Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 – A fine vintage for black comedy

As comedy goes you couldn’t have asked for more in the year that has just gone by like the wind. The beginning of 2009 saw Goa decked out like a fortress with sandbagged bunkers that would have made 26/11 terrorist Kasab giggle like a schoolgirl. Last year like Cinderella you had to stop dancing to loud music at midnight else you would turn into a jailbird.

The battle raged on between those trying to save Goa from being parceled out to builders and those determined to parcel Goa out to builders. People like Vishwajeet Rane and Anil Salgaocar came out openly against protecting forests as against cutting them down for “development” of Sattari in Rane’s case and mining in Salgaoncar’s case.

The SEZ decision was rolled back and instead of taking compensation from the SEZ developers who sank illegal borewells and cut into hill slopes, the Government of Goa bent over backwards to instead pay the developers for losses incurred. This despite many complaints of fraud with documentary evidence filed at various police stations.

The Supreme Court directed Cidade de Goa hotel to remove all structures on the Vaiguinim beach and to open it to the public, but the government of Goa rushed in to save the hotel which has offered them food and shelter when they were in the throes of toppling the previous Parrikar government. The government came out with the Land Acquisition Ordinance which saved Cidade and even the Oppostion Leader Manohar Parrikar said the Ordinance was “a small matter” compared with the land scams and the casinos. Fomento must be everyone’s “preferred trading partner”.

We learned yet again that we Goans are patsies. The petrol pumps warned of a shortage of fuel when they heard that the Centre was going to reduce the price of petrol by Rs 5 per litre and of course we all rushed to fill our tanks and then felt like fools when the price went down two days later. But our aam aadmi government raised the taxes, so while the Centre lowered the rate by Rs 5, the state government made sure the rate was lowered in Goa by Re 1. Yay, our loss was minimal. We just paid one rupee extra. Who’re the fools now, huh? Huh?

’09 was not a very good year for Mickky Pacheco with all his domestic crises with his wife Sara and his spat at a casino. His Enemy No. 1 Churchill Alemao got involved too and even called Mickky a “multigamist”. But Mickky soldiered on and ended the year celebrating his birthday proclaiming undying love for Churchill and donating two mobile refrigerated coffins to the people of Goa.

Margao Municipal Council tried to discipline its office staff into working in the office by introducing the biometric finger scan, but the staff showed their boss who was boss and said bas, no biometric-shiometric scan. They went to the CM who is an MMC house tax payer and said we don’t want it and he said awrightee then. No biometric-shiometric.

There’s the whole casino comedy being played out in the courts on the streets and now even in the football fields with casinos holding tournaments. Nothing has changed. They are still unseaworthy and still clogging the Mandovi River.

Panaji got a new lady mayor who does even less work than the previous male one. The capital city’s garden looked like it could not get more ugly and the new mayor went and did just that. Now the garden has been reduced to a pile of mud and looks like it could be used as a landfill. This while a rash of retaining walls continued all over the city and Miramar and Caranzalem got all gussied up. The garden being the main garden of the capital city has the potential to milk the taxpayer till the cows come home. The longer you wait, the higher will be the asking price and the higher will be the commission.

Petrol was found seeping into two wells in Bogmalo and the Goa state pollution control board was “baffled”. Illegal mining has contaminated the water at Selaulim reservoir. Their reject flows into feeder tributaries to the reservoir, increasing the silt and showing a dangerous increase in iron of 70 parts to a million parts of water. The water will become officially “toxic” when it reaches 100 parts to a million parts of water. South Goa can start a new breed of Iron Men.

Goa University stole the spotlight with the marks scandal, the sexual harassment saga, engineering students fasting unto death demanding ATKT for a fourth attempt to pass a semester and a B-grading from the NAAC. This was the cruelest cut of all since three Goan colleges got A ratings.

The police force may have disappointed us with their investigative abilities, but they did not let us down in comedy. The incidents came tumbling out almost on a daily basis from August ’09 with a cop flinging a bundle of money into a bush and fleeing in one direction while the Interceptor he was originally in fled elsewhere away from the Anti Corruption Bureau. Then the casino chase and it just got funnier after that with gaffe after gaffe, until recently a lady cop mistakenly swallowed poison and ended up in hospital getting her stomach pumped.

There was so much black comedy, this space is not enough. The serial Dupatta Murderer, The rape of The Russian and the comments made by our elected representatives have become the stuff of legends. Ravi Naik, Home Minister urged women not to wear dupattas. Digambar Kamat, Chief Minister said tourist should know how to behave and Shantaram Naik, Rajya Sabha MP said by their behaviour these girls invited trouble and that if the girl has been going around with the rapist for several days, then the cops should look at it differently. Wish we could go back to a couple of months earlier Sardinha spoke of building a bull-fighting stadium in South Goa. Or when Parrikar called L K Advani a rancid pickle.

And finally a tribal protest that caused a four-hour gridlock on both sides of the Mandovi bridge last week and protestors dancing happily in the residual spray since the cops could not control the hose.

2009. Ah. It was a fine vintage year for black comedy. Why? Because nothing can ever top the No 1 awards the state has received.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Instant Gratification

The thing about striking up a conversation with a total stranger, regardless of what Goa’s Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Shantaram Naik thinks, is that you are bound to hear something interesting. So far, no conversations I have launched into have ended in rape, as Naik claims they can, and one devoutly hopes they never will. I have conversed with all sorts of characters, upright citizens, down-at-heel bravehearts, felons, at least three murderers, one of whom was a mighty moustached dacoit from Chambal who claimed to have killed thousands, a pickpocket, happy people, miserable people, rich and poor. Without exception all conversations after a tentative beginning were full of self-righteousness where both parties (me included) project themselves as Perfection personified. Everyone has a view, an opinion, but few have solutions (me included).

A recent fascinating conversation happened while killing time before a seminar at the Black Box in Kala Academy. A not-so-young woman had come for a walk to Kala Academy and was resting from her labours on one of those comfortable steel benches facing the Mandovi River. I was sipping a coffee on the same bench while she was catching her breath.

“Is that instant coffee?” she asked me. I like looking at the river in silence so I was abrupt, “Don’t know,” I said, “got it from the canteen.”

“It is the root of all evil,” she said.

This got my attention. “Coffee? Seriously?” I said, nearly spilling it on myself. “Instant,” she said. “It started with Instant and now the whole world is going to hell.” I looked at her thinking oh goody, a mental case.

“Think about it,” she said. “Everyone wants everything now, abhi, isi waqt. We say we don’t have time to brew proper coffee, so we have instant coffee. We don’t want to waste time cooking, so we have instant noodles and packaged food that we heat and eat. We have forgotten how to walk, we want to drive everywhere. We want everything right now. That’s why there is so much crime, corruption, rape, obesity. No one wants to slow down and smell the roses. Look at those barges anchored in the river.”

I looked at the barges anchored in the river, there were five of them. I looked at her flummoxed, I tell you. “What’s instant about the barges and all those other things you mentioned?” I asked.

“I have been coming to Kala Academy and this place for the last 39 years,” she said, “and barges would sail down the river with a pile of iron ore in them once in a while. Now you get one passing every five minutes. See these have to wait in a queue. Most of this is through illegal mining and this is because people want to make quick money. Instant money! If there is so much iron ore in these barges, imagine how many hills are being destroyed just because a handful of people want to make quick money.”

“Not only that, they are also silting up the river,” I said self-righteously.
“It’s everywhere, no one wants to stop and think about what they are doing. It’s all a mad rush for making more and more money. Just observe the people around you. They will sell anything, even their own mothers. You can tell the “instant” types. They will look like motorcycle pilots, they will be borderline fat or outright obese, they will have thick gold chains, fat rings on practically all their fingers and huge wrist watches on their hands. They will drive powerful cars and have beautiful wives. You will know immediately that they are either in real estate or mining.”

“They could also be fat and rich with inherited wealth and inherited ugliness from their parents,” I said.

“This is the age of Instant Gratification,” she said. She stood up swung her arms, stamped her feet and said, “It is the root. Of all. Evil. Mark my words.” She stomped off and I went to look at the boat show.

A large shiny low-slung monster of a car sighed to a halt. A heavy motorcycle-pilot-type man lumbered out, consulted his Blackberry clutched in his fat be-ringed fingers. He adjusted his gold chain, checked his huge wristwatch, ordered his driver to park the car close by and sauntered into the boat show. I followed close behind; so close that I stepped on his sandal. I apologized and asked him if he was selling boats. “No, I’m here to buy one,” he said importantly. “Oooh,” I said, “Are you into yachting? Are you a sailor” “Nah,” he laughed, “I’m into real estate; I’m a developer. My son wants me to buy a boat, so I’m here to select one.” He laughed again shaking his head, “When my son wants something, he has to get it.” I laughed too. I also shook my head.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wanted: One electric crematorium

Today I can say I am annoyed, which is, I can tell you, a rare phenomenon. It takes a lot to annoy me. They say the life of an average person is three score and ten years meaning 70 and though I have not quite reached three score, at 55 I am chugging well past the half-way mark.

When one is pragmatic one has to plan. And I had planned for the disposal of my earthly remains through cremation and the sprinkling of my ashes in the River Mandovi. Read that as my last desperate attempt to travel far and wide, without fear of crashes, terrorists or bankruptcy.

The only tripwire in this whole plan is that there is no electric crematorium in Panjim, or Goa for that matter. Given the problems with finding burial space, for the end result of road accidents, suicides, murders, gang wars and acts of God, surely the time has come for a proper crematorium in Goa. In the good ol’ days people hardly ever died; they just lived on and on until they died I suspect of boredom. In the here and now, it is different. You step out of your house and you never know whether you will step back in or be carried in on strong men’s shoulders.

