Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shut up and simplifly

I have a complicated life and am all for using easy means to simplify it. So when I had to travel to Hyderabad there was no need to worry about making a choice about how to get there, since you could not get a train reservation and only one airline was simpliplying between Goa and Hyderabad - Deccan. I will always be grateful to Deccan for their slogan “Simplifly”. It taught me, and several other passengers, important life-lessons.

The first lesson was: Take Nothing for Granted. The flight was to leave at 3.00pm and the efficient Deccan staff sent SMS reminders about when and where you are flying. Just after you make arrangements to get transport to the airport you get an SMS which says your flight has been postponed by three-and-a-half hours.

You have made meticulous arrangements in Hyderabad; you hope the Deccan message sender made a mistake and call up their office in Panjim. A pleasant voice tells you there must have been a problem with the aircraft.

You are not really bothered about the aircraft’s problems because you are deeply engaged with your own. You ask the pleasant voice what to do. It says, hey there’s a Hyderabad flight by Kingfisher which is leaving at 3.00 pm but it will stopover at Bangalore; call the airport office of Deccan and tell them to put you on the Kingfisher flight to Hyderabad; it won’t cost you extra. I dialed the airport office of Deccan and dialed and dialed for two hours, before a Deccan employee realized a ringing telephone had to be answered. They told me to speak to the Deccan airport manager, who was not quite clear about changing over.

You better come now, he said. I went now. He said I should get hold of the Kingfisher airport manager. I got hold of her. She said we don’t do that. So I sat for four hours at Dabolim airport with no airconditioning and two wall fans that weakly stirred hot air thinking about Life Lesson Number Two: People Lie.

Two acquaintances helped pass the time for an hour and a half, then I got into a brief fight with another passenger. We had words. Words are my business – of course she was reduced to tears. That was a life lesson to her not to step on large people’s little toes. She’s only three her mother said.

Lesson Number Four: History Repeats Itself. The return trip was also delayed by three-and-a-half hours. But the wait was bearable due to efficient air-conditioning of a brand new airport and Hyderabadi passengers with a whacky sense of humour.

Lesson Number Five: Humans Can Adapt To Anything. Deccan offered free lunch only to those angry passengers who actually asked them the reason for the delay. It turned out the aircraft both times was utilized for another destination, and the Goa bound passengers had to just put up and shut up. After lunch the anger dissipated and the passengers found they could laugh at almost anything, including the fact that not once did Deccan apologise for the three-and-a-half hour delay on the public address system.

The final lesson? The dream of Deccan’s founder Capt. Gopinath was to enable “every Indian to fly at least once in his or her lifetime.” I have flown in the past and will fly again, but if the choice is Deccan or nothing, be sure of this: I will walk.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An answer for green-eyed Oscar

Who is a Goan, is the question Oscar Rebello put out into the public domain. I am pleased to announce, I have the answer. It is unfortunate that his green eyes earned him some racist abuse, but it is a fact that just before and after Liberation anyone with excessively fair colouring, brown hair and light eyes was unflatteringly referred to as a mestiço. To your face if one was in a scrap, otherwise behind your back, no matter which class of society you were born into. Later with the advent of Fair & Lovely, light skin and green eyes became much envied and much sought after commodities. Now no one hears the word mestiço. But no one denied that the mestiço was Goan.

The toddy tapper and fisherman with their glossy ebony bodies were undeniably Goan even though they were denied entry into the capital city of Panaji unless they were trousered and shirted. They were calm, gentle people, slow to enrage but when they got mad they believed in quick justice like setting fire to a tree in which thieves were hiding or thrashing a group of kids, who dared to yank off the back portion of the kashti.

There were the goldsmiths, the businessmen, the batkars, the priests, the clerks whose Goan identity was never in any doubt. So why the chest thumping now? Because we get defensive and incoherent, under the inevitability of being swamped by the much abused Non-Goan. I remember getting into a public, published scrap with another columnist, a Non-Goan, in the same magazine I wrote for. He made some belittling comments about Goa having ambitions of hosting the IFFI when people had to fight for seats in cinema halls with the rats that took up residence there. I was not amused and said so, informing him in a letter to the editor that non-Goans had no business criticizing their hosts. He called me a fascist in his printed reply and it would have gone on if the editor had not played spoilsport. The unfortunate part of it was that I was investigating his NGO and had to give it up because after that I was definitely biased.

But back to the question of who is a Goan. The answer is simple because there is a certain something that defines the genuine Goan. Something as simple as birth and genealogy. We are too close to the Goan scene with all our mental baggage, so let’s sit back and look further afield to Britain.

