Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 – A fine vintage for black comedy

As comedy goes you couldn’t have asked for more in the year that has just gone by like the wind. The beginning of 2009 saw Goa decked out like a fortress with sandbagged bunkers that would have made 26/11 terrorist Kasab giggle like a schoolgirl. Last year like Cinderella you had to stop dancing to loud music at midnight else you would turn into a jailbird.

The battle raged on between those trying to save Goa from being parceled out to builders and those determined to parcel Goa out to builders. People like Vishwajeet Rane and Anil Salgaocar came out openly against protecting forests as against cutting them down for “development” of Sattari in Rane’s case and mining in Salgaoncar’s case.

The SEZ decision was rolled back and instead of taking compensation from the SEZ developers who sank illegal borewells and cut into hill slopes, the Government of Goa bent over backwards to instead pay the developers for losses incurred. This despite many complaints of fraud with documentary evidence filed at various police stations.

The Supreme Court directed Cidade de Goa hotel to remove all structures on the Vaiguinim beach and to open it to the public, but the government of Goa rushed in to save the hotel which has offered them food and shelter when they were in the throes of toppling the previous Parrikar government. The government came out with the Land Acquisition Ordinance which saved Cidade and even the Oppostion Leader Manohar Parrikar said the Ordinance was “a small matter” compared with the land scams and the casinos. Fomento must be everyone’s “preferred trading partner”.

We learned yet again that we Goans are patsies. The petrol pumps warned of a shortage of fuel when they heard that the Centre was going to reduce the price of petrol by Rs 5 per litre and of course we all rushed to fill our tanks and then felt like fools when the price went down two days later. But our aam aadmi government raised the taxes, so while the Centre lowered the rate by Rs 5, the state government made sure the rate was lowered in Goa by Re 1. Yay, our loss was minimal. We just paid one rupee extra. Who’re the fools now, huh? Huh?

’09 was not a very good year for Mickky Pacheco with all his domestic crises with his wife Sara and his spat at a casino. His Enemy No. 1 Churchill Alemao got involved too and even called Mickky a “multigamist”. But Mickky soldiered on and ended the year celebrating his birthday proclaiming undying love for Churchill and donating two mobile refrigerated coffins to the people of Goa.

Margao Municipal Council tried to discipline its office staff into working in the office by introducing the biometric finger scan, but the staff showed their boss who was boss and said bas, no biometric-shiometric scan. They went to the CM who is an MMC house tax payer and said we don’t want it and he said awrightee then. No biometric-shiometric.

There’s the whole casino comedy being played out in the courts on the streets and now even in the football fields with casinos holding tournaments. Nothing has changed. They are still unseaworthy and still clogging the Mandovi River.

Panaji got a new lady mayor who does even less work than the previous male one. The capital city’s garden looked like it could not get more ugly and the new mayor went and did just that. Now the garden has been reduced to a pile of mud and looks like it could be used as a landfill. This while a rash of retaining walls continued all over the city and Miramar and Caranzalem got all gussied up. The garden being the main garden of the capital city has the potential to milk the taxpayer till the cows come home. The longer you wait, the higher will be the asking price and the higher will be the commission.

Petrol was found seeping into two wells in Bogmalo and the Goa state pollution control board was “baffled”. Illegal mining has contaminated the water at Selaulim reservoir. Their reject flows into feeder tributaries to the reservoir, increasing the silt and showing a dangerous increase in iron of 70 parts to a million parts of water. The water will become officially “toxic” when it reaches 100 parts to a million parts of water. South Goa can start a new breed of Iron Men.

Goa University stole the spotlight with the marks scandal, the sexual harassment saga, engineering students fasting unto death demanding ATKT for a fourth attempt to pass a semester and a B-grading from the NAAC. This was the cruelest cut of all since three Goan colleges got A ratings.

