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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Hippie philosphy

In the 60s and 70s I remember how any Goan from anywhere in India was known to the Goan villager as ‘Bomoicar’ and any foreigner was straightaway dubbed ‘Eeppie’. Goans could not pronounce the ‘H’ in the word “Hippie”. And then with Fiona Mackeowan, we had a true blue Hippie right in our midst, and we were feral in our condemnation of her “leaving her daughter to die”.

Madame Holier Than Thou, a close acquaintance said, “You know what kind of woman that Fiona is? She lives in a caravan in England and grows vegetables. She has nine children…! NINE children and no husband. Four different men are the fathers of those children. She knew her daughter was taking drugs and having sex and still she left her behind and went off to a beach in Karnataka.”

A Canadian friend, called up to say how angry she was because at a party a British Goan down in Mumbai for a party dismissed Fiona Mackeowan as “white thrash”, inferring that she deserved what she got, a drugged, raped and very dead daughter. The Canadian friend was upset that no one was talking about the mothers of the men who raped the girl and killed her and the mothers of the men who covered up the crime. “This Fiona is obviously a Hippie,” said my Canadian friend. “What else would she do?”

One has to understand what being a Hippie is all about, if one is to understand why Fiona Mackeowan left her daughter and waltzed off to Gokarn. The Hippies were a very special people who rebelled against the institutions, criticized middle class morality, fought against war and nuclear weapons. They hunted for spirituality and found it in India, they gave up luxuries they were used to and turned to Nature’s bounty for their sustenance.

This also translated into copious consumption of drugs like marijuana, and LSD to expand their consciousness, they claimed. They were vegetarian and eco-friendly. They perceived the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity that exercised undue power over their lives and they turned their backs on this culture. They were gentle and non-violent and believed in love and in the brotherhood of mankind. They had few possessions. Their greeting was generally, “Peace, man.” They rejected the Vietnam War and were practically hounded out of America.

Likeminded hippies converged together to give each other support and created communities or communes much like the kibbutzes of Israel. There used to be a few communes in the beaches of North Goa. They developed a rich culture of theatre, art and music largely psychedelic rock somewhat similar to trance music.

They freed themselves from societal restrictions to choose their own way and find new meaning in life, witness Fiona’s much publicized life in a caravan raising nine love children, and vegetables. She turned into a pacifist hippie after that one violent act of slashing her tormentor’s throat and spending a year in prison.

Hippies travelled light, at a moment’s notice; a knapsack with a few clothes and then they hitchhiked anywhere. They did not worry about money, tickets or hotel reservations. They moved to other hippie households which warmly welcomed surprise overnight guests. Fiona did just that when she accepted Lobo hospitality. Her teenaged daughter must have insisted on staying back and Fiona the hippie did not demur. Most pro-establishment mothers cannot handle mutinous teens. In true hippie style she would not come over heavy-handed with her daughter and drag her off to Gokarn. She respected her daughter’s freedom so dearly prized by hippies and carted off the rest of her children to Gokarn.

To be a hippie you must believe in peace as the way to resolve differences among peoples, ideologies and religions. The way to peace is through love and tolerance. Loving means accepting others as they are, giving them freedom to express themselves and not judging them based on appearances. This is the core of the hippie philosophy.

Fiona Mackeowan is a hippie and has paid the ultimate price for her faith in the brotherhood of mankind. Drugs, alcohol and sex killed her flower child. Now Fiona is fighting that old enemy of the hippies – the establishment.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

TERSE VERSE - Mercy Killing

So I yelled at Max
As he swung his axe,

“You’ll kill that tree, you swine”

“How can you say that
You abominable brat,”
Said Max with scowl and a whine,

“This tree has completed eighty years and more.
It’s old and it’s gnarled and it’s sore.

“They’ve chopped off its root,
Which was one way to suit
Their need to spread asphalt and tar.

"This tree is quite dead,
Get that in your head.
When it falls it won’t fall very far."

"In eighty plus years,
It has shielded our fears
From the wind and the rain and the sun.

"Now the tree has no role
In this place with no soul
There’s no rustling, no swaying, no fun.

"This isn’t a game
I’m ending its pain
This giant has done its time

"Move along little fellow
There’s no need to bellow
And for Chrissakes don’t call me a swine.”

