Sunday, November 21, 2010

Turn the village/ward into a joint family

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 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 gathers together and pools 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, middle-aged 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 sossegado 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.

(Published earlier in Times of India, Goa edition)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monumental cheek!

I think that is why activists are called activists. They cannot afford to relax for a single minute. There’s the whole Regional Plan mess, where the RP21 was supposed to be up and running but is not. In the meanwhile the cutting of hills and filling of fields continues. Activists have to be in ten different places at one time. This is woefully inadequate, because a hundred different places in this state are under attack at any one time.

Activists have to keep their eyes peeled. One eye on the builders, and another eye on the government, and somewhere in their peripheral vision they have to keep tabs on us the people of the state too, who are happily digging holes in the base of the boat we are all sailing in.

The latest danger the state faces is the Amendment to the Monuments Act of 1978. Today it is formally known as the Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (amendment) Act, 2010. The Bill had received the Governor’s assent and it was passed in the last Assembly Session.

It would be interesting to know how, when and why Governor S S Sidhu signed it; whether he had his spectacles on; or if he was in a hurry to go off on one of his many cultural tours of the state where he speaks glowingly about how we should protect our heritage and our unique culture.

The amended Act has cunningly changed one word in the old Act and replaced it with two. The old Act had this main clause that the State would maintain the monuments, and see to their preservation and conservation. The Amendment has changed the word “maintain” and has substituted it with many words including these: “re-construction and re-erection” of the monuments.

And get this the Act comes into retrospective effect from March 1 2007. Any fiddling around with monuments like the Tiracol Fort or the Cabo da Rama will be A-okay with the Government now. Not only can they put bright yellow tiles on the ramparts of the fort, they can also break it down and rebuild it to include a swimming pool, spa and casino.

Another clause authorizes the government to permit “any other agency” to put any protected monument to re-adaptive use. Which means you can turn all of the forts into hotels, build structures on the hallowed sites of ancient temples and turn churches into music halls and entertainment centres. Heritage buildings like the old GMC hospital which is used for the IFFI can be given over to any Thapar or Varma or Sharma to build a mall.

The most interesting clause is the highly unconstitutional one which bars courts from taking cognizance of an offence punishable under this Act. This means if they turn the Chapel with the Growing Cross into a musical entertainment centre, you and I will be laughed out of court if we file a suit.

I could not find the Act on the official Goverment of Goa website, but did manage to get this elsewhere. Here’s the link you can check for yourself: http://www.goaprintingpress.gov.in/downloads/1011/1011-22-SI-EOG-2.pdf .

It’s a page of the Official Gazette dated 1 September 2010. It is ironically headlined “EXTRAORDINARY Number-2” any school going child knows what “number 2” means. Scroll down to the third page The Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Act, 2010. Here’s the excerpt about how we cannot approach the court unless the government allows it.

“32A. Cognizance and trial of offence.—

(1) No prosecution for an offence punishable
under this Act shall be instituted except by
or with the previous sanction of the Government.

(2) No Court shall take cognizance of an
offence punishable under this Act, except
upon a complaint in writing made by an
officer generally or specially authorized in
this behalf by the Government.”

So how will it affect Goa? Who needs dilapidated old forts and churches no one prays at anymore? This is what will happen, said an activist. The fort in your area will be turned into a five-star hotel, your quiet village will quickly morph into a rabbit warren of taxi and rickshaw stands, handicrafts and readymade garment stalls, bars, cafes, cybercafés, sleazy lodges, many houses will be built to house the staff and merchants who set up shop around the area, the poor will erect huts on vacant fields and it will be Calangute repeated in 51 different places in the years to come. That is the worst case scenario.

The best case scenario would be … that the Act is re-amended to the 1978 Act where it is recognized that the monuments are the property of the people of the State, but given to the Archeological Department to look after, maintain, preserve and conserve. And also, that the Governor will get his eyes checked at any of the excellent ophthalmologists we have in the state, so he can read the blatantly unconstitutional amendments he puts his signature to.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Only the corrupt get great responsibility

To watch or not to watch, that is the question. The athletes from around the Commonwealth world have done nothing to deserve a boycott, but with so many star athletes dropping out, die-hard fans may go on a holiday. Yet there’s a lot to be said about the taxpayers and downtrodden of India voicing a protest against such open robbery of public money in the name of the games. Money this country can ill afford, which has been pocketed by corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and international vendors. And it’s not peanuts. The cost of the CWG to the people of India is climbing close to the Rs70000 crore mark almost as much as that other invitation to corruption – National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Rs70000 efficiently utilized would have gone a long way to improving lives of the desperately poor in the country. What was most disturbing was the human excrement on the mattresses in the luxury apartments being readied for the CWG. This is a message being sent out to the haves from the have-nots. This is something the rich and powerful refuse to factor into their headlong rush to cheat and rob the public.

What is the point of creating luxury for the rich when they are surrounded by filth and degradation? It’s happening right here in Goa too, when the filthy rich decided to turn Goa into their private party zone. Life will only get better for the wealthy when life gets better for the poor. This disparity in lifestyles is what led to major social upheavals in different parts of the world at different times in history.

Collapsing over-bridges, filth, bad planning, over spending and an impending inquiry which will go on for decades is just one chapter in the book of corruption of India.

If we don’t watch the CWG as a protest against corruption, then we should also work against a government that has perpetrated one scam after another on this nation. Loans which were waived for desperate farmers went instead to their money lenders, many of who turned out to be members of the ruling party. The mathematics was simple. Banks would not extend credit to marginal farmers. They lent to moneylenders at low interest. Farmers borrowed from moneylenders at exorbitant interest. They committed suicide when they lost their land and still could not repay the loan. Reacting to the suicides the government declared a waiver of loans. The moneylenders and rich farmers benefited from this. They did not pass on the loan waiver to the debtor farmers. Suicide resulted in compensation. So farmers found that suicide turned out to be actually a viable option. It was this macabre situation that created India’s entry to the next Oscars Peepli Live

Where do you start? The Jeep Scandal involving Krishna Menon in 1948? Eight years later he was inducted into the Nehru cabinet without portfolio. Rotting food grains while people starve? And no one is punished? Therein lays the rub. The government goes out of its way to protect the corrupt in its ministries.

The latest instance showing protection of the corrupt has to be the greatest. The brand new Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas is Accused Number 8 in a corruption scam in a palm oil import case. He is out on bail; the case has not been cleared. As Telecom Secretary, Thomas is also under the scanner in the 2-G spectrum scam.

This is the Chief Vigilance Commissioner of the country. Someone who heads a bureau geared to prevent corruption in the nation. The candidate has to be above suspicion. So who selected him?

The selection of the candidate is also supposed to be arrived at through consensus by a committee of three of the (supposedly) most politically powerful people in the land – the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. “Consensus” means all have to agree. The Leader of Opposition BJP’s Sushma Swaraj registered her dissent against Thomas’ selection. She had no issue with the other two candidates. Her dissent was over-ruled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister PC Chidambaram. Proving once again that to be seen to be corrupt is vital for success in government.

Way back in 1939 Mahatma Gandhi distressed by signs of corruption in the Congress even before we got independence made this statement: "I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant." Mahatma Gandhi May 1939.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who’s really running the state?

Was in Mumbai last week and happened to read a startling news item. No it was not the little recording device which automatically started when you unfolded the newspaper and told you all about the wonders of the Volkswagon Vento. That ad was a hoot and got some paranoid Mumbaikars into such a tizzy they thought it was some kind of terrorist plot to blow up many households through the city. No; the startling news item was Peninsula Land the Piramal Group real estate company that has a joint venture holding with Delta Corp. The group has reportedly paid Rs 300 crore for an old mansion in Carmichael Road, Mumbai.

Who is Delta Corp and why should I waffle on about it? Delta Corp is the company that claims to effectively own 3 of the 6 offshore casino licenses offered by the Government of Goa to the highest bidder. They also speak of a casino management agreement operating the on-shore casino at Riviera de Goa that managed to get 5-star status cleared at state and central level.

Recently someone said that the casino operators are running the Goa government. If the Piramal group is running Delta Corp which owns half the casinos in Goa, then clearly, the Piramal group is running Goa. And if they can stroll in and reportedly pay Rs 300 crore cash on the barrel for a house in the most expensive area of Mumbai. They can buy anything and anyone.

Not only that, the Carmichael Road area is a heritage area and erecting high-rise buildings in the area is forbidden. Word has it that Peninsula Land is planning to put up a skyscraper on the property. Just goes to show where the real power is. The same power that can turn a 3 star hotel into a 5-star should not find it too difficult to build a modern skyscraper in a heritage area.

Which brings me to the casino boats clogging the once-beautiful Mandovi River ... They’re playing games at the High Court too. Now they say they are willing to withdraw their petition contesting the State Cabinet’s decision to shift them to the Aguada Bay. If they want to stay in the Mandovi River and place lives of other river users at risk, no one will be able to stop them. With that kind of purchasing power a state cabinet that is weak in Mathematics and ethics poses no problem at all.

