Thursday, May 19, 2011

Can you see me, waving at railway gate No.60?

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Trains form my earliest memories, since I was a child of four in 1955. Our mother used to say she felt we were ‘born on railway trains or platforms’! Our father was a railway man, all his working life. So, I spontaneously think of Life itself as a train journey.

Now, I see myself standing at railway gate No.60. Can you see me, waving at you?

This “60” piece has five starting points:

1. My auto-biographical sketch: “Along the line, at railway gate No. 58” on this blog.

2. My catching-up piece, “This is me, Joe Pinto, since 1967”, written as I was preparing for the 11-1-11 re-union of my Class of 1967 school-mates from the St Mary’s (SSC) High School, Mazagaon, Mumbai. (Read this piece on my source-blog, “Journey Unbegun”.)

3. The memoir of my mother, “Lessons my mother learned me”, in five parts on this blog.
(Read all five parts as one piece on “Journey Unbegun”

4. Addressing various issues, raised from time to time, by my students, in posts like “Rules of the Road” and other pieces, on this blog.

5. A birthday gift to one of my sincerest students, Gunjan Chaurasia, “When I was 27”. (Read the original piece here on “Journey Unbegun”.)


"A man's memory is his own private literature." – Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Looking back at my journey, how do I see myself, as I stand at railway gate No.60? This is how one of my caring gurus, Dr Devendra Agochiya, sums me up: “A journalist by profession, and a trainer by choice.” Also see my 5 Ws and 1 H, on the margins of this blog.

“Along the line, at railway gate No. 58” traces my efforts to reconcile myself with aging and retirement. Today at 60, maybe I will not stop working. But I no longer want to do, what I do not like to do. I am coming to terms with work, in a radically different way.

In my “58” piece, I recalled the seven main streams of influence in my life and paid tribute to my parents, teachers, students, friends and colleagues, who helped me to discover who I am.

Their single-most important contribution was to help me be myself:
- comfortable in my own skin;
- a one-eyed Joe, with my spectacles on my nose from the age of eight;
- with words as my friends and books as my lovers;
- walking ‘the road less travelled’ with a jhola on my shoulder; and
- placing people before profits and man (woman) before markets.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance” – Oscar Wilde.

They learned me to love myself; love all the peoples of the world; make all the children of our world become my own children; love and care for my students passionately; be at peace with myself. They told me that I deserve to be myself; that I am the only beautiful person I fully own; so, I should not want or need to be someone else, no matter how desirable or successful.


I can arrange my 60 years into nine periods:

1. 1951-61 My ‘lost childhood’: roaming like a gypsy, passing through railways
stations: Amla, Jabalpur, Nagpur, Solapur, Manmad.
2. 1961-71 In Mumbai: at school and college.
3. 1971-82 A break from my studies; living out of a jhola, a full-timer with
various NGOs in Village Maharashtra and Mumbai slums.
4. 1982-90 In Pune: married; working with Maharashtra Herald (MH);
start teaching in 1987 at University of Pune; in 1990 at SIMC.
5. 1990-93 Accompanying wife to Leeds, England, to take care of my 3 year-old daughter, while she did her PhD.
6. 1993-96 Working with a much-weakened MH; resign from MH.
7. 1996-2003 Setting up and working with the Corp Comm Dept at a private
company in Pune and editing ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara (MSMT)’.
8. 2003-04 Editor of Gomantak Times, Panaji, Goa.
9. 2004 >> In Pune: training at BJS since 2005; teaching at journalism courses.

Of my ‘lost childhood’ days (1951-61), my three years at the railway junction of Manmad (1958-61) were the most wonderful. What would I give for all the money in the world? A chance to meet my lost school-mates … when I was little in Manmad. I shall devote 10-15 posts to these three memorable years.

The first 10 years of my ‘lost childhood’ in the railway towns on the Central Railway and my 13 years, working at the Desk in Maharashtra Herald, Pune, have one word in common: ‘small’.

These two ‘small’ periods of my life have shaped my world-view: of the small as beautiful (but the big as ugly); the slow as steady (but the fast as fatal); the low as good (but the high as vulgar); the hot as Heaven (but the cold as Hell) and so on and so forth.


I recall I left Manmad, for Mumbai, when they were building the bridge across the railway track; and just after Rexy, our beloved dog, had been mistakenly poisoned, despite having a legal dog collar.

Boarding school in St. Stanislaus, Bandra, during 1961-63 in standards VI-VII, was bleak. I have written about those lonely two years in the book, based on the five-part memoir of my mother on this blog.

