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.