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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 ‘So├žegado’ 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.