Monday, May 29, 2006

Goan interlude

Just got back from a short trip to Goa.

This was not my first trip. probably not my last one either. But this was a trip made after 31 years, my last visit here being at the end of 1975.

Notwithstanding warnings from folks decrying this choice of time of travel, Goa being very hot, this being peak of the Off-season etc etc, flights to Goa were completely packed. With mostly Indians. Lots of children .

Despite Goa being touted as a destination of choice that draws German charter flights like a Goan to his feni, the airport in Goa remains an unassuming type. No aerobridges, tunnels etc. You get off the plane and sort of trudge into an enclosure which quickly leads you outside the airport, without endless corridors with endless signs . No one looks at you with suspicion as you pull your lugguage (the current style elsewhere being, treat travellers in an Guilty-until-proven-innocent manner, all in the name of security.).

You have a choice of prepaid taxis to take you to your destination, ours being Panjim. Immediately outside the airport, you see the moderate intercity traffic, and spying buses trundling in the distance and true to our middle class values, we do a fast trudge with our bags to the main road and back. The buses are decently crowded with folks who are NOT on holiday, and going about their work with baskets and stuff, and since we do a lot of push-push-shove-shove-squeeeeze-through-to-the-exit-stuff in mumbai, we decide to treat ourselves to a taxi in Goa, and pretend we are on a five star vacation. Turns out this was to be one of the two taxi rides we took in our entire 5 day stay....

Goa to me, earlier was a bunch of cities interspersed in a wealth of small villages dotted with greenery. The earlier lack of multistoreyed dwellings was admirable. The biggest difference this time was there are no well defined village boundaries any more. There seems to be some sort of boom in ex-village construction. Some of the older mangalore-tiled houses with intricate trelisses and bowers of greenery leaning over imposing entrances have given way to cement-concrete monstrocities. Some unavoidable things like industrial areas have come up, but they still try and blend in with the surroundings, moderating their external display, so-to-speak. Earlier, 25 years ago, as you entered the main village area, you saw a nice football field , a church and temple, where you read announcements of impending matches with a visiting village team from elsewhere; folks landed up to cheer their team, to be followed by a goodwill feni session post match, possibly with a great meal.

Today, what really strikes you is the number of houses in the village with doors locked from outside. My friend from Goa, who we met after 25 years , tells us that this doesnt necessarily mean that people have migrated ; it also could mean, that someone is out for shopping etc, and IT IS NO LONGER SAFE TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE UNLOCKED IF YOU ARE STEPPING OUT FOR A WHILE. The possibility of people from the countryside going to work in Panjim also cannot be denied, given the developement of educational institutions over the years , and the transport infrastructure. (We in Mumbai , who travel 80 kms daily , packed liked sardines , simply to go to work, cannot really say a thing. Travelling to work in Goa is a very civilsed affair. Buses are generally going from point A to Z, and anyone along the way , at any point, stops the bus anywhere and gets on it. You politely wave, the driver politely stops, the conductor shouts out the area names while leaning from the steps, just to introduce some excitement, and "transport" happens....).

Roads in Goa are wonderful. Mostly 2 lane highways, sorry, roads. I dont recall seeing single speed limit sign during my entire stay. Everyone drives as fast as they want. Our taxi driver did a 1 hour drive in 35 minutes flat. The approved thing is to overtake huge vehicles at great speed. The only time you cannot do that is when a motorcycle with a pillion rider is simultaneously trying to overtake you at the same time, irrespective of the width of the road. I didnt experience a single pot hole . Goa has a climate similar to Mumbai. Yes, i know the density of traffic in Mumbai is huge. But here in Mumbai potholes are a way of life. Goa is dotted with new roundabouts where traffic gracefully swirls around before getting into a frenzied acceleration, and i admire this effort by the government to temper as well as beautify in one shot.

Given the 25 years that elapsed after my previous visit, one thing that reassures me is the effort being put , in maintaining the greenery in Goa. Goa is still lush with mangroves, trees, and i suppose individual riches are still counted in terms of how much land you have and how many mango, cashew and coconut trees crown it. You notice "houses nestled amongst trees" as opposed to trees decorating the house. Which is how it was, and how it should be.