The police force may have disappointed us with their investigative abilities, but they did not let us down in comedy. The incidents came tumbling out almost on a daily basis from August ’09 with a cop flinging a bundle of money into a bush and fleeing in one direction while the Interceptor he was originally in fled elsewhere away from the Anti Corruption Bureau. Then the casino chase and it just got funnier after that with gaffe after gaffe, until recently a lady cop mistakenly swallowed poison and ended up in hospital getting her stomach pumped.

There was so much black comedy, this space is not enough. The serial Dupatta Murderer, The rape of The Russian and the comments made by our elected representatives have become the stuff of legends. Ravi Naik, Home Minister urged women not to wear dupattas. Digambar Kamat, Chief Minister said tourist should know how to behave and Shantaram Naik, Rajya Sabha MP said by their behaviour these girls invited trouble and that if the girl has been going around with the rapist for several days, then the cops should look at it differently. Wish we could go back to a couple of months earlier Sardinha spoke of building a bull-fighting stadium in South Goa. Or when Parrikar called L K Advani a rancid pickle.

And finally a tribal protest that caused a four-hour gridlock on both sides of the Mandovi bridge last week and protestors dancing happily in the residual spray since the cops could not control the hose.

2009. Ah. It was a fine vintage year for black comedy. Why? Because nothing can ever top the No 1 awards the state has received.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Instant Gratification

The thing about striking up a conversation with a total stranger, regardless of what Goa’s Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Shantaram Naik thinks, is that you are bound to hear something interesting. So far, no conversations I have launched into have ended in rape, as Naik claims they can, and one devoutly hopes they never will. I have conversed with all sorts of characters, upright citizens, down-at-heel bravehearts, felons, at least three murderers, one of whom was a mighty moustached dacoit from Chambal who claimed to have killed thousands, a pickpocket, happy people, miserable people, rich and poor. Without exception all conversations after a tentative beginning were full of self-righteousness where both parties (me included) project themselves as Perfection personified. Everyone has a view, an opinion, but few have solutions (me included).

A recent fascinating conversation happened while killing time before a seminar at the Black Box in Kala Academy. A not-so-young woman had come for a walk to Kala Academy and was resting from her labours on one of those comfortable steel benches facing the Mandovi River. I was sipping a coffee on the same bench while she was catching her breath.

“Is that instant coffee?” she asked me. I like looking at the river in silence so I was abrupt, “Don’t know,” I said, “got it from the canteen.”

“It is the root of all evil,” she said.

This got my attention. “Coffee? Seriously?” I said, nearly spilling it on myself. “Instant,” she said. “It started with Instant and now the whole world is going to hell.” I looked at her thinking oh goody, a mental case.

“Think about it,” she said. “Everyone wants everything now, abhi, isi waqt. We say we don’t have time to brew proper coffee, so we have instant coffee. We don’t want to waste time cooking, so we have instant noodles and packaged food that we heat and eat. We have forgotten how to walk, we want to drive everywhere. We want everything right now. That’s why there is so much crime, corruption, rape, obesity. No one wants to slow down and smell the roses. Look at those barges anchored in the river.”

I looked at the barges anchored in the river, there were five of them. I looked at her flummoxed, I tell you. “What’s instant about the barges and all those other things you mentioned?” I asked.

“I have been coming to Kala Academy and this place for the last 39 years,” she said, “and barges would sail down the river with a pile of iron ore in them once in a while. Now you get one passing every five minutes. See these have to wait in a queue. Most of this is through illegal mining and this is because people want to make quick money. Instant money! If there is so much iron ore in these barges, imagine how many hills are being destroyed just because a handful of people want to make quick money.”

“Not only that, they are also silting up the river,” I said self-righteously.
“It’s everywhere, no one wants to stop and think about what they are doing. It’s all a mad rush for making more and more money. Just observe the people around you. They will sell anything, even their own mothers. You can tell the “instant” types. They will look like motorcycle pilots, they will be borderline fat or outright obese, they will have thick gold chains, fat rings on practically all their fingers and huge wrist watches on their hands. They will drive powerful cars and have beautiful wives. You will know immediately that they are either in real estate or mining.”

