Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Beyond Faith

-Brian Mendonca

What does it mean to be a good human being? Can one be a good human being without having any religion?

Religion is a means to be a good human being. It means respecting fundamental human rights. A virtuous life leads to inner coherence and outward harmony.*

Recently I attended a programme on inter-faith dialogue (IFD).  It was felt necessary, the compere said, to have such initiatives in the light of the atmosphere of distrust engulfing the nation.

At the IFD three religions were represented. The most persuasive speaker, a poet, did not speak of religion at all. He spoke in Konkani and warmed our hearts with his words. He said when we were born we did not have any markers distinguishing ourselves as belonging to any particular faith. We were as Kahlil Gibran would say, ‘arrows from the quiver of life.’ When the sun rises, he continued, it does not differentiate between who it will shine on. It shines for everybody. The speaker’s inclusive mysticism -- like Thomas Merton’s -- emerging out of his poetic practice, made a deep impression.

‘Who bombed Hiroshima?’ the second speaker demanded to know. He said he was pained that when he asked a student the question a particular community was named incorrectly. The speaker went on to say that nowadays it is common for the common person to lay the blame for all ills at the feet of a particular community – even when evidence proves to the contrary. He cautioned us not to rely on the media and to be aware of the many cases where people from one community have been falsely implicated. 

The third speaker said the message of religion is to care for the downtrodden. He recalled the murder of an aged priest in Paris by a radical outfit. ‘They are all followers of Satan,’ the speaker thundered, quoting Pope Francis.

Somewhere, I was thinking the very purpose of the IFD was being undermined by this toxic rhetoric. Though all speakers solemnly lit the lamp before the programme (to a snatch of borrowed western classical music), it seemed they used the stage, tacitly, to expose each other’s folly.

We need to beyond half-hearted attempts like these. To begin, why are not persuasions like the Parsi faith or Buddhism represented? Always harping on the predictable, visible faiths only empowers the dominant discourse while alienating the rest. The practice should precede the preaching. I often muse over the fact that my second volume of poems was unwittingly a collaboration of a Hindu, who did the artwork, a Muslim who did the maps and me, a Catholic who wrote the poems.

At the close of the session which had lasted more than 90 minutes with few audio visual clips I happened to notice a slide when the Power Point was being turned off. It was a quotation from the Dalai Lama. He said, ‘I am beginning to feel increasingly that religion cannot be relied on to bring peace and harmony in these times.’
*Epictetus (55 A.D. – 135 A.D.), ‘Why be Good?’ Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 25 September 2016

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Chillifying the Nation

Brian Mendonça

Chillies. You see them everywhere. In their myriad hues of red they defy the senses. Each variety is carefully selected for its flavour, its pungency, and taste. By far the favourite in Goan cooking is the Kashmiri chilli which no xacuti can do without. Queenie shares with me that in samarachi koddi there is a combination of three different types of chillies, in specific proportion, to get the authentic flavour.

Even when I slink away to the vada pav cart to feast on a succulent snack, I always ask for the long green mirchi  fried in batter. Indeed, as Mr. Paresh Joshi pointed out to me the true chilli is one that takes your breath away, forcing you to gasp and inhale through your lips saying ‘hoo.’ Any dish that elicited this reaction -- ‘hoo-munn’ (say-‘hoo’ in Marathi) -- was deemed as having good taste.

Much as chillies are an aphrodisiac they are also used as a deterrent. Ladies are instructed to carry chilli powder in their handbags to stave off unwanted attention.

Now chillies have been enlisted to grace grenades in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K). Following the outcry against the pellet guns used by the Border Security Forces (BSF) to control crowds, the Home Ministry has despatched the first batch of 1000 chilli-filled grenades to the Kashmir valley.  Called PAVA, these shells are seen as the panacea for all ills. Much thought is given to the suitable measure of force to be used against civilians including women and children, while major issues lie deadlocked. We are further informed that ‘Before PAVA, Bhut Jolokiya – the world’s hottest chilli from the North East – was a weapon for crowd control.’*

On the heels of such depressing news I was elated to find that a packet of chillies helped to recover Diya Ray’s laptop. The 18-year-old college student had left the laptop on the Bhusaval Express from Pune when she got down at Karjat station on 24 August around 2 p.m.  She then boarded a local train to Badlapur station. When she realised her laptop bag was missing she registered a complaint at Badlapur.

