Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Along the line, at railway gate No. 58

My dear students, friends, colleagues and well-wishers,

Today, 5 March 2009, I complete 58 years. Along the railway line of my life, I stand at railway gate No. 58. For all these years coming freely to me, I am grateful to my mother, the late Amy, and my father, the late Denis, and to our Mother Earth, for whom I know I have not cared enough, when I look at the way I selfishly care for my family, students, friends and work colleagues.

I am also playing my second innings now. For this, I am thankful to modern medicine, the Pune Heart Brigade (phone 1050), my wife Kalpana and daughter Pallavi, neighbours, friends and my brother-in-law Rajeev, who rushed me to hospital. Having survived my heart attack of 2 September 2006, unlike so many of my good friends and relatives, life is new and always fresh.

Sometime back Kajal Iyer tagged me, asking to know 25 random things about me. I took part for fun. But I am now going to rewrite the note I made then, and edit that list to write up this auto-sketch – at railway gate No. 58.


Why at railway gate No. 58? Simply because I am the eldest son of a railwayman, who used to get transferred from place to place. So I know what it is be on the move like a gypsy. And therefore I can appreciate settling down and setting down roots. What would I give in exchange for all the money in the world? A chance to meet even one of my school-mates from that “lost childhood” when I was a little boy in the small railway towns of Jabalpur and Nagpur (1956-57), Solapur (1957-58) and Manmad (1958-61).

As I recall that journey, let me honour my mother, one of India’s greatest playback singers, hailed in the late 1940s as the “Lata Mangeshkar of the Konkani stage” – Amy Pinto, nee Mary Therese D'Cruz (1925-69). I’m older now than her then by 14 years; she died at the age of 44. Nearing 40 years since she died, yet she sings within my heart.

Confined to the four walls of our home, she taught us, her children – her Class of Three; after 1962, it was a Class of Four. I used to be a great one for gathering piles of books as prizes in school, till my mother learned me the lesson, “If you can, compete – with yourself”.

Also let me shower flowers on the fair name of my father, Denis John Pinto (1923-2001), an upright and God-fearing man, who put up with endless pain, suffering and deprivation because … “Honesty is the best policy”. The other person as equally upright is my father-in-law, Prof. K.L. Joshi (born 1922).


When I was in my early 20s and the hippies wore flowers in San Fransisco, I used to have long hair up to my shoulders; later I grew a beard. This was the result of the world-wide protests against the unjust war in Vietnam and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a part of my growing-up years in school and college – a deep and permanent influence. Also let me mention the dearly-held musical relics, including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger.

I can’t remember the day when I was not in love – with words. So my first crush was virtual, even before the Personal Computer – Agnes – appearing on the pages of the Charles Dickens novel, “David Copperfield”. Now the love in my life, after my love-marriage wife Kalpana, is my daughter J.K. Pallavi. I remember the three years in the cold and wet of Leeds, Yorkshire, England, taking care of her in a back-to-back basement when she was barely three, while my wife did her Ph.D. (And what of my friends, without whom I could have not known that friendship can match up to love?)

I have spent years, off and on, in Mumbai. First as a little boy in the mid-1950s; then in school, college, etc. (1961-73); again after the Emergency (1977-82). What do I miss about Mumbai (I shan’t call it Bombay as the imperial English did)? The trundling trams, when I was a little boy; uncrowded local trains and red BEST buses on a Sunday morning; the common crows, sparrows, mynahs; the great struggle of the textile workers against the robber mill-owners; red flags in a worker morcha at Azad Maidan; the heady mix of faces and tongues from all over India; the discipline on the roads. Above all, the entwined couples clasping hands in municipal gardens ...

What do I NOT miss about Mumbai? The idle rich, gambling on the stock market, who have raped the city; the skyscrapers that blot out the sky; the private vehicles that kill and maim far worse and more deep than terrorist guns; the curse of the Shiv Sena and their ilk, who have brought shame to the glorious inheritors of Chhatrapati Shivaji ...

To give you some more feel and touch for the passing show of my life, here goes. My favourite movie critic, Pauline Kael of the New York Times, who dubbed the “Sound of Music” as the “Sound of Mucous”. A few of my favourite things: the red mud, swaying coconut trees and the fish curry rice of Mangalore; the lilt of my Konkani mother tongue; a few drops of kaju feni, soft cotton garments. And always, books.

