Sunday, November 29, 2009

Best place in the world

I spent two good days attending a three-day South Asia Media Summit that is organized every year by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung India at the International Centre, Donapaula and I came away pleased that India is the best country in all of South Asia. And after seeing a documentary on the horrors of caste oppression in India, that Goa is the best place in all of India. Ergo, Goa is the best place in all of South Asia. So I made a beeline for my old friend Cryalot to give him the good news, “I know for a fact that Goa is the best place to live and work in all of South Asia.”
He said, “What nonsense you talk. Don’t you see what is happening around you?”
“Well see for yourself,” I said, “The delegates from the other countries were saying terrible things about their countries.”
“And Indian delegates were praising our country and you believed them,” he said.
“Au contraire,” I said even though I had met no French speaking people, “Our Indian media persons were criticizing India like nobody’s business.”
“And so they should, so why are you not convinced that we live in a hell on earth?” he asked.
“Because even with all our problems, it was clear that we are better off than the other countries,” I said.
“Pakistan is bullying us and we are letting them bully us,” he said.
“But they have public beatings and one Pakistani delegate said it is no country to bring children into the world. He said he had two daughters and was afraid to let them even cycle outside the house,” I said, because I know we can cycle anywhere we like, We have Joseph Rodrigues and his cycling group that sets out early on Sunday mornings. It’s mixed company and no one has to be covered from hairline to toenail.
“Those people are being bombed to kingdom come and you are talking about cycling,” he said.
“Those journalists are threatened almost everyday, but they soldier on regardless,” I said, “but here we rarely get death threats and if we do we get one entire policeman for protection.”
“Look at the crime we have here, such a huge law and order problem – serial killers, robberies, white collared crime, bomb blasts and you say this is the best place to be?” he sneered.
“But they get caught some of the time, so most of us are happy and then the judge lets them off, so most of them are happy. We are a happy society,” I said.
“Last time you were foolishly impressed with Bhutan. What happened this time,” he asked.
“I still like Bhutan, but one of the delegates said that they are a small country and not very well educated and that the judges often beat up defendants,” I said. “Here people throw chappals at judges. That’s so much better than the judge giving you the boot.”
“Our judiciary is a joke,” he says.
“Not according to the delegate from the Maldives,” I pointed out. “She told us that the Maldives is only one kilometer broad and courtrooms are very small. The judge asks the witness did you see this man killing the dead man and all witnesses turn hostile because they are too scared that they will join the dead man.”
“Don’t talk of judges,” he said, “Look at all the reports coming out about judges being involved in embezzlement of provident fund of their staff; of judges having assets way beyond their means, of judges dismissing cases and they use contempt of court to stifle dissent.”
“Yes, but one of our delegates said they become High Court Chief Justices and even end up in the Supreme Court and one even made it to the Rajya Sabha when he dismissed cases during the Sikh slaughter in the 1984 riots,” I said. “That’s upward mobility which you won’t see in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.”
“Nothing you say makes me believe India or Goa for that matter is the best place to be right now,” he said.
“We are free to write what we want, for one,” I said. “Women can do what they want and no one can stop them. And best of all we can throw out our rulers at least once in four years and the army does not come marchin’ in,” I said.
“Who said you are free to write what you want?” he said. “A cartoonist was banned from cartooning by the Supreme Court. You can be hauled up before Speaker for ridiculing the MLAs.”
“Ah, but even then, there are ways and means to keep them on their toes. We have a powerful weapon which our neighbouring countries do not have,” I said.
“Which is?” he asked.
“The freedom to ridicule,” I said.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life’s a gamble for cops

