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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The constable’s lament

I saw Pandu Hawaldar reading a newspaper of all things. “Why are you reading a newspaper?” I asked.
“I’m looking for a new job,” he said.
“But why? You were so happy to get this job, you distributed sweets and all, just two months ago,” I said.
“That’s because I took a loan to pay the donation to get a job as a constable and I was assured I would be able to pay back the loan inside six months,” he said.
“You call it donation, not bribe,” I said, “What do you think the police force is? A private school? Anyway you have four whole months left.”
“It’s no good, when we ask for donation the public say they will complain to the IGP,” he said.
“People will continue offering bribes to avoid paying a larger fine,” I said.
“First we used to just catch people and find something wrong with what they were doing, and they would just put notes in our hands and go off. Now that does not work. They argue,” he said bitterly.
“But people still break all sorts of rules on the road,” I said.
“Yes, but we have to be there when they break them, no? On my beat everyone becomes an upright citizen” he said mournfully.
“Don’t worry,” I said bracingly, “your ship will come in.”
His eyes opened wide in horror. “Please don’t say the word ‘ship’,” he begged.
“Why, what’s wrong with the word ‘ship’,” I said.
“We have a curly coastline and terrorists think it’s fashionable to come in by ship,” he said.
“You don’t have to worry, our fishing trawlers are manning the coastline,” I said.
“Trawlers,” he said scornfully, “What can trawlers do? All they are interested in is what’s in their nets, not what’s on the water.”
“Well anyway, let’s suppose terrorists do come in by sea, we have sand bunkers on the beaches,” I said.
“Yes, and I’ll be in one of those bunkers and anyway, can you tell me what we hawaldars are supposed to do in them?” he asked.
“You have to scan the coastline and maybe radio for help, maybe shoot them with your .303 rifles,” I said.
“And what happens if then come in from the back end of the bunker and throw a grenade in?” he asked.
“You will have to act like lightning and fling the grenade back at them before it explodes, like fielding in cricket,” I said.
“When I applied for this job, I was not told I would have to act like lightning and catch and bowl grenades that are thrown at me,” he said.
“Don’t worry, you will be issued protective gear,” I said.
“What protective gear,” he said, “the bulletproof jackets are not bulletproof. Don’t you read the papers?”
“Maybe the donation paid to the bureaucrats who passed them was a very large one,” I said.
“That is not a donation. That is a bribe. Use the correct terminology,” he said.
“But it’s a win-win situation,” I said. “If terrorists kill you, you will get a gallantry award, an Ashok Chakra even.”
“You shut up with your gallantry awards. You go get yourself killed by the terrorists and take your awards up to heaven with you,” he said.
“I’m not a policeman; they won’t give me any award – only Rs 2 lakh to my next of kin,” I said.
“Anyway, I am not brave and have no wish to get Ashok Chakras,” he said. “I see no reason to help terrorists out when they want target practice. Now please go away while I look for a job I can do which does not involve getting shot.”
“You’ll have to leave out hotel jobs, shipping jobs, hospital jobs, or for that matter any job that involves you traveling in public transport, or walking on a road,” I said.
“The only people who seem to have no tension are terrorists,” he said.
“You cannot qualify,” I said. “They look forward to getting killed.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

RTI – a first step towards accountability

You realize just how powerful a tool the Right to Information Act (RTI) is, when you hear of the number of people who have been killed because they applied for information about public projects that had been undertaken. Documentaries are regularly made about these crimes perpetrated against a voiceless people but rarely see the light of day in commercial media. There was this short documentary Right to Information made by Aruna Roy’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan about a village in Rajasthan which has grinding poverty but immense dignity and an ability to smile in the face of grave injustice.

The film opens with the interviewer asking the villagers about a canal that has been dug in their village. The documentation of the project is impressive. The register shows how almost every villager has worked on the canal under the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The names of the villagers have been written down carefully with their angootha chaap or thumb print next to their name and the amount paid to them. The specifications of the canal and details of phase-by-phase building of the canal are diligently marked out. The camera travels the entire village but cannot find any canal. The villagers say they did not get any work, and there is no canal in their village. But their names are listed as those who worked and took their wages, they are told. One dusty man doggedly claims that he can sign his name and there is no need for his angootha chaap. He studies the fingerprint next to his name and says that first, it was not his thumbprint and second, anyone can see it was a fingerprint and not a thumbprint at all.

The documentary also unearths a housing scam where the materials used are of an unbelievably bad quality, a gentle scratch of a fingernail and an entire section of plaster falls away. The sarpanch of the village though, has a wonderful strongly built spacious mansion with a large courtyard, well designed exterior and houses the village community hall too. The villagers used RTI and exposed the corrupt. They have also made sure penalties were imposed on the defrauders and the poor given cash compensation.

The Act is staggering in its immense reach. NGOs come under its scanner. Landmark judgements have been made based on evidence got though RTI. University students can now check their answer sheets by paying just Rs 10 on an RTI application. The immense power given to the common citizen through this Act gives one hope that finally we have a tool that will force transparency and fix accountability. You get the information and go to court with it. Provided that is, the seeker of information does not get killed off or beaten to a pulp. With this in mind Magasaysay Awardee Aruna Roy with the silver hair and 100-watt smile who spearheaded the Right to Information Act, wants to build a national network of support cells that will give the applicants physical protection with the strength of numbers.

One needs patience and determination to make use of the Act since the waiting period is 30 days, but the result is worth the wait and Public Information Officers or PIOs are learning that there is nowhere they can hide. If information is asked for they are duty bound to give it. If they don’t one can appeal to the State Information Commission and the PIO can be fined up to Rs 25,000.

Jammu and Kashmir which has high levels of corruption has a watered down Act unlike the one that is applicable to the rest of India. They call it a “gun without a bullet” but even with a weak RTI, they have managed to expose several scams involving public money. Punjab’s Information Commission just like Andhra Pradesh’s is going great guns, while the government of Jharkhand has ignored the Act completely, NGOs also come under the purview of the Right to Information Act.

Activists are hugely excited over this Act. In Goa however the Act seems to work well only when politicians and social campaigners use it to check if their opponents have correctly declared their assets or academic qualifications. The common man is still made to run from pillar to post by the Public Information Officers of the departments he approaches. But as Aruna Roy says, if three thousand people get after the government at the same time, accountability will happen and not just the government but private individuals too will be careful about making merry with money that belongs to the public.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Goa’s unique democratic exercise

I was talking to a villager about how I was so impressed with the ParticipatoryProcess of the Regional Plan 2021 (RP2021). “If it works as it is supposed to, and if the original sections 16 and 16A of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 are restored, then we have to thank the Goa Bachao Abhiyan for waking the ordinary Goan and giving him a voice,” I said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said the villager. “The Regional Plan draft is ready and the gram sabhas cannot understand anything about it. The maps have colours everywhere and when we asked for explanation one official told us the ink must have spilled. The Town and Country Planning people have to come to our village and explain it to us.”
“What’s to explain,” I said. “You just have to check the maps and see if the different zones marked there are correct.”
“There’s too many different colours; it looks like my nephew’s colouring when he’s in a bad mood,” he said.
“What is most exciting is the questionnaire,” I said. “It gives everyone in the state a chance to decide what he or she wants for their village and its surroundings. That’s the high road to comprehensive democracy.”
“You mean the form. We can’t understand it,” he said.
“So the Taluka Level Technical Team (TLTT) will be on hand to explain things to you,” I said.
“We have problems just getting to meet the BDO, you think we’ll get to talk to the TLTT? How will they be able to visit and spend time with each problem in each village of the taluka in 45 days? We need six months,” he said.
“They are very simple questions like what is your village is famous for, are you happy with the zoning, infrastructure details. They even ask you to tell them if the map is wrong,” I said.
“And then what happens? They file it all and forget about it,” he said,
“All the answers are sorted out and the answers are tallied on every point,” I said. “Then a village committee which has been elected from the gram sabha will check all the answers of all the residents and if the larger number has voted for a change or against it, the committee will write it in their final form.”
“We are still putting our committee together and we are all fighting,” he said. “The Pilerne gram sabha was not allowed to select even one person. The sarpanch just made a list of his friends, read out the names and went off.”
“So they have to lodge a complaint with the BDO or the TLTT,” I said.
“Why go through all that headache? Who got da time?” he said.
“Make the time, this is a great and unique thing,” I said.
“You say unique,” he said. “I say it’s just goofing off. Anyway with Christmas and New Year coming up, who’s got the time to waste on filling questionnaires? They have to give us more time.”
“They said they would, the village committee just had to apply for more time,” I said.
“And how would we select a village committee?” he asked. “It’s so difficult to get anyone to do anything in the village. All are saying they’re busy. Only the drunkards volunteer for everything.”
“You will have to select professionals from the village who will be able to study the Plan; then the committee will have to go from door to door to make sure everyone fills the questionnaire,” I said.
“It just seems like too much trouble,” he said, “it is much simpler to just go on protest marches and gherao people. At least we get TV coverage.”
“This is collective responsibility,” I said. “It is genuine democracy allowing each individual to place his wishes on record. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, saying it is too much trouble.”
“Okay, so if we fill the questionnaire, then will our wishes for our village be accepted?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, “Provided the government does not evoke Sections 16 and 16 A of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act. Under these sections the government can set aside the Regional Plan for any project they feel like undertaking, even in areas like fields, khazan lands, heritage and CRZ areas.”
“So what’s the use?” he asked.
“You get a chance to continue going on protest marches and gheraoing officials,” I said.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Intelligence Failures after 26/11

Intelligence lapses of the investigative kind may have allowed ten or more young men with murder in their hearts. But what followed was total and complete intelligence failure on everyone’s part – the media, the police, the politicians and the public.