© Bevinda Collaco 2004

Goa poised for bubonic plague

The dead rats you find on the road and the live ones scuttling around the city at night are getting bigger and healthier. It would be a good thing if our 40 brave men and true at the Assembly got out of their shiny white cars and walked the streets of their constituencies at night, without bodyguards. Not only would they have good inputs for the law and order situation, they would also be as worried as I am that Goa could be going the Old Goa way when the plague decimated the City of Goa and forced the Portuguese Government to rebuild their capital city at Panjim.

This is something that one cannot figure out. There is absolutely no coherent policy decision on the garbage disposal crisis facing Goa. Ever since Goa Foundation left Sonsoddo in frustration in the south and Curca in the north was closed to the garbage of Goa in the last two years, the government should have been seized of the matter. Not just Joaquim Alemao’s Department of Urban Development, but Micckey Pacheco's Department of Tourism and Environment, also Vishvajit Rane’s Department of Health, also Digu's Town and Country Planning, also Pacheco’s Dept of Agriculture, also Parrikar’s Opposition Party, our three MPs too.

Each one of these gentleman responsible for their departments is directly affected by the growing garbage crisis, that is filling our fields, our drains, our canals and creeks, even our roads. The rats on Rua de Ourem are growing so fat with the food waste and plastic thrown into the creek that they frighten the dogs. Maybe they’ll die of heart attacks but bubonic plague is spread by the fleas that live on the rats and fleas can fly anywhere and bite anyone. And plague is no stranger to Goa having decimated Old Goa a couple of centuries ago. Rats reproduce at an unbelievable rate. Before bubonic plague comes calling again, our 40 brainiacs at Porvorim should sit down and take proactive action instead of merely pretending to address the problem.

After nearly tripping on a massive rat running sluggishly near the Ourem Creek I went back home and checked up on the black rat and if you don’t want to be frightened out of your wits, stop reading right now. This is not for the faint hearted, but this is for all Goans who love life.

In a suitable environment a rat, especially the black rat variety common to Goa will breed throughout the year, with a female producing three to six litters of up to ten young. The strange thing is females regulate their production of offspring during times when food is scarce, throwing as few as only one litter a year. Food is not scarce in Goa, we throw it in gutters and fields and creeks, and the rats grow large and happy. If we stop strewing our waste around, the rat population will reduce.

A black rat lives for about 2-3 years, reproducing her head off. Social groups of up to sixty can be formed. The fleas of the black rat carry the bacterium which cause bubonic plague, typhus, toxoplasmosis and trichinosis. The Spanish plague I remember reading, wiped out 25 million people in one year. The bacteria wipe out 90 per cent of the population.

Plague is primarily a disease of rodents. Infection most often occurs when a person is bitten by a rat or flea that has fed on an infected rat. The bacteria multiply inside the flea, sticking together to form a plug that blocks its stomach and causes it to begin to starve. The flea then voraciously bites a host and continues to feed, even though it is unable to satisfy its hunger. During the feeding process, blood cannot flow into the blocked stomach, and consequently the flea vomits blood tainted with the bacteria back into the bite wound. The Bubonic plague bacterium then infects a new host, and the flea eventually dies from starvation. Any serious outbreak of plague is usually started by other disease outbreaks in rodents, or some other crash in the rodent population. During these outbreaks, infected fleas that have lost their normal hosts seek other sources of blood.

Whenever the plague has struck, it has struck hard and wide. Not merely an epidemic, the term pandemic has been used. There are quite a few dead rats in the streets of Panjim, since we get a huge number of tourists, workers and migrant population, the rest of the country and indeed the world would do well to be very afraid. They may go home with a little more than LSD, feni and cashew nuts.

Will the real Goa please stand up?

“Looks like there’s no other place but Goa to go to for a holiday,” said Bruno with a big sigh. “Let’s go to Goa for a holiday.”

“You are a house dog; you are on a permanent holiday,” I told him, “And anyway we are in Goa. We live in Goa.”

“No we don’t,” he said. “The Goa they are talking about is a whole other place. It’s got beaches, and parties, and designer drugs and alcohol.”

“You don’t like to get your fur wet, you don’t like crowds and you know nothing about designer drugs and alcohol,” I said.

“Well natch, if you keep me a prisoner here in this flat, how will I know anything,” he said.

“The Goa they are advertising on TV is not a good place for you,” I said.

“Look they even talk of retiring in Goa and of starting Italian restaurants here,” he said.

“That’s the problem,” I said, “That’s why all the land is going to weird people and no one bothers about the CRZ rules anymore.”