Delta Corp owns Casino Royale, King’s Casino and Caravela. Caravela is to be replaced by a larger vessel M V Majesty. Delta plans to replace King’s Casino with a larger vessel too. Until they get a larger vessel to replace King’s Casino, they plan to move it to “the other river in Goa” since it can moor in shallow water and bring in people from South Goa or elsewhere in North Goa to gamble aboard the vessel. I’m not making this up, it’s all on the Delta Corp website: http://www.deltacorp.in/group.html Check it out for yourself.

Only the height of the Mandovi Bridges and the width between the pillars can put a spoke in their roulette wheel. If the bridges are too low for the casino boats to sail under or the width between the pillars too narrow to accommodate the width of the vessels, then the people of Ribandar and the local fishermen will not have to worry, or get their protest placards out.

A Ribandar resident said they have been requesting the government to give the village of Ribandar a football ground, Instead the Chief Minister has given the youth of Ribandar three casinos to gamble on.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joy of Giving Week

This is the Joy of Giving Week and one’s thoughts automatically go to the Canacona flood victims with their smashed houses and lives. There are many who were so moved by the devastation caused by the flood, the cause of which everyone is still unclear about. Purses and chequebooks came out in a rush and aid in the form of money, food, clothing, building materials and physical help, poured into Canacona.

There was no joy there, not in the giving; not in the receiving. It was just something that had to be done. And the shell-shocked recipients of the help took it mutely; still unable to wrap their minds around the suddenness of the deluge and the havoc it left behind. The crazy rushing waters had swelled the river to five times its depth. It swept everything in its path carrying large uprooted trees as if they were the lightest of twigs. One chunky macho local youth shook his head with remembered horror and said, “I never want to hear the sound of that water again, but I keep hearing it in my sleep.”

Indeed people gave generously. The media got the message out clearly and immediately with lots of photo-ops for all the politicians who rushed in struck an attitude and made wild promises to bring everything back to normal. NSS student volunteers did wonderful work and slowly tattered lives were put together.

Those who contributed generously to the Canacona Relief Fund should be doubly joyful, because they did not just contribute to the people of Canacona. They bought donation coupons of Rs 500 each (cash) and all those coupons, no one knows how much or how many, went in a different direction from Canacona. Some say the amount was Rs 12 lakh, some say it was Rs 22 lakh, there was one news syndicate that calculated it at a whopping Rs 85 lakh.

Which bank account it went into was a mystery, the number of the bank account was a mystery. A record of the bank account is a mystery, but the money is safe we are told. It was collected by the Youth Congress and the Youth Congress dutifully gave it to the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee, completely forgetting it was supposed to go to the desperate people of Canacona.

But as the spokesperson is reported to have said, there was so much aid pouring into Canacona, they did not need any more and that the money was not actually meant for Canacona; it was meant for help in any emergency. They stopped trotting out that line when they were shown a copy of the coupon which clearly mentioned the money collected was for the Canacona relief. Not any old emergency relief. It definitely did not say it was meant for Congress relief.

Should we be angry about this turn of events? Should we say: we’ve been robbed? No. Not at all. Our donations are going to be used by the nation’s oldest political party whose name typically begins with Con. And what a con it was, you have to admire the sheer gall of these people. Their damage control is even funnier.

GPCC President Subhash Shirodkar said except for Rs 20,000 for ‘relief work’ not a paise had been spent. He said they will find out how many Canconkars need help during Ganesh, and Diwali and they will distribute the money then, to needy persons. The Youth Congress will be doing the field work of finding out how many people of Canacona need help. And if there is money left over, why it will be used for other things...!

This is a lesson that should humble us and we have to be abjectly grateful to the Youth Congress and GPCC. They have taught us Life Lesson Number 7. When you give, give for the joy of giving, don’t follow up to check where the money is being used, how much is being used and how much is going into the personal accounts of fat cats.

I have taken a valuable lesson from this contretemps too. I have learned that the only way I can experience the Joy of Giving is to give one tight slap to liars and thieves who steal from the hopeless to feed themselves.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ya, ya, it’s the papaya to the rescue

This would go down in my imaginary diary as the week my faith in pharma and doctors died. And if you are thinking this is about Dr. Oscar Rebello, you would be wrong. At the risk of sounding like something out of Harry Potter, it’s about the Papaya Leaf and the Platelet Count. Because there are those of you who say, tcha, who’s going to read this rubbish till the end, in brief it is this:

If you or anyone you know has dengue or chikungunya or any illness which drastically reduces the blood platelet count of the patient, take one papaya leaf. It does not interfere with the medication. Wash it in plain water. Discard the stem and the hard central veins in the leaf. Cut the green leafy portion into small pieces and run it through a mixer or pound it to a paste. If it is too dry add a teaspoon of water, pound to a paste, squeeze the paste through a muslin cloth or a tea strainer. You will get about 2 tablespoons of nasty tasting green liquid. Make the patient drink it. I hear having it first thing is the morning is very effective. But those who have had it in the evening too say it works like a dream. The platelet count jumps within 3 hours. That’s the short version.

Herbal medicine in India has been saving lives for thousands of years. Ayurveda is probably as old as the Indus Valley Civilization dating back to 3000 BC. All four Vedas especially the Rig Veda carry references to diseases and their cures through herbs and roots.

The ancient art of Ayurveda was systematically killed by the colonialists when they took over the country. It was suppressed by the British. The East India Company banned and shut down all Ayurvedic colleges in 1833. When Ayurveda re-emerged for almost 100 years, herbal remedies were dismissed as “the poor man’s medicine” practiced in rural areas where western medicine was too expensive or not available. The irony was the country folk were healthier than the urban class.

The Portuguese in Goa actually did shut down Ayurvedic practitioners. The Vaidyas of Hindu Pharmacy were the only Ayurvedic dispensers allowed to practice after one of them saved the life of a Viceroy’s wife.

Only now more and more patients are realising that allopathy or Western Medicine is not just expensive, but has hidden side effects that cause more problems than the original ailment itself.

When the Chikungunya outbreak happened a couple of years ago, The Times of India Mumbai edition carried an article on the effectiveness of the papaya leaf juice cure to completely eliminate the crippling joint pains that kicked in after the fever ended. My brother read the article and was so desperate to try anything to get back to his active life that he experimented with the papaya cure. It worked the same day. He had another two tablespoons the next day and was 100 percent fit.

Later I learned the papaya leaf juice worked for dengue patients too. The common factor was a drastically reduced platelet count in both diseases. Dengue involved internal haemorrhaging too.

Delhi is currently in the grip of a dengue epidemic. The 8-year old son of a friend was laid low with a continuous fever. His blood test showed his platelet count had dropped. She called me to ask about the papaya cure. She drove 25 km to find a papaya leaf. Those in the city had been used up by many who believed in the cure. She bribed her son to swallow the foul tasting juice. He did. The fever subsided the very same evening and he was up and about full of beans.

That’s the long story. The short story is three cheers for the papaya tree. Its fruit is pure heaven to eat and good for diabetics. A slice of the raw fruit gets rid of acne, pimples and scars. It also tenderizes tough meats. Its leaf is a thing of beauty. Sonia of Soto Haus Candolim, who uses plant products for decoration in her lacquered furniture, used a yellowed papaya leaf for a table-top design and covered it with her special brand of lacquer. And then you have the green leaf. What can I say… It saves lives.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why be apologetic about our Portuguese heritage?

It is not as if we set about to grab great-grand ancestors Afonso de Albuquerque and his merry men by the hand and tell them: oh conquer us we are yours. Our ancestors thought Albuquerque and Co were a bunch of nice white-skinned traders who would help them kick the Sultans out of Goa. Of course they thought wrong. How can you blame them? We Goans are wired to think wrong. We did it then, and landed ourselves into such a mess for the next 450 years. We are doing it now. And unless Nature has patience with us we will make wrong choices forever.

We were forced to convert to an alien religion. If we did not our lands were confiscated. We were an agricultural community then mind you, not a government-servant/NRI community. What greater horror could there be than taking our land away from us? Our families were split up. Elder brothers took the family deity and escaped to Ponda to set up temples under the protection of the Raja of Sonda. They kept the family religion alive there. The remaining part of the family converted to Catholicism. Which is why we have not had communal tension between Hindus and Christians because families share both religions.

Traditions like cremation were turned into major crimes and worship of our gods and goddesses were just not allowed. The Mhamai-Kamats still celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi by using a paper drawing of Lord Ganesh rather than immersing a statue. That’s the way they did it then, in secrecy, defiance and deep devotion. Now it is a beautiful family tradition.

Those of us who converted to save our lands and those who converted in order to be gifted confiscated lands learned Latin prayers and parroted them. The previous rulers had no issue with our bare-breasted women and our kashti-clad men. But the Portuguese ruthlessly enforced their European dress code. Cover up or pay the penalty. One of my earliest memories was the village fest where men strolled around in awesome dignity wearing a coat, a tie, a shirt and a kashti with no trousers. And our ancestors thought that the Sultan was a tough customer.

But then again we are Goans and we came through that 450 year period with grace. We took elements from the Portuguese culture and adapted them to our own. If they wanted churches to be built, they used Hindu artisans who must have chuckled that typical Goan high-pitched breathless chuckle of glee, while they carved Hindu religious symbols into the beautiful facades of the Catholic baroque churches.

