Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rising Prices

Scene: The boss’s plush air-conditioned office on the 8th floor with a large picture window.

[Boss glaring angrily at his employee who has asked him for a salary raise]

BOSS: Do you know or do you not know that we are in the middle of an economic crisis?

EMPLOYEE: Sir it is getting really difficult to make ends meet.

BOSS: So you think I am some sort of mint? I can print extra cash for you? We all have problems and we all have to tighten our belts.

EMPLOYEE: Sir, if I tighten my belt anymore my backbone will wear out my belly button.

BOSS: This is all nonsense. You have to learn to economize. Live within your means. Look at me. I have cut down on my holidays to Switzerland; now I just go to Dubai and spend time at the Ski Dubai. Instead of eating out at cordon bleu restaurants four times a week, we eat out only once a week. See today I have ordered a pizza and I will eat it here. Then I don’t have to pay service charge or a big tip. I don’t have to waste precious petrol driving to the restaurant.

EMPLOYEE: That is very admirable sir, but I cannot afford to go for a holiday anywhere and forget about eating out, we cannot eat in. Prices have shot up. Who would have thought that French beans would be Rs. 56 a kilo? Vegetables prices have risen four-fold. Rice has doubled, dal is touching Rs 60 per kilo, we eat one meal in the day and snacks the rest of the time.

BOSS: There’s your problem then, snacks are a waste of money. Avoid snacking. It’s bad for health. My doctor says so. You should eat fruit when you feel hungry.

EMPLOYEE: Fruit is way beyond my means sir. Even locally grown chickoos, papayas and pineapples are a distant dream for me.

BOSS: The price of mangoes has come down. Now it is only Rs 250 per dozen.

EMPLOYEE: Sir, the aam aadmi cannot even think about mangoes. I have to pay my house tax, the electricity bill, the gas bill, bus fares have increased. I used to take three buses to come to work. Now I walk the first and third trips and take the middle trip by bus.

BOSS: That’s very good exercise. My doctor told me I should walk at least for one hour a day for good health, so I have installed a walking track in my garden.

EMPLOYEE: Sir, it wears out my shoes and shoes are very expensive. Also we have a formal dress code in the office and it is very difficult to keep looking crisp and formal.

BOSS: Yes. Appearance is everything. People have to know we are a professional outfit when they enter our doors.

EMPLOYEE: But it costs a lot to keep up appearances, sir. My wife works very hard to stretch my salary, but we have to borrow from friends and relatives by the third week of the month.

BOSS: Fiscal responsibility is the name of the game my good man. You have to plan your expenditure. [The intercom buzzes.] Yes? Oh the pizza’s arrived? Send him in. Send him in.

[The pizza delivery boy comes in hands over a box and a bill]

BOSS: Ah I love these deep dish pizzas! Thank you, thank you. [He takes the box and waves the pizza delivery boy towards the employee] Pay the man my good fellow. It’s Rs 275 and make sure you give him a 20-buck tip. No, no, don’t give it to me. Give it to the delivery guy. Why are you coming at me like that? Help! He’s picking me up. Help! He’s throwing me out of my own window. Help! It’s eight floors down!

[Lights out. Curtains]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gossip an art form

We Goans have raised gossip to an art form. Put a group of Goans together and eavesdrop. First they complain about various issues, the ineptitude of the government of course and sooner or later they will start gossiping about mutual friends, relatives and also people they don’t know.

I would blame the balcao for this. Not for nothing did Goan houses have a mandatory porch or verandah for watching the world go by. It came in handy for hailing an acquaintance passing by and sharing a cool drink and hot gossip.

Just the other day I was sitting in a public place and had the pleasure of listening to a group of six or seven middle-aged men and women. Some would say eavesdropping is as bad a habit as gossiping. I would disagree. Putting a listening device into someone’s room and listening is a no-no, but when six people are sitting near you in a public place and insist on discussing the private lives of others in loud carrying tones, you would be an ass not to listen. The only downside is that you cannot butt into the conversation and give them your take on the situation.

As it happened at the aforementioned public place I found myself in this week. The raconteur, a nondescript woman in her early sixties, with curly hair and spectacles, was holding forth to her spellbound party of six other middle-aged nondescript men and women. As I entered she was talking loudly, about how some female they all knew borrowed money from her and seemed to have no intention of returning the loan. There were many oohs and aahs and a chorus of “Did you not ask her for it?” She said she did buttonhole the borrower, who then got all dramatic and said she forgot and she would surely, surely write a cheque.