It could be anything – bad driving, bad construction, bad people, bad diseases, bad doctors. The thing is, a crematorium in today’s Goa would do brisk business. Yet what does the GMC do? Decides more doctors are needed. As if we don’t have more than enough of our fair share of quacks. Those who are more interested in the size of your income, than that of your infection?

No. The GMC decided Goa needs more doctors, so they asked permission of the Centre to expand their number of students from 100 to 150. The 50 extra would be local Goans. The Centre said fine, we’ll send team in December to check if you have the required infrastructure for 150 medical students. One hears GMC immediately panicked and said, hey, hey, no need to send a team this December, send it in December 2010. We’ll set everything up and open admissions for 50 more locals in 2011.

That is all well and good. But I learned that at the same time GMC was involved in new correspondence.

The morgue which holds 60 bodies is just not enough for the large numbers of people snuffing out on and off the roads of Goa. One hears they are going to spend Rs 12 crore and build a state-of-the-art mortuary which will hold 90 bodies.

So why am I annoyed? Am I annoyed because GMC is swinging into action to accommodate dead bodies but puts on hold a chance to save some deaths and train 50 new live doctors? Am I annoyed because they cannot build infrastructure for the living but can fritter away so much for the dead? Am I annoyed because in terms of cost-benefit, it makes more business sense to focus on the dead, because of the unending supply and quick turnover, rather than spend tax payers’ money on medical students who will then proceed to fleece their patients and not issue bills for payments received?

No I am annoyed because it would make more sense to set up an electric crematorium near the morgue. Body comes in, body waits until forensics and cops are through with it and family collects. If no family comes forward, the crematorium is right there. Would it not be far simpler to just dispose of the bodies in an electric crematorium? Of course, one that I too could use in the fullness of time?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marriage and ceremony

A wedding should be a time of joy. But when you see the drawn faces of the betrothed couple and families you know it is anything but joy in the run-up to D-Day. Before you know it, you are totting up the numbers and you find that you are already paying out a couple of lakhs on things like hire of the venue, fresh flowers, decorative lighting, pretty cloth covers on the chairs with big bows, which match with the pretty centerpieces which cost a bomb and are placed on each table. Another lakh flies like the wind into decorating the church or mandap, and the clothes for family members and friends who will be holding positions of honour during the nuptials.

Yet another lakh goes flying out to a very expensive band that will provide you with live music. Then you have to get a Master of Ceremonies, wine, cake, a sumptuous dinner for 300 guests. You never know how many people you know until you draw up a guest list for a family wedding. There are the cards that have to be selected and printed. Then they have to be delivered. I would have presumed that the cards would have to be posted, but no, according to my friend Omlet one cannot post cards. They have to be delivered personally or you will upset family and friends. And you don’t want to upset anyone because then they’ll consciously or unconsciously put a hex on your wedding.

By now you have lost track of the lakhs that are flying into limbo. There’s money to be paid for the bridal couple’s wedding finery. Wines to be selected, cocktails, mocktails, the wedding cake, decorations; nothing costs less than Rs 20,000 and the number keeps increasing. At no point does it strike you that all this money is being spent on just one day. To you this is the One Day of your life when you must spend all this money. Everything, but everything has to be just right.

You have attended other weddings and have taken notes. You like certain things that they had, so you set about getting those for your own wedding. You have already taken a loan to fit in the honeymoon. You find you are running low on funds, so you ask around and take small loans from family and friends. You take an advance on your salary because this is the Most Important Day of Your Life. No expense is to be spared for the ceremony and its reception thereafter. You want a wedding to be proud of; an event that is dressed to impress.

But it seems such a colossal waste of money and effort. Your guests will ooh and aah, but once they return from another wedding yours would have faded completely from their memory. Also no matter what you do, someone somewhere will have something to complain about.

One wishes one were back in the 70s when to flaunt wealth was vulgar. To have a regular wedding with the usual components was ho-hum. 30 years ago, we chose to go completely anti-establishment. The wedding nuptials were in the morning with mandatory white gown and dark suit in church, followed by a wedding lunch for relatives. The main event – the reception - was a party for friends held in the house. Good thing it was a huge house. The dress code was jeans, kurta and sandals for bride, groom and everyone else. The food was biryani, sorportel and ice cream. There was recorded music, good wine and wild dancing which can only be done with 70’s music. A wonderful time was had by all. That was a wedding that the guests spoke about for a long, long time, decades in fact. Even now they talk of the wonderful time they had. And the cost was a fraction of the cost of a ho-hum regular wedding.

With us, the wedding was not really important, what made us extremely nervous was the marriage that was to follow after the wedding. We were convinced we’d make a mess of it and of course we did. But we blundered through somehow and 30 years later we are still blundering through. But one thing is certain. As wedding receptions go, I have yet to enjoy another one as much as I enjoyed my own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Turn the village/ward into a joint family

There’s been an idea lurking around in my mind like a half-remembered melody that just won’t go away. And Tomazinho Cardozo’s article (ELDERS AS ‘ROLE MODELS’ Sunday Times 15/11/09) about today’s youth recklessly discarding the elderly, brought it into sharp focus.

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

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

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

We have to sort ourselves out.

I am not suggesting that we turn back the hand of Time, but that we can build on the slow measured pace of our culture and adapt it to the needs of today. To this end the joint family has to come back, re-invented, to expand and include the entire ward or village. The community – that is all residents of the ward or village, of all ages gather together and pool their mental and professional resources to support and strengthen each other.

This has special reference to our youth who are in dire need of help. This community becomes the mother of gram sabhas with every man, woman and child of the village pulling their weight equally. Everyone regardless of age, has a lot to learn and a lot to teach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not some Utopian flight of fancy. Something similar has been used in a village in Maharashtra called Hivre Bazar (please Google it), where a village looking at starvation, alcoholism and complete degradation, came together under one man who was their sarpanch for 15 years and turned themselves around.

The village now plays host to study teams from the UN, from Japan, China, Africa and even Afghanistan. It was the focus and integrity of the sarpanch who passed his IAS exams, but was prevailed upon by the villagers to chuck the IAS and help them instead of accepting his posting.

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

We can do it here in Goa. Why? Because it’s in our tradition. We used to have a planned society that was happy and contented. Ours was the sussegado life, not lazy, mind you, but slow, steady and solid. No one went hungry. Ours was a way of life that was the envy of all. No need to point out to you, that it is fast disappearing. No need to tell you too, that we can restore it for ourselves and our descendants.

All it takes is a Community Plan. Not the government, not the panchayat. Just the people. Turn the village people and the ward stakeholders into a joint family.

Why, it will even take care of the law and order problem, because a caring society becomes an alert, protective society. Our police force can go back to doing bandobast duty to make the MLAs look important.

(This article has been printed in The Times of India Goa Edition of 02 December 2009”Ties that bind”)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Best place in the world

I spent two good days attending a three-day South Asia Media Summit that is organized every year by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung India at the International Centre, Donapaula and I came away pleased that India is the best country in all of South Asia. And after seeing a documentary on the horrors of caste oppression in India, that Goa is the best place in all of India. Ergo, Goa is the best place in all of South Asia. So I made a beeline for my old friend Cryalot to give him the good news, “I know for a fact that Goa is the best place to live and work in all of South Asia.”
He said, “What nonsense you talk. Don’t you see what is happening around you?”
“Well see for yourself,” I said, “The delegates from the other countries were saying terrible things about their countries.”
“And Indian delegates were praising our country and you believed them,” he said.
“Au contraire,” I said even though I had met no French speaking people, “Our Indian media persons were criticizing India like nobody’s business.”
“And so they should, so why are you not convinced that we live in a hell on earth?” he asked.
“Because even with all our problems, it was clear that we are better off than the other countries,” I said.
“Pakistan is bullying us and we are letting them bully us,” he said.
“But they have public beatings and one Pakistani delegate said it is no country to bring children into the world. He said he had two daughters and was afraid to let them even cycle outside the house,” I said, because I know we can cycle anywhere we like, We have Joseph Rodrigues and his cycling group that sets out early on Sunday mornings. It’s mixed company and no one has to be covered from hairline to toenail.
“Those people are being bombed to kingdom come and you are talking about cycling,” he said.
“Those journalists are threatened almost everyday, but they soldier on regardless,” I said, “but here we rarely get death threats and if we do we get one entire policeman for protection.”
“Look at the crime we have here, such a huge law and order problem – serial killers, robberies, white collared crime, bomb blasts and you say this is the best place to be?” he sneered.
“But they get caught some of the time, so most of us are happy and then the judge lets them off, so most of them are happy. We are a happy society,” I said.
“Last time you were foolishly impressed with Bhutan. What happened this time,” he asked.
“I still like Bhutan, but one of the delegates said that they are a small country and not very well educated and that the judges often beat up defendants,” I said. “Here people throw chappals at judges. That’s so much better than the judge giving you the boot.”
“Our judiciary is a joke,” he says.
“Not according to the delegate from the Maldives,” I pointed out. “She told us that the Maldives is only one kilometer broad and courtrooms are very small. The judge asks the witness did you see this man killing the dead man and all witnesses turn hostile because they are too scared that they will join the dead man.”
“Don’t talk of judges,” he said, “Look at all the reports coming out about judges being involved in embezzlement of provident fund of their staff; of judges having assets way beyond their means, of judges dismissing cases and they use contempt of court to stifle dissent.”
“Yes, but one of our delegates said they become High Court Chief Justices and even end up in the Supreme Court and one even made it to the Rajya Sabha when he dismissed cases during the Sikh slaughter in the 1984 riots,” I said. “That’s upward mobility which you won’t see in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.”
“Nothing you say makes me believe India or Goa for that matter is the best place to be right now,” he said.
“We are free to write what we want, for one,” I said. “Women can do what they want and no one can stop them. And best of all we can throw out our rulers at least once in four years and the army does not come marchin’ in,” I said.
“Who said you are free to write what you want?” he said. “A cartoonist was banned from cartooning by the Supreme Court. You can be hauled up before Speaker for ridiculing the MLAs.”
“Ah, but even then, there are ways and means to keep them on their toes. We have a powerful weapon which our neighbouring countries do not have,” I said.
“Which is?” he asked.
“The freedom to ridicule,” I said.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life’s a gamble for cops