At the same time the Portuguese brought in chillies and cashews and added new flavours to our traditional Konkan cuisine. It is this which makes Goan cuisine stand out from the rest. Our music developed calypso rhythms with new instruments like the mandolin, the guitar, the banjo and the piano adding magic to the percussion and wind instruments we already had. Our Konkani language took on a Portuguese lilt and Portuguese words too. Our architecture became a thing of fine art.

It was all good. There must have been bad too, but the good outweighed it as can be seen by the multitudes of delighted visitors who come to this state to marvel at our Goan culture. They think this is a foreign land. Foreigners, especially Portuguese, also think Goa is a foreign land.

This makes us in Goa unique and it is this uniqueness we have to protest and nurture. If our elected representatives cannot have the vision to see that we have to carry the past with us if we have to move forward with any grace, then we, you and I have to make sure they learn this one valuable lesson. It’s like recycling. Nothing should go to waste. Unless it is absolutely useless.

So when bodies like Semana de Cultura Portuguesa decide to celebrate the Portuguese aspect of our Goan culture, on August 27 and 29, my request to our freedom fighters is despite the clowns that govern us today, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us freedom from the colonial yoke. But please do not bring out morchas and go on fasts unto death to kill that aspect of what makes us so unique. Let ours be the final victory. We are free. We sent the Portuguese colonialists packing, but we kept the best for ourselves. That is our victory.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Primer for Political Kindergarten

Politics is now a viable career option. Getting into the line is not easy. It’s tough. It starts with social service, social activism, and lots of media coverage. Media is a must. You get onto every talk show. Wangle an interview. Cultivate mediapersons. You have to be in the constant public eye. Then you stand for the small time elections, the panchayat if you are in a village and municipal council if you are in the city. Working for a politician is also good. You get a ringside view for learning the ropes as well as when the time is right – blackmailing your boss. If you’re smart you can buy your way in.

Once you’re in it gets easier with each year you spend in the kodel. If you have to make it a vocation, you’ll die by the roadside, unsung. If you want to be a career politician you have to make sure you keep your seat or give it to your own immediate family. There is so much opportunity to make so much money especially in a state like Goa. It’s as easy as taking candy from a sleeping baby. Goa has a literate but uneducated electorate. The opportunities to amass wealth are legend. But you have only two hands. You need help. So you rope in your children. You get them to take in commissions in dry weather and hand out saplings in wet weather.

You also have to be pragmatic. Think of the future. No matter how much money you stash away in your secret bank accounts, it will still not be enough when you finally throw in the kodel. You have to train your family members like any other entrepreneur. It therefore stands to reason that there should be a special kindergarten for children and grandchildren of politicians.

Which is why I urge the powers that be, to start at least one political balwadi in each constituency. We already have the Bal Congress which is made up of young teens who can barely tear themselves from their sms-ing to address the problems their children will face when they grow up. I am working on the syllabus. I have started with the Alphabet for Baby Politicos.

The Alphabet Primer for Political Kindergarten

A is for the Activist – damn the lot to hell
B is for Black money – and not a soul you’ll tell
C is for commissions – to build your fortunes fast
D is for Development – infrastructure that will not last

E is for Education – for ensuring a dumb electorate
F is for Finance – it’s fun, it’s free and appropriate
for G which stands for Goa ¬– this gravy train of ours
H is only Heaven – since you’re reaching for the stars

I is for Idiots or Indians which means the same thing
J is for Judiciary that thinks – it still is king.
K is for the Kangaroo courts we always set in place
For L which is the Law that we manage to erase

M is for the Money we are duty bound to make
N is for the numbers that come to share the cake
O is for the Opportunists that we are proud to be
P is for the Party, to join or leave – we’re free

Q is for Quality – the BADDEST word there is,
R is for Respect … oh, just give that a miss.
S is for Suspicion, a constant state you’ll be in
‘cause T is for those Traitors who’ll throw you in the bin

U is for Useless, a quality you’ll need
V is for the victory your cash will win for greed
W is for Wealth which is why you’re in this line
X marks the spot we’ll occupy in time

Y is the Yellow of your gold in large amounts
Z is for the zillions in your secret bank accounts.
So children learn your alphabet you really shouldn’t shirk
It so your great-grandchildren will never have to work.
© Bevinda Collaco 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting away from it all

I was standing on the bank of a knee-deep stream, thinking no need to put my cellphone into a plastic packet in my knapsack, it’s not at all deep and how pretty the rushing water looks, all white and emerald green.

But the group I was trekking with had divided into two, one was looking tragic on the other side of the stream and we learned that two of its members had been swept by the current and the boy’s arm had popped right out of its shoulder when he saved the other. And I thought for the 175th time, why on earth did I agree to come on this trek.

Everyone was looking timorously at the rushing water and I am willing to swear it sounded like it was hissing and laughing at us. Instructions were shouted and a thin rope was flung across the water. We were told to keep on one side of the rope, hold hands and walk sideways.

Now when you are crossing a stream and someone is bawling out to you to walk sideways it gets confusing. Do you walk sideways along the length of the stream? Or do you walk sideways across its breadth.

I thought how difficult can it be, it’s a knee deep stream with pretty white water. Considering that I am 56, 5ft 6 inches and weigh a good 77kg I laughed the light laugh and stepped out first, holding the hand of a girl half my age and size behind me and the hand of an experienced strong male trekker who taught me how to climb sideways down an almost vertical slope, half an hour earlier.

Did I say I laughed the light laugh? In a few traumatized minutes, I was laughing on the other side of my face, terrified out of my wits, because that miserable stream had its own ideas of Sunday morning entertainment.

It would not allow me to place one foot down, kept waving it away and any fool knows, you cannot proceed anywhere on one leg. Everyone was screaming instructions and I announced I could not move. They screamed some more and logic dictated I had better shift somehow towards the other side of the stupid stream.

Big mistake. I realized too late that I should have waited there until the stream eased up sometime after the monsoons. This was August...like maybe December?


It swept me off my feet, the strong man grabbed me, but you know ... 77 kgs and a stream with murder in its heart. I took him with me and we were both tossed around like twigs in the white water.

With the immersion in the cold water, the terror disappeared immediately and I felt this deep curiosity about two things, where would it end and why for the 176th time did I agree to come on a trek because 56-year-olds put others at risk. But the stream got its laugh of the day and tossed us both near the other bank.

That trek to Dudhsagar was with a group called Off Trail Adventures run by the diminutive Bianca Dias. I will never forget that trek not because of that stream with a demonic sense of humour, but because it opened a whole new world. Pure, simple, beautiful, where the only sounds were the call of the birds, the laughter of the streams and the majestic roar and crash of the mighty Dudhsagar waterfall. Experiencing all this in the company of people half my age who showed grit and maturity beyond their years.

The boy with the dislocated shoulder was in agony, you could see it in the dullness of his eyes, which were sparkling with fun an hour before. He, like a few others, had lost his shoes in the monster stream and had to hobble with his dislocated arm held sideways over a buddy’s shoulders. I gave him my spare set of ladies sandals which he accepted gratefully, and he walked up steep slopes helped by everyone, crossed one more stream, not as vicious as the one that caused the dislocation, and then had to be hoisted up a vertical shoulder of land. And not a word of complaint from him.

We climbed up in the intermittent rain, up more slippery slopes and finally onto the railway tracks so that we could come up close and personal with a sight that shakes you to your core, the mighty Dudhsagar in full spate. There are few sights more beautiful or awe-inspiring.

After that a frantic hobble with cramping muscles over the tracks to a goods train; clambering on to the engine, trying not to think how the hero with the dislocated arm managed. The slow train ride from leafy pathways, cool streams in a thick forest with butterflies and birds, to a motorized world with dirty puddles of rain water and a concrete jungle. Two completely different worlds, straddled by us, humans, the common denominator.

Monday, August 2, 2010

This is what I want Mr Developer

Developers complain that it has become standard practice for activists to protest against every project that is introduced. Even at one of those talks shows on one of Goa’s news channels, an environmental activist was at a loss for words when a developer asked him what he and his movement actually wanted. They keep saying what they don’t want, the developer complained to the anchor, but they never say what they do want. And taking a cue from that, the anchor asked the activist what it was that he and his people wanted. I waited with bated breath, but nothing clear-cut came through in a jumble of half sentences.

And I thought if I was asked the question I would say that I would like the Goa of the seventies back again. When the roads were clean, the gardens beautiful with bougainvilla and abolim and the houses large … Where we had a clean beaches and quiet fishing villages to the West and lush green hills to the east ... Where everyone had enough and was satisfied with what they had ... Where a woman could wear all her jewellery to the village feast with no fear of it being snatched from her ... Where doors and windows of houses were kept wide open during the day and on hot summer nights too…

But that is not possible so here’s my second choice.

I want a plan. Houses should be built in settlement land and not anywhere else. Goans were self sufficient when it came to food. We had fish, we grew paddy, fruit and vegetables. We had coconuts and cashews which gave us some of the tastiest cuisine in the world and the most potent brews ever. It was scary that when India needed to import sugar, there was a shortage abroad too.

We need to rejuvenate the communidades and plant the fields and tend to the orchards again and throw the Land to the Tiller Act into the dustbin of history. We can have clusters of industrial estates in each taluka on barren land and give them piped water. The main cities can have business districts where corporates set up offices to provide jobs for our urban people.

