Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Goodbye Linus

They were still selling patoyos
When you saw them coming
The recent showers paused
As if holding their breath.

You looked so young
In your beige wedding suit
Your open eyes
Bidding everyone welcome.

Your red tie and shoes
The spectacles in your pocket
Just the way
You wanted it to be.

But they bore you away
With our tears as well
And the weight of the red bangles
Near your heart.

Lime too was sprinkled
To disintegrate your frame
And hasten your journey
From grave to niche.

We miss your smile
Your helpful ways
Your hands that reached out
To hold little children.

On the table
Your new music system waits
Beside the doctor’s file
And a crucifix with candles.

The music is still
Quiet descends.
Candles burn in unison
On the mound where you rest.

-Brian Mendonça
Pix of Linus David (1966-2015) taken in May 2013 at Vasco, Goa. Pictured here with his daughters Mabelle, Michelle, and Dwayne my son.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Music is Still

-Brian Mendonça

When  Lloyd died it was difficult to believe. He was only 48, was married and had three girls. As his eyes stared defiantly at you from the coffin, you almost expected him to jump out of it and attend to the drinks of the mourners.

Drink. That was what took him in the end -- an obsession with the spirits coupled by smoking beedis. Often times he used to slink away to grab his sustenance and come home sozzled. At other times he used to down the liquor at home, plunging the family into anxiety with his aggressive behavior and oaths. Incensed by liquor he sometimes attacked his family members.

One night when he chased his sister out of the house with a knife, she called on the landing of the building but no one came. All peered through the peepholes of their doors – and stayed inside. Only one brave girl, whose husband was away, managed to push aside her in-laws who were holding her back, opened the door and thrashed him with her umbrella. ‘If you ever touch her again, I’ll kill you,’ she said.

Owing to his chronic dependence on alcohol, he was often given a wide berth by those who knew him. He abused those who paid for his treatment in hospital, so the next time they didn’t.  Heavily into borrowing for his gambling, he soon got into debt. His job did not fetch him much, as he had not completed his SSC, dropping out from school after falling in bad company.

But he was full of joie de vivre (joy of life) and would always offer you a drink after the small talk was done.  He was helpful to the core. He loved little children and used to stretch out his hands to take them in his arms. Konkani music was his passion and he used to blast it on his system at home, to the ire of the neighbours. Always dressed impeccably with his somewhat wide pants, he would swagger down the road with not a care in the world.

Time was ticking. Recently he had a close shave when he was admitted to hospital. He came through but the doctors warned him not to touch drink – not even beer. He threw caution to the winds and indulged himself.  Days before the end came doctors asked the girls to take him home. There was nothing more they could do. ‘Renal failure’ was what they said. His liver was done for. It was only a matter of time.

The day before he passed on he was feeling much better. They gave him the ice cream he wanted. Just after midnight he rose in terror saying he had seen three women coming for him. He had instructed his family to dress him in his beige wedding suit, with the red tie, beedis in his pocket with a matchbox as well, the watch on his wrist. He was buried a few graves away from his mother. May his soul rest in peace.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 30 August 2015.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

All for an Olive


Brian Mendonça

Try as I might, I could not lay my hands on any snack which contained olives, this side of the Zuari. My attempts, admittedly were feeble but what can you say about an ingredient which is not grown in Goa, let alone India?

‘It comes from either Spain or Italy,’ said the store owner, on whom I had pinned my hopes, rather grandly. All the shops had to show was the Figaro glass bottle which would set me back by Rs. 120 or thereabouts.

The urge for olives had started last Sunday, Saturday to be precise when we were waltzing by Porvorim. Having time to kill we decided to breeze into the newly opened Simonia confectionery store. The quiet ambience greeted us and in the far corner we also saw a sitting area with chairs.

My heart missed a beat when I glanced at the list of sandwiches and saw ‘Chicken with olives’ at number 5. Since my better half did not think much of it – though we religiously use olive oil for cooking at home -- we settled for the 3-tier chicken grill and spurned the ham.

