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Sunday, January 25, 2009

That vital nut

One buys a vehicle for the most peculiar reasons. You’ve come into a windfall; or you need to buy a swank set of wheels to show the world you have arrived; or you have had it with getting scratched and stomped and squeezed and groped in Goa’s buses. And then you set about getting yourself a driving licence. You can tool your car around an open space and then go to an “agent” who knows someone who knows someone in the RTO and you get your licence. Or you can pay a hefty sum to a driving school and learn how to drive in 31 short lessons, do the test and get your licence. Both methods of getting a driving licence do not equip you to venture safely out on to the roads. Your fellow motorists are not safe when you are at large with a newly issued driving licence.

I was so petrified when I drove out without my driving instructor that I had to beg a friend to teach me how to parallel park and reverse properly. The 31 lessons of the driving school did not cover the intricacies of reverse parallel parking. Or gauging the correct distance between the left side of one’s car and objects on the road – as in fetlocks of buffalos. But more of that later.

This business of road accidents is blamed on all sorts of things, cellphones, women drivers, badly engineered roads, over-speeding, coconut trees that ambush unwary drivers, stray animals, overtaking vehicles, alcohol and God. Everyone, especially the drivers themselves, pussyfoot around one single technical fact, that an accident is caused by one thing and one thing only – the nut behind the wheel.

It is the nut who gets in behind the wheel that makes and receives calls on his mobile phone while driving. Immediately his reflexes are slower by 60 per cent, his concentration is focused on the voice in his ear whether he uses a handset or a hands-free.

It is the nut behind the wheel that just has to overtake every vehicle in front of him, zigging and zagging, weaving in and out of traffic, overtaking on slopes, and leaning on the horn, making other drivers take their eyes off the road.

It is the nut behind the wheel that forgets to apply his handbrake and rolls backwards into another car, causing that car to brake suddenly and get rammed by the vehicle behind it.

It is the nut behind the wheel that does not get bald tires rethreaded or replaced, so after a slight drizzle, the car skids out of control.

It is the nut behind the wheel who will not take the trouble to gauge distances accurately. Here I am talking about my own lamentable habit of parking too close to a gutter and landing inside it on at least two occasions.

It is the nut behind the wheel that miscalculates the speed of the last buffalo crossing the highway behind a herd and bumps its fetlocks. I didn’t expect the silly animal to stop suddenly in mid-stroll. A good driver would have slowed down to a crawl.

A good driver reverses slowly and carefully, but the nut behind the wheel reverses rapidly hoping for the best.

A good driver wears her seat belt and adjusts her rear and side view mirrors properly before driving anywhere. The nut behind the wheel fastens her seatbelt when she sees the traffic cops and adjusts her mirrors while driving.

It’s those minor silly errors by the nut behind the wheel that cause accidents which could range from a tiny dent to utter destruction with blood and body parts spread over a five- metre radius. The most horrendous accidents are attributed to drunken driving which means that this is one instance when the nut behind the wheel should not be tight.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why bother about security or Banaulikar?

Why bother about security and verifying madrassa students who don’t want to be verified? If anyone wants to blow us up they will. A terrorist visiting Goa can see how he can waltz in any time he likes and waltz out any time he likes. If the authorities do catch him, all he has to do is get the ear of the media and cry human rights abuse. Before you know it, he will be walking out a free man and the police who dared to interrogate him will have to apologize to him, preferably in front of a smug MP. Why bother really? We’ve reached a stage where the here and now could be the only reality we know. We should observe King Momo’s decree a month from now – Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die.

On Christmas Eve the Home Ministry’s hysteria levels were higher than the bunkers on the beaches. One would have thought that the bunkers would have alert security personnel scanning the sea and the sands with sharp eyes and ears. A woman was raped next to a bunker on a beach and there was no guardian of the law in or around the bunker when he was most needed.

And then there’s Deu Banaulikar, a cop who seems to be a throwback to the times when policemen wielded power not just a lathi. Banaulikar belongs to that school of thought which believes in slapping first and asking questions later. I remember being hugely impressed by Banaulikar one sunny afternoon in Panjim opposite Azad Maidan.

I was talking to an Assistant Public Prosecutor friend on the pavement when she hailed Deu Banaulikar puttering along on his scooter. He was a police inspector then. He stopped to say hello. So there we were: two western-dress wearing women and a man on his scooter. Or so that must have been the thought on the mind of the tempo driver who was parked a few metres away.

