Bob Geldof, Goa and the Maldives: take offense where you can find it

November 11, 2012

(Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Any offense that the author causes is unintentional.)

Writing anything about India, no matter how picayune I think the topic might be, means that I run the risk of offending someone. Someday I’ll write a book about the unique culture of offense that I’ve found in India, but until then, I’ll write about examples that I see in the news. This weekend’s come from pop musician and poverty activist Bob Geldof as well as a senior government official of the Maldives, and an irreverent drummer from the heart of Punjab.

First, Bob Geldof, as reported by India Today:

Irish rockstar Bob Geldof’s remark that he got his “best drugs” from Goa has come under attack from a right wing Hindu organisation which has accused him of hurting national sentiments. While tourism industry players in Goa have said that Geldof’€™s statement was not in the context of current situation, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) has filed a complaint with the Irish embassy against the rocker.

Geldof, who was recently in Goa to participate in an event, had claimed that he was happy to be in the state which gave him the “best drugs”. He was referring to the era when he was 14-years-old and used to get drugs from Goa. “Someone told me that these drugs were from Goa,” Geldof had told reporters. Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) President Fransisco de Braganza said that there was no need to take Geldof’€™s statement as a judgement on the current situation. “It is secondary evidence. He never came to Goa. Somebody told him that those drugs came from Goa. The time line is late 60s,” Braganza said, adding we are all aware that there was hippie culture in Goa at that time.

“It was a different world. It is not a statement which relates to the present period,” he added.

Had Braganza accompanied me on my Goa jaunt last year, I could have convinced him that we traveled through time to the 1960s, as there is still plenty of turning on and tuning in going on there — judging by the various scents that my nose picked up.
Meanwhile, the HJS wants an apology from Ireland and from Geldof, to which I can only contribute one comment: Bob Geldof’s efforts to make a better world may be laudable, but he has very little chance of swaying the world toward any vision of India, positive or negative. The last time his name was a household word in the United States as I recall from my younger days  was 1985 when he staged the Live Aid shows. Any opinions that most of us form about Goa these days are likely our own, or derive to some extent from dubious Germans trying to sell us pot an Anjuna beach.
Meanwhile, my question for anyone who reads this is real, free of irony and implies no skepticism: why is Geldof’s reminiscence offensive?
For offense on the international stage, turn to the Maldives. The nation has apologized to India, as CNN-IBN reports, over government official Abbas Adil Riza’s remark that Dnyaneshwar Mulay, the Indian high commissioner in that country, is a “traitor” and an “enemy” of the Maldives. Riza made his remarks at a protest against the leasing of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to Indian infrastructure company GMR, a deal made by former president Mohamed Nasheed’s government, CNN-IBN reported. In a move to appease India, the news service reported,
Maldives has given profound apology as a USD 514-million airport project carried out by Indian company GMR became a target of political football in Male. Immediately after the remarks were made by Abbas Adil Riza at a rally in Male, Maldives President Mohamed Waheed told the Indian High Commissioner that he will take steps to “rectify” the wrong, official sources said.
Riza later dialed back his remarks, sort of. Is this real offense, or is this one more note in the orchestra of diplomatic negotiations over big business deals that include the involvement of two governments?
Lastly, when true believers fight, they draw swords. The Times of India carries a story that says Baljinder Singh Khalsa, head of a state chapter of religious group Eknoor Khalsa Fauz, and Gurjeet Singh attacked Bagicha Singh, who is a “drum beater at religious places,” with swords:
As per information Bagicha Singh of Jalalabad on Saturday had come to appear in court in a case registered against him u/s 295A for using defamatory language against Sikhs in some chips recorded by him. Hurt over the language used, two persons attacked him when he was heading towards the chamber of his advocate after appearing in court. Eyewitnesses said the assailants attacked Bagicha Singh on head and other body parts with swords and fled away. Knowing about the incident, the tension prevailed in the area and Bagicha was taken to Mansa civil hospital from where he was shifted to Faridkot hospital.
I’ve asked several questions about the nature of offense throughout this post, but the biggest one on my mind concerns something that my aunt used to say: “Nobody can offend you if you refuse to be offended.” I think about this whenever I read stories about people in India taking offense at the supposed rude things that people say about them, whether from within the country or from abroad. In some ways, it reminds me of my fellow Americans who can’t take a joke or a snipe directed at them or their way of life. I wonder whether it’s time we tried harder to let it roll off our backs. Your thoughts?
(Singer Bob Geldof attends the Sports For Peace Fundraising Ball at The V&A in London July 25, 2012. Reuters photo: Ki Price)

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For me Goa is home, that’s the only impression I have. I find it strange the way you guys talk about Goa. People actually live there day in and day out, you know…

Posted by GerarddeSouza | Report as abusive

I know how you feel. I live and work in Manhattan. I see this disparity in talk/experience all the time, especially because I work in Times Square, which for tourists is “party central.” As for Goa, I was referring to Anjuna Beach and similar places and ways that people spend their time mostly as party people, hippies, European vacationers and so on. When I visited Goa, I stayed with a friend who lives there, so I am acquainted with life away from the party circuit, however superficially. People live near such zones day in day out all over the world – Bali, Ipanema, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Walt Disney World. The lifestyle to which I refer in Goa is not invisible or imaginary, regardless of the regular people living just down the street. Speaking of Goa, do people still live in those lovely mansions like I saw in Shyam Benegal’s “Trikal?” And do people still speak Portuguese? I speak Portuguese, and overheard older people speaking it at a diner in Panaji. That was nice because I can’t speak Konkani.
Best regards,

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

‘…dubious Germans trying to sell us pot [on] Anjuna beach.’