Olives have a decidedly Mediterranean flavour being grown largely in that area, Africa and Arabia. The botanical name ‘Olea Europaea’ means ‘oil of Europe.’ Olives grace the tables of several embassy dinners and lunches in Delhi and you can pick up loads of them in Khan market where the swish set do their shopping. If in the mood you can step over to the corner and slurp in the minestrone soup at the Big Chill café which used to often be my hangout when they first started out at East of Kailash. Their Spaghetti Puttanesca, one reviewer informs us, is loaded with olives. (You might be partial to the Mississippi Mud Pie too).

Jesus spent a lot of time at the Mount of Olives. (Luke 22:39) He was arrested there, appeared to his disciples there after his Resurrection, and ascended into heaven from there (Acts 1, 1-12). It is prophesied that Jesus will appear again at the Mount of Olives when it will be split into two. (Zechariah 14: 3-5)*

It is no small wonder that at a recent sale my eyes darted to the sleek olive stretchable cotton trousers placed staidly on the rack. I realized my capris too are a deeper shade of olive. I am mulling over the fact that olive might be the colour of middle age. The only issue with olive trousers is you can only wear green shirts with them.

Olive Shreiner (1855-1920) was an African writer who wrote boldly about women’s rights. She was a critic of European imperialism and a believer in peace. Her best works are The Story of an African Farm and the feminist credo Woman and Labour. I wonder if they have these in the library. . .

That would go nicely with your pasta at Olive Garden, Arambol, Goa.
*http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/mtolives.htm; Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 23 August 2015; Pix. courtesy palmcourtrotorua.co.nz

Dhanushkodi – End of the Bow

-Brian Mendonça

Though I have visited a few places in Tamil Nadu on my travels across India, I have not visited Rameswaram. Perched on the South Eastern tip of India, the temple town is seen as synonymous with Dhanushkodi, about 20 kms. away. 

When Abdul was a young boy his family used to ferry pilgrims from Rameswaram where he was born, to Dhanushkodi -- which was then in the sea -- for their ritual bath. But when a cyclone devastated their boat the family lost their only source of income.

Young Abdul then sold tamarind seeds to supplement the family’s income. For this he set aside some time from playing at the beach in Rameswaram to collect the seeds. He also earned a little more money picking up bundles of newspapers which were thrown on the platform at Rameswaram station by trains coming from Madras. Since the trains were needed for transporting troops during World War II (1939-45), they did not stop at Rameswaram station.*

When I visited PSG Tech, Coimbatore in 2007 I picked up an audio CD titled, ‘White Mountain.’ This was put out by the Isha Foundation based in the Velliangiri foothills, Coimbatore. On the same trip poet Sivakami Velliangiri of the Prakriti Foundation had organized a poetry reading for me at the Park Hotel, Chennai. I stayed at her estate and she made available a car and driver for me to go to Mahabalipuram.

When Abdul Kalam died I reached for the ‘White Mountain’ CD which I had not played for many years. As the great man merged into eternal stillness, tracks like, ‘Now and There,’ ‘Above the Sky’ and ‘Waterfall’ laved the grief at losing a friend.

I remembered the simple people of Tamil Nadu, towering in fortitude reeling under numerous cyclones. The one in 1964 rendered Dhanushkodi a ghost town which it still is. Odd that even after half a century there is no will to rebuild the rail track from Rameswaram to Dhanuskodi.

As I travelled by bus from Thiruvarur to Vellankanni in 2013 we passed Nagapattinam the epicenter of the Tsunami in 2004. These were sleepy hamlets with fishing nets out to dry, agreeable to whatever fate dealt out to them. Acceptance, not arrogance, was written in the lines on their faces. I had gone to present the work of Goan poet Tanya Mendonsa at a seminar organized by the Central University of Tamil Nadu, Thiruvarur.

Out of this hard life was Kalam born and tempered like steel. He remained honest to the core, steering clear of any controversies. In a world perpetually craving for material things his was a spiritual vision which fostered India’s self-reliance by augmenting her nuclear capability with the Pokhran test in 1998.

