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Saturday, February 1, 2014

A very close encounter, too close for comfort

The concept of a crowd. When does a crowd turn into a mob? Is it a mob when you cannot move forward or backward but you are just pushed in this direction and that by this tightly compacted mass of highly irritated humanity? So tightly packed, you had no worries of falling down and being stamped upon? I was in one such entity a couple of evenings ago. 

'Twas the football final of the Lusofonia Games, Goa 2014. And what do you know! Goa's team of young boys, expected to do seasoned players jobs, actually landed up in the Final. Goa was delighted. Fun and feni maybe Goa's pastimes, but football is Goa's religion. And Goa turned up in full strength to cheer her boys on. 

But the stadium could hold only 22,000 people and there were many many more than 22K in that teeming, writhing mass of human bodies outside the gates of the stadium. 

Now we in the media, pretend to be all humility etc, but we have a huge sense of entitlement. We also hold passes and our media passes ensured safe passage into the stadium. 

Or so we thought. 

There was no pathway left for passholders to swan into the stadium. Oh no. We got off our fancy airconditioned bus and walked to the venue down the narrow road and we saw the huge crowd. No path for pass holders. There were no guides to lead us in. We could wait outside or dive in. The match had already begun. We dove in.

The photographers were wearing their florescent green jackets, so I cunningly sidled behind them and a male media guy much larger than I, sidled behind me, cunningly thinking, hey the sea of humanity will part for a woman. Oh no. It did not. 

The police had put up metal barricades and were steadfastly blocking everyone, pass holders and loudly swearing non-pass holders. I tried to move to the right, but the human current was bearing to the left, so like Ruth, where the crowd went, I meekly followed. Suddenly, I felt my pass which was supposed to be hanging from its lanyard round my neck, being lifted away from me.  I could not feel the tug of the lanyard on my neck, which meant whoever was making off with it had already slipped it over my neck in the crowd. I panicked. 

As it is I was already highly distraught. I had to dislodge someone's elbow from inside my ear, someone's thumb had scraped my left nostril, my hair was all over the place and my spectacles had slid up diagonally to the top of my head. My teeth were bared, and yes, I must have been gnashing them, because some scurrilous thief had slipped my lanyard over my head and was making off with my media pass. 

It was a big laminated media pass, with an unfortunate photograph of mine on it. It was 6 inches by 4 inches and really tough to hang on to, because someone three deep in the crowd was making off with it. He was pulling the lanyard, but I held on to the pass, like my ruddy life depended on it. I pulled and I pulled, now concentrating more on keeping possession of my media pass, than figuring out how to get to the barricades and the cops. 

I knew the cops would not have a chance to scrutinize the photograph and match it to the thief's face and he would be inside the stadium cheering our boys and I would be out, fulminating. But I have what my hockey team mates used to refer to in college, as "Brute Force". Using every ounce of aforementioned BF, I yanked the card and tore it off the lanyard. I also cut the skin of my palm. 

My face would have stood out, because there was not mere indignation writ large on it. There was rage and choler and pain. The cops saw me and announced to each other, that there was a woman there. "Media!" I yowled at them and they shoved people away from me, opened the barricade and I erupted like pea from a pea-shooter into an open area beyond the barricades. 

Everything was out of focus and I realized my specs were not where they should have been. One lens was popping out. I still had a death grip on my media pass. But I felt this deep satisfaction that the thief had only a lanyard to show for his effort. I popped the lens back into the frame, panting heavily and looked around at the other media people and said in tones of loud indignation, "Blurry hell, someone was trying to rob my pass!" "Shut up! Really?!" one of them said. They all began checking to see if their wallets and phones were okay. I looked down at my pass and saw a strange phenomenon.

It was still hanging round my neck on its lanyard. I was holding a second pass in my hand. Turns out, I had actually torn off some other mediaperson's pass from his lanyard. 

