Thursday, March 27, 2008
Paulo Varela Gomes
"Recentemente vi o futuro e fiquei apavorado: funciona.
O futuro é uma planície que vai até ao mais longínquo horizonte, toda atravessada por estradas novas e linhas de alta tensão. Há cachos de brilhantes edifícios altos e solitárias torres de vidro e betão polido, tão novas que faz doer os olhos vê-las. Grupos de operários e máquinas, minúsculos na distância, escavam fundações e colocam cabos. É nos arredores de Calcutá, no leste da Índia. Fui também a Gurgaon, uma cidade-satélite de Delhi, a capital da índia, que muitos indianos costumam projectar enquanto a cidade indiana do século XXI, toda ela imaginada em cores e formas de mono-rails e shopping-malls. Em Gurgaon já há torres de habitação coroadas de frontões e edifícios empresariais de formas curvilíneas em frente dos quais passa o promontório de betão do mono-rail. Há shoppings cheios de dinheiro e ar condicionado. E também há ruas de intestinos à mostra, barracas de plástico e lata onde se acocoram os trabalhadores das obras, carros estacionados em cima de impecáveis jardins acabados de fazer, onde a poeira vai cruelmente fazendo desmaiar o verde.
Gurgaon começou a crescer há pouco tempo, como as outras cidades-satélite do mesmo tipo na periferia de Bombaim, Delhi, Calcutá, Hyderabad, Chennai, as cidades indianas que têm mais de 5 milhões de habitantes. Na Índia constroem-se 10 milhões de casas novas por ano. Os empresários da construção dizem que é preciso o dobro, 20 milhões. Um deles, Kushal Pal Singh, entrou este ano para a 8ª posição da lista dos dez homens mais ricos do mundo.
Mas em Gurgaon, uma cidade que terá hoje cerca de 250.000 habitantes, boa parte dos grandes edifícios dependem de geradores para garantir a existência de electricidade. A rede pública ou não existe ou sofre perdas de tal grandeza que são mais as horas de corte que as de abastecimento. Não há redes de saneamento básico que saneiem seja o que for. Nem fornecimento público de água. Um urbanista norte-americano dizia numa conferência recente que Gurgaon é o primeiro caso histórico de uma grande cidade construída sem infra-estruturas.
Ao que parece, não se passa o mesmo noutras expansões urbanas da Índia. As que começam a nascer nos arredores de Calcutá são devidamente infra-estruturadas. Aquelas planícies já estão a chegar aos que hoje habitam na própria Calcutá, a cidade colonial, adorável, pobre e rica, decadente. E os milhões que migram do campo, de outros estados, de longe. Chegam e vêem cartazes sorridentes à beira da estrada: muralhas de prédios gentilmente coloridos e muito altos, as torres com que todos sonham, pousadas no meio de relvados e parques com lagos e patos. Vêem também a promessa do paraíso: imagens de Xangai, de Singapura, das cidades do petróleo no Golfo Pérsico. Vêem o futuro e, num instante, habitam-no no meio do inferno das obras e da dureza do tempo. Sobre as nuvens de pó, contra o sol nascente, olhamos o vidro e o metal das grandes torres. O futuro lá no alto brilha inatingível."
I've also seen the future in India...if it works or not, well, we'll soon find out. I saw Gurgaon from the skies but I've never been to Calcutta. The whole area around Delhi seemed a post-something scenario rather than a pre-urban landscape...
Of all the things occidentals have said about India, only one I consider to be accurate: India is a place of contradictions.
However, I have no doubt that India and Indians are the future while "we", in a place like, say, hmmm..Portugal! for instance, keep looking towards the past, are the past.
The best way to describe my feeling is a notion of "civilization drive", something which hits a particular country or group of countries at a particular juncture in time and that leads to the creation of wealth through the exploitation or superior trading skills over other nations.
A kind of civilization drive brought the Portuguese to India and the Spanish to America. A very obstinate and efficient civilization drive led to the British Raj...a civilization drive has been growing among the Chinese for some time now...and a definite civilization drive is recently began in India.
