Sunday, May 31, 2009

Please resist racism ... of any kind

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Students being beaten up in Australia! Were the attacks racist? Even from the initial sketchy descriptions, I was sure the attacks were racist. The news and images took me back in time to Leeds, Yorkshire, England, during 1990-93.

My visa read "Accompanying wife". Kalpana had won an open merit Commonwealth scholarship to do her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Leeds. We landed at Heathrow airport, with its arrogant immigration officers (white and Asian).

We were then dumped in a bed & breakfast cubby-hole in a cold, wet and miserably damp London. Outside, I saw the statues of the imperialist and racist, Cecil Rhodes, and the murderer of Jallianwala Bagh, Reginald Dyer. Clinging to the fire of Shahid Bhagat Singh, close to my heart, I prepared for the worst.

Now it's recession, and I can empathise with the anxiety of the jobless in Australia. For authentic information from Indian sources and students in Australia about what's happening in Melbourne and elsewhere see the website of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA), which was set up in 2002. According to FISA, more than 500 (!!!) incidents against Asians have taken place during the last seven years.

When we stayed in Leeds in 1990, the UK and USA had got together to attack Saddam Hussein, who had invaded Kuwait. Anyone, whose face even remotely resembled Saddam's with his beard, was targeted in Leeds, which is next door to Bradford, with its highly visible Asian, more precisely Pakistani Muslim population.

Within the first weeks of shopping in July 1990 at the Leeds city centre, we knew that we must avoid going out on Friday and Saturday evenings. The weekly salaries were paid in the markets, latest by 6pm. Then the favourite sport of "Paki-bashing" would begin. First, the lager louts would down some beers with a "vindaloo" or "curry". Then they would pick upon the Asians -- Indians, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, who ran the restaurants that served the cheap vindaloo and hot curry -- all of whom were tarred with the derogatory "Paki!" brush.

That branding took me back to the Mumbai of the 1970s. Then, the Shiv Sena fanatics branded all south Indians as "madrasis" or "lungiwalas" and all Hindi-speaking north Indians as "bhaiyyas". Sadly, in the Noughties of the 21st century, the MNS goons hound north Indians across Maharashtra in a macabre repeat. (All PR and Corp Comm professionals, please note the usage "brand".)

Sheer ignorance drives racists to hate

I vaguely felt it then, but I am certain of it now: it is sheer ignorance; whether they are white teenagers in Melbourne, Victoria, of 2009; white lager louts in Leeds, Yorkshire, of 1990; or son-of-the-soil Marathi-speaking shiv sainiks in Mumbai of the 1970s; all these persons are driven to hate by sheer ignorance.

First, they are un-educated, though they may possess degrees. Second, they are afraid of the "outsider" or the "foreigner". Third, they do not act on their own and are prey to racist propaganda. They are supported by political parties or fringe groups, no matter how tiny. And above all, they have the secret sympathy and hidden support of the local police, many of whom also subscribe to the narrow blinkered mindset and harbour hate for the intrepid migrant.

Walking down the back-to-back terraces of Woodsley, Burley and Autumn Grove in Leeds, I recall the pinch-cold faces peering out from the bedrooms above. First, hit the spit of hate; then "Sorry, mate!" with a sly smirk that said, "Damn, I missed me Paki!" target. Walking down the city centre, that spit of hate would come spattering down from the West Yorkshire buses. And always the "Sorry!" with that smirk.

Outside the Leeds Kirkgate open market, standing near the bus-stop, one cold and wet, grey and muggy day, the only reason I missed getting bashed up was that I was wearing the typical black Gannon overcoat, worn by the local police, which I had bought at the second-hand Oxfam store. So the thugs mistook me for a cop!

But hundreds of Asians in England had not been as lucky as me. I have a detailed file and carefully collected clippings of racist attacks on Asians, some of them fatal. And always the police managed to cover them up. But at least the British government has admitted the existence of racism and sincerely struggles to cope with it. Now Australia must face up to the bitter truth of racism too.