Posted by PopoDanderfluff | Report as abusive

^^^^I’ve asked several questions about the nature of offense throughout this post, but the biggest one on my mind concerns something that my aunt used to say: “Nobody can offend you if you refuse to be offended.”

Hello, Bobby.

No. That’s Robert. Thank you.

Posted by ImamHaq | Report as abusive

Bobby’s fine, I promise.

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

May I request that you start with a blog then move on to the book. At least write top 10 plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I will like to know how many ways you offended Indians. 😀

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

I re- read your article. You have a good instinct of picking up topics and are able to talk about problems plaguing our country. I wished Indians picked up these topics and discussed them – cleanliness, rape victim blaming,languages, too sensitive etc. You seem to have fallen in love with our country! I mean why will a foreigner try to upload a facebook pic of people urinating. Of course if he thinks of it as a joke or something it’s different but from your blog I didn’t feel that. You were trying to help and improve. Please keep writing because you have good ideas and I daresay a genuine love for this country.

Okay now coming back to the topic discussed.:D. Ya you are right we get very easily offended. Though I don’t think the examples given are really big ones. I will share more bizarre ones. There was one in films- Billo barber! Found anything offensive in the title? Apparently, the barber community did. “Its disrespectful to use word barber, we are hairdressers”. See I admit there are some words in indigenous languages that are offensive like the N-word. And I am sure barber is not one of them, it’s English anyway. WHAT DO THE GUYS EXPECT we introduce some fourth language- German to rename all our workers!
Then there was something to do with history. Jodha Akbar. It was based on the Mughal Emperor Akbar and his Rajput wife Jodha. Now the entire movie has been filmed and it has been set for release, just few days before it Rajputs issue a warning against it! Why? It seems that Jodha is not the actual name of Akbar’s wife it’s Hira Kunwari. Jodha is the name of his daughter in law. This issue can be resolved by some polite warning before the film starts that Jodha is not the actual name. (However, the idea that her name is Jodha is rooted in the 19th century). But what is there to be hurt in it? The Rajputs were offended.
But come on history is massacred by filmmakers on regular basis. To give an English example, how about that Alexander movie some years ago. In that what did they show that Alexander was killed by an elephant in India. We all know it was West Asia, on his way back perhaps due to poisoning. Wait a minute did it say India, oh oh that too an Indian elephant. Okay lets get offended and start a defamation campaign. Blood of Alexander on our hands is too much to bear :D.

To be frank none of the above that you written I admit is remotely offensive. And that’s a good advice,” “Nobody can offend you if you refuse to be offended.” similar to Gandhi,” No one can hurt me without my permission”. Easily written than implemented but worth trying. Thanks

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

I have thought often that I should write a book about every faux pas I’ve committed in India, especially the intentional ones!

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

In love… I would say I’ve fallen in professional love with India. I supervise two teams of journalists there, but unfortunately I do it from New York, so my time in country is less than I’d like. I also have a personal connection to India, but that has nothing to do with my public writing about the place. I try to beware of appearing to be the foreigner bringing his own views to the public on how to fix a country. Imagine one person fixing a country! Try that even in Luxembourg and see how far you get. As for offense, I think that Indians match Americans on pride and offense taken. It often feels like home!

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

“intentional ones!”

I am sure I know one, the facebook pic 😀

” I try to beware of appearing to be the foreigner bringing his own views to the public on how to fix a country. Imagine one person fixing a country!”

Keep writing!

“I think that Indians match Americans on pride and offense taken. It often feels like home!”

I cannot say about America, although I cannot deny ego. No country is free of it. But frankly I didn’t find the above incidents the ones that you wrote, and ones which I shared to be anyway offensive. The real offensive ones are drawing Hindu gods on shoes, hate crimes, racist slur etc. Not the above ones….

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

” Try that even in Luxembourg ”

You may not believe me, but it has sincerely got nothing to do with the results. The results take their own time…….It’s like Gandhi said, “Just keep doing the work, leave the rest to God. “I hope I am not over quoting, but if you have read the Alchemist. There is Greek story in there, I will not repeat it , but it has a moral, that even without knowing each person is playing an important role in the world, and often they are not aware of it. You may not know who is reading your blog and getting inspired :D.
“Imagine one person fixing a country!”

Trust me one person with a firm resolve is more than enough :). Thanks

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

I trust you. Keep visiting! :)

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive