September 25, 2007

A Street Corner

To the west of India on the gateway to the Thar desert there lies a blue city at the foot of the fort of Mehrangarh. There in the old mohallas if you strain hard you can hear history echoing the reign of the Rajput rulers amid the brilliant colours of Rajasthan.

In those old mohallas blue houses straddle some street corners. On my way across the Old city each day I latched onto as many mohallas as I could, walking the narrow lanes from morning to evening in the blazing Sun until I could walk no more.

One blue house in particular sat on the threshold of an ancient market, and each time that I walked past it I glanced at the door wondering if it was open. Sometimes it was, but not once did I see anyone at the door. So I never got to know who lived there. Somehow, in not being able to ‘put’ a face to the house I was left with a sense of the incomplete trailing in my wake each time that I made past the house.

One day as I rounded a bend in the mohalla a cart hitched to a lone Ox stood in the lane by the house, looking past the bend in the galli. From then on I rarely see an Ox without seeing a blue house on a street corner.

In time I’ll post my Rajasthan Diaries on days when colors beckon and footsteps sound past closed doors, even if no horse once rode past it to the sound of a war cry.

September 19, 2007

The Lord and the Butterfly

The clouds threatened overhead as we stepped gingerly over overgrown vegetation crowding the narrow mud path. I worried of snakes lurking in the bush proliferating the earth in that remote corner of history not far from the raging seas. Village folk, whom we had left behind on our way to the ruins, had warned us of their presence in the undergrowth. I said a silent prayer for the both of us and stepped carefully, camera in hand and alert to any movement in the bush now only centimeters from my feet. Just as suddenly as we had hit upon the undergrowth we now came upon a clearing by an old well and Lo!

Nailed to the tree his gentle presence beckoned. Behind the frame an ancient window lay open, surrounded by vegetation rising up the forlorn walls.

Later returning the way we had come I stopped by a plant by the side of the path to photograph a butterfly who had only just floated to where I was, and in the time it took me to pause my step and let the shutter land I noticed in the corner of my eye a movement only a few feet away from where I stood bent at my waist. Turning my face I caught sight of a long snake emerging from the bush before slithering across the narrow path, into the bush on the opposite side, barely four steps from where I had paused to watch the butterfly who had settled on the stem just then. Seconds ticked by before the reptile disappeared into the bush and I exhaled slowly to calm my nerves. As I stepped forward I was reminded, strangely if I may say so, of a poem by an unknown author I had read many years ago.

The man whispered, “God, speak to me”
And a meadowlark sang.

But, the man did not hear
So the man yelled “God, speak to me!”
And, the thunder rolled across the sky.

But, the man did not listen.

The man looked around and said,
“God, let me see you”
And a star shined brightly.
But the man did not notice.

And the man shouted,
“God, show me a miracle!”
And a life was born.
But, the man did not know.

So, the man cried out in despair,
“Touch me God and let me know you are here!”

Whereupon, God reached down and touched the man.

But, the man brushed the Butterfly away and walked on.

I’m glad I paused by the Butterfly who had floated to where I was . . . . just in time, only just.

This was the one.

September 13, 2007

Gambling Away The Sal

I haven't traversed the river Sal as much as the Zuari and the Mandovi. It has much to do with geography as with anything else. Chinchinim, Assolna, Velim, Betul never ‘fell’ on the routes I frequented, except on occasions when wandering feet took me beyond Margoa in Salcete to Quepem or Cancona, passing Navelim, Chinchinim, Assolna, Velim, and Betul along the way by the Sal, on occasion squeezing past fishing nets drying out on the road in the Sun.

Consequently the Sal largely remained on the periphery of my consciousness, content in the belief that like forgotten memories from long ago it will dwell undisturbed in the recesses of time that has moved on, leaving untouched a piece of geography out of deference to the wishes of its inhabitants who, down the ages, sustained the land in as much as they drew sustenance from it, giving it character while deriving their own identity from it, that is until now.

The Government of Goa is pushing the State in the direction of Las Vegas, the Casino ‘Capital’ of the world. The fact that some local politicians from the coastal belt, known more for their muscle than intellect, are plumping for Casinos to be floated on the seas off Goa and on inland rivers has queered the pitch further, bringing the Government of Goa in direct conflict with the local fishing community who oppose the Casinos on the river, fearful as much of the culture seeping offshore and laying waste the youth as of the environmental damage that river dredging to accommodate Casino vessels will inflict on their livelihood. There is growing opposition from the local populace to the dredging of the river Sal to accommodate a Casino vessel floated by Hotel Leela to cater to well-heeled tourists and attract more of the same.

It was last October, on the eve of Diwali, that we rode down the winding roads, past Assolna and Velim along the Sal, stopping by the fishing Jetty at Cutbona to take in the early morning calm off the river and making small talk with fishing hands from Orissa employed on small Goan fishing vessels anchored in the waters. Maria Bai lay in the safety of the jetty, resting easily among the vessels crowding the waterfront, listening to voices floating in from the decks where youth bent over fresh catch of fish while local villagers gathered by the vessels to buy the catch straight off the decks. A warm sunshine had settled in while trees stirred in the gentle breeze.

At times of such serenity it is difficult to imagine the transitory nature of outward calm, belying the feeling of continuity that nature in its primeval state evokes even while disturbing currents might simmer within inches of the surface, threatening to upset the balance of the very same continuity. It is this state of well-being like the one we experienced on the banks of the Sal that day that I most fear, for it is when one begins to favour a state of permanence that its fragility begins to unravel.

If you believe that tourism should merely limit itself to facilitating transportation and basic accommodation of visitors without either changing or altering the identity of the local populace or mortgaging their livelihood to commercial interests of a few then you might want to write in to the below to express your concern and/or protest the decision of the Government of Goa to gamble away the Sal to Casino players with large stakes in the Five Star Hotels dotting Goa’s coastline.

Chief Minister of Goa - Mr. Digambar Kamat
Minister for Fisheries (Govt. of Goa) - Mr. Joaquim Alemao

Minister for Tourism (Govt. of Goa) - Mr. Francisco Pacheco

Minister for Water Resources (Govt. of Goa) - Mr. Filipe Rodrigues

Note: The link to the Council of Ministers page is available under the menu Government accessible at You can access the E-mail Ids of the above by following the respective links on the Council of Ministers page.

In addition to the above, the following Stakeholders matter as much

Captain of Ports:
Chief Secretary (Govt. of Goa):
Director (Goa Tourism):
Governor of Goa:
Director (Information and Publicity):
Director (Irrigation and Water Resources):
Director (River Navigation):

Your voice might help make a difference.