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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.

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