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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sonsoddo - Goa parallel

You get those Eureka moments sometimes. Especially when you stand downwind of Sonsoddo. The ripe smell gets into your brain and circulates thoroughly. The ever growing hill of garbage is there for all to see, but everyone turns their face away, or closes their eyes in disgust. Or spits. It’s right there but we do anything we can not to look at it.

The odour is a different matter. That, we cannot escape. We cover our noses with our handkerchiefs, dupattas, some of us insert our noses into our T-shirt collars. Yet all of us have contributed our mite to the garbage that now disgusts us so much. And then the Eureka moment hits: Sonsoddo is not just typical of the Goa condition. Sonsoddo is Goa.

The garbage keeps piling up, small amounts from everyone everywhere, dumped daily, adding to the mountain. Now you will say that I am talking about the garbage situation all over Goa. You would be wrong. I’m talking of Goa and the huge problem it has become. Not just the garbage; it’s the state of the State.

Goa is exactly like Sonsoddo. Not a garbage heap as yet, but a huge problem. The problem does not go away or lessen. It just sits there, growing bigger and bigger by the day. The government shows much activity, buzzing here, buzzing there, setting up committees, ministers making grand promises to settle the problem in “tree munts time”. The High Court gets into the act, passing stern orders that no one pays any attention to. NGOs jump in and get the people to stand up and shout. More scurrying around, more promises and the problem sits there getting bigger and bigger every day.

They begin to scatter tender notices like confetti. Behind the scenes their energy and single-minded commitment to bargaining for the heftiest commission is truly admirable. Once a percentage has been agreed upon, hey presto, the contract is awarded to whoever gives all concerned parties the highest commission.

Of course the company selected just cannot do it in that amount, so they put in terms and conditions as the project crawls along. Of course the government is shocked and says nothing doing. Result: the work comes to a halt. The contract is terminated; large compensation is awarded to the company. The government and the company are happy. The problem continues to sit there and gets bigger. Nothing has happened. Only large amounts of cash have changed hands. And the exercise to “deal” with the problem begins all over again.

More scurrying, more committees, more tenders, more commissions. The bank balances of the interested parties grow in direct proportion to the growth of the problem. The tender notices scream from all the national and local publications. This has added a new avenue for making quick cash.

Imagine a tender notice published by the CCP (Corporation of the City of Panaji) asking for interested parties to submit their application for beautifying the garden. The tender notices alone cost the taxpayer Rs 2,76,000. A decent garden could have been done in half that amount, using regular shade-giving plants and grass. Instead consultants are roped in. They are paid massive sums for something as simple as designing an already existent garden.

The CCP garden has been tendered and re-tendered and has now been reduced to a pile of mud. It is the same with the River Princess. It is the same with Sonsoddo. It is the same with the Regional Plan. Money, our money which could be used to desilt rivers and lakes, to improve the infrastructure, to improve the water supply, to check wastage of power, to fix bunds and help our beaten farmers, goes straight into the pockets of our montris and their cronies. Money, our money, goes into buying them and their families the latest electronic gadgets, expensive cars, holidays abroad, five-star hotel parties for their relatives and real estate in the best locations.

Study your representative, his underlings and family closely. It will be a learning experience showing you just how generous you are.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Clothed in earnestness

“People who are too earnest bug me,” wrote an acquaintance on her Facebook wall. This is one of those statements that make your brain do a double-take. Earnestness is a garment we cover ourselves with as soon as we leave our homes – without it we would be naked, is what I replied. I like being naked, she said.

It’s a fact. Everyone you meet is so overwhelmingly earnest. I am as earnest as the best of them. My daughter, a ruthless observer of my every move, tells me that when I meet people my eyebrows seem permanently stuck way up on my forehead. That’s the sign of earnestness, raised eyebrows and wide open eyes. I do it; you do it; we all do it. And once you are aware of it, it will never cease to amuse you.

I love listening in on conversations. Here, allow me point out that there is a difference between listening-in and eavesdropping. An eavesdropper seeking entertainment and hot gossip will hide and listen to two people who think they are being discreet. A listener is someone who listens openly to two or more people talking in audible voices in public places.

