Of Cowboys, Indians, and Kalam


Saying it Like It Is

Found some old photos of mine from when I was about 12. My great ambition in life then was to be a cowboy. When my parents went on a work trip to Bombay once, I tried very hard to talk them into buying me a horse so that I could go riding it to school. My friends in Panjim, all around the same age, were all die-hard cowboys in their minds.

In the evenings we played Cowboys & Indians, or Good Cowboys v/s Bad Cowboys. Most kids played in their normal daily clothes, but I always had a penchant for dressing up for the occasion. So on would come my cowboy hat, waistcoat, holster, plastic silver bullets, colts, sheriff’s star, the works. Of course no one would dream of selling high leather boots in Goa in those days, so monsoon gumboots would do fine, thank you.

Our whole neighbourhood (two or three whole blocks of it in central Panjim, today between Sushila Building and Junta House) would be our safe playground; including the roads, which had hardly any traffic. We would jump in and out of neighbours’ compounds, hide behind their trees, and shout ‘Pólen!’ when we ‘shot’ someone from the opposing team.

Why we shouted Pólen, and why that game was called Pólen, I’ve never learnt. It meant nothing in Portuguese, and now I know it means nothing in English either. But nomenclature never stood in the way of adolescent enjoyment. The game spread through word-of-mouth all over Panjim, we loved it, and we played it too. That was it.



If there was a western movie playing in town, we would all be there an hour early at the gates of Cine Nacional or El Dorado, trying to get good seats. Since our knowledge of English was still at a bare minimum, and since there were no films dubbed or sub-titled in Portuguese after Liberation, long dialogues which we couldn’t understand bored us. The more horse chases, fist fights and gunfights a film had, the better we rated it.

But one needs to revisit those old films to realise how little violence they showed, despite the exciting fight scenes. The chairs they broke over each other in bar room brawls, for example, never seemed to break their heads, or even make them bleed; they were up and raring to go again in the very next frame. They usually aimed to shoot in the hand or arm to disarm each other. If at all there was a murder in the story (usually of an old man) which the hero avenged in the rest of the film, there were close-ups of the old man’s face as he whispered secrets about the bad guys into the hero’s ears until he collapsed amidst gallery acting and drama.

But truly, none of those films were seen as violent. The trend to need to shock audiences with explicit, cruel, sadistic violence came much later, perhaps starting with films like ‘Dirty Harry’ and carrying on with ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Mad Max’. Today we’ve grown immune to close-up shots of knives cutting into someone’s flesh or a sword meticulously cutting off someone’s head with blood splurting in all directions. All in slow motion, please.


Only in America did children start taking guns to school and killing their classmates; only in America do adults fight so fiercely for gun rights and shoot and kill at the drop of an imaginary cowboy hat. The explanations offered are many – Too much explicit violence in films and TV? The fact that almost all problems are ‘solved’ with a gun at the end of almost every Hollywood movie, even in deep serious psychological dramas? Trigger and war-happy presidents? The fact that the American nation itself was born out of violence against, and mass murder of, the original natives? The fact that most families are broken in ugly ways, leaving children without either parent’s love and affection? Child abuse? I don’t know.

But I do know that America’s penchant for real violence goes totally beyond the rest of the world’s innocent boyhood child play with toy swords and toy guns.



On another track, to me the biggest joke is how backward we (humanity) still are.

I mean we still have to fight, in 2015, to prove that a woman is equal to a man, that black is equal to white is equal to brown is equal to yellow is equal to red, that gay is equal to bisexual is equal to heterosexual is equal to asexual, that Christian is equal to Muslim is equal to Jew is equal to Hindu is equal to Agnostic is equal to Atheist, that animal is equal to bird is equal to fish is equal to tree is equal to human, that Brahmin is equal to Kshatrya is equal to Vayshya is equal to Shudra, that Touchable is equal to Untouchable, that Wine is equal to Marijuana, that Peace is better than War…

We the People always need to fight, fight, fight, demonstrate, protest, provoke civil unrest, and so on and so forth to get the authorities that be (and some amongst us) to accept these basic, obvious facts of life, even as late as in 2015.

We’re just a backward, unintelligent, unenlightened, un-evolved, stupid species. And we actually believe we’re the smartest! If that isn’t THE BIGGEST JOKE IN THE WHOLE BLINKING UNIVERSE, I don’t know what is.


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