The saving grace? For the first time, a teacher took over my life and longing and revealed to me the secret and magic world of words and books. This was Ms. Philomena D’Souza (nee Valladares), my English teacher. Where have all my great Goan gurus gone? Remind me to devote an entire future post to how I searched her out over 40 years and found her, and what she means to me -- today.

Boarding was also my initiation into football (as a right-outer) and hockey (as a left-outer, who could reverse-flick the ball to the top of the ‘D’) and to Don Camilo, the Catholic priest during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. (Later, I would add George Orwell, Christopher Caudwell and Martha Gellhorn to that red list.) The 1962 war with China appeared as “clippings” on the St Stanislaus notice-board.

Here in the boarding, in a big city school, a boy from ‘small’ places faced the big world of competition – marks and ranks – and came out right on top. (But this topper was not to last out long. By 1970, I had decided that the “rat race” was not for me.)


I joined St Mary’s (SSC), Mazagaon, during 1963-67 in Stds 8 to 11. Here my love for English was nurtured as well as my interest in science and mathematics was aroused. I passed out in 1967, winning the Esso Prize as the best all-rounder.

I got my first pair of long pants to wear at the prize distribution ceremony and Vullu Uncle, one of my father’s cousins, who worked at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia during the 1960s, gave me my first wrist-watch, a Swiss Sowar Prima, as a present.

I finished my B.Sc. with Chemistry from St Xavier's College in October 1971. In December, the war broke out with Pakistan, resulting in the formation of Bangladesh.

By the end of my second period – in Mumbai, at school and college – I had won a National Science Talent scholarship and was on my way to a ‘promising’ career. But I had decided, on ideological grounds, that the competitive “rat race” was NOT for me.

My mother, who had always urged me to compete with myself, died in 1969. Looking back, I feel I took her death seriously and in a sub-conscious way decided to implement what she had been exhorting me to do. I am still coming to terms with my grief at her sudden death.

I have not had a single reason or occasion to regret the decision to drop out of the rat race. On the contrary, seeing the destitution of the poor caused by liberalisation, privatisation and globalization (LPG), I have felt re-assured that I was correct.

Today, I prefer to compete only with myself. So cooperation, team-work and peace pervades my work and teaching. I appeal to my students, friends and colleagues to stand against this tide and shun the greed, which is being encouraged both by government sell-outs and corporate profligacy.

“The world is too much with us.
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”

- William Wordsworth (1770-1850)


Then, I took a break from my studies.

From 1973 to 1983, I worked as a full-time volunteer in Maharashtra with:
1. a rural development agency in some drought-prone villages (1973-77)
2. a science popularisation organisation (1978-83)
3. a trade union and a slum-dwellers organisation (1977-83).

This was the mass-activist period of my life, when many new things were revealed to me for the first time, bringing me close to the pain and sufferings of the common people, enabling me to look at life the way they did – sharing with compassion.

“Living is easy, with eyes closed.
Misunderstanding, everything you see.” – The Beatles.

During this period I learned the meaning of Gandhi’s talisman, one of the last notes left behind by him in 1948, expressing his deepest social thought:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."
- Source: Mahatma Gandhi [Last Phase, Vol. II (1958), P. 65].

The remaining part of this “60” piece is in the present tense, like in a diary or a letter, written as if I am telling my story, till 1978, to one of my sincerest students: “When I was 27 – a report to Gunjan”. I know that writing thus, is an illusion. For, I have the advantage of hindsight. I was not a journalist then; I entered mainstream journalism in 1983.

“We give but little, when we give of our possessions.
It is when we give of ourselves, that we truly give.”
- Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)


I am 27 today, 5 March 1978.

The mynahs and sparrows are chirping under my window. The sun tries to warm me, but my heart is still as cold as the body of my mother, who died nine years ago in 1969.

The Emergency that began in June 1975 ended last year, but even now terrible stories are surfacing of political prisoners, who were brutally tortured by terrorists like Sanjay Gandhi and his goons, under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). Some of them are my dear friends.

We too have suffered our share of miseries. The local leaders in Kasarpimpalgaon (taluka Pathardi, district Ahmednagar, Maharashtra), where we were doing drought relief work since 1973, got emboldened by the terror, unleashed during the Emergency. If it was not for a kind IAS officer, who tipped us off in time, we would have been also arrested.

So our adult literacy work is in a shambles, and abandoned. I can only console myself reading "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" and "Cultural Action for Freedom" by Paolo Friere, whose 'conscientisation' methodology we used in our classes. "Liberation theology" is a new subject for me now.


