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.