I was walking past a bush at the venue of a fashion show when the bush said “Hsst” to me. I stopped of course, because a talking bush can always be counted on to break the monotony. “Why are you hssting me?” I asked politely because I felt one should never give attitude to a talking bush. “It’s me,” said the bush wriggling madly, “SP Sachcha Phul.”
“Why Sachcha Phul!” I said, “Why are you hiding behind that bush? You don’t have an invitation for the fashion show?”
“I do so have an invitation,” he said with injured dignity, “But you never can tell what people will make of it, especially the media. Some of my colleagues are jumping at their own shadows.”
“Ah,” I said, “That’s why you are sitting behind that bush.”
“Not really,” he said. “But the media has ruined the reputation of the police force. What they think? We don’t have lives of our own to live?”
“You are talking about your colleagues who were playing Catching Cook with the media on a casino boat?” I said.
“To you people it is all a big joke,” he said bitterly. “They forget we have to do bandobast duty, attend inaugurations of new police stations, solve serial murders, and apprehend terrorists. Are we not allowed to let down our hair once in a while?”
“Of course you can,” I said, “but it does look odd if cops or any other pillars of society, who are on the public payroll, are found in places like casinos.”
“Do you know how much money we have to pay to join the police force? It goes into lakhs and lakhs,” he said.
“I know,” I said sympathetically, “And you have to earn that money back as fast as you can. That is why your colleagues went to the casino? To reduce their deficit?”
“Not everyone gets that point,” he said, “They just jump to conclusions and it is very upsetting.”
“Well naturally, it is a way of making money. Far better than demanding bribes. But casinos are frowned upon as dens of vice. That is why the uproar,” I said.
“How come there is no uproar when we bet on matka numbers?” he said. “I don’t see why matka has to be pampered so much by the public. This is bound to give the casinos an inferiority complex.”
“It is unfair that while goons and corporate kings and politicians and women of easy virtue can climb unquestioned on board a casino, everyone gets all upset when cops do the same,” I said.
“It’s as if we are second class citizens,” he said.
“I agree,” I said. “It’s not as if anyone thinks cops are pure as the driven snow. On the contrary. Everyone knows you are corrupt and have ill-gotten wealth. So why get so upset over cops found in a casino?”
“I don’t know why people expect miracles from us,” he said. “We are like everyone else. We joined the police force to make money, nothing else. All of you take up jobs and professions to make money, so why get your knickers in a twist over us doing the same?”
“Well you are expected to protect the people of Goa,” I said.
“Of course we protect the people of Goa. What you think, huh? We protect people of Tamilnadu?” he said. “We protect those we are told to protect. From the rest we take hafta, and any fool would tell you that is protection of the best kind.”
“What about the poor and the marginalized?” I asked. “What happens when they are injured or killed?”
“What you talking about? They get compensation,” he said. “It’s not as if they don’t benefit. It’s all tied up nicely. We have nothing to hide. But with us cops, every day is a gamble.”
“So why are you hiding behind this bush? You should be sitting in your allotted seat and enjoying the fashion show,” I said.
“Because I’m waiting to catch Wendell Rodricks,” he said.
“You want to arrest Wendell?” I asked, “What’s he done?”
“He hasn’t done anything. I don’t want to arrest him,” he said getting annoyed. “I want him to design special chor pockets in our uniforms, so we can keep packs of cards, dice and casino chips.”
“Makes sense, especially now since the DGP said going to a casino is like going to a church or a temple, or going fishing. Perfectly legal,” I said.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Groceries – best gifts

So my friend Mr Moneybags was getting his son married off to a girl from another wealthy family. He sent me a summons to come to his aid immediately. I rushed to his aid. Not just because he’s rich, but because it would be interesting to see what kind of trouble he had gotten into from which he could not buy himself out.

I went past the double security gates, the velvet lawns, the gelatine detector, the metal detector, the RDX detector, the eyeball scan, the fingerprint scan, two sniffer dogs sniffed me, I crossed lots of fluffy white carpet, skidded across a polished parquet floor, was led to Mr M’s study lined with leather covered books all the way to the ceiling. It looked like an exclusive English club with leather sofas and the aroma of perfectly bended Cuban cigars. Mr M was struggling with a list.