“Why don’t we retire in a bungalow on the beach and start an Italian restaurant? I like Italian food – pasta and cheese and meatballs and ice cream,” he said,

“We have a perfectly good life here, in a flat in a nice part of town,” I said. “Why are you not happy here?”

“Yes, but everyone has a second and third home; we just have this one,” he said.

“One home is more than enough for us,” I said.

“I was listening to a European lady tourist who said she does not like this 11 pm music curfew and midnight closure of bars,” he said. “She said Europeans like to party till 2 in the morning.”

“Then she can go back to Europe and party until 2 in the morning,” I said.

“But then tourism will get ruined a retired Englishman said and he comes here for 6 months,” he said.

“Even if bars close at 5 in the evening, he will stay in Goa,” I said. “He knows which side his bread is buttered.”

“What you talkin’ ’bout butter? I’m talking of the death of tourism in Goa,” he said.

“Your Englishman comes to Goa as long as he is getting more than Rs 80 to the pound. £500 will get him Rs 40,000 worth of luxury while he has to scrimp and save in cold, wet Britain,” I said. “Never you worry, tourism won’t die. Why do you think one-third of our tourists come from Britain?”

“But there are other countries in the Far East which are cheaper than Goa, Tiger was telling me his owners go to Singapore for a holiday because it is so cheap there,” he said.

“But if you’re caught with drugs in Singapore, it’s the death penalty,” I said. “In Goa drugs are freely available and cheap.”

“If they cannot see foreigners sunbathing, all the Indian tourists will stop coming to Goa,” he said.

“And that will be the best news possible, land rates will come down and Goans will go back to traditional occupations and a respect for the land and each other,” I said.

“You are so boring. First chance I get, I’m heading for the beach,” he said. “It’s pathetic. We live in Goa and have never holidayed in the real Goa.”

“You call beaches, drugs and alcohol the real Goa?” I asked.

“That seems to be the new reality,” he said. “At least that’s what I see on TV and read in the papers.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Botched Operations

I met Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine hanging around the corridors of Hospicio. He looked upset. “You look upset,” I said.

“I swear by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I am upset,” he said.

“What’s biting you,” I asked.

“The miserable state of medicine today,” he said.

“Can’t be helped; it’s the population explosion,” I said.

“It’s the medical fraternity; they have forgotten the oath they all took in my name,” he said.

“C’mon you wrote that, or made your student write that way back in the 4th century BC. Surely you can’t expect them to keep to it in letter and spirit?” I said.

“It’s because they don’t keep to it that they are getting into these messes,” he said.

“I tell you it’s the population, too many students in medical college they don’t get proper teaching,” I said.

“The art of medicine has to be handed down from father to son, from doctor to the student who has signed the covenant and taken an oath according to the medical law. Here you have medical colleges charging a king’s ransom, to teach medicine,” he said.

“Microscopes and cadavers are expensive,” I said.

“Then you have two doctors getting their teenaged son to do a C-Section on a pregnant woman. That is in clear contravention of my Oath which says: I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favour of such men as are engaged in this work,” he said.

“Ah but the boy did not take the oath, his parents did. He was merely obeying his parents,” I pointed out.

“Then there is that team of doctors in Meerut who refused to deliver the baby of an HIV mother and instead made her husband deliver the baby under their direction. What happened to: I will apply … measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice, huh? he shouted.

“The father changed his statement later,” I said.

“He was forced to do it. And now the most unbelievable of all..! Doctors, DOCTORS are involved in terrorist acts. And they all swore this oath solemnly: Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief. These doctors wanted to blow up perfectly healthy people in the UK,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s what everyone is referring to as “Botched Operations”, so typical of today’s doctors,” I said.

“And now they want to build more morgues in Goa,” he said.

“You won’t listen to me when I tell you it’s the population explosion; too many births ergo more deaths than before,” I said.

“I have a simple but guaranteed solution to bringing down the hospital death rate. All they need to do is keep the deceased patient in the house of the doctor who treated him. Keep the body in the doctor’s house until it is time for burial or cremation. I guarantee you this – the hospital death rate will drop,” he said.

TERSE VERSE - Faith & Hate

This man he came and he said to me,
Do you believe in God?
Where that was leading I couldn’t see
I couldn’t even nod.

“You know that’s really weird,” I said,
“Why you should ask me that.
I’ve been mulling it over in my head;
I thought I had it pat.

“See… I went to Sunday school and all.
I was pious as they come…
Sunday Mass and stuff in the old church hall
My teacher was a nun…

“She told us all about how God,
Was omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient
To argue with her would have been odd
Since she was not omni-lenient.