To successfully endeavor to overpower, outbargain, outskill and control other territories or markets or political maneuvers in foreign territories, a country or a nation must be confident in itself and, most important, must feel confidence in its moral superiority over other specific target countries.
India is gaining such confidence...
Still, so often, I've seen so many things that simply don't work in India...and so many people who are not given the chance to achieve nothing besides survival.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
In the company of NT, I travelled in the ASI's only jeep to Daugim, close to Old Goa. As we got closer to the site of the Mother of God convent, a few large votive crosses marked the sacred grounds. The owner of the shrimp factory - that has come up recently on the site - stepped out of his office and met us. He took us for a small round through the plant's property. Sadly, on the precise place where I had seen the main chapel of the Mother of God's church just one year ago, stood a fresh heap of rubble covering the dismantled stones of the original structure. I had told NT about this place at that time, in March 2007, but it took him one year to get there...well, at least he did go there. What about the Goan Heritage activist groups?
Another memory is erased.
Goa-Mumbai-Diu (18th March)
The domestic terminal of Mumbai's airport is a sign of things to come in India. The aerodrome of Diu feels like you're landing in someone's backyard. Even the rikshaw wallahs waiting outside didn't look much interested in picking VM and me up for a ride into town. And there are only two daily flights to Diu.
Returning to Simbor (20th March)
I heard that the last portuguese flag was lowered in the miniature fort of Simbor, within the miniature territory with the same name, a few days after the fall of Goa, Daman and Diu. Three soldiers and a corporal garrisoned the fort in December 1961, without a radio and too far to hear the blasts of the fray going on at Diu. The indian army also forgot about the place and leisurely liberated it after the downfall of the proud Estado da India. I wonder what the soldiers there did for time pass...besides drinking Macieira...
The fort lies in a forlorn islet in a river mouth northeast of Diu. It was a regular construction and had a small chapel attatched. Nowadays, it is the home of a lonely fisherman...we saw his kot and depleated kitchen just inside the fort's main gate. Fortunately, he was not there, when our party arrived by boat, rented to the local fishermen at the opposite side of the river. He would have been scared to see and hear our excitement as we climbed and entered the fort, shouting "Santiago" and "Simbor e' nosso". He would probably think we had come to reclaim the place.
Anyways...we left in peace, knowing that sooner or later, anyday now, a stronger wave will wash out the place, taking with it to the bottom of the sea the last stones of the fort of Simbor.
Dinner with the priests of Diu (20th March)
The jesuit church of St. Paul is full of forlorn and mysterious nooks and corners and is rightly considered to be one of the most precious gems of indoportuguese arcitecture. From this convent departed the jesuit missions to the Ethiopian copts. The parishes of Diu, although never very large, are reduced to one, comprising ca. 190 parishners. Father Sergio, a Goan ordained in Pilar, has been running the place for the last three years. After the procession, he called us up for dinner, at the top floor of the fabled convent. Four people sat at a table, eating Goan and local food and listening to the news blasting from the convent's only tv. We finnished with a wonderful Bebinca, that one of the aunts of father Sergio had brought from Goa. During the procession's homily, father Sergio had mentioned VM and myself...and now, as we bid him farewell and thanked him for the dinner and hospitality, he repeated that God had sent him two architects to help him save the catholic heritage of Diu from the poverty and indifference of its own parishners and from the overpowering stealth of the hindu community. A learned and kind man, father Sergio has done a great deal...without him, Diu would had been in a much worse condition by now.
