Ramblings of a Wannabe Jazz Musician
A bird song for Mario Miranda and pristine Moira
Hartman D’Souza Goa
On the farm I live a different life, follow a different clock and dress code. Jeans, T-shirt and rubber chappals, I’m out at work about 7. I walk and potter around the gardens, visit every single tree I’ve planted the last three years, then cook something for the two workers and eat with them at 10.30, and then potter and daydream some more till about noon. This is Goa, so I wake the workers up at 2, assign work. I water the gardens from about 5 till about 6 or 6.30 in the evening depending on how many pipes I need to haul, then sit down and watch the sun dip over the hill, the sky changing from fierce red, to orange, to a mix of purple and blue.
While it may be a good thing to talk to yourself in the head, it’s time to take a break when you hear yourself talking to yourself loud enough for the other guys to hear and wonder what the shit has happened to you.
They find it funny that I smile at the plants and trees; that I spray water to fool the plants into thinking that it’s raining... late-morning winter showers... great for brinjal leaves wilting in the sun.
Instead of acknowledging my success with my Fukuoka-inspired experiments; ignoring his book that I’ve taken to show them thinking they’ll be impressed; smiling at the laptop screen where I’ve downloaded his photograph and other stuff I needed; all they have to show me are cockeyed smiles.
They’re standing with me in the middle of an ‘ecologically centred’ greenhouse that they’ve built with me, standing on ladders and tying bamboo and other sticks with rope, and it’s just raised their eyebrows. It’s worse than that maybe. I’ve figured out no matter what I do and what they see in front of their bloody eyes, they’re going to tell me it’s not going to work. They are doomed to be prophets of doom. That’s a trait Goans can fall into very comfortably. You tell them the mining in their villages has to stop if more and more people raise their voices and get into organic agriculture with the forests and weeds as friends and make more bloody money than hauling ore out in a truck... and, to add to that, actively help to reduce the crazy climate changes they themselves have seen hit us on the farm... and still they’ll give you ten reasons why it can’t be done.
It is not that boss-worker relations have soured or are in any way less amiable than what one may think. It just hurts a bit that they think their boss is a bit of a clown. For instance, they discount my theory, in spite of the purple-flecked brinjals dangling in front of them, or the new shoots poking through the straw and bullshit, that playing Mozart and Bach really helps. Okay, it’s the choice of music maybe. So I’ve played the appropriate music from the Indian traditions. Works wonders. Sometimes one of the workers, the guy with the little duck-tail, plays Bollywood junk on his mobile and I tell him, hey man, this brinjal here, you’re telling me it’s smiling listening to that shit? They laugh, but they don’t know. No musically minded farmer can afford to ignore jazz and classical music, unless he lacks both taste and sense of the two forms. He needs to experiment too.
He would, therefore, find out that most vegetable seedlings do not like the Allman Brothers or Janis with Big Brother and the Holding Company behind her, or even Steppenwolf for that matter, but they respond well to the Grateful Dead and indeed Crosby, Stills and Nash without Neil Young. Oregano and basil may just be partial to Astrud Gilberto and positively adore Cassandra Wilson, Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter, as almost all of Nina Simone.
The best finding I keep for last: and that is that the majestic Goan wild bison, Gaur Reddo as the Goans call him – an amazing animal as big as a Toyota Land Cruiser and much more elegant by far – will most definitely not attack your vegetables at three in the morning as is their bloody wont, if they hear Jimi Hendrix doing ‘Purple Haze’ through large hidden speakers. Hendrix three nights in a row and the tribe (yes, tribe, wild bison are not to be confused with a ‘herd’) move to the neighbouring farms.
As I write this, though, I am living in Moira, in the house of a young friend who is broke most of the time and doesn’t yet own a mattress. That’s a bit of a pain given my frame so I decide to palliate matters by sitting in the balcony reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s The Natural Way of Farming: The theory and practice of green philosophy till I feel sleepy. Get ready to bomb the guys on the farm, is what I’m thinking when I get back on the 16th.
Sleep, though, is not something you can think of when you read him, because you end up laughing a lot. His writing and philosophy questions so many postulates we have regarding the earth and our so-called rights over it, it’s actually a very relaxing read. He has a wry humour (like Cousteau and Attenborough) and takes every opportunity he gets to remove fig leafs surrounding ‘industry’ and ‘development’. He gives you a lot of energy if you’re thinking of farming. It’s like brinjals listening to music.
