Thursday, January 26, 2006

Two percent of a Source camp... interview with Patrice Riemens

"We are two percent of this camp," Patrice Riemens <> whispered, almost conspiratorially, as we walked down to the beach. Patrice was referring to the Africa Source II[1] event, we were part of on the scenic-but-isolated island of Kalangala, in the midst of Lake Victoria, Uganda.

I've known Patrice for years. Our first meeting was odd. He introduced himself at one of those annual, year-end Goanetter gettogethers. I think it was at the Taj Aguada, and around 1998.

Just another lost tourist, I thought to myself then. But Patrice was deeper than I realised. And his encounter with me wasn't based on chance, but a deeper look at the Net, who was posting often, and who was saying what.

We sat down for a chat, about FLOSSophy (a term Patrice has invented, or popularised, or both... just as he has done with the term Lusostalgia, sometimes wrongly attributed to me!). In between, on his tent called the 'bazaar' at Africa Source 2, he narrated his long story.

Patrice explains: "I got into Goanet because I decided, somewhere in the mid-nineties, that I wanted to go to India again. I had spent 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993 -- four winters -- in Calcutta. Air India then gave you three (free flight) legs within India. As long as you flied Air India. Typically, these flights left at timings like 2 am in the morning, from Delhi to Calcutta. I was looking for a place where are social movements active. I found Goa had a very lively social movement scene."

The first address he recalls having visited was one with an "Opposite Palacio de Goa" address. Yes, it could well be Reggie Gomes, the priest-turned-NGO campaigner, who is still involved with social groups here. "They had email. I got the idea that Goa was not only nice beaches, but a lot of socially active groups too. Some other names I recall from those times are (environmentalist) Claude Alvares, (Physics professor and Goa University's Net whizzard) Gurunandan Bhat."

So Patrice, now fifty something, went to the Goa University for some "telnet tourism". Remember, these the days of very limited internet access. Getting to your mail often meant a painfully slow, dial-up access via a Telnet, non-graphical interface.

"I said, I'm from the University of Amsterdam. Can I have a Telnet session? Some kind of Telnet tourism," he recalls.

:The Goa trip was remarkably fruitful. Not very much came out of it (just then). But I also met (Fundacao Oriente's then delegate in India) Paulo Varela Gomes. He was on the lookout for a way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama in a non-ofensive way. So we discussed the idea of a cyberconference in Goa (which was followed-up for sometime, but didn't actually happen)."

He recalls meeting up with Joseph "Boogie" Viegas, then one of the pioneers of the Net in Goa, now based in Canada. Patrice also remembers the Goanet [2] meeting at the Taj Aguada, Candolim. Incidentally, that was the first time a politician like Tomazinho Cardozo came in for our meeting, and stress how serious a problem malaria was in coastal Goa.

Then, he recalls the Margao-based Dr Ivo Costa, a senior citizen who got involved in the Net and whose family has been in the wine business (Vinicola). "He's a big admirer of Bill Gates," Patrice commented, in a camp meant to promote Free/Libre and Open Source Software, the very antithesis of proprietorial software, among non-profit organisations.

Q: Those were the days when you met someone via the internet and he (and less often, she) became a great friend. That's not so anymore. Would you agree?

Patrice says: "If you follow Goanet, it seems to be a Goan feature to have 10 Goans, 12 opinions, and 16 enemies."

I asked Patrice about the Dutch role in Goa's history.

Says he: "There was a next-to-no role for the Dutch in Goa's history. Maybe they came in as hipies (a few decades ago)."

But when we shifted attention to the Dutch blockade of Goa, he commented: "That's part of the Dutch (attempted) kicking the Portuguese out of Asia. The Dutch, at the apogee of their power, in the mid-17th century, wanted to have an absolute monopoly of navigation east of the Cape. I'm not really good with dates. You can check these things with (Indo-Portuguese historian Charles) Boxer."

"The Portuguese had done their thing; they were there, and stable, but not expanding. The Dutch were expanding massively. The English were not in the game at that point of time. The British sea-borne empire kicked really in in the 18th century. In the east, Empires tended to be sea-borne in the beginning. India as landmass came as a continental colony of Britain only in the 19th century. Before that, it was the control of the coast that mattered -- Madras, Bombay and Calcutta... and a little land around it."