The laptop bag was spotted by Karjat railway station constable GS Masane. In it was a packet of red chillis with a tag of D Mart mall located in Ambernath. Karjat RPF inspector Satish Menon called up Ambernath police station but no complaint was registered. He tried Badlapur station and struck gold. The bag was returned to Diya on 30 August. It had taken 6 days to track her – the same number of alphabets to spell c-h-i-l-l-i.#

In Mumbai there is the bedki variety of chilly used in cooking. In the Friday market bazaar in Mapusa you will find the Belgaum variety of chilly which is very spicy. But it appears Kashmiri chillies hold sway over all. It is ironic that what Kashmir is so famous for, is also what is to be most feared now by way of PAVA – the chilli.
*indianexpress.com 8 September 2016; PAVA: Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide #mumbaimirror.com  2 September 2016

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 September 2016.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Friends for Life / Amigos para siempre

-Brian Mendonça


Vice Chancellor, Goa University, Professor Varun Sahni (seated centre), Director of UGC HRDC Professor I.K. Pai, (seated centre right) and Course Coordinator Professor K. S. Bhat (seated centre left) with participants of the Refresher Course in English held at HRDC, GU, Taleigao, Goa from 9 August 2016- 29 August 2016.

‘We need to rouse ourselves from the cult of mediocrity - “I’m good enough.” We should try to become better not the best. Because if you think you are the best, there is no room for improvement. Each day you can do a little to become better. It’s do-able.’ These were the thoughts of Professor Varun Sahni, Vice Chancellor of Goa University. 

The VC was speaking at the Valedictory function of the Refresher Course (RC) in English conducted by the Human Resource Development Centre (HRDC) Goa University campus, Taleigao, Goa. In all there were 32 of us participants for the course – all teachers of English at various colleges across India.

The theme of the course was Culture Studies.  Introducing the theme, Sripad Bhat, Professor of English and course coordinator said that English literature could no longer be studied in isolation of the context in which the texts were produced. ‘Texts’ itself, as we used to know them, had given way to a diversity of  popular cultural expressions like film, TV serials,  reality shows and pulp novels which could then yield a plurality of meanings. There was no single way or right way to read a work.

The course, spread across 3 weeks in August was ably anchored by Professor I.K. Pai, Course Director. It took us through a fascinating gamut of disciplines ranging from political science, film studies, feminism, philosophy, nationalism, diasporas and world theatre. In the process we became virtual globe trotters tasting of the intellectual currents in France, the United States, China, Canada, United Kingdom, East Africa and of course India.

Interestingly, as we were taking in the cultural currents across the globe, we were also reaching out among ourselves to the diversity of cultures within the  group.  There emerged a sense of bonding when life was on ‘pause’ in the idyllic Elysium of the sprawling Goa University campus. The out-station participants sipped the experience of Goa (some took very large sips) and were seen sallying off to the nearest bus stop once the sessions wound up at 5 p.m. Of course they created a WhatsApp group which included pix of the fun they had and the lectures they slept through.

Each participant was required to make a presentation. I was amazed at the diversity and coherence of the presentations which ranged from tribal verse, standard language in the Marathi movie Time Pass, Mirabai and Akka Mahadevi, Yeats and even one on my own book of poems A Peace of India: Poems in Transit. My own presentation was titled ‘Configuring Desire: The Goan Mando and the Portuguese Fado’ where I compared the mando  ‘Tujea Utrar re Patienum’ to the Portuguese fado ‘La Porque Tens Cinco Pedras’ by Amalia Rodrigues. I played the mando on my guitar and finished off with the dulpod medley starting with ‘Undra Mhojea Mama.' 

I was privileged to have some of the participants visit me. When I dropped off Ramesh to the airport at 2 a.m., I knew the R.C. had made us friends for life.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 11 September 2016. 

Miss Anne Menezes – My Teacher, My Friend

-Brian Mendonça

‘I want you to come for my 90th birthday,’ said the frail voice on the phone. Still drowsy after my afternoon nap I struggled to focus. It was a voice from out of the past – one that was strangely familiar. It was a weekday so I said I probably might not make it. ‘It’s quite all right. I understand,’ the caller ended the conversation.

But you just don’t miss an invitation to a 90th birthday – even if it is lunch. Not if it is for a dearly loved teacher. My students too urged me to go. Miss Anne Menezes taught me in college. She was the one who shared the treasures of Shakespeare’s plays, i.e. As You Like It, Twelfth Night and Antony and Cleopatra. But it was not only the lectures which remained.  It was more of the character formation which we imbibed from Miss Anne. Highly principled, she was always first in the class, while we sneaked in sheepishly.

‘Make friends with at least one member from every community,’ she used to say. This missive motivated me throughout my life. It made the world a better place for me and in my years away from home every community became my family.  She often used to ask me if I would join politics because Goa needed good leaders. She used to extol the virtues of Uday Bhembro.

When we met her lately she advised one to join politics only if one had the support of a group. Having been sarpanch of Aldona on two occasions, on both she was voted out on a no-confidence motion. Why? - simply because she would not give her assent to her team members to amass wealth unethically.