There is this inexplicable desire in us to measure ourselves against the West, so even the “War on Mumbai” of 26 November turns into India’s 9/11. The closest equivalent to Mumbai’s 26/11 was the Parliament attack on Dec 13 2001, where the terrorists rushed in with AK-47s blazing using explosives and grenades. The only difference was that this time it was a protracted battle with terrorists taking hostages and the army, navy and police all involved in removing them. The President who is the leader of the armed forces was conspicuous by her absence. Probably the Chiefs of Staff figured all that heat would have ruined the ‘rubber stamp’. The Prez cut short her tour only after everything was over.

The national media were fairly salivating over the incident, with the rich and famous trapped inside some for a few hours other for two days. No one even bothered to follow up on the poor who were shot to pieces at CST station. Every move, every hiccup was faithfully recorded, packages put together and regurgitated in fits and starts for our consumption. Finally one hears the NSG told the media to lay off showing live footage since the terrorists who were constantly on satellite phone to their bosses would be warned about what to expect. The terrorists wanted publicity and the media both local and international gave it to them generously. No wonder then the terrorists who were so free with flinging grenades all over the place did not lob a single grenade at the media. They wanted their 60-hours of fame recorded for posterity. Even after the last terrorist was killed and the last grenade exploded, one English channel reporter tried getting into the Taj hotel to give us an “exclusive” story but got turfed out and instead walked around the building describing in earnest throbbing tones, the shattered glass on the pavement.

One learned later that intelligence failure affected the three top cops too – ATS Chief Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte. They heard their colleague was injured at Cama Hospital after battling terrorists there. Three top cops should not have been traveling together in one vehicle, but they did. Instead of proceeding with caution, they drove openly to the hospital and the terrorists merely stepped out from behind some trees and killed them in the jeep itself. The terrorists then threw out the bodies of the three top cops on to the road, and adding insult to injury seized that very police jeep and drove off in it shooting into the crowd. There were three dead constables in the jeep and one injured one. The injured one lived to tell the tale.

Politicos had their well documented intelligence lapses with Dy CM RR Patil describing it as a small incident. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh became a terror tour guide. The Kerala Chief Minister got all insulted when the father of the slain Major Unnikrishnan, refused to let his sniffer dogs or the Kerala CM enter his house. He made some comments which could have been misinterpreted and then turned into the typical row this 26/11 incident revels in.

Finally, candle-holding women with or without lipstick that so troubled the BJP politician Naqvi, launched into an anti-politician rally which found echoes all some of the large cities of India. That is an intelligence lapse too, because the urban vote is not important to the political class. Remember both the CM and Dy CM of Maharastra are from Latur and Tasgaon districts, both very rural. The criticism will not make an iota of difference to most politicians because the simple reason is the urban people are a small minority that does not constitute their vote bank. All that passion, those insults, those wild suggestions will amount to nothing. These clowns will be voted back the next time round. Witness Pale here in Goa. Why? Because we are like that only.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gross National Happiness

Everyone is entitled to two minor vices. My second is attending seminars to listen and learn. A seminar is the end product of a group of people who have a subject and a series of ideas around that subject. They pay out serious money to invite specialists in the field who know what they are talking about. The speakers are flown in settled in five-star comfort for three nights and four days wined and dined in return for three working days of sharing knowledge with their peers and people such as I.

The trouble with seminars in Goa is that the invitees generally come here on a junket. The seminar is held over the weekend, wound up early on the last day and everyone is very happy. The boarding and lodging is five-star and free. You can tell within the first five minutes of their presentation who is here on a picnic and who has come with the sole purpose of putting forward their point of view.

The South-Asia Media Summit 2008 at the Hermitage Aguada had representation from Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India. It dealt with globalization and commercialization of the media in South Asia and about how it was time for a reality check.

The stripping down of the role of the media today was brutal. They condemned the sensationalism of news that was unimportant for the greater good of the greater number. They spoke of TV channels that gave more importance to the state of Amitabh Bachchan’s intestinal problems than to the sewerage problems of the cities of Delhi and Mumbai. There was one TV channel that spent the better part of the day featuring hundreds of people queueing up to see a housewife’s purchase of a tomato that looked like a deity. A man announced that he was going to die at 3 pm and a battery of TV cameras was trained on him and left when he was hale and hearty at 3.05 pm.

Others spoke of how issues of national, regional and local importance were being treated differently according to the allegiance of the owners of the newspapers and channels. How news had to be “sexed-up” or “dumbed-down” because of TRP (Television Rating Points) and because that is what the readers, viewers and listeners wanted. Vinod Dua of NDTV India tut-tutted the suggestion that news was dumbed down because the staff of the media house were ill-informed and occasionally took the wrong call about a lead story. It’s what the viewers want was the general thread of his remarks. I found that was a convenient excuse for mediocrity and said so. Not only are we disrespecting ourselves, we are disrespecting the readers, viewers and listeners too, I said and what do you know, they all applauded.

The foreign delegates were more particular about their priorities. Bhutan for instance is going through the same opening up process that Goa finds itself in. An agrarian and highly cultured people feeling the full might of globalization as it joins the democratic process for the first time in its existence. What was interesting was the Bhutanese index of life which they call their Gross National Happiness index. Everything they do is geared towards raising their GNH. Their King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined this index in 1972 in the firm belief that people’s contentment comes first based on Bhutan’s unique culture of Buddhist morals and values. All else follows and the index of Gross National Happiness is built on four pillars of promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

As if to prove King Wangchuck knew what he was talking about, the following day two media persons a Kashmiri Muslim man and a Kashmiri Pandit woman, joined me at lunch. They got acquainted, spoke in Kashmiri apologized to me for doing so and when I asked them what was the ground reality in Kashmir they both explained that the ordinary Kashmiri just wanted to get on with his life and that a large number of Kashmiri Muslims were wrung with guilt over the ethnic cleansing resulting in Pandits being forced out of their homes and into camps in New Delhi. The Kashmiri Muslim began weeping bitterly when he spoke of his visit to the camps and the Kashmiri Pandit wept too while trying to comfort him. It should have been the other way around. But to me that was hope – two supposed enemies weeping together before a very surprised Goan. In tears they told me that before militancy in Kashmir, everyone was a Kashmiri; not a Muslim, not a Pandit. Much like Goa before the rest of the world poured in – where we were all Goans, not Goan Hindus or Goan Christians, or bhailo.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Children activists

Though I have often fantasized about becoming a vigilante, vigilante activists make me nervous. And child vigilantes make me even more nervous. They are too much like those firecracker rockets that are shot out from a bottle by enthusiastic people who expect the rocket to go straight up in the sky and amaze everyone with its brilliance. Those enthusiastic people are nowhere to be found when the rocket takes an unexpected turn and sets a house on fire.

A vigilante is someone who punishes perceived lawbreakers themselves rather than relying on the authorities. When the children from the Mala schools marched to the Mayor’s office and dumped garbage on his desk, it was obvious they must have been gathered together by their wiser elders as a last ditch effort to solve the garbage crisis Panjim is facing.

I can understand the anger the children of the Mala schools must be facing. They were used by the very same Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) under the auspices of ex-Commissioner CCP Sanjit Rodrigues and Patricia Pinto to get involved in the Chaka-Chak campaign, to go from house to house and every establishment in the city patiently explaining to unaware adults the importance of segregating their waste at source. Their magnificent efforts worked and Panjim became one of a handful of cities in the country where segregation is a word to be admired.

For a large part of Sanjit Rodrigues’ tenure Panjim was run by him and the staff of the CCP. Rodrigues was so passionate about maintaining the cleanliness of the capital city; he used to be up, cruising the city from early morning till late at night. He set up a network of informers who would report any illegal dumping of garbage and he would immediately land up in the place with his flying squad and take action. Panjim sparkled. Vendors kept their goods within the confines of their establishments; plastic of below 40 microns was banned. The schools and citizens gave the CCP their blessings and co-operation.

And then the elections happened and 30 councillors came into the city. They tried to remove the composting stations from their wards. They sympathized with the plastic lobby and vendors who could not take Sanjit Rodrigues’ heavy-handed discipline and shunted him out. The downward slide of the beautiful city of Panjim began and no commissioner who came in after that could fight the might of 30 not very bright elected representatives.

And the children of the Mala schools watched in disbelief. The anerobic digester was set up across the canal from their schools, the smell grew worse by the day. Then the CCP that they had given their sweat and time to, decided to dump raw garbage right next to their schools with maggots and flies and a foul stench as the CCP’s gratitude for the work these schools did for it. I can understand the anger of these schools, of the students and the teachers.

But I cannot understand the dumping of the garbage on the Mayor’s desk. Not just how the children managed to get inside the Mayor’s cabin, when the ordinary public is kept firmly out. Obviously doors were opened for them. The damage done to the children is more than the smell and the maggots near their schools. They have now learned that showing public disrespect to a respected institution, even though it is run by foolish, short-sighted people, gets support from their elders.