Dhanushkodi means ‘end of the bow.’ ‘Your children are not your own,’ says the Preacher to the mother in Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet, ‘they are arrows from the bow of life.’ There is a beginning and an ending to all things. What counts is how we acquit ourselves in between.
*Srinivas Laxman, Dreams to Reality: A Biography of Dr. A..P.J. Kalam. Illustrated by Prabhakar Wairkar. Navneet Publications.

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez,  Goa on Sunday, 9 August 2015; pix courtesy indiawaterportal.org

Losing My Umbrella – Again!

-Brian Mendonça

An umbrella, as everyone knows, is everyone’s most precious possession when the rains descend in Goa. Last June I enjoyed the season with my trusty black umbrella with a brown wooden handle curved like a question mark. I had specially chosen it for the grip which served me well on those blustery days when it was all you could hold on to.

The brown-handled umbrella was bought last year, because the year before that my umbrella had walked off one evening. I had kept it outside the shop when I went in to buy some provisions. When I returned it was gone. Miffed by my fate I decided to outlast the rest of the season without one.

It’s losing time again this year for me, as it’s that time of the year that my umbrella seeks greener pastures. After carrying it unfailingly on days when the sun shone ever so brightly, it disappeared on the day of the most torrential rain, so far, in Goa, i.e. 24thJuly. No it was not drying in the bathroom, it was not hanging sheepishly on the window latch near my desk, and it wasn’t in my car. My umbrella had done it again!

After feeling defeated, I told myself life does not stop if something or someone walks out on you. ‘It was not meant to be yours,’ I reasoned. I thought back to the time when I felt so blue losing a  shopping bag on a trip to the market. But time heals all things.

But I had to still get through the next day when it was pouring. How do I take baba from the car to his class when I reach him to school? Queenie suggested I borrow the umbrella of the Nepali watchman at the gate when I enter the school grounds. When I reached the watchman was standing holding an umbrella with a friend who was also holding one. I beseeched him to lend his umbrella. He demurred at first pointing out that there were only two umbrellas between the two of them. I said they could share one umbrella – after all what are friends for anyway? He parted with his umbrella somewhat reluctantly. I reached baba to school and returned the umbrella gratefully to the watchman on my way back.

During the day I borrowed an umbrella from a quiet lady who sits all morning in a cooperative store. I asked her when she closes the shop. She spoke in Konkani and told me ‘1.30.’ I returned it before that around midday.

Last evening I had gone over to a neighbour’s place. As I left it started pouring. ‘Take this’ she said kindly, ‘This is not ordinary rain.’ I promised I would return it the next morning.

Not having an umbrella has enabled me to see how people move out of their comfort zones to help others in need. It redeems my faith in humanity. Who wants to buy an umbrella anyway? Let’s dodge the rains!
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez. Goa on 2 August 2015; pix courtesy fiveprime.org

Monday, 27 July 2015

Folklore: Our Fading Link to the Past

-Brian Mendonça

             When an old woman or man dies, a library burns to the ground.

When I signed up for Coursera’s online programme on ‘The American South: Its Stories, Music and Art,’ I had no idea that the course instructor would be a folklorist. After doing the 6 course hours at a stretch last Sunday as the rain pelted on my window I felt that it was an obvious choice. Only a folklorist would be able to painstakingly bring together the diverse ‘quilt’ of the stories, the music and the art of the American South.

Of course, Dr. William Ferris, the course host, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at UNC but it is from a tradition of folklore that his teaching emanates. As he oscillated between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement in America I was thinking how non-formal sources of knowledge provided so intimate a view of a people’s past.

Folklore is essential an oral source, i.e. which is told, sung or made. It was fascinating how he included and analyzed basket-weaving and quilt-making as art forms. The South, he said has to be seen through the prism of race, class and gender all of which are informed by oral narratives. The point is made starkly in  Kate Chopin’s chilling short story, ‘Desirée’s Baby’ (1893) set in Louisiana – the Creole state -- and William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ (1930) set in hometown Mississippi.