Vivek Pinto, my school-mate from St Mary's, Byculla, Mumbai, who's currently in Tokyo thinks the racism in Australia is, to use a cliche, only the tip of the racial iceberg. He had sent me an NYT link long ago, before the current explosion of racism: "What Color is that Baby?" (NYT, 11 May 2009), by Bob Herbert, an op-ed columnist.

I recall with love and affection

Were all my experiences of Leeds and Yorkshire, so bitter and racist? Certainly not! I recall with love and affection:
- Rev. Paul King and the International Student Evening at Emmanuel Church every Wednesday;
- the wonderful teachers at the Fourman Nursery and Mrs. Burgess of Rosebank school, where our daughter Pallavi learned "me" English for the first time;
- the peace "Not in Our Name" marchers in London, resisting the mounted police of the rottweiler Maggie Thatcher;
- the gentle Simon Welsh and Ron Strong of Unipol Leeds, house-hunters on our behalf in Leeds;
- Ann Heilmann, annotating her feminist studies;
- the dignified old folk sing-song-ing, "Tra, la, love ..." in me open market;
- Peter Coltman's homely offer to learn on his "Typing Tutor"; and
- the always warmth of the Leeds Central Library, free with ten books to borrow at a time, where I discovered how the English dreaded Shivaji, calling him "mountain rat", and feared Kanoji Angre, branding him "pirate".

And how ever, how much, can I thank the ever-gracious Ekbote family (Sunalini, Anjali, and the late Mr. Ekbote) of Leeds for the unasked warmth with which they invited us to their hearth and held us to their hearts? And the Banhattis of York: Rajeev and Seema, Baba and the late Aaee, Ruchi and later Suhrud? For me, these two families made the "Cold and Wet" of England human and the subtle racism bearable; and re-assured me that the welcome "Heat and Dust" of India could not be far behind. ("If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" sang Shelley.)

Were all my experiences in Mumbai tarnished by the Shiv Sena? Certainly not! I recall with love, affection and solidarity:
- the wonderful comrades working with Prabhakar Sanzgiri, Madan Naik and Dr. Vivek Monteiro at Kaju Tekdi, Bhandup;
- the late "Feriwala" Francis and Bhabhi and their children Jyoti, Rajesh and the late Ladis;
- my Vistas friends at the Centre for Education and Documentation (CED), Mumbai, behind Regal Cinema and the Taj Hotel;
- the Mukadam of Manmad with his walrus moustache learning me the "bara-khadi" of Marathi; and
- my four years of rural apprenticeship in Pathardi, where I fell in love with the Marathi-speaking people.

So I survived.

So have dreaming migrants in the past. So will bold migrants today. And daring migrants to come tomorrow. We shall overcome. We are not afraid. We shall resist the cruelties and harassment, and beatings and the discrimination of the racists ... of all colours.

Other lands, other struggles, other experiences

As and when I pick up other experiences and sharing, I'll keep updating under this section. The first piece is by Aparna Das-Sadukhan, my student from SIMC, Pune, who as "Ketchup Girl" is respected for her blog, "Life and Times of a Cha Lover". She stays in Sydney, Australia, and shares her experiences and views in her post, "My two pence on curry bashing". (4 June 2009). Note the subtle racism, unlike the beating and bashing, many other Indians are receiving.

Mohan Sinha from the old Maharashtra Herald, Pune, thinks it's pure envy: despite the recession, the Indians are doing reasonably well, while the Australians suffer. See his post: "The Ugly Australian, it's just envy, mate!" (5 June 2009).

I'll keep adding more as you send them and I get them.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 31st May 2009.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lessons my mother learned me - Part 5

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Words and songs. Words I have loved; my mother learned me to say and write them. Songs I have loved; my mother learned me to sing and hum them.

I used to hear from my uncle, the late Pius D’Cruz of Malad, Mumbai, that my mother Mary Therese D’Cruz, was a great Konkani playback singer. He said, in her heydays, she was called the “Lata Mangeshkar of the Konkani stage”.

Born on 6 October 1925 and educated in Mangalore, she came to Bombay with her brother and started to teach English in Hume High School, run by the American Marathi Mission at Byculla. My uncle finally got a job in Life Insurance Corporation. He too acted on the Konkani stage.