“They could also be fat and rich with inherited wealth and inherited ugliness from their parents,” I said.

“This is the age of Instant Gratification,” she said. She stood up swung her arms, stamped her feet and said, “It is the root. Of all. Evil. Mark my words.” She stomped off and I went to look at the boat show.

A large shiny low-slung monster of a car sighed to a halt. A heavy motorcycle-pilot-type man lumbered out, consulted his Blackberry clutched in his fat be-ringed fingers. He adjusted his gold chain, checked his huge wristwatch, ordered his driver to park the car close by and sauntered into the boat show. I followed close behind; so close that I stepped on his sandal. I apologized and asked him if he was selling boats. “No, I’m here to buy one,” he said importantly. “Oooh,” I said, “Are you into yachting? Are you a sailor” “Nah,” he laughed, “I’m into real estate; I’m a developer. My son wants me to buy a boat, so I’m here to select one.” He laughed again shaking his head, “When my son wants something, he has to get it.” I laughed too. I also shook my head.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wanted: One electric crematorium

Today I can say I am annoyed, which is, I can tell you, a rare phenomenon. It takes a lot to annoy me. They say the life of an average person is three score and ten years meaning 70 and though I have not quite reached three score, at 55 I am chugging well past the half-way mark.

When one is pragmatic one has to plan. And I had planned for the disposal of my earthly remains through cremation and the sprinkling of my ashes in the River Mandovi. Read that as my last desperate attempt to travel far and wide, without fear of crashes, terrorists or bankruptcy.

The only tripwire in this whole plan is that there is no electric crematorium in Panjim, or Goa for that matter. Given the problems with finding burial space, for the end result of road accidents, suicides, murders, gang wars and acts of God, surely the time has come for a proper crematorium in Goa. In the good ol’ days people hardly ever died; they just lived on and on until they died I suspect of boredom. In the here and now, it is different. You step out of your house and you never know whether you will step back in or be carried in on strong men’s shoulders.

It could be anything – bad driving, bad construction, bad people, bad diseases, bad doctors. The thing is, a crematorium in today’s Goa would do brisk business. Yet what does the GMC do? Decides more doctors are needed. As if we don’t have more than enough of our fair share of quacks. Those who are more interested in the size of your income, than that of your infection?

No. The GMC decided Goa needs more doctors, so they asked permission of the Centre to expand their number of students from 100 to 150. The 50 extra would be local Goans. The Centre said fine, we’ll send team in December to check if you have the required infrastructure for 150 medical students. One hears GMC immediately panicked and said, hey, hey, no need to send a team this December, send it in December 2010. We’ll set everything up and open admissions for 50 more locals in 2011.

That is all well and good. But I learned that at the same time GMC was involved in new correspondence.

The morgue which holds 60 bodies is just not enough for the large numbers of people snuffing out on and off the roads of Goa. One hears they are going to spend Rs 12 crore and build a state-of-the-art mortuary which will hold 90 bodies.

So why am I annoyed? Am I annoyed because GMC is swinging into action to accommodate dead bodies but puts on hold a chance to save some deaths and train 50 new live doctors? Am I annoyed because they cannot build infrastructure for the living but can fritter away so much for the dead? Am I annoyed because in terms of cost-benefit, it makes more business sense to focus on the dead, because of the unending supply and quick turnover, rather than spend tax payers’ money on medical students who will then proceed to fleece their patients and not issue bills for payments received?

