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April - May 2008
Goa Here We Come!
Poor Scarlett Keeling! The tragic death of this young British teenager has somehow been mixed up with the story of growth of tourism in India in general, and Goa in particular. In a small way, it represents the darker side of India’s past colonial exploitation, economic stagnation of the sixties and seventies; and present economic-growth culture that worships wealth acquired by whatever means.
In my last sojourn in India, I spent five days in Goa, not far from Anjuna Beach where Scarlett was murdered. It was 24 February, exactly a week after her alleged murder that we checked in a small but pleasant hotel, surrounded by palm trees and a swimming pool in the midst of large suites of rooms. Our neighbours were a couple from Lancashire, a single woman in her sixties, and one other middle-aged couple. The beaches were only 100 metres away.
The local newspapers had given the news of the death of Scarlett in a subdued manner. There were no glaring headlines at that stage.
Back in England, the story of Scarlett’s death turned into a dreadful tale of seedy beaches of Goa, where drug barons ruled with the complicity of the local police and politicians. Going through the stories, filed by British journalists in Goa, I felt that, somehow, I might have missed the real Goa.
It was difficult, almost impossible, to reconcile the two pictures of Goa, one in my memory, my camera and my frequent chats with local taxi drivers: and the other as depicted in the British press.
On 24thFebruary we took off in a Spice Jet domestic airline from I.G. Airport New Delhi. Curiously, I saw many newly wed-couples on the aeroplane heading for Goa. There were about twelve of them. You can easily distinguish a newly wed Indian couple, as the women were wearing Chura a long stretch of colourful bangles.
Each day we visited various beaches, restaurants, old churches and took thousands of photographs. A young couple from Mumbai was taking photographs of each other. I casually asked the young man “Why did you come to Goa for your honeymoon?” His reply was, “It is safer here. There is no law and order problem here.” I recall this bit of conversation simply because after reading Scarlett’s tragic story and its aftermath in British press, I felt confused about this seemingly idylic place.
Panaji (Panjim), the capital, is a fascinating place. We shopped in an excellent emporium, visited a church and then a temple. Goa is full of temples and churches, some going back to 16th century.
Our taxi driver took us to a remote Spice Garden located in the midst of hills, where you are treated as an honoured guest, and welcomed with garland and treated to a sumptuous lunch. The price of lunch was included in the admission ticket to the garden. The garden was an eye-opener. I had never seen so many varieties of spice trees before. Do you know cashew nuts grow out of the fruit of cashew nut trees? The tour guide introduced us to peppers of various kinds; cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.
In a pond near by an elephant was taking a bath elegantly. The scenery was out of this world. Peaceful and fragrant ambience in the garden was overwhelming. There again we met some of the honeymoon couples who were with us in the flight from New Delhi. My nephew, who was our guide and had visited Goa many a time before, said that you would hardly see a policeman in Goa. It is so peaceful; People are kind and helpful.
Back in London, the tragic story of Starlett’s death, Luis’ Bar, Julio’s amorous rendezvous with foreign girls, seemed like a tale from Brazil or Mexico.
Well, the truth is that it did happen in Goa. This part of India was ruled by Portugual for almost four hundred years. The British survived in India only two hundred years. Goa was exploited by the Portuguese far longer than the British exploited India. Any colonial rule leaves the good as well as evil side of its civilisation behind with drastic long term effects on the people it ruled.
Unfortunately the present rulers of independent India seem to know little of their own past heritage. They have even forgotten the legacy of their icon, Mahatma Gandhi. Indian Tourism boasts of ‘Incredible India’. But tourists who flock to see India with its ancient heritage and its centres of modern technology, do at times encounter the so-called educated bureaucrats, police officers and businessmen who are not afraid of indulging in fraudulent deals, criminal sexual activities or drug dealing, may it be in Mumbai, New Delhi or Goa.
This is new India! A land where you see juxtaposed, chaos and order, holy and profane, ugly and beautiful, abject poverty and vulgar riches. Goa is far more salubrious and less expensive than Marbella (Spain); and far less seedy as so many foreigners have chosen to live there and are enjoying the honest hospitality of the native population.
No wonder, the British press remains confused about Goa.