As a child, I had seen my mother’s song-book, from which she used to sing us songs. It was a plain ruled exercise book, the kind children use in school, and Mummy had written out the songs in her beautiful cursive hand-writing.

I wrote to my family, if any of them had seen her song-book. My sister Flavia has replied, “I have her song book and I have preserved it well. It would be of antique value now, I think. Some entries go back to 1940!” That means my mother started her song-book when she was 15 years old. As and when I lay my hands on a photo-copy of the song-book, I shall reproduce some of the songs.


Here I have copied out the anthem of St Agnes College, Mangalore, where she studied and whose motto is “God is our Strength” to give you an idea of the values, which my mother held dear. She was brought up by the Apostolic Carmel (A.C) nuns, who were one of the deep and pervasive influences on her gentle yet strong character:

“God is our strength, let us commit
Our lives into His hands this day;
Trusting in Him to compass it
That we may find the perfect way.

“Fearless of foes, we cast aside
The days of ease we loved of yore;
And stand to the shock of battle-tide
Despite all trials hard and sore.

“God is our strength, why fear the foe?
His love like armour doth enfold
Our weak and wayward nature so,
That vanquished lies the tempter bold.

“Behold His arm of valour strong,
We'll cling to it in stormy fray,
Nor fear we any harm or wrong,
God is our strength, now and for aye.”

When I read the words of this anthem (I do not recall my mother singing it at home to us), I can hear the lyrical resonances of the Romantic English poets like Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth, whom I have loved all my life.


But I do remember another song that I hum to myself even today when I am down and out. My mother taught it to me. The song soothes and comforts me like a lullaby that puts a child to sleep. I can feel the caress of her soft hands and the smell of the “Afghan Snow” she used on her face and the Mysore Sandalwood soap on her body, as I sing it forlornly to myself.

The song she taught me is actually a Welsh song, “The Ash Grove”. I have taken it from the Net for your reading pleasure, though I can distinctly recall that the words my mother used to sing to us were different:

“Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander
When twilight is fading I pensively rove.
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove.

“Twas there while the blackbird was cheerfully singing
I first met that dear one, the joy of my heart.
Around us for gladness the bluebells were ringing
Ah! then little thought I, how soon we should part.

“Still glows the bright sunshine o’er valley and mountain,
Still warbles the blackbird its note from the tree;
Still trembles the moonbeam on streamlet and fountain,
But what are the beauties of Nature to me?

“With sorrow, deep sorrow, my bosom is laden,
All day I go wandering in search of my love!
Ye echoes! oh tell me, where is the sweet maiden?
She sleeps ‘neath the green turf down by the Ash Grove.”

I have also discovered on 10 June 2009 some recordings on YouTube, which give a feel for the folk beauty of this Welsh song. The first is from the film "Pride and Prejudice", based on the classic novel by Jane Austen. The song Ash Grove starts at 1:02. These are the words I fondly recall my mother singing to us. Second, John Kovac plucks the song on harp, the music coming through so clearly for those who want to pick up the notes. Rosa Wol, soprano, also sings Ash Grove. You can feel the lingering beauty of the folk song by a classical singer. And then Nana Mouskouri presents her own husky version.


If I recall these words and hum the tune to myself, I also remember the beautiful Hindi film songs she used to sing. Later, much later, when she was no more, my father gave me some audio-cassettes from his personal collection. Among them was his favourite song: “Tu mera chand, main teri chandni” from Dillagi (1949). The singers are Suraiyya and Shyam. Lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni and music composed by Naushad.

“Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.
Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.

Ho, nahin dil ka lagaanaa koyi dillagi, koyi dillagi,
Nahin dil ka lagaanaa koyi dillagi, koyi dillagi.

“Saath hi jeenaa saath hi marnaa,
Ulfat ki hai reet, haan, ulfat ki hai reet.
Saath hi jeenaa saath hi marnaa,
Ulfat ki hai reet, haan, ulfat ki hai reet.

Pyaar ki murli hardam gaaye teri lagan ke geet.
Pyaar ki murli hardam gaaye teri lagan ke geet.

Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.
Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.

“Bhool na jaanaa rut ye suhaani,
Ye din aur ye raat, haan, ye din aur ye raat.
Bhool na jaanaa rut ye suhaani,
Ye din aur ye raat, haan, ye din aur ye raat.

Jab tak chamke chaand sitaare, dekho chhoote na saath.
Jab tak chamke chaand sitaare, dekho chhoote na saath.

Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.
Ho, nahin dil ka lagaanaa koyi dillagi, koyi dillagi.”

Theirs was a love marriage of the 1950s, consumated along the railway line. And I can recall my mother singing this haunting 1949 number, at my father's request. She died on 2 May 1969, just 20 days before their nineteenth wedding anniversary. Tears used to roll down his eyes, as he thought about her, listening to this black and white melody. He out-lived her by 32 years and passed away in Pune on 26 March 2001.

One day, while I was browsing I chanced upon the Scottish folk-song "Roaming in the Gloaming" by Sir Harry Lauder, a 12-inch, 4-minute recording from the 1930s. I recall my mother singing the chorus lines. By and by, the tune would come to me, whenever I used to feel down and needed to get up and walk again. Click here.

I have already described how she learned me to cook. And she also learned me how to control and modulate my voice. She trained me to exercise my lungs and control my breathing so that I could “throw” my voice, while speaking and singing. I use this technique today when I give lectures, though the latest microphone and loudspeaker technology has conspired to make speakers and singers lazy, just as computers and the Internet have made journalists slothful.


Gauri Gharpure has requested me, “Can we see a picture of the great lady?” In response to her query, I quote my sister’s letter again, “I have a not-so-clear picture of Mummy. Dad used to say she had an aversion for photos. Seems when you and Leslie were small (before I was born), on one happy day they were sitting and admiring both of you. Mum said, ‘We must take a family picture.’ The very next day it seems both of you came down with a bad cold and fever, which eventually led to whooping cough. Soon, she had a pair of sick babies to care for the next three months! So that’s the reason why she had this aversion for taking pictures.”

My father also told me that he used to carry a beautiful photograph of our Mummy, which she had given him in the days before they got married. He kept her photo, which showed her in pigtails, in his wallet safely in the back-pocket of his trousers. One day, his purse was picked as he was getting on to a BEST bus. And gone was the picture of our beloved mother in pigtails!

Eventually, because of the manner in which he lost her picture to a pick-pocket, my father stopped stitching back-pockets for his trousers! Even today, I do not carry a wallet, preferring instead to carry my money in re-used plastic pouches that are made to pack milk.

Because of our mother’s aversion for having her or our photographs taken, we do not have her picture. My sister has a not-so-clear picture. So Gauri, you can see the blurred picture of my mother (see the margin at the top of my blog), now that my sister has sent me the scanned picture on 27 May.

But what do I care that I do not possess a clear photograph of the mother I love? She is engraved in the deepest recesses of my heart and mind; she abides in the secret nooks and crannies of my memory; she sings her songs and hums to me as I drift off into sleep and move awake; she is imprinted in my mind’s eye; she stands fearless before me today, walks with me, her hand on my shoulder; undiminished and unvanquished by the passage of forty years.


Much after I wrote this post, I chanced upon this 9 November 2008 poem,
Kya tum samjhogi ma? (Will you understand, mother?) by Smriti Mudgal, one of my SIMC students, who has already written two beautiful pieces earlier for my blog on Mumbai and a tribute to her school-teacher, the late Chitra ma'am. Smriti has a blog "Ambaree" in Hindi which I could not read till today, 4 June 2009, due to the Devanagari font. But I share the universal feelings Smriti expresses, and I am sure, that my mother though gone 40 years now would have understood.

This is the fifth and final part, concluding the series of memoirs on my mother. I await your comments and suggestions, since I intend to publish a small printed book in her memory.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, Monday, 25 May 2009.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lessons my mother learned me - Part 4

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Small is beautiful, and some of the smaller lessons I learned from my mother I remember today as vividly as her love for Konkani.