Besides, love and peace, compassion for the poor moves me beyond tears. Alongside this post on my blog, I have catalogued my values and beliefs, as well as quotes from my favourite authors and a list of books and websites, including some by my students.


What made me sketch this auto-bio? In a way, groping to prepare for the reality of aging, at the threshold of retirement. Can I retire? Maybe not, in the sense that I’ll stop working. But I shall retire from doing what I do not like. I am coming to grips with work on different terms.

Along the line, at railway gate No. 58, I also await the student, who may exceed me, who may dare to go beyond imagination, against the tide. To whom I can entrust the torch given to me by my ancestors and teachers.

First, my English teacher from Standard VII in St Stanislaus School, Bandra, Mumbai, during 1962-63. Mrs Philomena D’Souza (nee Valladares) used to give us five topics to write one essay every week; I wrote on all five; Mrs Valladares corrected all five, sometimes rewrote them in her own neat hand-writing! Where have all the great Goan gurus gone?

Second, my Chemistry professor from B.Sc. in St Xavier’s College, Dhobitalao, Mumbai, during 1969-71. Prof V. V. Nadkarny, with his white open shirt, dhoti, and black round topi, taught me not only about organic molecules and carbon chains, but also about facing up to life. When arrogantly, I had refused to apolgise after back-answering a laboratory demonstrator, Prof Nadkarny apologised on my behalf though he was the Head of the Department then. His kind and free classes at his Dadar home, under the benign gaze of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, are with me today, though I do not use the chemistry I learned.

Third, the unlettered mofussil elders of village Kasarpimpalgaon, who taught me, “JoeP of KP”, to speak Marathi and learn of “sanskar” when, as a founder-member of the rural NGO called Vistas, I was working in the drought-prone areas of Pathardi taluka, Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, during 1973-77.

“Those were the days, my friends,
We thought they’d never end,
We’d sing and dance for ever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose,
We thought we’d never lose,
For we were young and sure to have our way.”

The ones who are no more: Smita Patil, Norman “Vikram Salgaonkar” Dantas, Anna Salve. Now the rest (in alphabetical order): Biplab “Bulu” Basu, Vilma Colaco, Dominic D’Souza, Eric D’Souza, Glynis “Asha” D’Souza, John “Babuti” D’Souza, Lancy Fernandes, Nafisa Goga, Pradeep Guha, Ayesha Kagal, Aspi Mistry, Lakshmi “Buchy” Rameshwar Rao.

Fourth, the late Feriwala Francis and Bhabhi as well as the slum-dwellers of Kaju Tekdi, Bhandup, Mumbai, and my comrades at the CITU unit of Prabhakar Sanzgiri. During this same period, my participation as a founder general-secretary of the Lok Vidnyan Sanghatana not only immersed me in the popularisation of science but also introduced me to my Pune girl Kalpana Joshi, whom I married on 26 January 1982.

Fifth, my scribe seniors – S.D. Wagh, Taher Shaikh, Harry David, Y.V. Krishnamurthy – and delightful colleagues at the one and only “our very own” local English daily of Pune, Maharashtra Herald (estd. 1963), where I joined as a sub-editor on a salary of Rs.600 per month on 2 May 1983 and left as assistant editor in 1996.

Sixth, working since August 2006 with the eminent social worker, Shantilal Muttha, Founder and National President of the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana on trustee empowerment and training programs.

And finally, my students in Pune where I have been teaching print journalism and communication as a regular visiting faculty since 1987, at the invitation and with the cooperation of Dr. Kiran Thakur, P.N. Paranjpe, Dr. Vishwas Mehendale, Prof M.S. Pillai, Ujjwal Chowdhury, Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, Dr. Keval Kumar and many others. If my students have learned anything from me, I have surely learned a lot from them.


And so, at railway gate No. 58, I come full circle.

The packed local trains are the reason why I left the Mumbai that I love so much. When we were staying at Dadar in the late 60s, I used to travel 10 minutes by train from Dadar to school in Byculla. The locals were getting difficult. But my father was a railway officer and, therefore, we got a free First Class pass, so we missed the crush in the third class bogies.

When I joined St. Xavier's in 1967, the journey only got longer, 20-25 minutes from Dadar till VT. But in the first class it was still bearable. Fortunately, I escaped from the locals of Mumbai in 1973 and worked in village Maharashtra from 1973-77. If not for the horrors of the Indira Emergency, I may have never come back to Mumbai. When I got back, the trains were choking.

Slowly, travelling by local trains became a torture that I would dread. And when I was in Bhandup, the agony became too much to bear. Fortunately again, I got married and decided to move to Pune, where I also became a full-time journalist.

On the brink of 58, I dread travelling in Pune too. There are no trains here that can be packed (though I have heard that the locals to and from Lonavla are worse that the locals of Mumbai!!!).

But here we have our local variant of torture on the cruel roads, what I call the “chhote shaitan” – the two-wheelers that in the end may murder Pune, unless public transport improves.

Now the wheels are turning within the wheels. At railway gate No. 58.

Keep in touch. Take care.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, Thursday, 5th March 2009.


Mohan said...

Hey Joe (does that sound very Hendrixish?),
Happy Birthday!
I tell my students, that to a very large extent, two people really shaped my career in journalism – one of them was Joseph Pinto. I remember, at the Herald we called you 'mother-in-law' because you nagged the hell out of us. But since we couldn’t do what people would have liked to do to their mother-in-laws, we humoured you! I realized later how much the nagging helped me in my job when I headed the news desk at the MH and HT! You ask 'where have all the great Goan gurus gone?' -- I think many of those who worked with you and your students will happily give you that title! You’ve been a good teacher, good boss, good colleague and a good friend. It’s been great knowing you these past 24 years. God, and your doctors, gave you a new lease of life – grab it with both hands and enjoy it!! Have a great life.
A colleague from the Maharashtra Herald

Gauri Gharpure said...

Dear Sir,

Wishing you a happy and healthy birthday..

It was really nice going through this post. You have been a wonderful teacher, a taskmaster. You had very fixed ideas with regards to the written word and that has helped us so much! Sometimes, your fixation with how a copy should or should not be seemed really wierd, but with time, with my short time on the desk now, i have realised how lucky we were to have a teacher who had such high expectations of his students.

The internet -- and your blog-- has given us an opportunity to be students for a lifetime. I am truly grateful to this medium, that you have so wholeheartedly accepted, so that you can teach and we can learn forever.

Wishing you many wonderful years ahead,

Gauri Gharpure

The Ketchup Girl said...


reading this filled me with tremendous joy, love and nostalgia. You have much love in your heart to give to this world. Thanks for sharing a part of you. loved reading every bit of it! Wishing you all the very best and a very very happy birthday!

The Ketchup Girl

Vinita said...

Hi Joe

A very happy birthday to you , though belated. Such a sweet autobiographical sketch. I didn't know your mother was a legendary singer! Pl post a special one on her - would love to read about her and if possible hear her too. Those were the days when we were born and brought up amidst rich values be it at home, school or college! Aren't u glad that you were part of that era? all the very best to u and all the good wishes. Happy bloggimg,
cheers and warm rgds

abd said...

Hello sir,
Your blog is giving us new apportunity to explore you and learn. MANY MANY THANKS.

Anonymous said...

Hello Sir,

Wishing you wonderful days ahead.
It was a fabulous experience to be taught by you at the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune.


Sushant Kulkarni said...

Wishing you a very birthday, though belated. Thanks a lot for writing such a beautiful blog. I will read it as regularly and sincerely as your editing classes that taught us much more than editing.

feddabonn said...

good god, joe. 58 is hardly old! just differently abled. i know teenagers who still listen to led zep. kick butt, man!

Amith Prabhu said...

Mr Jor Pinto was one of the many faculty members we had at Symbiosis but one of the few who had a set of ideologies that were noteworthy. He will be remembered for his strictness, style and stance on various subjects. It is enriching to read this mini- auto bio and looking forward to a book taht he will write before his 60th birthday. Joe Sir - 3 cheers to you.

Dr. Thanawala said...