Goa tourism tries to do a commendable job running various tours. The communication interface when you call from out of state is good. Relevant information, quick information, someone has some great ideas about how websites can be usefully planned.

The problem starts in "real-time."

Assorted bookings are made, coupons given for trips on buses, but the communication infrastructure, networkwise, is simply , not there. The centralised booking people convey arbitrary bookings to the people at the tour start site. One feels they get so carried away with the IT aspect of the whole thing, that they simply forget to pass on the information to people at the bus-level. And so, for every tour we took, there was a lot of frustrated yelling, discussion, cursing the GTDC people. Walking back and forth to counters. On finally resolving the issue, we would still keep our time everywhere as defined in the brochure; which leads me to believe that these mess-ups are all planned/built-in and taken care off by the GTDC system. Absolutely shameless and amazing.

Waves of anger and frustration, enveloped by the breezes of the peaceful Goa countryside, soon gave way to a bus , speeding along, playing the latest music, interspersed with pithy comments from the tour guide. One cannot help but smile , when , on explaining the importance of Aguada fort, where there is a jail, the tour guide PROUDLY mentions that 2 very prominent criminals managed to escape from there. There is even a bust of one of the criminals , in the fancy restaurant where he was finally arrested. :-) :-)

Folks in Goa have an inborn environmental awareness. There are several watchdog organisations today that ensure that planted trees exceed cut trees during any construction activity. One is delighted to see inland waterways, and mangroves ; driving inland in the hills, pineapples bought from local chaps certainly taste different to those I have eaten so far; much more sweet. Old women hawkers on the streets and markets of Panjim, sell raw cashews and Goa's local mangoes. A glance across the hills emphasises the insistence of non-highrises. The coastal regulations rules prohibit construction within 500 meters of the coastline. But sadly, as elsewhere in India, (but to a much lesser extent) these rules are flouted by appealing to higher (?) authorities at the Centre. Witness the Tata housing in the Betim Hills. JRD would NEVER
have approved.

The old quarter of Panjim, now being treatd as a Heritage area, has these amazing "gulleys", (small pathways), with even more amazing houses with intricate carvings and treliises, and a very unique way of announcing the owners name, in a blue delft like plate fitted into the wall outisde. Dark blue, brickred etc appear to be the favourite colours of buildings, and white comes a close second . These areas are dotted with homestyle reaturants , serving typical Goan food, and many are written up and recomended in things like the lonely Planet Guide.

Lonely or not, recommended or not, we were treated to a lunch in one of these, by our Goan friend towards the end of our trip. Fish Curry and rice being the staple, this place excels in serving various varieties of fish. The non vegetarians amongst us, ate with single minded devotion to the plate in front, oblivious to the coming and going of electricity, conversation, etc. Plates were wiped clean with "pao" till they gleamed, and fingers licked till there was nothing more to be licked. Amazing food, at even more amazing prices; bringing out th Goans' natural predeliction for the "good times" to be enjoyed by one and all.

Which finally brings us to Sussegaad. I am convinced that after such great meals of Fish Curry and rice, a person gets so satiated, that a short nap (after a drink of chiiled beer...) is on order. Maybe its the quality of rice, the lush quality of the coconut used, or the omega 3 magic of the fish fat, but most businesses in Goa come to a halt between 1pm and say 4pm. This is Sussegaad time. Relax. Take a nap. Release your tensions.

And then there is the Ferry. Despite the Panjim Mandovi river bridge spanning across Panjim and Betim , most people still like to travel across the river by Ferry. On my last trip to Goa, I remember paying for it. Since 2002 this is now free, except for vehicles with wheels for which there is a minor fee. . And so you see tons of two wheelers emerging , as if from the river, when the Ferry docks at Panjim or Betim. The heady combination of sea smells, fish and diesel fumes probably creates the right incentive for rushing to have a cold chilled beer /feni wherever you plan to go next.

On our last day in Panjim we were looking for a place that sells a typical Goan sweet called "Dose"; I may have the spelling wrong, but folks, its the taste that matters. Our Goan friend served this to us over tea at her riverfront living room in Betim. This resulted in us depleting her entire supply of this sweet . A deadly combination of gram flour (chana flour), coconut, and local jaggery (probably toddy based) this melt-in-your-mouth stuff has not been given the publicity it deserves. Goa Tourism, WAKE UP!!!

It was 1 pm when our taxi taking us to the airport came. On hearing about our quest, the driver, trying to beat the Sussegaad timings, drove in a frenzy in the opposite direction to the airport, to take us to a shop where he knew this was sold. He then came after us to see whether we were able to get it, and then even moved the car and parked it where we didnt have to walk back a big distance to get back in again.

Izzat ka swaal tha. (To those unfamiliar with this, it means "it was question of goan prestige...").

And so we were back on the way to the airport. Whizzing past, trying to beat out previous timing between Panjim and the airport. Maybe the driver was yet to have his lunch. Maybe he wanted to get back to a Sussegaad afternoon over fish curry, rice and feni.

Like i said, there are NO speed limits. Maybe i will recommend him to Michael Schumaker. And maybe Schumaker will take him, provided, of course , he comes along with the fish curry and rice.

And a picture of Schumaker winning his races and getting doused by a bottle of feni in Monaco, is too much to imagine.

Time for Sussegaad.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cricket Cribs

Ever since the discussion over 'too much cricket" has started , I keep getting a feeling of "finally someone has brought out into the open what I, having been saying for ages"......


The BCCI is behaving like a industry, or to put it in plain words, a fact
ory. Raw material in plenty, guaranteed market, constant innovations in final product. So the BCCI simply flogs the machine into producing more, and More , and MOre, and MORe, and MORE !!! If one of the raw material ingredients malfunctions or falls apart, suppliers will fall over each other to give more, so production is guaranteed. Its like we have an infinite supply of cricketers, ready to play , in case one of the team falls by the wayside.....

Our Cricketers are being made to play too much cricket. Time was when there was one big series or maybe two a year. You looked forward to planning your time so you could enjoy the match, be it on the radio, TV or at the Stadium. Guys played their cricket and went home to their families, and came back refreshed for the next series.

Today, BCCI flaunts its riches, as a result of making vast amounts from having back to back matches and back to back series, which swell up their coffers, thanks to the cricket-mad public. There is total disregard for some kind of rest and recreation period for players. The hanging sword over everyones head is the possibility of being DROPPED from the team.

So you have guys declaring themselves fit, turning up at the venue, and suddenly sporting a muscle strain on the match day; you have at least one guy, either injured, muscle sprained, or having viral fever. Sometimes when there are bigger injuries like, say, Sachin's,--- folks fly off to England, Australia and South Africa, to have operations performed, which I have always suspected, can be actually performed here. (When you are out of sight, there is no information overload , and lesser questions are asked by the public. You make "statements" and then everyone shuts up. )

Television is actually the culprit. Selling television rights is a BIG thing. Reported on the first page of newspapers. Doesnt matter if Anjali Bhagwat gets a gold in an international shooting competetion, you can relegate her to page 6.

And can television sponsors of players be far away ? Of course not. There you have our leading players, promoting cola drinks, fans, motorcycles, banks, credit cards. Dhoni the latest sensation, is supposed to be a big milk drinker. One never sees him doing a public commercial to encourage children to drink milk.

In all this bombardment of our senses with TV and cricket, its our children who suffer the most. Every March-April, they schedule tests and one day internationals
. Sometimes the same team plays with the same opposition on two consecutive days, at the same venue, as happened in the recent India Pak DLF cup. And children who should get a less exciting environment just prior to their final exams, end up having to make tough honest choices , or cheating themselves.

We are going the way of the western countries, where sport marketing is a business, and has been so for a long time. Their children, and general public have been exposed to this so long, you are now seeing their educational standards in schools dropping and causing governmental concern

Why is it that Indian youths in their 20's and 30's are doing well today in various countries? I suspect its because, in their school years, they knew what their priorities were, had lesser distractions like overdoses of cricket and TV. .

We need to cut down this cricket schedule to reasonable proportions. Every natural disaster does not need India to play a cricket match to help it. Very recently, the BCCI made a very noble decision. "to channel some of its earnings to aid other sports developement in Inda".