I wanted to tell her that in my experience you lend money only when you know you can give it away. When you lend, presume you will never get it back, is what I say. But someone else at their table pointed out triumphantly, “It says in the Bible: ‘Never a borrower or lender be!’

The raconteur was not done. She went on smoothly to talk about how the borrower used to break her toys when she was a child. Then without pausing for breath, she went on to the marital problems of a couple they all knew. She used their names. She spoke of how bitterly the couple fought and how the child of the couple had to grow up with that. She spoke of someone else who was entrusted with keeping a relative’s gold and how that worthy used the gold as security against a loan for herself. She spoke of how she begged a couple to go for marriage counseling and a few of her listeners agreed earnestly with her that both should go for counseling not just one spouse. And then she told her audience that one should always be humble and accept that one is not perfect. That is the first step, she said.

I wanted to ask her if her personal imperfection was her loose wagging tongue, but felt that it may be taken in the spirit it was offered. She grew tired of talking eventually and they all rose to leave and made plans to return in the evening.

I love listening and exchanging juicy tidbits which makes me a gossip too. In my book talking polite nothings is a total waste of time. But I avoid being sanctimonious when I gossip, because given their circs and temperament, I would do the exact same thing. I sat in the peaceful silence following their departure, mulling over our love for gossip.

And I thought if we could take our Goan love for gossip and turn it to our advantage we could be the most advanced people on the planet. Instead of writing reports in newspapers which most people don’t read anyway, we should use the art of gossip to get vital information out. Take something as simple as garbage disposal. Spread the gossip of how certain high-in-the-instep aristocrats (names must be used here) were actually pigs because they generated so much garbage, when all they had to do was reduce, reuse, recycle and this was how smart people did it.

I’m currently toying with the idea of starting a new movement called SPREAD (Society of People Ready for Education and Awareness Distribution). It could work like the old Pyramid system of investment. One person spreads the information to five other people, who each spreads it to five other people and so on. Information will spread to every corner of the state like wildfire. It will cut across, caste, creed, generation and language divides. You can talk to your neighbour, your boss, your auto driver, your maid, your child. And the best of all? It will cost nothing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not the worst in the land

After an entire month of watching the most powerful people in the country whose decisions affect the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich, one feels a sense of relief. That Goa’s politicians are bad, but not as bad as many blackguards in the rest of the country. That our guys are comical, but not as comical as many others too.

We have Karunanidhi’s Between Meals Fast that made eyebrows fly higher than when he acknowledged LTTE supremo Prabhakaran as his bosom pal. His Between Meals Fast defied logic. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu woke up one fine morning had a hearty breakfast. Then he decided to lie down on a mattress in full public view announcing that he was going on a fast. His doctors were horrified – it must be very lucrative keeping an old model politician like him going at public cost. He cannot walk properly, cannot see properly, cannot talk properly. Before lunch the fasting CM rolls over on his side and allows himself to be helped up onto his chair and announces that he has called off his hunger strike, because the Sri Lankan government has announced a ceasefire. The Sri Lankan government did no such thing. And the CM went on to get outside a hearty lunch.

Jayalalithaa AIADMK ex-CM of TN was always against the LTTE and their demand for a separate Tamil Eelam state in Sri Lanka. As recently as October 2008 she demanded that all pro-LTTE protesters be arrested. Before the 2009 elections she demands a separate Tamil Eelam state in Sri Lanka. When she is called anti-national she says, what nonsense, I am not asking for a separate Tamil Eelam in India; I am asking for it in Sri Lanka inferring – why are you getting your knickers in a twist. Both she and Karunanidhi have managed to spike the guns of the vitriolic Vaiko whose only agenda was a pro-LTTE agenda and left him without a plank to stand on.

In Andhra Pradesh SMSes were sent out to people telling them that the Chief Minister’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy was in cahoots with Satyam's Ramalinga Raju and why was the CM's son not put in jail. To counter that the CM sent his SMSes to students in Andhra telling them that they don’t need to worry about their tuition fees.