Dear Pinto Sir,
I am deeply moved by your values. I can relate to most of them, as I share them in common with you. I thought the poem echoing my feelings when on my SSY trip!!
My Mumbai has also changed dramatically. I only go when I have to. Pune is catching up fast.

I still repeat my request: Please write about your experiences of HEALTH, FOOD AND KEEPING A HEALTHY HEART. It will help someone to PREVENT OR SURVIVE A HEART ATTACK!!

Dr. Avanish Thanawala

Kajal said...

Nostalgia is always beautiful. Those were the days...

Hope you have many more great years ahead sir.

Smita said...

Got transported to an era in black and white. I would call it a sketch rather than a prose. It's so vivid.

Aditi Kumar said...

Beautiful post Sir! Makes me look forward to all the years that are yet to come in my life for they will take me where you are now. Full of memories, experiences, nostalgia and reflections. Thank you for this wonderful insight into your life!

Kissing Kin said...

i envy your life Sir..your experiences sound and seem like miniature postcards.sigh! Life back then was so beautiful!.. a very very happy birthday..may you have many more! cheers!

Joe Pinto said...

Thanks for all your wonderful and encouraging comments. Keep them coming.

Mohan - how kind of you to suggest that many of those who worked with me and my students will happily give me the title, "Goan guru"?

Gauri - was I a taskmaster in class, was I then? Why then in class, I have even higher expectations of my students now. And you, dear Gauri, are one of my best.

Ketchup Girl - now you know why I thanked you so profusely for that lovely piece with pics about your house in Cuttack?

Vinita - coming up, a piece dedicated solely to my mum, on the occasion of her 40th death anniversary; watch out for 2 May 2009.

abd, sushant - thanks for your kind words.

Baruk - led zep all the way; no way, not old yet; only learning to accept I'm at railway gate No. 58. No more, no less. Keep the poems flowing.

Amith - yes, thank you for noticing and recalling: strictness, style and stance - the key word - ideology, without going overboard; be human.

Thanawala - this survivor has many tales yet to tell; like democracy, tales of the heart; from the heart and by the heart. My mother even today sings in my heart.

Kajal, Smita, Aditi Kumar, Kissing Kin - the world in all its glory lies before you. What lies ahead? (pun intended!!!).

"Oh talk not to me of a name great in story (like my post)/ For the days of our youth are the days of our glory / And the myrtle and ivy of sweet two-and-twenty / Are worth all your laurels, though ever so plenty." That's as much of the sonnet by Shakespeare that I recall offhand.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Joe Pinto said...

Correction: The lines of the poem are not by Shakespeare but by Lord Byron.

Stanzas written on the Road between Florence and Pisa

Oh, talk not to me of a name great in story;
The days of our youth are the days of our glory;
And the myrtle and ivy of sweet two-and-twenty
Are worth all your laurels, though ever so plenty.

What are garlands and crowns to the brow that is wrinkled?
'Tis but as a dead flower with May-dew besprinkled:
Then away with all such from the head that is hoary!
What care I for the wreaths that can only give glory?

O Fame!—if I e'er took delight in thy praises,
'Twas less for the sake of thy high-sounding phrases,
Than to see the bright eyes of the dear one discover
She thought that I was not unworthy to love her.

There chiefly I sought thee, there only I found thee;
Her glance was the best of the rays that surround thee;
When it sparkled o'er aught that was bright in my story,
I knew it was love, and I felt it was glory.

Warm regards,
- Joe

kanchi' said...

Time is a real and constant motion that always rolls us along. As one looks back on their youth and wonder where those years have gone, its important that she/he feels that no matter how far they have come in life, one should never take even a single breath for granted and have the humility to feel small when they stand beside the ocean...

I hope you always give faith fighting chance as you have always done before...

Your blog was a good and inspiring read.

Take care
Akansha Yadav

Different Strokes said...

Dear Sir,
The simplicity in your thoughts & the simpler way to express are enticing. Covering an entire gamut of events, so beautifully you've roped life's facets with crystal words. Thanks for guiding generations!
Best regards,

Snehith Kumbla said...

Sir, a joy reading the post, would suggest changing the background of the post - like black background, white text, would make for a better reading experience