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Margaret Mascarenhas

One hundred days of platitude (Gomantak Times)



“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” said the  Guru of Undemocracy.  He was giving the Municipal brethren a pep-talk.  “ And we certainly can’t have that. Let’s keep our cities dirty,” he urged, upon the commissioning of a soiling tanker, which sounded gross even if no one knew what it was.  “Open up the drain pipes and let the heavenly smell of sewage, permeate the atmosphere.  And while you’re at it,” he advised, “repair the manholes on the roads again.”


At this, the Municipal brethren heaved huge whooshing sighs of relief, because they had read newspaper reports about a crackdown on corruption and they’d been worried.


“Sir,” piped in one of the Municipal guys,  “the citizens are complaining about our temporary repair methods.  We are not sure how long we can get away with it. And so, sir, we are concerned, because, sir, as you know, continuous temporary repairs are what will send our sons to business school in America.  Tuitions there are very high, sir. If we cannot meet our responsibilities, there will be much weeping and gnashing of the teeth.”


“Take heart, my son,” said the Guru of Undemocracy, who had read up on left-brain thinking for forty days in the desert, “Use your creativity.  There are other ways to cheat the public. Stop making mountains out of molehills.  Instead, make mountains out of manholes.”  And the councilors were happy and went straight to work, inviting contractors to use extra material to make huge hills in the middle of all the roads of the city.  And one of the devotees of the Guru of Undemocracy was given a revelation straight from hell:  in it, a devil instructed him to go into the motorcycle helmet business and thus capitalize on head injuries resulting from people crashing into manholes.  “Go forth, and multiply your assets,” said the devil. 


Next, the Guru of Undemocracy held a prayer meeting in a recently deforested area, at the end of which, he announced on loud-speaker, “Brethren, I promise you a thousand jobs in a hundred days. Bidding starts at six lakhs. Start your bidding now!”  And the jobless joyously began pawning their mothers’ jewellery in order to make their bids.  It was a wondrous thing to see, and the undemocratic faithful marveled at the sheer audacity of the scheme.


Seeking to ensure the continued apathy of the people during a period of unprecedented paucity of funds in the Ashram coffers, the Assembly of Undemocracy allotted Rs. 150 crores for chapattis and a game-show entitled Kaun Benega Crore-patti.  The Guru announced the passage of the Act to catatonic throngs from a saffron-draped dais.


“My people,” said the Guru, “never before, in the history of our State, have we been so broke.  Our granaries are so depleted, and our bureaucracy so corrupt, as to make us the envy of the entire Undemocratic World.  It has bolstered our stature in comparison with the realm of Bihar and the Indian Cricket Association.  Therefore, with the passage of this Act, let the party continue, and the game-show begin.”


These words of wisdom, were followed by a morcha, led by the Guru himself, featuring a display of Baleno cars, a phalanx of prominent members of the Assembly of Undemocracy, income-tax evaders, matka bookies, and other contortionists.  After the parade, revelers gorged themselves on chapattis and tea.


“Jai Hind!”  proclaimed one of the undemocratic faithful, as he rushed to purge himself at one of the numerous porta-vomitoriums purchased on credit for the occasion.


Civil servants provided the entertainment with their circus dogs.  The prize went to the civil servant with the best performing dog.  It will be written in the annals of undemocracy how the Guru turned to a humble civil servant and said, "what can your dog do?"
The civil servant called to his dog and said, "Chai Break, do your thing." Chai Break leapt to his feet, ate the chapattis, drank the tea, sexually molested some other dogs, claimed he injured his back while doing so, filed a grievance report for unsafe working conditions, put in for workers’ compensation and went home for the rest of the day on sick leave.


Everyone agreed, that was brilliant.


After the celebration the Guru declared one hundred days of platitude, and a photo opportunity was provided, during which Chai Break was appointed Secretary of Urban Development.






Margaret Mascarenhas

Walking the Tightrope (Gomantak Times)


Ever since I was a child, I have experienced a certain thrill of anticipation as the plane swoops in over the lush green of Goa before landing at the Dabolim airport, which I remember from the sixties as being a kind of makeshift shack, now a slightly updated avatar.  As the car winds its way along the familiar road towards Panjim, bordered by open fields and coconut groves, I smile and heave a sigh of relief. It happens every time.


The relief, however, is usually short lived…


As the car speeds into Panjim, a choking dust-storm blows in the windows.  I hold a scarf to my face as we bounce along, flying over protruding manholes and deep craters, squeezing around road workers. The whole of Panjim appears to be dug up: our own caricature of Ground Zero.  Stuck in a traffic jam, I entertain myself by counting the number of motorcycle drivers suffering from hemorrhoids (identifiable by a weird sideways perch), a condition no doubt aggravated by the state of the roads.