The Education Department was correct in its harsh reaction, what else could it do? The children have to learn that what they have done was wrong and has no place in the same civilized society they are trying to build. Also the Mayor and CCP are not to blame. The rest of Goa and tourists add to the garbage of Panaji, and the state government refuses to give the CCP space for waste management. The children should take their rage to the Governor, the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary and the Urban Development Ministry. The responsibility for the mess Panjim and Goa is in lies with these four offices of power.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No Goa

I received a call the other day from a friend of one of my closest friends who migrated to Canada decades ago.

Now you will need a little background about my friend. She was very happy with life in Canada and seemed to be more Canadian than Canadians themselves. She had everything: a beautiful three-storeyed mansion with a Home & Gardens cover type home and garden, she ran a thriving business with her husband, nurtured her children and even got a wild deer in her garden to accept some food from her hand. And then one day her children told her that they did not intend to settle down in Canada, but were thinking of moving either to Europe or to India.

Her friend who telephoned me was pretty much a clone of my friend and she was really troubled. She wanted to know details of this “Know Goa” exercise for Non-Resident Goan youth that her children were talking about.

“I’m a little worried,” she said.
“What’s to worry?” I said.
“Well, my children seem to think this is a good idea. They want to come to Goa,” she said.
“Travel is always good,” I said.
“Yes, but I am so scared that they will fall in love with Goa and then not want to come back to Canada,” she said.
“I don’t think they will fall in love with Goa,” I said.
“What are you talking about,” she said, “The beautiful rivers, I loved the Mandovi River, the beaches, the hills, the towns and villages; there’s so much beauty in Goa.”
“Think of Goa as a beautiful painting that has been lying in the gutter for years,” I said.
“I remember coming home ten years ago, and I can tell you,” she said, “I didn’t want to come back to Canada.”
“Goa ten years ago is still very different from Goa today,” I said.
“It must be even better,” she said, “because suddenly everyone is promoting Goa like nobody’s business. We even have Goa Days where everyone makes xacuti and bebinca and sings Konkani songs.”
“So, are you not afraid that your children will fall for the taste of Goa?” I said.
“No fear of that,” she said, “The celebrations of Goa are pretty blah. What I am afraid of is my children coming to Goa itself and also being taken on a tour of India. What chance will Canada have then? We are too old and set in our ways to migrate again. And I don’t want to lose my children like our mutual friend.”

“There’s no need for you to worry,” I said. “They will be taken to the beaches where they will see garbage strewn all over, and sunbeds taking over the open beach areas. They will ride on roads that have speedbreakers and potholes and traffic that follows no rules. The beautiful fields you talk about are growing villas and buildings. The hills are getting chopped for more villas and those in the hinterland are dug out for mining. The river Mandovi has more boats in it than water, including five casino boats. The old village houses have given way to weird box-type bungalows. They will visit Old Goa which is a World Heritage Site and will see construction debris piled up along the route. They will visit the Goa University and see people throwing bags of garbage out of their cars on to the sides of the road. They will attend the St Francis Xavier Feast and see non-Goan goods sold in stalls, they will visit a mock gram sabha and then get curious about seeing a real one and realize that Goa as you knew it is on the fast lane to hell. Then they will go to Delhi and read all about rape, murder, child abuse and corruption and they will be warned not to stroll around alone especially in the evenings. Are you still worried,” I asked.

“You have taken a load off my mind,” she said. “This “Know Goa” caper is the best way to keep them in Canada. They cannot go back to Goa if there’s “No Goa”.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Earning a livelihood

When I am puzzled I visit the Wise Old Man on the Hill. “It looks like we live in a very caring society,” I said to him.
“As usual you are right,” he said, “We all care very deeply. For ourselves.”
“I was very impressed with Babu Azgaonkar,” I said.
“Hmmm” he said.
“Yes him,” I said, “he is so passionately committed to allowing builders to earn their livelihood.”
“Even to the extent of demanding the passing of a Bill to ban anti-mega project agitations,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “His level of commitment is high and it makes me feel ashamed.”
“That’s interesting,” he said, “Why would you feel ashamed?”
“Well I keep thinking builders do very well for themselves making huge profits and generally they come from poor backgrounds,” I said.
“Rags to riches,” he said.
“True, but I now think those are only a few,” I said. “They are the ones who keep buying longer and broader cars and building palaces for themselves and boxes for their clients.”
“True,” he said, “I know a builder who has a Mercedez Benz and a BMW and a whole lot of luxury cars.”
“I know many like that,” I said, “But Azgaonkar was so worried about those builders who he says will starve to death only because of selfish villagers who don’t want unplanned development in their village.”
“They won’t starve to death. They may have to sell their cars and palaces, and then they can grow crops on the land they have bought,” he said.
“Then there’s Anacleto Viegas who is worried about those who earn their livelihood through dhirio,” I said.
“Well of course,” he said, “There are those who wash the bulls, and feed the bulls, maybe take them for walks. There are the owners who pay huge amounts for the bulls.”
“Then there’s Subash Shirodkar who is worried about the dozens of young boys and girls losing their livelihood if off-shore casinos are sunk,” I said.
“Please use the correct term,” he said, “They cannot be called off-shore casinos. They are riverboat casinos.”
“The Cabinet and Chief Secretary and Subash Shirodkar refer to them as off-shore casinos and they cannot all be wrong,” I said.
“A shore refers to the sea,” he said, “Off-shore would naturally mean out in the sea. These five boats are in the river. One river.”
“Well these are modern times with modern words and modern meanings,” I said.
“You have riverbanks and you have sea shores. Don’t mix them up like a Class 7 failed student. If a boat is anchored in a river it is a riverboat.”
“Well they are all in the Mandovi river and everyone knows the Mandovi flows into the Arabian Sea so technically sea water is also touching the ships when the tide comes in. So if the ships are sitting in sea water they can be called off-shore,” I said.
“So if I collect sea water in a glass, sit in the Secretariat and throw a couple of dice into it, that would be off-shore gambling?” he asked.
“Well The Cabinet and Chief Secretary and Subash Shirodkar would all agree that throwing a pair of dice into a glass of sea water would be off-shore gambling,” I said.
“What has all this got to do with livelihood?” he asked.
“Well I was invited to join in a protest against the five floating casinos in the Mandovi, but I was told that dozens of young boys and girls would be deprived of their livelihood,” I said.
“You anti-casino protestors have it all wrong,” he said, “I have a simple solution. Just invite those Somalian pirates here and tell them to steal all five riverboats.”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sons & Daughters

It’s funny how they have aptitude and entrance tests for every skilled task under the sun, but nothing for two of the most vital professions that have the power to improve or destroy life as we know it. Politics and Parenthood.

There’s been enough said about politics and examinations that have not been passed, so let’s take a rain check on politics. If politicians can’t do their job it’s the public that has to get on with the job. If parents can’t do their job, sons and daughters have to stride out on their own. Parenting is what is bothering me right now, and what has bothered me ever since I became one 27 years ago.

I thought I had blundered through pretty well considering that both my children accuse me of favouring the other.
“That’s a good thing,” I said to them. “It shows I am impartial and therefore a good parent.”
“It does not,” said Child Number One.
“Oh yeah?” I asked coldly, “and what would you say a good parent is?”
“One who makes each one of her children think they’re special,” she said.

So okay, but at least we raised a thinking person. Parenting is a scary business. One could raise a leader among men, honest, wise and good. One could raise a black hearted monster who will be a scourge among people and destroy all that is honest, wise and good. Then again, one could raise a balanced individual, a little good, a little bad, one who could rise to the occasion when necessary and not be easily shocked and crushed by evil.

The thing is with parenthood one does not automatically inherit wisdom and balance; we are still the same confused, uncertain, average people groping in the dark, now responsible for the lives and future of two or more new human beings. Any action we take with our children could have far-reaching and devastating effects further down the years. It’s scary.

Take the stupid cellphone for instance. You know that the school does not allow children to carry cell phones but you are a single parent leading a complicated life and you have a child who needs to keep in contact with you. It makes sense to buy her a cell phone. The instrument makes it easy for you to keep in contact with her 24 x 7, but it also opens her up to keeping the line open for the wrong kind of company. Only later you realize that the cellphone has plunged both her and you into a nightmare of gigantic proportions. Not only has the situation destroyed your peace of mind, but it is also completely destroying your child’s mind and her future.

Now here one needs to bring in the other characters on the parental stage – sons and daughters. No matter how silly and short-sighted our parents may be, they have made it possible for us to avail of an education. We know that every step of the way, we always have a choice. As sons, even if our parents forget to tell us to respect all things, especially women, or to treat all beings with care and compassion, we should do it, because our education tells us it is the right thing to do. We learn about right and wrong from an early age.

As daughters we are cast in the mould of prey from the beginning. It’s a little more difficult for us. If we are lucky to survive the womb, we have to survive predators every step of the way. Even if our parents forgot to tell us to respect others and above all to respect ourselves, our education tells us how to differentiate right from wrong.

Parents come with their own baggage, but sons and daughters can study the choices before them. They can choose to do wrong. Or they can choose to do right. The choice is always before them. And even after doing wrong, they can choose to make wrong right.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Monserratian Mistakes

Giving the devil his due, let’s presume that Atanasio Monserrate Honorable Minister of Education, Hon’ble Minister of Archives and Archaeology and de-facto head of the Corporation of the City of Panaji, did not send his goons to carve his signature on Advocate Aires Rodrigues with a bonus effort on heritage activist Prajal Sakhardande. Monserrate is a husband, a father, a social worker who has risen to State Cabinet Minister rank with the education of Goa’s future citizens and vital title documents of every piece of property in state in his hands. Even though to all intents and purposes he has only passed his Seventh Class.