“Help me,” he said. “I need to make a list of items that invitees to my son’s wedding can buy as wedding gifts.”
“I don’t think the concept of a bridal registry has caught on in Goa,” I said, “And anyway these days everyone says they don’t want presents, just the invitee’s presence is all that is required.”
“Now that is silly, and maybe be okay for people like you,” he said, “but I am a pragmatic man and a wedding like anything else is all about income and expenditure.”
“Well anyway,” I said, “We don’t have any bridal registry that I know of where the couple can list the things they want with a chosen store.”
“What is the use of that?” he asked.
“Well the gift registry is updated and it has a system to prevent duplicate gifts. And the couple gets whatever they have selected.”
“No, I’m not interested in that,” he said. “I have already given them a penthouse apartment in Mumbai, a farm and farmhouse in Goa and a holiday home in the Bahamas. All are fully furnished and staffed.”
“Then just go with the ‘No Presents Please’ theme,” I said.
“What you think, money grows on trees?” he demanded. “Don’t you know how expensive living has become?”
“I know how expensive living has become. I finish all my earnings on groceries only. If I need anything else, I will have to shoplift,” I said.
“That’s the thing,” he said, “So I am making a list and I need your help. I need about 300 kg of sugar, 300 kg of tur dal, 500 kg of channa dal, 400 kg of moong dal, 700 bags of potatoes. 1000 sacks of Basmati rice, 1000 sacks of flour. You think flour makes sense? Weevils and things?”
“Isn’t that too much for the wedding banquet?” I asked, “Is the caterer not handling that?”
“Of course the caterers are handling that. I have 17 caterers handling all sorts of cuisines. This is the list of gifts I want the invitees to bring to the wedding,” he said.
“I don’t see guests dripping with silk and diamonds, staggering in with sacks of rice,” I said.
“I don’t know why I called you; you are no help at all,” he said. “Just give me some more items to put on the list and I will send a list with each invite.”
“You can ask for anything, garlic has shot up, onions, potatoes, carrots, oil, capsicum, brinjals too,” I said.
“No. No brinjals,” he said, “I hear they are growing BT brinjals in Goa without telling anyone; I want to live to see my great grandchildren.”
“Well then, dairy products, poultry, meats, fish! Oh my goodness, fish,” I said, “fish has become as valuable as gold today, but where will you store it at the wedding venue?”
“I will have reefer containers at the venue, so all perishables will be properly stored,” he said. “I will have a food inspector to check everything too. You know how some guests always try to palm off rubbish on the happy couple?”
“I know what you mean” I said. “We are still trying to get rid of the 99-rupee store stuff some people gifted to our family wedding.”
“I am not interested in your family wedding, I have my own problems,” he said.
“So you who are the richest person I know are also feeling the pinch of rising prices,” I said. “You will use this for cooking for your family and retainers?”
“Nonsense,” he said. “I will hoard all this merchandise and when the price is right, I will sell it all.”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

So Not On Sanstha

Strange are the plans of mice and men. If there is life after death, then Malgonda Patil and Yogesh Naik, must be having a hard time with the other after-lifers laughing their auras off. That is of course if the Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and the two deceased did put the bomb in the scooter in the first place. The cops were cagey about pointing the finger directly at the organization.

After two SS men have been picked up for questioning, the finger pointing at the Sanatan Sanstha is getting steadier. Vinay Talakar, 30, from Karwar did an MBA course in Goa University. Vinayak Patil, 27, from Karnataka worked as a driver at the Park Hyatt hotel in South Goa. You could say it was a Vin-Vin situation for the investigating officers since Vinay and Vinayak both broke down under questioning and spilled the beans.

“So what is this Sanatan Sanstha all about?” I asked my friend So-Not-On Shaitan who has been an admirer of the Sanstha for quite a while.
“It is known as the Sanatan Bharatiya Sanskruti Santha but to Western oriented types like you it is called Sanatan Society for Scientific Spirituality,” he said.
“Obviously their science was weak if the bomb they made blew up beforehand and turned both rider and pillion rider into spirits,” I said.
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.
Of course not, I said, why would you make a bomb and then blow your own people up? It would make sense if they were fundamentalists, because fundamentalists are fundamentally stupid.
“I’ll have you know that it is spiritually committed bodies like the Sanstha and Bajrang Dal that protect the Hindu community when it is endangered. We created awareness about the large scale desecration of deities in Goan temples,” he said.
“Creating awareness is a good thing. Creating terror by exploding scooters and Sanstha disciples is not a good thing,” I said.
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.
Of course, I said, they must have been going fishing and killing fish with dynamite is illegal, so that is why they were embarrassed about admitting it. Also they were too busy trying to pick up their own bits and pieces.
“You are completely ignoring the work we do for the welfare of society,” he said. “We run several publications and teach Hinduism and the Right Path to people and especially youth,” he said.
“But once bombs and terror are added to religious teaching, you become nothing better than a West Coast Taliban,” I said.
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said. “Only the Home Minister Ravi Naik is pointing fingers at us. The police are not.”
Of course, I said. Obviously their enemies must have rigged the scooter with a bomb, knowing that the Sanstha workers would be using the two-wheeler. Then they must have tried to plant a bomb on the Narkasura truck too. So simple.
“We have already approached the courts to stop everyone accusing us and ruining our reputation,” he said.
“Your organization is just 19 years old, but only in the last two years people have been asking for you to be shut down,” I said.
“We have just two centres in India, one here in Goa and the other at Panvel,” he said, “but we have centres in Melbourne, Brisbane, Toronto, Dubai, Britain and the USA.”
“This is supposed to be a scientific age, yet religious groups across the board are all doing brisk business,” I said.
“We are just spreading scientific spirituality to seekers,” he said.
“Then do us all a favour and don’t use explosives as your teaching tools,” I said. “Spreading terror is so not on.”
“There is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.
“Would you categorically state that the SS does not, never has and never will make bombs?” I asked.
“How many times do I have to tell you; there is no proof that the Sanatan Sanstha made the bomb,” he said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

People we love to hate

One of the biggest myths in Goa is that Goans are warm and friendly. As long as I can remember Goans have always treated with suspicion if not outright hatred those they felt threatened by. First it was the Mangaloreans, Damanese and "Diuchars". Mangaloreans were originally from Goa and had fled southwards during the Inquisition. They were goodlooking and so intelligent, they bordered on the cunning. This the less calculating Goan did not like or trust. The Damanese were beautiful, but this was looked down upon by the supercilious Goans of Goa.

Later the Hippies fell foul of the picky Goan. He did not like their lack of either clothing or inhibitions. A foreigner was immediately labeled an “eeepie”. If you came in from anywhere in India regardless of city or state, you were a “Bomoicar”.

After that it was the turn of the Keralite to become the Goan’s favourite whipping-boy. Goans were too fond of the phrase: If you see a Mallu and a snake, kill the Mallu. Let the snake live. Keralites came flocking to Goa after Liberation to take up jobs as clerks, engineers, etc in government service. Snakes helped the Goan stay fat and healthy since they killed rats that would eat the paddy and other foodstuffs, but Keralites were taking local jobs; and lording it over bewildered locals.

The resentment and distrust was heaped in equally largesse on the Kannadigas, Tamilians and Andhraites. The reason was the same. Jobs were going to them. Goans were getting nothing.

Now it is the turn of the North Indians. They are pouring in, riding roughshod over all objections. Equally hated are the builders, miners and industrialists, perceived as taking away precious land from the natives. Never mind that the same natives are selling off their land to the highest bidder.

But there was one demographic which has been the bane of the original resident Goan for a very long time. The returned NRG or Non-Resident Goan. They manage to pull out your last nerve and jump on it with hobnailed boots. They lose no opportunity to speak in glowing accents of how wonderful it is “back home” in their country of adoption. How modern, how clean, how beautiful, the country they had made their home. They are supercilious towards all things Goan, the food, the culture, the place the people.

They speak of the high standards of living they are now used to and throw money around like there was no tomorrow. Wastage becomes something to aspire to. One young mother’s favourite past time would be to talk of the frequent power cuts and how she had to throw out two kilos of tiger prawns, because she felt they may have gone bad after an electrical outage of 2 hours.

One legal luminary who was first employed as a bagger of groceries when she migrated, walked around the city with her spouse, their faces wrinkled in distaste. Quote he memorably, “We are not used to such squalor. If you want us to return to Goa we have to be offered a better standard of living.”

They come here to celebrate events as inane as a matriarch’s birthday and instead of just having a party to celebrate the day, they import a white-man celebration with fake musings from family members and even a line-dance like they do “back home”. Prominent is the video camera team filming every dreary moment of it.

But by far the most telling comment was made by someone who was amused over receiving an invitation to attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding in the United States. She would never in this lifetime afford a trip to the USA. She told her friend that coming to the US was out of the question. Why, persisted the friend. Give yourself a treat, come! I can’t afford it, said the Goan. What nonsense, said the NRI.

Then the Goan had a brainwave. “Why don’t you call X since he lives in Canada and he can easily come to the US for your daughter’s wedding.”

“Oh no,” said the NRI, “See, it’s like this, my daughter’s marrying an Italian and his family has carefully calculated the number of people who will be attending. I cannot call X and his family, since it will upset the numbers and my daughter’s in-laws. They’re Italian you know….?

“So why bother to send me an invitation when you know I cannot come?” demanded the Goan.

“So that you could pray for the good health and happiness of the happy couple,” said the NRI.

Bleeding Hearts for Goa Inc

I was wondering the other day, what would happen if all these bleeding hearts that come to Goa offering deals and opportunities for Goa and Goans actually told the truth. The flavour of the season is for every Tom, Dick and Harry coming to Goa to set up some business, institute or establishment, to talk of the benefit for Goans and Goa. It is getting predictable and tiresome. Just the other day a seminar for making Goa the Education Hub of the West Coast was held in Panjim. Two of the speakers had come in from outside and all puffed up with the great deeds they were planning for the state and “improving” the lot of its people.

Their plan is to turn the entire state into an educational hub, with clusters of educational institutions in every taluka. Why? Because the culture and climate and type of people in Goa are perfectly suited for providing the right ambience for the setting up of educational institutions. Because Indians spend $10 billion on foreign education and if those institutions were set up in Goa, all that money will stay in the country. Really? Would those educational institutions be doing this all for charity?

Another speaker described how he used to come to Goa for a holiday every year. He now comes here on business every month. This brilliant analogy he says is proof of how far Goa has progressed. The education hub would help Goa and Goans immensely he said, because the “parents of the students would come to visit them and your travel and tourism industry would get a boost”.

Everyone wants to do everything “for Goa and Goans”. Even the Sanatan Saunstha. Their aim is to make the people of Goa aware of the “special responsibility” they shoulder. They want to re-establish the divine kingdom. This they will do through kshatradharma which “spiritual” practice will protect seekers and destroy evil doers. By this logic they should recognize their own seekers Malgunda Patil and Yogesh Naik as evil doers, because the bomb they were carrying exploded inside their scooter, comprehensively destroying them. This surely must be Divine Retribution.

By the same logic the 40 young people in the truck carrying the Narkasuras were protected by the alertness of the truck driver who found a bomb planted in the cab of his truck and threw it away. He saved the lives of all 40.

Take anyone, liquor barons, casino operators, beer manufacturers, five star hotels, motorsports, construction companies, mining companies. Each and everyone of them holds a press conference telling Goans that they have come here, because they want to “do something” for Goa. They want to “put Goa on the map”, like as if all these centuries, Goa has been hiding like some insect under the map.

And we get carried away and believe them. We sell them our land, our children, our birthright to this one small place we can call our own. They put down roots, bring in armies of labour from all over and push us into a corner.

So I was wondering. What would happen if they actually told the truth. If they said straight out: Friends, locals, yokels, lend me your ears. I come to make money, not to give it. If I own huge tracts of your land and you have nowhere to live, tough cheese, you and your elected reps allowed me to own it. Yeah, verily I say unto you, I will fill this land with concrete buildings and cover the earth with paved pathways and flowerpots. No problem if you have no sewerage to speak of. We will buy bottled water. You can have the sewage cocktail we will liberally contribute ingredients to. I will give you jobs, yes to tend my homes and gardens, anything further up the professional ladder will go to my country cousins from back home. You locals can tend to their homes and gardens too. That’s the kind of job opportunities I have in mind for you. Yes 80 percent of those jobs will go to you locals. And when I am tired of Goa, when it is nowhere near the Paradise it is touted to be, I will sell off everything and move somewhere else. And when you struggle with the new owners, you will remember how I was the better option.

Would it make any difference?