I was walking past a bush at the venue of a fashion show when the bush said “Hsst” to me. I stopped of course, because a talking bush can always be counted on to break the monotony. “Why are you hssting me?” I asked politely because I felt one should never give attitude to a talking bush. “It’s me,” said the bush wriggling madly, “SP Sachcha Phul.”
“Why Sachcha Phul!” I said, “Why are you hiding behind that bush? You don’t have an invitation for the fashion show?”
“I do so have an invitation,” he said with injured dignity, “But you never can tell what people will make of it, especially the media. Some of my colleagues are jumping at their own shadows.”
“Ah,” I said, “That’s why you are sitting behind that bush.”
“Not really,” he said. “But the media has ruined the reputation of the police force. What they think? We don’t have lives of our own to live?”
“You are talking about your colleagues who were playing Catching Cook with the media on a casino boat?” I said.
“To you people it is all a big joke,” he said bitterly. “They forget we have to do bandobast duty, attend inaugurations of new police stations, solve serial murders, and apprehend terrorists. Are we not allowed to let down our hair once in a while?”
“Of course you can,” I said, “but it does look odd if cops or any other pillars of society, who are on the public payroll, are found in places like casinos.”
“Do you know how much money we have to pay to join the police force? It goes into lakhs and lakhs,” he said.
“I know,” I said sympathetically, “And you have to earn that money back as fast as you can. That is why your colleagues went to the casino? To reduce their deficit?”
“Not everyone gets that point,” he said, “They just jump to conclusions and it is very upsetting.”
“Well naturally, it is a way of making money. Far better than demanding bribes. But casinos are frowned upon as dens of vice. That is why the uproar,” I said.
“How come there is no uproar when we bet on matka numbers?” he said. “I don’t see why matka has to be pampered so much by the public. This is bound to give the casinos an inferiority complex.”
“It is unfair that while goons and corporate kings and politicians and women of easy virtue can climb unquestioned on board a casino, everyone gets all upset when cops do the same,” I said.
“It’s as if we are second class citizens,” he said.
“I agree,” I said. “It’s not as if anyone thinks cops are pure as the driven snow. On the contrary. Everyone knows you are corrupt and have ill-gotten wealth. So why get so upset over cops found in a casino?”
“I don’t know why people expect miracles from us,” he said. “We are like everyone else. We joined the police force to make money, nothing else. All of you take up jobs and professions to make money, so why get your knickers in a twist over us doing the same?”
“Well you are expected to protect the people of Goa,” I said.
“Of course we protect the people of Goa. What you think, huh? We protect people of Tamilnadu?” he said. “We protect those we are told to protect. From the rest we take hafta, and any fool would tell you that is protection of the best kind.”
“What about the poor and the marginalized?” I asked. “What happens when they are injured or killed?”
“What you talking about? They get compensation,” he said. “It’s not as if they don’t benefit. It’s all tied up nicely. We have nothing to hide. But with us cops, every day is a gamble.”
“So why are you hiding behind this bush? You should be sitting in your allotted seat and enjoying the fashion show,” I said.
“Because I’m waiting to catch Wendell Rodricks,” he said.
“You want to arrest Wendell?” I asked, “What’s he done?”
“He hasn’t done anything. I don’t want to arrest him,” he said getting annoyed. “I want him to design special chor pockets in our uniforms, so we can keep packs of cards, dice and casino chips.”
“Makes sense, especially now since the DGP said going to a casino is like going to a church or a temple, or going fishing. Perfectly legal,” I said.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Groceries – best gifts

So my friend Mr Moneybags was getting his son married off to a girl from another wealthy family. He sent me a summons to come to his aid immediately. I rushed to his aid. Not just because he’s rich, but because it would be interesting to see what kind of trouble he had gotten into from which he could not buy himself out.

I went past the double security gates, the velvet lawns, the gelatine detector, the metal detector, the RDX detector, the eyeball scan, the fingerprint scan, two sniffer dogs sniffed me, I crossed lots of fluffy white carpet, skidded across a polished parquet floor, was led to Mr M’s study lined with leather covered books all the way to the ceiling. It looked like an exclusive English club with leather sofas and the aroma of perfectly bended Cuban cigars. Mr M was struggling with a list.

“Help me,” he said. “I need to make a list of items that invitees to my son’s wedding can buy as wedding gifts.”
“I don’t think the concept of a bridal registry has caught on in Goa,” I said, “And anyway these days everyone says they don’t want presents, just the invitee’s presence is all that is required.”
“Now that is silly, and maybe be okay for people like you,” he said, “but I am a pragmatic man and a wedding like anything else is all about income and expenditure.”
“Well anyway,” I said, “We don’t have any bridal registry that I know of where the couple can list the things they want with a chosen store.”
“What is the use of that?” he asked.
“Well the gift registry is updated and it has a system to prevent duplicate gifts. And the couple gets whatever they have selected.”
“No, I’m not interested in that,” he said. “I have already given them a penthouse apartment in Mumbai, a farm and farmhouse in Goa and a holiday home in the Bahamas. All are fully furnished and staffed.”
“Then just go with the ‘No Presents Please’ theme,” I said.
“What you think, money grows on trees?” he demanded. “Don’t you know how expensive living has become?”
“I know how expensive living has become. I finish all my earnings on groceries only. If I need anything else, I will have to shoplift,” I said.
“That’s the thing,” he said, “So I am making a list and I need your help. I need about 300 kg of sugar, 300 kg of tur dal, 500 kg of channa dal, 400 kg of moong dal, 700 bags of potatoes. 1000 sacks of Basmati rice, 1000 sacks of flour. You think flour makes sense? Weevils and things?”
“Isn’t that too much for the wedding banquet?” I asked, “Is the caterer not handling that?”
“Of course the caterers are handling that. I have 17 caterers handling all sorts of cuisines. This is the list of gifts I want the invitees to bring to the wedding,” he said.
“I don’t see guests dripping with silk and diamonds, staggering in with sacks of rice,” I said.
“I don’t know why I called you; you are no help at all,” he said. “Just give me some more items to put on the list and I will send a list with each invite.”
“You can ask for anything, garlic has shot up, onions, potatoes, carrots, oil, capsicum, brinjals too,” I said.
“No. No brinjals,” he said, “I hear they are growing BT brinjals in Goa without telling anyone; I want to live to see my great grandchildren.”
“Well then, dairy products, poultry, meats, fish! Oh my goodness, fish,” I said, “fish has become as valuable as gold today, but where will you store it at the wedding venue?”
“I will have reefer containers at the venue, so all perishables will be properly stored,” he said. “I will have a food inspector to check everything too. You know how some guests always try to palm off rubbish on the happy couple?”
“I know what you mean” I said. “We are still trying to get rid of the 99-rupee store stuff some people gifted to our family wedding.”
“I am not interested in your family wedding, I have my own problems,” he said.
“So you who are the richest person I know are also feeling the pinch of rising prices,” I said. “You will use this for cooking for your family and retainers?”
“Nonsense,” he said. “I will hoard all this merchandise and when the price is right, I will sell it all.”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

So Not On Sanstha

Strange are the plans of mice and men. If there is life after death, then Malgonda Patil and Yogesh Naik, must be having a hard time with the other after-lifers laughing their auras off. That is of course if the Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and the two deceased did put the bomb in the scooter in the first place. The cops were cagey about pointing the finger directly at the organization.

After two SS men have been picked up for questioning, the finger pointing at the Sanatan Sanstha is getting steadier. Vinay Talakar, 30, from Karwar did an MBA course in Goa University. Vinayak Patil, 27, from Karnataka worked as a driver at the Park Hyatt hotel in South Goa. You could say it was a Vin-Vin situation for the investigating officers since Vinay and Vinayak both broke down under questioning and spilled the beans.

