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Saturday, January 16, 1999

Regional Vignettes



"When there is Goa, why live anywhere else?"

THE exaggeration is pardonable. After a week of suffering in cold, fog-bound Delhi, any other place seemed more liveable. I thought I’d never be able to get out. For the last five days many flights had been cancelled, those which took off were delayed by five to six hours. Palam airport looked like Baharganj. There was a jostling crowd, nowhere to sit and frayed tempers of people who had spent the night waiting for their flights. My flight was only 1 hours late. Sahara Airlines provided more professional courtesy, food and comfort than Indian Airlines.

After 2 hours in a plane with every seat occupied, we skimmed over a blue sea to land in sunny Dabolim. Sanjay Sethi, manager of the Park Plaza Hotel was there to receive me. Ten minutes later we drove downhill past the little church of two Saints Cosme and Danica through an avenue of coconut palms and into the new-old hotel on Bogmalo Beach. I had spent eight Christmases and New Year days in this hotel; I would have liked to spend all Christmas and New Year days there but prices had gone up beyond my pocket. Its new owner Ajay Bakaya made me a tempting offer of reduced rates and added the final temptation: "The staff are much the same; they miss your not coming over."

Bogmalo reminds me of lines of popular song:

Sheesha to rahta hai vahee
Tasveer badaltee rahteey hai
The frame remains the same;
The picture in it keeps changing.

The hotel remains much the same with a few minor changes in its interior. So are the staff, many of whom have been there over 20 years. But it is under a third proprietorship with a new name, Park Plaza. I went round shaking hands. They knew my weakness for fresh coconut juice. One was served to me in the lobby, another awaited me in my room.

It was too late to take a siesta. I stepped down on the beach. I felt the weight of my years on my wobbling legs and turned to the Sea-Cuisine restaurant. I’ve known the De Cruz family from the time I first came to Bogmalo. Sally who was once a masseuse at the hotel and helped her family run the joint, married an English naval engineer and migrated to England. She occasionally writes to me and rings me up whenever she is in Goa. She had returned to England a few days earlier but left a letter for me with her sister Tekla. That’s the kind of thing which takes me back to Bogmalo year after year.

I am not the only one who is drawn to Bogmalo at Christmas time. There is a German couple, the Kutzners from Dusseldorf I met 10 years ago; they spend about a month every X-mas time here. There is a Maria, a Spaniard in her 70s who spends all the winter months in this hotel. And an Italian, Furtardo, who has been coming to this hotel for years. They address me by my name, as if they were my old buddies.

During winter the majority of guests of Five Star hotels in Goa are foreigners — Germans, Australians and English. In Park Plaza they were mostly English, including a large party from Birmingham. Of over 200 guests barely a dozen were Indians: 11 Gujaratis and one Punjabi, myself.

The first night I slept like the proverbial log — from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. I was put to sleep by the soothing sound of sea waves running over the sandy beach. I was woken up by the waiter bringing in my morning coconut. It was Christmas eve when all Goan Christians and Hindus go on the binge. Of that next week.

Amar Nath Sehgal

There is a breed of painters and sculptors whose works leave you guessing about what they are trying to say.Among the successful of this band who has earned recognition at home and abroad is Amar Nath Sehgal. In addition to being a painter and sculptor, he also writes poetry.

His poetry is as obscure as his painting and sculpture. I am not the only ignoramus who doesn’t understand what Sehgal is saying. He has a big piece facing the entrance to Palam airport which moves with the end. Few of the many of the many thousands who see it everyday know what it is about.

A few years ago some workmen demolished a large sculptured fresco made by Sehgal on the outer wall of a government building because they thought it was only decorative. Sehgal was furious and took the errant babus who had sanctioned its desecration to court. And won.

Recently he put up another exhibition of half-dozen new sculptures in the open courtyard of Habitat Centre. He invited me to come there after sunset. I understood the timing when I got there.All the pieces were lit up: effects of light and shade were essential aspects of his work. The centre piece had two lights which changed angles every few seconds. The effects were visible on a large white screen placed 20 yards away. It showed shadows of two faces kissing each other. Sehgal explained them as the mystery behind reality and maya (illusion), "Though the source of energy is light, the reality in shadows inherently enhances the meaning of reality. There is a link between reality and shadow, a harmonious one, but the shadow is subservient and obeys the dictates of reality." And so on.

The one piece I had no difficulty in interpreting showed a lingam emerging from a yoni. But I did not have the courage to give Sehgal such a simplistic explanation lest it should have an esoteric symbolism beyond my comprehension. I was reminded of a saying I had heard in America: "If you can’t dazzle them with your wit, bamboozle them with your bullshit."

Himalayan messiah

You may not be familiar with the name of Rajesh Kumar Gupta of Rishikesh. This 38-year-old practitioner of Ayurveda has become a formidable figure in the world of medicine. He only treats cases of epilepsy and has achieved spectacular successes in cases in which other doctors admitted failure. People come to him from distant corners of the globe to undergo a course of herbal treatment and meditation in his clinic and go back healed. Even in this remote, sleepy town on the banks of the Ganga and with the modest fees that Rajesh charges, he is among the 10 top payers of income tax in the country. He refuses to move his clinic to a larger city.

Rajesh Gupta has born in Rishikesh in 1960. His father owned a small pharmacy and could not afford to send his son to an expensive public school. After schooling in Rishikesh, he joined Sanatan Dharma College in Roorkee. He failed to qualify for admission to a medical college and opted for a doctorate in ayurveda. He married Seema, the daughter of an army officer and set up practice in his home town. His practice picked up and he was able to earn enough to send both his sons Rohul and Amit to the prestigious Welham in Dehradun.

There are good reasons for Rajesh Gupta’s decision to stay put in Rishikesh. Besides sentimental attachment to the town of his birth, it is surrounded by dense jungles in which he finds wild herbs and roots he needs for medication. He discovered there are 14 different kinds of epilepsy depending on the duration of their onslaught. Some are short-lived spasms, other go on for hours on end. A herb which cures one kind of onset does not prove effective with another. So after prolonged personal investigation of his patients’ problems he is able to prescribe the most effective treatment. For Rajesh Gupta it has to be Rishikesh for his lifetime. He can be truly described as the maseeha (healer) of the Himalayan mountains.

Alive or dead

Banta Singh and Girdhari Lal were working on a roof, when Banta Singh slipped and fell to the ground. Girdhari Lal leaned over and called out: "You dead or alive, Banta?"

"Alive," moaned Banta Singh.

"You’re a liar. I don’t know whether to believe you or not," said Girdhari Lal.

"Then I must be dead," said Banta Singh, "because you wouldn’t dare call me a liar if I were alive."

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla,Ludhiana)


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