(I knew there was catch somewhere :-))

The solution ? Well, the players will be
asked to play a benefit match, proceeds to go for that sport. Jor lagake, Haaiyya.

Sunil Gavaskar says players shouldnt crib about a tight playing schedule. I would love to know the sort of schedule they had when he played. I also realise that he is currently in the business of commentating on the cricket matches all over the world. Which is a bit less strenuous than actually playing the matches, dont you think?

Time and time again one sees that the steeper the climb, the harder the fall.
Will the BCCI ever learn?

Car Talk !

When we were young, like in middle school, my father was posted in the Central state Secretariat in Mumbai. (It was called Bombay then). Since we were in school in Pune, and school mobility has never been a strong point in our educational system, we only came to Bombay to spend our vacations, and stayed at a place at Nariman Point.

One of the things my brother and I liked to do, was to sit on one of the Marine Drive benches, and admire the cars going by.

Ye olde Ambassadors and Fiats were simply passe.

What we watched and what my brother became an expert identifer about, were the American , German , Japanese and British cars, that often cruised down these roads. I still remeber my brother "reciting" the name of a Peugot, (really messing it up in the pronounciation), showing me a Buick passing by. Once in a while a Cadillac. A Mercedes Benz was a rarity, but we saw some, given that most Consular Staff lived in this area. There was so much glamour attached to a Mercedes, that some of it rubbed of on some buses, which were supposed to be Tata Mercedes Benz. Vauzhalls, and Prefects puttered about, and there were even some cars which had side boards on which you could stand while the car was running. Fiats by then were an Indian Production, and so were Ambassadors, and were not considered worth commenting on.

Soon, it came to pass, that these cars disappeared from the scenery, and were "brought out and aired' only during Vintage car rallies. The Fiats and Anbassadors were the cars of choice, and one had to wait 8 years to be allocated a Fiat car. Bombay was , and still is, full of Fiat taxis.

The Ambassadors were a very very roomy and bulky vehicle , and it was not unknown then for a grooms entire eimmediate family of 10 , to travel to the wedding, in a single ambassador car, perched on various laps. For the Government Ministers, it was , amd still is , a vehicle of choice. Old Reliable..

Today, almost 40 years later, Bombay is now called Mumbai, and the roads are awash with American, Korean , German, and other cars, "gliding" around or at least trying to, given the craterish state of our roads. .. The Maruti cars in their various models have almost replaced the Fiats, and Ambassadors are almost antique. In my childhood, having a car radio was such a rarity, you turned it on and listened. The car itself made a decent noise when it was driven, changing gears etc, that you mostly heard the radio when stationary. Todays car , are much quieter.

Today the cars come with a choice of radio, CD player et al. most are airconditioned, .But people are so busy talking on their cell phones, that they hardly hear the radio and listen to whats going on.

Car thieves are having a great time, there is so much to choose from. If its not the car, you can always steal the audio electronics. And the drive is so smooth, you cannot tell when someone drives off with it.

We stiil have a Fiat, which my husband bought when he got his first job. He still has the same job and the same car. Our car is 32 years old. No radio, no CD player. Not even a clock. No cup holder. And if you stare long enough at the accelerator and clutch, you can actually see the road beneath, in all its concrete glory. No A/c, no cooling, but lots of heating :-)

The car is often left unlocked. Even the thieves dont take a second look.

A few years ago, we were woken up one morning, when someone in our building complex. saw a car parked next to ours, in our building, with its windshield smashed. On further investigation, it was clear that the thieves had taken off with the audio electronics. The car was locked with one of those remote locks, that sound like a video game when they are operated. Never mind. They just crashed the glass and got in.

And our old Fiat sat alongside, unlocked, open to the world, and the thief probably never even took a cursory look at it. .



Here in Mumbai , we are in the throes of one more, suddenly declared , BEST bus strike. A lot of people who do not read newspapers in the morning, (probably as they leave for work before the newspapers come, or are simply too busy organising meals and households before their departure to enjoy the newspaper luxury), stood endlessly at busstops till others landed up and confirmed their worst fears; THERE WAS A BUS STRIKE.

Today is the second day, and the strike is supposed to be "indefinite".