There should be a word - horrimbarassment That's what I felt. Horrified and embarrassed. I shoved it at another press guy and told him, "Hee hee, I don't know how it happened, but I have someone's media pass in my hand. Just give it to the owner." He called some photographers and asked them if they knew the pass owner. They said, yes and went bounding after him. 

The press guy asked me how I managed to get someone else's card and that too separate from the lanyard. Really strange, I said. I have NO idea, how it landed up in my hand, I said. That crowd was real crazy, I said. We passed into the media box, seven minutes late for the game. 

Our Goa boys won. They beat Mozambique 3-2. Two passes for me, one gold medal for Goa-India. Not a bad day's work.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I think I need a wife

I've been married for so long now, it's embarrassing to count the years.  Nothing like a lengthy marriage to make you feel really really old. It got me thinking the other day, when we had one more of our silly spats, why do couples marry?

It makes no sense at all. To propagate the human race? Nah. The randy human race will propagate with or without a paper telling you that you can. To give society that strong base of family values? A strong family unit makes more strong family units which makes for a strong society? Okay that sounds even sillier in writing. Just the other day two grandsons killed their grandmother, stole her jewellery, sold it to a jeweller and proceeded to live it up. The cops caught them, interrogated them and they sang like larks. Now they are behind bars. So it cannot be to make a strong society.

I was talking to a trekker a couple of years back and he said he made it very clear to his wife before marriage that he was not interested in having children. Why? Because this is not the kind of world to bring children into. She married him.

So if you don't want to have children, why marry at all? Stuck to one person all your life, under one roof, waiting for death in the four walls of your house? And if you have children they live with you for how long - 20 years? Then it's bye mom and dad, see you at your funeral.

Now I had kids. I was petrified of the whole labour and delivery thing, not so much the bringing up of children and I learned pretty quick, that labour pain, delivery and that obscenity of stitches in your hoo-ha was a mere stub on the little toe compared with the compound fractures that were waiting for you.

Also, I'd like to know what happened to the man I married. He disappeared right under my nose and another nasty character took his place. The happy smiling horny guy disappeared and what I had was a resentful, nagging, horny guy. It does not gel. It's like a Rottweiler wearing a tou-tou and ribbons. 20 years later, I realized the guy I married had taken a hike and his doppelganger was making me look inward.

So I'm cooking and cleaning and washing and the doppelganger is also doing a whole lot of work in the house and outside. He is not happy doing it. I am not happy doing my chores, unless there's loud rock music playing, which he hates, but I listen to anyways, so that does not help. Then I keep hearing elderly people around, actually they are my age group, but I colour my hair so I'm a generation younger... I hear them say you must get your son married, he should settle down with a nice girl.

I thought I was a nice girl. Yes. Definitely. I was the nicest girl I knew. I liked me very much. Still do. My mother-in-law's son settled down with me, but we fight like cats on a daily basis. So in addition to doing chores which we don't like, we fight. It makes no sense, why do we continue? Why does any couple continue. And then it hit me. We're lazy sods.  That's why.

That whole Selection Process of finding a mate, the hard work that went into attracting and luring the mate up to the altar, all the emotional ups and downs, the trauma of the First Fight, the great care to not have a second until after the marriage, all that took too much effort, too much planning and it was too much of a pain. No regular person wants that kind of headache again.

Then there's that other thing. Even though you fight and resent each other most of the time, you know you are absolutely comfortable with the other person. He can see you at your petty worst, you see him at his, you can burp and fart in each others company, you tell each other you made a huge mistake marrying, and then suddenly something happens and you have that most magical of all moments - The Shared Laugh. And you think, that's why you stay married - you are lazy and bickering is not a bad thing actually, it releases steam.

But I think I would like a wife. Someone who would cook and clean for me, who would wash my clothes, who would shop and bargain, who would smoothen all the rough edges of my life and would turn away from me at night. That would be heaven. But that would also be a menage a trois, and that's trois too many. So okay. Wife for me? Regretfully scratch that from the list.

