning and when the tape was removed it promptly smiled! This resilience is what characterizes the children to whom Bookworm is dedicated.   

It is critical for Goa to tell its own stories and even more so for children to read them. Completing a decade in reawakening the reading habit among children, Bookworm is now into publishing. I was presented with 3 creations from their stable, viz. Once Upon a Feast (2012) by Mia Lourenço, set in Velim, Goa describes, through the eyes of a child, what happens at the feast Mass of St. Francis Xavier. My Godri Anthology (2013) by Merle Almeida is a stitching together of memories of events in the life of a grandmother in Goa in the 1900s. The last is Threading Texts within Contexts (2015) by Maxine Bernsten edited by Jane Sahi and Sujata Noronha. In a happy exchange of books, Bookworm graciously bought a copy of my self-published books of poems, viz. Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa (2006) and A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (2011).

Sujata Noronha, Director, Bookworm, and me had exchanged emails in 2009 when I had drawn on their work known as the Paithona project for a research paper on ‘ELT Publishing in India’ at a conference in Udaipur, Rajasthan November that year.* At that time I was single and an executive in a publishing house in Delhi. Today I came as a parent, and as an educator having made the choice to return to Goa, to give back to Goa.

The soiree into the land of poetry ebbed to a close with Sujata reading ‘Pilar’ from A Peace of India. She had deemed it necessary to do a session on poetry as a professional development exercise for the Bookworm team as 'the team needs the time and space to explore this genre before we take the magic and possibility outward.' As we reluctantly made our way out of Bookworm at 4.30 p.m. I was hoping we made a beginning.

Let me end with a poem:

Forgive a Child

-Monica Tibb

Forgive a child, it is so young
As young and innocent it can be
The wrong, it comes not from its heart
Its mind is what wanders far.

It knows not of the step it trod
While prancing lightly in this world
The world that is so large so crude
Whose comprehension’s not for it.

The wind can carry it away
So blow that far with forgiveness
Prick not the child with ugly thorns –
Tickle it with living flowers.

Lead it not to the walls of men
For it will shut itself within
And find too late that strong they are
It is so much like soft clay now.#
Pix courtesy www.bookwormgoa.in. < See 'Barefoot Child' at http://lastbustovasco.blogspot.in/2014/05/barefoot-child.html. *Published in Issues in English Language Teaching and Research edited by H.S. Chandalia and G.K. Sukhwal, Jaipur: RBSA Publishers, 2011. ISBN 978-81-7611-549-0. #Milestones in My Life (2009) by Monica Aurora, Cinnamonteal Publishing, Goa.