Miss Anne taught me in college in 1986. We never really lost track of each other. She was always interested in how I was doing and used to inquire about each member of my family. She was the ideal teacher whose students were students for life. When we came to Goa to settle down we paid her a visit and she gifted baba a huge box of shapes to play with.

And now here she was on her 90th birthday being celebrated at Asilo, Home for the Aged, Aldona. With 3 cakes in front of her she looked quite bemused. Happy in the fold of her friends and family she was a picture of contentment. And by her side was the faithful Annama (72) who had constantly been looking after her after Miss Anne’s mother passed on. Later Miss Anne thanked us for the shawl we presented her and the sheaf of Weekender articles I saved for her.  

Miss Anne kept her interest in literature alive by writing a column for the Navhind Times on great books and great writers. She also contributed to Renovaçao. She reviewed my book A Peace of India. 

When I told her I would be writing about her, she quipped, ‘Better to read it before I die.’ 
Published in Gomantak TimesWeekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 4 September 2016. Pix taken at Asilo, Aldona on 31 July 2016.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Creative Writing Workshop - GVM Ponda

I conducted a 2-day workshop on Creative Writing at GVM Higher Secondary School, Ponda on 29-30 August 2016. The workshop was at the invitation of Mrs. Bhat, teacher of English.

This was the first time I addressed students of Higher Secondary. On Day 1, being the inaugural the hall was full. On day 2 we had a more manageable number. I prepared a power-point presentation and also put my guitar in the hatchback.

I began with speaking about the role the unconscious plays in creativity. Quoting Osho's essay 'What is Creativity?' I shared with the students that they could be creative in whatever way they chose - not just writing poems, singing or dancing. As long as you are fulfilled, you are creative. The divine stirs in you. I gave them time to write short poems on 'My favourite place,' 'The person I like the most' which I read out in class. One student wrote how she was at peace in any shrine for in the stillness she experienced God. In the opening task I asked the students if they had observed carefully the lighting of the lamp on Day 1. Does it inspire a poem in you?

Osho Talks Sound of Thunder

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

UGC Refresher Course in English 9-29 August 2016

Brian receives his certificate at the hands of Varun Sahni, Vice Chancellor of Goa University
Human Resource Development Centre, Goa University, Goa while Professor Bhat (r) Course Coordinator, and Professor Pai (l) Course Director look on.
29 August 2016 


by Brian Mendonca

It is difficult to believe
I won't be staring at the sea from my seat.
It is difficult to believe
this mini-India will soon dissolve.
It is difficult to believe
that Goa will remain a memory.
For some.


From here have we been unified in purpose
From here have we been strengthened in resolve.
To transcend boundaries, nations, cultures, cliches.
To remain in strength, in solidarity
In academia, ever marching onward.

So fare thee well
Traveller of the moment.
Ours is but a turn of the sun.
A little shade, a little succour
Tarry a while in GU's green-clad glade.

Freedom to live. Freedom to fly.
Must we all reach back to our nests.
With spirit renewed
and soul at rest.
Each woman
each man
do strive
to do thy best.

(HRDC, GU, 29 August 2016)


Refresher Course in English
9 - 29 August 2016

WEEK 1: 9-13 August

The Refresher Course started on Tuesday the 9th of August 2016 with Dr. Pai, Course Director, welcoming the participants. Professor Sripad Bhat, Course Coordinator, urged the participants to enjoy their stay in Goa and be sincere in fulfilling the requirements of the course. The day was divided into 4 sessions, sessions I and II pre-lunch and sessions III and IV post-lunch.

In his opening lecture ‘Mapping Culture Studies’ after the inaugural session Bhat introduced the course theme of Culture Studies. Rajendra Chenni spoke about British Cultural Studies, the next day. The afternoon was spent with Prakash Desai taking us through the Narratives of Nation.

Bollywood film was the subject of Prof. Chenni’s presentation on 11th morning. Session II by Rajendra Chenni was on Indian Cultural Studies and the work of Vandana Shiva. The afternoon was reserved for a feast of the theatre of the world presented by Isabel Vas in the session titled, ‘Theatre as a Site of Counter-Cultural Discourse.’

Participants were given a glimpse into Goan history by Kiran Budkuley in her talk ‘Culture and Goan Society’ on Friday, 12th August morning. The post-lunch sessions were reserved for presentations by the participants. Neena Caldeira was the observer.

Bhat took the stage again on Saturday the 13th with his presentations on Multiculturalism and Popular Culture. Participants made presentations post-lunch with Caldeira as observer.

WEEK 2: 15-20 August

Independence Day saw the participants assemble outside the main building of the Goa University for the flag hoisting at 08.30 A.M. They put up a fine performance with the song Hum Honge Kamyaab.