Let me tell you a little bit about Vistas, the group we formed in 1973, to work in the villages, after we had passed out of St Xavier's College. We were nine or ten young people in our early 20s. As for me, I used to wear flowers in my hair, which I grew to my shoulders, inspired by the protest song, "When you're in San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."

I failed in explaining to my father and help him to understand why his brilliant son, a first ranker, and a National Science Talent Scholar, one of only 350 from India in 1969, had chosen to drop out after finishing his B.Sc, and did not continue further studies like his classmates, especially his best friend, Spenta Wadia.

The drought of 1970-71 was one of the severest in the history of Maharashtra. Having stayed in a village for four years, I would not hesitate to call it a 'famine'.

Initially, we started with drought relief work, with 'Food for Work' programs, with maize, wheat and milk powder being provided by international funding agencies like Caritas, Casa, Lutheran World Relief, etc. Then we started supplying seeds and fertilisers through Afarm and Afpro. Later we worked with Oxfam on adult literacy and organising youth.

I was mainly inspired by the writings of John Holt, Ivan Illich, Frantz Fanon, Jean Paul Sartre, Will & Ariel Durant, Paolo Friere, etc. I was already influenced by Vatican II and Pope John XXIII, who spoke about Christians standing up for justice and peace as well as the liberation of the poor and the oppressed.

Among the many books that I took with me to the villages was a copy of the Communist Manifesto. But I only remember reading it for its excellent English and vivid description of bourgeois life; the social and revolutionary content having little impact on me.

We read the feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer. (Note: none of them burnt bras, a myth of the demonic media machine)

The songs of protest by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, moved us.
The names of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were on our trembling lips. With the Beatles, we believed in: "Can't Buy Me Love." We took the slogan "Make Love, Not War" to our hearts and minds.

I was learning to speak Marathi from the illiterate natives, even as I taught them to read and write their mother-tongue.

When we formed Vistas in 1973, I was 22. The world was young and, for me, anything was possible. Still is, Gunjan. I was not afraid to stop my studies and go to the villages, where the poor lived. By now, I had decided, on ideological grounds, to get out of the rat race. A topper for years, I discarded competition and its connotation of war, welcoming cooperation among humans as the foundation of peace.


The proclamation of the Emergency in June 1975 by Sonia Gandhi's mother-in-law, the dreadful Indira Gandhi, came as a shock to me. (In 1968, my first year of college, I had been thrilled by her nationalisation of banks and challenge to decaying Congress values.)

I remember we had taken the morning train from Bombay to Pune. When we reached Pune and saw the newspapers, some of them had blank patches on the front pages. The courageous editors left the columns blank, when the government censors objected. The name of Jayprakash Narayan was like a magic mantra.

Today in 1978, I am 27 and disillusioned. I went hopeful to the villages in 1973. Our raw idealism collapsed in the face of the brutal assault by Sanjay Gandhi. We realised we were soft boys and girls, pampered and spoiled in the cities. Within 20 months, the Emergency (June 1975 – January 1977) made us men and women.

Now my first taste of direct resistance and protest on the streets is in the form of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR). I am working to set up a Centre for Education and Documentation (CED), which will set up a library of clippings for use by activists and journalists.

Three friends become journalists: Ivan Fera, Ayesha Kagal and Chaitanya Kalbag.

Yes, I am disillusioned, Gunjan. But I have not given up and succumbed to the temptations of a comfortable job. I am brave. I struggle and learn.


“We are all in the gutter.
But some of us are looking
… at the stars.”

- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

This first part of my “60” piece brings my story up to 1978, when I am 27. Let me outline the rest of my story, in brief, to be taken up in detail, as and when time permits.

After 1978, I joined trade union work and organising slum dwellers in Bhandup, Mumbai. Then, we formed the Lok Vidnyan Sanghatana for taking science to the people in 1980.

I got married to a Pune girl, Kalpana Joshi, on 26 January 1982. In the ardour of passion, I promised her, not the moon, but that I would stop smoking the day after we got married. She reminded me of my promise, and I stopped smoking. So this, inadvertently, became a wedding present to my wife.

Our only child and lovely daughter of our life, Pallavi, was born on 23 October 1987. Till her arrival, my late mother came first in my life, and my wife came second. Today, my daughter is at No. 1 position.

The mothers of my friends pass away, carrying away my long-lost mother into the history-books she loved so much.


Meanwhile, full-time journalism had started in 1983. I started teaching journalism at the University of Pune in 1987, and at the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication (SIJC), now SIMC, in 1990.

