BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
The level of activity in Chapora Main Street normally heralds the beginning and end of the tourism season in North Goa. For years now, apart from restaurants, bars and shops wearing a new look not much has changed.
As in the past, life on the main street starts after sunset. From morning until evening, apart from Scarlet Juice Centre and another shop adjacent to it, most bars and restaurants are shut because the street is awake the entire night.
“There was a time when foreigners and locals would sit around this banyan tree and smoke chillums. The smell of hash was pronounced around here and in most restaurants at night, and laughter kept everyone bubbly,” recalls seventy-year-old Shyam, as he sits around the banyan tree with friends.
“Today, there is no smoke but a lot of noise at night. There are a few old foreigners who visit occasionally, but this new mix of Indians and new foreign tourists looks chaotic to old people like us,” say the men, as they go back in time.
“In those days, there even used to be an Italian who made tasty sandwiches and sold them. A lot of people were happy with light food, alcoholic drinks, and fruit salads and juices. Hash could easily be found here and was freely smoked. It is different now,” they surmise.
For the old-timers, Chapora Main Street has seen and is seeing a sea change. The vehicular noise on the street has remained constant or picked up volume, but the shift in crowds is evident.
Once a favourite haunt of the Italians, Spanish, Germans and English, it is now a hangout for tourists from India, a few Russians and some old tourists who have been coming to Goa for over twenty years or more.
“We open at 9 am and close around midnight if there are customers. Business is not like it was before. Our menu has not changed nor has the demand from our customers,” says Amita Govekar, who runs Scarlet Juice Centre at one start point of Chapora Main Street.
“How much?” a customer asks Amita.
“Rs 260 for two juices and a fruit salad,” she replies.
“No we had four juices,” counters the foreigner.
“No,” replies Amita. She adds, “The other two juices were already paid for by the other customers,” adds Amita.
The dialogue explains why Scarlet has been the favourite of customers for years.
Scarlet Juice Centre was the focal point of Chapora Main Street in the eighties because apart from fresh and hygienically prepared juices and fruit salads, it was where you found out about various parties being held back then.
“We used to hire out our generators and the lights for all the parties in those years. That is why people from all over would come here for a shake and to ask us where the party was being held,” recollects Vaicundo Govekar, Amita’s brother.
Starting from Scarlet Juice Centre, the main road is dotted with small bars and restaurants – dingy in the early days – now mostly Westernised and run by Indians.
“Except for Baba selling newspapers, Kamaxi Bar next to him and Darling’s Bar, the other places have been either leased out or sold to Indians. There is nothing of the past left in them and that is why you hear the noise instead of laughter,” explains another old man, who was sitting quietly before as others spoke.
“The foreigners who frequented this place were never high-end tourists. We had customers who came to stay for months and would return every year, for years. They were budgeted tourists, but whose spending could provide us with a nice life and educate our children,” remembers Shailesh, as he decides to leave for home.
“The traffic and the noise increase as the evening grow old and as tourists from Morjim and other places begin to arrive. As the night gets older, the place gets fuller, and it begins to get quiet as the morning begins to break,” declares the old man, revelling in the past and trying to digest the needs and demands of the present.
“In those times, English and Konkani were languages that could be heard being spoken the most. A variety of Indian languages are heard now, and sometimes it is best when not understood,” says an old man, as he watches a boy roast corn.
Chapora Main Street has seen the highs and lows of tourism and seen its customers go through the highs and lows of narcotic substances.
The times, as most elders say, were good when the highs were induced naturally and the bond with tourists was familial.
Change must be accepted, thinks an elder, but the onus needs to be borne by the younger generation and the new tourists that now keep Chapora Main Street awake and throbbing at night.