Let us presume his son Rohit has been trapped in a situation where his phone has been misused by some creep out to get Rohit in trouble with the law and destroy his reputation for good. Let us presume that Mr and Mrs Monserrate have brought up their children to be good, honest, compassionate, upright citizens they and the world could be proud of.

If this was indeed the case, why did Monserrate not move heaven and high-water to visit Aires and Prajal in hospital the night they were attacked and promise to find their attackers? Why did he not send his vast army of musclemen who locate his debtors with such ease, to scour the length and breadth of the state to hunt for the culprits?

Regarding his son’s alleged all-consuming libido, why did Rohit Monserrate not give himself up to the police to proclaim his innocence? Instead of going into hiding like a common felon? If Rohit has been framed he has to give a list of all who used his cellphone to the investigating agencies. But instead he ran from the law. Mistakes. Too many mistakes. Making bad worse. Or verse as the case may be. Brace yourselves, one feels a poem coming on:

Monserratian Mistakes

His mistakes are many
And really quite heavy
But what can you expect from a man
Who has sneered at what’s right
Sure that only his might
Will keep him from getting the can.

Let us trace then the messes
Made by Babush’s wrong guesses
We’ll start with the last – the assault.
If he really had nothing
To do with the hunting
Of Aires who told him to halt.

He should’ve screamed from the housetops
Giving cash and huge sops
To those who would expose the attackers.
Using all his resources
And formidable forces
Catch the goons along with their backers.

But instead Babush chose
To shut all his doors
And talk of a political vendetta.
‘Why point out at me
There were others you see
Who would chop Aires up with a koita.’

Mistake Number Two
Was one he will rue
When he flatly refused to admit
When faced with the printouts
And deafening shouts
That the lewd messages were sent by Rohit.

He could’ve thrown out the phone
From the Monserrate home
‘The cell phone was lost, yes siree!
Anyone could’ve written such trash
And your heads I will smash
If you quote “the apple don’t fall far from the tree”.’

Mistake Number Three
Was to think he was free
And was above and beyond the law.
He was bound to be copied
By his kids who embody
His genes, his looks and much more.

Mistake Number Four
And there are many more
Too many to write in this ballad.
Whether it’s Chill-Out Café
Or politics unfair
His mistakes are more mixed than a salad.

So if it is a conspiracy
Of state aristocracy
To tarnish your family and you.
Don’t use the judiciary
Or political machinery
Give the law the freedom it’s due.

©Bevinda Collaco 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Limbo Dance of Goa

What else can you call this thing that is happening to Goa? Everywhere else the general human tendency is to raise the bar. Pick yourself up after your mistakes and raise the bar. Aim higher. Here in Goa it’s remarkably different. We make our mistakes, shrug them off and make some more which were even more serious than the previous ones.

We don’t raise our standards. We keep lowering the bar and reveling in it. The only other situation where lowering the bar wins huge points is the Limbo Dance, where a horizontal bar is lowered and dancers wiggle their way under it to Calypso or Hawaiian music. If you drop the bar or fall over backwards you are out of the dance. It looks like the whole of Goa is doing the Limbo Dance. We’re wriggling like nobody’s business; we keep lowering the bar and we don’t drop it even once. We don’t even fall over backwards; no, we don’t even turn a hair. We Goans just keep lowering that bar.

As one gets older one looks into cause and effect or in layman’s terms, look for someone or something to fix the blame on. It’s all very well to say we, the people, are responsible for it; we are not. We were not always corrupt and we did not always suffer from this instant-gratification syndrome. We used to be nice people, warm, pleasant, friendly, respectful of Nature and each other. We were hardworking and honest. We had a rich life but not much money in the pocket. Our relatives who went abroad made fortunes for themselves but their quality of life was poor. What happened?

Did the rot start with the first “defective” elected body we had when the malaise of defections made Goan politics a by-word? Was it the Gulf money that poured into poor households? Was it the land laws that destroyed land holdings which were fragmented among various mundkars? Was it Manohar Parrikar who put Goa on the map and made it fashionable and then made a CD which frightened the pants of all who had not viewed it? Was it the hordes of outsiders both rich and poor who all wanted a piece of Goa?

We need to blame someone; who can we blame? How did we manage to vote into power a government that is so openly corrupt? Did all of us vote? Especially those of us who are loudest in our disgust of the condition of Goa?

Watching firebrand Aires Rodrigues and gentle Prajal Sakhardande broken and bleeding, there is a slow anger building up from deep within. All along the shenanigans of our 40 elected specimens were funny because it’s easy to see they have come into politics to line their own pockets. Yet they think they are fooling the people into thinking that they know what they are doing and that whatever they are doing is for the good of Goa. It is not only these 40 jokers, we have elected into the seat of power by voting or by not voting, it is also the pack of bureaucrats and corporates who advise them and share the taxpayer’s money. But still, they too are not wholly to blame. They are a bunch of rapacious, greedy less-than-average people who have lucked in on a gold mine.

We put them there, but again we cannot be blamed. We were faced with two options Efficient Communalism or Inefficient Corruption. At every service and every Mass this message was hammered home from the pulpits: be careful who you vote for; don’t vote for the “communal” parties. Parish priests visited their flock and campaigned for those who represented Inefficient Corruption. People who were known to be wicked and corrupt stood for elections. Money flowed among other goods and services. The Archbishop invited them to the Bishop’s Palace at Altinho for tea and advised them against corruption. Famous last words…

Even before the palatial tea had dried on their lips the elected representatives put together a scheme to sell Goa off as fast as they could. Since then, it’s been a running battle between a few worried voices trying to salvage what’s left of this tiny state and a feral government trying to destroy it forever. Goa is a state with an active media, hyperactive activists and a fair judiciary. Communalism may raise its head, but will never stand for long in Goa. Corruption is insidious like the sewage that creeps into our drinking water. We become aware of it only when we are dying. Who do I blame? I blame the Church. My request to the church authorities is this: when elections come round the next time keep religion and politics separate. One fears however that the damage is already done. This state is rotting physically, mentally and spiritually – the land and its people. Number One State? Uh-huh. In the lavatorial slang of primary school children we are definitely “Number 1” and “Number 2”.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The truth and nothing but…

I was having tea with my favourite anti-social and he was totalling up the daily take of protection money, interest from loans, and monies earned from various nefarious activities. His muscled goons trooped in happily, waited for their share of the profits and went off happily to home and hearth. “How do you know they haven’t pocketed any for themselves,” I asked.
“They want to live long and healthy lives,” he said simply.
“You are so organized,” I said, “Why don’t you run a legitimate business?”
“I am a poor uneducated man,” he said, “How can I run a business?”
“You are already running one, just choose a legal one,” I said.
“You are educated,” he said, “why don’t you do something with your life instead of this silly writing?”
“It’s not silly, I like to think I am making a difference,” I said.
“If you want to make a difference you should stand for elections,” he said.
“Who would vote for me?” I asked.
“That you don’t worry about, I will make sure you win,” he said.
“You will pull strings to pull my strings,” I said.
“I would help you,” he said. “You sit down and write your manifesto.”
So I sat down and wrote a manifesto:
“Friends, Goans and countrymen, I come to bury Goa, not to save it. I will take the land of our ancestors and sell it to outsiders. I promise industrialization of Goa because let’s face it, no one is interested in agriculture any more, and land which grows built-up area has more yield than land which grows crops. I will tell corporates straight off that they don’t have to employ Goans or even pretend to do so. I will raise the unemployment rate sky high while convincing Goa she never had it so good. I will erect huge buildings and invite everyone to buy a piece of Goa, so your children will have to live in slums. I will increase catchment areas for supplying water to all these people by allowing mining all over the hinterland. The exhausted mines will be used for storing water.
Education: we will do away with examinations because our children must not be unduly stressed. We will raise the salaries of teachers and increase school holidays to 200 days in the year and have only three hours of school every day.
Health: We will have state of the art hospitals with expensive equipment which will have to be replaced every month and I will use the kickbacks to build up a fortune for my descendants. A little of it will also be used to pay for the education of my children abroad.
Minorities: I will pamper the minorities and give them many more sops. They will be allowed to travel first class to places of pilgrimage any number of times. I will invite more and more to come and set up house in Goa, I will give them land and build houses for them.
Reservations: There will be reservations for everyone everywhere. Of course, each applicant has to go through my office.
I will be the CEO of the state and wind up this panchayti raj nonsense that has no merit at all. The unorganized sector will have no rights whatsoever and no legal recourse will be available to them.
Infrastructure: I will put in lots of buildings, roads and water pipelines. The work will be continuous and shoddy because more tenders will be floated to ensure a continuous flow of kickbacks.
Judiciary: The police and courts will be answerable to me and no one else. All transfers will be handled by me.
District development: I will turn the North against the South and as long as they fight each other, I will be free to do whatever the hell I want.
Fiscal Policy: I will increase local taxes, collect toll, excise and widen the tax net to levy taxes all sorts of things, dogs, cats, children, husband and wives. I plan a radical new ‘Air Tax’ where it will be calculated how many cubic feet of air a person inhales and fix a suitable tax for it. Overweight people will be taxed, because they use up more space and space is at a premium. Goans will be unemployed, but they can rob the rich outsiders to their hearts’ content because I will control the judiciary.”
I read it aloud to my anti-social friend who said, “Take out the “Air Tax” it might make you unpopular.”

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A test for genuine secularism

The Wise Old Man on the Hill told me that there are two kinds of secularism – genuine and pseudo and that most of us are pseudo. This annoyed me, “I am secular,” I said.
“Are you truly secular,” he asked, “would you like to do a little test?”
“I will do any test,” I said, “I am truly secular; I have no problem with anyone following any religion.”
“What about when they question you on your religion,” he asked.
“I guess it depends on how they ask questions. But I don’t see why they will because I will not question them on theirs,” I said.
“Are you truly grounded in your faith?” he asked.
“I am as grounded as you are in yours,” I said shortly.
“Would you be able to take criticism of your religion from anyone of a different denomination?” he asked.
“I don’t think he would like to take my criticism of his religion,” I said.
“Why not,” he said, “If you are truly secular you should learn about the other’s religion and of course ask them questions about it.”
“But I am not interested in anyone else’s religion,” I pointed out.
“Suppose you are in a position to offer a job to one among three people who are equally qualified,” he said, “to whom will you give the job?”
“I will give the job to the best candidate, of course,” I said.
“Suppose one of them is from your religion; will you give the job to him or one of the other two from different religions,” he asked.
“Obviously I will help my own,” I said, “what has that got to do with secularism?”
“Do you ever question the tenets of your own religion?” he asked.
“What kinda dumb question is that,” I asked.
“If you have a maid servant in your employ, who is new to the place and needs to go to a temple, will you take her to the temple?” he asked. “Or will you make some excuse and hint that it is better if she stays at home?”
“She has come here to work; who has the time to take her on a tour?” I countered.
“If you have guardianship of a small child from a different religion, would you teach him your religion or would you teach him his?” he asked.
“That’s silly; why would I learn all about a different religion? I would teach him my own since I believe all religions are similar,” I said piously.
“If all religions are similar you can teach him all about his, can’t you?” he said.
“That’s stupid, because I may make mistakes while teaching him his,” I said.
“If your son or daughter wants to marry someone from a different faith, would you agree wholeheartedly?” he asked.
“Well there’s that whole thing of different cultures, etc,” I said.
“Would you agree to participate in two religious ceremonies?” he asked.
“You know how expensive marriages are? It would be a needless waste of money and the couple would need to save for their future, I would suggest a registered marriage,” I said.
“If you neighbour asked your advice about selling his house or apartment to someone from the minority community, would you encourage him to sell to the individual?” he asked.
“I like my neighbours and would not like them to sell and move away,” I said. “See, a neighbour is like a family member, I would tell him not to sell only because I consider him a family member.”
“Right,” he snorted. “And it would have nothing to do with the fact that he was planning to sell it to a member of a minority community.”
“Not at all,” I said. “So tell me how did I do in your ridiculously easy test?”
“You only proved that you are pseudo secular and a bigot,” he said.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dishonesty Public Unlimited

Lately I have been given a lot of thought to crooks, especially thieves. Their operations are run along the lines of a successful corporate enterprise. A corporate enterprise has one aim in mind –increase profits and relieve the public of their money for certain goods and services the corporate enterprise provides. You have large conglomerates, you have medium sized companies, you have small enterprises and you have single owner entrepreneurs.

Now take thieves. You have the large conglomerate – the government with all its departments run by thieves all looking for profit. Then come the corporates or gangs of thieves that roam the country breaking into banks, houses, shops, places of worship at will helping themselves to whatever takes their fancy. There are the smaller outfits mainly friends or family members who plan heists in different areas of a district and take off to plan hits on another district. Then you have the loners or single entrepreneurs who work alone breaking into locked houses, shops, cars, temple and church cash boxes.

Their business plan is carefully thought out. I won’t say the obvious about the government; it’s there for anyone to see. We will start with the gangs of thieves. They sprout in all sorts of places. They could be poor, starving people unable to land a good job, or they could be white collared workers who get together and formulate a plan to make some serious money.

They need seed capital to start up their operations, because they need to travel to the area they wish to rob, stay in hotels, or rent rooms, they need to buy some form of transport, and they need to live in an area to get familiar with it. The next item on their agenda is to take a decision on a hit. Once that is done they hand out duties which play on the strengths of each gang member. The good looking charming ones become salespersons or boyfriends of the maids in the houses, they get a close look and inside information of what challenges lie ahead in terms of breaking and entering.

They have to be physically fit to carry out the actual robbery, climbing up drainpipes, or jumping from eave to eave. Then they have to plan their exit strategy, maybe have a vehicle that they need to transport their pickings. A subsidiary plan has to be made for stealing the vehicle and control has to be exerted not to get side-tracked into stealing vehicles for a living.

They need confidence, clear heads, focus and hard work. They have to go over their plan minutely, checking for blocks to their operation at every step. They have to think up a Plan B for every stage. Because you just might meet up with a strong woman who hits first, ties one of the gang up to a tree and calls the cops later. So many things can go wrong. In some posh localities, the streetlights are not working and everything is going just nicely, when a large group of stray dogs suddenly start barking, or worse, they start biting.

It’s high risk work but the pickings are huge. In really wealthy households the owners never give the actual value of cash and jewellery stolen for fear of attracting the Income Tax authorities.

Remember the jewel heists in Goa within the last ten days – fake policemen who relieved Goan women of their jewellery, the trio who posed as Navy personnel, bringing great losses to local jewellers, and now three women from Maharashtra who helped themselves in a Margao jewellery store.

Successful heists need planning, execution and courage. If only these skills were adapted to legitimate use … But then there’s that phrase that someone coined about this kind of individual: They’d rather make a crooked penny, than earn an honest pound.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The trouble with children

They don’t call them ‘kids’ for nothing. A kid is the young one of a goat. I like the four-legged kids - they are cute, funny and delightful. The two-legged species are (and I speak from bitter experience) generally spoilt, cranky, messy and demand to be carried.

One of the great fall-outs of the joint family of great-grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, giving way to the nuclear family of young father, mother and squalling toddler, is that tourist spots are over-run with young couples who let their kids do pretty much what they please. In the past couples who wanted to ‘travel’ would leave their kids at home with the rest of the joint family and take off for a holiday without a care in the world, except maybe a long list of gifts to be brought back. Today that is not the case. If you want to travel you pack the toddlers along with the toothbrush.

I often wonder whether young families really enjoy their holiday. The other day while visiting the Chapora Fort I learned a few things: that Sandak sandals are the perfect footwear for walking up a steep slope made up of rock and small loose round pebbles; that carrying a baby to experience the heart-stoppingly beautiful view from the fort is a harrowing experience, but carrying that baby down the slope is torture of a special kind; that the fathers are usually deputed to carry the generally overweight child, while the mothers gasp for rest-stops every three feet; that there is a man selling cold drinks at the fort, but there are no toilet facilities.

I looked at the fat child in the arms of a pale and perspiring father and told him to take a picture so that he could later tell his son of one of the sacrifices he made for the brat. The man smiled through his wheezing, but the child looked superciliously at me and flung his tetrapack apple juice on ground. “Nahin Raja” crooned the mother, but she let it lie there and they walked around to photograph the view and themselves.

More and more players in the hospitality business are putting up one more sign in their establishments: Children Not Allowed. Some restaurants, multiplexes and aircraft have banned children below the age of three. While there are many who disapprove, there are many who hail the idea as a good one and want adults-only eateries and movies.

I remember accompanying a woman and her 18-month old daughter to a very large, very quiet department store somewhere in England The child was born to the parents after 18 years of marriage and was spoiled sick. She was a screamer and her scream would put a train engine’s whistle to shame. When she screamed in that department store her scream went into one’s brain and spiraled around in it. A young guy was carrying her while her mother shopped madly. The child wanted her mother to carry her, so she screamed. Right in her carrier’s ear. He turned pale. She screamed again, louder and longer and other shoppers looked distressed. Her mother merely caroled, “Wait beta.”
Beta drew in her breath to let loose another scream when I reached forward and gave her a sharp pinch on the bottom. She was so taken aback; she glared at me and opened her mouth. I bared my teeth and made a pinching gesture again and she was quiet for the rest of the morning.

More annoying than that however was another toddler who had come to a restaurant near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. He was accompanied by his entire joint family of loud happy Gujaratis. There must have been a dozen of them of all ages and sizes and had eaten well, with lots of pure veg thalis all over the long table. The toddler climbed on to the table and walked in and out of the thalis with the remnants of the rice and dal. He smashed his way through papads and tipped over two glasses of soft drinks on the white table cloth while his adoring family laughed and told him to be careful not to fall. The waiters looked on grimly. Now I for one would not be surprised if that restaurant carries a board which says: “Children Under Age 3 Not Allowed”.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Malar Bonderam walks the talk

Like most people living outside Divar, I have in the past chosen to attend the Piedade Bonderam with all its vibrant colour and chaos and sizeable float parade. The entire exercise of crossing in the ferry to the island, attending the festival and crossing back to the mainland in that rusty old ferry was not to be repeated in a hurry. So the smaller Malar Bonderam was generally missed. This year I missed the Piedade Bonderam and decided to make it to the Malar Bonderam instead. I make good decisions and bad decisions. Going to the Malar Bonderam was a good decision. I learned many things.