Since 1983 to 1996, I worked with Maharashtra Herald, the one and only local English daily in Pune. I have begun a 20-part series on “the old MH” as a tribute to that most valiant of Indian local papers, sustained by the blood, sweat, toil and tears of working journalists.

During 1990-93, we were in Leeds, England, where my wife did her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. I took three years leave without pay, to take care of our daughter, who was three years old then.

After 13 years in Maharashtra Herald, Pune, I left in 1996 and joined to set up the Corporate Communication Dept at Deepak Fertilisers. So, though I disliked it, I did internal PR for seven years. No choice: just a job. My only joyful consolation during those years is “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara (MSMT)”, a unique internal newsletter.

The date 2 September 2006, when I suffered a heart attack, I recall as the day I got a second chance.

Since 2005, I have been also doing some unusual work – designing, developing and delivering training programs – at Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, founded by the pioneering Shantilal Muttha.

I continue to teach print journalism. But I am winding up my lectures and concentrating on writing: a memoir on my mother; a text-book on editing; survivor drafts of my cold & wet days in Leeds; and other scraps.


When I went off my blog "to restore myself" I thought I would be back in three months. But it has taken me 19 months to come back. Not because it took me 19 months to restore myself, but because only the way, I developed other ways of keeping in touch with my sincerest students.

But the blog kept beckoning. And its charms, like a personal dairy, can only be appreciated by those who have roamed the adventures that Life offers the precious, the gentle and the brave.

I have inserted five appendices, to explain the sources and starting points for this piece. This is only for those who wish to go "inside the mind" of a writer and see how a piece takes shape.


I have hundreds of journalism students since I started to teach in 1987; they are scattered across the world. A few of them (and I tell them so), I cherish as “my sincere and serious students”.

But as I said at railway gate No. 58, I still “await the student, who may exceed me, who may dare to go beyond imagination, against the tide; to whom I may entrust the torch given to me by my ancestors and teachers.”

Dare I say, during the last two years, I may have had fleeting glimpses of some such adventurous students? A hundred others are striving to be my students, just as I struggle, even today, to deserve to be the student of my teachers, some long gone to dream with Hemingway’s lions.

Your support is my strength.

Peace and love,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Wednesday, 19 May 2011.

"A man's memory is his own private literature." – Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

In the five appendices below, I have explained at length the various sources and consciously identified the five starting points of origin for this “60” piece. The purpose behind inviting you to witness what is going on inside my mind is to reveal how story ideas keep bubbling and simmering – cooking – in the backyards of our memories.

Dip into your mind. And lo!! A story will leap out!!!

Appendix 1. My auto-sketch: “Along the line, at railway gate No. 58” on this blog.

Two years ago, when I turned 58, I posted, “Along the line, at railway gate No. 58” on this blog. How did that “58” piece get written? Kajal Iyer tagged me on Facebook, asking to know 25 random things about me. Normally, I am reticent, and dismiss such FB gimmicks as an invitation to gossip. Like the Marathi writer ‘G.A.’, I prefer to let my writing, editing and lectures tell. But I took part, just for fun, and wrote the FB note on 14 February 2009. (Read it here on my source blog, “Journey Unbegun”.)

Two weeks later, I was glad I had listened to Kajal and jotted down those 25 points. I went back to that random list, rearranged the sequence and used the resultant outline, as the pattern for a sketch of myself. The dramatic setting was to create an impression that I was standing at railway gate No. 58.

I enjoyed writing that “58” piece, hugely, pouring myself into it. And it, in turn, has triggered within me such diverse, contending story lines: much like “the hundred flowers that bloomed” in Mao’s China of 1957.

For the first time, I candidly shared a part of my past in public; a bit of me that my students did not know; even some of my relatives and close friends could not imagine. I pulled and ripped aside the veil, and became vulnerable. My “58” piece was appreciated.

This is the first starting point for this “60” piece.


Appendix 2. My catching-up piece, “This is me, Joe Pinto, since 1967”.

Some of my school-mates, who passed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams, ie, the old Standard XI, in 1967 from St. Mary’s (SSC) High School, Nesbit Road, Mazagaon, Mumbai, met at the Catholic Gymkhana in Mumbai on 11-1-11. Most of us were meeting one another after a gap of 44 years!!!

The re-union of the St. Mary’s Old BoyS (SMOBS) of 1967 was memorable. More than two-thirds of us smobs came with our wives. The rich diversity, of the communities we belonged to, was visible: Christians, Muslims (Bohras, Khojas, etc), Parsis, and Hindus. Most of our Class of 1967 is still in Mumbai; many are grand-fathers; some are settled in other parts of India (like me in Pune); and spread out across the globe: Canada, USA, Australia, Europe.

