Friday, October 24, 2008

And thereby hangs a paranoid tail

Villagers seem to love dogs. Though they don't fuss over them or feed them bread and jam, every household has a dog or two. Some have half a dozen lounging around in the dust of the yard. They are given scraps to eat and left to run free and wild.

Watching a dog chase a frightened, squawking rooster, it occurs to me how easy it would be for a wily politician to make the dog look like the enemy.

I can imagine a cur like Raj Thackeray – after he's done chasing poor Biharis out of Bombay - starting a Hound the Dogs campaign.

It's so absurd, it's entirely possible.

Dogs are not your best friend, he will shout from his pulpit. Can't you see how they eat roosters and deprive the local population of food? Can't you see how they monopolise the garbage, and to such an extent that poor local rag pickers actually have to fight them off? Even the poor cow has to go hungry. Is this fair? Not even hungry Biharis will stoop to such low tricks.

Beware of dogs.If out of the kindness of your heart, you've given a dog a nice home, remember this: give a dog an inch and he will want the whole yard. And soon even that will not be enough. The dirty dogs will completely take over your neighbourhood. See how already they mark their territory simply by raising one leg. Look how they growl at every one who passes by. They are dangerous and they're armed to the teeth - with very sharp teeth that bite.

Beware of dogs. Dogs give you rabies. And they will take away your jobs. Is that what you want? Already they have taken over the job of the watchman. What will they do next, ask yourselves that. What if they become farmers and wine shop owners? Will you beg them for scraps, for a glass of fenny? What will happen to your Goan pride then?

Don't forget, men wiser than me have already predicted that every dog will have his day. Has that day already come? Is the country already going to the dogs?

And listening to his rant, maybe the poor villagers will get rid of the dogs and hire migrant Biharis to guard their homes and then the local Goans will say that the Biharis have taken away their jobs and Raj Thackeray will chase away the Biharis and so the merry-go-round will continue.

Unless, of course, they pelt Raj Thackeray with stones and shout: You dirty cur, take that.

What fun it would be to see Raj Thackeray run away like a frightened dog, with his tail tucked between his legs.Run, you cur, run!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is there anybody out there?

Too many things happening. Too little time.
So I'm going to stop blogging - for some time at least.
Hello, is anybody out there reading this?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bats at twilight

At twilight - when Venus glows in the sky and trees, losing their green depth, become sombre outlines - one often sees what seems to be a small lone bird fluttering about long after the other birds are gone.

Something about the frantic way in which it flaps its small wings, and in the way it darts about as if in fright, for years made me think it was a little lost bird looking for its mama or at least the rest of the flock.

Till I discovered it was not a bird, but a bat.

Why does it flutter its wings in that lost frightened way?

I thought it might be because it was blind. How scary to be blind and lost.

I have seen bats suddenly rise like a thick dark cloud out of the bushes on a hillside. It was getting dark and I was hurrying down the hill after watching the sun set when all of a sudden there were hundreds of bats gliding past me, swift, silent and intent. Not one behaved as if it was blind.

A solitary bat often flies in through an open window of my cottage at night. It will fly from room to room 'looking' for a way out, but it flies gracefully, not like my frightened twilight bat (or me flying out in fright).

Is my twilight bat still too young to have learnt how to feel its way about without sight?

Is its frantic fluttering just a bat thing and nothing whatsoever to do with fright?

I don't know.

But I'm getting used to not knowing a lot of things out here.

Like why a moth will settle down inches away from a lizard and not realise it's in danger. Or why stray dogs stay awake all night barking. Or why a frog will hide in my bookshelf till it dies and I find its dead body squashed flat between two books like a dried leaf.

It's all a mystery.

Maybe one day I'll see a pig fly and won't be surprised at all. Who can figure out, after all, the strange ways of these creatures?

Friday, October 10, 2008

When cultures meet

One of the nice things about living in a place where people come to holiday is the general air of gaiety. The sun is shining, the sea is blue, and all the horrors of the world – war and terror and strife - seem very far away.

People on holiday are happy people.

So when an act of senseless violence occurs, it is all the more horrifying.

A 65-year-old Australian tourist was beaten to death yesterday by some waiters after he objected to the way they served him beer.

A Dutch woman down the road from where I live was beaten by some locals last year. Again over something trivial. The woman along with her husband had been running a restaurant for some years. The woman was not seriously hurt, but she was so shaken by the incident that the couple packed their bags and left, vowing never to return.

There is, of course, the case of Scarlet Keeling.

It makes you wonder if the smiling face of tourism is not somewhat romanticized in a world of simmering discontents and covert xenophobia. It is, after all, no more than commerce, no more than an artificial 'hospitality' offered in return for cold cash. To paraphrase Adam Smith, it is not from the hospitable nature of Goans that tourists get their holiday, it is from their self-love.

Tourism is an industry in which one culture is forced to welcome a different culture for reasons of commerce. And when West meets traditional East, it seems they don't so much meet as collide. Yet the fa├žade must be maintained at all costs. And so each side smiles brightly at the other, says 'hello, hello', and coexists till the season is done.

There is an old song by the Temptations: 'Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes – they don't tell the truth.'

You think war and terror and strife are far away from here. But maybe it's only an illusion.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The new labour

There's a house being built next door for the last many years. Every now and then there's a sudden flurry of activity, and then silence again.

One morning as I'm drinking a cup coffee on the veranda I see a small group of young boys and girls enter the half-built house, chattering loudly in Konkani. They look like college-going youth in any small town. The boys slouch in with satchels on their back. They have slicked-back hair and a rather jaunty air. The girls are smart in salwar-kurtas. One girl has white flowers in her hair.