At the end of the day, Mumbai buses are really great. They travel through roads and traffic conditions that would unnerve even the best drivers anywhere. Buses meant for 22 "standees" (after all seats have been taken), are routinely packed with like 50 standees normally; the conductor manages to move through it all issuing tickets, without offending anyones modesty or temperament, often having to deal with people in their 80's travelling with the entire joint families, construction workers going to some site, pseudo smart white collar types obsessed with cell phones, entangled in their ear pieces, not to speak of students with their backpacks, women on their way to weddings, getting last minute instructions from folks on the ground, as they clutch the door on the last step of the bus, trying to push a 5 year old child into an already impossibly packed bus.
. (Once I even saw a guy from a cake shop carrying 3 huge cakes for deilvery in such a packed bus. I dont even think he thought twice about it)

And these buses regularly transport everyone to all their destinations, through rain, moon, sun, storms, earthquakes, floods.

Given the geographical features of the city, this is a challenge. The conductors and drivers have to make the requisite number of trips during the day over such varying conditions, or they are docked a penalty off their daily earnings.

These guys went on strike for an enhancement of dearness allowance that was earlier agreed upon, and now the earlier decision was declared timebarred.

Two days of immense inconvenience to the general public. Small children going to appear in school exams. maids going for their daily housework jobs. Young people trying to keep a decent attendance in their first job miles away from home.

And the government DELIBERATES. For two full days. The same government who wants to allocate Rs 2 crores and install a statue of Shivaji somewhere in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai. Shivaji himself would have recommended that the money be used for the welfare of the hard working people.

As of now, the news is the TALKS have been inconculsive and not reached anywhere.

So far, we had an airport-authority employees strike that crippled the airports and turned them into dustbins; a bank strike for 7 days (which was like Marie Antoinette going on strike as "biscuits wont do, i eat only cakes") that caused a loss of thousands of crores of Rs to the country, a recent strike of Udipi Hotels in Mumbai protesting Value added taxes, a strike by Municipal Hospital Doctors to protest absence of basic security in wards (where a patients relatives slapped a doctor after a patient died).

Maybe I left out some strikes.

I only hope the rain doesnt go on strike this year.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Summer fruit....

Like someone once said, its been the best of the times and the worst of the times.

Mid May in Mumbai, and to those of us who avoid the air conditioned culture with a vengeance, its sweat, sweat and more sweat. The vehicle madness in Mumbai ensures an overdose of hydrocarbons, and just in case i try to walk away from the traffic on the furthest side of the road, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai does its bit by digging up most of the road sides, all in the interests of progress. Traffic outside my area takes this as a challenge, and I am surprised that no one has drawn Michael Schumakers attention to the driving expertise of people here. Speed at any cost.

Lots and lots of fruits in the market. Despite Mr George W. Bush giving his presidential OK for the flight of Hapoos mangoes to the US, mango prices here are doing their usual seasonal slde in price as April trudges towards May. It amuses me no end to think of Safeway advertising Hapoos Mangoes from Devgad in their inserts in newspapers , and pseudo posh restaurants coming up with high priced Mango soufles, Mango a la something, Mango with hawaiin liquer etc etc and charging an obscene amount for it.

My daughter still likes to soften a whole mango with her palm , after lunch, make an aperture at where the stem was, and then gleefully suck it, till the last drop. And she does this every single day.

We have had lots of grapes, citrus fruits, melons, watermelons, not to speak of those fruits which have made a sneak entry due to , say, globalisation. We get to see the results of various hybrid melons, something that looks like a honey dew melon fron outside but is a watermelon from inside. The local rodside fruit vendor sneers down his nose when someone calls a kiwi a chikoo, and gets to see an open mouth, once he tells us the price. Chinese pears, New Zealand apples , and apples from God knows where, individually wrapped in nylon netting (at a suitable enhanced price).

Its entertaining to see people drive by congested lanes, and order so much of this bourgoise fruit, that they have to employ someone to lug it to their air conditioned cars; its a status thing to buy mangoes ONLY by the crate; and the more polished, labelled, and packed the apple, the more impresive it is to buy it.

