* The Goan spirit, clearly, drives Sardesai, the 50-year-old president of the Goa Forward Party
* “It is good for the heart, lifts your mood and is integral to susegad, the catch-all word that means being chilled out or at peace, unique to Goa”
* The siesta, however, is not the only aspect of Sardesai’s identity mission
There is something remarkably Goan about Vijai Sardesai’s office. For one, it is called Goenkar Ghor — or the House of Goans. It’s been built with chiro, Goa’s natural laterite soil, the chairs in the lobby are old-style Goan and an alcove has both Hindu deities and a statue of Mary.
The Goan spirit, clearly, drives Sardesai, the 50-year-old president of the Goa Forward Party (GFP) which has promised to make an hour’s siesta — anytime between 1pm and 4pm — compulsory if voted to power in the 2022 Assembly elections in the state.
“It may not appeal to other parts of India but let us be clear that it is our unique identity,” says Sardesai, sitting in his office, and looking relaxed in a raglan T-shirt, comfy trousers and keds.
The MLA explains that his off-the-cuff comments about the siesta at a recent press meet were not part of his party’s agenda but hastens to add that he stands by it. “I want the people to respect local culture,” he tells BLink.
Pointing out that a German trade union in 2019 had demanded a midday break time, he stresses that a siesta is rejuvenating.
“It is good for the heart, lifts your mood and is integral to susegad, the catch-all word that means being chilled out or at peace, unique to Goa,” he says, adding that the siesta’s Spanish origins refer to the time that comes six hours after dawn.
But is a compulsory afternoon break a good idea in these competitive times? BLink spoke with a cross-section of Goans, and found that not everybody welcomed a forced one-hour rest.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic may have underlined the need for taking a break from hectic schedules, but some fear that a mandatory siesta cannot be productive for a state that depends largely on tourism. Imagine a tourist wanting a club sandwich at 3pm, and being told that everyone was taking a break? Others, such as homoeopathy doctor Fiona Fernandes, believe that the move will make Goans — already labelled in some quarters as too relaxed — appear more laid-back.
Imtiaz, 39, a taxi driver, says that he loves the easy-going side of Goan life, but adds that a force siesta can only be appreciated by the well-to-do. “Most of us struggle through the day, and so we cannot afford to take a nap,” he says.
Gloria De Sa, a retired executive who divides her time between Australia and Goa, says such a policy may not work to the state’s benefit, but a catnap does improve productivity “One can work a few hours and work smart,” she says.
But John Rodrigues, a public healthcare professional, holds that while power naps may be rejuvenating, setting aside a couple of hours for a siesta is impractical when there is a shortage of doctors in the state. Patient outreach will be adversely affected, he fears.
The siesta, however, is not the only aspect of Sardesai’s identity mission. His party, which was set up in 2016, will take up other issues close to the Goan heart. The GFP, which was fiercely opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, but went on to support its bid to form a government in the 2017 election with its three MLAs (and then withdrew support in 2019), is now chalking out plans for 2022.
He wants to offer subsidised fish curry and rice, and shacks in the fields offering this fare. He also holds forth on Goa’s unique communidades culture, a system where village lands were jointly held for the benefit of residents, and says he would like to upgrade this to contract framing.
Sardesai, who grew up in Argentina where his father worked as a UN entomologist, is meanwhile enjoying the attention his proposal has generated. “We have got coverage in The Guardian newspaper, which no Goan politician has received,” he says, and adds that he has also just been interviewed by an Italian newspaper.
He speaks about the assertion of Goan identity including the 1967 referendum, in which the state voted against a merger with Maharashtra, and is proud of the state’s growth.
“We missed two five-year-plans before being liberated in 1961, but we are way ahead in development indices,” he says. Every reason, he says, why Goa’s unique character and identity must be protected. The siesta, he adds, is one key aspect.
Sardesai believes that his measures are all for the good of Goa. “I do not want to be a dictator but appeal to the heart,” he says.
Brian de Souza is a Mumbai-based communications specialist