For example, her lessons in cooking. My mother learned me all the basics of cooking - making rice, dal, and vegetables. And I can clean, cut and cook meat and fish. But I do not like chicken. My mother, however, took a lot of trouble in learning me patiently the intricacies of spices and grinding masalas on the traditional stone used in Mangalorean cooking.

I recall sitting with her as she measured out the spices for various dishes and I was her obedient helper for grinding masalas, cutting vegetables, salads and fruits. She used to say, "Tuka aun randap shikaitan. Tuzhem kajar zalya uprant, muzhea sunek, muzho udas yeje." (I will teach you to cook. After you get married, my daughter-in-law must remember me.)

I think she was a traditional wife, accepting a woman's duty to cook for the family and the home. But, secretly, I know she hoped for another world in the future, where women would be equal to men and work shoulder to shoulder. And for that brave new "Amrita Pritam" world, she wanted to prepare her eldest son, by learning him how to cook.

Unfortunately, by the time I got married in 1982, my mother had been gone 13 years. But I tell my wife that if I can cook, it is because of my mother. I cannot claim to be a good cook, though I can cook well enough to live without having to depend on others. However, cooking is not something I would do for a living.


How do I miss her lessons, let me count the ways?

As a little boy, I remember we had just entered a new house in Nagpur. It was pitch dark and the railway khalasis, who unpacked the luggage and the boxes went away leaving us three children alone with our mother. I must have been five years old. And one of my memories is carrying a kerosene lantern at the head of a line, with my brother and sister behind me with my mother at the end. And I can hear her comforting voice behind me, "Bhein naka, Babu, aun thuzhea patlyan asan." (Do not be afraid, Babu, I am behind you.")

She is not with me today. But I do not fear the dark. For she is always behind me, taking care of the unknown.

She always called me "Babu" at home. As I grew up, I used to feel ashamed when she called me "Babu" in front of my friends. For I felt I had grown up and was too big to be called "Babu". My teachers used to call me "Joe" in school and college. But she did not mend her fond ways.

Today as I reflect on her habit of calling me "Babu", I prefer to believe it was a pet name for her eldest son, a honeymoon child, born within nine months of her marriage on 22 May 1950. Calculate the days, I was born on 5 March 1951.

Do not be afraid.


One more story, my grandmother "Manjya" told me when I grew older and I will be done with this fourth part of my serial memoir. "Manjya" (why did we call our mother's mother by that name?), told me that once when I was a little baby in my mother's arms and she was expecting her second child, she had been waiting at a bus-stop.

Suddenly, she was overcome by a fainting spell. My mother handed me over to a stranger saying, "Aka sambhal." (Take care of him.) And fainted.

Even today, when I see a pregnant woman carrying a baby, I recall my mother at that bus-stop and see myself being carried by my mother. Maybe such a story stirs in me compassion for the weak and helpless. Maybe it is such a story that inspires me to trust complete strangers. For didn't my mother entrust me to the care of a stranger that day? Is that where our values are born?

Trust people, even strangers. Help the weak.


How I miss the lessons my mother learned me?

Next Sunday, in the final and concluding part of this 5-part series on my mother, I shall write about the simple songs my mother sang me, and the great singing my mother learned me.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, Sunday, 17th May 2009.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lessons my mother learned me - Parts 2, 3

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Many of you, and even some relatives, were taken aback by the exclusive and fierce passion with which, according to my description in Part-1 of this memoir, my mother loved and lived the Konkani language.

A few words of background about my mother tongue may put her love for Konkani into perspective for you. Konkani used to be one of the “persecuted” languages. The Portuguese, who ruled Goa ruthlessly for nearly five centuries, proscribed and banned Konkani; they hounded the Konkani-speaking peoples mercilessly.

Soon the sweet and mellifluous language with its song-song intonations and gentle lexicon (recall the great dance and song from the Raj Kapoor film “Bobby”) was driven into hiding, degraded into being uttered by maid-servants, cooks, farmers, labourers and lowly, humble menial folk.

A few wise and learned Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, both Christian and Hindu, who were aware of Konkani’s ancient linguistic heritage, nursed the language in the private secrecy of their personal homes.