The majestic Goan wild bison, Gaur Reddo as the Goans call him – an amazing animal as big as a Toyota Land Cruiser and much more elegant by far – will most definitely not attack your vegetables at three in the morning as is their bloody wont, if they hear Jimi Hendrix doing ‘Purple Haze’ through large hidden speakers
So when I turn in, I keep the comp on. I drop off to sleep listening to Monk doing ‘Willow Weep for Me’, sleepily trying to remember who’s playing the vibraphone with him. Lovely way to fall asleep. My playlist to sleep by moves from Monk to Beethoven’s ‘Adagio Un Poco Mosso’.
It’s like being on the farm, and waking up right through the night and early morning with the sounds of animals cracking twigs while running through brush, the dogs barking or often baying; then, closest to music, the birds arriving.
On the farm, I am woken up every morning by a particular Malabar Thrush. After I had to cut the two almond trees in the dog kennels adjacent to where I sleep, because their leaves were bringing bugs that were attacking the dogs, I was pretty sure this bird would move house. Don’t bet on it. The bird is there, my personalised alarm clock sitting on the roof.
If it was there every morning in the same damn tree between 5.15 and 5.20 (and some damn days at 4.55 when it couldn’t sleep), I reckoned there was a cosmic reason for this that I didn’t know of, and began starting my day with its first whistle.
So from the time I get out of bed and fold my sheets and put the folding bed away, then into the toilet and shower, this bird follows me on the tiled roof. It’s come to be like two sax players playing scales together to see if a riff and melody emerge and what one can do with it... a straightforward, no bullshit jam.
So this bird whistles, lays the notes down, and then repeats them a bit faster. He’s showy, but I take him on. I wet my lips and purse them as I fold the sheets, take a deep breath, get the saliva in my mouth moving, give him the notes back... but miss out on two or three of them. I am given one more shot, but with another set of notes. Shit, I say to the bird, you’ve changed it, man – that’s not what you did the last time. I try the old sequence and come close to getting the first notes he gave me. I’m sure he’s smiling because now he shows off with a flurry of totally new notes, pauses, then repeats the first notes he gave me, which this time, I get straight away.
He repeats it but changes the ending. I get what he gets. My lips feel warm, my mouth is washed and lubricated, my lips dry. Now I add a little riff and repeat it. The bird gets it. We do two rounds of it. I sense that he’s feeling good because he gives me a set of totally new notes and follows me over the roof to the kitchen, both of us whistling and showing off to each other, cocky jazz musicians and happy about it.
By the time I sit down with my tea, ready to whistle the whole day, the first light breaks and my morning friend goes his way, his notes fading with an almost elegiac quality. I always wonder what the bird thinks when I’m not on the farm and sitting in Moira. Aki, my niece, getting ready for school at that time, and Rita, who fixes her breakfast while I cook pasta or noodles or whatever for her lunch and pack it, are both privy to these early morning jams. Aki says he still comes every morning and whistles and waits for me until Rita yells in Konkani that I’ve gone to Moira… and still he’ll stand on the roof and whistle till mama starts the Gypsy and revs it she adds…
Maybe that’s why the bird doesn’t follow me to Moira.
So December 11 breaks for me at 5.15, not with this songbird, but with music from my laptop. I am still caught between sleep and waking when I catch the singer coming in with Cuccini’s ‘Ave Maria’, and recall thinking yet again that I prefer this version to Gounod’s. I know what’s coming next, so open my eyes, wide. Sleep totally over, I listen to Massenet’s ‘Meditation’, which pleases me no end. His use of the pan pipes is as close as you can get to a stoned Malabar Thrush with a divine mission. I stretch on the mat and savour the music, sit and hear it through. It heralds a good day, I think.
While taking a shower I also distinctly remember hearing three requiems and thinking sleepily that that seemed odd, two of Mozart, one of Beethoven.
It’s not unlike a scenario inspired by Tomas Alea’s Death of a Bureaucrat. So absurd though it may be, the government (read the PWD, the public waste department) is now spending crores to lay a pipeline taking water from the Selaulim Dam to the villages of Cawrem, Maina and Pirla to compensate them for their diminishing spring waters
I also have distinct memories of one more track, Roderigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’... the orchestral version, because I remember angrily thinking that I should really substitute that version with Miles doing an extended second movement as he does in his Sketches of Spain album... looking at Spain from the Moorish point of view.
So December 11 breaks beautifully in Moira. Large, regal mango trees hiding the light breaking; but there’s also mist in the community fields now overgrown with grass, and left fallow and looking sad. There’s a water body that once fed the field that will soon fall into disuse or be turned into a garbage dump. That’s what they seem to like doing in Goa.
I have my tea at 6 and watch the day begin. The birds are more difficult to see, but you can hear them. But by the time the light comes to the top of the trees, the village road opposite fills with speeding traffic taking kids to school. Everyone has either a car or bike, everyone blows the horn. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
I have my own way of beginning the day in Moira. I walk northeast before the traffic starts, where there are less houses, get onto a hill before a new set of posh row houses getting built, and go up to the summit through natural forests that are pretty damn thick. The walk up is beautiful and I really feel I’m back on the farm doing the same crazy shit.
Up at the farm, if I reach close to the summit I can see the mine at Cawrem taking away precious forest cover and, more importantly, killing a spring, and one often wonders where the stupidity comes from – the people, the government, the mine owners? It’s not unlike a scenario inspired by Tomas Alea’s Death of a Bureaucrat. So absurd though it may be, the government (read the PWD, the public waste department) is now spending crores to lay a pipeline taking water from the Selaulim Dam to the villages of Cawrem, Maina and Pirla to compensate them for their diminishing spring waters.
What the fuck happens when the mining finishes the Curca, an important tributary of the Kushawati east of Maina and Cawrem and Pirla? It doesn’t seem to bother the Goan that both these rivers feed the mighty Zuari. Is it because they have grown used to the sight of it clogged with barges ferrying ore to the harbour and all’s well with their world? Barges have long been ruining marine life upstream in both the Mandovi and Zuari, and everyone has known it for some time now. Fishing communities using traditional craft have been turned into museum pieces on Goa’s coastline as it falls under the heavy concrete of ‘development’. Along the rivers such communities have either been displaced or are struggling. One is always left with the dark thought that if the Zuari can fall to barges and trawlers and the Mandovi to barges, trawlers and floating casinos, then the Kushawati and Curca have a hope in hell of surviving.
In this lovely village of Moira, and it’s barely 15 or so kilometres from the sea, it’s so much worse at the top of the hill. I climb it repeatedly towatch the raped and pillaged hills of Bicholim, the very heart of Goa’s destructive tryst with mining families. The hills once fed the temples of five Goan deities, four sisters and a brother, linked to water, but where today one of the mining pits of the Chowgule-owned mine goes 37 metres below sea level.
You do not want to know what’s happened to the wells and springs of the area. I shed a few tears of anger seeing the skeletal remains. I spit, I curse the mining companies. It’s cathartic. I feel good doing it. I don’t need to carry this much of anger the whole day.
But December 11 was odd to start with. It was chilly going up the hill, mist still hung in the air. The music I heard at night came back. I found it odd that the requiems came as I passed the undertaker’s cottage with its lovely garden creepers. By the time I reached the bright yellow row houses, the mist was still in the air, slightly thicker in the forest. Cuccini’s ‘Ave Maria’ took me a quarter of the way up, and Massenet’s Meditation followed as I neared the crest of the hill not far from the tree where I normally lean on,
At the summit I am in shock. The entire view of the ruined Bicholim hills is cloaked with a light gray, almost white mist. I can’t remember birds breaking into song here before, but today they do and as if on cue, I hear Miles doing the second movement of ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’. I am forced to admit that with the view of Bicholim washed with mist, the morning breaks beautifully.
I get back home, read Fukuoka and listen to Coltrane till about 12.30 when I shower and change and go for another walk before cold beer and lunch with a friend. The walk is not a good idea. No Goan village today is a nice place for pedestrians. Twice I have to leave the tarmac and squeeze next to an embankment; once because two kids on a bike lean into the corner and almost take my hip with them, and once because some shit in a snazzy car thinks she’s on the fucking autobahn...
