The Saltlist

Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.

Goa turns 50: Truly liberated or still ‘shack’led?

By: Sohini Chowdhury

A week ago Goa celebrated 50 years of freedom from the Portuguese who governed it for 451 long years.The history of the Indian annexation of Goa, though not very popular, was a very unique one.The war between India and Portugal over the territory was rather swift with India successfully taking over the state on the 19th of December 1961.
However, till today we see a lot of Portuguese influence in most aspects of Goan life- like religion, names, culture and architecture among others.However, having been present in Goa during this momentous occasion, I can say that it was deeply lacklustre! If it wasn’t for the numerous newspaper articles and the Congress Party street boards, one could be perfectly oblivious to this historical event. On the very day of the 50 year anniversary, I travelled from South Goa to North Goa visiting various landmarks like Calangute Beach, Dona Paula, Varca Beach, Basilica of Bom Jesus, Chapel of Saint Catherine and Fort Aguarda. The beautiful city of Panjim was shut on this day, due to the fact that it functions as the administrative headquarters of the state. But in all the other places, people went about their everyday lives and also at the same time were gearing up for Christmas and New Years while almost completely overlooking Liberation Day! This observation seems to be a commentary on way the people of Goa feel about their ‘liberation’.

I would like to share with you the story of a shack worker named Johnny (to be precise he said Johnny Whiskey). I regularly visited his shack during my stay in Goa and thus became familiar with him.He is Goan but despises living in Goa. On my last night in the place, I ate dinner at his shack. I sat at a candlelit table only a few yards away from the sea.The view was picturesque- no other sound other than that of the sea and ABBA playing somewhere far away in the distance infiltrated the serenity. The sky was the darkest blue it could be and was speckled with silver. The beach was totally secluded, devoid of the hustle-bustle which engulfs it during the day.It was breathtaking. That night, Johnny spoke about his life, his experiences in Goa and his desire to leave it and return to Mumbai where he once lived.From his perspectives, he felt the country had been led down by the policies of the government that encouraged family owned Indian businesses to thrive at the cost of their employees as well as the Indian masses. He recounted his sad experience of working with a certain Indian Business House in North India(whose notoriety is of course well-known now) which eventually left him and many like him jobless, homeless and helpless. Consequently, he was forced to return to his village. He went on to talk about how suddenly the land owners in Goa struck gold with the dawn of tourism, converting their properties into shacks, restaurants and resorts or selling them at exorbitant rates. But for those who did not own land, it was much harder. Prices rose in the state with the entry of tourism, and life became expensive. All jobs had something or the other to do with tourism and the aim of the game became selling- anything- from the catch of the day to the latest sarong.
Johnny always spoke with a smile on his face, always ready with a laugh but his story gave you a glimpse into the reality of his situation. He lives a hard life. He ended by saying that he didn’t so much worry about himself as he did about the rest of his family. You see, at the age of 45, he considered himself to be an old man. He felt his time was over. You could see the conviction in his eyes as he said it. It was heartbreaking.

Another experience I would like to share would be my encounters with vendors at the beaches in North Goa. Calangute Beach is an extremely crowded beach. I spent a little more than an hour there and was probably ambushed persistently by more than a dozen vendors hustling goods and even services like massages (yes, right there in the beach itself!). They employ rigorous selling techniques and are so desperate to sell that they are even ready to fix deals at extremely low prices! These people tend to live hand to mouth and daily sales are imperative to their survival.

Goa is such a vivacious and exciting place that it successfully masks these scars. But the reality is that although Goa earns unbelievable sums of money through tourism, the benefits have yet to trickle down to all the levels of its society. Goa is viewed as a destination for tourists and not as a home to many Indians. The question I wish to ask is- is Goa only all about New Year parties for you and me? Have Goans become secondary citizens in their own state? Can’t we celebrate Goa for a day and forget the beach parties for a while? As the year comes to a close and the state comes into the spotlight yet again for its several new year bashes, I urge you to think over it. There is a lot more to it than just ‘Go Goa’.


6 comments on “Goa turns 50: Truly liberated or still ‘shack’led?

  1. Lata Jha
    December 27, 2011

    Superb..loved it! 🙂

  2. shivani
    December 27, 2011

    Amazing read! 🙂

  3. Sohini Chowdhury
    December 27, 2011

    Thank you Lata and Shivani! 🙂

  4. Neha Sen
    December 27, 2011

    Hi Sohini,

    Very well written and a thought provoking piece. I like the way you have allowed the people to speak for themselves. Almost like you are only the messenger.

    I visited Goa in April this year and I was struck by the same. I remember telling Sumedha, its so much more than just beaches and parties and what is portrayed in the mainstream media. No one talks about the long winding roads, simple, happy , always smiling people and other such things. No one writes about the hardships that Goans try to hide behind their smile.

  5. Sohini Chowdhury
    December 27, 2011

    Thanks so much, Neha! You’re absolutely right. The way Goa is portrayed by the mainstream media seems to be very superficial. Atleast I feel so. If you truly experience Goa, you’ll discover so many levels to that place, which I reckon you did during your visit. Thanks again for reading!

  6. Abhishek
    July 24, 2012

    Excellent piece of information shared. Goa beaches, parties & all hip happening things have overshadowed the hardships of local people.

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This entry was posted on December 26, 2011 by in Travel and Living.

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