Sunday, 1 May 2016

'Balle Balle' in Ballia

-Brian Mendonca

Jaguar down in Jaisalmer
Methi ki Pudiya in Barabanki
A sten gun bodyguard pleads no confidence
Lucknowi biryani laced with kebabs.

Rawa ke pakode at Ghazipur
Mukhtar Ansari - 'Locals fear to whisper his name.'
Hazaron Khwaishein -- 'Oo sakat nahin'
On NH 19 silence marks the roads
Petromax lanterns light up the dark.
Shutters firmly down in fear of brigands.

Our Lady's grotto near Brahma's shrine
Ballia's badlands skirt the Ganges
Kashi--Benaras-- Varanasi
Which is the name I must invoke?
At Mughalsarai station a cow on platform 5
As the Chambal Express wheezes into 1.

Come midnight the Eastern Rajdhanis
all meet up at Mughalsarai
From Calcutta, Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Patna
Hop on any one if your destination is Delhi
It's balle balle all the way -- especially here in Ballia!

Hazaron Khwaishein: (Urdu) Ghazal by Mirza Ghalib; 2176 Howrah-Gwalior Chambal Express

This poem written in 2007 was read by Brian to Raja Gupta, ex-colleague at Calangute Residency, Goa today afternoon. Self-Published in A Peace of India: Poems in Transit by Brian Mendonca (New Delhi, 2011)

Plan B

-Brian Mendonça

I was delighted to hear Thermal and a Quarter (Taaq) playing as we stepped in for the Food and Culture festival at the spacious Bandodkar grounds, Campal last month. Thermal and a Quarter is a Bangalore-based Indie-rock band which make their own music. By that I mean they compose their own songs with the help of song writers, set the song to music and sing them – regardless whether the audience warms to them or not. I like that. It’s very poetic.

I had met Bruce Lee Mani, the lead vocalist of Taaq, in Delhi where they had performed about a decade ago. Bruce formed Taaq with Rajeev Rajagopal (Drums) and Leslie Charles (Bass guitarist and backing vocals) 20 years back in 1996. Just five years later they ‘opened’ at Brigade Road for Deep Purple in 2001.

The Bangaloreans had a nice easy twang about them when I first met them and I came away after buying their CD Plan B (2005). Bruce was singing ‘Chainese Item’ at Campal—it was from the same album and was about eating Chinese food in Bangalore. How would that gel with Goan audiences, I wondered. ‘Was that music!?’ was one of the discussion points on the way home. Why are we set in our own time warp of wanting to hear the same old songs over and over again? This cripples creativity. Perhaps that is why we have so few song-writers in Goa.

In a recent interview Bruce spoke about how their tour Fringe 2013, gave them a perspective about ‘how artistes around the world engage in work that is non-mainstream or non-commercial, find a way, find meaning, and continue to grow and better themselves at every turn—while being confounded by ill-educated audiences, unfeeling sponsors, passing fads and suchlike.’ (As told to Kingshuk Niyogy, LiveMint, 2015). Bemoaning the lack of appreciation for original music, Rajeev in the same interview says, ‘Our first album had the hit song (smiles) Potatoe Junkie, urging audiences to get over their soap-opera addictions and get their asses down to live gigs.’

Listening to live gigs was something I did very seriously in Delhi, at Café Morrison, at South Extension, Part II. Named after rock legend Jim Morrison, the pub used to feature upcoming bands live amid youth swirling smoke and ordering their drinks. The more staid Turquoise Cottage (now at Saket) used to feature Goan bands like Black Slade and the long-haired Anthony Braganza for the more mature crowd. At the Kingfisher Pub rock fests we saw Soulmate, the blues rock band from Shillong, Meghalaya. Arijit Sen took me to Pecos pub on Rest House Road, off Brigade Road, when I was in Bangalore in 2005 which had some great house music (rock and reggae) and great food – and of course the chilled mugs of beer! 

