Saturday, December 08, 2007

Baby on beach with crabs

Finally took a chhutti - a small one - to Goa. And came back riddled with mixed emotions as usual. I know abject poverty is terrible, but I can't help wondering whether tourism is the answer. There is something about a subsistence economy that is so ecologically sound and fundamentally dignified, that almost everything else - and tourism for sure - pales in comparison. I know this is an extremely simplistic way of looking at the situation, but honestly, when you see the way resorts and gated townships are gobbling up land in Goa, you can't help but feel a bit reactionary.

We usually stay in North Goa, where pretty much everything has been converted into a resort already. So you get an after-the-fact sort of feeling - like you've reached the place after the deed was done, and the body was packed up and put away. Everything looks a bit jaded, with an air of forced, but fairly robust cheer. North Goa makes you forget that Goa has an ecology of its own - both cultural and geographic. You just feel like you're in a city with a magnificent view.

Which is why the first time we were in Goa, when we took a day trip to the South, we loved it. The sand was white, the air was fresh (none of that nasty smell of the dieselly power-boats), there weren't too many resorts, and there was a sense of Goa with complete, unbridled green, and squat, healthy little villages. The sole GTDC resort stood stolidly on the beach.

We went back this time, after three years, and things had changed. The power boaters were there, stinking up the air and oiling the water, and offering you 'dolphin rides'. There were tons of small, ugly resorts. Suddenly, it was Calangute again, without the milling crowds - for now.

And there was a new vulnerability around as well, a certain fragile air - because small fishing villages were clinging on to the fringes of the land not bought over by the resorts as yet. We saw this in many places: great Uglinesses of concrete nestled in clumps of green. There's nothing even remotely after-the-fact-ish here. It feels as if you're standing by and watching a murder; sighing even as they gut the body while it's still alive.

The village near our resort seemed sturdy, though. The houses were spacious and prettily painted, and pigs, roosters and kids frolicked around. (Early in the morning, the cock crowed - I'm sorry, but this thrilled me beyond belief!) The five or six large houses which made up the part of the village that we could see were literally squeezed between resorts, the Railways guest house and the Indian Oil one. It made you wonder how long the villagers would be able to hold out, and once they sold, where they'd go, what they'd do, and how compromised their lifestyle already was.

There were large smelly dumps on street corners and en route to the beach. When
we suggested that the nearby hotels could get together and clear them regularly, we were told "we do that, but the 'locals' keep dirtying it." Aside from being monumental cheek, it seemed untrue simply because most of the garbage was made up of mineral water bottles and plastic bags. Which seem more touristy in nature, and obviously tourists come to resorts, don't they?

When I hear people talk about Travel (yes, important enough in our mags and papers to merit a capital letter) with
out reference to the human and geographical ecology of a place, I feel a bit surreal, like I've been transported to a Victorian text. I wonder for instance how the people of beach-side villages in Goa - who once must have been able to see the sea from their houses - feel about the sea view being a premium commodity now, accessible only to the privileged few.

I suspect it's just a matter of time before the rest of the village left near our resort sells up. Their resilience in the face of many offers makes them seem more fragile somehow... Our driver, for instance, spoke about how foreigners and other outsiders were buying up so much land that prices were escalating beyond belief. 'Goans, we were happy with small house and paddy field...' He seemed to imply that Goans almost sat back and watched the land being lapped up by others...

This was one level of feeling of course. Confusing me at the other was the sheer joy of being in a place where each sunset is a work of art. When people say 'painterly sunsets' they must mean those lurid shows put up by the beach and the sun and the sand at Colva. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed - I mean, imagine a blue-grey sky lined with streaks of fluorescent pink! N enjoyed the sand with an almost devout fanaticism. She loved standing in the water as it pulled her - 'it's making me travel!' she'd shout. We'd be with her on the beach and keep telling her to watch the sunset and the huge, dome-like, pink-flecked sky, and she'd look up for a bit and then start her elemental sand-worship again. She found transparent, large-eyed crabs scuttling around and watched them in awe. It was beautiful, sad and then, beautiful again...

It made me feel that by bringing n up in a city we were robbing her of so much. Like my mom keeps talking about her childhood in her 'native place', and I think n wants to match up too. The only place she can think of with similar 'natural' attributes is goa. So the other day she tells my mom, "Goa is my netti place, and we have kolla-korzhies (water birds) there too." Try correcting her that a. it's native and not netti and b. it's not her 'native place'; and you are met with stern rebuttal!

Sigh, the eternal confusions of the liberal mind. Just aware enough to not be able to lose oneself and yenjaay, and too cowardly to actually do something about anything.


Bijal said...

Frankly, I loved the bit where N says I am travelling. Suddenly felt like I was at a beach and my toes curling as the sand moved with the water.

Sam said...


Loved the post. I've never been to Goa and i feel sad that i've missed it - i think it'll be comprehensively ugly and gone by the time i make it there (if ever i do) - though i hope that doesn't happen - that somehow, the villagers - city-bred urban pseudo-sophisticates like to call them the 'natives' - would fight and hold on.

I sometimes almost feel nostalgic for the British - not that colonialism could ever be a good thing - but simply because what we have today just isn't any different and u have to keep pretending that it is - like, for example, by standing up for the national anthem in theatres. that comment about the resort manager you quote - that the "locals" dirty the place. How different do u think is that attitude from that of a Brit sahib during the Raj - and his view of the perfidious, dirty "locals"?

Anonymous said...

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Harish Dave

Anonymous said...

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dhansa duppliyal