I received an invitation to speak at a Cleaner Production Seminar in Lisbon around 1993. Mrs. Pineda from the Department of Industry, a very enthusiastic personality and a person of passion and action was my host. Two more colleagues were invited – one was an Australian and the other was a Dutch. We knew each other before.
We arrived a day early. Mrs. Pineda had organized a dinner with the Minister of Industries in the evening with select officials and industry representatives. Dinner was served on the terrace of the Ministers bungalow with range of Portuguese wines and cheese to start with. The terrace gave a great view of the city of Lisbon with old mansions and thick tree foliage.
Just then we were mingling with the invitees and having a chat on their interest in Cleaner Production, Mrs. Pineda approached me. “Ministers Secretary wants to speak to you” she said and ushered me to a room adjoining the terrace. After some pleasantries, Ministers secretary asked me for a short CV for introducing me the next day at the Seminar. “You are an Indian I know – but currently based in New York – right?” When I said no and said that I always lived in Bombay/Mumbai, India; he asked me once again the same question and this time added that of course your original base could be Mumbai but isn’t it that for past several years you have been away and mainly residing in the United States. I said politely negative. I have always been a Bombay person! I said this with no loss in the pride.
The Secretary got me a glass of Portuguese red wine and disappeared.
After few moments, Mrs. Pineda approached me once again and asked me to follow her to the Minister. Minister wants to have a word with you she said.
Minister was a very impressive personality. He greeted me at the outset and welcomed. “Is this your first visit to Portugal? Stay over for couple of more days and do tour around. There is so much to see. And don’t miss attending a Fado. We have organized a Fado rendition in one of the antique cellars tomorrow night”
(Although the origins are difficult to trace, fado is commonly regarded as a form of song that follows a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word saudade, or “longing”, symbolizing a feeling of loss)
A Fado Performer
I was of course very keen to listen to Fado.
Minister then said – “I just was told that live in Bombay right now. I always thought that you resided in New York”
I once again explained.
Minister then came a bit close to me and spoke in low voice and with some concern “Dr Modak, I know about your work internationally and that’s the reason why we invited you here. However, the industry in Portugal is still kind of biased when it comes to listening or sharing of knowledge – they won’t be able to take it from an Indian living in Bombay. It’s alright for them to receive these inputs from a Dutch, an Australian expert or someone from the United States”. He paused. I could see he was embarrassed on what he just said. He continued.
“Will it be OK Dr Modak, it we introduce you tomorrow as an Indian, born in Bombay but currently residing and working in New York? This is a small change, but if you accept my request it will really help”
I did not know what to say! I told the Minister in all polite way and respect that I will go by my true introduction and that I should be introduced as born, living and working in Bombay. The Minister listened.
When Mrs. Pineda came to drop me to the hotel post dinner, she brought up the conversation I had with the Minister and his suggestion. “I am sorry what he said – but he really has a point. You may find response from the industries tomorrow rather lukewarm after the introduction”.
“Well Mrs. Pineda. I rather be what I am” I said this now in a bit of firm tone.
The next day Seminar was opened by the Minister and all three of us were introduced. I was the last speaker. All three of us did pretty well. The Minister stayed throughout the session.
Contrary to the worries of the Minister, my presentation was well received by the industry participants. There were number of questions asked and specific advice was requested. The translator had a tough time as the discussions became rather animated after a while. The Minister was extremely pleased.
We were to make field visits to industries after the Seminar. Mrs. Pineda called on three of us. She told my Australian colleague that he will have to travel over an hour and visit the food packaging industries. Our Dutch friend was told to spend the whole of next day as his visit to electroplating industries entailed 2 hours of drive each way. Then Mrs. Pineda turned to me and said “Prasad, you will need to spend three days in the field. We are sending you to Covilha. You will start now”
Why don’t you like me Mrs. Pineda I said? Why this torture to me?”
Mrs. Pineda took me aside and said “Dud, you don’t realize what you getting into? Textile Industries in Covilha were present today and they are really impressed with your work. They would like you to do in- plant visits. And more than that, Covilha is great tourist destination, right on the mountains. My colleague Paulo will drive you there. There is a century old Vila reserved for you to stay – Our Minister has personally intervened”
I was simply excited as I was keen to take on an excursion outside Lisbon.
Paulo drove me to Covilha. It was around 280 km of distance each way. We travelled to the mountains via wine yards, stopped at a Fado cellar in the evening and sampled the famous Adega wine.
Paulo turned out to be very talkative person. He kept talking about his life and narrated to me all about his family, especially his elder sister Maria. He simply adored his sister. In our journey to and fro Covilha, I learned so much about Maria – her moods, her dress sense, her fancies, her career interests etc. Maria was specializing in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). “One day I will introduce you to Maria” Paulo said and a bit proudly.
Of course in the process of our non-stop dialogue, Paulo extracted everything about me – my wife Kiran, kids Devika and Pranav and our life in Bombay. I also told him my Minister story.
I returned from Lisbon with great experience of being in Covilha. The travel, stay and interactions with industries was memorable.
The very next month I was in Shanghai to attend the annual convention of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). I was standing in the registration queue.
There were two women chatting in the front of me. One of them was extremely talkative. She was telling her friend “my brother Paulo drove an Indian to Covilho last month– this Indian guy was very interesting and both had long conversations. Paulo is now so much enameled with him that he wants to holiday in India and visit Bombay. He wants me to join too”.
I immediately understood that I was standing right next to Paulo’s dear sister Maria. What a coincidence – something hard to believe
“May I” I interrupted their conversation and introduced myself without mentioning Paulo.
The queue was long enough for more conversations. Amongst other topics, I spoke about face reading, science of phrenology and works reported in the Purushsuktam of ancient Indian scripts on how to read minds.
That’s a new piece of information about India– my brother Paulo should know – Maria said
Then concentrating on Maria’s face, I offered to tell her “her story”.
“Maria -you like green color, you are allergic to milk products, you like to travel, especially on the sea coasts, you tend to spend a lot. You are a professor at the Lisbon University. And I went on and on and told her everything I knew about her from Paulo.
Maria was simply amazed. She told her friend that all what I said was really true. “This makes even a more interesting case to visit India. How could you make out so much about me by simply looking at my face? And so much personal information that only my brother will know – and so much in detail? She exclaimed. You must teach me how did you?
I just smiled – decided not to tell her the secret – but then eventually did.
Maria and I met couple of times later in the IAIA meetings. Last I saw her was in a meeting organized by UNEP in Geneva. Today, Maria has published extensively in EIA and has a book that is well respected on the subject of Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment. I really respect her work.
This is a pretty old story – some 20 years ago and I don’t know whether the bias still remains.
I never met Paulo nor Mrs. Pineda. I plan to visit Covilha once again this November.
Listen to Fado and sip Adega wine.