Duxkallant teravo mhoino said our elders in Konkani, “a thirteenth month in times of famine.” That earthy pragmatism girds the Goa Writers group’s response to the coronavirus emergency. We redoubled communication amongst ourselves, with its unbounded mutual support and encouragement, then created The Lockdown Journals, where the full range of our members from twenty-something neophytes to the 94-year-old novelist Victor Rangel-Ribeiro have all contributed their voices to the mix.
Founded in 2006, Goa Writers is a vibrant creative community of just over 50 members with strong connections to India’s smallest state, including several in Australia, UK, USA and Canada. We published the bestselling 2011 anthology Inside/Out: New Writing from Goa, and since 2009 have co-hosted the acclaimed Goa Arts + Literature Festival, along with International Centre Goa. This lockdown alphabet – written exclusively for Scroll.in – reflects the remarkable diversity of our group, as well as the uncommon universality of the lockdown experience.
A is for Arrey, our lives are ruled by what we’re allowed.
Daddy allowed me to take a job; government allows us to buy groceries during Lockdown; the virus isn’t allowing the program to run properly.
Say “allowed” aloud.
An agreeable, amusing word.
Say aloud, “disallowed”.
Arrey, that’s also important: “In ‘ours’, (pronounced ‘aarrs’/‘aavers’), we use only kokum/tamarind in fish-curry”, indicating vinegar/tomatoes are no-no.
“Allow” is swallowed by words like allowance (remember Dearness?) and shallow (as in pockets).
If aiyyo, abba, anna, accha, badmash, bhelpuri, jugaad, natak, prepone, papad and chup are amongst those allowed by the Oxford D, why not arrey?
B is for bafflement at the often muddled course of our lives.
Of all the people I grew up with, only two have survived, sisters I fell in love with while in college. Both became nuns; did I drive them into the convent? I was in deep despair, but because I lost them both, I then found the love of my life, who told me in writing that she would never marry me. Then we wed and stayed married for fifty-five blissful years. In showering blows on our heads, Fate sometimes throws in a blessing or two. Forever remembering Lea.
C is for Corona, from Latin, meaning “garland worn on the head as a mark of honour or emblem of majesty”.
Virus, meaning “slimy liquid” or “poison”. Coronavirus, a majestic crown on a slimy poison. A virus is not a plant or animal. It is not even an organism, because it is not free-living – it cannot reproduce or carry on metabolic processes without a host cell. By itself it is a dead thing. In an appropriate environment, as in a human body, the coronavirus becomes a living thing. Like a seed. A majestic seed in the body of Man.
D is for dogwood.
We are the spring of solitude, trees growing thick, roots knobbed, bark heaved. We are the rustle, the brambling, the wingbeat in the dogwood. We are the tangles, the spiny flowers, the hedgerow green. We are the minnow, silvering the silt-soil, the shallow river, the sepia stones. We are the furrowed field, the rain gapped earth, the corralled cob horse, the sun smeared sky. We are the bare road, the silent street, the funeral online, the grief without utterance, the deaths doubling daily. We are the spring of spores and slip streams. We are London, mourning.
E is for Essentials.
Tiny submicroscopic parasites are causing unprecedented changes in the world.
Some words too have been infected.
“Essentials”, a much used word today has taken on new shades of meaning and shifting connotations.
A friend and her husband replied to my query on what essentials are now non–.
“Lipstick, perfume, fancy shoes. They’re lying unused for weeks.”
“Underwear,” says her husband. “Pajamas suffice when I work from home.”
“His messy beard states that the razor is non-essential too.”
“What’s essential then?”
“Family, TV, Netflix, potato-chips, books,” they both agree.
“Toilet paper!” they remember and laugh.
Someone in India overheard and laughed even louder!
Yvonne Vaz Ezdani
F is for fading footprints of yesteryears.
Frrrothing corners of fantabulism – a woman gives birth on a road, picks up the new-one and walks on. Fulcrum, the firmament of fortitude.