Severe persecution (Goans were skinned and flayed alive) and conversions also forced the Konkani-speaking peoples to flee and migrate on a mass scale. This is the beginning of the Konkani Diaspora; still going on, though for entirely different reasons now.

With her sensitive heart, perceptive mind and vast reading, my mother inherited this Konkani legacy and was determined to preserve Konkani, even if it was only in her own family and home.

Our family, the D’cruzes and the Pintos, knows that my mother’s ancestors, mostly with the Rodrigues surname, moved away from the taluka of Pernem, in Bardez, northern Goa, and found refuge and asylum in Mangalore more than two hundred years ago.

The Goan origins on my father’s side are unclear, though there are various unconfirmed hearsays that trace the Pinto line to the region of Cuncoliem, in Salcette, southern Goa.

The Konkani-speaking peoples, scattered throughout the world, were overjoyed when Goa was liberated from the cruel Portuguese colonialists in 1961. Goa became a state in 1987. After a long struggle, Konkani was declared the official language of Goa.

The sweet sing-song Konkani ‘bhas’ could now raise her shy head and walk, freed from official persecution; and out of the suppressive shadow of its sister languages, the dominant and arrogant Marathi, as well as the tolerant and protective Kannada, and come into her own.


This background of persecution, dear reader, is necessary to appreciate why my mother, a teacher who spoke fluent English and an ardent student of history, barred us her children from speaking English at home. She knew that only under her own care, supervision, protection and vigilance; within the four walls of her own home where she reigned supreme with the consent of our father; completely out of reach and insulated from the cruel persecution of the State and the other dominant languages, her own tongue could be nurtured and survive – among her children.

During 1956-63, the lovely and quiet years I spent as a little boy in the railway towns of Jabalpur, Amla, Nagpur, Solapur and Manmad, my mother was able to imbibe in me love for and intimacy with Konkani. She is gone forty years, snatched from us. But ‘her’ Konkani voice abides with me like a holy picture, which even Death cannot steal like a thief in daylight.

I speak Konkani comfortably and with ease even today, because of her diligent ‘home schooling’ till I was 18 years old, and the occasional practice during langourous visits to our relatives in Mangalore. My mother was not, nor can I be, a fanatic supporter of Konkani, come what may.

Like her and my father, I am aware of the innate weaknesses, even among those who claim to be her protectors, for sometimes even ‘the fence may eat the crop’. But I can defend ‘amchi bhas’ from those who seek to confine and arrest her as a dialect of Marathi; or others who look down upon her, because she does not have one unique script.

How come then, you may ask, we studied in English medium schools? Sheer expediency. There were no Konkani medium schools in Mangalore, so my father and mother studied in Kannada medium schools, only later going to English medium colleges, my mother to St Agnes and my father to St Aloysius, both in Mangalore.

My father was working in the Signals & Telecommunication (S & T) Department of the Central Railways. So we were put in English medium schools, initially railway schools and then Jesuit or Convent schools, so that we did not ‘suffer’ when my father got transferred, which could be anywhere and without prior intimation, to a region where the medium of instruction in schools was Marathi or Hindi.

Later, when I got married to Kalpana, a Pune girl whose mother tongue is Marathi, it was natural for me that our daughter Pallavi, like my wife, studied in a Marathi medium school, with ‘semi-English’ for the science subjects. The school is called His Highness Chintamanrao Patwardhan (HHCP) High School for Girls, better known as ‘Huzurpaga’ (‘paga’, a stable, for the horses of ‘huzur’, his highness) located on Laxmi Road, Pune.


Besides an abiding love for Konkani, my mother’s affair with that ancient language (with so many words of its corpus taken directly from Sanskrit) also learned me another lesson: the strong and mighty should protect the weak and meek. Throughout my career as a working journalist and a working editor, I have single-mindedly, openly and proudly championed minority issues. Let me take one example.

