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AN OCTOGENERIAN BLAST – A Goan writer’s Journey

January 07, 2016 By: george Category: Opinion

An article written at the request of Sheila Jaywant for her collection about Goan writers

I need to tell you where I’m coming from. I haven’t written anything for some time because of aging and ill health. I’m going to be eighty seven in April 2016 and most of my faculties like reading, hearing, standing up on my own and walking have been badly affected.

You can imagine the plight of a writer if he is unable to write except cheques, thank you notes and congratulatory and condolence cards. I can by no stretch of imagination be called a writer except that my mind is still fertile and can scribble with a shaky hand and my old Parker pen. Romantic things like “What can I say to you, who are so aching intimate and yet as far a star a star!” And this in response to an old photograph sent to me from the United States by Helena Schulz who was my colleague during my internship as a trainer in behavioral sciences. A picture that was taken forty years ago to prove that we were young once upon a time and good looking, if you can stretch the definition of good looking!

I have a daily morning prayer on my computer where the Lord urges me not to whine and whimper about things that I cannot control. But the devil in me has discovered a friend who can substitute a dozen computers and any amount of Parker pens, to get this piece written with quick checking of spellings and punctuations.

So I was happy, in fact eager to respond to the urging of Sheela Jaywant who has become a very fine writer specially of short stories and whom I met as a consultant at Cidade de Goa beach resort; when she used to attend my training programmes when she was guest relations officer for the resort.

When did I begin to write? When as a kid at St. Xavier’s school, Mumbai my teacher Grace Pires tapped the knuckles of my hand with a ruler with the words “the desk is not a drum for your fingers, start writing, and start writing now. After all you have not realized at your age that your grandfather, Professor Armando Menezes is not only a great Professor but a wellknown poet and writer. Don’t you want to walk in his footsteps?” I asked myself, “Can you use the word “footsteps” for a writer, when actually my teacher wanted me to follow his fingerprints.”

There is no greater motivation than the crack of a ruler on your knuckles even when it is delivered by a good looking teacher. By the end of the day I had reproduced the entire alphabet in a specially ruled exercise book meant for such writing. I met Grace Pires twenty years later in Singapore and she told me how happy she was at the number of collections of my writings that had been published and the reviews I had received.

I have forgotten now that a centerpiece of mine in lighter vein was a part of the weekly breakfast menu for the readers of the Times of India. Of all the motivators who pushed me to write, was my father no doubt, who strangely enough did not urge me to write. But his daily and disciplined presence at his typewriter and the many eulogies I heard about his writings was enough motivation to last me a lifetime.

To be honest, an important source of motivation came from my mother, who did not know a word of English when I was born. Being a product of the Portuguese Lyceum, married to my father who was a Professor of English literature at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay. As I grew up, she not only learnt English but also became both my biggest critic and biggest admirer!

I can truly say that my mother is the only person who read every single piece I wrote during her lifetime. I have recorded in my book ‘The truly naked Liberal’ all the nice and nasty people whose feedback good, bad and indifferent has done wonders for my writing.

I belong to an incredible extended family, most of whose members think they are the greatest, and to put the record straight we meet every Christmas and New Year at the ancestral house in Dewar in Goa. A week of truck loads of love, warmth, gossip, back biting and above all bonding takes place. For me it’s a place where I get genuine feedback of things I have written and published and things I plan to publish and thank God do not see the light of day.
There are organisations and individuals, both who have helped in my writings. Longmens Orient, St. Paul’s Publications, Homelife, Goa Today. The Examiner and the Herald and newspapers like the Times of India, Indian Express, Afternoon and Mid-day.

I have no self published books which is the reality today due to online publishing.

My son, Christophe was telling me the other day that my granddaughter Sunaina who is now 18 and who has been writing since she was 13 is meticulous with the drafts of what she writes, going over it a thousand times making infinite and minute corrections in her journey to seek perfection.

‘Dad’ he said to me, ‘you never have the time and patience to do that’. You experienced a mood, you dashed off an article and sent it off – Khalas!

Most good writers have a writing discipline, a particular time of day, the necessary output for a fixed number of hours, time for research, time for consultations and other things that you read about a writer’s timetable.

The editor of this anthology, wants many questions answered specially about the discipline of a writer. I am allergic to the word “discipline”. I have no exercise book on which I write or a particular font on my computer. I once wrote an article on the back of an unpaid bill. And another time on the back of a prescription for constipation, much to my embarrassment. I have loose papers where I make notes of ideas that come to my mind mostly triggered by books I’m reading, TV I’m watching and journals I’m reading.

As the iconoclast Charles Bokowski says: “Unless it comes bursting out of you in spite of everything and unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut.” I believe he is right.

So my style is to just suddenly sit down and dash off and send it to the editor without going through it a second time. There is an editor of the Times of India to whom I owe a lot. Every time I went to him with an article, he did not even stand up to wish me. He read the piece and would say: “Try the Indian Express” and the more often he said that, the more often I wrote another piece and went back to him always expecting him to say “Sorry, George why don’t you try the Indian Express?” When he grew up in the hierarchy of the newspaper, and was transferred, pieces written by me appeared everywhere in the Times of India and once even in the obituary page.

I must say or if I may share a secret with you, the source of my articles are unbelievable for e.g. my cocker spaniel, Mitzy, a beautiful dark woman who lived with her little son in a cement pipe, lying on the road, not far away from where I lived. Or another dark and beautiful woman working on the construction site carrying bricks to the top of the building, immaculate body, while I watched her from my window. She lived in the chaos of the construction site and took a holiday only on the day she delivered a baby.

It is wonderful to think that my best pieces were written when I was angry! Angry, over things I could not control or rectify and the only relief came through my writing. Pieces like one about Rashid who delivered me hot tasty “gotlis” and who was killed riding his bicycle during the riots.

Or one about the Blue Star operation where the Indian troops desecrated a gurudhwara. At that time, I used to write for the Onlooker, a journal edited by the very good and gutsy journalist Vinod Mehta. I am proud to say that although there was an emergency, Vinod Mehta continued to publish and I was given a choice whether I would stop writing or have my articles censored by the government. I wrote and I have in my scrapbook, some pages of the Times of India that were totally black, barring the name of the author.

I never wrote for money, I had a good job with Hoechst Pharmaceuticals. In any case, we writers earned peanuts and I remember that for my book,” Pardon, your middle is showing” with the cover by Mario Miranda, I was paid in postage stamps.

The greatest memory I have of my writing days is when my father, the famous writer, educationist, poet and scholar came from Dharwar to Bombay and was wandering around Flora Fountain, window shopping, when a young man stopped him and said: “Excuse me, sir, but are you not the father of that hilarious writer of humour, Mr. George Menezes!” My father almost exploded. “Has it come down to this”, he said. “You are talking of my son who writes tons of rubbish and has a large following, whereas my writings are gathering dust.”

I’ve enjoyed every day of my life and specially the sacred moment when Sister Aquinas of Holy Family Hospital told me “George, a gentleman in room number 24 died last night with a rosary and your book ‘Sugar and Spice’ under his pillow.” “

“Amen” I said.

So you want to be a writer – CHARLES BUKOWSKI

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.

 

Baby Jesus for a Day

January 06, 2016 By: george 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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