An Indian goes to Britain and settles down with a job, a house, children and grandchildren. Is he British? Yes and no. He is a citizen of Britain, but he will never, ever, be called an Englishman, neither will any of his descendants. Now we go one step further.

When that Indian goes anywhere else in the world, he will be always be known as an Asian. When the Englishman leaves Britain to settle down in South Africa, or Zimbabwe, or the UAE, he will always be referred to as the Englishman. He can trace his ancestry to a village in England hundreds of years. He has certain physical and mental characteristics peculiar to the English.

As does the quintessential Goan.

A Goan therefore would be someone whose ancestors go back hundreds of years to a village in Goa. A Goan who leaves and goes to any corner of India will always be known as the Goan or Mac as in Maka Pao, but he carries the signature of Goa with him, as does the Gujarati, the Punjabi, the Manipuri, the Tamilian, the Keralite and a host of others from different parts of India that carry the stamp of their origin. But after Liberation they have every legal right to take up residence in Goa. That makes them Domiciles of Goa. They become a permanent piece of the changing tapestry of Goa; a part of the ebb and flow of those who want the peace or a piece of this land. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, they will never be Goan. Goanese maybe but never Goan. “Goan” is a legacy handed down to us by our ancestors in the form of land, culture, music, tradition, warmth and yes, pettiness. It’s up to us to keep it as intact as possible if we cannot improve on it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Prototype of Goa at Chimbel

I saw a prototype of what Goa will be in the next ten years. If you want to see it too, take a trip to Indira Gandhi Slum Colony at the far end of Chimbel. For a slum colony, it is in pretty good shape. The roads are quite straight, definitely in far better shape than 31st January Road of Panjim. Children are fairly well dressed, clean, no fly-infested running noses or malnutrition bellies. There are scooters, rickshaws, motorcycles and cars. Everyone has a cell phone and the panch’s Nokia N 70 Music edition cell-phone rang regularly.

Indira Nagar has spread from a few houses built off the main road of Chimbel in the mid-70s. Victoria Fernandes aka Mummy can measure the growth of her political career in direct ratio with the growth of Indira Nagar. “First no one wanted to stay there,” she told me, “There was too much sickness and disease and they kept seeing the ghost of a priest. But I went and stayed there with them for a while and everything was better. I fought for them all these years, to make their conditions better and better. Now more and more people want to come and stay here. These are my people,” she said. The sickness stopped and the priestly ghost disappeared permanently. I explored the colony escorted by two panchs, one from Tamilnadu and the other from Andhra Pradesh; both have spent most of their lives in Goa.

The original cluster of houses built by the Union Government was a cluster of tiny 20 sq metre houses. These were divided and subdivided, let and sub-let, as more people poured into Goa from the southern states, they found their way to Indira Nagar which began spreading and growing like living thing expanding along its sides and crawling up the hill. Even a block of toilets was converted into living quarters and rented out.

A mysterious fire engulfed a part of the area, but like the Phoenix Indira Nagar emerged from the ashes stronger than ever and continued growing with subsequent governments. Houses were demolished and rebuilt as neat 100 sq metre homes under the 20-point programme by Governor Bhanu Pratap Singh. Once section came up during Manohar Parrikar’s time and the rest during Pratapsing Rane’s numerous stints as CM. Throughout their angel of mercy was Mummy Victoria Fernandes and they her largest votebank.

The houses are painted and plastered, thanks to the recent elections where Jennifer Monserrate and Victoria squared up to each other and doled out largesse. The slum has two temples, two churches and one large mosque with an Anjuman Islam school on the premises occupying pride of place up on the hill. The school has computers sent from the Central Government, computers with Urdu software. The mosque has four minarets pointing at the sky, all four donated by a wealthy Muslim. There are three burial grounds at the top of the hill, one Hindu, one Muslim and one Christian.

There was not much garbage lying around, maybe because in the run-up to Ganesh Chaturthi, sixty trucks of garbage were lifted from Indira Nagar. No one knows where they dumped their load.

It’s a mini-India or a prototype of Goa in the next decade, depends on how you look at it. One section is lined with Andhra Pradesh houses, 120 in all. The Tamil Nadu section makes up around 160 houses. There are very few Kerala houses, just about four or five. People from Karnataka are the largest numbering around 650-700 houses people largely by Muslim families from Karnataka. Goans make up 200 houses. The panchs were sure that there were around 10,000 residents at Indira Nagar. There is a very large representation of North Indians from Bihar Orissa, UP and Rajasthan too, but these live in rented premises.

There’s gambling, alcoholism, and every other vice one can think of. Fights break out on a regular basis and they knock on Victoria’s door to ease their way out of jail or into hospital. Everyone from diverse cultural backgrounds live in close but uneasy proximity. Are you afraid of inter-communal riots breaking out, I asked the panchs. “We think about it,” said one. “It’s hard living here with so many different types of people. Sometimes it is really bad, but we have no choice, we have to live with ourselves and each other. But then there are these three burial grounds lying next to each other; we can’t forget that we’ll all end up there some day.”