I was thinking why could such an initiative not be nurtured for Goa? There are so many stories waiting to be told – to someone who would only listen. When elders go away to the happy hunting grounds (a Lakota belief in the afterlife) we are bereft of all their lore, mostly undocumented.

I was recently invited to chair a session at Goa University (GU) featuring a paper by Tanvi Bambolkar titled, ‘Lore through the Lens: Integrating Technology in Folkloric Studies.’ I discovered that there is no separate department for folklore studies at GU. Tanvi was pursuing her research through the Department of English at GU. ‘Being a new science [folklore studies] opens up a new possibility in the field of humanities for folklore to be a technology-driven field,’ says Tanvi. While this speaks for the latitude of the Humanities this is no reason why the GU should not consider a full-fledged department for folklore studies.

I was gladdened when I read the establishment of a Folklore University in neighbouring Karnataka. Karnataka Folklore University (KFU) at Haveri offers a PG in folk tourism which trains students to appreciate folk art and culture of the region and showcase them to tourists including foreigners.

Goan Quest – an initiative of Goa Chitra, Benaulim, conducted on Sundays through the season -- provides a window to the folkloric traditions of Goa. The experience allows participants to view pottery, mat-weaving and cane-weaving on the premises. Supported by the Directorate of Art and Culture, Government of Goa, Goan Quest has provided the lead. Will others take the cue?

Published in Gomantak TimesWeekender , St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 26 July 2015; Pix source http://colvaholidayhomesgoa.blogspot(dot)in


-Brian Mendonça

It often happens as I drive down the road on my way to work, I see people at the side of the road. They are usually waiting for some transport to take them to their destination. Things being as they are in Goa, this is an everyday ordeal for most. Buses at peak hours in the morning are either jam-packed or non-existent. Frequency is poor and buses bound for the capital are far more in number than for other routes.

Add to this the woes of female travellers who have to face indignities in crowded buses. They can seldom raise their voices for fear of being silenced. The over-crowded Goan bus is a stock image of every cartoonist depicting Goa. But seriously, can we not offer a better public transport system in Goa rather than having a laugh and sweeping it under the carpet?

So when I drive down to work in the mornings I look out for people on my daily route that I can offer a lift to. Dad and mum always used to do so and the grateful thanks they received by the various passengers was recompense enough. I usually stop by the person if I know the person and am fairly certain the person is going my way.

What happens if you do not know the person and the person hitches a lift? Will you stop? I generally do not. There are various reasons for this. You could be set-up by the passenger if the intention is mala fide. Do you have the time? To pull over and stop you need to de-accelerate; get out of the way of the frantic traffic behind you; open the door politely – and worst of all, make small talk.

I make an exception for groups of students though. These days I see many of them in clumps outside Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) campus, Zuarinagar. They regularly hitch a ride with their upturned thumbs. These kids are down in Goa doing their internships at various places in Goa. Many of them are assigned plants in the Verna industrial area. They have come from the mother institution at BITS, Pilani, Rajasthan, but their homes are in other parts of India as well.

I ask them how they like Goa. I tell them that as a traveler-poet I visited Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Udaipur and they seem surprised. It cuts some ice on the brief ride. It’s the least I can do to repay a debt of gratitude for the many people who have given me a ride in my student days across the country.

One place I feel sorry for the wayside passengers is outside Goa Medical College (GMC), Bambolim. There is no shelter there, and not even a decent place to sit. There is never-ending roadwork on both sides of the road and almost always traffic snarls. As you drive past, in the dim light you cannot make out if there are any hitchers you know. . .
Inspired by the U.S. movie Hitcher (2007) directed by Dave Meyers about two college students who offer a ride to a hitcher who turns out to be a psychopath. It is set in New Mexico. Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday,19 July 2015. Pix courtesy ellenm(dot)travellerspoint.com