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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Constable’s Lament

Constable Caetano was in a foul temper. Definitely not a happy man. He was sitting delicately on an air cushion. I asked him what was the matter – though the air cushion seemed self-explanatory. “Injured yourself, did you?” I asked sympathetically. “Was it in the line of duty?”
“Dooty, booty, my eye,” he replied. “I got it while cycling.”
“You had a fall?” I asked.
“No fall. I’m sore and I got blisters with sitting on that hard cycle seat and cycling all over Vasco,” he said.
“But they have not yet actually begun the Cycling Squad. So why have you started?” I asked.
“My seniors told us to start practicing and I did not know if I remembered how to cycle,” he said. “It is very difficult with all the weight I have put in recent years.”
“Well it will make you more fit,” I said. “Cycling is a very good form of exercise and fun too.”
“Fat lot you know about cycling and fun,” he said sourly. “I’d like to see you sit on a cycle and move in and out of all the lanes and by-lanes of Vasco.”
“If I have to cycle, I will use an exer-cycle, these roads are not very good,” I said.
“Oh ho, changing our tune are we?” he snorted. “What happened to cycling being a ‘fun exercise’? It’s bad enough in the day, but at night it’s worse. We are supposed to follow criminals without being detected. Have you tried cycling in the dark? The headlight on the cycle is like this idea to make us use cycles – not bright at all.”
“So tell your superiors,” I said.
“Are you completely out of your mind?” he asked, “We are getting such bad press with all our so-called corruption, taking bribes, being on druglords’ payrolls, etc and now this joker in the Sada jail goes and dies in judicial custody. Everyone is trying to pin the blame on us.”
“They say your colleagues even supply drugs and liquor to the inmates at Sada Jail,” I said.
“That is a black lie,” he said.
“The how come all those bottles have been found outside the jail?” I asked.
“How is toothpaste made,” he asked.
“Eh? What does that have to do with supplying drinks and drugs to convicts? I don’t know how toothpaste is made,” I said.
“Precisely my point. We don’t know everything,” he said, “just like how no one knows how the bottles of drink landed up outside the jail.”
“Putting two and two together is not rocket science,” I said. “Obviously there’s a thriving business in the jail.”
“Everyone is targeting us for no reason at all,” he said sadly. “How are we supposed to make money, eh? Everyone does what they can do. We are at such a disadvantage; we have to make up the money we paid touts to get this job. It’s not easy making one lakh, leave alone seven lakhs.”
“Some would say that is why there is no law and order to speak of in Goa,” I said. “That is why no one has any fear or respect for policemen like you. You have come into this profession to make money and you set about doing that only.”
“Thieves and murderers will rob and kill, no matter what we do. We are just trying to make a living for ourselves. We earn a small salary. Think of us as waiters in a restaurant; we augment our income with tips,” he said.
“There’s a big difference between a tip and a bribe,” I said.
“Don’t blame us. Blame those who charge us lakhs to get a job in the first place,” he said.
“Don’t you have a dream for a just and peaceful society?” I asked.
“Oh I have a dream,” he said.” My dream is to get on the board of people who decide who gets a job on the police force. That is where the real money is.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Final exams are not final

One of the pitfalls of parenting is that we want our children to be better than us. The only problem is we don’t look at this goal from the other end. Because when they do become better than us, we don’t really like what happens. Oh there’s a certain amount of brag value as in my daughter is the Chairman of the Board, or my son is running this huge corporation. But it rings hollow after a while.

The fact is those cute little kids with grubby hands and trusting gap-toothed smiles, whose faces lit up like the sun when they saw you enter a room are long gone. They grow up, they do well and then they find this home, this town, too small for their ambitions. They leave. And we, the proactive parents who spent the best years of our lives taking them to a plethora of classes, activities and entertainment in our on-going effort to make them think outside the box, end up alone with a feeling I can only best describe as ‘what-the-hell’.

What-the-hell is an inglorious mix of feeling cheated, bewildered, foolish and consumed by a deep desire to kick yourself hard. Just imagine, if instead of pushing them to get better grades, sitting up with them till the wee hours of the morning to produce that perfect project, we just let them do enough to get through. If instead of stoking the fires of ambition, we just let them enjoy the day and live the simple life, maybe they’d be around close by instead of in a whole different state or country.