I use to often wonder , how my fruitwalla (fruit vendor to non -indians) could afford to stock this stuff. i never knew there was such a huge market for it.

Yet, at the end of the day, there are still folks who argue about the price of bananas, prefer to reduce quantity to keep expenditure constant, and buy grapes with undisguised glee outside the suburban railway stations because they are invariable cheaper there, as always. Fruit vendors know when their bargaining customers come, and the unwritten rule is to keep silent while the kiwi fruit type customers point their fingers at non native fruits and load up their cars.

Little do they know, their globalised shopping habits actually subsidise my purchases, bargains and all.

tension in the time of RESULTS....

tension in the time of RESULTS....

Just when the hot weather gets you wondering about just how high the temperature is
going to soar this year, folks normally look forward to two things,. One is the impending rainy season, and the falls in temperatures. Two, academic results , all due in late May, early June.

Every year, "counselling' types get into high gear around this time. The 10th class results and 12th class results are the most traumatic things happening .

Just have a look at the news articles in the papers. These two exams have been unneccesarily hyped over the last several years, results appear in the papers, with interviews about how the toppers studied, and photos of smiling parents, basking in their childs success. Schools with good reslults get ready to get choosy about new admissions, prospective good students rush in, and there is the old demand and supply situation all over again.

Behind all this glitz and glamour lie the stories of various children, who have been traumatically affected by the pressure to succeed. The sky is supposed to fall if they do not get into medicine or engineering. Sports activities are curtailed, TV's are packed away in their boxes, the child sits glued to his or her tuition classes/books, only to emerge for meals, for which again, there are counsellors advising you on what to cook. If you are appearing for any entrance exams like IIT, then its even worse. For a set up, where just the sheer numbers and the caliber of people applying make your chances of getting in, equiavalent to a chance of winning a crore in a lottery, failure is a hard thing to handle .

And so you read in the papers about someone getting home after collecting results from the school, and the next thing you know, the child , unable to take the pressure of facing "failure' has hung and killed himself, while the family was out. Recently one read of a girl in Delhi who jumped from an upper floor of her apartment building unable to take the pressure. Even where the child has succeeded in the entrance exam like IIT, it is not unknown for the entire family to be in mourning, because the rank is not high enough to get the choice branch of computers.

It is this mindset that made hundreds of readers write in to newspapers recently, when the government started to think on the lines of making mathematics optional , in say, highschool
. YOU MUST HAVE MATHEMATICS ! ITS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL IN DAILY LIFE ! HOW CAN YOU REMOVE ALGEBRA AND GEOMETRY ? they wrote. I wonder if they ever think of how many vegetable vendors have done , say algebra; or how many street food vendors specialised in arithmetic. maybe it never strikes them , that education is often need based, and when you need something badly, like an ability to calculate, you develope motivation/shortcuts, and you learn, NEVER to forget it, exam or no exam.

All this while, a school system
called the National Institute of open Schooling (NIOS) has existed since 1989, initiated by the Ministry of Human Resorce Developement, Government of India. It has accredited centres all over India, is loosely based on the CBSE system. The redeeming feature is your ability to choose a variety of subjects, othet than Mathematics, Physics , Chemsitry, etc. Only English is compulsory. You have the flexibility of doing the subjects at your own pace, and exams are held twice a year. Textbooks are provided by the government on registration.

Before anyone pipes in about "but who recognises these institutions", let me say, that Universities on Mumbai, Pune, all IIT;s SNDT, and hundreds of Universities in all the Indian states recognise the NIOS . Of course, you need to satisfy the admission criteria to these universoities etc, as per their individual requirements, subjectwise.

This system is a boon, for those who are working, are training for sports and unable to give regular time to studying, as well as some, who for some reason, are unable to handle the existing regimented state board system.

And there is no concept of "topping the board". No one is declared first and second . No interviews with winners. And humanities subjects, commerce subjects, art, vocational training subjects, are all treated on par. No looking down on subjects.

Most of all, a child wilting and struggling under the existing exam pressure, for whatever reasons, pathological,social or genetic, learns to flower in this system, boosting self esteem , and in the final analysis, CONFIDENCE.

I should know. My daughter did this system.

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