“So what is this Sanatan Sanstha all about?” I asked my friend So-Not-On Shaitan who has been an admirer of the Sanstha for quite a while.
“It is known as the Sanatan Bharatiya Sanskruti Santha but to Western oriented types like you it is called Sanatan Society for Scientific Spirituality,” he said.
“Obviously their science was weak if the bomb they made blew up beforehand and turned both rider and pillion rider into spirits,” I said.
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.
Of course not, I said, why would you make a bomb and then blow your own people up? It would make sense if they were fundamentalists, because fundamentalists are fundamentally stupid.
“I’ll have you know that it is spiritually committed bodies like the Sanstha and Bajrang Dal that protect the Hindu community when it is endangered. We created awareness about the large scale desecration of deities in Goan temples,” he said.
“Creating awareness is a good thing. Creating terror by exploding scooters and Sanstha disciples is not a good thing,” I said.
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.
Of course, I said, they must have been going fishing and killing fish with dynamite is illegal, so that is why they were embarrassed about admitting it. Also they were too busy trying to pick up their own bits and pieces.
“You are completely ignoring the work we do for the welfare of society,” he said. “We run several publications and teach Hinduism and the Right Path to people and especially youth,” he said.
“But once bombs and terror are added to religious teaching, you become nothing better than a West Coast Taliban,” I said.
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said. “Only the Home Minister Ravi Naik is pointing fingers at us. The police are not.”
Of course, I said. Obviously their enemies must have rigged the scooter with a bomb, knowing that the Sanstha workers would be using the two-wheeler. Then they must have tried to plant a bomb on the Narkasura truck too. So simple.
“We have already approached the courts to stop everyone accusing us and ruining our reputation,” he said.
“Your organization is just 19 years old, but only in the last two years people have been asking for you to be shut down,” I said.
“We have just two centres in India, one here in Goa and the other at Panvel,” he said, “but we have centres in Melbourne, Brisbane, Toronto, Dubai, Britain and the USA.”
“This is supposed to be a scientific age, yet religious groups across the board are all doing brisk business,” I said.
“We are just spreading scientific spirituality to seekers,” he said.
“Then do us all a favour and don’t use explosives as your teaching tools,” I said. “Spreading terror is so not on.”
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.
“Would you categorically state that the SS does not, never has and never will make bombs?” I asked.
“How many times do I have to tell you; there is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

People we love to hate

One of the biggest myths in Goa is that Goans are warm and friendly. As long as I can remember Goans have always treated with suspicion if not outright hatred those they felt threatened by. First it was the Mangaloreans, Damanese and "Diuchars". Mangaloreans were originally from Goa and had fled southwards during the Inquisition. They were goodlooking and so intelligent, they bordered on the cunning. This the less calculating Goan did not like or trust. The Damanese were beautiful, but this was looked down upon by the supercilious Goans of Goa.

Later the Hippies fell foul of the picky Goan. He did not like their lack of either clothing or inhibitions. A foreigner was immediately labeled an “eeepie”. If you came in from anywhere in India regardless of city or state, you were a “Bomoicar”.

After that it was the turn of the Keralite to become the Goan’s favourite whipping-boy. Goans were too fond of the phrase: If you see a Mallu and a snake, kill the Mallu. Let the snake live. Keralites came flocking to Goa after Liberation to take up jobs as clerks, engineers, etc in government service. Snakes helped the Goan stay fat and healthy since they killed rats that would eat the paddy and other foodstuffs, but Keralites were taking local jobs; and lording it over bewildered locals.

The resentment and distrust was heaped in equally largesse on the Kannadigas, Tamilians and Andhraites. The reason was the same. Jobs were going to them. Goans were getting nothing.

Now it is the turn of the North Indians. They are pouring in, riding roughshod over all objections. Equally hated are the builders, miners and industrialists, perceived as taking away precious land from the natives. Never mind that the same natives are selling off their land to the highest bidder.

But there was one demographic which has been the bane of the original resident Goan for a very long time. The returned NRG or Non-Resident Goan. They manage to pull out your last nerve and jump on it with hobnailed boots. They lose no opportunity to speak in glowing accents of how wonderful it is “back home” in their country of adoption. How modern, how clean, how beautiful, the country they had made their home. They are supercilious towards all things Goan, the food, the culture, the place the people.

They speak of the high standards of living they are now used to and throw money around like there was no tomorrow. Wastage becomes something to aspire to. One young mother’s favourite past time would be to talk of the frequent power cuts and how she had to throw out two kilos of tiger prawns, because she felt they may have gone bad after an electrical outage of 2 hours.

One legal luminary who was first employed as a bagger of groceries when she migrated, walked around the city with her spouse, their faces wrinkled in distaste. Quote he memorably, “We are not used to such squalor. If you want us to return to Goa we have to be offered a better standard of living.”

They come here to celebrate events as inane as a matriarch’s birthday and instead of just having a party to celebrate the day, they import a white-man celebration with fake musings from family members and even a line-dance like they do “back home”. Prominent is the video camera team filming every dreary moment of it.

But by far the most telling comment was made by someone who was amused over receiving an invitation to attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding in the United States. She would never in this lifetime afford a trip to the USA. She told her friend that coming to the US was out of the question. Why, persisted the friend. Give yourself a treat, come! I can’t afford it, said the Goan. What nonsense, said the NRI.

Then the Goan had a brainwave. “Why don’t you call X since he lives in Canada and he can easily come to the US for your daughter’s wedding.”

“Oh no,” said the NRI, “See, it’s like this, my daughter’s marrying an Italian and his family has carefully calculated the number of people who will be attending. I cannot call X and his family, since it will upset the numbers and my daughter’s in-laws. They’re Italian you know….?

“So why bother to send me an invitation when you know I cannot come?” demanded the Goan.

“So that you could pray for the good health and happiness of the happy couple,” said the NRI.

Bleeding Hearts for Goa Inc

I was wondering the other day, what would happen if all these bleeding hearts that come to Goa offering deals and opportunities for Goa and Goans actually told the truth. The flavour of the season is for every Tom, Dick and Harry coming to Goa to set up some business, institute or establishment, to talk of the benefit for Goans and Goa. It is getting predictable and tiresome. Just the other day a seminar for making Goa the Education Hub of the West Coast was held in Panjim. Two of the speakers had come in from outside and all puffed up with the great deeds they were planning for the state and “improving” the lot of its people.

Their plan is to turn the entire state into an educational hub, with clusters of educational institutions in every taluka. Why? Because the culture and climate and type of people in Goa are perfectly suited for providing the right ambience for the setting up of educational institutions. Because Indians spend $10 billion on foreign education and if those institutions were set up in Goa, all that money will stay in the country. Really? Would those educational institutions be doing this all for charity?

Another speaker described how he used to come to Goa for a holiday every year. He now comes here on business every month. This brilliant analogy he says is proof of how far Goa has progressed. The education hub would help Goa and Goans immensely he said, because the “parents of the students would come to visit them and your travel and tourism industry would get a boost”.

Everyone wants to do everything “for Goa and Goans”. Even the Sanatan Saunstha. Their aim is to make the people of Goa aware of the “special responsibility” they shoulder. They want to re-establish the divine kingdom. This they will do through kshatradharma which “spiritual” practice will protect seekers and destroy evil doers. By this logic they should recognize their own seekers Malgunda Patil and Yogesh Naik as evil doers, because the bomb they were carrying exploded inside their scooter, comprehensively destroying them. This surely must be Divine Retribution.

By the same logic the 40 young people in the truck carrying the Narkasuras were protected by the alertness of the truck driver who found a bomb planted in the cab of his truck and threw it away. He saved the lives of all 40.

Take anyone, liquor barons, casino operators, beer manufacturers, five star hotels, motorsports, construction companies, mining companies. Each and everyone of them holds a press conference telling Goans that they have come here, because they want to “do something” for Goa. They want to “put Goa on the map”, like as if all these centuries, Goa has been hiding like some insect under the map.

And we get carried away and believe them. We sell them our land, our children, our birthright to this one small place we can call our own. They put down roots, bring in armies of labour from all over and push us into a corner.

So I was wondering. What would happen if they actually told the truth. If they said straight out: Friends, locals, yokels, lend me your ears. I come to make money, not to give it. If I own huge tracts of your land and you have nowhere to live, tough cheese, you and your elected reps allowed me to own it. Yeah, verily I say unto you, I will fill this land with concrete buildings and cover the earth with paved pathways and flowerpots. No problem if you have no sewerage to speak of. We will buy bottled water. You can have the sewage cocktail we will liberally contribute ingredients to. I will give you jobs, yes to tend my homes and gardens, anything further up the professional ladder will go to my country cousins from back home. You locals can tend to their homes and gardens too. That’s the kind of job opportunities I have in mind for you. Yes 80 percent of those jobs will go to you locals. And when I am tired of Goa, when it is nowhere near the Paradise it is touted to be, I will sell off everything and move somewhere else. And when you struggle with the new owners, you will remember how I was the better option.

Would it make any difference?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thieves At Canacona

So. I went to Canacona to volunteer my services. Properly equipped with snacks, water, tough comfortable shoes, I was ready for work, but there was no work to be done except building houses which exercise has not yet begun. The next best thing was to accompany my guides to hamlets around the Galgibaga and Talpona rivers to see the damage done.

NSS volunteers, locals and the affected people themselves along with the hot sun had brought those areas to a semblance of normalcy. When one is not faced with the roar of a swollen river gone berserk, frightened people, dying drowning animals and the awful sound of houses collapsing on themselves, one can look dispassionately at the larger picture. Until one met the fragile Shali Chintu Pagi. But more of her later.

It was clear that the rivers were badly silted up. As a result human habitation has crept closer to the water’s edge and right in harm’s way. Ex-MLA (NCP)and ex-Chairperson of Goa Tourism Development Corporation, Fatima D’Sa’s house has become something of a tourist attraction, because she was just a prayer away from swinging on a coconut tree when the raging river rose to cover her storeyed house leaving her stranded and shouting for help on her terrace. The river flows along two sides of her house which in itself must be breaking all sorts of CRZ rules. If there are no rules for riverine construction, there should be. Human life is precious and one really shouldn’t disrespect rivers. Especially not heavily silted ones.

One learned that one should not make sweeping assumptions about people in general, calling them warm and good. As I did in last week’s column on the people of Canacona. I learned that there are a number of seriously dishonest people in Canacona.

I learned about how people who had suffered no flood damage at all, were the first to line up to each collect a cheque of Rs10,000 and cash of Rs 2000 since the flood hit on Gandhi Jayanti, the first day of a long weekend of bank holidays.

I heard about a group of five fisherwomen excitedly leaving the relief centre with cheques and cash clutched in their hot little hands. And how they were followed by a municipal councilor pounding after them equally excited, reminding them that he allowed them to get relief money even though they suffered no damage from the flood, and that since he did their work for them, they had to do his work for him during elections.