Feet in the air – fuzziness: weeks mixing up, full annas on binge-watching.
Fitness. Touch your stranger-toes. Stretch an unkind spine.
Foodlessness. Know hunger before fear, or vice versa.
Four knives of householdery. Shards of domesticity. Or new citizen-making in a worldwide web of frenzy.
Faceoff. Turning inside-out, dusted like wet cloth before a clothesline. Fathoming your self-nucleus, reaching your other side – cores resurfacing.
Fahrenheit to Celsius when the virus perishes.
G is for the Gulmohur tree.
The gulmohur tree was bare. I sit in the garden, Lockdown stoic, under an umbrella that reminds me, in print, of coconut trees, sand dunes and dolphins. Bulbuls go about their business, watched over by Maia, the cat. Packages of tomatoes, cauliflower, brinjal, half a cabbage and watermelon arrive in the balcão anonymously. Up in the blackboard tree, a woodpecker shrieks. I translate from Pournima Kerkar’s Marathi. Work is a blessing. The gulmohur flowers. Both Lockdown and bulbuls recede. Water tankers rush past followed by JCBs. G is for the Goa we are losing or, have lost already.
H is for Home.
For where your heart is, there your treasure will be. That is why it is incomprehensible for some why others would trudge a highway of heatstrokes to head homeward. That’s where they had buried their hearts eons ago when they made a beeline for the cities to earn a living. Now, when making a living is not an option, now, of all times, the heart it is that beckons. And they follow the call…
on the railway tracks
a child’s doll
reaching for the stars
I is for I really wish I could but surely you understand, in the interests of not, not spreading things with everything, everything shutting down and all, I’m so sorry, it’s me, really, not you.
I stop cowering and let myself be relieved that my body is finally safe, from you.
I thank the gin-makers for ensuring that their thirteen organic botanicals are infinitely better company than you.
J is for Joy.
Can joy, germ jam together? “Jamais”? Unimaginable, when faced with this Kafkaesque situation, not fiction, plain fact. Plans, projects, all cancelled. Much awaited family reunions in distant countries. Travel bookings forfeited, children disappointed. Adults losing heart over health, finances, staring into empty spaces, confronted with this unprecedented juggernaut. Then, flying to the Cloud of Unknowing only to return, filled with wisdom, joy. Yes, it is possible to turn fear into faith. Hopelessness into joy. Technology was never so welcome. Everywhere, a surge of creativity, amazing human endeavor to lift the Other. Strange are His ways!
Edith Melo Furtado
K is for Kitchen.
Lockdown times and I am in the Kitchen more often than not. An estrangement comes full circle, but with a difference. As the mistress of my new home 30 years ago, I had decided to remote control the Kitchen. I had seen the toll a full time engagement in the kitchen had on housewives with no apparent reward. I wanted leisure, attention and recognition instead.
Times have changed now. With our house staff away in lockdown, the Kitchen is held by me and my two men (husband & son), homemakers at par gracefully holding their nourishing hub together. Each one stands tall & self possessed whether dishing out a scrumptious dish, doing dishes or doling out points in a webinar.
Hands to station at our own docks @Lockdown House – SUDAN
L is for the Little People.
They’re the powerless ones, migrant labourers living from hand to mouth. Suddenly, a blink-and-it’s-gone, four-hour notice, a hastily imposed Covid-19 lockdown. They’re now like deer caught in fear-inducing headlights. Bolt or stay put?
The desperation of the faceless makes it to TV screens. Sixteen felled at one blow! The helplessness, the resignation, in the voices of survivors is unmistakable. But little people get little real attention.
I hear voices crying out in the street – Madat karo seth (help us, sir). It’s the little people who’ve stayed put. Made even littler by the lockdown. Reduced to beggars.
M is for Mangoes in May.
