Sunday, May 11, 2008
Tourism is killing Goa
Punjabi munda despoiling Goa
It's hot and muggy in Goa this time of the year. The enervating heat hangs languidly in the still air. The rustling of the drooping fronds of coconut palms, heavy with ripening fruit, that accompanies the occasional gust of blistering wind, laden with pre-monsoon humidity, breaks the mid-morning silence. In the distance, the harsh cackle of sea gulls rises and falls in a rhythmic chant.
But despite the heat and the humidity, Goa, where I spent most of this past week attending a seminar, was a welcome break from life in the country's dust bowl, also known as Delhi, which has now grown to become the National Capital Region. Here summer means scorching heat that leaves your head throbbing, negotiating traffic jams made worse by rising tempers, infuriating dust storms that make breathing next to impossible, and an endless wait for what most years is an elusive monsoon.
By mid-April, the little foliage that dots the barren city from where India is ruled begins to turn shades of brown. By mid-May, plants and shrubs begin to shrivel, while the trees, or what remains of them after Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's gross act of chopping thousands of them down for a bogus bus rapid transit scheme for which responsibility is yet to be fixed (this never happens in this wondrous 'democracy' of ours), barely survive till the monsoon and its scattered rain. Delhi looks dusty, grey and dirty in summer.
In sharp contrast, Goa is verdant and lush. The hibiscus shrubs and the honeysuckle creepers are in full bloom. The air is redolent with the fragrance of flowers that we get to see in Delhi for a brief while during what passes for spring. The evenings are cool and the sea breeze is energising.
The only disconcerting distraction is the screeching of children and the uncouth, loud chatter of their parents - Delhi families visiting Goa courtesy incentive schemes offered by Papaji's office. They wrinkle their noses at the sight of sea food platters and noisily look for dal makhni and chicken butter masala. The distant cackle of sea gulls is replaced by the strains of bhangra, snatches of whose lyrics float in with the sea breeze. It's about a 'Punjabi munda' and a 'kudi Gujarat di'. Mr IK Gujral would say it's about national integration; Mr Narendra Modi would be alarmed.
The local newspapers in Goa are refreshingly different from Delhi's so-called 'national' newspapers, which reflect the concerns of politicians and their lackeys. In Goa, the concerns are more related to the people and their daily lives. For instance, a spurt in school dropout rates, which would be ignored by most 'national' newspapers, merits sufficient concern to make it to the day's top slot on the front page. At the moment, Goans are deeply worried about the garbage piling up in designated dumping grounds with no disposal system in place.
According to news reports, Goa produces 300 tonnes of garbage every day. This is apart from the bio-medical waste generated by hospitals and nursing homes. Given the size of the State, it's a huge amount of festering garbage and unless a disposal system is put in place, could begin to have an adverse impact on both Goa's environment as well as the health of Goans.
Obviously the tourism industry contributes to the accumulating garbage in a big way, as it does to the blighting of Goan culture and way of life. Contrary to popular opinion, not every Goan is excited by the sight of foreign back-packers and desi 'incentive scheme' holidaymakers. While it is true that tourism does create jobs and gives a boost to the State's economy, it also upsets those who just wish to be left alone.
It is, therefore, not surprising that there should be an incipient anti-outsider backlash building up among Goans. Last Thursday, the local edition of The Times of India front-paged the findings of a survey conducted by Synovate India, a leading market research agency, which clearly point to Goans beginning to resent the intrusion into their lives. This intrusion is most manifest in outsiders buying land and developing it into hotels and resorts, as well as increasing number of migrants seeking jobs in the service sector.
The survey's findings suggest that 64 per cent Goans, nearly all of them young, want a law banning the sale of land to non-Goans. The 34 per cent opposed to this law are elderly people, probably those whose children have migrated to other shores, are unable to look after their property, and thus have no compelling reason to cling on to home and hearth.
"Ban the sale of land to non-Goans, is the overwhelming response," the report says, and goes on to explain, "Our cultural identity - old ways of life, language, food and dress - is being diluted by the flow of migrants that has swelled in the last few years. Indeed, the fear of the Goan minnow being swallowed by the migrant whale is a recurrent theme... There is a reaffirmation of pride in the land's natural and manmade attributes. Both these sources of pride, say youngsters, are under threat." Most Goans feel that the tallest thing in their States should be a coconut palm.
It's easy to scoff at such resentful feelings and brand them as parochial. But it would be unwise to callously demand that Goans yield cultural and physical space just because tourists and migrants contribute to Goa's economy. There's no reason to be insensitive to local sensibilities. Yet, this is precisely what is on display. The outsider is disdainful of the insider; the despoiling of Goa does not bother those looking for cheap thrills or jobs by undercutting local rates.
Of course, the DJ at the nightclub will turn up the volume and play bhangra and the chef at the hotel will churn out maa ki daal and sarson da saag and tandoori roti for Delhi's Philistines. On the beach, vulnerable teenagers working in shacks that sell vindaloo and beer will be amenable to the illicit demands of the flotsam and jetsam from Europe and America looking for inexpensive nirvana or willing to trade sex for drugs. And owners of hotels and resorts will hire migrants because it costs less than hiring Goans.
But that does not mean everybody's happy about it. On the contrary, the unhappiness is fast morphing into anger. We can either wake up to this reality now or pay for wilfully ignoring it later.