The tempo driver must have wanted some entertainment so he revved up his engine and inched closer to Banaulikar sitting on his scooter and discussing the progress of a case with my prosecutor friend. I watched in fascination as the tempo rolled to a stop six inches away from Banaulikar’s scooter.

Benaulikar did not turn a hair but a subtle change in his demeanor told me he knew what was happening behind him. He turned to look at the tempo driver who honked and gestured rudely to move. Banaulikar waved him on. The driver gestured even more rudely and honked again. Banaulikar continued his conversation. The tempo moved six and a half inches more. It banged Banaulikar’s scooter.

I continued watching in rapt attention. One had a distinct impression of a black panther going completely still with flattened ears ready to spring. In one fluid instant the inspector put his scooter on its stand, moved to the driver’s door of the tempo caught the driver’s face in his right hand and with his left wrenched open the door.

The driver fell out, clad in singlet and bright blue shorts, terrified in a tangle of legs. All bravado completely gone he knelt down at Banaulikar’s feet and put his hands together weeping for mercy. The owner of the shop recognizing Banaulikar was horrified and came running out to intercede. A crowd collected. My prosecutor friend made clucking sounds and asked the inspector to let him go. Banaulikar allowed the shop owner to hustle the wailing driver back into his tempo and drive away. He turned back to my clucking friend and continued his conversation with her as if nothing had happened.

One hears all sorts of stories of Deu Banaulikar. I would not know if he is a good or bad policeman, but I do know that he commands respect. And when decision makers of Goa decide to strip him of that respect not only do they damage him; they damage the people of Goa who look to officers like Banaulikar to be first in the line of fire in case of a terrorist strike. We do not look to fat ministers and MPs hiding behind their personal bodyguards to protect us – we know they are too busy protecting their own skin.

When they forced Banaulikar to apologize to the inmates of the madrassa they guaranteed one thing: no policeman is going to take the verification of migrants seriously. So why worry? Thanks to our montris and South Goa MP, if anyone wants to blow us to kingdom come no one’s going to stop them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Awful Story

Women are supposed to be nurturing, caring, honest and hardworking. Those who know me well will agree that I am none of those things. I have no problem with that. I have a problem when I come across other women like me. There are too many of them. I call this type The Awful Woman. There is a number of the other type too, nurturing, caring, honest and hardworking also known as The Good Woman. I had the unique opportunity to see one of each type in a startling tableau which began six months ago and ended this week.

The Awful Woman had offered The Good Woman a job in the Middle East to work as a housemaid for The Awful Woman’s equally Awful Daughter. I happened to have a ring side seat because I poked my nose into something I should not have. I believed I could help the Good Woman lift herself out of grinding poverty by getting her a job with a friend of a friend in the Middle East namely, The Awful Daughter. I have vowed never to do that again unless I know all the actors in the drama.

The Awful Woman had a strange method of recruitment. She wanted The Good Woman to live in her house day and night for two months to “train” the Good Woman to cook and clean for her Awful Daughter in the Middle East. The Good Woman said since she would be starting work with the Awful Daughter in January 2009, she could not put her present employers to inconvenience and said that since she knew how to cook and clean she would adapt to whatever special requirements the Awful Daughter had. The Awful Woman did not take this with grace and said, “You should not bother about your employers. Since we are paying you double, you should do what we tell you to.” The Good Woman said sorry, she could not do that but she could come in on Sundays and for a couple of hours in the evenings to get “trained” but she would not desert her current employers.

She began her “training” which involved no cooking, only cleaning out a dirty storeroom, cleaning fans, cobwebs etc. It also involved avoiding the husband of the Awful Woman who one awful day held an almond to her lips urging her to accept it from his hand. The Good Woman told him she did not want any almonds and when he continued shoving the almond at her lips she hit his hand away and threatened to call his wife who was in the next room on the computer. He hastily stepped back, put his palms together, apologized and entreated her not to say anything to his wife. Later he telephoned The Good Woman asking her not to complain to his wife. There were other incidents when the Awful Husband tried to get chummy. The Good Woman was too embarrassed to tell me The Fool Who Got Her Into This Mess, about the Awful Man since they were friends of a close friend of mine. Instead she avoided moving into the home of the Awful Couple for as long as she could.