Encouraged and supported by my veteran seniors – S.D Wagh, Nalini Gera, Harry David, Taher Shaikh and Y.V. Krishnamurthy – as well as my warm colleagues – Vijay Lele, D. Sanjay, Ashok Gopal, Gouri Agtey-Athale, Usha Somayaji, Huned Contractor, Babu Kalyanpur and Mohan Sinha – in the thriving (till the late 90s) but now defunct Maharashtra Herald, I used to write, edit and rewrite stories as part of our ‘community’ beat, revealing the non-Maharashtrian, non-Marathi-speaking face of Pune.

Since 1983, we unearthed the Malayalis, Kannadigas, Tulus, Telugus, Tamils of south India in the bylanes of Rasta and Somwar Peth; the Bengalis and Oriyas in Khadki; the Gujaratis and Rajasthanis spread across the old city peths; the Hindi-speaking uttar bharatiya ‘biradari’ of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; the Punjabis and Sindhis (to whom the Sangtanis and Geras belong).

On this journey of discovering Pune, the spirit of my mother accompanied me, urging me to record the cultural silhouettes of the migrant communities, dig up their early history, their joys and sorrows as various communities arrived, struck roots and settled down … in a foreign land.

Aided by my mother’s love for Konkani culture, I could gain insights into the stirring motivations and driving forces that gave birth to and sustained the various community organisations, associations and clubs, which enrich the ancient city of Pune, providing an opportunity for the majority of Marathi-speaking people an opportunity to learn that India is, in reality, a throbbing and pulsating “unity in diversity”.

I soon realised that, try as they might and would, no religious fanatic or language chauvinist or opportunist manipulator, intoxicated by political ambition and poisoned by the resurgent ideology of a mythical golden past, could dare threaten the strong bonds laid down deep and watered daily by the lively communities, who rightfully and justly may call Pune – their very own.


Yes, my mother loved Konkani ‘exclusively’ when she sensed concrete threats to her existence. But she also loved all the other languages of India and the world ‘inclusively’, when she tasted their sweet literature.

I repeat what I wrote in Part-1 of this memoir. “I see my mother in a kimono dress, sitting by a lighted window with the soft light falling across her face in profile. A book or magazine is in her hands and she is reading, head bent and often glancing around to keep an eye on us, her children. At other times, she is in the kitchen cooking, softly humming to herself some Konkani “cantara” (songs). But mostly she is reading, and sometimes, writing letters.”

So she recognised that her eldest son was, like her, also a passionate lover of the written and printed word and introduced me to the world of the universal imagination.

From among the hundreds of writers, I cite a few:
Russian: Dostevesky, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Pushkin;
Hindi: Munshi Premchand, Bhishma Sahni, Amrita Pritam;
French: Balzac, Maupassant, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Voltaire;
Bengali: Rabindranath Tagore;
Americans: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman;
Malayali: Vaikom Mohammed Bashir;
. . . and hundreds of other obsessed creatures like herself, story-tellers and weavers of books.

If you scrutinise this partial list, you may spot the defiance and rebellion in the names, their secular and universal feeling for all humans, the longing for peace and compassion for the poor and suffering.

These authors and their writings remain my companions, long after my mother passed away suddenly 40 years ago; but not before placing me gently into their safe laps and clasping their hands.


That’s all for my weekly column, this Sunday. Parts 4 and 5 of this memoir on my mother, Amy Pinto (nee Mary Therese D’Cruz) of Mangalore, Karnataka, will appear on the coming Sundays, 17 and 24 May.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, Sunday, 10 May 2009.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

NOTICE: Sorry for not posting this Sunday

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

"Due to circumstances beyond my control, I could not post the second part of memoirs about my mother. I regret the inconvenience caused to my readers."

This is the standard excuse one usually gives, when one misses a column. But such an opening paragraph is a cliche and, hence, would be opaque and dishonest. So listen to what happened.

I am involved with a teacher training program, which started on 1 May and ends on 23 May. By 3 pm on Sunday, I had written only 238 words, so I could not post an incomplete piece. I was thinking of writing a notice, letting you know that my column would not appear this Sunday, but I kept putting it off. Today is Thursday and I can see no hope of completing my column. Since this week is nearly through, I have decided to post both the second and third parts on Sunday, 10 May.

Those of you who follow my blog faithfully and regularly must be disappointed; I apologise to them.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, Thursday, 7th May 2009.