A while later I realise they are manual labourers. They go to and fro in the hot sun, carrying heavy blocks of laterite on their heads. Some are emptying bags of cement and scraping together a mixture with water and sand. Others are transporting the mixture to the mason. The boys have changed into old t-shirts while the girls wear long white coats rather like a doctor's over their clothes. It's hard work, sweaty and dirty. They don't look sweaty or dirty. All day I can hear them laughing and talking as they work. They tease each other, they sing. During the lunch break, after eating rice from the tiffin that each carries, they lie down in the shade cast by a large cashew tree. The girl with the flowers pulls out a compact mirror and examines her face. Another combs her hair.

When they leave in the evening it's hard to believe they've been doing hard labour all day in the hot sun. Each has had a wash. They look like college students going home after a day spent sitting in a lecture hall and making fun of the teacher.

I know for sure that these migrants from Karnataka won't be going home to some hovel, as they would if they were labourers in a big city. I asked a mason once what they did on a Sunday. 'Eat chicken and watch TV,' he told me.

They are such a contrast to the wretched labour you see in cities that I wonder: Is this a sign of the New Shining India? Or is it just Goa not conforming, as usual, to the Indian stereotype?

Singing while you slave?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Oh to be a rich rustic

Lately I've been thinking I wish I'd been born a villager in a prosperous region.

Then I wouldn't need to educate myself. Or get myself a job. Or work hard to earn money.

I could be an illiterate old rustic who drives a bullock cart and yet be rich. Seriously rich. Like old Pandari baba. The old man doesn't own a scooter or car. He rides around on his cart or on a rickety cycle, but he owns all the coconut and cashew groves around where I live, as well as several fields. In addition, he's the owner of a large house with a concrete roof and another smaller house. Both he rents out, while he and his family continue to live in their small, ancient cottage with its tiled roof and loo outside.

I could be like Ulhas, who used to be a tenant farmer, but who as a result of some tenancy laws now owns the lovely large property where he lives with its chikoo and banana and mango trees - just 500 metres from the sea.

Or like Rodney Gonsalves whose forefathers were traditional fishermen, and who runs a popular hotel right on the beach on land he inherited.

Or like a lot of other villagers who show no ostentatious signs of wealth, but who own more than one piece of what is, or soon will be, prime land.

I'd sit around drinking fenny under a coconut tree or playing the guitar while waiting for the property developers to descend from the city, waving their wads of cash. And I'd sell my land to some stressed-out guy from the city who works like a dog in an office. And I'd laugh all the way to the bank.

I'd be part of a new landed gentry. We would elect Mayawati as prime minister of India. And we would acquire flashy cars and designer suits and sneer at the poor dogs with their fancy degrees and office jobs, who think working hard is the way to get rich.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More cow musings

A herd of cows is idling on the beach, not a tuft of grass in sight, not even a plastic bag. What made them wander this way?

They sit or they stand, and they stare in that passive stupid way of cows.

Are they enjoying the cool sea breeze? The beauty of the sunset? Digesting their meal?

It's hard to say. Their expressions give nothing away.

As if guessing my thoughts, one turns its head and looks steadily at me. And the reproach in its eyes seems to say: "What is this life, if full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare?"

I stand reproached.

Maybe cows are wiser than I thought.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The cow who cries

It must be nice to be a cow in the western world. To live comfortably on more than two dollars a day, to know that you are better off than a lot of Indians (forget Indian cows) living below the poverty line.

It must be nice to be fed instead of having to scavenge in garbage along with low-life like cats and dogs – always in danger of being knocked down by a careless motorcyclist or being bitten by a village dog; nice not to look like someone out of a concentration camp.

It must be nice not to be treated like shit while your shit itself is treated with tender loving care, plastered on walls and floors, used as manure and as fuel for cooking. Nice not to have your urine praised as a panacea for all ills including cancer while you yourself slowly waste away.

It must be nice not to be a symbol: of mother earth, of fertility, of crooked political bosses, of India, of Hinduism. Never to have communal riots in your name. Never to be dressed up and paraded through the village and have people worship you as a goddess.

It must be so nice just to be a regular unholy cow.

And to be happy and to have pictures of you laughing on cartons of cheese.

I look at the sad scrawny cow who’s been standing still and staring passively at nothing at all for the last half an hour, and I wonder if she’d be thinking all that if she could think. Or would it be: At least I'm not a hamburger.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baby, can you drive my car?

Every year during the Ganapathi festival my neighbour Ramakant binges on lottery tickets, the ones that each Ganapathi pandal sells. He'll buy not one, but an entire booklet of 100 tickets totalling 5,000 rupees in the hope of narrowing his chances of winning the big prize: a maroon Maruti Alto. So far he has spent 15,000, a lot of money for a man who trims trees and brings down the coconuts. But probably his two grown sons paid.

This year, to his utter astonishment, Ramakant won. Ganapathi be praised!

The car was brought home, everyone came to oohh and ahh over it, aarti was done. The next day the family of eight and a horde of relatives – dressed in their most elegant clothes - went for a spin in the car and a hired van.

Then the bamboo compound fencing was removed . The car was placed inside and covered with old saris and a plastic sheet. All evening Ramakant spent putting the bamboo back in place.

The car is now safely inside.

Every day the wrapping is removed and the car cleaned thoroughly.

But the car never goes anywhere. None of them knows how to drive.