In Bihar Nitish Kumar one of India’s most successful Chief Ministers is being wooed by everyone. In his typical style he leads everyone up the garden path, makes statements about how he is against communalism and will not share a platform with Narendra Modi. And then he gets on a platform with Modi, hugs him, holds his hand and just stops short of dancing around the stage with him. He also tells the nation that when the Kosi flooding practically decimated Bihar the Manmohan Singh promised Rs1000 crore aid. When the PM went back to the dry land of Delhi the Centre informed Nitish Kumar that Bihar would get only Rs 110 crore. Kumar says not one “phooti cowrie”reached Bihar but his office received a FAX from the Centre asking for the return of Rs 1000 crore.
Prakash Karat of the CPI(M) has been doing so many flipflops saying he will not enter an alliance with the Congress Party and then saying he may. Uttar Pradesh has been the strangest of the lot with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) running its very own soap opera. He takes ex-BJP Kalyan Singh into the SP fold saying “Muslims embrace him for it”. Azam Khan Muslim founder of the SP is mad as a wet hen and his supporters clash with other SP supporters of Amar Singh. In a parallel comic plot film actress Jayapradha accuses Khan of soiling her reputation by circulating morphed nude pictures of her along with some salacious CDs and Amar Singh tells the electorate that if Jayaprada loses she will commit suicide. The media ask Jaya to clarify and she says yes, she will commit suicide if she loses.

And then there’s Mayawati of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, who amasses huge wealth from the “donations” of her fans, and builds huge statues of herself all over the state, but does nothing about the grinding poverty of her people. All she wants is to be made Prime Minister is what she says. Mulayam Singh Yadav says that he will form an alliance with anyone who will dismiss Mayawati as Chief Minister of UP.

There are many more comical stories from the rest of the country, but space and time constraints will not permit all. These elections started a new trend of shoe flinging in India. One believes this is the only reason why the militants from the north and the Maoists and Naxals from the east have not been more active in putting a spoke in the electoral process. They have been too distracted. Let us be grateful that as politicians go, ours in Goa are not as bad as the rest of them in the country.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Of sadistic dentists and doctors

I brush my teeth twice a day, and floss after every meal. The flossing began about eight years ago after what we used to call a “SABENA! Situation” at the dentist’s. SABENA! was an anagram we used at school for Such A Bloody Experience ¬– Never Again!

My wisdom tooth wanted out and the dentist had a field day. He yanked and sweated and pumped the pliers up and down for nearly 20 minutes, then told me with a satisfied smile, that on a scale of 1 to 10 my tooth extraction was an 8. I had a purple bruise at the corner of my mouth for a fortnight. The pain inside my mouth spread to my brain and settled there for four days. SABENA! you would agree. And the irony was that I went to him because my editor (may his nerve endings twang forever) told me that my previous dentist, who I was mortally afraid of, was a known sadist. He urged me to go to the pliers plyer.

I do yoga breathing exercises and clean my house myself to keep fit. I scour the Internet for herbal remedies and foods that prevent nightmare health situations. The garlic in my house would scare any self-respecting vampire into retirement. All this because added to my fear of dentists, I have an aversion to doctors. They have this detached look while they poke and prod and when you are screaming for mercy, they ask you ah, does it hurt when I do this? And then they go and do it again, while your voice reaches a two-octave rise you didn’t know you had.

As with most people with time on their hands, I sit and mull over the whys and wherefores of Life. I look for answers. I look for reasons. And the news gives it to me. Look at the people who get into dental and medical colleges. The newspapers are full of stories of ragging which are hair-raising in the extreme. These are the ones that got caught because: a) the ragged victim would not take it any more or b) the ragged victim died. What about the thousands of medical college bullies who were not caught? The physician down the road could have been one of them. The dentist definitely was.

They say ragging is a harmless tradition, silly antics which are really fun and games. It’s a friendly initiation of freshers into an institution. Fun? Yes it can be for the ragger. Those who died or committed suicide were not around to share the fun experience with the rest of us.

All cruelty springs from weakness. I am not saying this, Seneca the Roman philosopher said it. And we have too many weak people around otherwise known as bullies. It’s a human production defect. Others call it the natural order of things where the strong prey on the weak. Older siblings bully their juniors, parents bully their children, seniors bully new entrants into the institution, whether it is academic, professional or prison, there’s spousal bullying with the stronger keeping the weaker in a constant state of nervous tension.

In the workplace too ¬ – every workplace has an embedded bully. Tim Fields author of Bully in Sight discusses how to predict, resist, challenge and combat workplace bullying and overcoming the silence and denial by which abuse thrives. He says: “Most organizations have a serial bully. It never ceases to amaze me how one person’s divisive, disordered, dysfunctional behaviour can permeate the entire organization like a cancer.”

If you just take the time to stand back and observe dispassionately, they are everywhere. I did some reading up on this and learned certain things about the serial bully who is innocent and charming in front of witnesses, only the target of his/her aggression sees both sides. Yet to the trained eye all bullies exhibit tell-tale signs. And it’s not just men, women are bullies too.