Friday, February 3, 2012

One year later...

Another post, a whole year later. Why did I stop writing the column? Several reasons. Can't remember most of them but they were perfectly good ones at the time. The main reason was I just got bored with the whole Goa Situation. Yeah, two and a half people were reading the column in the Herald, but it made no difference at all. Since my time here is limited since at 56 I had just - how much - nine years of mental acuity before I began forgetting why I entered a room, or where I last placed my wooden leg. I don't have a wooden leg, but the way I drive, who knows....!

What's been happening in the meantime? In Goa pretty much the same. Everyone bemoaning the corruption around and doing nothing to stop it among their own family and friends. Education going downhill, with 90 percent of the youth I meet, totally uninterested in their future. They want money and that's it. That's clear, how they're going to get it is not quite clear, but they know that they will get it.

I started a website www.targetgoa.com. For Goans everywhere.  I was certain, it was going to be a huge hit. Of course I got it wrong. I had decided I would not allow advertising from mining, casinos or dodgy construction types. My business partner said his hands were tied and could not get revenue for the site. So I said what the hell, I'll keep posting news, I will do interviews, I will attend press conferences, I will attend functions, I will take photographs and it worked for a while, but having ten fingers, two legs and just one body is a real drag. 

Slowly the pages for business and sports and my pride and joy, the Help page where we would publish the hard luck story of someone needing help and smile beatifically as the help poured in from Goans all over the world. That page fell flat as a de-implanted boob for one reason and one reason only. No one who accessed the website needed help, or knew anyone who needed help. So the Help page was thrown out.

Still there were a decent number of hits, around 700 unique visitors everyday and some interesting rabble-rousers send columns regularly including hotshot media star M J Akbar. The site staggers on frequented by people largely pushing retirement with both hands. But I'm in the process of designing another one for youth. That one promises to be superb, but hey, what do I know.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The downside of reunions

No one ever invited me to any reunion. Not my school, not my college, or post grad people, nothing. And when I meet my old classmates, they look relieved and say thank goodness no one has pushed the idea of a reunion.

We are all vain about our looks and those of us once full cheeked beauties now look like tired old bulldogs.

A relative who was a good decade older than I, was all excited over her batch of 1960 classmates who had converged from all parts of the globe to celebrate their reunion. The first thing they did was say a prayer for those of their batchmates who had died.

Since all of them had retired like, years ago, they all had a lot of leisure time. So the reunion was stretched to include events and celebrations over a month. Unfortunately, during that period three of the batchmates' spouses died and everyone of them was badly spooked. They wound up their celebrations after three weeks and hotfooted it back to where they came from.

Another relative attended his reunion. These were men who were once boys and thought they were boys once again. He came back saying a gala time was had by all. They ate, they drank (there were twelve bottles of Black Label and assorted boose and they made merry.

They must have made very merry because they looked terrible in their group photograph with death rictus smiles and unfocussed eyes. That group photograph was the clarion call for me.

I'll die before they photograph me in a group like that.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Breaking coconuts

There's a new fad in Goa. They "launch" the hotmixing of a road. Remember the time not so long ago, when the steam rollers would roll and the tar drum would boil and the road would be completed without any fanfare?

Now the local MLA or the PWD minister with a goodly gaggle of their supporters with cameras a-clicking strike a pose, break a coconut and look fixedly into the camera nearest to them.

Which means that this entire road repairing thing must be top priority. Maybe even glamourous. Last time I looked roads were roads. After the monsoons they had to be tarred. So what next?

Could be a good idea, giving every mundane job a sense of ceremony. When the minister wakes up in the morning, break a coconut, light an agarbatti, distribute pedas, click a pic. He has risen again to brighten our world another day.

He reaches his office, break a c, light an a, distribute p, click a p, because he is going to do great and glorious things for us and the state.

