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.