Brancavara (21st March)
Brancavara has a lovely abandoned church, recently restructured in a sensible way by father Sergio. We entered the church's compound when a couple of workers were there but they soon left and locked the gates behind them. VM found an old ladder and we climbed our way out of the compound, to great amusement of the children who had followed us in and had returned to the exterior when they sensed that the labourers were leaving. There appears to be no Christian left in Brancavara. We then visited the fisherman's neighbourhood near the church, composed by social housing built during the portuguese times. Our driver told us to be carefull since it was a level orange "communal sensitive" area. I repeated the warning to VM, afraid that he might take photos of women without asking. Fortunately, most of the men were not in the neighbourhood...a couple appeared, quite drunk and pronouncing syllables to the meaning of "Arrey! what are a couple of firangis doing in our area?"...but they let us be, realising that the procession of excited kids behind us meant that we hadn't come in harm. As usual, VM took some fantastic photos "...bater umas chapas..." And I ran out of film. Leaving the neighbourhood, one of the kids tugged at my camera demanding to be photographed...I grunted a syllable to the likes of "See, man, it's not my job to take pictures of ragged kids like you and slide film is expensive...besides, mine is finnished anyway, Tiik-he?".
Holi Dinner (21st march)
The industry catering to the mid-range budget tourist in Diu is still small enough to allow for a healthy competition. Although the closing down of the hostel above the St. Thomas church deprived Diu of its freaky chill-out spot, the people around the catholic quarter all agree that business is doing good. Our dinner was in a Goan style garden shack...a lovely quiet place. There was a variety of nationalities and languages spoken and it was an overall merry-making occasion; a half-caste indoportuguese sat drinking his beer and, as usual, made couteous remarks on the wonder that was India.
Diu-Ahmedabad (23rd March)
Diu-Veraval was a small bus that got hold up for a long time in the border between the Union territory and Gujarat. I think that the driver had a bottle of boose near his seat, that was spotted by the police officer, but I can't confirm.
Veraval-Ahmedabad was a smooth ride on the Jabalpur express. Arriving at Ahmedabad was a bit confusing but, fortunately, I had a pleasant dinner at the Mint.
Monday, March 17, 2008
The wonder that was India (12th March)
Our table for dinner at the Venite was heterogeneous just like PVG likes it. With relish, he set in most of the conversation topics. And although our Manglorean and Goan-US-something else guests were a bit uptight, the topic of change of perception of India in the eyes of western beholders came to pass. The starting concept being that the moment when westerners stopped seeing India as rich and started perceiving it as poor was essentially a British fabrication. However, I argued that the change had already began in the Portuguese heyday, when they witnessed all the internal upheavals and strife that led to the fall of empires and kingdoms since the end of Vijayanagar up to the defeat of Marathas and Pindaris in the 1820s. Of course by then, the topic of the decadent Portuguese themselves was equally fashionable.
From the mid 16th cent, as the knowledge of the Indian hinterland grew, the idea of a nation once united and governed by a powerful ruler or dynasty, that led Hindu culture and religion to its zenith set in - as opposed to the then present times of internal division, wars, rise and fall of feudal tyrants and a general superiority of Islam or else a profusion of religious and cultural miscegenation. India was thus beginning to be perceived as a nation once powerful, peaceful, prosperous and orderly but now a battleground for ever-seceding states. The great Mughal was an essentially foreign power that had taken advantage of the mess and had managed to halt the process. But only to a certain point and its times of prosperity and invincibility were transitory. More and more, India was becoming a sea of ruins and ruined economies. More and more, everyone was out for the plunder. The final blow came naturally from the Raj…but definitely, by the time the British won Plassey, the idea of an intrinsically decadent India had already settled in…and that made it an even more alluring prey for western interests.
The turning point was the moment when the Portuguese and Europeans perceived that the wealth once produced and accumulated in India was now being drained out of India. By themselves.
For the last few years, we have had the privilege to witness the inverse process.
The past, it grows on you (13th March)
Is this the moment I start to come to terms with the recent past? With the things that made me buy the ticket in the first place?..
‘Largar lastro’…Another sea-faring expression. These and other thoughts crossed my mind while I sat in the balcony at Ernesto’s after being in Old Goa for most of the day. Since no one showed up for dinner, I got up to pay. Ernesto came fourth: “So…two kingfishers and one prawn wafers…105”. I already had a 100 rupees note in my hand…so I got a 5 rps discount.