I heard about 40 thieves from a hamlet near Chaudi, who collected Rs 12,000 when the flood waters had not even touched the steps of their homes.

These stories have come to the ear of the Mamlatdar of Canacona, who is highly respected as a straight and upright bureaucrat. He has promised to do a cross-checking exercise of all the recipients, and hopefully, will take the money back from those who had suffered no flood damage.

Some pragmatic Canconkars hope he won’t do that because if he does, he’ll be transferred out so quickly, he’ll be a mere blur. This is because workers of political parties across the board are alleged to be in on the scam, helping their near and ear.

I heard that the villagers around Cotigao heard strange noises coming from beneath the ground before the hill itself split open. They feel the water came from there too, not just the cloudburst. Those close to the beach say they saw birds flying in from the sea on the morning of the flood. Not dozens, not hundreds, but birds in their thousands flying in from the sea.

I met a family of pigling siblings that had survived the flood while their mother perished. And I noticed that only in post-flood Canacona will you see refrigerators out in the gardens of houses and around the ruins.

But by far the most heartrending sight was Shali Chintu Pagi of Gallim village, who stood sentinel over a pile of rubble that was once her home. Shali lives alone after her parents died. They say she is ‘simple-minded’. She has lost everything and has no source of income. When the Talpona river burst its banks Shali along with her neighbours ran to their bhatkar’s two-storeyed house and waited on the terrace. She watched her house collapse on itself with all her meager belongings. Everyone we met listed all items of wealth that were lost – gold jewellery, electronic equipment, music systems, fridges, etc. We asked Shali if she had lost gold and other valuables and Shali her eyes large with remembered horror said simply, “I did not have any gold or fridge or TV, but I had lots of cooking vessels and a few clothes which are all underneath this rubble.”

We told her not to worry, her house would be rebuilt with bricks this time and she shook her head sadly, “Who will build it for me? I am alone. I have no one to help me.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Canacona – a sign of times to come

Canacona shows us the writing on the wall for Goa. For a few years now, people of this beleaguered taluka have been warning anyone who would listen, that the three major rivers of Canacona were a disaster waiting to happen. They said that the ecological imbalances in the region had led to the narrowing of the three rivers at Saleri, Galgibaga and Talpona. They asked the authorities to listen. No one did.

Like most problems facing Goa today, which anger one half of the population and have the other half on the defensive, the cause is tourism or mining, or both. In the lovely, sleepy taluka of Canacona with its forested hills, gentle rivers and beautiful beaches, the horror that unfolded with a killer flood of two-and-a-half metres height was as unexpected as the sight of a dead buffalo hanging upright with its forelegs through the middle branches of a tree.

With the rivers narrowed and silted up, the water made nonsense of the rivers. The flash flood broke banks, bundhs and nullahs taking houses, plantations, animals and people along with it. Sheer luck, presence of mind and the bravery of the Canconkars themselves who risked their own lives to save others, kept the human death toll at two. Animals were not so lucky.

Could it have been avoided? Locals say that age-old farming practices have been abandoned without a thought to the gradual death of the rivers. Traditional farmers used to remove the silt which accumulated during the monsoons from the riverbanks and used it in their orchards. Now they use artificial fertilizer and let the silt accumulate. Weeds grow on the silt and narrow the width of the river. Worse, with tourism, farming has been abandoned by most families. Instead land has been sold and developed. Khazan lands have been filled up and river banks now have constructions instead of plantations.

I have a special fondness for Canacona because I used to travel with a team of my colleagues to get stories from there. And what stories! How an entire village was sold decades ago to a hotel owner in North Goa and how they are still fighting a losing battle in court. We met Querobina who was 102 years young with sparse salt ‘n pepper hair, and all her teeth intact. She told us wryly that she drank beer, ate pork, and smoked cheroots that had her youngest son in his late 60s gagging. She died two years later.

We met a Dhangar freedom fighter who was educated in jail by another Brahmin freedom fighter Vishwanath Lawande, who shared his cell. The Dhangar settlement was neatly laid out with cool thatched houses, goats grazing and an unending supply of tender coconuts. Our freedom fighter claimed to be older than Querobina but had no written proof of it. He also told us he shot and killed over 300 tigers. It was kill or be killed because he used to carry letters hidden in tins of nashni, from Goa’s freedom fighters over the hills through the dense jungle to a designated tree trunk in Karnataka where compatriots in Karnataka would collect the letters and bring some of their own.

As far back as 2001 locals said it was almost impossible to identify the existence of the river Saleri, as heavy weed infestation had taken over major portions of the river.

We met some wonderful people there. Canakonkars. They are different from us fast changing urban Goans of the rest of Goa. One could say the locals of Canacona are the original Goans, gentle, warm, resourceful. They have been blessed with a beautiful land with no less than three rivers. They have a rich culture steeped in centuries of tradition. Yet they have been cursed with a baffling kidney disease that attacks sometimes entire families or at least one family member.

I learned all this almost 10 years ago. I plan to go this week to Canacona, not to get stories this time but to lend a hand. I can cook, I can clean, I can sew, I can make people laugh and I can write. I can definitely help to remove stones from paddy fields. Maybe some of these qualities can come in handy. Clearing up the fields and getting them ready for planting again is going to be a long process. I wish Querobina was still around, but then again, it’s a good thing she left before she could see the horror unfold.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bad heir days for India

Like hair they occupy pride of place at the top of the body politick. Like bad hair on a bad hair day, heirs to political dynasties are the first thing one sees when looking at the whole picture of India. In a land with overflowing rivers, mountains and plains, in a land peopled by great minds in science and engineering, the arts and culture, in an ancient land which should have had an ancient wisdom coming down the ages, a bad heir would be the last thing one would expect. But then you see the grinding poverty and poor infrastructure, simple evidence of a people living in the dark ages and you know the bad heirs who have inherited this land are not good for us.

And yet there they are, strutting their stuff while those who apply the election glue to the seat of their pants bow and scrape before them. Look anywhere and you see them, political families taking the place of the royal families that once owned the land and the people who lived on the land. Here in Goa we have the Ranes, the Alemaos, the Madkaikars, the Dhavlikars, the Monserrates and many more.

The Nehru-Gandhi family has been ruling the roost since Motilal Nehru in the late 19th century and still batting at the crease more than 200 years later. Look down South and you have the Karunanidhi clan which even held up the formation of the current cabinet in the UPA-2 government because Karuna wanted posts for his children and members of his extended family.

Nowhere in the world is the heir affliction as pronounced as it is in India. You have the Meira Kumars, the Deoras, the Yadavs, the Scindias, Pawars, Gowdas, Pilots, Dutts, Thackerays. So many sons and daughters have taken over chief minister status from their fathers. Naveen Patnaik succeeded Biju Patnaik, Omar Abdullah succeeded his father Farookh who succeeded his father Sheikh Abdullah; there’s Mehbooba Mufti and many more.

Political dynasties are scattered all over the country and this is not a good development in a modern democracy. When the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 removed the rule of lineal primogeniture where the eldest male member of the eldest line was successor to the throne, in politics crown princes and princesses are installed on the throne by their parents who ruled before.

It’s their right and those before them have made politics their family business. As in royalty their subjects make certain transfer of kingship through kinship is smooth. The more money they make the more certain the fact that their children will inherit the throne. The families also have such a hold on the parties they represent that the parties willingly put up names of the children for candidature. There is no democracy within the parties. Politics is an extremely profitable business. The patronage between the political parties and the political dynasties favour each other at the cost of the common man. Bad heir days are clearly dangerous for India.

Our only hope is that there will be increasing revolt in the ranks of party cadres never mind that it is greed that makes them fight against the heirs taking a larger slice of the pie. Now Rajendra Shekhawat son of Mrs Pratibha Patil, President of India, has been put up for candidature by the Congress Party in the fast approaching Maharashtra elections. The Congress MLA Sunil Deshmukh who has been winning that seat for the last ten years, has been told to shove off and give the seat to “Raosaheb”.

So what’s the solution? As with chronically bad hair, the best thing to do is to condition the heirs, trim them to size, keep a careful eye on them, smooth them, stroke them, discipline them and if the bad heirs persist, cut them, sweep them into a dustpan and dump them in the dustbin of history.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Open letter for visitors to Goa

A little common sense and courtesy is all we ask for. Oh yes, our tiny state is blessed with all that is fine and good, hills, dales, forests, rivers, fields, beautiful beaches, lovely people, PCOs and broadband. Okay, if you insist, it’s a gift from God. Kerala claims to be God’s own abode, but everyone knows when God needs a holiday He comes to Goa.

We understand that there are other beautiful places with similar features all over the Konkan coast; all over the country; all over the world. We understand that Goa is cheap, gives you great value for money and that you can get your eyes, teeth and several other body parts fixed for a fraction of the amount it would cost you in your place of origin. We understand that you have looked forward to this holiday for a long time, that you have planned it down to the last detail. That you will be talking about this perfect holiday till the cows come home. We understand all that, but we need you to remember certain things.

We need you first to respect this beauty that you come to revel in, so when you buy overpriced bottles of mineral water, canned juices, wafers, ice creams and snacks, remember to carry a bag to stow away all your empty containers. The beach, roads, gutters are not the place for it. Put it all in a bag and deposit it in the bin at your hotel.

When you buy paan from any of the vendors, remember our money has gone into the painting of our lovely heritage buildings all over the state and spitting red paan saliva on them does not merely distress us, it makes us mad as hell. If you must eat paan, then carry a small tin or container or portable spittoon, spit into that and empty it out in your hotel bathroom.