That big need not necessarily be better and that though the Piedade Bonderam was really great fun, the Malar Bonderam stirred me in a strange way. We talk about our culture fast disappearing, our cuisine falling into disuse, the Goan way of life going, going, gone, but except for some tokenism, we do nothing much about it.

The Malar Bonderam was small and very well organized. The fancy dress participants really took pains. In fact one ‘male bangle seller’ was made up so well and was so authentic in costume and props, that I was shocked to find out that not only was the bangle seller not male; she was an old friend who works in the Mamlatdar’s office and I did not recognize her. The coconut breaking contest saw two women smashing the coconuts comprehensively, while most of the men missed the target completely and everyone cheered madly. The floats were few but excellent. The flags snapped in the island breeze and all through the festival Konkani music played. Good, foot tapping, Konkani music with its mixed Latino, calypso, reggae, pop rhythm. The last Fontainhas float played Portuguese Music and the Afro float African music. The Quepem dance troupe danced their hearts out. The food was Goan and one stall sold wine.

There were no sponsored floats. There was no English music during the parade, and no Hindi music. Just a vigorous celebration of the ancient rhythms of Goa. This was possible because the Government of Goa had no hand in the festival which was funded and organized by the people of Malar themselves. Churchill Alemao spoke of how elsewhere in Goa he sees 90 percent non-Goans, but here in Malar he could see 90 percent Goans.

Of course when speaking to Divadkars two subjects were discussed threadbare ¬– the ancient rivalry between Piedade and Malar and how 50 percent of the people wanted a bridge and 50 percent did not want a bridge. We all agreed that a bridge would turn Divar into a Panaji or a Taleigao and that the inconvenience of waiting for a ferry was nothing compared with the flood of builders who cut the island up into large, medium and small plots for people from all over the country and world to set up holiday and retirement homes, people who find our ways strange and seek to smother our culture with their own. Where those magnificent old mansions would be torn down and ugly apartment blocks with tiny ugly balconies and no sewage systems or garbage disposal system will ram the final nail of the coffin home.

As if to underline our discussion, a family of Indian tourists, man, woman and child were also waiting for the ferry back to the mainland after the parade was over. The woman asked if there was a bridge and I said there was no bridge. “There is only this ferry to go across?” she asked shocked. Expecting her to ask what the people would do in a medical emergency, another man told her that the ferry is always there and can be used in an emergency. But that was not troubling the Indian tourist. She asked a question which made me snap, “That’s why the people of this island don’t want a bridge; because outsiders will destroy Divar the way they are destroying the rest of Goa.”

It was unpardonably rude of me, but her question which got me so mad was this: “But how will you bring construction materials here?”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Educating MLAs

“I am happy that Goa University will be given Central University status,” said the Old Man on the Mountain.
“Many in Goa University itself are unhappy about that,” I said.
“That’s because they are afraid of competition,” he said.
“What competition,” I asked, “who will come to Goa to study? Only those who are looking out for a good party.”
“On the contrary, students will come in from other states and other countries and they will want quality teaching,” he said.
“But Shantaram Naik says we should not agree to it, because the land that Goa University occupies is worth crores of rupees and we should not let the Centre take over this prime real estate,” I said.
“That’s all he and his type can think of; they don’t mind selling the entire state to builders and they complain if the UGC takes over the university,” he said.
“Others are worried that our Goan students will not stand a chance against the students from places like Chennai and Delhi,” I said.
“Then how is it that when our Goan students go out of the state they do very well?” he asked.
“I don’t know; maybe the weather is better there,” I said.
“Our weather is fine; it’s our system that’s so bad here it can only improve once the Central University comes in. After that the colleges and schools and primary schools will have to pull their socks up,” he said.
“And you think that is going to change the system?” I asked.
“I have an even better plan,” he said.
“You will have to speak to the new education minister,” I said.
“Oh yes he will like my idea, have you seen his educational qualifications? Pathetic,” he said.
“Well the others are not very well educated either,” I said.
“So that’s my idea. The new Central University must have a high-security wing with forty seats in it for the 40 MLAs. They are in power for four years, yes?”
“Yes, you want to shift the Assembly to the university?” I asked.
“No! Since they will be occupying those seats one way or another for four years it is enough time for them to earn a degree through the University,” he said.
“But you keep saying that Arts graduates are running the world and destroying it,” I said.
“So they will learn Pure Sciences, Mathematics, Literature, Ethics, Accountancy and History for four years,” he said, “and at the end of four years we will have forty ladies and gentlemen who will know all about cause and effect. Since they are always re-elected, it would be taxpayer’s money well spent. They will learn all about the reasons for global warming, they will learn how to put into place good infrastructure and they will be statesmen, not a bunch of buffoons making merry with money that does not belong to them.”
“What about those who work in government offices,” I asked. “They too need to learn about cause and effect. That when they goof up or goof off, the repercussions are slow but devastating.”
“Of course. There will be short courses. For instance PWD staff can sign up for civil engineering courses; Electricity staff for electrical engineering and so on, where the medium of instruction will be Ethics. It will be so good,” he said.
“Ehhh, it won’t work; they will want free bicycles, laptops and raincoats,” I said.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who says we can’t be Olympians?

It is annoying when everyone laughs at India going delirious over the only individual gold medal won at the Olympics, while China was picking up gold medals at will. One cocky Chinese tabloid even carried a front page headline story of how India, a nation of more than a billion people finally won one gold medal. Big deal is what I say. China squandered US$9 billion on training their billion plus countrymen and women and what do they get? Maybe a maximum of a hundred gold medals? We spend nothing and get one gold medal. That’s a definite win-win situation. And when skeptics sneer, let me tell you that we are a very sports-oriented nation.

You want runners? We have people who run for office year after year. You want gymnasts? We have balancing acts done by the likes of Digambar Kamat and Manmohan Singh, which are more hair-raising and awe-inspiring than any of the gymnasts doing their thing. And Messrs Kamat and Singh don’t even wear stretch lycra outfits, though they have been known to stretch the truth when it comes to SEZs and doing a number on the Left high up in the sky.

We have people doing steeplechase events on our pavements which are dug up and broken, leaping over large muddy puddles, racing to get that last bus, and hanging on by their fingernails and teeth to get to their destinations.

We have small children doing weightlifting carrying numerous, notebooks, textbooks, homework books, test books, rough books, atlases, dictionaries, waterbottles, snack boxes, crayons, colour pencil boxes, and other assorted items meant for learning readin’ writin’ n’ arithmetic.

We have water sports with ferries crossing and re-crossing rivers, in a macabre race, where the occupants take their lives in their hands when they cross the water in these rusty old buckets. We have races between barges and obstacle courses, where when they bang into pillars of bridges, while everyone else loses.

Marathons are commonplace for those who miss the last bus and have to walk home. Boxing and judo is a regular feature at every bar and marketplace. Target practice also a done deal with many making their next purchase after a mobile phone and foreign car, a revolver or rifle. Why, we even have doping all over the beach belt. Gangs roaming the streets of cities and towns become our version of team sports, with the cops as the referees and the common man the spectator.

These observations are merely to point out that if we put our minds to it, we could easily qualify for the Olympics, but we excel in one vital area.

We, the people of India, play a very important part in sports; all one billion of us. If sports took place and no one watched, sports as an activity would dry up and die. Spectators are vital to spectator sports and that is the role we play. You have the sportspersons and the spectators. We are spectators and really good at what we do. We are experts in all sports. We can sit back in our armchairs and cheer on the athletes. We know when they are playing well and when they are off-colour. We know when they have made mistakes and we criticize them roundly and loudly. If it is their job to perform, it is our job to watch. Being spectators is a national pastime in everything we do.

And as in any occupation one excels at, one does so through dint of long practice. We are spectators for any and every happening around us, whether it is great deeds or injustice or crime or corruption. We sit back and watch with deep interest and after it is over, we worship the main players or criticize them. That’s what we do. As a nation we excel in it. And if there were Olympic medals for spectators, we’d bag the whole lot ¬––¬ gold, silver and bronze.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Things I do not understand

There are some who would think I am smarter than I look. They would be wrong. While there are those who make observations which are all their own work, and others who know what’s going to happen before it happens, there are things, many things, which leave me puzzled.

Like I was watching Monserrate being sworn in the other day and wondered why a minister has to take the “Oath of Office and Secrecy” in a government that pledges to be transparent?

Like if the move to give HIV positive people Below Poverty Line status, is it not a fine line between BPLs and OBCs? Will HIV positive people also agitate for reservations in government-run institutions and the private sector too?

Like when the blast victims of Bangalore and Ahmedabad were resting in pieces, the Union Home Minister said that security was a state problem. If that is so, why have a Union Home Department or a Union Home Minister?

Like if Georgia attacked South Ossetia first and Russia retaliated in a many-eyes-for-an-eye manner, why is Georgia asking for international help? And why did the USA whisk its military advisors from Georgia as soon as Russia retaliated?

Like who is responsible for destroying the life, yes life, of the weightlifter from Manipur framing her so that she was dropped from the Olympic squad. After such a terrible thing was done to her, would heads be seen to roll?

Like what does one do about NGOs on multinational pharmaceutical companies’ payrolls, who conduct Phase III experiments on low income patients in Goa saying that of course it is through informed consent? How can it be informed consent when the patients cannot read or write and have no concept of short or long-term side effects?