In order to get good jobs we have to have well qualified and skilled people, so our educational institutions have to be given a major revamp. From nursery levels, teach children to be unafraid of the unknown and give them the tools to learn. Change our syllabus to include subject matter that is relevant today and for the future. Select only the best people for the teaching profession, because they play a crucial part in forming the ethics of the people who will run this state in the next decade.

Government jobs should be reserved only for 50-year-olds who can work till they are 60. The burden will be less on the taxpayer and we’ll have more money for sensible infrastructure.

I want youngsters to avoid government jobs; I want them to start small businesses, which can grow into big ones. I want our engineering, medical and other professional colleges to actively encourage research and enterprise. If we have a River Princess sitting on a sandbank, we should have alert young minds finding solutions to remove her before she does any damage. We should have such seats of learning that the products and services we offer should be the best in the world.

I want an end to corruption. I want every corrupt person to stop cold turkey and do the right thing. I want people to get jobs based on merit, not on how much they can pay or how much influence they have. For that I want a group of 40 wise men and women who take on the business of governance as a challenge and clean out the rot from within. I don’t mind a few gated communities, but I want a proper sewerage system all over settlement areas.

I want the rivers to be desilted regularly so that our rivers live long and healthy. For that to happen I want the mining to be controlled and the forests to be allowed to make large amounts of oxygen for us.

I want the outsiders who have already come to settle here to respect the land and the people. I do not want more outsiders, because we have to think of space for our own children. We have enough migrant labour and if we need more let our engineering students build machines to do those jobs.

I want the police to serve, protect and enforce the law. I want a happy healthy society which is unafraid and ready for a good laugh anytime. And one thing I would not change is our food, music, drama and wit. That has come through undisturbed through the centuries. If our music and arts can do it why can’t the rest of the essence of Goa? Like the ad says: let’s just do it!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Goa is proof that all things don’t end

The T20 League ran and ended. Who remembers who won? The Cricket World Cup always cracks me up because the world, for cricket, is a handful of ex-British colonies minus the US. Well that ran across our TV screens for a while. Then the FIFA World cup took over and ended with Wimbledon running in tandem. We watched Rafael Nadal of Spain take the Wimbledon cup and the Spaniards waltz off with the FIFA World Cup. There seemed to be nothing to watch on TV until of all things – the Goa Monsoon Session Assembly.

It was so much like the FIFA World Cup, two teams locked in a lung-to-lung battle; sometimes the ruling team members got caught up in the precision of the Opposition’s game plan and scored several self goals. They turned against their own Captain when it came to transferring the drugs-cops-politicians nexus to the CBI. Worse, one of their best strikers Dayanand Narvekar grabbed the ball and kept hammering it into the ruling dispensation’s goal, with the Opposition even acknowledging that it took guts on his part.

The ruling team even had two main players missing. One red-carded by the judicial system and the Crime Branch and the other nursing probably a lily-liver in a Mumbai hospital. The ref Pratapsing Rane, mixed it up with the NBA and called a time-out twice.

Goans watching the games had food for thought when MLA Francis D’Souza stated that the government was driving a wedge between North and South Goa. Salcete constituencies he said were getting the entire pie with nothing left over for the rest of the state, just a few crumbs here and there.

MLA after MLA said the same thing that only Salcete is not Goa and Goa is not only Salcete. They said that the wealth of the state has to be equally divided among all constituencies. You cannot spend Rs 15 crore on one constituency in the south and not even Rs 2 crore on another in the north. D’Souza even said that with the exception of Water Resources and Forests Minister Felipe Neri Rodrigues, all other Ministers poured money only into their constituencies. And there was precious little to show for all that money spent. D’Souza said they were breaking the solemn oath they took when they were sworn in as Ministers that they would work for the good of Goa.

And as I would react to a foolish move in the game, I sniggered at Francis D’Souza. If I had a vuvuzela I would have blown it. Did the Ministers even know what they were reading when they took their oath? Do they even know what a solemn oath is? If they are non-matriculates, maybe not even Stds 5, 6 or 7 pass, how the hell are they expected to know what a solemn oath is? Yes I know ‘Hell’ is an oath…

They have stood for elections, bought, bullied and blarneyed their way into office because it’s true. They wanted to work for the people. Of course they wanted to work for people. Their people. Their families and in-laws and maybe a few good friends, never mind if those took the Ratol way out. But they know with just a Std 5 to their name there doesn’t seem to be much of a future for them. They could maybe, be a tailor’s assistant, or a motorcycle pilot, worthy jobs in their own way, but hardly making the big bucks they get with dipping their hands in the taxpayer’s pocket. They have the power to change existing laws; they have the power to make new laws. They have the Midas touch where everything turns into Swiss bank accounts. Why would they even bother about an oath?

But we watch the game being played and realize that indeed this is a very, very strange game. The Opposition wins every round hands down, but when they come out of the House, Goa declares them the losers. Because we the people cheer the ruling party on and turn our pockets inside out saying rob us, destroy us. That’s why we elected you and will always elect you. You are doing a very FINE job!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wrong choices can be fun

Yes, of course Nadia Torrado made a whole lot of wrong choices and they ended up tragically for her and all those who loved her. So did the distraught lady who jumped out of a window of GMC when her doctors bluntly told her she was HIV+. Both Nadia and the HIV+ patient could have been alive and relatively happy today if they had some good commonsense counseling.

Counseling allows you to make the best of a bad choice. But here I wish to place before you, and I’m walking on eggs here mind you, that wrong choices need not be the bottomless pit of doom everyone is so afraid of. Wrong choices can be fun while they last, and when the fun goes, shrug it off, try and fix things, if they cannot be fixed shrug again and move on. No point in beating yourself up over it. No need to reach for the Ratol. Memory is short, even for those who have been hurt by your wrong choices. More than modern medicine, we can rely on Time to heal all things. And Time is the ultimate arbiter. Once your time runs out, like the Metallica song with the beautiful guitar riffs says: Nothing else matters…

Wrong choices lend colour to your life. They build memories, and once you cross 50, you realize memories are like a protective armour of laughter around you. So it didn’t work out. So what! That practical joke you played on a good friend and got them so mad at you. Falling in love with an unsuitable boy or girl, or man or woman... Taking a job and realizing you were totally unfit for it. Eating like there was no tomorrow, drinking like there was no tomorrow, partying like there was no tomorrow and then clutching your chest and gasping for breath in the emergency room as your life flashes before your eyes.

Bad choices… but they were so much fun when you made them. They seemed so right at the time and you have all those fabulous memories. Not reading an invitation properly, dressing your child up in fancy dress and then finding out he is the only one in costume. He would never forgive you as long as he lived. But he did, right? And you could both laugh over it years later.

Speaking from personal experience, I have made wrong choices all my life. Studying the problem for all of five minutes, I figured out the reason why. I invariably come to wrong conclusions about a given situation or relationship. I form wrong premises and based on wrong premises I make the wrong choices. But my general experience has been that they worked out just fine. Not perfect mind you, but just fine. And that’s excellent in my book.

You make wrong choices all your life. Sometimes, they turn out all right and you say things like, by the Grace of God, or what luck, or you dust your hands and say, well, we came through that mess all right. The trick is to go with the flow and when you come to the rocks, try to minimize the damage, sit on the rock and dry yourself.

So what happens when the wrong choices turn into a nightmare of unbelievable proportions? Then too you have a battery of choices, all you have to do is not panic. Calm yourself, study the situation, weigh the options and then make your choice. There is no problem which does not have a solution. So we make another wrong choice, which will also have solutions. Life is this big fat puzzle that we have to work through. We have a choice. We can choose to enjoy it, or we can choose misery. We can choose life or we can choose death. Me? Give me life any day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

From Migrant to Man of Means

He used to come to the corner store to buy tea-leaves and sugar every day. Tired, weary, but dogged in his desperation to get the job done. He used to carry a large metal container with a tap, which he used to sell tea to the hundreds of office staff in the hundreds of offices at Patto Plaza. There were a number of tea sellers like him, but he caught our eye since he used to stop by our local grocer every evening to stock up on tea and sugar and a few meagre odds and ends he needed for himself. I think the grocer said he came from Rajasthan.

A while later, a woman began to accompany him. Definitely Rajasthani style brightly coloured saris with her pullo covering her head and shading her eyes and nose completely. She used to sit on the Patto side of the walkover bridge. She used to crochet little caps for babies and had befriended the Kannadiga woman who had spread out inexpensive wares like brushes, combs and mobile phone covers etc on a tarpaulin for office goers to pick up in their headlong rush to the bus stand or to work somewhere deep inside Panjim city. The Rajasthani woman crocheted the baby hats and the Kannadiga sold them for a commission. A small side business while her husband sold tea to sleepy office workers.

The husband of course kept office hours and returned after 5.30. He would come to the small crocheting enterprise, give his empty metal tea container to his wife to carry and together they would walk over the little pink bridge to the grocer and buy tea, sugar, grain and some vegetables.

Still later we saw them with a whole bunch of Rajasthani women, all chattering loudly and marveling at this new planet called Goa. They sat down with the crocheting wife at her place of work, a small parapet next to the Kannadiga woman selling small stuff. All their heads were covered with their pullos, but our crocheting small scale entrepreneur had her face completely open to the elements and the incurious onlookers. That was what Goa did to her. She found she needn’t hide her face here.

