At 84, most retreat and are happy living an obscure life. Not George Menezes. He prefers to juice out all that life has to offer and then some more. An ex- Squadron Leader in the Indian Air Force, Menezes is always up and about. Nothing bogs him down; not even a fractured foot.
Although the media may have shunned him ( his words), inspite of being a veteran columnist, he continues to write, books as well as his weekly columns.
What has got a spring in the stride of the author with a flair for humour was the invitation to the just- concluded Goa Literary Fest. That invitation took Menezes by surprise.
“ I have only faced rejection,” he says, “ but this is a pleasant surprise.” Blunt, and to the point. Throwing light on how he was selected he says, “ A big buzz about the book in Mumbai and a mature unbiased decision making by the organisers of the Fest clinched it for me.” There has been not much affection flowing from Goa for the former IAF officer. “ Goan writers, Goan Networks and Goan Book clubs have ignored me all these years and rightly so since I do not live in Goa permanently and I have not written a novel or a heavy research work. I am never included in lists of Goan writers,” he adds. But this time round, things were different.
He finally got the recognition from the land he calls his own and cannot stop beaming from ear- to- ear.
Commenting on The Goa Lit Fest, George says, “ I felt welcome and my session went well. The discussion with Eunice D’souza with excellent inputs from Vivek Menezes made me feel that my strength is poetry and I should publish more of it. It has been too long in the closet and although the content may be sensitive it is worth sharing it.” Menezes’ anthology, The Naked Liberal , edited by Selma Carvalho, a noted BBC correspondent, was recently launched in Mumbai where he chose two noted individuals to honour: Anita Lobo, a voluntary traffic warden who has taken on the high and mighty law- breakers amongst our politicians and Major General ( Retired) Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM who has been awarded more gallantry awards than any other Indian soldier in the history of the Indian Army.
But what is even more surprising is that the first run of 500 copies was all sold out, even before the launch. “ I guess I must be having a lot of fans,” he says jokingly.
Explaining why he chose to honour Lobo and Cardozo, he says, “ For me the launch was an opportunity to dedicate the event to one of my core values, namely, the exceptional ability of ordinary citizens to display extraordinary courage with no personal benefit to themselves.
I selected two persons across genders, across two stratas of society. One a highly decorated Major General and the other a volunteer traffic assistant living in semi- slum- like conditions defying the might of sons of politicians who sought time and again to break traffic laws. Both stories are inspiring role models for us.” In this anthology of his writing ( The Naked Liberal ), Menezes reflects on growing up as the eldest son of the eminent Professor Armando Menezes, a life spent between Goa and Bombay, his closest relationships, youthful experimentations with marijuana and joining the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Naked Liberal was conceived with the intention of producing a biographical outline of Menezes’ life using his own writings as source. It is divided into seven sections which follow the course of his life. Each section is adequately annotated by Selma Carvalho who provides rich background information to the period being chronicled.
Menezes’ writing is as humorous as they are poignant. A piece in particular about Rashid, the paowala, who disappeared during the Mumbai Riots in 1992 is very touching. “ I am still looking out for you, Rashid,” writes Menezes.
Quiz him today if he is still looking for Rashid today, Menezes says, “ I have seen too many deaths now and have learnt to let go.” If you love that wry sense of humour and an author who does not mind pulling a joke on himself, then this book is for you.