Like if hockey is relegated to the dustbin of public indifference after winning gold eight times in the Olympics, how long will the euphoria over Golden Boy Bindra last? Especially when people in India are more interested in firearms for offence rather than sport?

And there’s so much I cannot understand about the Kashmir situation. Why do the Kashmiris, or the media, or the human rights activists, never talk of the thousands of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits ‘Kashmiris’ hounded from their homes and occupations in the valley? When pilgrims go on the Haj pilgrimage paid for by Indian taxpayers, why does the taxpayer also have to pay for their excess baggage when they return? With all the funding going into the Haj pilgrimage why do they object to a hundred acres of land being given to the Amarnath shrine for building shelters for Hindu pilgrims so that they can rest from their 40 km trek through impossible terrain and foul weather? And if the Kashmiris from the area itself are happy about it because they earn enough from the Amarnath yatra to feed their families for the entire year, why are the political parties objecting?

Like I thought that charity, like religion, was supposed to be very quiet, very personal and intensely private? But such a song and dance is made about charity, and religion too for that matter, clearly, it’s all about self-publicity rather than self-effacement?

And here’s one more for the road: they have detox centres to cure addictions of all kinds, alcoholics, drug-users; why don’t they have detox centres for those who are addicted to power and pelf or poishem?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Euthanasia before birth

The Seinfeld series is arguably one of the most comical comedies around with the characters living an almost cartoon world, where nothing is sacrosanct and they are all borderline insane. Euthanasia is no laughing matter but the series takes it up without fear, gives it a comical twist where the character George a hypochondriac, believes that an acidity attack is actually a terminal illness and dramatically commands his friend Jerry to kill him. Jerry briskly says okay, pulls out a pillow and happily proceeds to smother the terrified George with it.

It is a hilarious scene but one point is clear. When push comes to shove, does the victim of a terminal illness or someone heading for a lingering death really want to die before their time comes? Or is it the doctor, or aged relative, or other caregivers busy with their own lives fearful of not being able to handle the personal physical, mental and financial toll involved in prolonging the patient’s life? It is backbreaking work, highly stressful and very, very expensive.
A worn looking woman who looked to be in her fifties was actually 38 years old, had a son who was born with multiple disabilities. He was deaf, dumb, blind and suffered from a form of cerebral palsy where he could not sit upright or walk. The child was healthy and at 12 grew big and heavy. She blamed the doctors who she said could have warned her early enough. Would you have aborted the child, I asked her and she said emphatically, yes. She was too terrified to have another child. She was terrified about what would happen to her son after she and her husband died.

This leads naturally to the nightmare the Mehtas find themselves in with the Bombay High Court refusing to allow them to abort their 25-month old foetus. During a routine diagnosis in her 24th week her obstetrician found that the woman’s unborn child was suffering from a congenital heart block. The baby, who may not survive the womb, would have to be fitted with a pacemaker immediately after being born. It would have to be surgically replaced often. Even then, the prognosis was that continuous ailment would compromise the life of the child. The pregnant mother says she does not want to have a compromised quality of life for her child and cannot afford the expensive treatment, which may or may not give results. She wanted an abortion, but the doctors refused since abortions cannot be carried out on foetuses that are more than 20 weeks old. The Mehta couple approached the High Court which said a flat “no”.

So is the pregnant mother doing this out of selfishness? One doubts that because she is putting herself at great risk. A pregnancy termination procedure at 25 weeks is extremely dangerous for the mother. Extremely traumatic too because the method used is either induced labour where the foetus is delivered, or dilation and extraction which involves collapsing the head of the foetus and delivering the rest of the body. The pregnant mother feels the risk is worth the alternative of her child asking her later, “If you knew this would be my life, why did you give birth to me?”
The medical fraternity feels there are solutions to the problem and that there is no need for an abortion. There are those who say it is the parents’ decision and society has no right to pass judgement.

This reminds me of another couple I knew. More than 20 years ago the pregnant mother was laid low with either malaria or jaundice, which involved taking heavy drugs. Her doctors advised her to abort since her child would be born disabled. Both parents refused and said it did not matter. Their child would be born and they would handle whatever happened. Their child was born, a lovely bouncing baby girl, who grew up to be a bright and beautiful young woman.

I am a great believer in playing the cards you are dealt. I hope the “No” from the Bombay High Court turns out to be the best thing that happened to the Mehtas.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Picking targets at will

This is the first year we have flies in the house. I was trying to swat three different types of flies this morning. A blue bottle, a house fly and a massive horse fly. Nothing worked. Plastic swat, electric swat, nothing. The flies just flew lazily around and made their sorties picking targets at will. Eerily similar to those faceless people who walk among the innocent and bomb them at will.

India is walking on eggs. Last weekend has been a grisly one with serial bomb blasts in two of the most successful state capitals in the country. Yet we all seem to have got pretty blasé over bomb blasts – in fact sometimes it gets difficult to remember the sequence of blasts in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, the one that blew up Rajiv Gandhi, or the Akshadhan temple. In the marvelous adaptability of the human psyche, we have become inured to terror strikes.

And we have to be seriously grateful to our great leaders for it. There’s security in routine and they follow a standard routine. First shock is expressed; next urgent pleas to stay calm, then they dip their hands into the public exchequer and dole out largesse to those who died, while those who survived living with scars, pain and impediments for life wonder why Death cheated them. Soon after our great leaders fade into the sunset, striking a defiant pose, saying we will not bow down to terrorists.

The police rush to the site, cart the dead off to morgues and the wounded to hospitals, they gather samples for forensics and hope they will not stumble over any unexploded devices. If they do, a bomb disposal squad man comes in, defuses it, focusing only on the job he has to do and trying not to think of the loved ones waiting for him to return home healthy and whole. The bomb disposal squad members do not even have accident insurance, yet they lay their lives on the line to save others. They move aside for leaders of all religions to condemn the terrorists as having no god and no religion. Muslims form their own little procession on cue condemning the incident. And the army is brought out.

Then the media takes over, headed by Barkha Dutt who has begun to show a regrettable Oprah Winfrey-type tendency to get her interviewees to weep into the camera. What follows is boring in the extreme, endless panel discussions on the state of security, absence of any plan, poor intelligence and poor communication. Newspapers are full of human interest stories of those who died and worse, those who survived. We watch the news while having our meals, and read the morning papers with growing boredom.

All this is good because it becomes so fake, it helps us build a powerful shield of indifference to the horrors that are planned by a group of freaks. Indifference is our armour against fear. You cannot be fearful if you are indifferent. So hoping for the best, you go about your daily work, traveling in buses and trains, visit crowded markets and malls, not because you are resilient, but because you have to. If you cower in your home, you and your family will starve and you might as well be dead.

One hopes the terrorists will finally satiate their hunger for the blood of innocents. That is the only time they will stop, because like the flies in my house, they strike at will. You can kill a few, but they keep coming. In a cluttered country like ours there is no way we can stop them, they use cycles, scooters, dustbins, cars, motorcycles loaded with explosives, outside temples, markets, mosques, now hospitals. They blow up trains and buses. Our borders both interstate and national are so porous it is child’s play for the killers and their aides to disappear. This is terrorism without borders. We just don’t have the awareness to foil them, or catch them. Their network is wide and strong with locals helping them attain the Will of the God they invoke before setting out to blow us to smithereens. And even if by some miracle they are caught, human rights activists come swarming in to protect them from harsh police treatment. Their trials carry on for decades; they become martyrs and a brand new set of believers step into their shoes.
In Goa we can take heart though, we have more chance of getting killed or maimed by a vehicle on our roads than being blown up by a cycle bomb.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

And they laugh at Goa’s horse-trading

How the national media ridiculed Goa and its toppling games over the years; its horse-trading and huge monies squandered on buying or preventing MLAs from crossing sides. Now it’s funny to hear the same media persons and “intellectuals” of the nation speak knowledgeably of numbers, of combinations and permutations when what it all boils down to is a Goa-style toppling party sponsored by the taxpayer: horse-trading and buying and selling of MPs exposing themselves up to the highest bidder. I am watching the BJP members storming the well of the house showing many bundles of Rs1000 notes amounting to a crore each that was given to them to abstain from voting. There is a sense of crushing shame.

The going rate they say is Rs 20 crore per MP. That never ceases to amaze… the obscene amount of wealth that comes out of bottomless party pockets… Forget about desperate farmers killing themselves so that their families can get some compensation. Forget about Oriyas digging for edible roots. We have been trying to link the rivers of the country so that flooding could be contained, so that river navigation could take the load off railways and roads and most importantly, so that our farmers would not be dependent on the vagaries of the climate. But no, the nation cannot afford it. Yet MPs come with a blank cheque attached and funds are no longer a problem at the Centre.

Toppling a government is a major industry, with parties guarding their own and going to unbelievable lengths to keep them from bolting across to the competition. The word “No” does not exist. All demands are accepted, mulled over and delivered. Airports named after candidate’s fathers, turning the thumbscrews on the business enemies of one party’s protégés, the list is endless and backbones get flexible with everyone bending over backwards to comply.

Parliament has never worked as steadily, as diligently or as openly as it has in these few days working towards the Confidence Vote. Sleuths are hired to keep an eye on wavering MPs in Delhi. Sleuths are hired to keep an eye on the enemy camp to see whom they are approaching. Here too in the MP market, the middle men reign supreme. They scurry around between the buyers and sellers pushing MP prices as high as they can go and by the claims of many, the sky is the limit. Here too the middle men make a killing as does the MP up for sale, only the middle man grows fat and healthy on commissions from both parties.