Some parents just sit around and dessicate. Others shake off the blues and say aha, my life is my own again. These take another stab at life and do better physically, mentally and more importantly, they get their groove back. Not so the empty nest victims. But I digress. Back to the examination fever caused by parents, fuelled by institutions, suffered by children…

Why are there so many counseling centres today? Why so many helplines to prevent stress and suicide? The reason is simple. It’s we the parents. We want to be proud of our children. We gave up our careers or probably soft-pedaled them so that we could give our children more attention. All that professional torque had to be channeled somewhere. It went straight to our children. They became our project and it was as if our lives depended on it.

There doesn’t seem to be much difference between losing your child to suicide or to another country. You are, to all intents and purposes, quite alone. I have seen and felt the empty-nest syndrome. It saps you of energy. So pushing them to perform for Board Exams and Final exams is in the final analysis self-defeating. They are miserable, you are miserable. Maybe if like water we let them find their own level, society would be a happier bunch of people. Failure in exams seems to be a fate worse than death today. And often death is the choice many traumatized children take.

It would be a good idea if parents too sat for a series of final exams on life priorities. My suspicion is the deep rural parents, who live close to the land with little money and fewer needs, would come through with the Distinctions. Parents like me from the urban middle class would sink like a big fat stone.

I was talking to the Man Who Knows Too Much and we both agreed that getting Distinctions in final exams does not mean life will be sunshine and roses for the child. There’s always that bogey of stress and its army of related diseases lurking in the shadows.

Life has a bad habit of grinding everyone together, the good, the bad and the ugly and only a few come through none the worse for wear. Those are the ones who don’t get crushed by setbacks and failures. For that to happen, you have to be used to success and failure in equal parts.

We must teach our children that final exams and board exams are a series of small steps we take. The final test is whether we weather both victory and defeat with grace. If we laugh in victory, we should also laugh in defeat. I know that now. Wish I knew it when my kids were growing up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Days dedicated to whatever

One can understand Republic Day, and Independence Day. Those were events which actually took place on these days. But Valentine’s Day, Friendship Day, Mother’s Day, HIV+ Day, Father’s Day make no sense at all. Love for friends and sweethearts, love for mothers and fathers, care and support for AIDS patients are concepts that should be vigorously pursued throughout the year, not just on one day.

One day in particular that disturbs me is Women’s Day. It would make more sense if something had happened for women on March 8. In India for instance Women’s Day should not be on March 8, but on March 9 the day the Bill for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament was introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha.

Who sits down and decides which days are dedicated to which species or group? The card companies? Florists? Courier services? Confectionaries? Could I do it? Would my selection of days be universally accepted? I would like to introduce a Dogs Day, a Cat’s Day, a Doctors’ Day, a Nurses’ Day; what about a Lawyers’ Day or a Housemaid’s Day.

The Chinese dedicated entire years to animals – the year of the Dog, The Year of the Horse, The Year of the Dragon and so on. Today I missed banging into a metal post by a whisker, I would like to call today International Missed an Accident Day, but I would be celebrating it alone and where’s the point in that?

We have choices every step of the way and I have decided to feel insulted about Women’s Day. Why should only one day be set aside for worship/appreciation/recognition of me as a woman? Why should any day be set aside for worship/appreciation/recognition of me as a woman? It puts a whole lot of unnecessary pressure on the woman aspect of me.

I’m an average person like so many others, capable of random flashes of genius, but by and large pretty ho-hum as far as achievements go. I’m a mother, but not a great one. I can nurture and care for wounded and hungry stray animals, but tend to treat stray human beings with suspicion.

My home is fairly clean but hardly spotless and sparkling. I am capable of unbelievable disasters in the kitchen where but for a pinch of salt many appetites were lost. I will not stand when I can sit. I will not sit when I can sleep. I think sacrifice for others is highly overrated and achieves nothing except for a nagging sense of what the hell.

And then people send me messages on Women’s Day about the strength of the woman, the many skills of the woman, the committed and caring godlike entity that is the Woman and it annoys me no end, because I am none of those things. More importantly, I know that I don’t want to be any of those things.