When you come here all shiny-eyed and bushy tailed ready for the holiday of your life, it’s okay to let your hair hang down, but don’t let all your body parts hang out also. It does not only embarrass us, it puts our girls in danger when the creepy crawlies who cannot lay their hands on you decide to get their jollies by molesting our girls. Again, bras and badly fitting shorts crawling into every crevice and fold of fat, exhibiting angry red, wrinkled, freckled skin is enough to put a normal person off their feed for a week. Do yourself a favour; look at yourself in a full length mirror before setting off, wearing beachwear in the city. When you visit our churches and temples, a little decorum to clothing and behaviour is of the essence.

When you come here from other parts of India, especially the landlocked areas, remember the sea is deceptive. It contains all sorts of threats that can snuff out your life in the most implacable way possible. The rip tide slides in from anywhere in any depth of water and will drag you far out to sea and drown you. When the lifeguards tell you not to swim in certain areas, listen to them. They are curt with you when they come out with their second and third warnings because they know that when you are being sucked down into a watery grave, they will have to risk their lives and limbs to come out to save you. And their lives are not worthless as you may think. They have families depending on them returning home whole after their day’s work is done.

There’s so much booze available in Goa and you sip and stagger like there’s no tomorrow. Do that by all means, but don’t harm others, or put yourself in harm’s way. If you cannot hold your liquor, cease and desist, have a mocktail instead. It costs a little less and looks more impressive. And for heaven’s sake, do not drink alcohol and swim, it’s as dangerous as drinking and driving.

We know our people are naïve, warm and welcoming. That our girls have a serene Polynesian kind of beauty, but like you they are just trying to get on with their lives. They are not prostitutes either professional or free-lance. Don’t ogle them; don’t fondle them; they don’t like it. Neither do the common folk. Also leave our little children alone.

When Goans get angry they will punish you.

Enjoy your holiday and return to your home state or country. Don’t visit real estate agents and try to buy land here. We have very little of it and we need it for ourselves. Also, there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose your life’s savings. Come back again and again. Goa will welcome you in her warm embrace every time. Just don’t abuse that welcome. We have a way of life here, we are desperately trying to save. It is this way of life that makes Goa so special. Help us to protect it. And Goa.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Death is proof that life is too short

You know you are getting on in years when you find yourself attending more funerals than weddings. You also see that phrase sitting mockingly across the entrance to the cemetery which tells you, Ais Makha Faleam Tukam. Every death brings home the fact that you are living on borrowed time. It tells you that you must seize the day. That you must chase after those impossible dreams before death comes calling. If for nothing else but the thrill of the chase…

You listen to the mourners talking about the deceased after the last clod of mud has been flung, or the embers of the pyre turning to ashes and you hear all sorts of things, generally bad, about all the mistakes the deceased had made in his or her life. You learn that while everyone wants to go to Heaven, no one really wants to die.

I generally avoid funerals if I can. Not because the church gets hot and overcrowded. Not because there’s usually a lot of caterwauling going on from people who hardly knew the deceased. But because I dislike slinging mud over a coffin. It’s especially gruesome in the monsoons. I have left instructions with my next of kin that I wish to be cremated in an electric crematorium. My ashes are to be dropped into the River Mandovi because I love this gentle river and I love ocean travel. I don’t want a fancy urn – a brown paper bag will do. But said ashes must be deposited in said river. At best I could reach Antartica, at worst I could reach Dubai, or even better Petra in Jordan where my ancestors are believed to have come from. One hopes by the time I kick the bucket, the Corporation of the City of Panaji will have installed an electric crematorium. But I digress, the disposal of my mortal remains was not the purpose of this piece.

Two people died recently. One I liked but did not know very well and one I knew very well but did not like very much. Both had one thing in common – implacable misunderstandings with their siblings arising from sharing ancestral wealth and property. It a phenomenon peculiar to Goan families. The sunshine years of childhood are completely forgotten as you turn against your own blood over inheritance. Yet, in the final analysis, your blood is your inheritance.

We come into this life wrinkled and naked and the first thing we own is a cradle built of wood which can hold us comfortably. We leave this world wrinkled and naked, and the last thing we own is a coffin of wood which can hold us. Comfort hardly matters at this time, but I have lain in a coffin we borrowed from the local undertaker for a Chamber of Horrors at our school fête and I can vouch that it was very comfortable.

Birth and death. Life is the journey in between. And Life is too short to carry all this unwieldy baggage of resentment, jealousy and hate, over stupid things like jewellery, shares and inheritance. As the 70-year-old sister of one of the deceased told me, you can’t take them with you to the grave. Yet the corrosive pain of family feuding hangs over the entire family and with the death of one came memories of truly happy times before the fighting began. “We were all one big family, laughing, talking, arguing; and then this happened and we fought and stopped speaking to each other,” she said. And that is a common refrain.

I asked one of the surviving siblings now in his eighties who still feels he was the wronged one, what was the point of all that rage and anger. He said shortly, “You don’t know what it was like.” I told him I knew, it had happened to my mother and her brothers but I was hanged if I would let it happen to myself and my siblings. “How do you stop it,” he asked. I told him one has to stop it at Stage One when the first divisive word is said. It’s not difficult. You’ve just got to be alert. Plug the hole before the dam bursts. The other thing to do is expect nothing, so you are never disappointed.

“All I wanted her to do was come to my house and say she was sorry for what she did,” he said. “And all she wanted was for you to come to her house and say you were sorry for what you said,” I told him.

His shoulders slumped. Not surprising really. Rage, anger, hatred and bitterness towards someone whose blood runs in your veins – that’s a heavy load to carry. And so unnecessary. Whether you are 9 or 90, life is too short for this. Death is proof of it. It comes so suddenly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mining and construction good for us

When you write as much self-righteous stuff as I have, you tend to get very high in the in-step and then if you are lucky, someone pulls you down to earth. As did happen just the other day… I met the friendly neighbourhood MLA who did not look too friendly.
“You do not look too friendly,” I observed.
“Friendly? Why should I look friendly? Why should I look friendlily at you of all people when you write such libel about me and my colleagues,” he said.
“It isn’t against you per se,” I said carefully since he used a hi-funda word like friendlily, “I write against the entire government.”
“As I am part of the government it is against me,” he said.
“Very well, you’re right,” I said, “it is against you too. So what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I have come to teach you some things,” he said.
“Okay, I’ll just get a crash helmet and some body armour,” I said.
“Not that kind of lesson, though it is an idea,” he said. “I have to educate you. I may have a poor academic record, but I am a politician and you are a mere hack.”
“That is true. I am learning more everyday and I do have a lot to learn,” I said.
“First you complain about illegal mining,” he said. “Do you know it is only a signature and rubber stamp on a silly paper that makes the mining legal or illegal? Is not all mining destroying forests and agricultural land? Why pick on poor illegal miners then? Don’t they have to eat?”
“I ____,” I began but he cut me off rudely.
“Just shut your mouth and let me speak,” he said, “You talk of prices going through the roof. How are the middlemen going to earn a living? They have no land to grow anything, at least the farmer can plant enough food for himself and his family, what does the middle man have? Nothing. Of course he will hike up the prices,” he said.
“And give you and your jolly boys a cut of the profits?” I said, though interjected would be a better word.
“How are we to live? You think we have come into politics to do good deeds for people who couldn’t care less whether we live or die? No,” he thundered, “We have to look out for ourselves. What kind of a salary do we MLAs get? Peanuts! Then you go and call us monkeys. Of course we are monkeys if we work for peanuts.”
“You are earning a fat salary and you are guaranteed a fat pension too for just a few years of self-service in politics,” I interjected.
“We make the wheels move,” he said. “We build lots of infrastructure, roads, bridges, subways and all. Of course we do it for the kickbacks and commissions, but just think if there were no kickbacks would you have two bridges over the Mandovi and three Patto bridges in Panjim and a bunch of bridges all over the place? See the bus stand at Cuncolim. It even won an award for Best Recreational Design in New Delhi in 2007.”
“Yes but it is not being used,” I said, “So how can it even be recreational?”
“That is the beauty,” he said, “It can be used for anything even a theatre, or community hall, or cultural centre. We benefit from the commissions, yes, but the people benefit for at least 20 years, when the structures are expected to fall down. We ARE doing service for the people!”
“And drowning villages in mega projects, how do those end up with service for the people after you get the kickbacks?” I asked.
“How truly foolish you are,” he marvelled. “Don’t you know these are the rich and famous people who want to have property in Goa? How could it not be advantageous for naive Goans to have these kind great people around them? Goans can learn so much, copy their lifestyle. They can get jobs with them to clean their houses and work in their offices. And is this not one country, one world? Why should we stop other Indians and foreigners from coming here? What you think, your name is written on Goa?”
“Actually yes,” I said. “I am a Goan, therefore, of Goa.”
“Pah,” he said. “Then SEZs and big industries. We need them. All our children are running outside for jobs. Now they need not. We will bring industries here. Yes salaries are much lower here, but then you don’t have to rent or buy a house since you will be living with your own family.”
“But then you are using up all the land for building fancy houses for the wealthy and slums for poor migrants,” I said, “Where will our underpaid children live?”
“Aarey that is why we are here nah?” he said. “We will build low cost housing for them in different parts of Goa and then put in good roads and good transport for them to commute to work easily. More kickbacks for us and more development for locals. I don’t know why you people worry for nothing. We will have mining and mega projects and SEZs and houses for the rich and also place for poor locals to work and live. It’s all planned. Only you trouble makers must learn the truth.”
“What truth?” I asked.
“That mining and construction are the best things for Goa. Not just for us MLAs,” he said. “Now finally do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said, “come to my house for a meal.”
“What’s on the menu,” he asked.
“I’ll go futuristic today,” I said. “Main dish, mining reject, removed with a side dish of garbage and concrete, washed down with a liqueur of mineral water laced with sewage from a gated community. It’s a special for you. This is what your grandchildren will be dining on.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why I like Parrikar

The problem with working in a magazine is, every idea you get should translate into more copies sold. There were many ideas floated, some workable others not. The goal was to produce an interesting publication and get more readers. In another magazine in another time, we decided to invite the Chief Minister of the time to write a column, to explain his actions to the people of Goa. Francisco Sardinha was the CM then and he was very excited about being a guest columnist and explaining his actions in print.