I asked the man “Do you remember what Ivo used to have for dinner when he came?”
“Noodles, veg noodles…but he hardly ate, no?”
“Yes, hardly…but he was here often…always had tea”
“Yes, tea he always had”
“And, when he ate, he had tea with noodles also…”
Goan youth who fly (14th March)
One is an architect, another is in the high-end tourism business, another is a mate in a ship, another drives a luxurious car and then you have the Mangalorean comeback kid. They talked about cast, politics and India’s future as you might talk about your neighbour’s dirty little vices. The night went on and on over feni and kingfishers and some of the young Goans got emotional. They passed comments on all the clichés of cast-relation, internal Indian ethnic rivalries, Goan perceived by others and by themselves, separate Goan immigrant communities divided according to their village of origin, pro-Portuguese Goans, etc, etc, etc. No cast, sub-cast, culture or region in India survived un-scattered. Just about everyone had right to some kind of an insulting-affectionate put-him-in-his-place remark. And then, after this incredible exercise, they turned introspective and tried to define their own position within this hierarchy. And they passed some put-him-in-his-place comments amongst themselves and even at their very selves.
And then the owner of the shack told them to be quiet because they were shouting too loud.
The House of the Conde de Mahem (15th March)
“But Mr. António, as you understand, I have nothing to do with the family disputes at court…”
We had arrived earlier at the location of the house, a fantastic spot near some paddy fields close to the Mahem lake. On approaching the compound gate, a few dogs started barking and then a boxer appeared with a coarser kind of bark…and we stepped back out of the gate.
Eventually, a young woman came out of the house, built carefully in between old and portentous trees, with its private chapel recently lime-washed closing a court-yard angle.
“Hello Madam, I am so-and-so and have come from there-and-there and would be really appreciated if I could visit the chapel…”
She stalled and then rang up one of the proprietors who lays claim to the beautiful house of the counts of Mahem. I repeated the same stuff and talked for some time with Mr. António. To no avail…the court situation was above everything and photography was strictly forbidden anywhere inside the property.
Why? Around the mid 1950s, the freedom fighters of Goa placed a bomb at the beautiful front porch of the house, overlooking toward the paddy-fields and the Mango trees. In retaliation, the right-hand man of the count burned a great deal of their own plantations and groves and blamed the calamity on the freedom fighters and some recalcitrant labourers whose loyalty towards their master was wavering. In consequence, four Goans were sent to a concentration camp in Moçambique. One of them was alive by 1961, the moment when prisoners were exchanged between Portugal and India. He went to the house and found out the pro-Portuguese caretaker…whose body was later found tied to a tree with a few bullet holes on its chest.
The long over-worked workers overran the extensive property and the descendents of the count of Mahem who hadn’t fled to Portugal had to barricade themselves inside their house…from where they feared to leave under threat of being molested or worse…Eventually, the situation died down and became essentially a court issue with hot political contours.
Still, Mr. António is afraid of curious people wanting to photograph the house and chapel. I don’t blame him at all.
Anyways, later that day, VM told me that he had managed to photograph the interior of the chapel in 2007, when he had come to Goa for the first time. At that time, Mr. António poured out onto him his whole anger and indignation at the miserable situation of the house of his ancestors.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
I close my suitcase and stretch out on the couch for a smoke. In excess: black pens; in deficit: socks and a paper to present. A sentence lingers in my ear as I look around and absorb all the familiar things in my living room…
“I wish I’d met you at a different time”
After a while I go to bed. I wake up at 5.30 dreaming that the alarm on my cell had gone off. It vibrated, oozed a tune and a strange image of bees hovering around a cane plantation appeared on the screen. My cell doesn’t do that at all. I go back to sleep and wake up a couple of hours later to the regular alarm routine.
Nothing remarkable during the Porto-London trip. At Heathrow, waiting in the lounge, I wish I had welded back together and brought with me my lucky Ganesh.
