Reginald Massey’s Book Page

  • Bomoicar: stories of Bombay Goans by Reena Martins
  • Tawny Glows by Jaspreet Mander

Many years ago when I was in Bombay the Chief Minister there was a senior Congress party politician named Morarji Desai who can best be described as a well-intentioned crank. He banned the consumption of alcohol, being a strict teetoataller himself. This simply meant that bootlegging boomed and illicit breweries and distilleries, in cahoots with the corrupt police, started making big money. The mawaalis (underworld gangsters) quickly started smuggling alcohol into Bombay from Goa which was then the main part of Portuguese India. The rich film stars preferred scotch rather than the cheap daru brewed in Bombay. It was a bizarre situation aided and abetted by the Bombay police.

Morarji Desai advocated the drinking of one’s own urine. He called it “urine therapy”. Air India, then owned by the Tatas, operated out of Bombay. They were not allowed to carry any alcoholic drinks on board. This caused various problems. A friend of mine, a celebrated film star, boarded a first class flight to London and ordered a double scotch..

The elegant air hostess said: “Sorry Sir, no whisky here. But I can go to the toilet and provide you with some fresh pissky.” Indians have a great sense of humour.

  • BomoicarI am painting the background to a lively readable book titled Bomoicar: stories of Bombay Goans, 1920 – 1980, compiled and edited by the Bombay journalist Reena Martins (Goa 1556 / Golden Heart Emporium. ISBN 978-93-80739-42-7). The cover of the book has  a memorable picture of Lata Mangeshkar with the musician Anthony Gonsalves who provided the music for many Bombay films. Both were Bomoicars (Bombay Goans). Gonsalves was given a rare cinematic tribute by Amitabh Bachchan in the film Amar, Akbar, Anthony in the immensely popular song and dance number “My name is Anthony Gonsalves…”

The Goan contribution to Bombay (now Mumbai) has been immense. The small community produced doctors, nurses, teachers, journalists, and leading musicians and sportsmen. Goan chefs were much in demand. Their vindaloos, chutnies, fish preparations and cutlets were famous.

This collection of stories and anecdotes has trawled several sources and what emerges is the rich and fascinating fabric of a minority thriving in multicultural Bombay. In the home the Bomicar woman was the boss. The Goan Aunties, God bless their sweet souls, always had their eyes on a quick buck, They brewed hooch in their kitchens and backyards and invited their friends and their friends’ friends to their private speakeasies. They cashed in on Morarji-Bhai’s do-goodery.

But being good Catholics (they seldom used the term ‘Christian’) they went to Confession regularly and attended Mass and received Holy Communion every Sunday. They put a high premium on virginity since they revered Mary, whom they believed was the Virgin Mother of God. Their daughters were invariably schooled in convents under stern nuns. The boys went to no-nonsense schools such as Don Bosco. Catholic colleges such as St. Sophia’s and St. Xavier’s provided them with first class higher education.  India’s leading cartoonist Mario Miranda was a Goan as was the great painter Francis Newton Souza. The leading British MP Keith Vaz is of Goan descent.

The Goan diaspora is now spread over many countries and this book gives Goans a lifeline to their past and colourful culture.

Jaspreet Mander writes with extreme dexterity and sensitivity and has mastered the two Japanese genres haiku and tanka. Her latest collection Tawny Glows has a selection of her compositions. The tanka form, over a thousand years old, was practised by Japanese aristocrats and monks as a form of superior poetic expression. To this day members of Japan’s imperial family compose verses in this genre.

tawny glowsThe word tanka meant ‘short story’ and comprised a total of thirty-one syllables spread over a total of five lines. The first line had five syllables, the second seven, the third five, the fourth seven and the fifth seven. The first three lines are the ‘upper phrase’ and the last two the ‘lower phrase’. A total of 31 syllables had to express and ‘wrap up’ and thus ‘culminate’ the poem. No mean task.

The poet uses simile, metaphor and personification and often speaks of the passing seasons, love, sadness and strong emotions. Many great non-Japanese poets such as the Indian Nobel prize winning Tagore and the American Ezra Pound wrote in the Japanese mode. Today the Japanese style has been adapted to various languages. (I myself have attempted ‘Japanese poems’ in English). It is a severe and painful discipline and few have succeeded. But Jaspreet Mander has achieved amazing versatility in free-form tanka.

Here is a verse to Som Parkash Ranchan who was once my poetic collaborator and later became her mentor:

A traveller

warm and rare, loving and large

nudging, nurturing our barge

and then left for

journeys onwards, upwards.

And a love poem:

Your hands warmly brushing mine

we walk on

you say it’s heavenly

I say you’re creating the bliss

cedars quietly take it higher

Many of the verses are in the ancient Greek Homeric Ekphrastic mode in which there are descriptions of a painting or a piece of sculpture. The poet not only describes but amplifies the inner meaning of the work of art. In English literature the best known example is Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats.

Here is a metaphysical and splendidly physical poem:

he thinks, she knows

he is big, she is deep

seas flow with the skies

trees grow with the soils

strengths unite as flowers bloom together

This beautiful hardback volume is brilliantly produced on art paper. The Japanese illustrated their poems by calligraphy and art work. This beautiful book has digital art by Mandeep Singh Manu. The calligraphy is by Hardeep Singh and the concept, design and photographs are by Sandeep Singh.

The book is modestly priced at 500 Indian rupees and available from:

I recommend this book to all who love poetry. They will not be disappointed. In fact, with the passage of time, I can safely say that this volume will become a collectors’ item of some value.


Reggie MasseyReginald Massey has been writing a regular Book Page for CONFLUENCE for years. His poetry and prose on a variety of subjects have been widely published.  Most of his books are available from Amazon UK.