Sardinha would dictate his column over the telephone. It was more of a chat in a stream of consciouslnes style where one thought would melt into another. My job was to make sense of it, format it and read it back to him to check that he was not misquoted.

Sardinha was toppled and Manohar Parrikar became CM. He too saw the potential but it was an uphill task getting him to actually write a weekly column. He just did not have the time. He refused to dictate the column, saying that he felt he wrote quite well and wanted to write the column himself. Actually, he did write quite well. I would sit in his office answering agony aunt letters and he would write his column, carefully explaining his actions of the current week. We stopped the column finally, simply because we could not spare the time required to chase him and pin him down.

But in those months of nagging Parrikar to write his column, one could not help observing his style of functioning and comparing it with his predecessors. He never seemed to rest, or need rest. I once saw him nibbling on an apple for lunch. Files would come to his ultra neat desk and he would read each one of them, scribble notes, give instructions to his team. He never encouraged idle chatter, and the queues of people to his office moved fairly quickly as he listened to each problem, offered advice and sent them on their way. When things could not be done, he was disarmingly honest. No one lounged around his office. People walked briskly in, said what they had to say and walked briskly out. While they spoke Parrikar gave them his entire attention with his wide-open eyes fixed on them intently. It was amusing to see some of his more shifty-eyed visitors highly disconcerted by that open intent gaze.

Then I met a young woman who told me how she met Parrikar during one of his strolls around Panjim. She was adopted into a family and was general factotum, doing all the cooking, cleaning and running errands. There was a First Holy Communion being celebrated in her family’s house and she stopped Parrikar and invited him to come and share in the feast. Parrikar whipped out his PDA and carefully noted the date, time and address. To her delight and shock of her family, the Chief Minister who is a staunch RSS man and BJP leader showed up at her door on the day of the First Holy Communion. He sat down as the adopted girl’s guest and partook in the festivities. He made her day, and no one treated her indifferently after that.

There were many other incidents one heard about, like how Parrikar picked up a girl lying bleeding by the side of the Mapusa road after being knocked off her scooter by a reckless driver. He put her into his official car with the white toweling covers, took her to Asilo hospital and sent someone off to inform her family before leaving for a function he was invited to as chief guest.

The much maligned IFFI 2004 showed Parrikar in a different light. It was an impossible deadline and he was there at all sorts of odd hours even at midnight, chatting with the supervisors and labourers getting them to work with a will. After the rape of a foreign national at the last IFFI in Delhi, he drove around all the nooks and corners at Campal see which areas should be lit up. When the crowds poured in at the start and closing days of the festival he stood at the gates of Kala Academy, helping move the curious crowds that stopped to look at the VVIPs. He directed traffic, scolded, laughed and waved people on. He was a huge hit with the national and international Press. There was a massive crowd queued up for Anupam Kher’s monologue at the Kala open air auditorium. Parrikar of course was standing on the seat around a tree directing the mass of humanity. He was actually the guest of honour at an action film that was premiering at INOX. I asked him why he was at Anupam Kher’s stage performance instead of the film and he said sheepishly, “Well, I was watching the film, but once the girls started taking off their clothes I came here.”

Recently I suggested that he start a network of remedial classes for weak students all over the state and volunteered my help. He said he liked the idea and he’d talk to me about it after he returned from abroad. But if his destiny lies in Delhi the remedial classes network will be a non-starter. If Parrikar leaves Goa to lead the BJP in Delhi, I for one will miss him.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Untouchables of Porvorim

Much like the mafia gangs in Chicago, who were a law unto themselves, our gang of 40 seem to be heading along the same route, following the same behavioural patterns. Arrogance, utter contempt for the law, taking unilateral decisions which affect the lives and futures of all and no one can touch them. The mafia families were known as the Untouchables. The only difference is that our guys are adept at pulling so many red herrings with statements and retractions and counter statements out of their collective hat; one does not know what the actual truth is. Until we take off our blinkers and see the stark reality.

The mafia built its empire on liquor and gambling. Here in Goa, the number of bars, pubs and liquor shops way outnumber the churches, temples, mosques and roadside shrines put together. Robberies take place over and over again, each heist getting larger and more impudent. And the cops shrug it off while our elected reps don’t even bother to discuss it any more.

They give with one hand and take away with the other. Thirteen mines are facing closure because they lie in the vicinity of the wildlife sanctuaries. Yet the Goa government’s Draft Mineral Policy allows mining near the state’s wildlife sanctuaries.

You have current news stories hitting the headlines around the world, that Man’s ravaging of Nature is the sole cause of Nature striking back. When we abuse our mountains, our hills, our forests and our rivers, Nature hits back in greater measure.

More worrying, the Mineral Draft Policy does not permit mining within wildlife sanctuaries and national parks “for the time being”. This is the language of the current 40 representatives of the people of Goa. “For the time being” and “in its present form” are phrases that strike a chill into my very bones. It is their solution to all problems. Like themselves the solutions are temporary. Only the problems remain permanent.

What’s facing Goa’s next few generations is too horrible to put into words. In a few short decades these 40 representatives we have selected to manage our inheritance for ourselves and for our descendants have managed to destroy this State.

The argument is that we get the government we deserve. We elect them from among ourselves. I beg to differ. If they are representative of us, then one has to conclude that we Goans as a people are liars and cheats, shrot-sighted, greedy, avaricious, stupid and demented.

Samir Kelekar who criticized some state representatives in his column in this newspaper has received a notice to appear before them. The Speaker has pronounced that he has the power to imprison citizens like Kelekar. Never mind that he is sitting in his chair thanks to the angootha chaap of citizens like Kelekar. This smacks of the workings of a banana republic. A banana republic is what you get when you elect monkeys.

One wishes there was a consumer redressal forum we could drag these characters to. We have installed them in the seat of power, to deliver a service to the people of this state. They are not doing their job, providing sub-standard services that are not only inconvenience us, but show every sign of destroying a way of life that was the envy of all.

Not only are they trying to destroy the environment, they are doing all in their power to destroy the people too. What other reason could there be for 19 casinos in the state? The Mandovi river is full of floating hulks which cater to the rich and aimless. The newspapers are full of red herrings thrown by the elected representatives of the people of Goa, confusing and confounding us into thinking that the mess we see is just a mirage.

It is time for us to redress our rights as consumers. We are paying good money from our earnings for it. The funny thing is those consumers like Samir Kelekar who raise their voices from a public forum are threatened with imprisonment. That does not happen in a consumer court. But we have to join our voices with his. If it means going to prison, so be it. The freedom fighters did it with the Portuguese. Time we got off our balcaos and stood up to be counted. Or the joke will be on us.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teaching should be a breeze

Brace yourselves, one feels a philosophical mood coming on and I lay the blame squarely on a priest’s sermon at the Chicalim church on the 15th of August. But one must have method and a Plan when getting one’s point across. One cannot just jump in, in the middle and expect the reader to figure out what one means. Let me begin at the beginning.

Teaching and Learning – and I say this with complete conviction – are two sides of a coin whose denomination is Communication. The process begins even before birth. Why else would my elder daughter love music of the 70s when she grew up with the likes of Eminem rap, boy bands and hip-hop? That was because I used to play 70s music when I was expecting her.

My point is this: learning and teaching are an ongoing process. You cannot have one without the other. Your teacher could be a man, a woman, a child, a book, an incident and of course, Life itself. Lessons are being taught every second of every day. Learning takes place every second of every day. Choices are made and when the realization dawns that they were good choices or bad choices, then that’s learning with a capital L.

So why do they say that teaching is a vocation? That not everyone can be a teacher? It is in our core to teach as it is in our core to learn. Like formal religion, formal education seems to have destroyed its very essence; which is why our education systems are disintegrating with frightening speed. It is becoming more and more apparent that students cannot learn because their teachers cannot teach.

The Supreme Court (SC) recently allowed students to sue their educational institution for poor education. The SC has ordered the educational institution to pay each student Rs 2 lakh.

Why does formal teaching become so difficult? Especially when informal but vital teaching is imparted by all of us to our juniors, our peers and our seniors so effortlessly? If we need to get a message across, we make sure that message gets across. You don’t give up until you get that message across. What is it then, that hinders those who are paid to get a message to their students?

Which brings me to the priest in question. The parish priest of St Francis Xavier Church at Chicalim. He had something to communicate. Something that he had learned earlier that morning and needed to share with his congregation. The bright spark who dragged me all the way from Panjim to Chicalim was not a great fan of his, but merely wanted me to be a good Catholic and attend Mass on the day of the Assumption.

I went reluctantly, but I was blown away by the simple sermon and the teaching tool used by Fr Leonardo D’Souza.

He stood at the altar, a thin serious-looking priest with calm eyes and voice. He unfolded the most unlikely of all objects to be found on the altar of a Catholic church on the Feast of the Holy Assumption. It was a daily newspaper (not this one unfortunately). He told the congregation that if we were unhappy with the way things were going, we should be the change we wanted to see. He picked up the newspaper and began reading a few reports from it. He spoke of people who effect change by actually doing things to make a difference in the world. He read aloud about a student from Singapore who had taken on the task of planting 30,000 trees in Rajasthan with a small group of volunteers. He read about a group that calls itself “Random Acts of Kindness” whose members see where something is lacking and smoothly move in to help. Among their members in India, he informed us, is a man who gifts sandals to those who have no footwear.

The packed church was silent, not a cough, no fidgeting and no, I do not believe the congregation was fast asleep. Not like the Legislative Assembly. One could feel the people listening and absorbing. I listened. I absorbed.

In my book, that’s teaching of the best kind.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Of true independence and tiatr

Yesterday was Independence Day. The common man spent Independence Day sitting in a corner counting his cowries and wondering how he’s going to make it through the year. He cannot believe that dal the poor man’s food is more expensive than chicken, the rich man’s food. August 15 was celebrated with gusto by those who have genuine cause to celebrate – elected representatives and bureaucrats. They were blowing their trumpets and thumping their chests congratulating themselves on being a part of this great nation in its 63rd year of independence.

Of course they have reason to celebrate. They are the only truly independent people in the land. They make the laws. They break the laws. They make new laws to legalize the laws that they broke. They have unlimited funds to stash away for generations of their descendents. Loose change they scatter before their chamchas who spend it like there is no tomorrow.

They are truly free. Answerable to nothing and no one. They feed on the misery of common folk and grow fat on it. Swine Flu is like a beacon of shining hope for them. There’s a lot of money to be made with new infrastructure, expensive testing equipment, medication, awareness programmes. Swine Flu has turned into an industry with the government holding the monopoly.

Then there’s the drought that they are salivating over. Not for nothing did P Sainath write his disturbing book Everybody Loves a Good Drought. But I forget. Elected representatives have fat bank accounts but thin skins when it suits them. They cannot be held accountable so they will not brook criticism or ridicule.

Which is why I was not really surprised to see a dejected Combo de Coimbra one of the greatest tiatrists the world has ever seen, wiping a tear from his eye.

“Why are you wiping a tear from your eye?” I asked Combo.
“My life’s work has come to nothing and it is all the fault of writers like Samir Kelekar,” he said.
“They have written nothing about you,” I said.
“Of course they have! They and you too keep comparing those MLAs and what they do in the Assembly to tiatr,” he said.
“That was just an observation to ridicule them, because they play to the gallery, literally,” I said.
“Tiatr is a noble and pure form of art which has come down through the centuries. How can you make a comparison like that? It’s very upsetting,” he said.
“There’s no need to be upset. We only say that because it looks like they are performing on stage. There are the main actors who ask the questions and the one who answers them, and there are all the other minor actors who have to react to the lines that are said,” I said.
“Tiatr has form and content,” he wailed.
“So too does the Assembly Session,” I said.
“We have music and a live band,” he said.
“Well they have a handful of bandmasters, who play the tune and the others dance to it,” I said.
“We have acts and scenes,” he said.
“They have Question Hour and Zero Hour,” I said.
“We have props and place settings,” he said.
“So do they. They have walkouts too,” I said.
“We have comic interludes,” he said.
“As do they,” I said.
“We have great tiatrists who have come from generations of tiatrists whose children are on stage today,” he said.
“Well they too have players who have come from families of politicians whose children call the shots today,” I said.
“We carry a social message in our tiatr and we spread awareness to our audiences,” he said.
“Ah there you are definitely different,” I said, “They do their best to ruin society and don’t tell the public anything.”
“Also, there’s that other difference,” he said. “No one falls asleep during a genuine tiatr.”
“Ah,” I said, “But you will have competition if the likes of Samir Kelekar are hauled up before the Assembly. There will be fireworks so no one will fall asleep. And awareness will spread like it has never been spread before.”

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Politics and parenting

Parenting is difficult. But it must be very difficult for a politician or bureaucrat to be a parent, especially when ethically, one is as crooked as a corkscrew. Children observe you all the time, learning, making mental notes and finally imitating. It can’t be easy for a politician to teach his children to be frugal for instance. His life is lavish, more cars than he knows what to do with, lots of money just pouring into his coffers from those wanting him to bend the law for them.

It can’t be easy for him to teach his children to be respectful of others. He is arrogant and treats those around him like dirt. He instills fear in his subordinates and takes pleasure in asking them to perform impossible tasks.

It can’t be easy for him to teach his children to have self-respect, or carry themselves with dignity, when he practically prostrates himself before his superiors, subservient, fawning and ready to kiss the ground they walk on.

How can he possibly teach his children about honesty in financial transactions? When his every waking moment is spent in finding ways and means of looting the people of the country? Nothing is beyond limits for him. He will steal anything, from paise to crores.

How will his children learn to be law-abiding citizens of a civilized society, when they see him interfering with the workings of the police? When they see him ordering the police to let thieves, murderers, rapists and paedophiles walk free?

How can they ever learn to live in harmony among people of different caste and creed? It’s not possible when they see their politician parents actively planning and plotting actions that will lead to communal riots.

Instilling in their children the need for hard work to get a job done properly would be so difficult, when it is clear as a summer day that the politician parent does no work at all. His children will see that their parent cannot even walk from Point A to Point B. He rides in a fleet of fancy cars. He cannot even drive himself. He delegates work to his army of lackeys and expects the job to be done.

How can he teach them moderation and self-restraint when he frequents casinos and other unsavoury establishments and even gets into highly publicized fights with the management?

How can he teach his children courage by example, when he is always in a blue funk about losing the election, or being forced to resign. When he lives in mortal fear of the Income Tax authorities, the Vigilance department or a nosy Press?

How can he teach them caution, when he does not stop to think that his actions can destroy lives and the future of generations of people?

How can he teach them balance and judgement when he will listen to only that which is convenient to him? How can he teach them to be defiant to uphold that which is right and reject that which will harm others? Especially when he takes the line of least resistance? How can he teach them generosity of spirit, or gratitude, or humility, when he shows none?

Where will he find the tools to teach them gentleness, impartiality or kindness? What about sincerity? When all he knows is deceit? And then there’s loyalty not just to each other, but to those who went before us and those who will come after us. How can he teach loyalty when all he knows is how to pull down those above him and kick those below him?

It’s a difficult job. Not politics, but parenting. No wonder than that we see the next generation of politicians’ children walking in their parents’ footsteps, following in letter and spirit all that their parents did. And more.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Upwardly mobile dance of Mumbai

It’s happening in the UK; it’s happening in Goa and it’s happening in Mumbai. The natives are being wiped out. In Mumbai, you will hear Marathi being spoken in a few pockets in the ladies compartments in the trains, in municipal offices and fast shrinking areas in the suburbs. The irony is after Bombay was re-named Mumbai, the demography changed even faster. Every day, trains and buses deposit entire families with all their worldly belongings tied in bundles along with pots, pans and bedding. They come prepared to take up residence on pavements, in railway stations until they can move to a slum, a tenement and then join in the upwardly mobile dance that is Mumbai. The goal is wealth; the route is making money.

So they wake up early, finish part of their household chores, rush out to bus, rickshaw or taxi, get to the trains, rush out to bus rickshaw or taxi, or hurry on foot, land up at their place of work, sign the muster, get to the desk and work, work, work, till lunchtime. Eat at a stall, or canteen or the packed lunch in a tiffin carrier that miraculously makes it way from their home to their desk at the dot of lunchtime. Then it’s work, work, work, till end of office hours for some lucky ones.

The rest work beyond office hours to meet deadlines and targets set by their bosses. Rush home via walkathon/bus/ rickshaw/taxi to the trains. Buy some veggies and groceries. Rush home via walkathon/bus/ rickshaw/taxi. Finish the remaining chores at home, set the alarm clock and crash into bed. Off days are spent resting or relaxing or shopping for the following week. And that’s their life by and large. Work, work, work, until pay-day. Year after year until promotion. Changing jobs for better prospects and working harder than ever. Finding the energy somehow to get through the day with a little dignity and a whole mind.

They have an unwritten survival guide to Mumbai. If you don’t have the time to spend an average of 23 minutes in a queue at the railway station booking office, you can invest in a booklet of coupons which you can get stamped at a machine. Or you can buy a pass. Once in the station you can get a fast or a slow train depending on your destination. The trains roll in and out carrying unbelievable quantities of people speaking every language under the sun.

There are rules of behaviour in the train and any breakage of those rules results in physical retribution that is immediate and painful. When you get into the train behind wildly writhing bodies, your goal may have been reached, but you cannot stand still and gloat. Travelling the trains of Mumbai is Life and Life never stops, neither can you when you enter the compartment. You have to keep trotting with tiny steps moving forward to allow those behind you to get in.

You may stand near the door if you are getting off at the next station. If you are not, you will be damaged. You plaster yourself to the side of the passage to let those inside gallop out and those out to gallop in. Protect your person. The word “sorry” is never uttered, so do not expect it. Better still do not utter it, just do not make eye contact.

If you are afraid of picking up eye infections, colds or hair lice don’t stand or sit downwind. If you cannot bear the noise carry an I-pod and stuff your ears with earphones.

Auto-rickshaws travel has become an art form too. You get in and make sure the meter is down. Mumbai rickshaws were the most convenient form of quick travel in the suburbs, but now technology has set in and meters can be fixed to run like the blazes so you end up paying three times the regular amount. If you feel the meter is running too fast you stop the rickshaw in mid-journey, tell him he is a dirty cheat and pay him his fare. If he makes a scene tell him you are willing to finish it at the nearest police station.

You cannot show weakness in Mumbai. The goal is wealth. Everyone needs money. Yours is as good as any. From beggars to billionaires, you will find that everyone is able and willing to separate you from it. Mumbai teaches you the trick of anticipation. Scent trouble before it touches you.