|Saturday, February 16, 2002||
MY opinion of the Indian Postal Services rocketed sky-high ten years or so ago when an irate Canadian Khalistani wrote me a very abusive letter in Gurmukhi with the address in English which read: "To bastard Khushwant Singh, India". It was delivered to me within a week of its despatch from Canada. I can't think of another country in the world where postal services would have bothered to locate an individual with so unsavoury reputation to discharge the duty entrusted to it.
We've had postal
services of some kind or the other since times beyond memory. Every
ruler employed dak runners to carry information to and fro from
the outposts of his kingdom to the palace. At later stages, people
trained pigeons to carry messages tied to their legs. It was during
British rule that postal services were linked to the police. A regular
police force was set up in 1829; the first Indian postage stamp issued
in 1840. To start with, post offices were located in the same buildings
as police stations. Then postal services outstripped the police and had
to have large buildings like General Post Offices to handle mail,
telegrams, money orders, fixed deposits, etc. Now postal services are on
the decline. People use telephones, courier services, e-mail and fax. In
the near future, post offices may become a relic of the past.
Getting away — III
Goa can become the world’s most-sought-after holiday resort if the local administration and politicians stopped imposing their puritanical views and meddling with the ways people like to enjoy themselves. Perhaps the only justified restriction would be to tell visitors to surrender their watches for safe-keeping at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals to be returned when they leave. They should also be advised not to bother with newspapers or watch news on TV. In Goa, nature should be the time-keeper. Sleep when sleep overtakes you: rise when your body tells you that you’ve had enough rest. Drink when you are thirsty (coconut juice, Feni, beer, or whatever you fancy), eat when you are hungry. Wear as little as you can to expose your body to the sun and the exhilarating sea breeze. If you wish to go naked, wear nothing while you stride the sea-beaches or lie on the warm sand. This is the kind of paradise God created when he put Adam and Eve in it — The Garden of Eden which had no evil in it except the tree of so-called knowledge. Our present-day politicians were represented by the serpent which tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit. No sooner did they do so, they were overcome by shame of their nakedness and tried to hide their genitals behind fig leaves and were thrown out of paradise. God created Goa. Satan created serpent politicians. They should be sent to hell and let Goa again become God’s chosen country.
To enjoy Goa, you have to cultivate a sense of belonging. This is best done by returning to the same place and be on first-name terms with locals. For me Goa is Bogmalo, the same hotel year after year, and the D’Cruz family which owns the Sea Cuisine. I got to know them 15 years ago through Sally D’Cruz, who was a masseuse in Beach Resorts Health Club. Sally married a Scotman and migrated to the UK. I continued visiting the D’Cruz family. Sally kept sending me her news. She is now mother of two girls. Her younger sister Tekla helps her brother Dominic to run the restaurant. I had not intended calling on them this time but Sally rang up her family and told them she had tried to get me in Delhi and heard I was in Bogmalo. Tekla rang me up, came over to fetch me in her car and take me across to meet her parents and brother. There was much embracing. I spent two evenings at the Sea Cuisine. It was like a family reunion. Tekla plans to get married to a local boy in March at the Bogmalo church, St Cosme a Domioa. They will have a reception for over 500 guests. I won’t be there but my spirits will be.
* * * *
Watching people coming and going in the hotel lobby can be a game like patience played by yourself against yourself. Guess what nationality they are, what they do; whether or not a young couple are man and wife or live-in-friends. And that sort of thing. They come in groups. Brits, Germans, Australians, Indian NRIs from the US, Canada and East Africa. Occasionally there are Indians from India. A sort of colour division takes place at the bathing pool and the beach. Browns open umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. White strip themselves, run oil on their bodies and expose themselves to the hot tropical sun. Girls, both brown and white, who have shapely bodies stroll around with an air of casualness, aware of men ogling them. An old Indian recognises me by my unkempt appearance and asks me if I am who they think I am. I am flattered. Pratibha Nandakumar, Kannada poet-novelist from Bangalore, breezes in and gives me a warm embrace. The lady receptionist asks me if she is my grand-daughter. My ego is deflated.
* * * *
On Monday, the pool side appears to be reserved for women. The men are in the lounge glued to the TV, watching India versus England cricket match being played in Cuttack. They don’t budge from their seats till 5 p.m. when the last Indian wicket falls. England wins by 12 runs to level the one-day series. The Brits have reason to celebrate their victory. But the wily Indians rob them of their joy: a notice is put up on the bar "Dry Day".
A thing that has intrigued me about the names of Goan places is the profusion of the letter ‘M’. To start with the capital Panjim. Then there are Bambolim, Mayem, Mencurem, Navelim, Birondem, Mandrem, Batim, Corambolim, Cortalim, Camurlim, Seraulim, Tivim, Paliem, Parsem, Morjim, Curtorim, Ambelim, Camurlim, Loutolim, Betalbatim, Seraulim, Ambaulim, Collem, Mollem, Sanvoreem, Quellosim, Chicalim. These are random pickings from panchayat elections of one day. I could add dozens of others. Are these derived from the Portuguese occupation of this region or are they of Konkonese origin? I hope some Goan scholar would enlighten me.
* * * *
Something new to me about Goa is the increase in belief in occult. There was always a certain amount of faith in prescribed Christian mantras to be repeated nine times a day to cure sickness. But I had not come across Muslim tantrics practising the trade. The Navhind Times regularly carries ads of Baba Chandsa Bangali and a longer one by Baba Aman Shah Bengali claiming to have Rohani Ilm (spiritual knowledge) i.e. Tantra, mantra and yantra. He guarantees cure of ailments — physical, emotional, matrimonial, business, impotence, infertility. Bhoot-pret (ghosts-spirits), jaadu-tona (magic-sorcery), Baba Aman Shah requires you to bring two limes with you when you come for consultation. The fact that he can afford to put an ad in The Navhind Times regularly is proof enough that he is doing well. In addition, he must be able to run a nimboo-pani stall at great profit.
My friend gave his 92-year-old mother a cordless portable phone for her birthday. Soon thereafter my friend began to get an unusual number of casual long-distance calls from his ordinarily frugal mum.
When he asked her about it, she replied, "Why not? It doesn’t cost a paise. The phone’s not attached to anything."
(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly,