Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Amidst hills and streams, a few kilometers ahead of Rivona, in Quepem, we find evidence of a pre-historic site. The ‘protected monument’ signboards guides one to the place of the rock-carvings. From the main road, a footpath winds its way to a small rivulet, where a good portion of its bank is covered with flat, unbroken laterite stone. It is on this flat ‘canvas’ that the pre-historic man carved many of his animals and geometric shapes. (However, in heavy rains it gets submerged).
It is difficult to say what time period these carvings belong to or what possible purpose they served. Like everywhere else in India, pre-history is lagging because of a dearth in excavations which helps us to obtain a stratigraphic sequence (layers of soil) in order to assign a time period for the archaeological assemblage and the use of such rock-carvings. At best, we can only have a conjecture about their possible use. But technicalities aside, with a stopover at the Rivona zhor (spring), this can be a good weekend getaway!
A view of the rivulet.

An anthropomorphic depiction.

Is this a deer?

A bull and a deer.

A bull with peculiar horns.

A labyrinthine depiction.

Wild boar?

All pics by Dale Luis Menezes

(A version of this photo feature appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 28, 2011)

Friday, June 17, 2011


The death of John Gomes, who was affectionately known as Kokoy, on May 24, 2011 has left the tiatr community in particular and the Konknni community in general in deep sorrow. He had written tirelessly on tiatrs and its personalities for many decades, travelling the most distant places of Goa to get his stories. John Kokoy composed over 3000 songs and has two audio cassettes – Sopon and Gõy Apoita – to his credit. Besides lending his voice in numerous tiatrs and cassettes, John Kokoy also wrote a few tiatrs as well. Atancho Sounsar, Devacho Hukum Padricho Gutt, Guneanv Konnacho, Dubhav, Poriksha, Fukott Charlie are his well known works. John Kokoy was the recipient of the Goa State Cultural Award. John Kokoy wrote most of his articles for the Romi Konknni monthlies like Gulab and Jivit while also contributing to the English press.
His qualities of head and heart and his immense love for Konknni came in for much praise during the condolence meet held in Margao and organized by Tiatr Academyof Goa (TAG) on the 9th of June, 2011.
        Many tiatr lovers, tiatrists and prominent personalities were in attendance to condole the death of John Kokoy and to provide solace and comfort to the bereaved family. Speaking on the occasion, noted tiatrist Anil Kumar said, “John Kokoy was a keen observer and thinker. He had the art of asking questions in such a way that the desired response was elicited and at the same time the interviewee had no clue as to what exactly was going in the mind of John Kokoy.” This resulted into numerous articles on the personalities of tiatr and last year they became the backbone of a book titled Tiatr Palkache Khambe released during the anniversary celebrations of Jivit, a Romi Konknni magazine. Agnelo Alcasoas of Queeny Productions who attended the condolence meet, distributed a few copies of the same at the gathering.
            Teotonio D’Costa on the other hand dwelt on the humbleness of John Kokoy which he found in abundance during the brief period that he had known him. During the meet, Sharon Mazarello pointed out that John Kokoy had composed more than 3000 songs but sadly had only two cassettes to his credit and that his work need to be extensively documented.
            Roseferns, another noted tiatrist and the Vice President of TAG praised John Kokoy for the extensive knowledge he possessed about tiatrs. His mind was a treasure trove, he added. Speaking on his reviews of tiatrs that were staged, Roseferns felt that they were “balanced” and his criticism was always “constructive”. Roseferns also appealed to the family of John Kokoy to handover any material/manuscripts that they possessed so that TAG and the Dalgado Konknni Akademi (DKA) could publish and/or document the same.
Sabina, the Iron Lady of Konknni Stage (a title given by John Kokoy himself) expressed her deepest regret in not being able to attend his funeral. Chimtti bhor mati legun ghalunk mellonk na [I was not able even to put a handful of earth in his grave], she added.
            Premanand Lotlikar, President of DKA, recalled memories when they travelled together for Tiatr competitions at Kala Academy, Panjim. During the last few years of his life, John Kokoy moved to Bombay. It was during this time that he went “out of reach” and most of his friends lost contact with him. But one fine day, the DKA President recounted that he received a call from John Kokoy informing him that his leg was amputated. Jessie Dias mooted the idea of visiting sick artistes; which was readily accepted by Tomazinho Cardozo. He assured to make available the services of the TAG office vehicle in such situations.
            Tomazinho Cardozo, the President of TAG said that more than a tiatrist, John Kokoy was a writer who wrote about other artistes , gave them much desired publicity expecting nothing in return. “John Kokoy was responsible for keeping the memory of tiatrists alive. It is our duty to forever remember John Kokoy as well as other persons like him who have contributed immensely to the Konknni cultural milieu,” Tomazinho said. He used the opportunity to again appeal for unpublished scripts for publication and documentation.
            It is said that the importance of a well is seldom known until it runs dry. The death of John Kokoy will be a case in point, who wrote so selflessly and tirelessly on tiatrs and tiatrists. John Kokoy surely has left a vast void in his death.
A visibly moved and touched Webly Gomes, the nephew of John Kokoy thanked everyone on behalf of the bereaved family. The brothers of John Kokoy, Frank and Baldwin, shared the dais along with Tomazinho Cardozo and Roseferns.
         Writing about other khambe (pillars) of the tiatr stage, John Kokoy himself was a khambo (pillar) amongst tiatrists and Romi Konknni writers!
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 17, 2011)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