He meets Illegal Guy wanting something illegal, b a c, l an a, d p because our minister is going to get a huge bribe from the illegal guy. Now he will send most of that money to his accounts abroad, but some of it he will distribute among the poor and needy.

He sets out to look for a poor and needy person. Why there are lots of them right outside his office! He can pick and choose who is likely to convert that gift into most votes. That's a good reason to break a c, light an a, distribute p and click a pic.

He reaches home and his family heave a sigh of relief. Ah their gravy train has not yet been killed, maimed or arrested. Enough reason to ___ yeah yeah...

At the very least more coconut trees will be planted and Goa will look and sound beautiful. Agarbatti and peda sales will go up and photographers will finally make some serious money. it's all good.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Forest leeches and the other kind

So it's been a while since I last had something to laugh about. The laugh we aim for here is the hollow laugh, so let me be clear on that. Hollow. With a hint of desperation. Let's see, this column used to appear weekly on The Mirror the Sunday magazine of Herald. I know for a fact that roughly 20 people read it every Sunday because I used to get feedback on my columns. So for someone to go and tell the owner of Herald that NO ONE was reading The Mirror was a dirty black lie. The owner of the paper harkened unto the person who told him no one reads Herald's Mirror and he shut it down quick as a steel trap shutting down on a wild boar's tail. He replaced Mirror with Heartbeats that wrote about the size and girth of penises and the importance of length. Mirror could never compete with that.

One was torn, I can tell ya. There was the relief of one finally not having two deadlines to meet, week after week. I used to whine and complain like nobody's business for every week of those more than five years. So when it stopped yes, it was nice not to turn one's nose up at looming deadlines.

On the other hand. There was the absence of an adrenalin rush when the phone rang. No one wanted to dismember or otherwise maim my person and that was sad, because adrenaline they say is a great cosmetic. With no one angry with me, it tells on my face. And I'm not liking what I see. Am I missing the whoosh of deadlines flying by? If I have to be honest I have to say yes. Because in my infinite wisdom, I have set far worse deadlines for myself with my new venture. I wind up for the day, or night, at 5 in the morning and that's not good.

Mirror had turned into a rabble rouser's gallery with Lionel Messias' red hot RTI produced column showing us idiots whose pockets our money was filling. I miss Lionel Messias' column. He even wrote it for my website www.targetgoa.com and if you haven't read it yet, shame on you. My website, not his column. Well okay, his column too. But then Herald with its huge number of avid readers and my website with its two and a half netizens checking it out did not seem a proper vehicle for all that effort. A pity. Goa needs to know how our leeches are sucking us dry.

At least leeches have limits, when they are full to bursting they drop off the host body. Our two-legged-Constitution-swearing variety along with their bureaucratic underlings seem to have unlimited capacity. Regular forest grown leeches sneak up on you without your knowledge. You feel nothing - no pain no trauma, except if you mash them by mistake. Then it is quite disgusting. Your life flashes before your eyes and you think you're gonna be so dead. Some idiot invariably mashes the repulsive thing filled with your good blue blood and it looks like Jack the Ripper has just done his thing. That's the forest leech.

The other kind and their bureaucrat underlings dipping their suckers in our till, do it openly and laugh at our agony. The only similarity between both species is that they both grow fat on our blood.

A sickle, or salt can get rid of forest grown leeches immediately, but our elected leeches can only let go of you if they die or when we dye our fingers with the purple-black ink once in four years. Or three, or two, or less. We hardly ever have any group lasting full term.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Turn the village/ward into a joint family

This is the idea. Joint families may have disappeared, but wards and villages can continue the functions of the joint family even while the nuclear family thrives.

Look at the kind of elected representatives Goan society is throwing up. They are a part of us. If they are corrupt, it is because we as a society are corrupt. Clearly the time has come when we have to not merely introspect but also stem the rot that has permeated every class of people in the state.