“But then into this soft cocoon of faith
That He was there all-seeing
I saw how faith merely fuelled hate
And couldn’t help but feeling

“That throughout this world’s poor history,
Thugs armed with crescents or crosses,
Kept ‘heathens’ in deepest misery,
Too fearful to fight ‘God’s forces’.

There are too many questions no one can answer
When a child is raped and is dying
Where then is the all-seeing, all-powerful Master
Or was my Sunday school teacher just lying?

"Then came the tsunami huge and vicious
Its destruction so vast and so open.
Did the Omnipotent have a plan so grandiose?
Or was it merely a quake in the ocean?

"I hope there’s a God who’s around but helpless,
I hope there’s a God who is kind.
If there isn’t just think how prayer is quite hopeless
And such a waste of time for mankind.

"We believe if we’re good and honest and well
We’ll live in Heaven evermore;
While the wicked and ruthless will burn in Hell
So it’s okay if they’re running the show."

I looked at the man, as he glared and hissed
Do you believe there’s a God or not?
I smiled and said, maybe I’m an atheist
But today? I’d say my answer’s “not”.

©Bevinda Collaco 2004





Saturday, March 22, 2008

A sting in the tale


Suddenly the weather grew hotter this week and a small snake decided that a Sony speaker at a neighbour’s house would the best place to cool off. Luckily for him, one of the knobs of the speaker had fallen off, so there was this perfect sized tunnel for him to burrow through which brought him up against the mesh of the speaker. To say that the family was not happy is an understatement. I felt the snake was a goner and we thought of ways and means of letting it go, but the snake remained wedged against the mesh.

I wondered what Sony would do, so decided to call the service centre in Panjim. Technically it would be their job to unscrew the mesh cover of the speaker and remove the foreign body. I called and the lady who answered the phone was reluctant to let me speak to the manager unless she knew what my business was. I told her we had a snake in a Sony speaker and were planning to bring both to their service centre right away. Of course she panicked and called the manager who immediately asked me what I thought he could do about a snake in the speaker. Remove it, I said. No, he practically shrieked, you take it to a snake catcher. But the snake catcher will damage the speaker and good money has been paid for the speaker, I said. Is it poisonous, he asked. I think it is a Russell ’s Viper, I lied, very poisonous. There was silence while he gathered his thoughts, then he told me to bring the snake in the speaker to his service centre along with the snake catcher. His people would unscrew the speaker but the snake catcher would have to handle the snake. I was overcome with admiration for this man. I wish I had asked him his name, but he renewed my faith in good business practices in Corporate Goa.

I asked the little boy to pose with the box and took a picture. This upset the speaker tenant and he decided enough was enough, he moved, we all moved with snake and humans dispersing in opposite directions rapidly. There was no need to traumatize him at the Sony Service Centre.

This week was full of harsh criticism of Goa’s business practices. There were complaints about bad service at India’s only multinational electronics service centre. Not only were they lazy they were rude too.

An honest to goodness multinational also selling electronics took an entire month to replace one small cable in a refrigerator. A franchise outlet in Panjim selling all sorts of baked goods from bread to cakes and more allowed a wedding cake to be delivered to the reception with practically no decoration on it, glibly saying that ‘someone’ had stolen the icing nozzle that they did their cake decorations with and the new baker did not know what to do. No they did not think of buying or borrowing another.

An entrepreneur from Mumbai who has a chain of furniture stores gave up a huge contract in Goa when he found that sourcing materials from Goa was Mission Impossible. “They are just not interested in getting business,” he said. Which makes one take one’s hat off to the Sony Service Centre in Panjim. The customer was king, even if his problem carried a sting.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Matka’s Open and Close case

Raju is the matka bookie round the corner and he had mixed feelings about legalizing his trade.

“I don’t know what my bosses will say about this new move to legalise matka,” he said.

“The idea most probably has come from them,” I said.

“No no, that cannot be. One boss is in Ahmedabad and the other is in Mumbai,” he said.

“Are these branch offices or something?” I asked.

“Matka has two heads, two bodies and one heart,” he said.

“Just like a monster; it should be stabbed in that one heart,” I said.

“What stabbing you talking about? You don’t know how many people matka helps,” he said.

“I know many families it has ruined,” I said.

“It’s all mathematics, actually. You can multiply your money by as many as 80 times,” he said.

“And you can lose your house and family, too,” I said.

