Saturday, March 7, 2009

Our mothers learn us our world

My dear readers,

Welcome to "Journey Unbegun".

These were the two words that kept recurring to me as British Airways Flight No. ____ was still stuck on the tarmac at Mumbai airport on ___ July 1990. Like my forlorn mind and weeping heart, the plane too it seemed to me did not want to fly away that day.

For the first time in my life, I was taking a plane away from the Mother India that I loved so much.


We know the world through our mothers.

First, my dearest mother Amy Pinto (nee Mary Therese D'Cruz). School-teacher; known in her time (the late 1940s) as "The Lata Mangeshkar of the Konkani stage". Born 6 October 1925; married 22 May 1950; gave me birth 5 March 1951; died 2 May 1969. Snatched away, too too young.

Second, Mother India. Ancient civilisation. Freed by Sangati Shahid Bhagat Singh and other freedom-fighters from the imperial British on 15 August 1947. Liberated from the clutches of the Realm, the monarch of England, on 26 January 1950. In tatters, but with a crown of gold, only now finding its feet.

Third and final, Mother Earth. I am not taking care of it, as much as I do care for my family, friends, students, work colleagues and well-wishers.

Our mothers learn us our world.


The plane did take off the next day.

Throughout my three years in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, "Journey Unbegun" were again the two words that kept popping in and out of my mind, as I walked through the terrifying cold and wet to the warmth and comfort of the Central Library.

I survived that cold and wet Hell. Now nearly 20 years later and standing at railway gate No. 58, I blog my tale.

My first post is taken from my other blog, "Against the Tide", which I started at the request of my journalism students. But it properly belongs here. For, it is an integral part of "Journey Unbegun."


Along the line, at railway gate No. 58

Today, 5 March 2009, I complete 58 years. Along the railway line of my life, I stand at railway gate No. 58. For all these years coming freely to me, I am grateful to my mother, the late Amy, and my father, the late Denis, and to our Mother Earth, for whom I know I have not cared enough, when I look at the way I selfishly care for my family, students, friends and work colleagues.

I am also playing my second innings now. For this, I am thankful to modern medicine, the Pune Heart Brigade (phone 1050), my wife Kalpana and daughter Pallavi, neighbours, friends and my brother-in-law Rajeev, who rushed me to hospital. Having survived my heart attack of 2 September 2006, unlike so many of my good friends and relatives, life is new and always fresh.

Sometime back Kajal Iyer tagged me, asking to know 25 random things about me. I took part for fun. But I am now going to rewrite the note I made then, and edit that list to write up this auto-sketch – at railway gate No. 58.


Why at railway gate No. 58? Simply because I am the eldest son of a railwayman, who used to get transferred from place to place. So I know what it is be on the move like a gypsy. And therefore I can appreciate settling down and setting down roots. What would I give in exchange for all the money in the world? A chance to meet even one of my school-mates from that “lost childhood” when I was a little boy in the small railway towns of Jabalpur and Nagpur (1956-57), Solapur (1957-58) and Manmad (1958-61).

As I recall that journey, let me honour my mother, one of India’s greatest playback singers, hailed in the late 1940s as the “Lata Mangeshkar of the Konkani stage” – Amy Pinto, nee Mary Therese D'Cruz (1925-69). I’m older now than her then by 14 years; she died at the age of 44. Nearing 40 years since she died, yet she sings within my heart.

Confined to the four walls of our home, she taught us, her children – her Class of Three; after 1962, it was a Class of Four. I used to be a great one for gathering piles of books as prizes in school, till my mother learned me the lesson, “If you can, compete – with yourself”.

Also let me shower flowers on the fair name of my father, Denis John Pinto (1923-2001), an upright and God-fearing man, who put up with endless pain, suffering and deprivation because … “Honesty is the best policy”. The other person as equally upright is my father-in-law, Prof. K.L. Joshi (born 1922).


When I was in my early 20s and the hippies wore flowers in San Fransisco, I used to have long hair up to my shoulders; later I grew a beard. This was the result of the world-wide protests against the unjust war in Vietnam and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a part of my growing-up years in school and college – a deep and permanent influence. Also let me mention the dearly-held musical relics, including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger.