The flight to Delhi is packed with British teenagers in some kind of an excursion. The girl behind me keeps banging on the electronic devices behind my chair including the touch-screen technology screen. All of them are very excited and they keep harassing the plane’s crew with trivial matters…
I start up a chat with my neighbours, a middle-aged Indian couple: “So, are you going for holidays or coming from holidays?” The talk is relaxed and courteous. The British teenagers are boisterous and rude throughout the whole flight.
Eventually, we cross the Pamir range…like a tense feline being, striped in white and sandstone, it awaits the moment to spring forth and attack.
JNU - Delhi (5th -7th March)
We stay at the Nehru Institute for Advanced Studies but it might as well be called the Nehru Institute for Lost Studies. There is nothing advanced about the place…The forlorn building lies in one of the remotest areas of the JNU jungle-campus. The nearest spot to buy a water bottle and make an ISD phone call is a 15 minute walk through shortcut paths. The building itself has an antique and almost abandoned ambience…but on the good side: since few people ever come here, there are a lot of peacocks around. At night, as I lay awake in bed, their exotic callings naturally bring flying in images of Mughal gardens and courtyards.
7 or 8 Portuguese come together for this academic happening. At night, when conversation gets more informal, most of them share their experiences and hardships regarding their stay. Ancient clichés are recycled in forever novel and exotic ways. I imagine the captains or fidalgos of the 16th century complaining about mosquitoes, spicy foods / loose motions, the caste system and the overall unhygienic sphere of India. One notable comment by one of the party: “Até os pretos em Moçamique consideravam os Indianos porcos”.
I inform PVG that there is beer under the table. As an eternal sceptical, he doesn’t believe me. The closing dinner is held in a tent structure just outside the Advanced Studies Institute. Now, these noble academic functions, if they happen to include more than one or two Europeans, are a good excuse for the Indian side to build up an alcohol providing infrastructure, i.e. bar. With a sparkle in their eyes, the staff and waiters mount the drinks table, taking out the kingfishers from their cardboard boxes (which I had sensed earlier on); exposing, with a proud and mischievous smile, a few whisky, vodka and gin bottles; producing three or four types of glasses and, yes, managing some drinkable ice.
By ten o’clock, the alcohol is finished and naturally, a minority of eager Indian academicians gulped down the hard stuff…
Delhi-Goa flight (8th March)
The plane has many empty seats and our stop in Mumbai provides for a spectacular view of the slums all around Andheri.
Behind me are a young couple with a son of about 5 and also one of the parents’ brothers or sisters with partner. It is strange how they all four of them adulate the boy, giggling and praising every single silliness or misdeed the boy proudly does. This adulation makes me nauseous, especially when the boy climbs up from the back of my seat and starts stepping on my shoulders. The parents do nothing but giggle and praise his climbing abilities.
I don’t get it. What is the use of all this? Will these same parents pressure the kid to do well in college? If so, will he succeed after so many years of pampering? Will there be a rupture point through which the parents switch from pampering into scolding and pressuring?
One thing is for sure: this boy will be as sure of himself as…India’s economy.
Arriving in Goa
Arriving in Goa was, as expected, an emotional occasion.
Arriving at Ernesto’s
Arriving at Ernesto’s was delightful. I came around 8:30 and he was sitting in a huge couch, at one end of the room, playing videogames in a big plasma screen. Ivo’s painting on the wall, a couple of tables occupied by Goan gents, the overall shabby appearance of wire and fans and informal management…and oh, but the ice-cold beer! Ernesto is moving in to Fontainhas, where he has bought a big house to be converted into a restaurant.
VM arrives for dinner – soon afterwards he goes back to work.
Arriving in Old Goa (9th March)
Arriving at Old Goa was strange…after the Augustinian convent, I went to Our Lady of the Mount and then to Sé and then just drove around in the Kinetic. I am very pessimistic about the future of this place. So I decide that, when I meet the ASI family, I will speak my mind no matter of the consequences.