Care for Goa & its people

An amusing sight to start this year was that of President of India, Pratibha Patil, sitting gingerly on the edge of a deck chair, fully dressed, in her long-sleeved blouse and covered head on the beach at Benaulim, Goa. Some enterprising photographers used telephoto lenses and managed to grab that unforgettable, silk-clad vision. Sadly, there are no pictures of her husband who had gone paragliding.
Therefore, we had to imagine a man in a silk dhoti, waistcoat, kurta pyjama and perhaps even a Nehru topi fluttering over the Goa skyline. Or, were we wrong, was he being “normal” and had stripped to beachwear — in which case the vision is even more… err, surreal.
But all this, of course, in a way, is blasphemy for us, isn’t it? These are sacred figures and given the high security, which surrounds them, how dare we even raise our eyes and notice their eccentric behaviour? At least, that’s what the newspaper photographers in Goa were made to feel when they were chastised by the security forces and the Raj Bhavan for having taken the pictures.
Their publication, it seems, was controversial enough for the photographers to be summoned by the police and questioned from morning to afternoon.
They explained that they had actually gone to shoot Amitabh Bachchan and had managed to click the seated President quite by accident. Apparently, according to an unnamed spokesperson of the Raj Bhavan, the pictures were not “in good taste” and the President was not pleased. It is something to wonder about.
We apparently live in a democracy, but when the President of the country comes out in public and sits within the public — in full public view — it is “not in good taste” to take any photographs of her. Obviously, there were other reasons to question the issue of taste.
The President was the only fully-dressed person on the beach — apart from her small army of fully-armed security guards. Was that the objectionable bit?
Should there be now a ban on people on the beach when these “servants of the people” appear? The line-up of huge security and guards all around Margao right upto Colva was shocking. It is a complete waste of time for so much of the police force to be guarding one rather diminutive figure and her family. Is it in good taste for these people who hold high office to come and disturb the peace and equanimity of ordinary folk like you and me — not only by their bizarre choice of beachwear (silk sari etc.) but by the rude distance they maintain? Will we have to endure security checks now when we go to beach if the President of India is visiting?
On the other hand, wouldn’t it have been much more fun and normal to have a President who could have hitched up her petticoat and waded into the water, at least?
Redemption came in the form of Big B, who was having a blast with his grandchildren, also on Benaulim on the same day. Dressed in beach shorts and a shirt, he even took his grandson for a spin on a water scooter.
And now my admiration for him has gone up 100 per cent: I have sat on those beach scooters and they are lethal. You have to ride them at really high speeds because the moment you pause, the scooter can sink. If only Madam Patil could be more like the irrepressible Bachchan!

Meanwhile, Goa was buzzing for New Year — and the beaches were crowded to the hilt. The Sunburn music festival has been enormously successful yet again. It attracts musicians and festival junkies from all over the world. But like every year since we discovered our wonderful 450-year-old home, we have spent New Year’s Eve in it — enjoying the peace and quiet within its thick walls — while the world celebrates.
But the house also needs repairs and I was struck this time at how much self-respect the Goan labourer has. The painters who have installed themselves within our house have insisted on certain terms: they want tea with biscuits in the morning and a cold drink in the evening. And, of course, in between they have to have their siesta…
The siesta, like other traditions, still prevails in Goa. But I wonder how long it will be before this tiny state is also run over by the demands of a country racing towards modernisation.
One of the main drivers of modernity has also been an influx of money, and now I fear that Goa is being turned into one big party zone.
Of course, all tourism is good for the economy, but it also means that then (as had happened in Kashmir) there is a seasonal influx of people. And for many of the local residents this is the only time in the year when they can reap rich dividends.
It is also the time of the year when huge damage is done to the fragile ecology of this lovely state. The enormous piles of waterbottles, paper cups, plastic bags, which are already clogging up the small towns and villages — as well as the drains and the beaches — are going to cause havoc in the long run. What will it take to introduce eco-friendly tourism — and perhaps a cleaning up campaign — which should carry on simultaneously?
The problem when you treat a place like a party zone is that it becomes like a one-night stand. You have a good time and get out regardless of the consequences.
Goa needs urgent attention; it needs more rubbish bins and clean toilets — as well as the urgent encouragement of recycling habits.
Perhaps Pratibhaji could next time, don some beach wear, and lead a cleanliness drive?

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

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