Upon arriving at my little pad in Tonca, I am greeted by a pile of stray- dog -poop in the driveway and a broken window (no doubt a consequence of my neighbors’ insistence on playing cricket in the narrow cul-de-sac where I live). Inside, I discover that there is no water and the phone is dead. Shortly thereafter, the power goes out for a couple of hours


Of course, I’ve known for a long time that the balance between Goa’s progress, and Goa’s beauty and heritage is precarious. There have been so many clues. Like when I drive past the fire brigade building and my nostrils are assailed by the smell of sewage.  Or when I have to treat my dog and myself with Valium because outside my window, middle-class children under ten are lighting up cherry bombs unsupervised by their parents. Or when ugly commercial structures replace palm groves or heritage structures. Or when I attend four civic meetings and see exactly the same people there. Or when I see Goans polarized on communal issues. There are other indicators: Like the way everything is becoming a shake-down or a hustle:


Last week, I couldn’t get Windows 2000 to work with my old HP400 desk-jet printer, nor download a driver from the HP site.  I called two computer offices for a solution, one in Vasco, one in Panjim. The Vasco guy told me “nobody uses Windows Professional 2k here for home computers; it’s mainly for offices. You have to buy a new printer. We’ll give you an office printer.”  Yes. Okay. Next.


The Panjim guy was more on the ball. “Of course individuals are using Windows 2k. Besides, we have a generic driver that will work for any HP printer. You don’t need to buy a new one.” So he comes over and discovers after five minutes that there isn’t any problem with the printer; it was a loose cable connection. He plugs it in tighter and charges me Rs 350 for a house call. More than my doctor. “Isn’t that a little steep for five minutes of fiddling with a cable?” I ask. “We always charge that for laptops,” he said, as though plugging in a cable from a laptop is more complicated than from a PC. But, at least I didn’t have to purchase a new printer.  Let us give thanks for small mercies.


On the plus side:


Tanya Mendonca gave me the Black Madonna painting I asked her to do for the cover of the French edition of my novel. The Miramar beach and the trees of Campal (unlike those of the Pernem highway) got a reprieve. Valerio’s opened with a bang this season and kept Fridays lively, with the most upbeat band action ever. Bal Mundkur is bringing the Trinity College Choir to Goa. At the World Heritage Day celebration in the Panjim Municipal Garden, I witnessed an incredible fusion jam between Yograj and Saesh and the Just Jazz ensemble. Manohar Parrikar promised not to demolish heritage buildings, and that’s great, but I’d prefer to see it in writing.




< Dumb and Dumber

Dumb and Dumber (Times of India)

Margaret Mascarenhas                                      


One of the reasons I left mainstream journalism and Mumbai is because, in my editorial briefs, I couldnt find the line between news, advertisements, and people promotion. Today, when I read the newspapers, I am struck by how nothing has changed since the 80s when Mumbai was Bombay and the society pages determined who and what was or was not important in the scheme of things. Sure, the papers and magazines are glossier, the editors/reporters are younger and more hep, and they definitely get paid better than I ever did.  But, lets face it: society hype still reigns supreme over reportage. Only now, its been effectively institutionalized in Mumbais lexicon as PAGE THREE.


Page Three culture has infiltrated virtually every area of news coverage, and has mostly to do with who attended which event, and what they were wearing, rather than the event itself.  Irrespective of what the average reader may feel, Mumbais bigwigs are never bored with themselves. They still love to wake up in the morning and see themselves on Page Three, or at least a Page Three knock-off. And the media obliges.


Some habitual Page Three-ers may recall with fond remembrance one of the first major photo ops in Mumbais contemporary history:  the Zandra Rhodes World Premiere at the Regal Room in the 80s, where Mumbais supernovas were personally escorted to the reserved block in the front rows. The desi glam queen of the evening was the luminous Maureen Wadia in her trademark chiffon, escorted by Rajiv Sethi. The rest scrambled around for seats, trying to look nonchalant. Most of the women in attendance had opted for an ethnic look in contrast to the bizarre sari creations of Zandra Rhodes, draped on anorexic phirangi-looking models with hats. Zandras show was watched in catatonic silence, a silence unbroken during that embarrassing business of auctioning a sari, finally and gallantly bought by Ravi Ghai. Afterwards, Sunil and Marshneil and Adi and Parmesh and Anil and Imtiaz and Murli and Hima and Pervez and Kumudesh and Charles and Monica and Russy and Olga and all the other city celebrities, made a beeline for the cocktails and tore the show to bits. When Zandra herself joined her guests, many gushed over the plunging neckline and daring transparency of her beaded tunic. Loved the show, darling. You simply must come for a drink to our home. Well send the car


Mumbai has progressed from the days of pure spectator sport, when nobody went to a fashion show to actually buy designer saris (Are you kidding? We can get 10 Kala Niketan ones for that price). Now they buyclothes, art, whateverbut the idea remains the same: to prove a point to lesser mortals. They are Mumbais Beautiful People, who go everywhere and see everything and know everybody. Youre one of them, or youre not news. This has not changed.


Todays VIP list is more or less the same as twenty years ago, that is to say, predominantly industrialyounger editions of the Birlas, Jains, Wadias, Shahs, Mahindras, Doshis, Godrejs, Mafatals, Ambanis, etcwith editors, film people and flavour-of-the-month creative types thrown in for good measure. The only difference is that the hairdos and clothes have vastly improved; the brassy red tint of the 80s is, thankfully, virtually extinct. So are outfits made of brocades bought from a kabadiwallaha hideous look inspired by Benazir Bhuttos wedding, according to Shobha De, and best forgotten. No one really knows the basis on which most invitations to gala events are sent out, and VIPs who werent there, still end up on the Miffed List when they read that tout Mumbai was.


A few months ago, I sent a former editor a sample event column for her feedback. The column was for a Mumbai magazine. Listen, she said, dont be so cerebral, serious dumbing down is required, give the people what they want.