The bully shows a deep-seated contempt for most people. They need to be in control of their victims’ thoughts, words and actions. They have a compulsive need to criticize while at the same time refusing to value, praise or acknowledge others achievements. They cannot hold a proper conversation flitting from topic to topic to enforce their point of view. They are spiritually dead even though they follow rituals of religious belief and affiliation. They are unbelievably petty.

There is a lot more but this is enough to give me the willies when it comes to putting my teeth and body into the hands of those who have come out of institutions known for inflicting unnecessary pain on the vulnerable. Until I’m dragged kicking and screaming to one of these, flossing, yoga and herbal remedies are good enough for me thank you.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Three really tough R’s

Reducing, re-using and re-cycling, is hard, time-consuming work. And it can generate a lot of heat, since all the hot air generated by the shouting and screaming is adding to the glaciers melting at the poles. Which raises the levels of the oceans, changes regular currents, adds to the eddies around the River Princess and knocks off large areas of Candolim’s once-lovely beach. That’s what I tell the Man Of The House hereinafter referred to as MOTH when he yells at me, the Sweet Lady Of The House hereinafter referred to as SLOTH.

Much before Panjim’s Chaka-Chak campaign the MOTH was ruthlessly supervising the segregation of waste at source. Designer plastic bags were kept under a mattress for when the kids wanted to look high-maintenance while carrying assignments etc to school. Plain plastic bags were washed properly, dried and stored for re-use. Milk packets were washed, dried and returned to the milk booth to get a half-litre of milk free for a hundred bags. Large plastic bags containing rice, sugar, flour, etc were returned to the grocer who first looked puzzled and then pleased.

Bottles were washed, dried and kept for the Lamani woman who was stabbed in the belly by her drunken husband and lived to tell the tale and show off her scars. Newspapers were also sold to her. Old clothes and shoes that were outgrown but in good condition were dropped off at the Missionaries of Charity at St Inez. Those clothes that one was embarrassed to give away because they were too shabby were turned into dusters. Once the dusters turned into rags they were used as oil cloths for cleaning the vehicle and then burned. All this before the segregation at source in Panjim.

Food waste like vegetable trimmings, fruit peels etc went into the public bin before the CCP removed it and had door-to-door collection. Meat trimmings went to the stray dogs outside and fish waste should have gone to the stray cats, but the MOTH hates cats and issued a diktat that we had to use the fish waste for fertilizer. The fertilizer idea was not a good one. The children were convinced we were trying to kill them with the smell. The SLOTH hit on the bright idea of boiling the waste and grinding it in the mixer then adding it to the plants. It acted like steroids on a weightlifter, the roses looked like dahlias and then like steroids, it killed all our plants. So the fish waste went into the public bin.

Now with the door-to-door collection, we have a tiny amount of biodegradable waste collected every day and a small amount of non-biodegradable waste picked up on Mondays and Thursdays. That should be that for our contribution to keeping the planet safe, but no, there’s more.

Since CCP has no landfill site we have not retiled our sad cement mosaic floor in our otherwise beautiful flat. The MOTH does not want to add to the piles of construction rubble all over the highway. Ants had eaten away at the masonry of our almost 50-year-old bridge-type staircase leading to our front door, we had to re-plaster and tile the bridge. So we used mosaic made out of broken coloured glazed tiles. To the MOTH it was re-cycling and a clever, artistic use of waste, to the SLOTH who wanted a terracotta look, it looked gaudy. To a fancy relative of ours who lives in The Foreign, it looked like the work of Gaudi. I thought she said ‘gaudy’ with an accent but she meant Antoni Gaudi the Catalan architect. The only problem with the mosaic bridge is that the stray dogs still pad up and down to be fed and as such the bridge which has a lot of cream coloured tiles has to be washed regularly. So the MOTH will not waste water and uses the soapy water from the semi-automatic washing machine to wash the bridge, then the clean rinse water to wash the soap off. We wash clothes twice a week and the bridge gets a soap and water treatment likewise.

As the SLOTH I would find it so much easier to use a hose and tap water to wash the bridge. In the blink of an eye I would throw all the plastic bags and containers away. It would be child’s play to throw the trimming away instead of cooking it for the stray dogs who now consider us part of their family. But the MOTH keeps me in line. Reducing, reusing, recycling. These three R’s are tough. This planet owes us big.