When the work got to you, and you needed a break, you turned to your Plan B i.e. an alternative plan of action. After all, there was always music to rock you!
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St.Inez, Goa on Sunday, 1 May 2016. Pix courtesy taaq website.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Dodamarg, Dad and Dramila

Brian Mendonça

Seeking to make the best use of a public holiday, a group of families from our housing complex planned a day this April at Raut Farms, Sal village, in Bicholim taluka. The bus was to leave from Devashri Garden, Porvorim at 9 a.m. The prospect seemed daunting for us residing in Vasco – especially since we had to factor in the logistics for Dad (86) who was full of beans for the trip. Queenie made the excellent suggestion of coming in the night before and staying over at our place at Devashri Gardens.

On the day of the picnic, all of us had our breakfast listening to the ‘Breakfast Show’ from 8 a.m to 9 a.m. on 105.4 FM. At 9 Dwayne (5) ran to the balcony and shrieked ‘Dada the bus has come!’ Dad had suggested we take his car so he could travel in comfort for the 32 kms. to Raut Farms. Dwayne decided there was no way anyone was going to take a ride in the bus away from him! He promptly ran into the waiting arms of the rest of the group who took care of him along the way, while we followed the bus in our car.  
As we branched off from NH17 towards Tivim, I was amazed by the zest for life dad showed as we meandered through Tivim, Sirsaim and Assonora. Having spent his childhood in Parra in the 1940's, it was like a homecoming for him.  He pointed out the tar (stream) he used to swim in as a boy. 

As we sped by he alerted me to St. Cristopher's church, Tivim and St. Clara's church, Assonora.  He reeled off the names of the trees we saw. He also recalled friends and family who used to stay there. We crossed the excise check post at Dodamarg to reach our destination just 4 kms. before the Maharashtra border.
By 10.30 a.m., after sandwiches and juice, the group set off to explore the man-made waterfall at Raut Farm very close to the cottage we had hired for the day. Two swimming pools – one for the kids and the other for swimmers – gave us the much needed exercise to fight the flab.

We worked up an appetite with chilled beer and beverages. A delicious lunch of Chicken Xacuti with paos and prawn curry rice with fried fish and salad awaited us. A game of football was next on the cards for the gents, while the ladies cooled off in the spacious AC room. At 3 it was time for group games and laughter followed by tea with walnut cake and chips. 
Sandip Raut (9423322981), the owner of the farm, said he had preserved the natural beauty of the farm. One could see a variety of trees like cashew, chickoo, mango, banana, papaya, coconut and pepper.

We were back at Devashri Garden by 6 p.m. After freshening up we covered the remaining 30 kms. to reach Dramila apartments, Vasco, dad’s home, the same night.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 24 April 2016. Pix by Brian Mendonca

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

April ho ek motlobi muino

-Brian Mendonça

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
                                    -T.S. Eliot

Of all the lines of poetry I am familiar with, the ones above by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) are among the most loved. However I’ve often wondered over the wisdom of the opening lines of the poet’s magnum opus The Wasteland (1922).

The mesmeric lines which read as a spell, an incantation, seemed to hide within its kernel the seed of truth of all existence. Spring has the ability to recall memories which have been dulled by time. Yet the gaiety of the universe at this time is tempered by the awareness that desire and youth are fleeting. It is an appropriate opening to a long poem written in the aftermath of the first world war in Europe. Observing the self-rejuvenating cycle of life, Eliot at 34 is unable to exult as he is no more the same man as before.

In India with drought conditions looming in neighbouring states, April could well be the cruellest month. For students appearing for their exams, they would say ditto. For parents of small children in kindergarten who have their little ones at home who turn the house upside down, it definitely is the cruellest month -- they have to take care of them for the rest of the holidays! 

April is the cruellest month when we remember those who have left us on a Summer’s day in April. I was reminded on the ‘Breakfast Show’ on 105.4 FM last Wednesday, that it was the anniversary of those who perished at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar on 13 April 1919. The people had gathered in the garden to celebrate Baisakhi - the annual festival of the Sikhs.

Though we may accept Eliot’s lines as a touchstone of great poetry, how is it relevant to us in Goa and to others in various parts of India? Are we to sit content with the universality of ‘literature’? I have not come across translations of enduring English literary texts into Konkani. This is a project worth considering. At a recent seminar in Ponani, North Kerala, what struck me were the number of texts translated into Malayalam from the original in English or Spanish. Prominent among them was Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries. There were several other titles on film and politics in translation.