Talking to Patrice is fascinating. While he's impatient with academic theories, his understanding of issues throws up new insights.

He added, as we sat on the sand, and both were getting groggy with sleep, specially him: "The legal theorist Grotus had two theories -- the open seas, and closed seas. Open seas were everywhere where the Dutch had no monopoly. Closed seas were areas only for the Dutch. In the East and Baltic (for its foreign trade) which were controlled by the Dutch."

"So the idea of the Dutch was to kick the Portuguese out everywhere, allegedly for religious reasons, but mostly for commercial reasons. They were quite successful, but not completely. After some time, the English came and changed the whole thing," he adds.

So does Patrice believe in the rise and fall of nations? "It's not a belief, it's a fact. Who had heard of the US in the 16th century," he laughs.

Patrice is a Dutch citizen, but a French speaker. Says he: "I have been living in Holland for the largest part of my life, which is 40 years. Always I've felt a bit of a foreigner in Holland."

He's a human geographer -- a term which not be popular in academia in Asia, but is very much part of continental Europe.

"Earlier I was much more involved in academics than I was now. First I read Latin and Greek, and dropped out of it like most people. After my BA in Georgaphy, I applied for a Government of India scholarship at the Delhi School of Echonomics. That was way back in 1980-81."

Patrice spent a little less than a year there, and "did not study very much because I could not make sense of the curricula". But he stayed on in India.

A senior Indian official he spoke of his problems to said: "We do not expect fine students to seriously study. We expect them to travel all over India, and be exposed to the country. Then when you go back home, you will become a goodwill ambassador for India." Patrice stresses the word 'goodwill ambassador', that explains his views on the subject.

He then did his M.Phil in Economics, and wrote about Indian multinationals. Published in Holland in 1989, this is one of the few texts that looks at the global operations of Third World firms.

At that time, the Amsterdam's department of geography was divided into urban geography of Western countries, and rural geography of non-Western countries. "At that time, I was perhaps the only one advocating looking at cities in the Third World. But that was not well taken at that time. The consensus of the mainstream orthodoxy was that the Third World was rural, and that cities were aberration," recalls Patrice.

"My position was that the cities are there (existing in the Third World), they are working, and we have to learn a lot... from the Third World, just as the Third World can learn from us. At some stage, after something like six years, I was more or less kicked out from the geography department," he recalls.

Patrice was then with INDRA, Institute for Development Research in Amsterdam, a rather applied research centre. It was in the university, then independent, but an inter-faculty institute.

"I was very happy there, doing serious research, and much appreciated. Also was more useful because of my internet connections. I switched form studying the squatters movement (which was then very important in Amsterdam) to looking at the hackers movement. In Amsterdam," he narrates.

"My political culture was in the squatting movement. I very naturally passed over in the hackers movement, because I was convinced the computers were the next frontier. I was right (laughs). The funny thing is that many in the squatters' movement did not see it. I've always been ahead of my time. People who say things with most people disagree with are often considered irritating and are shelved," says he.

[1] [2] Email contact: patrice at

Action at the municipal garden...

As I write, the GUJ show (spearheaded by Ashley do Rosario and Umesh Mahambre) are going great guns, at the Municipal Garden.

All doubt over the event was over, when we saw a good crowd turn up on the evening of Thursday, Republic Day here.

The idea of having a children's drawing competition starting 5 pm was a good idea... it pulled in the parents early. So was the fancy dress (for kids), and the music provided by the journos showed another side of the profession.

It was nice to see the younger team taking charge of all the arrangements. The programme is still continuing; unfortunately, one had to miss Hema Sardessai in performance... and Bondo too!

Among those sighted at the event were the deputy CM Dr Wilfred de Souza, Herald editor Robin Abreu, CCP chief officer Sanjit Rodrigues (seen squatting on the band-stand) and a whole lot of journos and press employees. FN

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Grandmomma's recipes for health

The Saligao parish bulletin of January 2006 has an article with the above title. It includes recipes based on mustard (rai) for rheumatism, arthritis, joint pain, fatigue, and to relieve congestion.