“It is called OC. Opening and Closing numbers. The opening number or first digit known as Open, is announced at 9.00 pm and the closing number or second digit known as Close is announced at midnight,” he said.

“So it’s like a one day match?” I asked.

“Even better you can bet only for ‘Open’ or only for ‘Close’, and get eight times the money you put in,” he said.

“So who are these bosses you talk about? I know Rattan Lal Khatri was the boss in the 70s,” I said.

“Oh he was the god of matka, now all I know is we have Milan from Ahmedabad and Kalyani from Kalyan in Mumbai, these are the centres, not bosses,” he said.

“How much do you collect in a day?” I asked.

“Around 10-15 lakh,” he said.

“That’s how you people manage to get away by paying the authorities to look the other way,” I said.

“How foolish you are. The ‘authorities’ as you call them are also our valued customers,” he said.

“The poor are the worst hit; and you don’t think of the misery you put women and children to,” I said.

“Again stop with the foolishness, please. Women are a huge part of our valued customer base. Sometimes we get so much business we have to pass it on to Hubli or Mumbai,” he said.

“So Churchill was right, the government will make a killing if they legalise matka,” I said.

“Oh definitely, but the bosses earnings would take a beating,” he said.

“What about yours,” I asked.

“Not a problem. I will be saving on the bribes; and the tension,” he said.

“Why tension,” I asked.

“You don’t know how awful it is when the cops walk in front of my shop,” he said.

“But you’ve already settled with them,” I said.

“Yes, but new constables and officers are constantly transferred, not like in Karnataka where they are transferred between March to June. They make big money there,” he said enviously.

“Well it’s time matka gave something back to the masses. Matka taxes can be used to improve the lot of the poor,” I said.

“We are already contributing. Who do you think pays for election campaigns and sponsors functions,” he asked.

Meters for show

Tired from a 16-hour bus journey I stumbled to a rickshaw on the Mandovi Bridge.

“Rickshaw Modom?” Like I didn’t know it was one.

“Altinho” I rasped.

“Fiptee rupiss”

“WHAT?”

“Okay; you from Ponje on’y, so fotty rupiss f’you.”

“Last time I came here I paid 20.”

“Where 20 Modom, you doan know petrol gone up?”

“Why can’t you charge by the meter?” I said.

“No meter.”

“It’s right there next to your head. Last January the government said by last March the use of meters would be compulsory in taxis and autorickshaws. And Madkaikar also announced that you people had agreed,” I said.

“Who you’re voting for Modom?” he replied.

“Don’t try and change the topic. Looks like you people agreed to use the meters and not charge by them,” I said.

“You tink Parrikar will win or that builder fellow Tarcar?” he replied

“What’s the use of installing meters and not charging by them?” I said.

“That Parrikar is a good fellow but he’s RSS fellow, but Tarcar is young fellow, maybe you Kistao, you vote for him?” he replied.

“I have just come from Mumbai. There are so many autorickshaws and taxis and they make very good business with lots of people using them throughout the day. Here you people just sit around without any passengers and overcharge maybe one or two passengers. How will you be successful?”

“Akshully RSS is good becos they say country is first-first, but Tarcar is new face and big builder. He’s Kistao or what Modom?” he said.

“The rickshaws in Mumbai run on CNG so they don’t pollute the atmosphere,” I pointed out.

“In Pernem they say MGP will win. I dunno,” he said.

“Better still, why don’t you go in for those electric cars? The cost is supposed to work out to only 40 paise per kilometer. If two or three people sit in the back it works out very cheap and saves the environment too. You can charge much less and still make a very good profit.”

“It makes me fill to laugh when these people come to our houses to beg for votes. After that we can be dying also, they won’t bother about us,” he said.

“The benefit of cheaper transport is not just for the passengers, more passengers will travel by your vehicles and less private vehicles will be used,” I said.

“All of them are saying Save Goa, Save Goa. What is happening to Goa? Goa is fine! Why save Goa?”

“Fine for you all right…! You just fire off any price that comes to your head and people have to pay you. Soon no one will hire your rickshaws and then let’s see how you manage.”

“Here is your house Modom. 40 rupiss.”

“It would not have cost me more than 12 rupees in Mumbai.”

“Ah but Modom, if we charge by meter there will be more and more rickshaws in Goa and more and more taxis and more and more cars. Goa will become jes’ like Bombaim.. Then really we have to save Goa. Wen you go to vote Modom doan vote like dat on’y. Tink hard and vote for good man. 40 rupiss Modom.”