Monday, March 14, 2016

Hartman de Souza's Eat Dust, a Review: In TNIE magazine

This review took a while to be published now. Well here it is, in The New Indian Express' magazine section. See below for a tad unedited version.
Published March 06, 2016

Hartman de Souza
Harper Collins, Rs 350

The images that travel companies and tourism departments have been peddling like cheap wares at a flea market are well entrenched in mind. Stereotypes bring comfort in familiarity. Sunlit beaches, shacks to laze under all day and night, free flowing spirits – human and otherwise – and just the continued novelty of this all are ideas that Goa has found very favourable to carry along for decades now. In the here and now, Goa is the sum total perhaps of the desi Vegas where anything goes.

But Hartman de Souza’s Eat Dust – Mining and Greed in Goa chronicles a starkly different Goa, one that is red and open, mired in all that the prospect and presence of big money leads to. The vulgarity that Goans exhibited in the “Age of Greed” is detailed meticulously, drawing a depressing picture that in many ways is as true of Goa as it is the story of any state, any land destroyed by greed, money, power and ‘development’ that comes at the cost of the environment.

Maina, Cawrem, Quepem and other villages that nearly never figure in the guide books are the author’s backyard. He writes of how for years he saw hills get flattened, rivers and creeks disappear and the idyllic fa├žade on the horizon morph into something beyond recognition. Part travelogue when he traverses the length and breadth of the state, part memoir when he speaks of his, and his family’s, involvement in fighting the powerful mining mafia and part investigative reportage, Eat Dust is a disturbing and very necessary account of how mining operations ruined the landscape of Goa, even when it made some families richer beyond their wildest dreams and brought schools and hospitals to the interiors, thus ‘developing’ its villages.

The narrative follows a before-and-after format to explain the hills that have now vanished and the rivers that have stopped flowing. The now is the near opposite of what used to be the topography of the rich land. Drawing from extensive on-ground research, de Souza exposes the corruption, the practice of faking Environment Impact Assessment reports, farcical public hearings, the powerful lobbies and the greed to make more and more and more and more money that defined what he terms the Age of Greed. There are detailed chapters on the four rich and famous families of the state that control power, either as kingpin courtiers or as invisible kings themselves, on the politicians, activists and journalists who play key figures in the Goa mining story and accounts of his very personal involvement with the issue and all that ensued.

Eat Dust is not by any measure an easy read. For a long way into the book, you want to continue to think only of Goa’s azure beaches, hippie markets and the susegad attitude to life that typifies, most times wrongly, the tiny state. It is a very pleasant image you would rather not let go off. But de Souza’s narrative does not offer any respite, and the facts are cold and un-ignorable. And soon, the picture postcard morphs into stark reality, that of Goa being yet another state at the mercy of powerful people.

The author says it best himself. “Only when there was nothing left here, except the pockmarked ravages of open-cast mining, would everybody know how this part of Goa had been upended in a frenzy fueled by greed.” Eat Dust is not by any measure an easy read. However it is one that ought to be read.

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