Well six months passed like the wind. The Awful Daughter came to visit and examine The Good Woman. She professed her satisfaction and went back leaving instructions with The Awful Woman to take The Good Woman for a medical check-up. The medical check up done, the Awful Daughter called up The Good Woman to tell her to move into The Awful Woman’s house and wait for her visa to be sent. She asked The Good Woman if she had any more queries about the job. The Good Woman who was leaving her family here and going abroad only for the money she would earn asked the Awful Daughter if there was any possibility that after one year, if her work was satisfactory, would the Awful Daughter consider giving her a raise? The Awful Daughter said they would discuss it.

The Good Woman spent money from her meager savings to buy suitable clothes and toiletries for the Middle East for two years. The next day The Awful Woman called The Good Woman and said they did not like her “attitude” in asking for a raise and not wanting to stay in The Awful Woman’s House and therefore they did not want her. The Good Woman was aghast. She had just left her other two jobs; she had spent her tiny savings on new clothes; what was she to do, she asked the Awful Woman. Do whatever you want, said the Awful Woman.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pre-emptive measures

Four days into 2009 and one feels a definite twinge of worry. What’s Fate got hidden up her sleeve waiting to dish out when we least expect it? Which makes one’s thoughts go fluidly to beating Fate at her own game. As in anything in else one needs a Plan. One needs to be prepared for anything the year may bring. You don’t need a plan to enjoy good luck, it’s the other type that brings a shifty look to my eye. While in the middle of mulling over a workable Plan the telepathic phone rang. It was the Wise-Old-Man-On-The-Hill was calling me for a change.
“You better come up the hill,” he said, “something’s wrong with my wife!”
I grabbed a doctor and huffed my way up the hill. His wife was perfectly all right.
“What’s the emergency?” I asked. “She seems perfectly all right.”
“She’s not,” he said, “She is talking wild nonsense. I didn’t ask you to bring a doctor.”
“It’s a good thing she brought a doctor,” said his wife, “he can give me prices.”
“This is what she is doing,” said the Old Man.
“What prices,” asked the doctor.
“My husband is worrying needlessly,” she said, “I am doing this for his own good. We are already in 2009 and we are definitely not getting younger.”
“Quite so,” said the doctor and myself.
“Every New Year’s Day gives me the willies,” she said, “I don’t know what horrors the New Year is going to bring.”
“What is the point of worrying about things you have no control over?” asked her husband.
“Some things we can have control over,” she said. “I have made a shopping list.”
“What would you want to purchase, which would make 2009 a good year?”
“Medical procedures to prevent certain medical conditions,” she said.
“Women of a certain age sometimes get all sorts of problems with bone density loss, cancers and so on. Do you have a problem?” asked the doctor.
“No, and I don’t intend to,” she said.
“How will you manage that?” I asked.
“I will first go for a hip replacement – they’re doing nice things I hear,” she said.
“You can’t just go into a hospital and order a hip replacement,” said the doctor.
“Why not? Corrective surgery is done all the time. Why wait for a hip bone fracture? Think of the distress,” she said.
“And the inconvenience too,” I said. “Because you will have to be carried to the hospital; this way you just walk in for treatment on the day of your choice.”
“Quite right,” she said. “Next I will have knee replacement surgery done on both knees. That will take care of weak, creaking knees while I am a young woman of 70 instead of waiting until my 80’s like Vajpayee.”
“I think you may have something here,” I said. “Very much like pre-emptive strikes.”
“I like to call it precautionary measures,” she said. “After my knees are done, I will have my gall bladder removed along with my uterus and appendix. That should take care of stones and cancer and a burst appendix.”
“You will also be a few pounds lighter,” I said.
“Finally I will tackle the Big B. Too many women in Goa are getting breast cancer and I can easily be one of them,” she said. “My list includes two mastectomies, so that will be taken care of nicely.”
“It will be very, very expensive,” said the doctor.
“Not to worry,” she said, “I have cashless insurance.”
“I don’t think any insurance covers unnecessary operations,” said the doctor.
“Well I will take them to court and prove that these were necessary operations,” she said. “By taking them out and replacing joints, I am saving endless misery for myself and my husband who is no longer young and strong.”
“You left out one organ you clearly don’t use anymore,” said her husband.
“I thought I had covered all the dispensable organs,” she said. “Which one are you talking about?”
“Your brain,” he said.