Recently we saw a young man accompanying the Rajasthani couple. He was an import from their home town. Now he held the tea container in his hand and he carried on the tea business.

The Rajasthani man, the original tea seller had now bought a second-hand motorbike and we saw him riding into the city. Apparently he had a proper job as a security man at an office in Panjim. His wife no longer sits on the parapet crocheting her baby caps. It looks like she doesn’t need to anymore, since her husband has a good job and also gets a commission for his countryman who is starting up the same ladder. Any bets? The teenage tea seller will get another relative to take over supplying their tannin fix to hundreds of office staff, while he gets his benefactor’s security job, once the benefactor gets a better position.

It’s the same with the unending line of boys in their late teens and 20s who come in from Orissa, Jharkhand and Nepal. They wash cars and have the cars of an entire neighbourhood pretty much under their control. They charge whatever they like and no one undercuts them. We, who feel embarrassed to wash the same cars that we drive so proudly, pay whatever they ask and feel the price is worth the chore of carrying a bucket of water to the car and wielding a washcloth.

I don’t really have the moral right to complain about migrants flooding into Goa, because a very nice Nepali boy called Shibu, climbs uncomplainingly up 82 steps to my house, takes a bucket full of water and washcloth and washes my car, all done with a big smile. If he didn’t do it, I would have to (wash the car I mean, not smile) and I don’t like doing a Jack and Jill number down the hill.

But there’s hope yet. In the Rajasthani woman who does not feel the need to cover her face any more. She shows her face with the same indifference that any Goan woman does. We take a simple thing like that as our right. The Rajasthani woman had to travel down the country to free herself. Life will be tough for her, but she can walk free among others without fear. Here in Goa. That’s why she will never go back. That’s why she will bring more and more of her family and friends to share in what she thinks is Paradise. Can’t really blame her…

The only problem exercising the old brain is this: Where can Goans go? To Rajasthan? We’re not built for hard work.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The frustrated activist

We all like to feel like we want to do something to help. But when push comes to shove we find perfectly good reasons for sitting back in our balcaos and running the world from there.

I remember when I saw footage of the cops and the Goa Village Groups scuffling outside the Secretariat after the CM told the spokespersons he did not require their votes, I got all fired up and wanted to join an Organization. So I called up one of the early brains behind the Goa Bachao Abhiyan and said I’d like to join. She told me she was no longer on the committee, but gave me the number of one of the present committee members.

Slightly less fired up but still all eagle-eyed and crusader-like, I dialed the number and the person on the other side cut off my call.

There is nothing like a cut-off call to give you that What-the-Hell feeling. I looked at the phone moodily waiting for an apologetic or explanatory SMS to follow. What I mean to say is, there’s no need to be rude. One understands that the callee is a busy firebrand, surely a message could have been sent saying, “Sorry, bitng plicemn’s elbow”, or “Sorry @ meetng”, or “Busy now pls cll latr” ; the caller has feelings too.

I sent an email, no answer, which in my book, is the height of bad manners.

Called up another stalwart at his residence. Got his mother and wife respectively. They told me they were waiting for him to go “to buy bazaar”. I asked them to ask him to call me back. No call back. And there I was considerably less fired up, and with no place to go.

So it was back to the keyboard for me doing what I do best, rabble-rousing through the written word. Even started a website to do even more rabble rousing, not just in Goa but with Goans everywhere in India and around the world. That was and continues to be an excellent feeling. People send me news not just from Goa, but from Delhi and all over the world; as far away as Quebec about entering a Goan Float in the national Canada Parade. I write it and immediately it goes through the internet all over, the country and the state.

Still there is a feeling of incompleteness. Except for annoying Eduardo Faleiro, for me, the website has not hit the spot, neither has this column or the other one. Words do nothing to stop the wrongs being done to this land and to us. Wasteful expenditure, destruction of the land, marginalizing of the aam aadmi, pollution of water bodies we will one day die for…

There are too many tiny groups fighting with their backs to the wall, fighting against the mining companies, against mega builders, against politicians, encroachers, fighting against outsiders, fighting for validation, fighting for life itself. And the baddies just laugh and carry on regardless. We are the sheep and the farmer who is supposed to look after us, lets in the wolves and laughs over the fine sport.

Like the shoal of fish that frightens off predators, these small groups have to come together under one umbrella. Or failing that one civilian army should be set up. I would like to call it the new 3G. Goa Gheraoing Group. If anyone cares to start this group, I will gladly join as a foot soldier. It should be an amorphous group having no shape or structure, just a group that can be galvanized within an hour through yelling, smoke signals, telephone, SMS, e-mails any form of communication to help out the smaller groups with the sheer weight of numbers.

The only thing that turns the baddies’ knees to water is numbers and the threat of violence. This is the quickest way to exert balances and checks on them. If all of Goa has 4000 policemen there is a limit to what they can do with 500,000 determined people. Let the freedom fighters concentrate on Western culture and Portuguese names. We have to fight for our own survival and that of our children’s children.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My name is Swagatham

I’ll be the first to admit it. When people ask me to bend, I crawl. When they ask me to jump; I ask how high. So when the great and glorious freedom fighter of Goa Naguesh Karmali gets worked up twice a year on Liberation Day and Revolution Day, I listen very, very carefully.

He had once marched into Fontainhas and smashed some really beautiful and very new ceramic tiled road signs built by the CCP for which you and I were overcharged. Karmali was really busy that day; he pulled out a signpost with the name of a Portuguese baddie and replaced it with an Indian name. He did all this with the enthusiastic help of a band of fighters. You cannot call them freedom fighters because technically they were free to do whatever they liked and are still free. If I went around smashing stuff, before you could say “Portugal Murdabad”, I would be dining on cockroaches at Aguada jail.

So with reality being what it is, when Karmali ordained that all Portuguese road names should be changed. I said yessiree, because really who cares about the garbage thrown everywhere and making your last will and testament every time you drink a glass of water, or brush your teeth with tap water. What is so wrong about buildings coming up on all our hills, and in our fields and all their sewage flowing around the place? There’s nothing wrong with large tracts of forest being cleared out on a daily basis. And really, why worry about the havoc created by mining on our roads, in our children’s lungs, in our rivers, our water sources and our agricultural lands? But I digress, if Karmali thinks that road name changes are the need of the hour, who am I to disagree?

And just see the foresight of the man. These freedom fighters believed in the concept of hard work which we miss these days. Once the road names are changed, picture the flurry of activity. Letterheads will have to be changed, new visiting cards, telephone directories; Lonely Planet and Rough Guide bibles of the traveler will have to rewrite their Goa chapters. Goa will have to change to Govapuri or Gopakkam or Aparanta, or Karmalisthan.

Who am I also to suggest names for roads, though I think I would prefer numbers. It could stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. Imagine Rua de Natal, the same one whose ceramic signpost Karmali’s helpers smashed to bits. It could be Road 325. Or 325 Marg. Fontainhas would be Phawara Nagar. Maybe they would name the roads after freedom fighters, but it would have to be Hindu and Muslim freedom fighters because Christians would have to change their names to make it to a road signpost.

Which was why I cunningly set in motion a plan to change my name, before Karmali tells me to do so. Mine is a Portuguese name, but I dropped the ‘m’ when I was in college since people made a sad mess of pronouncing it, to the point when it embarrassed me to introduce myself. Oh yes, they could pronounce Hingorani, and Chattopadhyaya and Kanakasabai, but Bemvinda, no! “How can the ‘m’ remain silent? If an ‘m’ is there it should be enunciated.” Only when I came home to Goa did my name roll musically off the tongues of so many. When they sent me invitations or left notes at my door, they added the ‘m’ in the middle of my name.

My name means “welcome” in Portuguese. My mother’s way of telling me that though I was her fifth born and a large 9-pounder, as far as she and my family and the world was concerned everyone who addressed me would tell me I was welcome. Even when they were snarling out my name.

But this would have to change because logically speaking after Karmali changes all the lovely lilting road names, because Portuguese is a pretty language, he will have to come after all those with Portuguese names and surnames. God help the Albuquerques or da Gamas. I decided that I would immediately change my name to its Indian translation. Henceforth I will be called Swagatham. I have not the faintest idea what my surname could mean, but broken up it could be Coal and Lasso. I could even have a double-barrelled surname – Kholsa-Russy. Swagatham Kholsa-Russy. It has a ring to it, a certain swing too which my current Portuguese name clearly lacks. And it is all thanks to the redoubtable Karmali. May his tribe decrease.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The miracle of email

My old typewriter looks reproachfully at me from the shelf it occupies. It’s a portable Olympia which gave me excellent service. It is not completely demoralized though, because the Man-of-The-House prefers it to the computer. Before that I pounded out what I thought was pure literature on my father’s old not-really-portable typewriter. It was also an Olympia which would be welcomed by a museum that knows its onions today. My father used to be a frenetic letter-writer. He would dash off letters to relatives, civic officials, industrialists and editors. He loved that machine and the machine loved him. My job at age 7 or 8, was to take a brush and clean the metal faces of the alphabets, because the typewriter ribbons would deposit crud on the o, e, b, p, a, g, s and d. After brushing them I would take a pin and scoop out every last bit of crud, then do a test run.

