Sunday, March 29, 2009

Primary school antics in Goa Assembly

Sitting in front of the television screen watching the goings-on in the Goa Assembly is far more interesting than being present at the session, fighting sleep in the gallery. There are too many distractions, not the least is overhearing comments from others occupying seats next to you.

It should be made mandatory for all schools, colleges, people in the workplace and homemakers too, to watch the Assembly proceedings live; or recorded and watched at a later time in the day. Not just because it is huge entertainment, but because it has elements of everything, including spine-chilling horror that these 40 people with the mentality of eight-year-olds hold our lives and future in their well-greased hands.

It’s exactly like a primary school class. Noisy, restless, everyone looking like they wish they were playing elsewhere. Some sitting properly; some sprawled untidily. Maybe if Churchill Alemao made a habit of sitting erect with his spine straight and his legs together he would look less like a beached whale. Some passed notes. Vishwajeet Rane bent over Alexio Sequeira with a paper in his hand which made Alexio giggle like a school girl; this while Victoria Fernandes was waving her arms and addressing the House. Some like Babu Azgaonkar were belligerent, trying to pick a fight with anyone; some like Philip Neri Rodrigues sat staring vacantly; others like Jose Phillip D’Souza gave viewers a ringside view of his tonsils as he yawned the mother of all yawns. And still others like the overworked Miccky Pacheco slept the sleep of the innocent in his kodel.

Rane Senior the Speaker sitting at a higher level, doled out platitudes and rebukes like any primary school teacher. His treatment of Laxmikant Parsekar was hilarious in the extreme. First Rane said whatever Parsekar had to say would not be recorded. Parsekar continued to speak. Then Rane told Parsekar he should stop speaking and sit down and that he, Rane didn’t care if anyone went to the Press. Parsekar continued to speak. Then Rane realized that the Assembly proceedings were being telecast live to Goan households and establishments all over the state and he ordered the cameras to be shut down. Parsekar continued speaking. This could be heard because while the video was switched off, the audio continued for a few vital minutes before the screen when blank. And one could hear Rane telling Parrikar that they could walk out if they wanted and Parrikar tranquilly replying, no, we are not going.

The Voice Vote too is a mystery, there were some where the Nays were louder than the Ayes, but the Speaker ruled “The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it.” The only time no nays were heard was when Reginaldo Lourenco with Sardinha in his crosshairs, proposed and got the Assembly to pass the Bull Bill legalizing dhirio much to the delight of thousands of gamblers who bet vast sums on bullfights and the relief of the cops who don’t have the headache of arresting bullowners that run faster than they do, and bulls that are difficult to take into custody. Reginaldo Lourenco has dealt another body blow to Francisco Sardinha showing clearly in this political dhirio he is the victor. The rest of the House of course thought nothing of tampering with the Cruelty to Animals act and the High Court ruling banning dhirio and with the exception of the Speaker who vaguely said you cannot change the law of Cruelty to Animals and then lost interest in the proceedings as only he can, allowed it to be put to vote.

As they struggled to their feet as a mark of respect to the National Anthem, one is left wondering how easy it is for the ruling combine to take existing good laws and turn them on their heads. Like all primary school children they play the game and change the rules as they go along.

My thanks for the 27 emails I received last week suggesting solutions to rein in the men and woman who run/ruin our state. More on that later, but one priceless one received on Sunday night, read like this: “I’m willing to bet anything that cash, bicycles, booze and sewing machines will win the day in tomorrow’s Taleigaon panchayat election results. If we want good people to be elected, we should find them first, and then give cash, bicycles, booze and sewing machines to the electorate to vote for them. That is the currency of our democracy.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Justice? It’s just ice after all

They call it justice, cold, hard and heavy, but Digambar and his friends have proved that if enough heat is applied, it melts away. Justice = just ice. This is the paraphrase of a quote I borrowed from an email from Satish Sonak who asks us to get up in large numbers and stop this Land Acquisition (Goa Amendment) Ordinance 2009. It spells doom for civil society more than anything this government has thought of. If they can shut the Judiciary out in one blatant illegality, they can do it for tens of thousands more. And if they can do it for tens of thousands more, you and I are up the creek without a paddle, because it will take away our right to fight for justice.

