George Menezes

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MORE THOUGHTS ON FREEDOM

March 24, 2016 By: George Menezes Category: Opinion

After writing my piece entitled ‘Freedom comes and Freedom goes’, I was very restless and found it difficult to sleep. I thought of the days when I worked with the Church and the visits that our group paid to prisoners in our main prisons in Bombay and Thane.

I wonder whether I made these visits as part of the routine that our group considered service to the Church.

I felt very emotional during those visits. It was like visiting a zoo. There was no system, or maybe we were not included in that system where we could have personal contact with the prisoners, especially when they move around totally shackled at the feet and hands, and their expressions saying it all. “We don’t know what happens after your visits.” Someone said to me, although language is the mighty problem. Are any of our grievances solved? Is there any improvement in the jail system in our country? Or are we there to salvage the rottenness in our souls.
I have had three experiences behind bars. In 1942 when we were at the height of the freedom movement, as a school student I joined a group of freedom fighters in setting fire to Amergol Railway Station, a stopover between Karwar and Hubli.

It was a kind of a fun thing and my father came and bailed us out and very promptly the next day sent me to St. Paul’s boarding school in Belgaum, which was as bad as a prison.

After a month I took some advance from my pocket money from the Principal, on the excuse of buying a pen, rushed off to the railway station and took a train back home to Dharwad.

I fell at the feet of my mother, weeping bitterly and told her that I had left my trunk behind at the school and I am not returning.

The second time I was in jail, was as President of the All India Catholic Union. We had a Committee Meeting, if I remember rightly, in Trichy. A group of local Dalits barged into the meeting and dragged me and my members to the Church. “You bloody Brahmins” he said to me. “Pretend to be working to emancipate the Dalits, but you come here for a meeting and don’t even take a walk down our streets.”

They took us to the Parish Church where they pointed out the large wall in the cemetery that divided the high class Parishioners and the Dalits.

In a fit of Christian zeal or maybe youthful anger, I called my committee and started to break the wall. The Bishop who got the news, had us arrested and lodged in the local jail.

Much dialogue took place and the Bishop very voluntarily agreed, that a wall had no place in a Catholic Church cemetery.

Many years later, I headed an Inter-Denominational Committee that wanted the Tyagi Anti-Conversion or (Freedom of Religion) Bill to be withdrawn from Parliament.

Two visits of mine together with Bishop Simon Pimenta, to the Prime Minister in Delhi produced no results. And so our committee decided to paralyse the city of Bombay. I and my committee informed the police, got permission for a morcha and we lead over a hundred and fifty thousand people in a morcha to Azad Maidan, where in the hot sun, the protesting people sat on the ground, listening to speeches in several languages, addressed both by a few priests and some laity leaders.

On the night before the morcha the police visited some of the leaders’ houses and threatened preventive detention, but nothing came out of it.

In Bombay, in those days, the minorities always had a place in the sun. A few days after the morcha, members of our committee were called to Delhi and Morarji Desai assured us that the bill would be withdrawn and so it was through some face saving device.

Finally I asked myself, do we create our own prisons? My mind flashes to the days when I was in the Taunus that embraces Frankfurt, attending a language school called ‘The Bachschule’. The school was supervised by Mr. Richter who lived with his wife and his daughter a lovely 17-year old woman who was studying English in her father’s school, while I a 30-year old, was studying German. Klaudia and I became good friends, the difference in our ages being no deterrent.

During the three months of my stay, in the Taunus, Hoechst had helped me to buy a second hand Volkswagen. Klaudia and I roamed the whole of the beautiful Taunus area, that housed some gourmet restaurants.

In the meanwhile, I wrote poetry as I always do when I travel or when I am experiencing a special tension. Klaudia loved poetry and encouraged me to write much or which was emotional and romantic. Klaudia has kept in touch with me for the last 50 years! having come and stayed with us in our flat in Peddar Road, our house in Gorai beach and this place where I stay in Bandra. She fell totally in love with Tecla which is not difficult to do and I must say all my girlfriends are more Tecla’s friends than mine. Klaudia is still unmarried and Tecla and I have used her spare bedroom in Frankfurt dozens of times and she has attended the Menezes family functions in Europe including Anjali’s wedding.

In those years we used to talk of the Berlin Wall. And when the Berlin Wall was finally brought down, I wrote a poem. Raises another intricate question about Freedom.
I offer it to you with love.

THE BERLIN WALL

The Russians built a wall. And why?
Perhaps to try and show
The progress made by socialistic states
In building walls. But men would die
Upon this wall of hate, this wall of shame,
Crossing the barbed wire and the fire
Of men who did not want to kill.

We have our walls, the walls that we have built
With the barbed wire of own minds,
The walls of self-invented guilt,
The electronic fence of right and wrong;
And the ever winding, never ending, long
Unyielding wall of Age and Time.

We are the walls…we are grown-ups in a children’s game
And yet our walls are worse…. they so separate our souls
That climbing over the muck from which we came
We must destroy ourselves.
Because we lack the guts of common sluts
Our walls unclimbed remain.
-01 Sept. 1966

IS IT ALWAYS TOO LATE?

March 23, 2016 By: George Menezes Category: Opinion

Long years ago, when the Church in India were still comfortable with my writings and my training programmes, I was entrusted with running a training programme for 18 Bishops. It was all about using Managerial knowledge skills and attitudes to improve their effectiveness.

I was really touched by their simplicity and openness and trust with which they came into the programme.

I started with a game so that they could get to know each other as human beings and not just as Bishops. They were individually given sheets of paper and a packet of colour pens and asked to draw a picture of themselves as they saw themselves as human beings.

They were then asked to pin the pictures on their chest and circulate around the room, fraternize with each other, tell each other what their pictures represented and answer questions from each other that would result.

A particularly elderly Bishop had drawn a picture of a large heart with tears flowing from it.

As I mixed with the participants, I discovered that the Bishop was telling his colleagues that it represented that he was weeping because he got respect but very little love.

He was standing in a particular group and began to cry.

I’m a tactile person and unconsciously I put my arm around him to comfort him. He broke down and said to me “George, it is a long time, since somebody hugged me.”

I have witnessed this also in the programmes I conducted for religious sisters.

I asked myself at that time as I am asking myself now, “Why do people not tell each other that they love them instead of waiting till it is too late?” This is the question I ask myself again now, after the avalanche of beautiful sentiments expressed on Facebook by employees of Hoechst.

I don’t know the answers. Maybe Ramgopal, Milan Sinha and Deb Bhadury could organize a workshop on this subject and come up with some answers.

I beg of you, don’t wait too long, and to share my own pathetic experience I offer you this article “An Only Father” I wrote in the Times of India when my father passed away.

“I have been one of seven children and one of five brothers. Neither an only child nor an only son. Onliness has never caressed my grizzly cheek with its perfumed promises of inheritances or ascendency to some many-splendoured-throne. Neither has onliness clawed my gentle guts with spasmodic threats of solitudinal pain.

I have however an only son. And I had till a few weeks ago an only father. Socialists will pride in the fact of fatherhood. Fathers are a wealth that is equally distributed around the universe. Everybody including test tube babies have a father.

But I must let you into a secret. My father is was an only father. And though everybody has a father nobody has had nor will ever have a father like mine. In that sense, he was a one and only father.

Do you hear me, Father, as I stand beside your grave, a few apologetic roses in my hand? Lift up your face, for a gentle rain is falling from heaven, washing my tears so that the mound that covers you shall bear the salt of my weeping and the green grass that grows upon your bones shall bear the seed of my sorrow.

I must have been kneeling on the wet earth a longer time than I realized. For, it is already dark and the rain has ceased her patter and the blue night pours upon my father’s bed her infinite dew of stars.