(Published in Herald January 13, 2008)

The CM’s larger picture

“You seem pre-occupied,” I said to Tia Querobina when I met her in the market.

“I am trying to find out where Senor Kamat and his advisers shop for their fruit and vegetables,” she said.

“I don’t think they do anything as mundane as shopping,” I said, “They probably order the goods to be sent to their residences.”

“No, the poor fellows are getting cheated blind,” she said.

“The Chief Minister?” I expostulated, “Never!”

Oh, he’s getting cheated all right. He pays more than Rs 14 for onions and wants to stabilize the prices at Rs 14, when you and I buy onions for Rs 6,” she said.

“Or maybe he is in cahoots with the Muslim dominated wholesale merchants of Goa and this is his way of raising the prices and helping them,” I said.

“Oh I don’t think so, I think the vegetable vendors are cheating him because he is the Chief Minister and they think he has lots of bribe money at his disposal,” she said.

Then why has he ‘stabilized’ the price of carrots at Rs 25 when they are available at Rs 20 per kg? He cannot be so stupid; he must be helping them,” I said.

“I think maybe his wife is fighting with him and has not told him the correct rates,” she said.

He Goa’s George Bush; looks like they have the same IQ,” I said.

“No, there must be someone other reason, that he is doing this, I was reading the other day that he says he looks at the larger picture,” she said.

“I think, he just opens his mouth and lets the words fall out,” I said.

“No he sees the larger picture, he is doing his best for the aam aadmi,” she said. “I think he wants to toughen the Goan and make the common man more frugal in his eating.”

“It’s the uncommon man who suffers from dangerous traffic, spiraling prices, erratic power and water, an unstable government and garbage all over the place,” I said.

“This is because we don’t listen to him,” she said. “He is very upset with our negative mindset of opposing every new project just for the sake of it.”

“He wants us to smile when our hills are dug out by mining and our fields choked with iron ore deposits,” I said.

“That’s development,” she said, “Senor Kamat has said that if we hinder mining the standard of living of local people in the mining belt will suffer.”

“True, they’ll die with all that fresh air, clean water, fertile fields and proper roads,” I said.

“You are too cynical,” she said, “He means well and he always talks about everything he does, he does for the common man. Massage parlours for instance he says many are good and some are bad.”

“He should know, he’s good at massaging egos of his colleagues,” I said.

“When the Shree Vidyadhiraj Teerth Shreepad Vader Swamiji conferred the Shree Vidyadhiraj Award 2007 on Senor Kamat at Shree Samasthan Gokarn Partagali Jeevottam Mutt, Canacona, he said he would always work for the poor and the needy in tiny Goa,” she said.

“Yes, so he brings the poor and needy from all over the country into tiny Goa, gives them houses, ration cards, electricity and water,” I said.

“This is his ticket to Heaven And that is why God is on his side," she said. "Who d'you think is helping him hang on to his seat?”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Palace for the People

This whole transparency effort is comical. Take the Adil Shah restoration work that is going on in slow-motion. There’s the GSIDC, then there’s the contractor who got the job of carrying out the restoration work, there’s the committee made up of artists, architect, scientist etc, which is supposed to guide the contractor and generally keep an eye on them and there are the invitees, those rabble-rousers, like me, who start screaming from the housetops after the job is done.

The seat of power in Goa for a few hundred years was the Adil Shah Palace. Our 40 bright and beautiful elected representatives and their bureaus shifted across the river and up the hill to the new secretariat at Porvorim which a published author once remarked, “looks like a boob and houses 40 boobs”, which proves yet again what a lazy language English is with so many different meanings for one word. And also that published authors are more original than those ‘authors’ who pay to publish their own books. But that’s another story.

Well, the committee for the restoration of the Adil Shah Palace decided to invite the rabble-rousers. They wanted the said rabble-rousers to see for themselves what was planned to turn the dead and crumbling palace into a living space for the people of Panjim, the people of Goa and anyone else who would like to experience the culture of Goa as it evolved through the ages.

Now why do I say it is comical? Because everyone is patently nervous. The committee calls for suggestions, but whether they will accept it is anyone’s guess. The plans have already been drawn up and the GSIDC has already signed on the dotted line with the contractors. The committee is nervous because they have to defend their ideas of what will turn the palace set on such a beautiful location into a living space. The GDISC officials and the restoration representatives looked closed and guarded. The rabble-rousers were nervous, because it’s very difficult to shout from the housetops when you have been invited to give your opinion before the deed is done.

