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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.