It never fails to entertain. Take any civil conversation between two acquaintances or strangers. Both seek to impress the other with the uprightness of their character, the breadth of each one’s mind and the purity of each one’s heart. They form a bubble of goodness fed with more and more froth as they pontificate on their personal soap boxes.

The thing is, being in the newspaper line, one hears awful stories about people. One is aware of the king-sized warts underneath that garment of earnestness. The thicker the garment of earnestness - the bigger the warts.

Goa is a very small place and everyone knows everyone else. You see someone retired from the health department who made a fortune stealing microscopes and selling them, standing up at a public meeting and denouncing the corruption of our elected reps and bureaucrats. Someone else jumped up to do his bit of denouncing and you remember that he was under investigation for embezzling funds from the bank he worked at. You see many people around the two loud upright citizens, smirking just like you, and you know that a number of other people are aware of the comedy of the moment.

I am considering shedding the earnestness. What would happen I wonder if I went out and told the people I met that I was a liar and a cheat and that given half a chance would sell my grandmother down the river? I don’t have a grandmother, but you get the general idea ...? Just think of the situation we would find ourselves in if we told the truth. It would make for truly riveting conversation. Especially since telling the truth about ourselves would be received enthusiastically by the other person.

An even more interesting situation would be this: what would happen if we told the people we met that they were liars and cheats and that given half a chance would sell their grandmothers down the river?

I tell you solemnly, there would be civil war.

Thanks to my Facebook pal who must have had it till her raised eyebrows with earnest people unburdening their souls to her, I cannot help smiling when I listen to earnestness. Especially when it comes from the biggest blackguards in the state. The smile makes the earnest one bloom and then the earnestness is cranked up to really lay it on thick. It is all one can do to stop from laughing out loud. As entertainment goes, this is ranked pretty high on a scale of one to 10.

We all have feet of clay, which is why poor old Tiger Woods has to hide in the undergrowth. His garment of earnestness that he cultivated so well for so long, hid his feet of clay and when he crashed down, it disappeared when the knives of the moral brigade came out. Like I said, we all have feet of clay and given the same circumstances, who’s to say we would not go and do the exact same thing that this ace golfer, rich beyond belief, did.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Price and Value

I’ve been thinking lately that we have turned into a people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Take hockey for instance.

It is our National Game, but like our National Animal, it is in danger of immediate extinction. Hockey gave this nation some of its greatest glory days when our team would return from the Olympics waving a bunch of glittering gold medals. No one could touch the Indian Hockey team. And then the world body changed the rules of the game, introduced astro turf which the government “could not afford”, changed the rules, they even changed the shape of the sticks, some say to curtail the dribbling and dodging skills of India and Pakistan. Holland, Germany, Australia, even Spain, raised research of hockey in every aspect to a fine art form, but India continued ignoring the game, leaving our bravehearts to battle it out on bad playing fields and miserable amenities.

It hurts to compare the treatment meted out to cricket and the crumbs – sometimes not even that – to hockey. The players were promised Rs 25,000 each if they got a podium finish. They won a number of podium finishes in the last two years, but not a paisa was forthcoming, Hockey India claiming it was broke, despite getting a reported Rs 77 lakh corporate sponsorship from Sahara.

Hockey India refuses to show the players the sponsor’s contract keeping the amount and utilization of the sponsorship money a secret. Hockey India is doing its damndest to tell the world that the players are after money, but ‘promise’ the players a crore is they win a podium finish at the World Cup beginning next month. Sports officials spend ten times the amount the hockey team is asking for on their junkets around the world. And they are filching it out of our pockets. If given a choice between funding the officials or the hockey team there’s no doubt who the taxpayer would back.

I have played hockey from the age of 11, in school, college and club hockey. The game and all that is associated with it, the blood, sweat and tears, the lost fingernails, the camaraderie, blind support of teammates and coach is something the value of which you cannot even begin to quantify. Three of my closest friends go back almost forty years to the hockey field. Till today I carry my limp like a badge of honour. My shinbones are so knobby with all the whacks from hockey sticks they feel like a starving man’s backbone. It is a tough game; it is a beautiful game and coming into contact with a well struck ball can make your life flash before your eyes.

When the Indian Hockey team participates in the World Cup, they are fighting to win against strong teams from across every continent in the world and from every major country in those continents. When the Indian Cricket team plays in what they call the “World Cup” it’s just a handful of ex-British colonies. Cricket has not “taken” in the Americas, most of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia. Hockey has.

But that is neither here nor there. We as a people have aided and abetted in the humiliation of the Indian hockey team through the last twenty years. No one rejoices when they win and even worse, no one mourns when they lose, even though India ranks among the top four teams in the world. The cruelest cut of all this: our football teams have more sponsorship and more audience-spectator appreciation than hockey, even though Indian football struggles way, way down the international football rankings.

We, we the people of India have allowed this to happen to our national game. When money talks value and values walk. Luckily this standoff between Hockey India and the Hockey Team of India has shamed many corporates and individuals into digging deep into their own pockets to help the players.

Whether the players get the money is debatable, but it was heartening to read a report in a national daily, of Dr James Leitao, a Goan settled abroad, who has decided to pay Rs 10 lakh to the players to return to training. He has also promised to donate his Goa residence to the Indian players if they manage a podium finish in the World Cup. Now that’s what I call knowing the value of the national game.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The wonderful world of Ravi Naik

It is settled then. The best world one can live in is Ravi Naik’s world. Just think of the fun we could all have if Ravi the eternal optimist, was not in government, holding the Home portfolio, but was instead running a private business, or a multi-national conglomerate. If his business was going down the tubes, he would say, what nonsense. Everything is fine, profits are up.

The police department he heads has been hurtling from one mess to another. They try valiantly to take a leaf from their boss’s book and attempt to put a different spin on the law and order situation in the state, which is in free fall, but they just cannot pull it off with Ravi’s √©lan. You see the desperation in their eyes.

It’s not that one does not like the world we live in right now. We have so much to talk about, shake our heads sorrowfully over. We have fingers, and we can point them – one away from us, three towards ourselves.

In our world we have drugs liberally used not just at Sunburn, but everywhere else. There was this funny smell in my immediate neighbourhood and a middle-aged friend from my college days, sniffed experimentally and said wisely, “Ganja”. There was no one puffing on anything for as far as the eye could see, so obviously someone was taking a trip indoors.

Go to any shack, any stretch of beach, any discotheque, any club and you will find drugs. It’s difficult for the non-user to recognize a drug dealer, but users can spot one a mile away. In our world, you can see drugs being smoked, they are inhaled at the more exclusive lah-di-dah Page Three parties, and they are smoked or inhaled in the slums. Drugs are not falling like manna from heaven and rolling into reefers, or lining up on glass tables for snorting. In our world you know they are being sold in large quantities to a large number of people. We know, because we see more and more people in more and more households turning into addicts.

But in Ravi Naik’s world and his is a good world; it is not a crowded world since it is peopled only by himself; there are no drugs sold in Goa. These people who are stoned out of their skulls at music festivals and other venues bring narcotics in from other places as part of their luggage. They bring it for their personal consumption and not for sale. In Ravi’s world, Goa is a place of great beauty, great happiness and great peace. I like his world and want to live in it.

But like my children have been telling me from the time they were in school that drugs are sold at gaddos near the better schools and colleges in the state, anyone's children, Ravi Naik’s included, would also be able to tell him that drugs are available in plenty and in great variety anywhere and everywhere. Something for every budget.

His children may be even more aware of the real world, and may even be able to tell him the names of those running the business -- the carriers, the routes, the sources, the destinations. We don’t grow the stuff here, but one wouldn’t be surprised to hear that lab drugs like crystal meth are manufactured right here in the state. I did a little reading up on Angel Dust which killed a Delhi girl at the Sunburn festival and I tell you solemnly, it is pretty scary. Its chemical name is phenylcyclohexylpiperidine or PCP. It is hallucinatory and stories of addicts of PCP would make your liver curl.

In our world we know that ever since the Hippies strayed into Goa and dug in deep, so did the narcotics trade way back in the 70’s. In our world we know that everyone’s in on it – the Russians, the Nigerians, the Israelis – and they are all eagerly helped by local Goans. That’s our world.

In Ravi Naik’s world there’s nothing of this sort. But I forget. In both worlds Ravi’s and ours, people die. Like the Delhi girl they die of drug overdose, or like an addict I knew who died in a road accident, their brains rot. Those fighting the menace are found dead in their apartments and the autopsy shows that they died of “natural causes”. Come to think of it, that autopsy is just the kind of thing you would find in Ravi’s world.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Predictions for 2010

I am making a mental note. Many mental notes in fact are banging away at the back of the old brain but foremost among them is to inform those showing signs of coming for a protracted visit, that I will be spending Christmas and New Year in Yemen. Why Yemen? Why not, I say. I know no one in Yemen and the word has a nice ring to it.

The thing is, I like people. But I like them in small doses, When they decide that they will “do Goa” for Christmas and New Year, they don’t consult me. They presume since Goa is a holiday resort, everyone living in Goa is on holiday. One has to put life as we know it on hold, change appointments, cancel assignments one should not cancel and worst of all one has to keep one’s home spotless and one’s table full. That’s takes a lot of work, sweat, blood and two blisters from flying oil. Yet, I am making a prediction for 2010. I will forget about the Yemen mental note and when people I barely know tell me they will visit me at ‘Chrissmiss’, I will slip into my Goan avatar and be all warm and welcoming. And then complain again. That’s my prediction. Let’s see if I’m right.

So while we’re in Dire Prediction Mode, let’s make some for 2010. This is going to be the Year of the Tribes. They found that they could gather together vast amounts of tribals who could hold the entire state to ransom by blocking arterial roads. And all the punishment they received was a refreshing shower from a badly aimed water cannon. The tribes are going to ask for an arm and a leg from the taxpayer and one hopes the body count is not too high.

Goa Bachao Abhiyan will fragment much to the delight of our Body of Builders in the Secretariat, unless Dr Oscar Rebello shrugs off the barbs aimed at him and just concentrates on saving Goa. Let’s face it. No one has his charisma and no one can galvanize people from all walks of life the way he can. If he says enough is enough and settles down with his stethoscope and finger on the pulse of his patients rather than the pulse of the people, Goa’s got a problem on her hands.

Manohar Parrikar will find that a sort-of high up position in the Central BJP leadership is not as satisfying as being the big frog in the small pond of Goa. His style of functioning will be an anathema to the Central BJP leadership. If Parrikar flies North and Oscar sticks to doctoring, we might as well move to Yemen.

There’s going to be a lot of trouble at the picturesque island village of San Jacinto. The villagers allowed Mauvin Godinho to “develop” connectivity to their piece of paradise and now they will have to pay the price. Nothing comes for free and they will have to watch their peace eroded day by day as hotels, clubs and other resort related activities take root.

The second biggest killer in Goa will be water-borne diseases, the biggest killer – our roads. Because of this, a sewerage network will be initiated in various parts of Goa. Places like the North Goa beach belt that are already saturated with buildings, high water tables and lots of raw sewage will just have to continue living in denial.

We will win many more awards as Number 1 among the small states of India, or among the states on the West Coast. This is because the judges will be wined and dined in the best parts of Goa and those vying for the Number 1 ranking will be their tour guides.

There’s going to be a lot of noise over the Professional Tax going to be levied on all professionals in Goa, but it will stay because the Government is quite broke while the politicians and bureaucrats become billionaires.

The Government of Russia will set up a police bureau in Goa to investigate crimes against their nationals out for a good time in warm, sunny Goa. It will be one of their conditions to the Nuclear Deal agreement they will sign with India.

Digambar Kamat will resign as Chief Minister, because even he has to feel some shame at the rotten state the state is in.

And my last prediction or rather hope is that all these predictions – except the resignation of Digambar Kamat – will be wrong.