Even if Cidade de Goa did the decent thing and demolished their structures on Vaiguinim beach and returned the beach to its rightful owners: the people of Goa, the Ordinance still has to go.

Consider the horrors this government has unleashed on Goa in the few years they have been in power. This is my opinion and quite possibly no one else’s, but this government including the Opposition, is the most feral of all governments Goa has been afflicted with. I include the Opposition because they were struck with the Three Monkeys Disease of being blind, deaf and dumb, when Goa needed them most.

I have been speaking to people of different degrees of awareness and their reaction to the infamous Land Acquisition Ordinance has varied from a sideways wag of the head and “This gummint, no? Like that only dey is…” to “We should stand up and stop this!”

What made the hair on my head stand straight up, was a weary, “There’s so much to fight and so few of us. Which fight do we choose? SEZ land scams? Casinos? Casinos in the Mandovi? CRZ violations? Destruction by mining? Sewage in our drinking water? Plastic blocking drains? Landfill sites we do not have? Gated communities? Law and order? Corruption from top to bottom in government and civil society? What can we do? It is too much to handle. Everything is geared to destroy this place and this people.”

So what can we do? Not voting these particular clowns will not work, because once anyone comes into power, the grey matter in their brains turns into greed matter. We have to find some way to exert control over them. Media exposure does not help because maybe just 10 percent of the population read the part of the news that matters. Only one news channel carries news analysis with vim and vigour, the rest are quite uninteresting. Tiatr and natak help to bring some awareness, but they too have self-imposed restrictions when it comes to the forty-one monkeys playing with the future of the state. Yes I said 41. Think about the 41st, because his signature can cause havoc.

After awareness of the danger we as a people face, comes the difficult part. We have to get up and act. How do we act and what do we do? Do we gherao the monkeys? Do we gherao the Supreme Court and tell it to act as fast as it did in the AIIMS director case? Do we boycott all public functions of not only the monkeys, but also their handlers and assistants? Do we ostracise their families? Do we do a Dilkush and fling bags of dung at them? And the toughest of them all ¬– do we first give up corruption ourselves?

We have to exert some kind of control because they are elected to protect us and help us achieve health and happiness. To those readers who most kindly send me emails praising this column, let’s hear your solution for reining in our public representatives. And more urgently, a way to stop the Land Acquisition (Goa Amendment) Ordinance 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Missing the madness

Speaking for myself, I feel wistful when I am away from Goa. More so when I am in Mumbai. Why, you ask? Because Mumbai is so sensible, practical, and it works. People make an effort to walk the talk. The government is not visible, not like in Goa, especially Panjim where the city is crawling with politicos of every hue indulging in masterly inactivity. But in Mumbai, you see Herculean efforts to not let the nightmare of running a city become a reality. It’s an on-going exercise.

They have just introduced a law which involves fining anyone carrying a plastic bag of less than 50 microns. The fine is Rs 5000. The onus is not merely on shopkeepers and establishments, the consumer will also have to take responsibility for littering the city and increasing the risk of flooding along with loss of life and property. The thin plastic bag is Mumbai’s nemesis.

Small scale industrialists are being wooed to set up their manufacturing units in jail premises. The industrialist will provide the training, the raw material and the machines. The jail will provide the labour which will be paid for their work. The convicts will receive their payment when they complete their term. They will have skills, so they can stand on their own feet when they become free citizens again. It’s a win-win situation, and it’s just one of the things that are happening in this booming megapolis.

But I am wistful, because I miss the insanity that is Goa. How we survive is a mystery. We build huge residential complexes with no proper sanitation. We talk of water harvesting with the ground water already mostly raw sewage.