I can’t remember the day when I was not in love – with words. So my first crush was virtual, even before the Personal Computer – Agnes – appearing on the pages of the Charles Dickens novel, “David Copperfield”. Now the love in my life, after my love-marriage wife Kalpana, is my daughter J.K. Pallavi. I remember the three years in the cold and wet of Leeds, Yorkshire, England, taking care of her in a back-to-back basement when she was barely three, while my wife did her Ph.D. (And what of my friends, without whom I could have not known that friendship can match up to love?)

I have spent years, off and on, in Mumbai. First as a little boy in the mid-1950s; then in school, college, etc. (1961-73); again after the Emergency (1977-82). What do I miss about Mumbai (I shan’t call it Bombay as the imperial English did)? The trundling trams, when I was a little boy; uncrowded local trains and red BEST buses on a Sunday morning; the common crows, sparrows, mynahs; the great struggle of the textile workers against the robber mill-owners; red flags in a worker morcha at Azad Maidan; the heady mix of faces and tongues from all over India; the discipline on the roads. Above all, the entwined couples clasping hands in municipal gardens ...

What do I NOT miss about Mumbai? The idle rich, gambling on the stock market, who have raped the city; the skyscrapers that blot out the sky; the private vehicles that kill and maim far worse and more deep than terrorist guns; the curse of the Shiv Sena and their ilk, who have brought shame to the glorious inheritors of Chhatrapati Shivaji ...

To give you some more feel and touch for the passing show of my life, here goes. My favourite movie critic, Pauline Kael of the New York Times, who dubbed the “Sound of Music” as the “Sound of Mucous”. A few of my favourite things: the red mud, swaying coconut trees and the fish curry rice of Mangalore; the lilt of my Konkani mother tongue; a few drops of kaju feni, soft cotton garments. And always, books.

Besides, love and peace, compassion for the poor moves me beyond tears. Alongside this post on my blog, I have catalogued my values and beliefs, as well as quotes from my favourite authors and a list of books and websites, including some by my students.


What made me sketch this auto-bio? In a way, groping to prepare for the reality of aging, at the threshold of retirement. Can I retire? Maybe not, in the sense that I’ll stop working. But I shall retire from doing what I do not like. I am coming to grips with work on different terms.

Along the line, at railway gate No. 58, I also await the student, who may exceed me, who may dare to go beyond imagination, against the tide. To whom I can entrust the torch given to me by my ancestors and teachers.

First, my English teacher from Standard VII in St Stanislaus School, Bandra, Mumbai, during 1962-63. Mrs Philomena D’Souza (nee Valladares) used to give us five topics to write one essay every week; I wrote on all five; Mrs Valladares corrected all five, sometimes rewrote them in her own neat hand-writing! Where have all the great Goan gurus gone?

Second, my Chemistry professor from B.Sc. in St Xavier’s College, Dhobitalao, Mumbai, during 1969-71. Prof V. V. Nadkarny, with his white open shirt, dhoti, and black round topi, taught me not only about organic molecules and carbon chains, but also about facing up to life. When arrogantly, I had refused to apolgise after back-answering a laboratory demonstrator, Prof Nadkarny apologised on my behalf though he was the Head of the Department then. His kind and free classes at his Dadar home, under the benign gaze of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, are with me today, though I do not use the chemistry I learned.

Third, the unlettered mofussil elders of village Kasarpimpalgaon, who taught me, “JoeP of KP”, to speak Marathi and learn of “sanskar” when, as a founder-member of the rural NGO called Vistas, I was working in the drought-prone areas of Pathardi taluka, Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, during 1973-77.

“Those were the days, my friends,
We thought they’d never end,
We’d sing and dance for ever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose,
We thought we’d never lose,
For we were young and sure to have our way.”

The ones who are no more: Smita Patil, Norman “Vikram Salgaonkar” Dantas, Anna Salve. Now the rest (in alphabetical order): Biplab “Bulu” Basu, Vilma Colaco, Dominic D’Souza, Eric D’Souza, Glynis “Asha” D’Souza, John “Babuti” D’Souza, Lancy Fernandes, Nafisa Goga, Pradeep Guha, Ayesha Kagal, Aspi Mistry, Lakshmi “Buchy” Rameshwar Rao.

