A four day trip to Goa posed threatening to my feet and to my impression of the once peaceful, calming and happy place where I spent at least four to five of my birthdays. In the year of 2016, I visited Goa thrice for three different reasons, with three different groups and apparently to three completely different Goa(s). Who is Goa and what exactly is it trying to be?
Let me address why it was threatening to my feet first. While I was not even thigh deep in the water, a lifeguard steeped in self-importance, probably for lack of tourists, brought me out of the “safe zone” (between the red flags) to address my entering the water. About three seconds later, I was bitten by a catfish. It’s a fairly lesser known biting agent but is known to send blinding pain up and down your leg, and I found myself testifying to that knowledge. However after having soaked my feet in hot water, it piqued my interest as to why the life-guard, unpretentious the day before, had suddenly prevented us swimming in the sea.
Finally I arrived at the conclusion that his sudden boost of confidence was when he realised he could assume control at a beach that was overrun by army officials and army equipment for the protection of the soon to arrive BRICS official diplomats.
The official BRICS summit had brought with it a large number of changes in the people and landscape of the Goan state, regionally specific to South Goa and the route from the airport to the Leela Palace placed 3km away from my hotel and on the beach of the diaboliccatfish.
My hotel was housing the under-17 Indian football team participating in the BRICS tournament and was what brought my attention to the summit in the first place, (having already ignored the huge banners at the airport on my way there).
What came adjoining with this was the shoddy mending of the roads along the hotel. Walks to the beach were splashed with sceneries of green fields obstructed by huge rollers and trucks with the smell of tar wafting through the air and sticky black stones at the bottom of your shoes. With 4 days left till the arrival of officials, streetlight and road signs were being fixed in desperate attempts to cater to the official look.
Figure 3: Shoddy building of roads Figure 4: Hastily made roads and the tar and stones next to it
On my taxi ride back to the airport 6 in the morning, Ben, our driver, in what might have been an attempt to stay awake, showed me the suddenly well-made roads and lights that were hastily put up. He didn’t fail to add that all of this was the central government’s work and with a shrug added that the Goan government would never have been the implementers of such development. To testify to that he pointed to a hospital that was underway construction for eight to ten years with three intervals in between attributed to the building of hotels and casinos. He said that within a month Goa had got better telecom signals and had developed one route and one section of the place. As support to these claims it was seen that the state saw the intermingling of the Goan government with the village panchayat for setting up of mobile towers and the regular water supply, both of which were popular for being scarce in South Goa (1% of the prescribed norms according to studies conducted a month before the mentioned setting up)*
However what needs to be taken into account is that BRICS or other international events such as the International Film Festivals are not the only factor that transforms Goa.
Having visited North Goa in early April with family of a more “celebratory” disposition, I experienced the bird in its primal plumage, ripe for indulging. Shacks adorned the beaches, people crowded the streets and the shops and restaurants were brimming with tourists and local bands showing off their talent. I went to receive my scuba-diving license and the scuba school was almost over-booked with customers. 6:30 morning sun saw tourists filling boats and subsequently the seas. Rush hour 12 o clock blazing sun was spoilt for choice with who to tan at the amount of people placing themselves in the water and on the beach. Goa was at its peak partying mood and was all that it cared for. Here we saw that maintenance of roads, telecom conditions, garbage disposal all take a back seat as building of shacks and touristic atmospheres stayed abuzz.
Around two months later, North Goa was almost a ghost town. Whether it was the rain or just the evident absence of people catering to tourists wasn’t clear, or maybe both? Shacks on the beach were dismantled, packed and parcelled off to the land of imagination. Where I had danced and feasted in April now stood nothing but damp sand in the process of drying staring back at me apologetically. Restaurants barely had dishes on the menu and shops were extra desperate for you to buy from them. Beaches had a few honeymooning couples dispersed here and there and maybe two three groups of friends desperate to find the fun in Goa (such as mine). In fact a twenty kilometre ride on the bike posed fruitful in presenting us with a shut-down renovating hostel, otherwise popularly known for its active, energetic and virulent young life.
The owner of a shack and part-time scooter/bike rentals told me “In June, July, August, primarily the monsoon season, our shacks just disappear. Tourists drop by more than 50% and so do sales. Where we usually rent out at least 10-15 bikes per day in season, now with luck we rent 5.” He went on to elucidate the losses they incur from the periodicity. However his friend accompanying him said “We sometimes enjoy this time that we get, provided we have a good season and save at least 10-20% of our profit.”
Goa was now suddenly a less touristy and more homely recovering land where you could see the natives and its people were cherishing the time they got alone with their homes not ravished by beach-starved, fun-hungry party animal like tourists.
Figure 5: Recovering Goa Figure 6 : Figure 6: Goa in the mood to ‘Partayy’
I visited Goa four times consecutively every year as a child, and gave it a gap of around nine to ten years and then returned to it almost transformed to a demure, malleable, doormat of a city. A place, like Goa, caters to its visitors and not the other way round and the people of Goa have consequently also moulded themselves to it. Gone are the days of appreciating the place for its beauty and calmness that it offered.
Goa is now like the mid-twenty adult split three ways in what it wants to and who it wants to be and by what means. It’s the partying, capitalist and outgoing wild child that then needs to recover from that hangover, tucked in bed all cozied without a care for who comes and does what, until it realises it has work to do and hurriedly wears its official look and runs into the professional meeting slightly unprepared and confused at how it pulled it off. Meanwhile, Goa’s identity much like the socially pressured mid-twenty year old has just run the rat race and will eventually mould itself and find it’s place. In fact this might be its striking factor: The ‘mouldability’ of the land. Who it’s moulding itself according to is the tourists as of now and it will eventually reckon whether that is what will run the land or not. Until then, Goa and its beaches provides you with three facets to choose from and as a tourist you decide whatever you like.