I stand at my living room window, hoping for a miracle. I have been told the story before and despite proof of the fact, I am still hoping against hope hoping. The mango tree in our compound only bears fruit every alternate year and as luck and lock down would have it, this is the year she stands barren. I have put her in poetry before, sat in her shade and watched the world go by. Now, she is landmark to Swiggy delivery guys as I order overpriced authentic Devgad Alphonso Mangoes online. And while I know that any mangoes at all are a blessing, I am still waiting for my chance to devour Mankurad mangoes in May.
N is for Nights.
The nights are the worst. I lie in bed not knowing what the next day would bring. In Goa, the lockdown started on 22nd March – spring equinox. The nights were cool and full of fear. Would I see my family and friends again? Was this it for humanity? Is this the apocalypse? Spring yielded quickly to summer. Hot, humid, airless nights filled with images of those walking home; of all the new injustices that came to light that day. The nights are loud now – crickets drowning out every other sound. The rains are not far; home still is, for many.
The first time the Os appeared n the highway I culdn’t believe there were s many f them. There were small os, sme newly brn os and mstly adult Os, and sme pregnant Os ready t bring mre os int the wrld. They came ut f the cities and spilled n t the highways, trudging back t their villages. Their eyes were just Os, their stmachs were Os and perhaps their dreams were als Os. A few ther letters came ut t help them but there isn’t much they culd d fr the Os. The Os were clearing ut.
P is for Phases
As a writer, time has always had a different meaning for me. Time in its strict measures of minutes, seconds, milliseconds, never stuck with me. Time was always in phases, and now even more so – phases of the day when one is able to make sense, phases of the day when one forgets, phases of the day spent wondering if one was always preparing for this phased-out measure of time. After all, the lockdown also has phases flowing from one week to another. One tries to contain in minutes, hours, weeks but time remains uncontained.
I untether myself with it.
Q is for Qriosity about the future of English, a language we all love and often misspell.
Bernard Shaw tried to reform it, and failed. Consider logic: if “f” is pronounced “ef”, and “m” is pronounced “em”, why do we spell fminate differently? And why don’t we rgu that just those three letters should replace “argue”? Perhaps we need a body like the Real Academia Española, founded centuries ago to make sure Spaniards would always be able to read Cervantes. But for us to be always able to read Shakespeare, would we then be condemned to forever write like Shakespeare?
R is for Rocking Chairs.
We create relationships with furniture. It is about the emotional involvement, the give and take, not just the ownership of them. A care-giver is our first rocking chair, soothing us. We feel for the rocking chair the feelings we feel toward those who cared for us deeply when we needed it most. For most of us, our sleep and mindful rocking motion are good friends. The smidgeons of emotion in our cerebrospinal fluid begin to embrace their Brownian motion, our balance centres are stimulated, our stress may get processed. A caressing to-and-fro, the feeling of being petted, a connection with our fluidity. A hope that we will be rocking our way out of this global crisis.
Dr Rachana Patni
S is for Seniors.
The way the Canadian government is approaching this Covid-19 crisis, you’d think Canadian currency is going out of business. Just this morning (May 12) Prime Minister Trudeau announced a one-time gift of $300 to every senior receiving Old Age Security. As many as 6.7 million Canadians are eligible for this benefit. And those low income seniors receiving Guaranteed Income Security will also get $200 plus $300. So far the government has doled out over $250 billion in aid to students, part-time workers, small and large businesses and almost everyone who have lost their source of income since the Lockdown two months ago.
GoaWriters must think we are gone crazy during this pandemic and wish to solve every problem with money. And why not, right? Money can solve any problem!
Hope Narendra Modi will emulate the Canadian response to the job crisis caused by the Covid.
T is for the Tree of Life.
Old people, waiting in hope and loneliness
For émigré sons and daughters
if only to help fix the roof, fight off the real estate vultures
ever circling closer.
I wrote this in 2011.
“When cultures fuse together
We call it the Tree of Life
The Tree that natured you has been transplanted in a new land
Each sapling will send out its own roots
An adapt in order to survive”
East Africa Goans in the sixties migrated to the UK, Canada, Australia, Portugal and beyond.
Will they ever return?