Gynandra Varma translates the first four lines of The Wasteland into Oriya as:

Baisakha bada nishtura, mati-ru
Lilac phula phutai smrutiku basana sange
Misai murmusa chera-sabuku basantara barsare

In an act of Indianizing the translation, ‘April’ is replaced with the Indian summer ‘Baisakha’ and ‘Spring’ as ‘Basanta.’*

Here is a free translation of the four lines by Tadeu L.M. Gracias in Konkani. Lilac is replaced with lillies to suit the Goan context:

April, ho ek motlobi muino
Upzoita lillies sukhe zomnir
Mistur korta yaadi ani anvde
Chovoita alxi pallam zori vangda.
*See Priyadarshi Patnaik, ‘Tradition, Context and Transformation: Kalapurusa and The Wasteland. Issue 66. (March-April 2016)

Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 17 April 2016. Pix courtesy

Monday, 11 April 2016

Songwriting at Foxes Retreat

-         Brian Mendonça

Tucked away in bucolic Bardez is Foxes Retreat, Arpora -- a perfect place to coax the muse and be creative. We were all there for a songwriting workshop on a Spring morning in the first Sunday of April.  The first of its kind in Goa, the organizers felt there was a need for fresh songs with new words. The old tunes were there but where were the new ones? This was a beginning.

Getting to Arpora from Vasco was a feat in itself. Tigers roamed in Mangor Hill once, I am told. It was time to get to know the foxes -- time to get wild. Forty kms. stood between me and the foxes’ lair. But I was determined to be there by 10 a.m. This meant we anticipated Sunday morning Mass on Saturday.

Leaving home I promised to be back by lunch. The workshop was till 12.  What could anyone tell us in 120 minutes, I wondered.  Still, this was a heady initiative. We were all singing someone else’s songs. Why not write our own for a change? Last month I attended a creative writing workshop on the short story.  I was keen to see compare notes and understand the creative process in songwriting.

With no traffic, I was at the O Coqueiro circle at Porvorim in 45 minutes. As I tumbled down the hill towards Saligao, just before the Saligao circle, I saw church- goers spill out of St.Anne’s chapel on CHOGM road. At Siridao the faithful decked in their best rushed to and fro across NH17. It was the feast of the chapel of Jesus of Nazareth in Siridao village, traditionally celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. At Saligao circle I turned right on to the road heading to Mapusa, turning left a little way down towards Nagoa. Right behind the imposing Holy Trinity Church, Nagoa-Arpora peeps St. Joseph’s High School, Arpora. By then it was 9.45 a.m. and the Sunday Mass goers seemed to be thinning.   

I turned right at the school in to Lobo Vaddo (Lobo means ‘fox’ in Portuguese). Foxes Retreat was at the top of the hill with a mud road plunging down to the property. Here was a stillness seldom seen or heard. In the sprawling spaces with the cuckoo’s cry in the distance, the boughs bent with mangoes, as coconut trees stood tall. Cyril Fernandes, with forty years of songwriting behind him, took us through the high notes as well as the low ones on his guitar. We seemed in the company of Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen – and of course the Beatles. Carl de Souza, the gracious host, impressed upon us that we are songwriters – we can change the world with our songs. ‘You are the flame,’ he said earnestly. Those precious 3 hours kindled a reawakening in our beings through the medium of song. It was the music of the spheres in tune with the hideout in our hearts.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 10 April 2016. In pix above Carl at the mic and Cyril on the guitar at Foxes Retreat, Arpora, Sunday 3 April 2016; pix below - a section of the participants and Brian in yellow tee. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

‘He keeps me from the grave’

-Brian Mendonça

He keeps me from the grave
and blesses me with love and mercy.
He fills my life with good things,
So that I stay young and strong like an eagle.
(Bible, Psalm 103)

The words of the psalmist for Easter Sunday seem so true in the light of the risen Lord.* Reflecting on the beautiful verse, it is easy to imagine how everyday ‘He keeps me from the grave.’ I am held in the palm of His hand so I can rise and see a new day in the munificence of Spring. Because, like a tender shoot, I am nurtured by his love and mercy, ‘I stay young and strong like an eagle.’