We have the infrastructure for a great educational system, but we have a B grade university and a 7th class pass Education Minister. And this poor quality education shows in the way we treat our land. We have natural bounty of hills and rivers but we cut our hills and fill our rivers with ships and boats and floating casinos. We have half a dozen off-shore casinos that would have been permanently anchored in the river if people like AAAAG would turn a Digamber Eye.

We have the Supreme Court ordering a portion of the built up area of a five-star hotel to be demolished and the state government producing a rabbit from a hat in the shape of an ordinance that saves the hotel and puts the Supreme Court in its place.

We pay for Goa’s MLAs, ministers and bureaucrats going on study-tours all over the world to study waste management. And we smile indulgently as we are slowly buried under a mountain of garbage, because it is common knowledge that the MLAs & Co are educationally challenged and cannot learn anything.

The rest of the country and indeed the world is tightening internal security, but when our police do the same, they are reprimanded and humiliated and I won’t even talk about the middle-aged flower-seller raped and murdered outside an unmanned bunker on the beach.

We cannot afford to buy decent housing for ourselves, but we sell off the little land we have to the rich and aimless. Forgetting that the few lakhs we get so effortlessly by selling our children’s birthright will have no value less than ten years down the line. We’ve bought a ticket for a boat ride and we are boring holes under our seats, because we’ve paid for our seats. Yet we stay afloat and are happy. Any way you look at it, this is certifiable insanity. And this is what I miss when I am away from Goa.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In search of Goan food in Goa

The peculiar thing about guests, who descend on one in Goa, is that they presume you too are on holiday. Their logic one would suppose is: in this beautiful place of turquoise seas, sands of pale gold, green fields and bright sunshine, how can you not be on holiday. They don’t believe you when you tell them you have work to do. One cousin who goes completely insane when he touches Goan shores informed me that in Goa people just pretend to have work. Half the time, they do nothing and the other half they are sleeping. Really? I said. Really, he said, and that seemed to be that.

But the best part about guests is that they demand to be taken to the best beaches and the best restaurants and the best places to sightsee. They hear of Tito’s and Britto’s and some other places Goan residents have never heard of, nor seen advertisements of, but they have heard word of these wonderful places and you have to take them there. And you end up thanking your guests for showing you another treasure.

Being resident in Goa one tends to muddle around in one’s own comfort zone of home and office with brief forays into an annual picnic maybe, and some visits to friends’ and relatives’ homes and events. After a while, all homes look alike and all weddings are variations of the same thing. But when these brisk, energetic guests from outside the state and outside the country waltz into your life determined to enjoy themselves and take you along on their joyride, you get a chance to renew your vows of love with Goa.

The Caranzalem beach is filthy with tarballs and one would not willingly walk barefoot on it, but Utorda, ah, Utorda has this pale gold sand and it is clean as clean can be, the water is clear and the lifeguards watchful. You can get tossed by a wave and not feel revulsion when you swallow a substantial amount of the Arabian Sea. And then hunger pangs set in and you head for the shack on the beach, salivating over the thought of making choices between choriso, cafreal, amotik with islands of shark chunks in its rich dark red goodness, sorpotel, prawn curry rice, kismur, beef chilly fry, guisad, xacuti, mackerel or pomfret stuffed with reichado masala, and other lesser known but heavenly fare. You look around at the cheery décor, feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin and you experience that perfect slice of life, which brings so many from so far to revel in the Goan Experience.

You look around at the rest of the guests in the shack. There are more foreigners than Indians and more Indians than Goans. You admire the nerve of the foreign men and women wearing swimwear in that merciless sunshine that magnifies every liver spot, every wrinkle, every repulsive roll of fat. You wonder at the arrogance of the Indian tourists who want everything served yesterday. Platters of lovely looking food are borne like rare treasure by waiters wearing Hawaiian shirts and you wait for your order to come.