Fourth, the late Feriwala Francis and Bhabhi as well as the slum-dwellers of Kaju Tekdi, Bhandup, Mumbai, and my comrades at the CITU unit of Prabhakar Sanzgiri. During this same period, my participation as a founder general-secretary of the Lok Vidnyan Sanghatana not only immersed me in the popularisation of science but also introduced me to my Pune girl Kalpana Joshi, whom I married on 26 January 1982.

Fifth, my scribe seniors – S.D. Wagh, Taher Shaikh, Harry David, Y.V. Krishnamurthy – and delightful colleagues at the one and only “our very own” local English daily of Pune, Maharashtra Herald (estd. 1963), where I joined as a sub-editor on a salary of Rs.600 per month on 2 May 1983 and left as assistant editor in 1996.

Sixth, working since August 2006 with the eminent social worker, Shantilal Muttha, Founder and National President of the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana on trustee empowerment and training programs.

And finally, my students in Pune where I have been teaching print journalism and communication as a regular visiting faculty since 1987, at the invitation and with the cooperation of Dr. Kiran Thakur, P.N. Paranjpe, Dr. Vishwas Mehendale, Prof M.S. Pillai, Ujjwal Chowdhury, Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, Dr. Keval Kumar and many others. If my students have learned anything from me, I have surely learned a lot from them.


And so, at railway gate No. 58, I come full circle.

The packed local trains are the reason why I left the Mumbai that I love so much. When we were staying at Dadar in the late 60s, I used to travel 10 minutes by train from Dadar to school in Byculla. The locals were getting difficult. But my father was a railway officer and, therefore, we got a free First Class pass, so we missed the crush in the third class bogies.

When I joined St. Xavier's in 1967, the journey only got longer, 20-25 minutes from Dadar till VT. But in the first class it was still bearable. Fortunately, I escaped from the locals of Mumbai in 1973 and worked in village Maharashtra from 1973-77. If not for the horrors of the Indira Emergency, I may have never come back to Mumbai. When I got back, the trains were choking.

Slowly, travelling by local trains became a torture that I would dread. And when I was in Bhandup, the agony became too much to bear. Fortunately again, I got married and decided to move to Pune, where I also became a full-time journalist.

On the brink of 58, I dread travelling in Pune too. There are no trains here that can be packed (though I have heard that the locals to and from Lonavla are worse that the locals of Mumbai!!!).

But here we have our local variant of torture on the cruel roads, what I call the “chhote shaitan” – the two-wheelers that in the end may murder Pune, unless public transport improves.

Now the wheels are turning within the wheels. At railway gate No. 58.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, Thursday, 5 March 2009.


My dear readers,

That was the bit of memoir I wrote on the occasion of having reached "railway gate No. 58" of my journey "along the line". This blog will trace the rest of that journey, explore aspects of it -- vistas, turnings, stops, views, corners, the horizon -- hidden from the public eye. For the journey is the reward.

Please make your suggestions and suggestions so that my writing, and therefore your reading of these memoirs becomes enjoyable. For it is through this intimate dialogue between me and you that this journey" shall unbegun.

I shall sign off this post every time as "Sangati Zuzay" and not Joseph Pinto. Sangati in Konkani means companion or comrade, like the Hindi "sathi" or Marathi "sobati". Zuzay stands for Joseph in Konkani like Yusuf in Arabic or Jose in Spanish. My mother wanted to call me Joseph, not the "Frederick" that the Christian calendar prescribed as the name of a boy born on the fifth day of March. With her keen ear for music and passion for language, my mother said she did not want the neighbours calling out to her first-born as "Peddy". For she knew that is what Frederick would eventually have become: first "Freddy" in English, and then "Peddy" in Konkani.

Welcome to "Journey Unbegun."

Love, peace and solidarity,

Sangati Zuzay.

Pune, Saturday, 7 March 2009.