But once I was introduced to a computer which was more of a word processor, at my place of work, I was a lost cause. The computer owned me from the day I touched the keyboard. Just the lightest of touches, a flat keyboard, where you didn’t see stars every time your fingers slipped between the keys. You saw the letters appear like magic on the monitor and life I thought could not be better. Those were during the Wordstar days, when one had to learn several commands for bold, italics, paragraphing etc.

And then there was Word. And my word, it was beautiful. No commands, nothing! You just selected the font you wanted, the size and away you went. Then came the Internet with the dial-up modem. Now with the speed of broadband I marvel at my patience waiting for that dial-up modem to do its thing with that irritating sound of it revving up. The Internet came into my life and I became its slave. There was so much knowledge at the click of a mouse. And email was so easy. You could get information out to any Tom, Dick or Harry. You could use it to get different types of work done. Even repairs of washing machines and refrigerators.

I managed to get a washing machine with expired warranty replaced free with a brand new one, got my refrigerator fixed and generally became the bane of local service centres for electronic goods. Every time they took their own sweet time fixing my stuff, I would locate their head office and dash off emails and utilize the cc with great gusto. The cc in a typewritten letter could be a lie. You can inform the receiver that you have sent a carbon copy of the letter to his bosses and the Queen of England too; he could call up the Queen and find out that you were telling a big fat lie, but with email, the c.c. never lies. If there’s an email address in the c.c. slot, sure as the nose on your face, it’s gone to the person concerned.

The original receiver can see that he is not the only reader of that mail. His boss’s boss is also reading that mail. And if it has criticism of him in it, his boss’s boss is also reading it. This puts the fear of God into a lazy employee who feels his bosses are far, far away and he can do pretty much as he pleases. Uh-huh, not with the email c.c. It never fails to get the job done.

I am most grateful to whoever invented the computer and all its add-ons for one thing and one thing only – the music that plays on my radio every day. I love music and I am one of those strange characters that loves good rock, good metal, good reggae, good country, pop, jazz, rap, any music with melody, rhythm and attention holding lyrics. I hated rap but became a convert when I heard Baby Got Back. I still hate hip-hop.

But one day my world lost its lustre when my favourite RJ Mark Rocha went off the air. Along with him went the glorious mix of music from all decades. The new radio jockeys were only familiar with hip-hop and Lady Gaga and undiluted hip-hop and Lady Gaga clogging the airwaves throughout the day can make you gag. I actually switched the radio off. But I was not happy. I cannot do housework without music. And changing CDs while juggling mop and broom is an accident waiting to happen. Then email came to my rescue.

I found the radio station website and dashed off an email explaining to them the benefits of playing a mix of music so that people of my vintage who knew ‘real’ music could appreciate a little rap and hip hop. And the present generation and genext could appreciate the rich music of the 70s and 80s. I cunningly pointed out the demographic of those who listened to their station during the day, mothers and grandmothers at home, sitting ducks for good advertising. Someone somewhere read my email and the radio station began playing its lovely mix of music genres again. Now they are recruiting for sales and rj’s who know their music. It’s a win-win situation. Thanks to? The miracle of email of course.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Section 304 coincidence

Two cases made national headlines on one day. Both slapped with Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, which is culpable homicide not amounting to murder. One was due to the mass killing of 20,000 people in Bhopal 26 years ago through corporate negligence at the Union Carbide factory at Bhopal. The other was the death of a young woman in Goa through her romantic association with Mickky Pacheco, a politician with a highly chequered career. One has caused great revulsion across the nation and the other has done the same in Goa.

Section 304 was slapped on Warren Andersen the CEO of Union Carbide 26 years ago and on former Tourism Minister Mickky Pacheco three days ago. Mickky Pacheco used his contacts to fall off the grid and disappear. Warren Andersen used the Government of India to falling off the grid and disappear.

In both cases poisonous chemicals were used to cause death. Mickkys 304 was due a tube of rat poison, followed by death and destruction of evidence. Andersen’s 304 was poisoning with deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant and killed over 20,000 people in what is arguably the worst industrial disaster the world has seen. Followed by a government cover up to make the disaster look less like a crime and more an Act of God.

In Mickky’s case, the state government is pulling out all the stops to nail him. In the Bhopal gas tragedy the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s office actually sent a government plane to fly Andersen to New Delhi and then out of the country to the safety of the USA, where his government refused to extradite him to face charges in India. They said he was not responsible, the Indian management was. Yet in the case of the British Petroleum oil leak into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, the US government is pinning responsibility on the CEO of the company and demanding compensation amounting to billions of dollars. The Bhopal victims got approximately $500 each and a US spokesperson said these memorable words: “$500 dollars is pretty good for an Indian.”

Andersen was warned that the Bhopal plant had major mistakes in its system. He ignored the warnings. But it is significant that Warren Andersen immediately corrected those same flaws in the factories in the US plant.
In Mickky’s case, the police, the media, the public prosecution and even the court is focused on nailing the culprit. In Andersen’s case the authorities released Andersen on the same day he was arrested and flew him out of Bhopal in a state government plane.
Congress leader Arjun Singh, was Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister in 1984, but he refuses to comment on his actions at that time.
Anderson was charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, grievous assault and killing and poisoning human beings and animals due to leakage of the MIC gas from the Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal.

A Bhopal trial court last Monday convicted eight Indian officials of Union Carbide. Anderson was not even mentioned in the judgment. They were sentenced to just 2 years and were given bail almost immediately and escorted out of the court through a back exit. The trial court watered down the case on the instructions of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC).
All three SC judges are doing very well after that ruling. One became a member of the International Criminal Court at The Hague. One is now a Congress MP and chairman of a commission of Dalit Muslims and Christians and the third shockingly, has been presiding over the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust that runs a 350-bed super-specialty hospital. The trust was set up by Union Carbide.

The Rajiv Gandhi government’s zeal to shield Union Carbide from justice as well as from paying proper compensation to the victim’s families is the stuff of legends. It continues till today with the Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi legally representing Dow Chemicals the company that bought Union Carbide. He made sure that a) they cannot be held responsible for the Union Carbide disaster and b) could not be held liable for cleaning up and contamination of the site in Bhopal, as even Union Carbide had not been held liable.

Mickky may get away scot free from his case, while the axe may fall on the family of Nadia Torrado, who may also get away with a slap on the wrist. The end result will just be a feeling of foolishness on the part of the Goan people who actually select people like Mickky to govern the state.

In the case of Bhopal, we will continue to feel anger, revulsion and deep pain as generations of children will be born deformed and cursed from birth due to the criminal negligence of a company that was specifically warned of leaks in the system and impending disaster. Only now, 26 years later, a much more aware media armed with Right to Information, has uncovered the criminal negligence of the government of India itself. Our elected representatives that bent over backwards to protect an American company but turned their back on the deaths or 20,000 innocent people. And they continue to turn their backs on disease and suffering of countless numbers of those unlucky to survive the gas leak at Union Carbide in December of 1984.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Boneless chicken

Actually it was Manohar Parrikar who came out with it. He looked at the media-persons before him and said, what kind of a government is this? Ministers are involved in sex scandals, rape scandals, murder, excise scams, illegal mining… We have a boneless chief minister, a man with no backbone.” I heard it on the television as I was preparing Murg Makhani, butter chicken that can adapt itself to any occasion, any cuisine situation. It is chicken marinated overnight in curd, along with spices and cooked in tomato puree.

I listened to the news item while rubbing the marinade into the chicken. What Parrikar meant was that the Chief Minister did not have the courage to put his foot down. He was too chicken to do anything about his ministers, because he was so afraid of losing his seat. One image led to another and the allegory I ended up with was a boneless chicken.

Boneless chicken which is used for Murg Makhani gets along very well with a variety of spices, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, lime, cumin, methi, ginger and garlic. By themselves each cannot do much, but together, they make a formidable combination. Just like a coalition government actually. Bits and pieces of other food groups, nothing much by themselves, but together, they mix and merge their interests and they cling to the boneless Chicken Makhani (we’ll call it CM). Together with the CM they get a uniform flavour, and with all that rubbing they are embedded deep in the CM. The CM cannot move without them, they are always with him in everything he does.

Making a CM to your specifications is not at all a difficult task, provided you have the right recipe with you. So I am going to give you a recipe for a CM that is easy to digest.

How to Make Boneless Butter Chicken (Chicken Makhan)


For Marinating
• 80 kg chicken (boneless)
• Sour comments from opposition
• His own colleagues trying to topple him constantly
• 1 powerful but independent minister
• I handful of openly corrupt leaders who everyone is too afraid to expose
• A sprinkling of fiery orators who can whip up the masses.
• Lots of infrastructure projects for the ministers
• Mining Lobby
• Building Lobby
• Lots of empty promises

For the Gravy
• We the people of Goa, whipped and beaten.

• The chicken cuts himself into small pieces. He mixes, well all the ingredients for the marinade and thoroughly rubs the mixture into his chicken pieces
• Let the marinated pieces stand for an entire term.
• You will need lots of grease to grease the chicken. Put him in the pan. He will not move. He will just sit there in his boneless way, because he knows if he jumps out of the frying pan he will end up in the fire.