U is for
1 - U
2 - Us, up.
3 - Use, urn, ugh.
4 - Ugly, user, upon, unit.
5 - Udder, ulcer, unify, uncle, usher.
6 - Unisex, umbral, uvular, utopia, urgent, uproar,
7 - Uttered, utopian, utilize, upwards, upsilon, umpteen, ukulele.
8 - Uxorious, username, utensils, usefully, urbanite, usufruct, ubiquity, umbrella.
Un-, a common prefix, avoided.
Unity in Diversity, I believe in, utterly.
Uniforms, school-wear or the Civil Code, are ingredients for oneness.
Un-locking – is that the opposite of lock-down? Or is lock-up more correct? Up-lock maybe?
I don’t know.
U tell me.
V is for Vanity balanced on the edge like a ballerina with hands out-stretched and toes pointed down into the void of Vice, depravity, and Voracity.
She refused to look down and see the void had already engulfed her. Victorious she was, proud of her achievements, her beauty, her wealth. She threw back her head in joy…and tottered. The edge was collapsing with a virus that had seeped into her structure. There was no room on the edge to do her Victory dance, she had to sit astride it and repair, renovate and toughen to strengthen and fortify it. But she would survive. Virtue was never far away.
W is for wine: the good book, in the song of songs, says: “your kisses are sweeter than wine.”
to think of wine as the measure to assess a kiss from the beloved requires a deeper knowledge of love and loving, and likely, a good vineyard too. the creation of wine is a science that only an artist can practise. love, of course, it’s not a science, nor is it even an art we can design and erase at will. there is no will in love but we must will it for it is at the foundation of the will to live. or the will not to die. in other words: the making of wine is like the making of love, it only takes longer. now, having said that, drinking indian wines requires more than will! it requires acceptance of forces out of our control, forebearance in the face of lacks, and even more so, to be locked during a lockdown. i’m not casting aspersions at desi darus, god forbid, after all “malar libre”, which is old monk and thumbs up kept me uncomfortably not numb for the past many weeks. but this i can say with assurance: if the sensual biblical poet was in india, he would have compared their kisses “laying down over verdant fields” to something different. perhaps the W would have been for whiskey. “your kisses are sweeter than amrut pitted single malt whiskey.” yes, now we’re talking!
Dr Hune Margulies
X is for Xavier, the Basque who co-founded the Jesuits in Paris in 1534.
This stern, uncomprehending fundamentalist evangelised from Goa to Kerala to Borneo to Japan, and finally died on the verge of pressing into China. Quickly beatified and canonized, he’s positioned as “Apostle of the Indies” and his “miraculously preserved” mummified body in Old Goa is the object of intense veneration. Huge numbers of Hindus and Muslims pray with deep sincerity to “Goencho Saib” – especially now in the time of pandemic emergency. In the end, it was he who has been converted, with lasting and rather beautiful effect.
Y is for Yesterday.
Yesterday abandoned me six days after my fiftieth. Shattering my naiveté, like champagne glasses I smashed in gay abandon. Yesterday stole my certainty. I sleep unsure if I will wake up next morning. An architect with no tomorrows, I draw no plans.
I loved yesterday dearly, she was young and full of dreams. But she left as I watched helplessly. Everybody leaves, everything unravels. Yesterday’s departure – difficult as it has been – has liberated me. I am dead, dead to my earlier life. By dying I’m learning how to live.
Z is for Zazen.
To sit still. Expecting nothing. Thousands of Zen Buddhists convert to Jainism every year. They are united in their appreciation of nothing. In Jainism the Tirthankaras gave up everything. Therefore, they can offer us only “nothing”.
Karma is a subtle energy, with a material existence. To give up materialism and karmic matter, some Jains turn to Zens and some Zens turn to Jains. They dedicate themselves to the goodness of nothing. Finding it in something. Finding in it something?
As we navigate the virus anxiously, trying everything, I sit with nothing to see if I sense anything. Sometimes I find peace and sometimes peace finds a piece of me.