But lunch is wonderful with lots of laughter and banter and teasing even though the food is poorly cooked, and I generally don’t like heavy lunches. The beer tastes good though. The fish is over-spiced. The cook should have been murdered for using a ready-made masala for the vindaloo. I detest gajar halwa, but the bibinca is superb, made for the restaurant by a woman in the village. I eat ice-cream too, thinking I’ll go back and take a nap before another long walk in the evening and a couple of drinks at the village bar before cooking an omelette for myself and getting back to Fukuoka.
It’s evening before I get back, because something tells me I have to go for another walk and wear out the unaccustomed lunch. For some reason I end up at the church and sit there for an hour or so and smoke and daydream. I see fields breaking before the river, framed by coconut and bhendi trees. Moira for some strange reason has rosewood trees growing wild and they are a beautiful sight fluttering in the breeze throwing flashes of light. There’s lots of pongamia too.
I get back home, change into lounging clothes and go on the net.
The first thing I see on the screen is the mail telling me that Mario Miranda is no more. I close the computer, sit there in a daze and go into flashback mode so easily it’s as if I heard the music of the night and early morning with a purpose, starting with the requiems and ending with Miles.
I go back to being 22, just about to finish college in Mapusa, working as a part-time reporter with the Goa Monitor in Panjim to earn some money. There was Ivan Fera, perhaps the most brilliant writer Goa ever produced who lost out to cancer when he was nearing his peak, and Patrick D’Souza who’s now in England. We visited every bar from Fontainhas to Mala in those heady days of idealism, reading and discussing Camus and Sartre and telling each other we had to get the shit out of Goa if we didn’t want to end up with mildew in our ears.
Mario Cabral, who edited the Goa Monitor, was our mentor. Ivan fared much better because he was that much more brilliant, but I remember having my copy bunched up by Mario and thrown back at me. It was Mario Cabral who told the three of us to get the hell out of Goa. He invited us one morning to the Mandovi Hotel to meet Mario Miranda, the first time we actually saw what he looked like. He heard that we wanted a leg up in journalism, and Bombay was where we had to make it. He gave us his card, told us to call him the moment we hit Bombay, offered to put us up before we found a place to stay.
He was true to his word and gave both Ivan and I a leg up. It took just one phone call from him. I left Bombay for a while to study in Poona, but continued to freelance. I came back to Goa for a few years, and went to meet him several times. He had read everything that Ivan and I had written, always asking me about my theatre, urging me to come to Bombay and do theatre there.
That’s when I also saw the real Mario Miranda, the serious artist. On the broad staircase was one of his very early drawings. A woman fado singer in a Portuguese tavern, guitarist with cigarette dangling from his mouth, people sitting around listening and probably weeping into their glasses. Whenever I visited, I always went to look at that drawing which made Mario happy. Then he’d take the jazz record I’d select and play it and turn the volume up before he fixed me a drink.
Without ever intending, he was a mentor, always knew what we were doing, Ivan and I, never waited for us to see him first before he came up to us to say hello, or fail to introduce us to his friends with pride. These days I’m told some mentors are paid for their services. In Bombay when he met us he always asked us if we needed money, made sure he invited us over to Colaba to drink and eat a good meal.
I ended December 11 by walking to Mapusa and taking a motorcycle to Baga where my friend Steve Siqueira was playing with his wife Kittu singing. I don’t tell Steve that Mario had died. He begins his set with jazz standards. I order a Cuba Libre, lots of ice, tell Mario the first set was for him and Steve and Kittu didn’t let me down. They do a version of ‘Nearness of You’ that brings tears to my eyes, then do a lot of slow bossanovas that would have had Mario smiling. I leave after a few drinks before I get maudlin. I listen to them do Crosby, Stills and Nash and Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, and say Okay Mario, that’s it for the night...
I still don’t tell Steve about Mario. I know him. The music will turn sad.
I reach back to Moira, and get a motorcycle pilot who sings Konkani songs from the old films Nirmon and Amchem Noxib and I join him, the two of us having fun trying a few harmonies. Fukuoka doesn’t work for me. I feel like crying. I find some rum in Terence’s kitchen and have a night cap that I nurse sitting in the balcony, falling asleep on the chair with my legs on the table and waking up just before five.
I wake up to music in my head, and I want to pay my dues. I wish the Malabar Thrush would leave Aki this morning and fly to Moira. He doesn’t, even though I wait patiently. So I whistle, leave space for the bird to whistle back, and take up the thread, while the two of us play a bird song for Mario...