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.