ROS OMELETTE: The rift with Manohar Parrikar began with his denying that he frequented a filthy gaddo near Alankar cinema in Mapusa to eat ros omelette during his first stint as chief minister (Pic courtesy JoeGoaUk)
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when I completed my golden jubilee in journalism. For a Saturday following the week when I recalled when my rift with the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar started. For a Saturday following the week when though Goa has given me a great deal of love affection and recognition it has also destroyed my health.
‘LOWER MIDDLE CLASS’
And a few stray thoughts on the golden jubilee of my life and adventures in the media. The media can be the most schizophrenic experience in the life of any young man. Particularly, a young man like me, who had grown up in a lower middle class family. The expression ‘lower middle class’ family is a polite substitute for poor.
My father was a lower division clerk in the days when there were no pay commissions, and the salary of even Central government servants was very little. Certainly not enough to satisfy the demands of a wife obsessed with the good things of life and four children.
The wife was not to blame because she was the daughter of a very rich doctor who was conned into marrying a man she thought was a big landlord, who would shower not just love and affection, but tonnes of gold and diamonds.
Then and now, when a man cannot fulfil the expectation of a women he is married to, the only way he knows to take out his frustration is to beat her. Except in this case his wife beat him right back and we as children were taken to the police station by both parents to file complaints against each other.
Being really poor, we were entirely dependent on ration rice and wheat, which had more stones then grains. Ration wheat was much cheaper and because there was not enough money to buy the more expensive rice, we used to boil the wheat and eat it like rice, which is called lapsy.
When the better three quarter and my very rich friends keep talking about the virtues of ragi and nachni I laugh because I have eaten more ragi and nachni in my life then any one else. Not because they were full of nutrition and healthy, but because they were the cheapest of the grains. If I do not have diabetes it is because we had coffee with jaggery, which was much cheaper than sugar. Now off course it is fashionable to have coffee with jaggery because sugar means diabetes and diabetes means dialysis and dialysis means kidney failure.
Until I joined the Financial Express, the economic daily of the Indian Express, I had not even visited a grade one restaurant, let alone a 5-star hotel. When I was staying in the University Hostel dependent on the charity of my elder brother, I used to eat chole bature from the road side gaddo for lunch and have a Quality ice cream stick for dessert.
As i said elesewhere, all this changed when I joined journalism as a trainee sub-editor at the huge salary of `250 a month. Goenka believed that we did not need much money as we got so many invitations for lunch and dinner. So much so in the very first month of my becoming a journalist I was having a lunch at the Taj in Mumbai located at the Gateway, the first of the 5-star restaurants started by the JRD Tata more than a hundred years ago, because the British would not allow Indians and dogs into the existing 5-star hotels. My dinners used to be at the 7-star Oberoi hotels.
While at home I could only drink cheap army rum, I was virtually forced to drink Black Label Scotch and even single malts. But after the dinner I did not have enough money for bus fare to go back to my paying guest accommodation in Kotachiwadi in Girigao in Bombay, where my land lady was none other than the mother of Claude Alvares of the Goa Foundation.
The most amusing story of my double life as a poverty-stricken journalist in real life and someone who lived the high life the rest of the time, courtesy publicity-crazy businessmen, was my first meeting with the owner of the then popular Afghan Snow.
I was asked by my boss to interview a Mr Patanwala, who was the owner of Afghan Snow, as I was the only one who was willing to go to his factory at 9 am in the morning.
I had to spend a night on the tables using newspaper files as a pillow, as we all used to do on night shift, while waiting for the first train which was at 5 am.
That day without changing my clothes or brushing my teeth, dressed in a purple kurta and torn jeans (because I could not afford new ones) I went to the office of Mr Patanwala. The watchman at the gate looked at me and tried to chase me away.
I raised my voice — there were no mobile phones then — calling out that I was a journalist and had an appointment with the chairman and managing director.
The watchman reluctantly let me in and in fact escorted me to the lavish office of the boss. His very smart and fashionably dressed secretary, in a mini skirt and a spaghetti top, would not believe that I had an appointment with the boss when I looked like a beggar.
I insisted she inform her boss that Rajan Narayan from the Financial Express had come to meet him by appointment.
To the utter surprise of the secretary and the other staff, the big boss, Patanwala, dressed in a full suit came and embraced me, welcomed me to his cabin and offered to add some very expensive brandy to my coffee at 9 am in the morning!
BRIBES AND POOR PAY
There came a time when I was so disgusted with living like a king at work and as a pauper when I was not working and at home, that I decided I would be consistent. I insisted that people should only serve me rum in the cocktails, which shocked them because all the journalists they knew were dying for scotch. It also shocked big businessmen that I refused their offer of gifts which were meant to be bribes. My only regret is that unlike Girilal Jain, the than TOI editor, I did not accept the offer of 10,000 shares of Reliance way back in the late ‘70s which would have grown to 1,000 crores by now.
Until the TOI came to Goa the posrekars who owned newspapers in Goa still used to pay very badly. Nobody believes this but at the end of 20 years of bringing up the Herald to the position of the largest selling newspaper, I was paid only `10,000 pm in 2002.
Unlike present day editors, who get lakhs and a car with a driver, I had to travel pillion on the scooter of my PSO. And when I left the Herald, as gratuity I got the huge amount of `1 lakh, calculated as half a month’s salary for 20 years.
And a few stray thoughts on the beginning of my rift with Manohar Parrikar. When he first became a minister, after toppling the Francisco Sardinha-led government in 2000, he was a close friend.
