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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Goa in the Off Season

White Trash, Desi Detritus

It is “off-season” in India’s only civilized state. Late diners, prowling the strip between Calangute and Baga, find a haven in Cavala, a hostelry that has a great bar and a nice outdoor restaurant. And so it was that we found ourselves ordering dinner late one evening. As we waited to be served the food, we ordered some beer and various cocktails.

One gulp down the hatch, I nearly choked as the drink went down the wrong tube. That was because I saw a barefooted white guy walk through the restaurant into the bar, wearing only a ponytail and a saffron loincloth. Mercifully, he didn’t stay there for more than two minutes but it was long enough for me to be offended

Goa is famous for its tolerance but blue-collar tourists and just plain white trash types are stretching it to the limit. In the end, they spend less than tourists from other parts of India, who are equally obnoxious in that they believe and behave that Goa is all about unrestricted and inexpensive alcohol consumption. They drink themselves silly and venture out into the sea, unable to swim, to become the latest statistics in drowning deaths. Both the white trash and the Indian yobs detract from the wonder of this place: its gorgeous landscape; its fresh seafood and its charming lifestyle that is unrivaled anywhere on the Indian subcontinent.

Whether you stay in a five-star hotel by the beach or especially if you live in a seductive little, off-the-map village like we do, the living is easy. Nowhere in India can you find the blend of European charm and desi comfort. Where in the world can you find a place today that is simply shuts down between 1 pm and 4 pm: siesta!

In the circumstances, it is easy to be what Bombay call bindaas. Why get exercised about loincloth-wearing white trash types or beer guzzling desi morons? For one thing, both behaviors are obnoxious. On the other hand, many people like us have made Goa into our haven, away from the ugly chaos of modern India. If we must put up this, we may as well live in Bihar or Thailand.

Our retreat is threatened by white trash and desi jerks. The locals in Goa are too busy to care; they are either applying for visas to Dubai, Canada and Australia or selling heritage properties to developers. An hour’s drive around the place shows up the ugly condominiums and resorts that are springing up like topsy all over Goa; plus there are these little boutique developers who buy properties for a song, develop it and sell them at egregious profits. Indeed there’s one like that in our village that a Delhi-based boutique developer bought for 16 lakh five years ago and flogged it for 80 a few weeks ago; you can be sure no local bought it.

Such stories spread like wildfire in the small gossipy community that is a Goan village and soon, every gent with a broken down old shack is looking for 30 or 40 lakh. Where all this will end is difficult to say but the state government, in a ham-handed way, is looking to curb foreigners from buying property in the state. It is an easy populist posture but the real threat comes from developers like the Tatas, Rahejas and various other national developers, who are offering to make Goa into a place that could resemble Gurgaon near Delhi or the hideous Hiranandani township in Powai, Bombay: as ugly as sin and as crass as Disneyland.

On the other hand, Goa is full of self-righteous NGOs set up by has-been journalists and retired advertising agency types. They are against all development and would rather Goa retain its traditional ways. Their misbegotten idealism has condemned the wondrous place to be a jobless economy; net exporter of locals to Bombay, the Gulf States, Australia and Canada. They fight to retain the old feudal ways and oppose all development of any kind; their idealism is only matched by their serious wrong-headedness.

As I prepare to head back into the rubble-strewn, loud and garish world of modern India, I take comfort in the fact that I will come back here again soon to this constellation of different worlds: a retreat; a home to fly away from; a loud vacation spot; a milk-cow for political plunderers; a virgin land for unscrupulous real estate developers; a place to vent self-righteous NGO indignation. Sometimes these orbits cross as they did for me that evening on Baga beach. The results are often distressing.

from daily news and analysis september 13 2006