We have entered an age of commissions which are different from kickbacks. Kickbacks are illegal commissions, in the form of a large bribe to an individual in a position of power to use public funds to purchase a bad product for the country. Commissions are legal, they argue, a percentage paid to the facilitator who brings two parties together to do business.

There are those who argue that without a facilitator nothing would get done, that they are the grease that runs the wheel of business. But when this system is used in the buying and selling of Members of Parliament, then we cannot in all conscience call it ‘commissions’ paid to the go-betweens. It’s public money that is being paid by those in power to buy a bad product. Not commission, definitely kickbacks. A nation is at risk while the horse-trading rampages on. If Goa is an example of the ruin of a state as a result of legislators up for sale, imagine the hell the country is headed for with Members of Parliament going to the highest bidder.

Which leads one to the conclusion: whether strong or weak, it’s a ‘stable’ government at all times. Steady and productive; or bursting with horses ready to be traded.

It’s a cop out

"I am never going to speak to you again in my life," declared Bruno. "You are heartless and selfish and care nothing for my future."

"I am not going to pay several lakhs of rupees to get you into the police force," I said, "and that is final."

"I cannot understand you," he said. "This is a position of great importance, both socially and financially. Don’t you see how much respect a police officer commands?"

"That’s why I keep telling you to read the newspapers," I said. "Our police don’t even know when police of other states come in and do their job for them."

"What’s wrong with that? Dogs from other areas come to my jurisdiction do their job and go away, I sniff them out only after they’ve gone. So what, is what I say," he said.

"This is different," I said. "Cops from Kerala came and caught a murderer in Panjim a week ago and cops from Mumbai came in and picked up a murder suspect here in Goa this week. Years ago, Charles Sobhraj was caught in Goa by Mumbai cops."

"How can it be different? The bad guys were caught right? Isn’t that what we want?" he barked.

"Our cops end up looking foolish and what’s worse they complain about it, that other state cops are coming in without telling them," I said.

"Well it’s not their fault," he said. "See how much they have to pay to get into the police force."

"So? That should not turn their analytical brains into mush," I said.

"There’s nothing wrong with their brains," he said. "They have so many pressures on them."

"They have no pressures," I said.

"First, they have to earn back the money they paid to get in, then they have to make a profit. This you can do if you go after the bad guys and then take money from them to let them go, but you know what happens, don’t you," he said.

"No, I don’t. You tell me," I said.

"Before they can even say one word to the bad guy, The Call comes telling him to let the fellow go," he said.

"So? They don’t have to answer The Call," I said.

"You would be the first to answer The Call if it comes from a Minister’s office, or a senior’s office," he said. "So here the officer is faced with a problem, he will have to let the guy go before he can get him to pay for his freedom."

"That’s because the guy has already paid for his immunity from someone higher than the arresting officer," I said.

"There are two sources of stress here," he said. "Reducing the deficit on his police entrance bribe money becomes that much more difficult and the unsolved crime graph goes up."

"I think being in the police force is very boring in Goa," I said. "They don’t see any action, even in a communal riot they are told to stand and gaze until told otherwise. Then the politicians tell their seniors to tell them to lathi-charge everyone. They do so enthusiastically, because they have had no exercise whatsoever for so long. Then they are hauled up before a court of inquiry and their leaders wipe the floor with them, when it was not their fault at all."

"And the deficit on their police entrance bribe money grows,'" he said. "Worse is when almost all the force is used for bandobast duty or as police protection for all the crooks and thugs in the state."

"Police protection is given to people like ministers, nervous MLAs, nervous ex-MLAs, bureaucrats, judges and the like," I said.

"That’s what I said," he said.

"So there you are then," I said, "you have explained how futile it is to become a police officer."

"I think it’s the sun. Now your brains have turned into mush," he said. "I am a dog. I am looking for a job as a police dog. It’s exciting work. My friend Raja said, they feed you well, exercise you well, not like me getting leftovers and sitting locked up in the house the whole day. All a police dog does is run around with his handler at the scene of the crime and just sniff around, following smells. That’s what I love doing and it’s a secure future. In Tamilnadu they pay retired police dogs a pension, soon it will happen here too and I can always opt for VRS."

Saturday, July 5, 2008

More reservations please

We must be the only nation on the planet where our citizens agitate to be counted as Backward Caste and then kill and be killed to be given reservations in all institutions.

They may have something here. There are so many disadvantaged people who need reservations, that extra edge to get their toe in the door so to speak. I have been giving the matter some serious thought and have come up with certain other disadvantaged groups that have every right to demand backward status and reservations.

The first group would be that tiny tribe of Brilliant People. They are at a disadvantage wherever they go. First everyone accuses them of buying their question papers. They move into the workplace and everyone tries to put them down, or tells them not to act too smart. They cannot help themselves – they have to act smart because they are smart and their colleagues avoid them.

The second group is the small group of Average People who actually admit that they are Average. All others around them claim to be brilliant, clever, class-toppers. Everyone else has the solutions for all the ills of the world, but these quiet self-effacing types merge into the background and quietly do everyone else’s work for them. Not having the gift of the gab, these are generally exploited. They need upliftment.

Then you have the Failures in Life, who cannot get anything right. Every action they take is a mistake, every decision wrong. The only solace these find are at the end of a dupatta or rope. They need reservation, because these need more help than anyone else.

Then there are the Ugly People, who are shunned wherever they go. No clear answer is given to them, someone else was selected for the part in the play, someone else was given the job, someone else came along and married her, they are told it would be better if they did the backroom job and did not come in contact with the customers. They need to agitate for reservations and better treatment.

Fat People are sidelined when it comes to getting jobs and passing interviews in places where looks count, like modeling agencies and sales departments. Time was when fat people would walk on the road and thin people laughed at them while children played tricks on them. Now with the advent of television and fast food, this group is getting more representation with most people getting fatter and fatter, and you rarely see children playing on the streets. They too are usually fat.

Dwarfs – no one wants a dwarf in his organization unless it’s a circus. Why don’t we see dwarfs in courts, or colleges, or multi-nationals?

The same with Atheists. With all the fundamentalists trying to rub each other’s religions off the face of the earth, they look with horror and fear at the atheist who says he follows no religion. Institutions shy away, shocked suitors disappear never to return, atheists are not invited out.

And finally that large, floating and unrepresented group – Criminals. They’ve done their time, learned all sorts of activities and crafts in jail, but once they are released, they might as well go back inside again. Once out, there are no decent jobs available, except as paid goons for politicians and mafiosos. At least in jail, they got two meals and bath a day, and a roof over their heads. More importantly they had other cell mates who treated them as equals.

There are many other disadvantaged people: those with squints, those with cross-eyes, those with halitosis or flatulence, those who cannot sing, the unpunctual and the cured lepers. Our rulers have no reservations about dishing out reservations, they could spread the largesse around a little more.

Content enrichment for teachers

A funny thing happened just last month in May. It was so funny that many who heard about it cried. The State Council for Educational Research (SCERT) of Maharashtra arranged a workshop for state teachers from April 25 to May 5 in Pune, called ‘content enrichment programme’. The Council found that many students of class 7 cannot read or write properly and that students generally suffer badly in Class 8 with English and Mathematics and therefore with all subjects.

The teachers were given the same exercise books that they normally correct after the students solve them. Out of 1.25 lakh teachers for classes 1 to 7 across the state, only 10 per cent could answer all the questions in the English and Maths exercise books which were­ the same lessons they taught their students. And the Council got its answers about the poor performance of school students.

The teachers instead of hiding their faces in shame or even hanging themselves from the nearest fans, were loud in their excuses which ranged from: “we needed more time” to “the classrooms were dirty and benches broken” and “we did not get proper food and water”.

Even funnier: The Council discovered that the teachers had difficulty solving questions from Class 3 onwards.

There were some really good teachers in my 16-year brush with academics from primary to post-graduation, and some mediocre ones. In all fairness, though there were a couple of teachers who were generally hated, every one of them knew their job. Even one Hindi teacher who’s feral looks with thin white face, spiky black hair, thin red mouth and pointed teeth earned her the name of Bhookha Bhediya. There was much celebration when she re-located to Australia.

Education those days was holistic. Teachers linked the subjects they taught with life outside the classroom, whether it was English, Mathematics, Sciences, History, Geography or Moral Science. Sports too was given great importance, both individual sports and team events. Team spirit was a big thing in the 70s, if you snitched on your peers, the teachers showed their contempt for the snitch even while they dispensed punishment on the transgressors.

Another peculiar trait among the teachers of my school and college that I remember was how they were especially tough with the well-heeled children of famous parents. Unlike today if the stories I hear are true. Years ago a teacher who slapped a CM’s son was sent on indefinite leave.

I had ventured a suggestion a while back in this column, that teachers too should be tested in the subjects they taught on an annual basis. The 17-and-a-half people who read this column did hail it as an excellent idea, though some relatives of teachers said asking them to quit if they did not get 90 percent and above in their subject was a little too harsh.

Maharashtra is not a backward state, if 90 percent of their teachers cannot pass a simple test in subjects they teach, then this country faces a very, very, serious situation. Someone please tell the Minister of Education to read this. Or better still, please read it aloud to him.