While preparing for that re-union, I found I was getting in touch again with most my class-mates for the first time -- since 1967. And so to fill out the gaps, I wrote for my mates a catching-up piece, “This is me, Joe Pinto, since 1967”, where I shared the five Ws and one H about myself, during 1967-2011. Read it here.

This got woven into this “60” piece as the second starting point.


Appendix 3. The five-part memoir of my mother, “Lessons my mother learned me”.

On 2 October 2008, I started this blog, “Against the Tide”, as a platform, on which I could “think aloud” and from where I could reach out to my students – beyond the class-room. (I am including, after re-writing, much of the raw material from my blog as parts of a text-book on editing.)

Many of my sincerest students, some friends and colleagues, and all my relatives liked, “Along the line, at railway gate No. 58.” They appreciated what I revealed about my background and motivations. Their respect for ‘Joe Pinto’ grew, now that I allowed myself to become vulnerable. Some of my most honest students also wanted me to write about my mother.

I had had completed 18 years of age on 5 March 1969, when two months later my mother died – suddenly. The pain still thuds inside me. I had posted, “Along the line, at railway gate No. 58” on 4 March 2009. Since the 40th death anniversary of my mother on 2 May 2009 was approaching in two months, and for the sake of my dearest students, I decided to write a memoir of my mother.

The intense process of writing about my mother, in the form of a memoir, gripped me completely (taking me deep into my own tear-full recesses), and turned out to be a five-part series. Read it here. Now, with additional research material I am making that series into a book.

The tear-stained memoir of my mother is the third starting point for this “60” piece.


Appendix 4. “Rules of the Road” and other pieces.

A bold few of my most perceptive students, the adventurous ones who have dared to take “the road less travelled”, noticed that I had unveiled, on my blog, a face and sides of “Pinto Sir”, which they could not have inferred from what they had seen of me in class.

I owe my students a lot of learning. So I felt they deserved to know more about my trials and tribulations as a young man; my experiences as a mass activist and full-time volunteer in various non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and as a journalist in Pune’s only local English daily newspaper – Maharashtra Herald (1963-2003).

My students, I felt, deserved to know about the social and political forces that had made me and my character. Then, they would be able to more fairly and fully appreciate and understand my lectures in class. I have tried to address some of these issues in “Rules of the road” and other pieces.

This is the fourth starting point for this “60” piece.


Appendix 5. “When I was 27 – a report to Gunjan”, written as a birthday gift to her.

Gunjan Chaurasia, one of my closest students from SIMC, Pune, batch of 2004-06, completed 27 years on 5 April 2011. As a human being, Gunjan is one of the bravest and gentlest persons I know -- and learn from -- because she tastes deep and strong from the springs of life.

I promised Gunjan I would share my life with her, when I was 27, and send her a report as a birthday gift. Unlike my other pieces, which I re-write at least 10-15 times, I wrote this emotionally charged “27” piece in about 2-3 hours. Read it here.

Since I felt my other rare students also deserved to read this report, I marked this email to some other students too. Their thought-full replies encourage me to use parts of this “27” piece in my “60” piece. I also have Gunjan’s permission since, to start with, it was written only for her as a personal birthday gift.

A rare few of my students deserve the kind of gift I wrote for Gunjan. The difference is they did not ask me, “What was it like, Sir, when you were 27?” So the moral of this birthday gift is: “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”

This is the fifth starting point for this “60” piece.


My daughter, J.K. Pallavi (23) is leaving soon for the US to pursue further studies. As a parting gift for her I am writing a piece, “When I was 23, were the young free?” I started to write this piece, intending to give it to her, as a birthday gift when she completed 23 years of age on 23 October 2010. But a father’s love knows no bounds, and the piece went on growing. Now hopefully, I will be forced to give it to her, since she is leaving soon.

In this piece, for the first time, I reflect upon the temptations before my own generation; how we faced them; and share my hopes and fears about the present generation and suggest some ways by which they may be able to resist the tide. For, this blog is about two things: struggle and resistance.


Taken together, these five starting points, weave well together. Those who relish detail may want to go to the original pieces, for which I have provided links. I also use the occasion of my “60” piece” to open to the public my source blog, “Journey Unbegun”, on which I shall post original material, mainly written by me and published elsewhere, but also by a few chosen others.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, India, Thursday, 19 May 2011.