A eu­logy for old Goa

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

SOME­TIMES, when the sun is set­ting over a vil­lage called Al­dona, and the evening bread is de­liv­ered on the backs of bi­cy­cles, you can con­vince your­self that Goa is all right. When Regi­nald or Tul­si­das or Lata or Maria stand at the front gate speak­ing to that passerby at dusk, and the urak sea­son starts slip­ping into the feni days, so all you smell on the road is the arch fer­men­ta­tion of cashew ap­ples: Yes, it’s OK.

But then you think about the beaches, the ones with the plas­tic bags in the wa­ter, which you mis­took for jel­ly­fish, and the shards of glass from the beer bot­tles car­ried into the waves, which now churn with sewage from the sep­tic tanks. Those beaches; you can for­get those beaches.

And the hills and road­sides, cov­ered in garbage, blos­som­ing like wild­flower. And the earth in­land that min­ing has stripped bare and turned rust-red, leav­ing pea­cocks dead from con­tam­i­nated ground­wa­ter. The Man­dovi River, too, full of float­ing casi­nos and ef­flu­ent. You can for­get these things. And you can re­mem­ber Goa’s ghosts.

My hus­band and I moved to north Goa eight years ago, though I first vis­ited with my fam­ily 30 years ago, when I was four: We drove down from Bom­bay in the car, my brother see­ing his first nud­ist on the beach, his mind blown. This time we came so I could study yoga, and we re­alised there was no rea­son to leave. Goa was beau­ti­ful, laid-back yet ex­cit­ing, a meet­ing place for the world. Sure, there were prob­lems. But the beaches! The restau­rants! The mu­sic, and the peo­ple!

It was about four years ago when the doubts first crept in. We no­ticed how swim­ming in the sea would leave us with a sore throat or in­fect a cut. We could no longer pre­tend the garbage piles on the As­sagao, Si­olim and Parra hills weren’t get­ting worse. We saw the trickle of new con­struc­tion be­com­ing a tor­rent. And, look­ing around, we re­alised many who had cre­ated Goa’s cul­ture were now look­ing else­where: lo­cals sought Por­tuguese pass­ports; for­eign­ers talked about Cam­bo­dia or weighed the mer­its of stay­ing in Europe, say­ing the good days were over. On bal­ance, it was still worth it. And our vil­lage of As­sagao – we said – was spe­cial, hid­den from the cor­rupted beach-belt; things would be fine.

But things are not fine. The garbage is out of con­trol, river shell­fish have been dec­i­mated by co­l­iform bac­te­ria, tur­tle nest­ing grounds have been ru­ined. And the con­struc­tion has ex­ploded. We went away for work for six months, and when we re­turned six Por­tuguese vil­las in our vil­lage had been de­mol­ished. In their place were con­struc­tion sites for lux­ury apart­ment com­plexes, the re­quired sand dredged from the rivers, the nec­es­sary wa­ter drained from wells that ran dry in Jan­u­ary. And it’s not just our vil­lage: An­juna and Va­ga­tor are chang­ing even faster, with new projects such as Rain­for­est Boule­vard (com­plete with fake pho­tos of Goa’s beaches in the brochure) and Goa Junc­tion (“for those who choose to be among the priv­i­leged few [and] be­lieve in a king-sized lav­ish & lux­u­ri­ous life”) ris­ing up.

The most re­cent hor­ror? The “eco-tourism” de­vel­op­ment of the eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive Cha­pora River area by means of “ferry ter­mi­nals, a tourist vil­lage, mu­seum, mari­nas, fish­er­man’s wharf, ho­tels, an un­der­wa­ter aquar­ium, sea world, a bird park, an ad­ven­ture sports is­land, a tree-top ho­tel, ho­tel com­plex, an ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre …”

With sad­ness, we have de­cided to leave, to look to­ward Europe or Latin Amer­ica. I have can­vassed the opin­ions of long-term for­eign vis­i­tors who have also turned away. For Manu from Mex­ico, the filthy sea was the fi­nal straw, though there is also the un­scrupu­lous lo­cal busi­ness peo­ple, “al­ways want­ing to take ad­van­tage or cheat you in some way”. Phil from Eng­land, who has been com­ing here for 25 years, said, “The joke I made this sea­son was, we all used to say Goa was not the real In­dia, but now REAL In­dia has turned up.” And Marco, who has been driv­ing his VW bus from Switzer­land to In­dia for years via Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran and Pak­istan, wrote, “I think I’m not com­ing back. Too much pol­lu­tion, traf­fic, crazy tourists, new build­ings, cor­rup­tion …”

For­eign tourism has been fall­ing for the last few years. In­dia News Net­work re­ported that the to­tal num­ber of for­eign tourists has fallen 20 per­cent com­pared over the last two years, while The Times of In­dia said 57,000 for­eign tourists ar­rived between Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber 2015, com­pared with the 85,000 in the same pe­riod the pre­vi­ous year. Over 20,000 Rus­sians, the de­mo­graphic Goa re­cently re­lied on, have can­celled trips. The col­laps­ing rou­ble and prob­lems in the eu­ro­zone are ex­ter­nal fac­tors that partly ex­plain the dis­ap­pear­ing for­eign tourist, but Goa doesn’t help it­self. In an IndyaWire.com so­cial me­dia sur­vey, 42pc of Rus­sians who had vis­ited in the last four years said they wouldn’t be com­ing back: Goa was too ex­pen­sive, too dirty, the taxi mafia too ag­gres­sive, women didn’t feel safe, the po­lice were un­co­op­er­a­tive.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sup­ports claims of in­creased ha­rass­ment of women. A chef friend from Chandi­garh, who worked late in a restau­rant, had to switch from a scooter to a car be­cause she was be­ing stalked on her way home. An Ital­ian woman here for 10 days stopped trav­el­ling alone after a man tried to force her off her bike at night. And a Cal­i­for­nian friend who has lived in In­dia for more than 30 years told me about a new bag snatch­ing gang tar­get­ing sin­gle fe­males trav­el­ling alone in the evenings. Lit­tle by lit­tle, the for­eign­ers who have set­tled here, the ones who made the par­ties and the mar­kets come alive, are go­ing else­where.

For now, a sense of sad­ness lingers. I talk to the hus­band and wife who run one of my lo­cal fishcurry-rice places. They tell me that “ev­ery­thing is cor­rupted; ev­ery­thing is gone”, and when con­sid­er­ing the con­struc­tion boom add that “in five years the vil­lage will be lost”.

We look to the agri­cul­tural land next door to their busi­ness and they both won­der if in 10 years even this will be sold. But what can they do? It’s a ques­tion you hear of­ten. What can we do? The an­swer is un­clear. What is cer­tain is that the state is in a pe­riod of up­heaval, and what­ever the out­come, the Goa we once knew is gone. – The Guardian

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