Also ginger (for common cold, to prevent heart problems, for blood pressure, prevent cold and flu, and gas problems and indigestion), curry leaf (diabetes, overweight, cholesterol, insect bite, etc), coriander (indigestion, nausea, dysentery, jaundice, high blood pressure, pimples, dry skin, etc), pepper (indigestion, chronic malaria), cardamom (urine retention, sore throat, cough, difficulty in breathing, worms, etc), fenugreek (herbal shampoo, swelling, cholesterol, cracks in the heel, etc), onion (fever, influenza, cold, sore throat, cough, goitre, headache, migraine, insect bite), clove (sore throat, vomitting, muscular cramps, toothache). Interesting!

An evening... amidst the work of young artists

Goa's newspapers seldom give such events the deserved attention. We seldom celebrate our abilities, achievements or skills and successes. In the rush to get at the 'bad news', such developments get swept under the carpet.

For a change, a photo in a local newspaper (Herald) alerted readers to the fact that the Goa College of Art was marking its annual open-house event. One had been to the same event some 2-3 years earlier, and had found it quite interesting.

Being a Saturday, it coincided with the evening-out with the daughter. We ran into some of my friends and one of Riza's best friends there. But, apart from that all, there was an interesting variety of art and skills on show.

Glass blowing (with specialists in from Chennai), soft-stone carving, traditional painting, bead jewellry, mat work (suddenly one realises how time-consuming and back-breaking it can be to make a single mat, strand by strand), print making, mural design, portraiture, screen printing and computer graphics (one mentioned to a couple of young people the Free Software tools which are drawing attention in this slot), design and advertising, landscape and still life, painting, photography, and students art and engraving.

Most of the talent came from students themselves, though there were some specialists brought in to cope with certain fields.

Mehendi, the art of hand-painting, done at Rs 20 per hand by young girl-students, caught the fancy of children and women at the event. In another hall, the art of rangoli (floor-painting) took on another meaning, as artistic portraits were done up by collegians.

Young children were also given a chance to take part in a drawing contest. (You need to take your colours along. It continues on Sunday evening, Jan 22, too.)

"I wish our open day was as much fun," said a scientist friend from the National Institute of Oceanography, who was a schoolmate almost a generation ago.

Willy Goes, who shared his college days with our generation and is now a lecturer at the art college, was around. He mentioned his second book 'Khand' is to be released on Jan 31, 2006 at 5 pm (Institute Menezes Braganza, Panjim). Willy was a one-time photographer with The Navhind Times.

Till recently an RJ (radio jockey) Cajetan "Caje" Vaz, who happens to be a long-timer advertising professional, was also there. He mentioned an earlier offer to help talk to students of the college in advertising-related themes. Just goes to show how little we tap the skills that exist in Goa itself.

Sangeeta Naik, wife of our journalist-entrepreneur-publisher Niraj of, mentioned plans for a seminar on computers in education, sometime in early March 2006. She's now at the Goa University.

The students put up a good show. Incidentally, last academic year (2004-05), the event was held as part of the IFFI. So, while the artists-in-the-making were lured with the promise of larger audiences, their work and focus probably got dissipated amidst all fanfare that surrounded Goa's first-ever IFFI.

This was, by the way, the same college earlier rocked by allegations of a gang-rape. While the media initially sensationalised the case, as typical, they just failed to do the follow-up of this (as with other sensationsalised cases in Goa). So, while some were convinced that the accused-then-acquitted young men had been wronged, Goa probably just doesn't know enough of what happened or what lead to the accusations.

That apart, it just goes to show that young students here can indeed perform. If only given the chance. The questions: Will they be able to tap their potential without having to migrate out of Goa? With so much right-brain talent coming out of Goa (mainly in creative fields, including advertising, music, food, and other people-skills) can this region work out a suitable model to have it tapped?

The answers, as they would say, are blowing in the wind...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Which airlines?

A friend mentioned that he prefers to travel Air-India from London to Goa, because it allows a baggage allowance of 33 kgs. This is important specially on the return home, he said. Also the ticket is more reasonably priced, he said.

Any comments about which airline you prefer to fly and why?

I was pretty impressed by the network which the Ethiopian (the national carrier of Ethiopia) has been building up, particularly for routes in Africa. It seems to be having an international perspective, with thrice and four-times-each-week flights even to cities like Mumbai and Delhi.

They have an impressive (very functional, well designed, not a block of concrete, and apparently inexpensively built) airport called Bole, at Addis. And though I faced longish delays on both legs (once due to the fog in Cairo, where the incoming plane came from; the other time due to apparent technical trouble with the plane), it was quite an experience encountering this face of Africa. A Third World country which seems to be getting things right... at least as far as its airlines goes.

