Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why be apologetic about our Portuguese heritage?

It is not as if we set about to grab great-grand ancestors Afonso de Albuquerque and his merry men by the hand and tell them: oh conquer us we are yours. Our ancestors thought Albuquerque and Co were a bunch of nice white-skinned traders who would help them kick the Sultans out of Goa. Of course they thought wrong. How can you blame them? We Goans are wired to think wrong. We did it then, and landed ourselves into such a mess for the next 450 years. We are doing it now. And unless Nature has patience with us we will make wrong choices forever.

We were forced to convert to an alien religion. If we did not our lands were confiscated. We were an agricultural community then mind you, not a government-servant/NRI community. What greater horror could there be than taking our land away from us? Our families were split up. Elder brothers took the family deity and escaped to Ponda to set up temples under the protection of the Raja of Sonda. They kept the family religion alive there. The remaining part of the family converted to Catholicism. Which is why we have not had communal tension between Hindus and Christians because families share both religions.

Traditions like cremation were turned into major crimes and worship of our gods and goddesses were just not allowed. The Mhamai-Kamats still celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi by using a paper drawing of Lord Ganesh rather than immersing a statue. That’s the way they did it then, in secrecy, defiance and deep devotion. Now it is a beautiful family tradition.

Those of us who converted to save our lands and those who converted in order to be gifted confiscated lands learned Latin prayers and parroted them. The previous rulers had no issue with our bare-breasted women and our kashti-clad men. But the Portuguese ruthlessly enforced their European dress code. Cover up or pay the penalty. One of my earliest memories was the village fest where men strolled around in awesome dignity wearing a coat, a tie, a shirt and a kashti with no trousers. And our ancestors thought that the Sultan was a tough customer.

But then again we are Goans and we came through that 450 year period with grace. We took elements from the Portuguese culture and adapted them to our own. If they wanted churches to be built, they used Hindu artisans who must have chuckled that typical Goan high-pitched breathless chuckle of glee, while they carved Hindu religious symbols into the beautiful facades of the Catholic baroque churches.

At the same time the Portuguese brought in chillies and cashews and added new flavours to our traditional Konkan cuisine. It is this which makes Goan cuisine stand out from the rest. Our music developed calypso rhythms with new instruments like the mandolin, the guitar, the banjo and the piano adding magic to the percussion and wind instruments we already had. Our Konkani language took on a Portuguese lilt and Portuguese words too. Our architecture became a thing of fine art.

It was all good. There must have been bad too, but the good outweighed it as can be seen by the multitudes of delighted visitors who come to this state to marvel at our Goan culture. They think this is a foreign land. Foreigners, especially Portuguese, also think Goa is a foreign land.

This makes us in Goa unique and it is this uniqueness we have to protest and nurture. If our elected representatives cannot have the vision to see that we have to carry the past with us if we have to move forward with any grace, then we, you and I have to make sure they learn this one valuable lesson. It’s like recycling. Nothing should go to waste. Unless it is absolutely useless.

So when bodies like Semana de Cultura Portuguesa decide to celebrate the Portuguese aspect of our Goan culture, on August 27 and 29, my request to our freedom fighters is despite the clowns that govern us today, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us freedom from the colonial yoke. But please do not bring out morchas and go on fasts unto death to kill that aspect of what makes us so unique. Let ours be the final victory. We are free. We sent the Portuguese colonialists packing, but we kept the best for ourselves. That is our victory.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Primer for Political Kindergarten

Politics is now a viable career option. Getting into the line is not easy. It’s tough. It starts with social service, social activism, and lots of media coverage. Media is a must. You get onto every talk show. Wangle an interview. Cultivate mediapersons. You have to be in the constant public eye. Then you stand for the small time elections, the panchayat if you are in a village and municipal council if you are in the city. Working for a politician is also good. You get a ringside view for learning the ropes as well as when the time is right – blackmailing your boss. If you’re smart you can buy your way in.

Once you’re in it gets easier with each year you spend in the kodel. If you have to make it a vocation, you’ll die by the roadside, unsung. If you want to be a career politician you have to make sure you keep your seat or give it to your own immediate family. There is so much opportunity to make so much money especially in a state like Goa. It’s as easy as taking candy from a sleeping baby. Goa has a literate but uneducated electorate. The opportunities to amass wealth are legend. But you have only two hands. You need help. So you rope in your children. You get them to take in commissions in dry weather and hand out saplings in wet weather.

You also have to be pragmatic. Think of the future. No matter how much money you stash away in your secret bank accounts, it will still not be enough when you finally throw in the kodel. You have to train your family members like any other entrepreneur. It therefore stands to reason that there should be a special kindergarten for children and grandchildren of politicians.

Which is why I urge the powers that be, to start at least one political balwadi in each constituency. We already have the Bal Congress which is made up of young teens who can barely tear themselves from their sms-ing to address the problems their children will face when they grow up. I am working on the syllabus. I have started with the Alphabet for Baby Politicos.

The Alphabet Primer for Political Kindergarten

A is for the Activist – damn the lot to hell
B is for Black money – and not a soul you’ll tell
C is for commissions – to build your fortunes fast
D is for Development – infrastructure that will not last

E is for Education – for ensuring a dumb electorate
F is for Finance – it’s fun, it’s free and appropriate
for G which stands for Goa ¬– this gravy train of ours
H is only Heaven – since you’re reaching for the stars

I is for Idiots or Indians which means the same thing
J is for Judiciary that thinks – it still is king.
K is for the Kangaroo courts we always set in place
For L which is the Law that we manage to erase

M is for the Money we are duty bound to make
N is for the numbers that come to share the cake
O is for the Opportunists that we are proud to be
P is for the Party, to join or leave – we’re free

Q is for Quality – the BADDEST word there is,
R is for Respect … oh, just give that a miss.
S is for Suspicion, a constant state you’ll be in
‘cause T is for those Traitors who’ll throw you in the bin

U is for Useless, a quality you’ll need
V is for the victory your cash will win for greed
W is for Wealth which is why you’re in this line
X marks the spot we’ll occupy in time

Y is the Yellow of your gold in large amounts
Z is for the zillions in your secret bank accounts.
So children learn your alphabet you really shouldn’t shirk
It so your great-grandchildren will never have to work.
© Bevinda Collaco 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Getting away from it all

I was standing on the bank of a knee-deep stream, thinking no need to put my cellphone into a plastic packet in my knapsack, it’s not at all deep and how pretty the rushing water looks, all white and emerald green.

But the group I was trekking with had divided into two, one was looking tragic on the other side of the stream and we learned that two of its members had been swept by the current and the boy’s arm had popped right out of its shoulder when he saved the other. And I thought for the 175th time, why on earth did I agree to come on this trek.

Everyone was looking timorously at the rushing water and I am willing to swear it sounded like it was hissing and laughing at us. Instructions were shouted and a thin rope was flung across the water. We were told to keep on one side of the rope, hold hands and walk sideways.

Now when you are crossing a stream and someone is bawling out to you to walk sideways it gets confusing. Do you walk sideways along the length of the stream? Or do you walk sideways across its breadth.

I thought how difficult can it be, it’s a knee deep stream with pretty white water. Considering that I am 56, 5ft 6 inches and weigh a good 77kg I laughed the light laugh and stepped out first, holding the hand of a girl half my age and size behind me and the hand of an experienced strong male trekker who taught me how to climb sideways down an almost vertical slope, half an hour earlier.

Did I say I laughed the light laugh? In a few traumatized minutes, I was laughing on the other side of my face, terrified out of my wits, because that miserable stream had its own ideas of Sunday morning entertainment.

It would not allow me to place one foot down, kept waving it away and any fool knows, you cannot proceed anywhere on one leg. Everyone was screaming instructions and I announced I could not move. They screamed some more and logic dictated I had better shift somehow towards the other side of the stupid stream.

Big mistake. I realized too late that I should have waited there until the stream eased up sometime after the monsoons. This was August...like maybe December?


It swept me off my feet, the strong man grabbed me, but you know ... 77 kgs and a stream with murder in its heart. I took him with me and we were both tossed around like twigs in the white water.

With the immersion in the cold water, the terror disappeared immediately and I felt this deep curiosity about two things, where would it end and why for the 176th time did I agree to come on a trek because 56-year-olds put others at risk. But the stream got its laugh of the day and tossed us both near the other bank.

That trek to Dudhsagar was with a group called Off Trail Adventures run by the diminutive Bianca Dias. I will never forget that trek not because of that stream with a demonic sense of humour, but because it opened a whole new world. Pure, simple, beautiful, where the only sounds were the call of the birds, the laughter of the streams and the majestic roar and crash of the mighty Dudhsagar waterfall. Experiencing all this in the company of people half my age who showed grit and maturity beyond their years.