India is a diverse country of varied heritage where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians live in peace and harmony; this is an oft heard refrain. But did it ever occur to us that in this country there are other identities that are not Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians? Tribal groups, low castes and host of other subalterns do not fit the broad categorization mentioned above. They are so isolated from us socially and politically that one never has any idea about their existence and their miserable plight. Crushed by grinding poverty and the caste system, their voice barely reaches our cities – big and small – where all the power is concentrated.
            The Branded: Uchalya is the eye-opening autobiography of Laxman Gaikwad, translated from the original Marathi by P A Kolharkar. Gaikwad belongs to the community of Uchalya/Pathruts, a tribe notified by the British Raj as criminal under the Criminal Tribes’ Act, first passed in 1871 (but now denotified). They generally engage in odd jobs that are seasonally available. Due to crushing poverty and the stigma of belonging to a ‘criminal’ community, the tribesmen of Laxman Gaikwad has no choice but to resort to stealing or theft. Gaikwad tells the story of his early life along with the people and the significant others who surrounded and shaped him. Gaikwad prefers his book to be read from a sociological perspective rather than a literary one.
            Gaikwad’s community involved themselves in pick-pocketing because the caste-ridden hierarchy had rejected this group and consigned them to live as animals. Every novitiate ‘thief’ is initiated into the art of stealing. Since a gang member should not reveal his accomplices to the police, a novice is deliberately subjected to severe beatings that make them ‘immune’ to police torture. Gaikwad gives a terrifying picture of such an initiation. The Bharat blade used to cut the pockets is always worshipped like a deity before a thieving expedition because it provided them their livelihood.
            Gaikwad gives a crude and at times graphic description of the pitiable condition that he and his extended family had to endure, the difficulties his family faced to get proper meals and how they were beaten, harassed and hounded and their women molested (generally on false pretense) by the police. Such a description in coarse and crude language of the atrocities caused by the system in which these groups are forced to live would not go down well with people who are used to the luxury of shiny cars and air-conditioned buildings or who are just born in an upper caste family.
            The Pathruts never usually school their wards. So when Gaikwad finds himself in a school because his father believes strongly in education, they both have to face adverse reaction from the family and their community. One thing that struck me about Gaikwad’s schooling experience is that the ‘ideal’ is far removed from (his) ‘reality’. Consider this, “When I used to open the text-book for Marathi, on the first page, I used to see: ‘India is my country…proud of its rich and varied heritage.’ I used to wonder why if all this were true, we were beaten with false allegation of theft…I often wonder why if Bharat is our country, we are discriminated against, why our race is branded and treated as a thieves’ community.”
            While in school, Gaikwad is attracted to bhajans and kirtans and excels in performing them. Participating in these religious functions, the effects of Sanskritization start affecting his mind. “I began to say that eating crabs, fish, pigs every day was a sin. I began to observe Fridays and Saturdays in Shravan month as fasting days,” he says.
            In due course of time, Gaikwad moves to the nearby city of Latur for employment in a textile mill. The urban organization of society, to a certain extent, does not support the rigid patterns of discrimination of the rural areas. Gaikwad says that he, “…remembered the days when I was spurned and even shouted at: ‘Lakshya! Pathruta!’ But here in Latur I was addressed as Laxman Gaikwad and that too by Maratha [upper caste] boys…What was I once, I thought, look at the respect I am getting now!”
            In the textile mill, Gaikwad starts speaking on behalf of his colleagues for better working conditions and wages. As he was used to public speaking right from his school days, he stands up and publicly denounces the mistreatment by the factory management. He gets ‘noticed’ and becomes politically active. All this while, his family is living a hand-to-mouth existence. Money is always short but his idealism to work for the betterment of the oppressed never wavers. Their financial and housing situation is so bad even in Latur that when his father dies he writes, “…his eyes are covered with ants. I brushed away the ants with my hand and closed his eyes.”
            Due to his protests against the factory management (or capitalists) Gaikwad loses his job and has to do many odd jobs wherever he can find them. But when any news reaches his ears about any tribal being harassed (as by now he is an established leader who helps people), he immediately pays a visit and tries to bring about justice and remedy the situation.
            Towards the end of his story, Gaikwad is approached by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to contest the Lok Sabha seat. BSP promises him funds and other necessities for campaigning. But the money never pours in. Still, with his loyal supporters Gaikwad hits the campaign trail but there is no food for his campaigners and money to pay the pending bills. Eventually, he decides to lend his support to the Congress candidate. Dejected, he says, “I had learnt my lesson. In this country it is not enough to possess good workers and volunteers to win elections; you must also possess wealth, social prestige and the quality of having been born in one of the higher castes.”
            The overall translation of the book lives up to a fairly good standard. But on some occasions it falls prey to literal translation. The numerous typos in the book could have been corrected considering that this is the third reprint that I read.
            After reading the last line of this engrossing book, I could not help but ask this question: Who stole what? A hapless tribal a pocket or a dominant class/caste the right from a human being to live in dignity?