I stretch my hand, yet know that I shall not touch you now just as out of shy respect I never did all these many years of your fathering. I remember a poem you once wrote: “What shall I give to you who are so aching intimate and yet as far, as star from star?” I ask this self-same question today as you lie at my feel as once I lay at yours watching the paint brushes of your mind taking me on a rainbow ride of orchestrated verse.

What can I give you now, Father, at this too late an hour? A promise of osmosis? Shall I pass on the seed of madness so that another generation will turn their heads and watch my son and say what manner of men are these who “see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower”? Shall I keep your door of dreams ajar so that he may make his pilgrimage to Beauty, bowing his knee to Truth, searching for freedom as you and I have done, discovering that even the freedom of a poet’s train must submit to the discipline prosody of the rails?

I dare not give to him, as once you said the mintage of my mind, soiled with market dust of every day and tarnished with the breath of mortal wrong. But I shall give to him your love of humankind, the purity of prayers when I pray…and yes, the silences beyond the dream of song .

If I succeed, you sowing will not have been in vain.

FREEDOM COMES AND FREEDOM GOES

March 22, 2016 By: George Menezes Category: Opinion

Every evening I devote a little time to watching TV. I think it helps, in trying to sort out what is really happening. I get sufficiently confused, but by the time I sort it out, I am fast asleep.

Yesterday for example we had on the same channel, the budget, the gang rape of a woman, the students agitation, the lawyers agitation, the Jat agitation my brain stopped functioning. The underline theme which is loud and clear is personal freedom and constitutional guarantees. I am not competent to write about this, but one thing I know, without having the intellectual expertise of debating it, that freedom is very dear to me.

Many of my readers, have been urging me to write about freedom. Like in all my writings, I can only write with my personal experiences as a source. Several phrases dance in my mind untiringly for years and years. “My son died on the cross to set you free.” So glorifying. And at the other end a crooked lawyer whispering to his client who is lodged in jail “I have paid a hefty bribe for you my friend and you will be set free before the sun goes down.”
Or the prisoner in Hitler’s concentration camp saying “I have never felt so free in my life as I am feeling now, lying on a wooden bench in a windowless room.”

One thing I know is that whatever else it may involve, Freedom involves trust. Moreover it involves mutual trust. In my first assignment in the Indian Air force as a young Officer, I was in charge of a huge aviation fuel installation. This involved underground tanks that were measured every morning and every evening with a dip-stick. It was done to measure the levels, to find out how much fuel had been received and issued and how much of fuel (within the accepted percentage) was lost due to evaporation or theft.

One day my boss said to me over a drink at the bar. “You know I find your supervision rather slack and you may land yourself in a soup,” and true to form I said to him. “Better than landing in a tank full of aviation fuel.” “You should check the tank levels a dozen times a day”, he told me. “Yes Sir,” I said and decided to ignore it.
I spent quality time with the airmen keeping them company in the hot sun, visiting their families to find out if they had any problems. By the end of the month, my installation tanks regularly showed a minimum loss. I remember this incident. I trusted my men and they returned my trust.

Kiran Bedi’s successful experiments in opening up select areas of prisons was based on mutual trust to which I must add personal integrity.

Writing this article is a tough cookie. Freedom is a much desired and much abused requirement. It has no status system, no caste system or religion and therefore, it requires in every country the protection of the country’s Constitution.

A friend or mine said to me the other day, that he remembered a story that is much spoken about in Hoechst.

The parish priest of a Chembur parish had recommended for employment a young man who had passed the tenth standard and was still living in the gutters.

I asked him to meet me at the factory gates spoke to the Personnel Department and he was asked to stand in line to get a job as a daily paid worker. Apparently he used to come there daily, get a job for the day and was so disciplined and hardworking that in a year or two got absorbed in the permanent workers group.

It appears both the workers and the supervisors liked him and I next heard of him several years later, when he was standing at the gate with a group or workers shouting “George Menezes chor, chor.”

He had become head of the Factory Union and he was demanding higher bonus than the calculation that the Bonus Act allowed. I had advised my German bosses not to budge on this issue as there existed the Bonus Act that spelt out very clearly the amount to be paid.

It appears that in the previous year another German boss was blackmailed and another three percentage of wages was given on the boss’s birthday.

On my way home from the factory I decided to stop at the church and meet the Parish Priest who had recommended this man who was now the union leader. “Father” I said to him, after telling him the story, “is this gratitude?” and the Father dismissed me with one sentence which I have carried in my heart these many years. He said to me, “George, because you have given a man a job, do you think you can purchase his freedom and his soul?” I still have tears in my eyes when I think of it. and I ask myself “is Freedom a commodity, that can be bought and sold?”

I don’t know the answers. Maybe you dear readers with varied experiences have the answers. Do respond.

Nostalgia

March 03, 2016 By: George Menezes Category: Opinion

I have several reasons for writing this piece. Since the two years of being house bound. Cannot stand or walk without help and so I have written nothing except an odd card saying thank you or God Bless. Not a soul enquiring about my silence. Not even people who want jobs for their children, as in the past.

So dear readers this is to announce that although I am still house bound the typing fingers “move on, nor all your piety or wit will allow me to cancel a single line” because the news is that I am fully alive though not fully kicking.

This piece is about the wonderful Organisation I worked with for 24 years and the wonderful people it breeds.
They call it “writer’s block” and I have been stuck on this para for a week. What makes, and has made, Hext India what it is ? What is the genesis of this piece?

The demise of a fine Hextonian, Ranjan Sengupta which unleashed an incredible avalanche of correspondence on the internet. Every one wanted to join the roller coaster of grieving.

Not just grieving but doing what comes naturally to us, and that is, bonding.

This piece is already too long. I will do another piece on how we dealt with Datta Saman through bonding, soon.

Baby Jesus for a Day

January 06, 2016 By: George Menezes Category: Opinion

I am writing this because an Angel has suddenly descended upon me.

Have you ever known that an Angel could come to visit you with several types of sweets, specially three varieties of cake, which the Angel has made herself. And as if this was not enough, the Angel also knew MS Word.

A few weeks ago, 19th December to be exact, my son Christophe celebrated the 25th anniversary of his wedding, a very contemporary celebration at a place called Water Stones, in typical modern young fashion. There were no toasts, but each member of the close family were given one minute, not a second more, to say a few words, including the father of the celebrants. When I picked up the mike and looked at the beautiful young faces in front of me, I felt the emotion running through them, and I said, “I believe right now we are in a temple or a church because these are the places where the presence of love and God gives us a feeling of sacredness.” 30 seconds were left and so I said, quoting from one of my Father’s poems – “What gift shall I give to you, who are so aching intimate and yet as far, as star from star.” What else, except all the love I have for you.

I thought that was the highlight of my Christmas season but it was not to be. On Christmas Day itself, I was alone, totally and completely alone. All my family and all the neighbors and friends were celebrating the arrival of Baby Jesus with their own families and friends at gymkhanas, restaurants and in exotic mangers that are called “cruise boats”. As I was mustering all my strength not to whimper and whine about things over which I had no control, the phone rang and I was invited to join the family lunch of my neighbors on the first floor. Yes yes yes, I said, but I will bring my maid along, because she was alone from her family as I was. Just roast chicken crackling and some pasta with a special helping of pork vindaloo. Did the little Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes who was rejected by the innkeepers ever dream that there were people like Sheila and Darryl Pereira. The Pereira home would not be described as a manger, but it had the warmth, hospitality, and an austerity of delicious food with an amazing collection of wines from the vineyards of Canaa.

When people ask me, how I spent the 25th of December, 2015, I smile and I say, Ask Baby Jesus.

( Word Doc: Marilyn Remedios Inputs: George Menezes)


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