Thursday, October 6, 2011


Whenever a nail-biting game of football is being played, a close offside call by the linesman evokes strong reaction from the players and spectators alike. Abuses will be hurled, arguments will be made, even a little shoving will be indulged in… but then the play will resume. The match, like life itself, must go on!
            John Aguiar’s recently-released collection of middles, short essays and miscellaneous writing under the title, OFFSIDE are intended to provoke debates and arguments and instigate a few fights. We may argue about some ‘offsides’ or some ‘fouls’ but this kind of arguments make the game fun to watch and I also presume, fun to play!
One particular essay that I really liked is titled, Invisible Rays, in your Eyes! This essay deals with the growing - and sometimes unnecessary - use of cell phones. I specially liked the way John has ended it: “Mobile users just can’t do away with the mobile, as much as they can’t do away with the wife. For varied reasons, raging from the phony to the genuine, he must love his mobile as much as he loves his wife. Because it is a Mogabile.”
In Missing Boy Traced to Mapusa Lock Up, John Aguiar tells us the story of a person from Ponda who was incarcerated due to wrong parking. What is also shocking was that the police assaulted him and the poor person could not release himself as he had no surety. In the meantime, John had assured the relatives that the police will find the missing person but ironically their search ends in the police lock-up itself!
A Senior Under Officer of the National Cadet Corps (NCC), John narrates a funny incident from a blood donation camp organized by the NCC. “A cadet from [the] Infantry wing was the first to donate blood. He was cheerful and happy. Later, the boy insisted that he should be shown the bottle of blood he had donated. As the bottle was being shown to him, he fainted and collapsed. While the volunteers rushed with soda and coffee for him, somebody suggested that we should put the blood back into his system. Other cadets in queue to donate panicked, many backed out. We had a hard time convincing them and reversing the tide,” he says.
            In Indians as Master Inventors, John meets an American student in Delhi during his days as an Assistant Private Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs. He successfully convinces the American student that Indians were the pioneers in matters related to aviation, surgery, water-proofing of houses and so on and so forth. To support his claims John falls back on the ancient epics and the puranas. John’s article has an uncanny resemblance to the messages and e-mails that we often get, suggesting in a very funny way, that Indians are far ahead than the White Westerners. But surely, the writer must know that these epics and puranas are of a mythical character and culling the truth out of them is one risky enterprise!
            John was very fond of the silver screen when he was young. He was the first-day-first-show kind of enthusiast. Being a sensitive person, John gets easily moved and excited by the scenes depicted in the movies. In one of the movies he attended, John was so engrossed in the movie and also in “playing the hero” of the movie that when the protagonist professed his undying love, John’s hand accidentally slips on the shoulder of a woman sitting besides him. The result: two resounding slaps! And during another action-packed film, John tries to “rescue the hero” but in the bargain gets into trouble with a local dada (who was sitting behind him) and gets a good bashing in the process! John is very magnanimous about publicly disclosing his unintentional indiscretion and also of being beaten up by a lady and a local goon! These incidents can be found in First Day, First Show.
            Reading through the essays – and middles – one gets the feeling that the pieces could have been polished a little. When John wrote these articles a few years ago, they were meant to be published in some local newspapers where space is always a problem. One has to structure ones ideas in as limited a ‘word count’ as possible. But in this book John had the scope to develop and elaborate his ideas. Further refinement would have improved this slim book a lot. Especially those essays where John created a fictitious world: where the Gods speak to him and where a paper weight suddenly became a telephone.
            Offside is a brisk read and can be finished in a single sitting. The line illustrations in this book makes flipping through the pages more interesting. The foreword written by Valmiki Faleiro is a nice trip down nostalgia lane. John worked under Valmiki for the Margao-based West Coast Times around 30 years ago. Other newspaper contributors should follow in John Aguiar’s footsteps and collect their writings in book form. If John can do it, so can others!

Offside: A bouquet of middles, short essays and miscellaneous writing by John Aguiar (Saligão: Goa 1556), 2011; pp. 108, Rs. 150/- [ISBN: 978-93-80739-17-5]

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: October 1, 2011)

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