Name: The Branded: Uchalya
By: Laxman Gaikwad
Translated from the Marathi by: P A Kolharkar
First published: 1998; 2009 (third reprint)
Publisher: Sahitya Akademi
ISBN: 81-260-0486-X
Web: www.sahitya-akademi.gov.in
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 14, 2011)

Friday, June 10, 2011


I had recently read an article in National Geographic about dreams. One of the photos – amongst the many lavish spreads of photographs – showed people sleeping on the footpaths of Bombay. We will sleep anywhere if our eyes become heavy and our body aches for rest. The author of the same article also suggested that most of the major accidents (mostly in transportation) could have been averted, if the person manning the machines had a good night’s sleep. Given a choice we will all prefer to wake up late in the morning and also crawl in bed in the afternoon. But life needs to go on and long hours of sleep are always wishful thinking.
            In Goa however, we are still known to enjoy our afternoon siesta. On a sultry afternoon, a visit to the Panjim market confirmed this fondness for a nap. Along with the sounds and smells of the market, the sight of vendors sleeping in unique places and poses were a photographer’s delight. Like a steaming cup of tea in the morning, a brief nap in the afternoon seemed to be the order of the day. Perhaps, this is what is meant in Goa as business as usual. How I wish, the National Geographic article had included these sleeping beauties too having a s-s-s-snoring time!
HELLO, ANYONE THERE?: Business can wait, sleep cannot.
MERCHANT OF MELONS: This man takes a break.

BED OF COCONUTS: She is at home on any bed.

SHELTER OF SLEEP: Even light should not come in the way.

SIESTA-AH!: Can be as sweet as a mango!

THE SCENTS OF FLOWERS: Lulling them into sleep.

WELCOME TO THE MARKET: Along with the provisions also take home a health tip: Siesta is good for health!

All Pics by Dale Luis Menezes

(A version of this photo feature appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 10, 2011)