In fact, from the Raj Bhavan, after the swearing in, he came straight to my underground basement flat where I toasted him with wine. Soon after, within the first week of being chief minister, he invited Tara and me to a very very private dinner in the private dining room of the International Centre. The only people present were Parrikar, his secretary, his younger son, Tara and me. We spoke for many hours over several drinks about how Goa could be developed. The next day to my utter surprise the International Centre sent the bill home. I was shocked but decided he had forgotten to pay the bill.
Two weeks later he again invited me and Tara for private dinner which was the action replay of first dinner. When for the second time the International Centre sent me the bill, I was furious. I called up Parrikar and asked him what is the point of inviting me for dinner and making me pay the bill. He made some casual remark about how the International Centre wanted a grant of `1 crore and he thought that they would not present him a bill. Perhaps he did not know that the restaurant was on contract and did not care whether the International Centre got the grant or not. I then sent both the bills to Parrikar.
Our relationship became bad after he started behaving like a dictator. He had a favourite group of journos and ignored people who questioned or criticized. Around 2004 there was a big gastroenteritis epidemic in Panjim. The sewage pipes of Neptune hotels, which is home to the Texas restaurant, got mixed up with the water supply. Parrikar immediately order that all the popular restaurant including Bhosles and Real and even the Kamat restaurant should be shut down. All the bhelpuri gaddos on Miramar beach were also told to pack up. Not just Panjim but the whole of Goa was thrown into a panic about a jaundice epidemic.
Tara and I had gone to attend a dinner at the O’Coqueiro hotel. That was where we heard that in spite of the epidemic, Parrikar himself used to go every night after midnight to a dirty gaddo outside Alankar cinema in Mapusa. Parrikar never stayed in the official residence of the chief minister and until two years ago he always went back to his house in Mapusa however late it may be. We decided to drive down to the Alankar cinema. By the time we reached he had already come and gone. But his favourite ros omelette gaddo owners boasted about how the chief minister was a regular customer and how he waited for him every night.
The next day Tara wrote a front page anchor on the chief minister eating in a dirty gaddo under the title ‘This is where the CM of Goa eats’ along with photographs. At 7 am in the morning I received a call insisting that the report was a lie. I gave the phone to Tara who told him that we have not even visited Alankar Cinema but visited the gaddo owner who supplied every night ros omelette to him. And that we had a photograph of him at the gaddo. Then he changed his tunes and claimed that he only had nariyal pani at the gaddo. That morning when I reach the Herald office I was told by my news editor that the owner of the Herald, Raul Fernandes, had given the instructions to staff that Tara was banned from writing to Herald. Obviously Parrikar had called up the owner Raul Fernandes and told him to ban Tara.
This was in sharp contrast to the behaviour of his father AC Fernandes. Soon after I had joined the Herald there was an all Indian conference of the hotel federation. The Kala Academy, which was then managed by an eminent artist Damu Kenkre, was asked to put up a show by the Indian Music Choir of the Kala Academy. Damu Kenkre, being an artist, put in a lot of effort in designing the right costumes for them.
Vijiya Devi Rane, wife of the then chief minister Pratapsingh Rane was not happy with the costumes. She wanted the girls to wear green sarees and saffron blouses and look like the National Flag. Damu Kenkre was very upset and wept over our drinks at the Clube Vasco and about the interference of Vijaya Devi. I wrote a story on the front page about how the colour of the saree had shattered a dream. This is because when Damu Kenkre refused, he was sacked by Pratapsingh Rane. The next day was the funeral of my dear friend VM Salgaocar, father of Dattaraj Salgaocar, who had been snatched away at the very young age of 69. At the funeral which I had attended with AC Fernandes, Rane asked my boss to sack me for insulting his wife. AC Fernandes did not bow down. He turned around and reminded Rane that it was he who was paying my salary and the chief minister has no business to tell him who to employ and whom to sack.
The real total break came when the then leader of the Opposition, Luizinho Faleiro, brought out a black paper on the EDC, revealing that the chief minister’s brother-in-law had received special treatment, that the EDC had waived not only the interest on the loan that the company, Symchem, had taken, but even part of the principle amount. The black paper was in response to another black paper brought out by the Parrikar government accusing Faleiro of looting the EDC.
Parrikar was furious over the attack on his brother in law by the leader of the opposition. He issued a legal notice to every editor and publisher of every newspaper threatening them with criminal and civil defamation if they reported any statement of the leader of the opposition. This was shocking in a democracy and was like declaration of the Emergency. My spineless proprietor, Raul Fernandes, who still runs the Herald, was not even willing to let me carry the legal notice drafted by Narendra Savoikar, now member of parliament from South Goa.
Later of course the inter media found some spine and jointly protested against the statement. By then I had seen the real face of Parrikar behind the mask of a moderate very friendly politician. I had discovered the brown chaddi that he wore beneath his trousers. That Dussera, when the RSS held its annual rally, I actually saw him dress in RSS khaki shorts and a white shirt, black cap and even black shoes instead of his regular sandals. It is then that I realised we stood at opposite sides of the political divide although I still have a great deal of regard for Parrikar and think he is one of the most efficient, hardworking and honest chief ministers Goa has had.
71 AND COUNTING
And a last stray thought on the beginning of my 71st birthday which was on July 4th. Earlier I used to be proud that my birthday coincided with American Independence Day. After Donald Trump became president I am ashamed that I was born on July 4th. Thanks to the beating with iron rods in 1989 for exposing Narvekar and the VIP syndrome, which made the doctor pump me with huge doses of steroids, my health is very fragile. As fragile as the finances of the Goan Observer.
But both Goan Observer and I have to survive so that Amit Shah and Modi do not come back to power. If they do they would bring in permanent darkness and a permanent Emergency. So if you want me and Goan Observer to live longer please help us with ads, subscriptions, donations and whatever you can.