And that’s how you get the perfect Chicken Makhani, hereinafter known as CM. The CM be warned, has a shelf life. No matter how thick the gravy, the CM can get rotten. He needs to feel the heat regularly. Therefore the gravy too needs to be heated constantly, else it will just sit and congeal.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Education and Bal Congress

Any way you look at it Bal Congress is a great idea. Bal Congress is the Congress Party’s bright idea of grooming young netas and netesses in schools. It’s a great idea because all other parties are going to go the Bal way. We will have the Bal Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bal Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Bal DMK, the Bal AIADMK, the Bal RJD, Bal Bahujan Samaj Party, the Bal Nationalist Congress Party, the Bal MGP. Our education system will be all Bals.

Each party will set up its own schools in every hamlet of the nation. Working along the lines of catch-em-young, we will be raising little netas from nursery level. Instead of learning colours the regular way, they will learn orange is actually saffron, red is for communism, green is for Islamic parties. They will learn black is the best colour of money, white the clothes you wear to parliament, blue the colour you turn when the court convicts you, yellow the colour of investigative journalism. The toddlers will learn symbols, the hand, the lotus, the lion, the bicycle, the lantern etc.

Admissions will be given to toddlers purely on winnability. Uniforms will be white cotton kurta pyjamas and white Nehru caps. The syllabus will be changed with different textbooks for different schools depending on their affiliation.

Mathematics will be an important subject, very, very important. The little netas will be proficient in numbers, in profit and loss (profit to them and loss to the nation). It’s all good! Instead of learning the composition of mass, they will learn about the compostion of the masses. How to keep earnings of the masses low, and how to increase their own.

There will not be much focus on pure sciences, because lets face it, what role does science play in politics? Let the private schools deal with new breakthroughs in science, engineering and technology, the little netas only have to learn how to make the right purchase of bad technology so that they can collect huge commissions and kickbacks. They will learn how to open secret Swiss bank accounts and stash their ill-gotten gains for their children.

The little netas will learn how to formulate tenders; why else do they call it the tender age, huh? They will learn how to negotiate with a favoured company, fudge the amounts, take money under the table, stash it away in aforementioned Swiss accounts and take on a bad company to build bad infrastructure or provide a bad service, like pre-monsoon works at Vasco.

Geography will be ruthlessly broken into constituencies first, then states, then countries. Position and flow of rivers will be very important, because rivers are a huge source of income for parties and netas. Dams can be built in the wrong places, huge dams, rivers can be silted up, because floods are a gold mine for our netas. They will learn how to destroy good agricultural land and entire agrarian societies.

They will concentrate on Languages, Tweaked History to show their party in the best light possible, Religion will be a very important subject, where the little netas will learn how to play one community against the other. For that you need a good knowledge of all religions so that you can play on the emotions of the masses.

Higher education will focus on commerce, book-keeping, accounts fudging, banking and yes management. You have to have great management skills to be the champion puppet master. Physical fitness is not desirable, why should it, when you can hire legs and arms by the hundreds to do your work for you. Sports are definitely out, because team spirit and a sporting spirit are bad words in the political lexicon.

Yes the Bal Congress idea is a great one. Especially if you want to ram that final nail into the coffin of Government education in India. One believed that our education system had reached the furthest depths it could. But then one cannot underestimate the nation’s oldest party to barrel through again, digging a deeper pit to shove the institution even further into the depths.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Save the Goan

The realization struck when I saw Carmen Miranda announce to the television cameras that CM Digambar Kamat said that he did not need her vote, he gets enough votes from the migrants. Like the tiger in India, the Goan in Goa is definitely on the endangered species list. And we are doing as sloppy a job of saving the Goan as we are of saving the tiger. Look at the measures taken to save the tiger: a little bit here and a little bit there with poachers doing pretty much as they please. The tiger sanctuaries are vast and the forest rangers say it is impossible to catch them. Often it is the rangers themselves and locals who are hand in glove with the poachers. If only the tigers could get together and turn against their killers. It is no different here.

Here the poachers keep coming in from all directions. They don’t actually take a gun and shoot us, skin us and steal our body parts. Instead they overpower us with money and sweet promises and steal our souls. Like the tiger we try to protect ourselves, but we Goans are also wired to bask in the sun. Attacking and fighting was never the Goan way. We have welcomed invaders throughout our long history, allowed them to rule over us and over time merged with them to morph into a new and even more fascinating entity that remained essentially Goan. This time it is different. We have run out of the Goan essentials. Too many of us are okay with the instant gratification policies of the poachers.

Our enemies know only strength. They respect and fear mass disobedience. They quail before the threat of violence. If it is the electorate that has got them into power allowing them to sell themselves and Goa to the highest bidder, it is the electorate that has to curtail that power. I don’t mean we have to wait until the next elections. We have to act now. If we continue rolling over and playing dead, we are in serious trouble.

We owe a very great debt of gratitude to the disparate groups that fight pitched battles with Goa’s new invaders in the hinterland, or the plains, or the hill slopes. We owe Goa Bachao Abhiyan. We owe Claude Alvares and his Goa Foundation. We owe Mathany Saldanha. These are people who have professions, jobs, homes and families, who have given up their time for a larger cause. The cause of caring and protecting the Goa that has been preserved for us by our ancestors and passing it on to our children and our childrens’ children.

We are a package deal. Goans are Goa. If Goa is gone, so too will Goans be gone, pushed out from the one small, beautiful place they have always called home.

We have to come together, get out of our comfort zones, face the heat, both in terms of the fearsome sun and the heat of grappling with police, goons hired by miners, industrialists and builders to terrorize those who dare to object to the rape of their land. We need to unite under one umbrella organization. Form a network that can reach the smallest house in the smallest hamlet to offer support and protection. We already have one organization, the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA) which is recognized in most parts of Goa. We need to strengthen the GBA and take strength from it. They are fighting an impossible battle, stretched out thin, unable to fight simultaneous attacks from all sides cheered on by our political class who we have selected to fight for us.

We have so many heroes fighting the good fight, Aires Rodrigues who revels in the fact that though many have tried to kill him, he celebrates his 50th birthday tomorrow, Dr Oscar Rebello who is the face of Goan resistance to the rest of the country, the no-nonsense Sabina Martins who thinks nothing of spending long hours into the night to force a promise from one of the slipperiest chief ministers Goa has ever had. Patricia Pinto, Anand Madgavkar, Claude Alvares, the 85-year-old Dora D’Souza, her daughter-in-law Sheryl, and Sheryl’s eight-year-old daughter, Prajal Sakhardande, Pravin Sabnis, Nandakumar Kamat, Rajendra Kerkar, Seby Rodrigues, Carmen de Miranda, Judith Rebello, Judith Almeida, it is impossible to list them all here.

There are easily hundreds of hardworking men and women who love this small state of ours so much that they forgo the comforts of blinkers, ear plugs and gags that most of us use. It’s time we stopped being passengers going along for the ride. It’s time we took the reins, or at least got off and walked shoulder to shoulder with those who are fighting to preserve our identity.

That is the only way we can beat the poachers at their game. This is the only way we can preserve some of our cultural wealth for our descendants. This is the only way the Goan can survive.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sussaygaaad Goanese

Don’t know if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, but when a non-Goan Indian uses the word ‘Soçegado’ and pronounces it “Sussaygaaadoh”, I feel a need, a burning need, to rip my arm off and whack the fellow across the head with it. It’s worse when they use the word “Goanese” to refer to all things Goan.

A relative who has made it big in the furniture business in Mumbai could not wrap his mind around the fact that the only dealer of wood in Goa he wished to use was not interested in keeping his shop open during the siesta hours. “But I am giving you business worth lakhs,” spluttered the relative. “Gentleman,” said the wood shop man politely, "my shop will be closed from 1 to 4.” “But that is the only time I can come to your shop,” argued the relative. “Sorry,” said the wood shop man, “try and come after 4, but before 7 because that is when I close my shop for the day.” My relative was shocked that the wood shop man had no business sense whatsoever. “He wouldn’t last a day in Bombay with that attitude,” he said.

I reminded the relative of the fabulous times we all used to have during our summer and winter vacations at our ancestral house in the village. The early rising, the days packed with doing things that gave us such joy. Settling down under a stationary bullockcart in the heat of the afternoon sun, watching a couple of butterflies winging lazily by. The wonderful food that tasted so good because it was cooked in earthen pots on wood fires by cooks who loved us and who began slaving over the meals at dawn. The amazing quiet, broken only by the twittering of birds and the soughing of the wind in the trees.

How we were welcomed by the villagers and given small jobs to do, like collecting fat kokum berries, spreading sour mango pieces on coconut mats to dry before being carefully stored for use in those heavenly curries. How we also danced on the cashew fruits crushing them under our dusty feet along with the men who ran the distillery up in the hills. How they laughed that soft high-pitched Goan laugh when we drank the neero in leaf cups made of cashew leaves. How we stole a few smoked sausages from the store room skewered them on sticks and roasted them over a small fire we made of sticks and leaves. How we ate the half cooked, burnt things and still feel nothing in the best restaurants in the world ever tasted as good. How we “borrowed” the fisherman’s canoe and paddled down the river. How one deranged cousin tried to look under the boat, tipped it over and sent all of us into the water. How we tried to turn the canoe back right side up, but our knowledge of physics was non-existent as was our muscular strength. How the owner of the boat waded out, turned it over and then whacked whoever his long wiry arms could reach. How he later taught us how to fish and even prised a catfish that had impaled itself on a playmate’s hand, before pouring feni on the wound.

I reminded him of the village feast, the food served to the villagers on banana leaves in our grandfather’s massive balcao, the pigs that had human names, the slow, measured rhythms of life in the village. That was socegado, I told him. It meant contentment, not laziness. Goans were not lazy, they were content with a little, but that little was so rich in quality. It was a quality of life that allowed them to live a healthy, happy and really long life. People hardly ever died of unnatural causes in the village. They were very fit. My grandfather could hurdle over a two foot stone wall to chase a woman who was robbing fruit from his trees. He was in his early eighties at that time. No one had cars. There was one Mercedez Benz taxi in the village, that was hired to bring us from the ship to the house and take us back to the ship when the school term was beginning. We used to be in tears as we left and our grandfather and his retainers would also be in tears. We were the privileged ones. Privileged to have lived and laughed in what I can only call Paradise.

The relative spent the siesta hours with me talking about those days that we realized were so special and went back to the shop at 4.30. “Let’s give him half an hour to get organized,” he said with a smile.

Socegado, I would like to tell my non-Goan friends, is the common goal in the traditional Goan ethos. All actions were aimed towards doing enough to get by, so that there was enough time for the things that mattered, like song and dance, fishing and feasting, conversation on the balcao with family and friends, family prayers, the laughter of little children and a sip of feni as the shadows lengthened. The pity of it is that all our actions today are resulting in socegado dying out, slowly but surely, and taking the traditional Goan away with it. Then “Goanese” will be the correct term for us. And I’m the idiot who will live out the rest of her life with only one arm.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Disabled? Hardly!

The general trend among most well-meaning people is to treat disabled persons with kid gloves. If they meet a blind person, they generally end up shouting every word out, presuming the poor guy cannot lip read therefore they must shout to get their message across. When they are thrown into close proximity with a deaf person, they wave their arms frantically trying to dramatize every word and end up making complete fools of themselves, leaving leave the deaf person either amused or frustrated.

It has been my experience, so you know I am not talking out of the back of my head, that disabled persons have one, sometimes two super talents. Way, way superior to able persons.

I know a deaf artist who paints beautifully, and sculpts even better. His sculptures and plaster models are stunning. He’s a stickler for perfection and can throw a proper tantrum when he does not get what he wants.

I remember Cosmos a college friend who was born with a spinal deformity. He was very short, very thin and had a twisted body. That did not stop him from grabbing a hockey stick and joining a game, lurching this way and that, whacking the ball when he could and other players’ legs when he couldn’t hit the ball.

He had the naughtiest twinkle in his eye and was quick to poke fun at anyone, even people three times his size. Cosmos, or Cozzie as everyone called him, could play any musical instrument exceptionally well, except the drums. “My legs are too short,” he would laugh. When he played the guitar, people stopped what they were doing and listened in wonder.

He used to ride a scooter with a side car and thought nothing of breaking traffic rules in Bombay where the beefy RTO police used to slap first and ask questions later. Cozzie decided that it was pointless going all the way down the flyover at Peddar Road when all he needed to do was cross the road divider and get into the south bound traffic lane. Of course his two wheeler which was actually a four-wheeler with the sidecar, got stuck on top of the divider. Of course the RTO came riding up on a huge motorbike. He looked at the slightly worried Cozzie perched helplessly on his scooter trying to coax it over the divider. The inspector’s head sank into his shoulders and Cozzie quickly scrambled off his scooter and pathetically said, “I’m handicapped”. The Inspector, saw the barely concealed twinkle and said gruffly, “I’ll make you more handicapped! Don’t you ever do this again.” He helped Cozzie over into the south bound traffic lane and sent him on his way.

Cozzie was brave. No challenge too tough for him to face. He lived off one of those quiet lanes with pretty cottages and gardens in Bandra close to the Bandra Fair. He was returning late one night dressed in a black suit, because he used to play at the Taj Intercontinental twice or thrice a week. The Bandra Fair was going on but since it was so late about 2 a.m., there were hardly any people on the road. A man walked up to Cosmos, pulled out a knife and demanded money. Cozzie looked at the knife, then at the man and calmly asked him why he was robbing people when he was strong and healthy. “Look at me,” said Cozzie, “I am handicapped but I am earning my living.” “Stop talking and give me your money,” said the thief poking his knife at Cozzie’s suit. Cozzie pulled out his wallet and told the man, “Okay, I’ll give you the money, but I need the wallet, because it has my telephone book and documents that I need.” The thief tried to pull the wallet out, but Cozzie’s grip was pretty strong. Just then a crowd of young revelers came by. The thief stepped away from Cozzie and said, “Okay, okay, you can go away.” But Cozzie did not walk off with the revelers and his wallet. He stood there and earnestly tried convincing the thief of the error of his ways. As soon as the crowd was out of earshot, the thief pulled his knife out again and demanded the wallet. “Don’t waste my time, or I’ll kill you,” he said. Cozzie sighed and handed over his wallet. The thief took it away, telephone book and all.

When we heard about it my first reaction was annoyance at his foolishnessness. “What happened? Your brain wasn’t working?” He grinned, “I don’t think so; I wasn’t even sitting on it…!”

In one of those obscene twists of fate, Cozzie died of a brain tumour. I lost a good friend, but the world lost a little of its beauty when he was no longer in it. I never considered Cozzie as disabled, or differently abled, or “handicapped” as he liked to refer to himself when he was up to no good. In music he was a genius. In spirit he was a giant.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Photo ID blues

There are two things most people dislike. Posing for photographs and showing photo ID. The first part is traumatic. You sit there aware that maybe you did not comb your hair properly, maybe your skin is too shiny, maybe it is too powdery. Maybe your double chin cannot be hidden. A person beset with doubts is not tranquil; not happy and will definitely not make a good photograph. Which is why nine persons out of 10 end up looking like rabbits caught in headlights. All those instructions from the photographer were a complete waste of time too. His “little chin up; little chin down; not smile pliss,” translated into nothing, nothing like the Mona Lisa.

We will gloss over the cringing horror of going to collect your photo ID card which embarrasses you so much that you forget to check for inaccuracies in the information. The real test of the steel core in you comes when you have to show photo ID when it is demanded. You are dressed well, feeling confident, you march through the security check, or rather you march to the security check and they ask for photo ID and your world crumbles as your trembling fingers reach for that small plastic scrap of your moment of shame.

In a way it is a good thing that Goa being the smallest state of India, we get lumped with all the ‘pilot projects’ involving a lot of door-to-door surveys and people asking the same questions all over again.

I was stopped at Hyderabad’s new International Airport entrance by a severe looking security man who told me a ticket printout was not enough to get me into the spanking new airport. One needed photo identity. I told him I had lot of photo identity cards because I came from Goa and Goans especially from Tiswadi taluka had lots of identity cards.

As usual when I tell people I am from Goa, they give me the red carpet treatment. A broad smile broke his granite face and he said he liked Goa verrrry much Modom, but wokayright, I had to show him some ID, like maybe a driving licence?

I opened my wallet which was full of cards, but the driving licence, still in its glazed paper case, was stuck in its slot. I yanked it this way and that, while the granite came back to the security man’s face. He peered into the wallet and looked at my Social Security card that I was least proud of and said, wokayright yes, that one will do.

I said no, that was not a good one and did not do justice to me. He said it looked exactly like me and waved me on. But the granite came to my face now and I pulled out my newspaper ID card taken at around the same time where I looked much better, a slightly amused smile, a twinkle in the eye and wonderfully neat hair. I insisted that he check that one. He looked at it and said severely that that was not wokay since it had already expired.

So I pulled out my PAN card, my gymkhana card, two voter ID cards, two bank ATM cards, my IFFI identity cards for the first two IFFIs and finally my Multi-Purpose Card. What is this card, he wanted to know. I said, oh, that was a pilot project for Tiswadi taluka of Goa only and we had these cards done. I said it was even more recent than the Social Security card that was done nearly 10 years ago and that it looked better. He said there was no need to carry all these cards with me, only one was needed. Maybe two. A voter’s id or a passport. I said it was risky carrying a passport all over the country, and I looked like a deranged serial killer in my Voter’s ID. I told him firmly that I would only show IDs where I looked halfway decent.

He said wokayright and waved me in hurriedly and I noticed in all the arguments of which card had a better photograph¬¬ - he forgot to check my name and details against those on my plane ticket.

I looked at all the photographs on all the cards. For some reason, the web cams that are used by the agencies who get the tender to take photographs for ID cards of all sorts are just no good at taking pictures. I have to accept that I am not a good poser for pictures, I either get a death-rictus grimace or look like a bull-dog that has lost the will to live.

And once again ... There’s the census man who came around, took all sorts of details, beginning with what caste I belonged to, to where my children were staying. Then he left a slip of paper and said the dreaded words, “Take this with you when you will be called for taking photo, madam.”

A day later one learned that Goa had also been selected as one of the first states for the introduction of the UID or Unique Identification card. Yet another photo session … And the unpleasantness lives on.