The boy with the dislocated shoulder was in agony, you could see it in the dullness of his eyes, which were sparkling with fun an hour before. He, like a few others, had lost his shoes in the monster stream and had to hobble with his dislocated arm held sideways over a buddy’s shoulders. I gave him my spare set of ladies sandals which he accepted gratefully, and he walked up steep slopes helped by everyone, crossed one more stream, not as vicious as the one that caused the dislocation, and then had to be hoisted up a vertical shoulder of land. And not a word of complaint from him.

We climbed up in the intermittent rain, up more slippery slopes and finally onto the railway tracks so that we could come up close and personal with a sight that shakes you to your core, the mighty Dudhsagar in full spate. There are few sights more beautiful or awe-inspiring.

After that a frantic hobble with cramping muscles over the tracks to a goods train; clambering on to the engine, trying not to think how the hero with the dislocated arm managed. The slow train ride from leafy pathways, cool streams in a thick forest with butterflies and birds, to a motorized world with dirty puddles of rain water and a concrete jungle. Two completely different worlds, straddled by us, humans, the common denominator.

Monday, August 2, 2010

This is what I want Mr Developer

Developers complain that it has become standard practice for activists to protest against every project that is introduced. Even at one of those talks shows on one of Goa’s news channels, an environmental activist was at a loss for words when a developer asked him what he and his movement actually wanted. They keep saying what they don’t want, the developer complained to the anchor, but they never say what they do want. And taking a cue from that, the anchor asked the activist what it was that he and his people wanted. I waited with bated breath, but nothing clear-cut came through in a jumble of half sentences.

And I thought if I was asked the question I would say that I would like the Goa of the seventies back again. When the roads were clean, the gardens beautiful with bougainvilla and abolim and the houses large … Where we had a clean beaches and quiet fishing villages to the West and lush green hills to the east ... Where everyone had enough and was satisfied with what they had ... Where a woman could wear all her jewellery to the village feast with no fear of it being snatched from her ... Where doors and windows of houses were kept wide open during the day and on hot summer nights too…

But that is not possible so here’s my second choice.

I want a plan. Houses should be built in settlement land and not anywhere else. Goans were self sufficient when it came to food. We had fish, we grew paddy, fruit and vegetables. We had coconuts and cashews which gave us some of the tastiest cuisine in the world and the most potent brews ever. It was scary that when India needed to import sugar, there was a shortage abroad too.

We need to rejuvenate the communidades and plant the fields and tend to the orchards again and throw the Land to the Tiller Act into the dustbin of history. We can have clusters of industrial estates in each taluka on barren land and give them piped water. The main cities can have business districts where corporates set up offices to provide jobs for our urban people.

In order to get good jobs we have to have well qualified and skilled people, so our educational institutions have to be given a major revamp. From nursery levels, teach children to be unafraid of the unknown and give them the tools to learn. Change our syllabus to include subject matter that is relevant today and for the future. Select only the best people for the teaching profession, because they play a crucial part in forming the ethics of the people who will run this state in the next decade.

Government jobs should be reserved only for 50-year-olds who can work till they are 60. The burden will be less on the taxpayer and we’ll have more money for sensible infrastructure.

I want youngsters to avoid government jobs; I want them to start small businesses, which can grow into big ones. I want our engineering, medical and other professional colleges to actively encourage research and enterprise. If we have a River Princess sitting on a sandbank, we should have alert young minds finding solutions to remove her before she does any damage. We should have such seats of learning that the products and services we offer should be the best in the world.

I want an end to corruption. I want every corrupt person to stop cold turkey and do the right thing. I want people to get jobs based on merit, not on how much they can pay or how much influence they have. For that I want a group of 40 wise men and women who take on the business of governance as a challenge and clean out the rot from within. I don’t mind a few gated communities, but I want a proper sewerage system all over settlement areas.

I want the rivers to be desilted regularly so that our rivers live long and healthy. For that to happen I want the mining to be controlled and the forests to be allowed to make large amounts of oxygen for us.

I want the outsiders who have already come to settle here to respect the land and the people. I do not want more outsiders, because we have to think of space for our own children. We have enough migrant labour and if we need more let our engineering students build machines to do those jobs.

I want the police to serve, protect and enforce the law. I want a happy healthy society which is unafraid and ready for a good laugh anytime. And one thing I would not change is our food, music, drama and wit. That has come through undisturbed through the centuries. If our music and arts can do it why can’t the rest of the essence of Goa? Like the ad says: let’s just do it!