No I am annoyed because it would make more sense to set up an electric crematorium near the morgue. Body comes in, body waits until forensics and cops are through with it and family collects. If no family comes forward, the crematorium is right there. Would it not be far simpler to just dispose of the bodies in an electric crematorium? Of course, one that I too could use in the fullness of time?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marriage and ceremony

A wedding should be a time of joy. But when you see the drawn faces of the betrothed couple and families you know it is anything but joy in the run-up to D-Day. Before you know it, you are totting up the numbers and you find that you are already paying out a couple of lakhs on things like hire of the venue, fresh flowers, decorative lighting, pretty cloth covers on the chairs with big bows, which match with the pretty centerpieces which cost a bomb and are placed on each table. Another lakh flies like the wind into decorating the church or mandap, and the clothes for family members and friends who will be holding positions of honour during the nuptials.

Yet another lakh goes flying out to a very expensive band that will provide you with live music. Then you have to get a Master of Ceremonies, wine, cake, a sumptuous dinner for 300 guests. You never know how many people you know until you draw up a guest list for a family wedding. There are the cards that have to be selected and printed. Then they have to be delivered. I would have presumed that the cards would have to be posted, but no, according to my friend Omlet one cannot post cards. They have to be delivered personally or you will upset family and friends. And you don’t want to upset anyone because then they’ll consciously or unconsciously put a hex on your wedding.

By now you have lost track of the lakhs that are flying into limbo. There’s money to be paid for the bridal couple’s wedding finery. Wines to be selected, cocktails, mocktails, the wedding cake, decorations; nothing costs less than Rs 20,000 and the number keeps increasing. At no point does it strike you that all this money is being spent on just one day. To you this is the One Day of your life when you must spend all this money. Everything, but everything has to be just right.

You have attended other weddings and have taken notes. You like certain things that they had, so you set about getting those for your own wedding. You have already taken a loan to fit in the honeymoon. You find you are running low on funds, so you ask around and take small loans from family and friends. You take an advance on your salary because this is the Most Important Day of Your Life. No expense is to be spared for the ceremony and its reception thereafter. You want a wedding to be proud of; an event that is dressed to impress.

But it seems such a colossal waste of money and effort. Your guests will ooh and aah, but once they return from another wedding yours would have faded completely from their memory. Also no matter what you do, someone somewhere will have something to complain about.

One wishes one were back in the 70s when to flaunt wealth was vulgar. To have a regular wedding with the usual components was ho-hum. 30 years ago, we chose to go completely anti-establishment. The wedding nuptials were in the morning with mandatory white gown and dark suit in church, followed by a wedding lunch for relatives. The main event – the reception - was a party for friends held in the house. Good thing it was a huge house. The dress code was jeans, kurta and sandals for bride, groom and everyone else. The food was biryani, sorportel and ice cream. There was recorded music, good wine and wild dancing which can only be done with 70’s music. A wonderful time was had by all. That was a wedding that the guests spoke about for a long, long time, decades in fact. Even now they talk of the wonderful time they had. And the cost was a fraction of the cost of a ho-hum regular wedding.

With us, the wedding was not really important, what made us extremely nervous was the marriage that was to follow after the wedding. We were convinced we’d make a mess of it and of course we did. But we blundered through somehow and 30 years later we are still blundering through. But one thing is certain. As wedding receptions go, I have yet to enjoy another one as much as I enjoyed my own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Turn the village/ward into a joint family

There’s been an idea lurking around in my mind like a half-remembered melody that just won’t go away. And Tomazinho Cardozo’s article (ELDERS AS ‘ROLE MODELS’ Sunday Times 15/11/09) about today’s youth recklessly discarding the elderly, brought it into sharp focus.

This is the idea. Joint families may have disappeared, but wards and villages can continue the functions of the joint family even while the nuclear family thrives.

Look at the kind of elected representatives, Goan society is throwing up. They are a part of us. If they are corrupt, it is because we as a society are corrupt. Clearly the time has come when we have to not merely introspect but also stem the rot that has permeated every class of people in the state.

We have turned into an instant gratification society and this has ruined us. From the slow measured pace of an agricultural economy which left enough time and energy to create a rich Konkani culture in terms of language, literature and the arts, we have become a fragmented aimless people with no purpose, no plan and no larger picture.