We were taken on a tour of the 5000 sq mt palace. The ground floor which was made up of stables has these magnificent arches of laterite stone. It would be safe to blame the current horse trading that the Government of Goa is notorious for on the ghosts of these horses that were housed below. There was a small chapel which led to much murmuring about how it should be maintained as a chapel and much murmuring about, “Let’s see, let’s see.” We looked in vain for a secret tunnel that led to the harems in the age predating the chapel.

The massive old beams will continue holding up the ceiling and supporting the top floor. Massive new beams have been stacked up to replace those that have been eaten by white-ants and assorted wood worm. Up the stairs to the top floor overlooking the gently flowing Mandovi. As the cabinet swelled, the majestic, large, airy rooms shrank as ministers put up partitions to accommodate their new cabins and cabins for their staff and chamchas.

The restorers have removed all those partitions that had been added in the last couple of decades and one gets a sense of the structure as it must have been originally designed. The plan is to take the palace and give it to Goans. The space within will be divided into art and culture gallery space, museum space, a music room, a children’s crèche, a children’s activity room, a book room, administration office and a café on the upstairs gallery. The artifacts in the Palace will be exclusive and not repeated elsewhere in Goa. The Assembly Hall met with the most comment with the visitors strongly urging that it remain an Assembly Hall where regular mock assemblies could be held by the Law students and the public to comment on the actual assembly sessions taking place on the hill at Porvorim. “We’ll see, we’ll see,” was the answer.

Historian and retired bureaucrat Percival Noronha was not impressed, “We have so many art galleries and museums in Goa. This building should be used as the Archives of the state.” It was met with a studied silence, no one, not even the rabble rousers were in favour of it. It’s better as a place for art and culture I murmur soothingly. He snorts, we had the same idea with Kala Academy, he said, and it is hardly a centre for art and culture. Maybe the Adil Shah Palace will draw the people to its ancient stones. It’s not Kala Academy, built by Charles Correa, the Idalcao is a piece of Goa’s history that has come unscathed through the centuries. It’s up to the people of Goa to take this gift, use it and keep it alive for centuries to come.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

MLAs’ Collective Conscience goes on holiday

The events of the week were a bit too much for me. A holiday in Ibiza was what I needed. There was a sudden commotion next to me in the Departures Lounge of Dabolim and a whole lot of weak inner voices sat down. It was the Collective Conscience of the elected representatives of Goa.

“You should not be here; you should be in the hearts and minds of the MLAs,” I said.

“Ah shut up, we’re going on a holiday,” it said.

“Typical, when you are needed most, you take off on a holiday,” I said.

“Listen there’s just so much we can do. All their lives they have just listened to us in fits and starts now they have ignored us completely,” it said.

“So? Hang in there and fight. Shout louder,” I said.

“Why are you going then,” it asked.

“This latest development was too much for my mind to wrap itself around,” I said.

“So you are running too?” it sneered.

“Listen, you are not my conscience, you are theirs. Friends are ringing me up and emailing from all over the country and world and laughing at me,” I said.

“Everyone is laughing at Goa and Goans,” it said.

“Can’t blame them for thinking we’re all mad; we keep electing clowns to represent us,” I said.

“Digamber is talking about the government being in the saddle, but they’re all balancing on top of each other on the saddle while the GDA has taken the horse away,” it said.

“He says he has aces,” I said.

“Come on everyone knows this is a different pack made up of 40 jokers only,” it said.

“Monday and Tuesday will be crucial days, though, they might get Victoria back,” said Victoria’s Conscience.

“You must have taken the greatest beating,” I said.

“Oh, yes, but it didn’t really surprise me, you never can tell with her,” it said.

“Ah well, she must be practically under lock and key with the GDA,” I said.

“See that shivering thing there? That’s her son Rudolf’s conscience. As long as he’s out there negotiating, everything’s wide open,” it said.

“What about Anil Salgaocar; his family are known Congress supporters,” I said.

“He is not important, watch out for Babu Azgaonkar, Micckey, Panduram Madkaikar and Digambar Kamat himself,” it said.

“What happened to all that tough talk and abuse heaped on the Opposition?” I asked.

“You never learn do you? Talk is cheap. They even talk of marriage,” it said.

“They keep changing partners, it’s hardly a marriage,” I said.

“That’s marriage; it’s one big marriage with the government and the opposition as the two partners,” it said.

“So they get married and Goa gets screwed,” I said.

“Now you’re learning,” it said.

“I’m curious about Parrikar’s concience, where is it?” I asked.

“Oh that one’s already sipping margaritas in Ibiza. It applied for citizenship the minute Parrikar said he would never work with the Monserrates way before the elections,” it said.