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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.