We have turned into an instant gratification society and this has ruined us. From the slow measured pace of an agricultural economy which left enough time and energy to create a rich Konkani culture in terms of language, literature and the arts, we have become a fragmented aimless people with no purpose, no plan and no Larger Picture.

We have to sort ourselves out. I am not suggesting that we turn back the hand of Time, but we can build on the slow measured pace of our culture and adapt it to the needs of today. To this end the joint family has to come back, re-invented, to expand and include the entire ward or village.

The community – that is all residents of the ward or village, of all ages gathers together and pools their mental and professional resources to support and strengthen each other. This has special reference to our youth who are in dire need of help. This community becomes the mother of gram sabhas with every man, woman and child of the village pulling their weight equally.

Everyone regardless of age has a lot to learn and a lot to teach. It is not just the elderly who have the wisdom and wealth of experience who can contribute. The youth, middle-aged professionals, labourers, children, even toddlers with their wide-eyed innocence and willingness to learn, have something to offer to the community. It takes just five steps, but all hinges on the success of Step One.

Step One:
Coming out of your houses into the open spaces of your village or ward, gathering around, getting acquainted with each other, regardless of age, gender, class, caste and creed. If enmity between two neighbours hampers progress, give the warring parties their space, but fill that space with neutral neighbours who can implement ideas and, who knows, even remove the enmity in the fullness of time.

Step Two:
Discuss the strengths and needs of various members of the community. This includes both original inhabitants and settlers. For instance, if there are first generation learners; students who need extra teaching; those who can teach them must come forward to guide, coach and mentor. No money will exchange hands, but rewards will be huge when the youth in turn can help their mentors with indoor or outdoor chores. Cheerful interaction alone will work wonders with both youth and elderly. You will find seeds of respect and pride sown for both age groups. More importantly, respect will grow for the land and traditions of the village.

Step Three:
If the village can be developed in terms of maybe setting up small businesses, so that entrepreneurship is encouraged. The community can decide the who, what, where and when. For this a plan has to be made. A Community Plan that factors in the existing facilities in the area. Community farming that had made Goa one of the strongest societies on the west coast must be revived once again. The elderly play a vital part here in guiding the new generation to protect fields and waterways, to solve modern problems with ancient solutions that worked so well and are still relevant today.

Step Four:
Rope in the representatives, panchayat, assembly and Parliamentary to clearly explain and outline various schemes and plans that can be utilized by the community for the betterment of the village and its people.

Step Five:
Focus on reviving the culture and better traditions of the village in terms of sports, feasts, fairs, drama, music and literature.

This is not some Utopian flight of fancy. Something similar has been used in a village in Maharashtra called Hivre Bazar (please Google it), where a village looking at starvation, alcoholism and complete degradation, came together under one man who was their sarpanch for 15 years and turned themselves around. The village now plays host to study teams from the UN, from Japan, China, Africa and even Afghanistan. It was the focus and integrity of the sarpanch who passed his IAS exams, but was prevailed upon by the villagers to chuck the IAS and help them instead of accepting his posting.

They re-built the broken down primary school first, shut down all the country liquor bars except one, they discarded water guzzling crops and planted cash crops that did not need too much watering. Tube wells were dug for domestic use only, while the river water was used for agriculture. A law was passed that no land would be sold to an outsider. The average income of a farmer in the village was Rs 6 lakh, 8 years ago.

We can do it here in Goa. Why? Because it’s in our tradition. We used to have a planned society that was happy and contented. Ours was the sossegado life, not lazy, mind you, but slow, steady and solid. No one went hungry. Ours was a way of life that was the envy of all. No need to point out to you, that it is fast disappearing. No need to tell you too, that we can restore it for ourselves and our descendants. All it takes is a Community Plan. Not the government, not the panchayat. Just the people. Turn the village people and the ward stakeholders into a joint family. Why, it will even take care of the law and order problem, because a caring society becomes an alert, protective society. Our police force can go back to doing bandobast duty to make the MLAs look important.

(Published earlier in Times of India, Goa edition)