When it comes and you take your first mouthful, the sun loses its sheen, the breeze is just a hot wind and you feel shortchanged. The food is anything but Goan. It is Goan-Guest Cuisine. The amotik reeks of tomato sauce, and the shark pieces taste like flavoured rubber. The prawn curry carries no punch, the beef chilly fry is stringy and redolent of soya sauce, and the huge slice of red snapper could have been served to you anywhere in the world and you would never recognize it as “fried the Goan way”.

Even parties in Goan homes are given to outside caterers who rely heavily on soup cubes and tomato sauce to carry the day. It is only when you are lucky to sit down to a family meal with a Goan family generally in rural Goa, that your tastebuds come alive. A rural family’s dining table and some of the dirtier bars and restaurants in the larger towns. If you want to catch a mouthful of real Goan food, drop into the more crowded bar ’n’ restaurants in South Goa. These are the places that don’t have a menu. They cook the catch of the day and serve it to you. That’s Goan cuisine. Not Goan-Guest cuisine.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Making garbage and casinos work for us

“Ideas are what run this world,” said the man with the purple nose and red eyes in the corner of the taverna.
“Ideas can be good and ideas can be bad,” I said.
“True, I have had some bad ideas and I have had some good ideas,” he said.
“Have you got any right now?” I asked.
“Of course,” he burped, “why do you think I spend most of my time here?”
“Does the feni activate the idea-creating part of your brain,” I asked.
“Could be,” he said, “which is why I had this idea to take a patent on feni as a product of Goa. This is the elixir of life I tell you and you only get it in Goa.”
“But cashews grow in Karnataka, Maharashtra, even Kerala, so feni can be made anywhere; what’s so special about Goa feni?” I asked.
“It’s the process my friend,” he said. “There’s the good red earth of Goa on the feet of the men who crush the fruit and that adds to the flavour.”
“Never mind the feni; do you have any good ideas right now?”
“Garbage and casinos,” he said. “I have the best solution for both”
“Then you would be the greatest man in the state. They will erect your statues everywhere, give you national awards and a plot of land,” I said.
“Well it is workable, but it would need money and engineering,” he said.
“We have money and we have lots of engineers looking for jobs,” I said.
“It’s like this,” he said taking a deep draught. “Casinos and garbage are two things that no village, town or city wants in their backyard.”
“Or front yard,” I said.
“So I have a simple solution which would get rid of both and also get both to continue making money for the exchequer,” he said.
“That would be good,” I said.
“Goa has a small land mass, but we have the ocean at our feet,” he said.
“That cannot be a good idea,” I said. “Throwing garbage into the ocean makes no sense, the ocean throws it back at us. And anyway I doubt those casino ships can sail. They will break up and sink and everyone on them will drown and the ocean will throw all that back on the shore. Even NGOs will refuse to clean that up.”
“No, no,” he said, “Let me finish. We need to build an island in the ocean a few nautical miles away from the coast. Take all the debris that is being dumped on highways and mangroves and use that to build the island. They’ve done it Dubai, so it can be done here too.”
“But the water levels will rise and all our low lying areas will be drowned,” I said.
“No it won’t; because we will also use the sand and rocks from the ocean floor to build the island and then nothing will be drowned,” he said.
“Then what,” I asked.
“Then build a proper landfill site so that the leachate does not flow into the ocean and kill all the fish and swimmers,” he said.
“That is quite naïve of you, of course a proper landfill will not be built,” I said.
“A jail will also be built on the island, to house the engineers and consultants and politicians and bureaucrats who were guilty of allowing substandard construction’” he said.
“So how does all this deal with the casinos,” I asked.
“See, if you drink feni like I do, you would have asked another question, which would be: How will you get the running costs to manage the landfill site, since waste will have to be ferried up and down?” he said.
“So what’s the answer,” I said.
“The casinos will be anchored around the island and will pay their five or seven crore annually to the Government of Goa for maintaining the island. Also every panchayat and Municipality in Goa will pay a small waste management tax too. It’s a win-win situation,” he said.
“I don’t think it will work,” I said.
“Drink some feni,” he said, “and it will all become crystal clear.”