Derrida had his day with Prafulla Kar holding forth on Deconstructionism on Tuesday 16th August. Post-lunch, A.K. Joshi enlightened us on his work on Social Reforms in Maharashtra. He was also kind enough to be the observer for the presentations by the participants in session IV.

‘New Historicism and Cultural Studies’ was the fare served by Kar on 17th August. Post-lunch Joshi spoke on Ambedkar and Social Reform. The last session of the presentation by participants was observed by Joshi.

Anuradha Wagle spoke on the Semiotics of Culture followed by a discussion of Barthes’s Mythologique on 18th August. Post-lunch saw Sripad Bhat unpacking Indian modernity.

On Friday 19th August Professor Craig Brandist introduced us to the Bakhtin Circle while Paromita Chakrabati crossed borders post-lunch with diasporic literature.

Week 2 drew to a close on Saturday 20th August with Brandist unravelling Gramsci. Needless to say, a session of library work was declared post-lunch to recover.

WEEK 3: 22-29 August

Rahul Tripathi opened the week on 22 August with his thoughts on ‘New Social Media and New Political Culture.’ In session II Pranab Mukhopadhyay spoke on ‘Globalization and Culture.’ Post-lunch was declared for library work to complete the book review and project which were due the next day.

‘Interrogating the Body’ and ‘Gendered Culture’ were the themes for Parinitha Shetty on 23 August. Vijay T discussed Subaltern Studies post-lunch.

Parinitha elaborated on cross-dressing with special reference to Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age on 24 August. Vijay T.P. discussed Identity Formation, post-lunch.

Meena Pillai spoke on Culture Studies and Women in Indian Cinema on 25 August. Gopa Kumar, Librarian, Goa University threw light on e-resources for research.

Pillai continued her inquiry into visual pleasure on 26th August and how women are narrated by the nation. Professor Pravesh spoke on self and violence post lunch.

Pravesh Jung continued his discourse with an examination of the Enlightenment, Kant and Nietzche on Saturday 27th August. At 2 p.m. participants sat for the exam.

The valedictory function was on 29 August 2016. The Honourable VC, Prof. Varun Sahni addressed the gathering. Prof. Pai and Prof. Bhat summed up the course. Participants were invited to offer their feedback. The participants then received their certificates at the hands of the VC.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

‘Te Naute’

-Brian Mendonça

 It was the footwear that got us.  Huge pools of footwear piled up outside their front door. Since we were neighbours and lived opposite, it was unseemly to be opening the door to be greeted by these relics of the road.

But now the space outside their door is totally devoid of any footwear. There is no sign of life in the apartment opposite. Since Sunday morning the place boasts a lock on the door. The mango leaves adorning the doorway are withered and gaunt. The toran with Shree Ganesh Namahah in Sanskrit inscribed on it and the Swastikas in chalk on either side of the doorstep all keep their mute vigil. Early mornings when I awake, it is I who has to put the landing light off now. Earlier my neighbour used to do it.

It was on Saturday towards dusk when we got the news. A chilling wailing emanated from the apartment opposite. Minutes earlier Dinesh (60) had been knocked down fatally by a speeding motorcyclist at Alto Dabolim. Between sobs Sandhya, his wife was telling us that Dinesh had left the house at 7 in the morning, and was returning home after doing yoga exercises at Alto Dabolim. He had just retired a few days back from his job at the Pilar post office.

Still reeling from the news Queenie maintained that our front door be kept wide open as a mark of respect. In a common auditory universe we too were subsumed by the cries of grief as the relatives trickled in from Ponda. Though we told our son (5) to ‘Go inside’ he sat there staring curiously. Later when I gently asked him what he saw, he imitated the motions of weeping loudly and repeated the wife’s helpless lament in Marathi, ‘Malapan hath kahi nahi, tyalapan hath kahi nahi.’ [Nothing is in my hands, nothing is in his hand.]

Queenie went across with tea. When the lights went out we took candles and a match box. There was nothing much we could do. But our door remained wide open. The men folk who had arrived whispered urgently.

What hurt us most was that we would not be able to see Dinesh for the last time. The body was to be taken from Cottage Hospital, Chicalim to Goa Medical College, Bambolim for postmortem. From there it would proceed to the family seat at Valpoi, in Sattari for the final rituals.

The Navhind Times reported the accident in the Sunday papers the next day, giving his name as Dinish Naute.* When Queenie read the report she immediately pointed out that ‘Naute’ means ‘not there’ in Marathi. If one goes to visit a person and the person is not there we would say ‘Te Naute.’  As I gather his last electricity bill from the mail box I notice the name as Dinesh Navathe. Ironically the misspelling serves as a painful reminder that Dinesh is no longer with us.
*Navhind Times, Goa, Sunday, 7 August, 2016, page 3. Published in Gomntak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 28 August 2016. Pix courtesy theborneopost.com