Panaji: Around the time the nation debated a controversial demand for a special "bikini beach" in Goa, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was fulfilling a promise lost in the hullabaloo of the two-piece bathing accessory.
Parrikar Saturday afternoon was away in Rivona village in the remote Quepem sub-district south of Panaji, keeping his lunch-date with the inmates of the church-run Nitya Seva Niketan orphanage, several of whom suffer from HIV/AIDS.
"All the children there were thrilled to see the chief minister. They were jumping all over him," local MLA Subhash Phaldessai, who co-ordinated the logistics for Parrikar`s visit, told IANS Saturday.
A school had rejected admission to 13 orphans with HIV/AIDS from the the Nitya Seva Niketan, following pressure from the Parents Teachers Association that objected to their wards intermingling with these children.
The stubborn resistance of the parents to deny admission to 23 other orphans, on mere suspicion they were HIV+ve, triggered an unprecedented stand-off with the unyielding parents on the one side and the school administration and the government on the other.
Reacting to the stand-off while speaking at a debate on education in the ongoing monsoon session of the assembly, Parrikar July 31 said Goans needed to work overtime to eradicate the stigma surrounding AIDS.
He also promised he will eat a meal with HIV+ve students to make a broader point about AIDS and the myths surrounding it.
While many dismissed Parrikar`s promise as mere rhetoric, the chief minister Saturday made good his word.
Parrikar along with 40 orphans, nuns and other orphanage workers, dug into a common buffet laid out in the orphanage`s dining area. There was chicken xacuti, subzi, dal, rice, chapati and of course, fish.
"All of us used common plates and spoons... We tried to make our visit appear as casual and normal as possible, lest they feel that the chief minister was here to meet them because of their condition," Phaldessai said.
Before lunch, the children performed song and dance sequences, even egging Parrikar to join them occasionally.
"We did not allow photographers because we did not want the identity of the HIV+ve children be disclosed," Phaldessai said.
The BJP MLA said the chief minister, who spent about 70 minutes with the orphans, assured Nitya Seva Niketan officials of help from the government as well as from his own personal finances.
"The chief minister assured them all the help possible from the Goa government as well as personally too. He will be sending across a television set as well as some video players and entertainment (games and play-kits)," Phaldessai said.
Goa`s health minister Laxmikant Parsenkar has said about one percent of the state`s 1.5 million population is AIDS-infected.