Oh yes, there are the great achievers, the superwomen like Kiran Bedi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mother Teresa, my mother Maria Felicia Especiosa Pereira e Dias, my mother-in-law Enid Terese Sodder Collaco, Urminda Lima Leitao who passed away recently, Mangala Wagle the founder of Hamara School, Manju an angel who cleaned my home and cooked my meals for many years. These are women of substance, some who have passed on and some who are still around making a difference in this topsy-turvy world, but even they had moments of petulance and what the hell. This day brings too much pressure to women like me who know the truth about themselves.

It would be better to have a day in the year set aside for something ignoble. An Enemies’ Day, Ditched Lovers’ Day, Failures Day, Fired from Jobs Day, Stubbed Toes Day, Missed Deadlines Day, Gluttony Day, Distant Cousins’ Day, Forgettable Relatives’ Day… so instead of impossible aspirations and feelings of guilt we can just let our hair down and be real for a change.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

No point in obsessing

People with nothing better to do, can find parallels to the human condition anywhere. Take this one for instance. There are the waves that smash against rocks and there are the rocks that take the assault without flinching. Much like all of us.

We have those that burn with passion, obsessing over this, that or the other, flinging themselves against the status quo trying to change things. Then there are those who stand steady taking whatever life flings at them. There’s another piece of imagery that someone emailed me: Some days we are the birds; other days we are the windshield.

Life goes on regardless of all the careful plans we make. Life takes those plans and turns them on their heads, sometimes Life lets our plans work for a while and then gives us problems later on. Which makes people like me who have burned their fingers say ruefully, be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it all. There’s no point in obsessing over things; all you can do is hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Recently I wrote a column on the stupidity of terrorism. An email came almost immediately telling me my writing was stupid. I was informed that innocent Muslims are being blamed for everything, but no one complains about the atrocities against Iraqis, Afghans etc. He told me that the RSS were responsible for the 26/11 massacre in Mumbai, that they assassinated Karkare. Was Ajmal Qasab an RSS man then? Oh no, Ajmal Qasab was a convenient scapegoat who had been caught by the cops in 2006 in Nepal. I also learned that the twin towers in New York were already in the process of being burned from the inside before the planes hit them. This despite enough documented evidence to the contrary.

He urged me to join an all-faith meeting for peace which his group is involved in to spread awareness and peace. Now how can you spread peace when you spread bare-faced untruths beats me. Unless the whole concept of peace itself is a lie, because man can never live in peace with his own kind, nature, or other animals for too long. He will fight wars, he will destroy the environment and wipe out animal species for ridiculous reasons.

Now I thought I was a peaceable woman until a Russian who is married to a Goan man took offence at last week’s column “The Russian and the Princess”. She accused me of stirring trouble between Russians and Goans.

Now I admit I do obsess about Goans becoming slumdwellers in their own land. My children live in rented premises in Mumbai, because they cannot get jobs they were trained for in Goa. And if they worked in Goa, the wages they would have earned here would not allow them to buy even a square metre in a residential area they would find convenient and comfortable. Come to think of it, they would not even find place in the slums of Chimbel or Mapusa or Moti Dongor because there the first preference is given to non-Goans.

The Russian woman lives in Moscow and Majorda which I think is the perfect solution for the next generation of Goans. Her children are lucky. They can settle down in Goa or in Russia. Our children should marry non-Goans, so they will at least have a choice of settling down legitimately in another land, because Goa will be out of the equation for them. They will also be helping end racism by making all of mankind a uniform golden brown colour.

So what’s the worst that can happen? Our children’s children will have no place to call their own in Goa, but by then, who will want to stay in Goa? The green fields will have become gated communities. The hill tops will be gated communities. Slums will spread between the two. The forests would have gone with the frenetic mining that’s going on. Well water, spring water and a swig of feni that our grandparents swore kept them alive and kicking well into their nineties, after which they just died quietly, will be impossible to get for love or money. So why obsess, I ask myself. If foreigners are dividing the coastal areas among themselves and the rich and aimless are buying up fields and hill tops and the miners are digging out the forests, where does the Goenkar go?