The implicit trust one has in the Lord is a rare thing. Yet if one traces back the years, so often it is the Lord who has brought us to safe harbour.  As in the case of Pundalik and his wife Daisy, when nothing was working out, the Lord showed them the way.

Driving down, I used to see his vehicle parked by the side of the road in the evenings. On one occasion I pulled over and purchased some of the reasonably priced items to supplement our dinner. Until the next customer rolled by, he would spend the time in prayer.

One day I had a tête-à-tête with Pundalik as the cars whizzed past. He told me that he and his wife had been IT professionals for twelve years in Pune but they were not happy in their jobs.  They moved to Goa. He even spent time in the Middle East hoping to send some money home to make ends meet. However when he reached Dubai he was double-crossed and made to work for things that were not agreed upon.  Salaries were delayed for months. Fed up he left and returned to Goa.

Clutching at straws, and believing strongly in his wife’s cooking, Pundalik embarked on the bold idea to sell Daisy’s homemade dishes as takeaways by the wayside. The idea took off and soon people were placing orders from far and wide to avail of their signature preparations.

I was drawn to Pundalik’s story because years back when we left Delhi -- after ten years -- to return to Goa I too was clutching at straws. With time not on my side I was wondering what I could do in Goa. I then decided to swoop down to Goa even if I had to sell Queenie’s prawn curry rice. That didn’t actually happen but it was reassuring to have Plan B. Things worked out for us in the Lord’s time – despite the numerous naysayers. Truly, when you are convinced about a decision, the universe aligns itself to your purpose.

Pundalik and Daisy take heart from the verse ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4: 13). They had busted all the myths. Now they live on their own terms. Praise the Lord!
*God’s Word 2016: Daily Reflections. (Bangalore: St. Pauls, 2016); Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 3 April 2016; Pix courtesy and Pundalik.

Monday, 28 March 2016

‘All was still when José started walking homeward.’

Brian Mendonça

I always wanted to write a story but shrank from the enormity of the task. My mind would go blank, cowering under the complex of all those pristine, published stories I had read.  Boccaccio’s Decameron, Gogol’s ‘Overcoat,’ Marquez’s ‘Miss Forbes’s Summer of Happiness,’ and Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ loomed before me. The more I read, the more I felt unequal to the task. The daemon was eluding me.

I am more comfortable writing poetry, though I have not done much of it lately.  Presently I am more into the kind of writing for this weekly column. Loosely described as creative non-fiction (CNF), it does not qualify as a short story. Blogging is a more intimate sort of writing on Writing a novel seems a pretty distant dream – though some have suggested I should take a stab at it.

But surely I could do a short story? What business did I have teaching a course on creative writing if I could not write a short story?  When ads asked for stories from Goa, I so wanted to contribute one, but faced a writer’s block. A  Creative Writing workshop I attended years back did not do much to raise my confidence. I was beginning to feel low and useless. I was facing a crisis as a writer.

Author, Jessica Faleiro recently did a 2-day workshop on creative writing for college students.  I actively participated in it and went through the notes of the first day. The assignment before the next session (Day 2) was to write your own story. The day before the final day of the workshop I still had not written my story. I was desperately thinking about possible storylines during Mass, during rosary, during dinner and while driving. It was now or never.  I looked at some of the stories sent in by students. They were simple -- straight from the soul. They inspired me to open a word document on my nifty Lenovo notepad.

Hours before the day ended I got my first line, ‘All was still, when José started walking homeward.’ Line after line I pushed the story forward. Not knowing how or where the ideas were coming from, I built in character through Socratic dialogue with myself viz. Who was José? Why was he walking homeward? At what time? Who was at home waiting for him?

The story took its own shape. It possessed me and told itself.  I inhabited each character empathizing with his/her emotions. I wrote it non-stop.  Then I showed it to Queenie. We discussed it and the story took on a new tone, now from the female perspective. We changed the title, spotted some typos, and hunted for new names for the lead characters – ones that would suit the action of the story. My first story set in Bardez, was well-received at the workshop. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. It had the 3 P’s, viz. place, people and predicament.* Thank you Jessica!
*; Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa  in the weekly feature 'On My Mind' on Sunday, 27 March 2016; Pix courtesy writestuff.todaysvisions(dot)com