Your comments are welcome. FN

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Passing thru Mumbai...

Was passing thru Mumbai, the city many Goans know as Bombay, earlier today. It was interesting to read some of the news papers which are published in Mumbai (at a very low price, one might add) but largely unavailable for sale in Goa.

This includes the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition, sold at an invitation price of Rs 2.50) and the DNA (48 pages, "founder partner price" of Rs 2). Unfortunately, one might say that while there is a wider amount of coverage, it's simply more of the same -- trivia and Page 3, seeking to further entertain the bored Indian affluent class, while largely overlooking issues of important to the bulk of the Indian population.

Together with this, three's also the booming local press, which like Goa's free-sheeters (here it's priced) doesn't try to address the entire Mumbai market, but only sections of it.

Some stories from the papers:

* Khan-tastic! As Shah Rukh did a Ye Dosti with Karan Johar, Salman Khan decided to really let his hair down and make a big dash and splash in Goa. Nearly a quarter page devoted to saying: "SRK lived up to his promise during Salman Khan's 40th birthday bash in Goa. Salman, who recently underwent a hair procedure, turned up sporting a Feroze Khan look. His sister Arpita had drawn up a guest list of 50 people and most of Sohail Khan's friends were present (like Dino Morea and Yash Tonk). But it was Shah Rukh who stole the show. He had promised Salman that he would make it, especially since he missed out on Salman's birthday party on December 27 -- and King Khan didn't disappoint. The holiday is over now for the extended Khan-daan who are all back to the grind in Mumbai.

* A Goan-sounding name, Malad resident Lorraine Vaz recalls how a mini bus, which spun out of control, narrowly missed her on Dec 30 but killed one and injured several others. (From Mid Day, reproduced in Metro-Malad to Borivli)

* In the Borivali Local Samachar, Mario Carvalho (tel 2891 2932) advertises for "home-made Goan sweets/snacks". Doce is priced Rs 150 per kg, dodol at Rs 175. Gauva cheese Rs 140, potato chops at Rs 5 each, cutlets at Rs 5, croquettes, pan rolls, mince samosas (Rs 4 each), potato samosas, and two Chinese items too...

Just some inputs from here. FN

Upcoming events... Goa

* Kuchipudi dance performance by Arunima Kumar of New Delhi on January 7, 2006 at 5.30 pm at the International Centre, Goa, Goa University Road, Dona Paula 403004. RSVP 2452805-10 or email Further programmes announced on

* Another event, recently held in Goa was the 'Chitra Sankalp', by physically challenged artists Balshree Prasad Ghadi and Dipesh Shetkar, organised by the Goa Peoples' Forum and Anam Prem, from January 1 to 3 from 11 am to 6 pm at the Harshada Art Gallery, Opposite the Goa Marriott, Miramar.

Just thought of sharing this with you. FN

Writing... from Sattari

These days -- after the explosion of December 28, 2005 -- anything to do with Sattari gets treated more seriously in Goa. Is this everyone's way of admitting that here was an issue, right under our nose, that we failed to even take cognisance of, until it quite blew up in our face? Or, acknowledgment that there are still parts and peoples of Goa which 'we' hardly understand.

Last week, Nandkumar Kamat introduced me to Sattari lecturer Prakash Paryenkar, whose book "Dovorne" (named after the traditional place where you rested your buden if carrying a headload, it's a stone- built structure of sorts still visible in parts of Goa) is being released on Friday, January 6 at 5 pm at the Institute Menezes Braganza.

This text is in Marathi, and it's being released at a function where the chief guest will be Datta Damodar Nayak, and guest of honour Mohandas Surlekar (vice-chairperson of the IMB). The president of the function will be Pundalik Narayan Nayak, while Dr Nandkumar Kamat will introduce the book.

Being in Marathi makes it accessible to one section of Goans. But one needs to acknowledge that this has long been the language of choice for the written word, for a significant section of Goans -- particularly the Hindu population.

It would be nice to get reviews of this, and other books on Goa in Marathi too. --FN

Monday, January 02, 2006

Goa links...

Jen Lewis has been active in uploading some 253 new Goa-related links at the Vascokars United list. Check it out at: