Monday, January 22, 2018

Notes from Goa: In The Hindu Sunday Magazine

A hurried, busy work trip to Goa last month led to some thoughts, some of which are below. PS: This piece on Goa does not feature beaches or alcohol.

Read it here in The Hindu or see an unedited version below. 

Published January 21, 2018.


In cities, towns, valleys or barracks that have found renewal as tourist – frequented, money- as- language destinations, it is de rigueur to complain of the holidaying outsiders. I know, for my once-a-village-now-a-sizeable-town embraced the debauchery some years ago, and in keeping with tradition, I will complain to everyone who listens about the ones that come and drag the hills down the mountains. So, Goa. The first person I meet, nearly always a taxi driver in a new place, spends the next three-quarter of an hour cribbing about the tourists and the noise, pollution and improprieties they bring. He himself is an ‘outsider’, and ferries about a tourist cab. You come to look for and love ironies while on the road.

So, Goa. Recently there on work – in peak end-of-year must-go-Goa holiday season, no less – I did not even step in the general direction of a beach, or drink copious litres of any tipple, nor find in the city of Panjim the time for expected susegad. There are two narratives you can align yourself with when you write of the orange sunshine state: one of the sea, sand, sex, and the other of the ecological toll of tourism, the mining scandals, the nonchalance that is typical of this era of Anthropocene. If not either or both, what do you write about when you have to write about Goa?

The poetry of light

I am a big fan of the light – rays through a crack in the window, upon a stylised arch of a beam, the Eastern sun on the beloved’s face – that sort. I chase the light with a modest camera and my faithful, worn Midori traveller’s notebook in hand everywhere I go. So too in Goa. Carving out a break between work, I find myself in the lanes behind Adil Shah's Palace. The Palace is a sober and quietly standing building by the River Mandovi that though looks uncomplicatedly colonial in style, is one that predates the Portuguese invasion and used to be the summer palace of the Adil Shahs of Bijapur. The River is strewn with cruise boats, joy ride boats, music on board boats and the famous casino boats, among the odd fishing boats. Them, the famous tourists that keep them afloat and the conducting of the many human lives along the river have predictably kept the waters not-so-clean.

But by now one is already in the back lanes of the Palace. Like all state capitals, Panjim is crowded and people do not display the soft patience we like to assume inhabitants of lesser populated places conduct their lives with. The streets are narrow and devoid of even an illusion of a walking path. I get lost looking for a bookstore because – and this never ceased to terribly surprise me every day that I was there – the internet is really poor in Panjim. Texts take a long time to go and come through, and thus, impromptu meetings are hard to make. The Maps are only so quick. For a state as dependent on people who will be dependent on the internet to get around as Goa is, it is rather odd that connectivity is as patchy in the city as it is. I wonder if it is just my phone and I, until I hear of similar woes from others and feel better in shared inconvenience.

Finding the poetry

The mouth of Altinho is just there, a congested street away. There stands the big white and blue, much photographed Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, continuing to arrange itself in the backdrop of uncountable photographs. Pouring over my phone instead, I walk across the road into the cool confines of Singbal’s Book House. The façade of the old building that I now realize I did not pay enough attention to is the mirror opposite in colour to the church, a predominant bright blue with sharp white lining. Their collection features popular titles, innumerable cookbooks, the odd Goan history, textbooks, Mario Miranda postcards – but of course – and other mishmash to appeal to the unpredictable tastes of visitors in that tourist-laden a location. I find Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure – New and Collected Poems (1981-2017). He lives in Goa, so that’s my local literature buy this time.

With my back to the blue building, I take a sharp right up a slope where the eventide sun has spilled onto tiled roofs, broken verandas and upon the tops of pins that hold down the washing on a clothesline, further chasing the light.

When not flâneuse-ing someplace and writing about it, Deepa Bhasthi can be found at the mercy of her brood of rescued mutts.

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