We have to sort ourselves out.

I am not suggesting that we turn back the hand of Time, but that we can build on the slow measured pace of our culture and adapt it to the needs of today. To this end the joint family has to come back, re-invented, to expand and include the entire ward or village. The community – that is all residents of the ward or village, of all ages gather together and pool their mental and professional resources to support and strengthen each other.

This has special reference to our youth who are in dire need of help. This community becomes the mother of gram sabhas with every man, woman and child of the village pulling their weight equally. Everyone regardless of age, has a lot to learn and a lot to teach.

It is not just the elderly who have the wisdom and wealth of experience who can contribute. The youth, middleaged professionals, labourers, children, even toddlers with their wide-eyed innocence and willingness to learn, have something to offer to the community. It takes just five steps, but all hinges on the success of Step One.

Step One: Coming out of your houses into the open spaces of your village or ward, gathering around, getting acquainted with each other, regardless of age, gender, class, caste and creed. If enmity between two neighbours hampers progress, give the warring parties their space, but fill that space with neutral neighbours who can implement ideas and, who knows, even remove the enmity in the fullness of time.

Step Two: Discuss the strengths and needs of various members of the community. This includes both original inhabitants and settlers. For instance, if there are first generation learners; students who need extra teaching; those who can teach them must come forward to guide, coach and mentor. No money will exchange hands, but rewards will be huge when the youth in turn can help their mentors with indoor or outdoor chores. Cheerful interaction alone will work wonders with both youth and elderly. You will find seeds of respect and pride sown for both age groups. More importantly, respect will grow for the land and traditions of the village.

Step Three:If the village can be developed in terms of maybe setting up small businesses, so that entrepreneurship is encouraged. The community can decide the who, what, where and when. For this a plan has to be made. A Community Plan that factors in the existing facilities in the area. Community farming that had made Goa one of the strongest societies on the west coast must be revived once again. The elderly play a vital part here in guiding the new generation to protect fields and waterways, to solve modern problems with ancient solutions that worked so well and are still relevant today.

Step Four: Rope in the representatives, panchayat, assembly and Parliamentary to clearly explain and outline various schemes and plans that can be utilized by the community for the betterment of the village and its people.

Step Five: Focus on reviving the culture and better traditions of the village in terms of sports, feasts, fairs, drama, music and literature.

This is not some Utopian flight of fancy. Something similar has been used in a village in Maharashtra called Hivre Bazar (please Google it), where a village looking at starvation, alcoholism and complete degradation, came together under one man who was their sarpanch for 15 years and turned themselves around.

The village now plays host to study teams from the UN, from Japan, China, Africa and even Afghanistan. It was the focus and integrity of the sarpanch who passed his IAS exams, but was prevailed upon by the villagers to chuck the IAS and help them instead of accepting his posting.

They re-built the broken down primary school first, shut down all the country liquor bars except one, they discarded water guzzling crops and planted cash crops that did not need too much watering. Tube wells were dug for domestic use only, while the river water was used for agriculture. A law was passed that no land would be sold to an outsider. The average income of a farmer in the village was Rs 6 lakh, 8 years ago.

We can do it here in Goa. Why? Because it’s in our tradition. We used to have a planned society that was happy and contented. Ours was the sussegado life, not lazy, mind you, but slow, steady and solid. No one went hungry. Ours was a way of life that was the envy of all. No need to point out to you, that it is fast disappearing. No need to tell you too, that we can restore it for ourselves and our descendants.

All it takes is a Community Plan. Not the government, not the panchayat. Just the people. Turn the village people and the ward stakeholders into a joint family.

Why, it will even take care of the law and order problem, because a caring society becomes an alert, protective society. Our police force can go back to doing bandobast duty to make the MLAs look important.

(This article has been printed in The Times of India Goa Edition of 02 December 2009”Ties that bind”)