BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
Goa was once a tourist destination split by seasons which were dictated by the climate – winter, summer and monsoon. Since Goa’s beaches were the main draw, the green state was a place not to visit during the monsoons when the sea was in turmoil.
The scenario changed with curious Indian tourists first descending on the state and its beaches to catch a glimpse of foreigners in Goa. Later, they would begin to enjoy the nightlife with numerous activities on the beach. Today, parties on the beach belt and casinos appear to be the mainstay of tourism.
Parties on the beach belt are channels that allow the smooth flow of drugs, and casinos are hubs that nurture gambling. Both evils insidiously erode families that form the basis of society.
There was a time when it was mainly hash from marijuana that was smoked in Goa. These days, chemical drugs have taken over because they bring in more money and the operation is more discreet.
While marijuana’s derivatives are still consumed, they are much less likely to cause the irreparable damage caused by chemical narcotics whose effects are difficult to gauge and the supply, hard to control.
Like drugs, gambling has been around for ages in Goa in various clubhouses. Matka is played openly by many all over the state. When the entry of casinos began taking its toll in Goa, the government passed legislation forbidding Goans from gambling in them. The legislation’s implementation is at best laughable.
When the Indian tourist first came to Goa to ogle the white-skinned lady, the lady, or the men, did not mind, as long as it was a case of “look but don’t touch”. Cases of sexual harassment were few, but in time things escalated. The consumption of illegal drugs increased and so did the number of Indian tourists requiring medical assistance due to overdosing.
Foreign tourists used to leave Goa by April – when it started to get hot – and would return in October – when it was safe to venture into the sea. The trend still exists to an extent. But, with the number of Indians in Goa during the summer and the monsoons, tourist season never seems to take a break, bringing a gleeful smile to many in the sector.
Tourism in Goa, today, is an industry that feeds the locals and the outsider, who himself was once a tourist. Places have been bought and new restaurants opened. These are being run by people who fail to understand what it means to be a Goan.
Life goes on with no complaints as long as the tills keep chinging with moolah. This could well differentiate the Goa of the past from the present day. The monsoons are set to soak us in a few days and the bustle of tourists is still frenetic.
Roads in the northern coastal belt still buzz with traffic comprising taxis, motorbikes, and rent-a-car and outstation registered vehicles, and restaurants run by outsiders still blare music at night when quiet is supposed to be maintained.
Panjim awakens at night. The wharf where the Bombay boat used to dock in the morning, which was once a place for many to sit and contemplate, or just sit and smoke a cigarette, is now mayhem. The soul of the city seems to be crushed by the greed for money.
There was more to the monsoons than just the rains. The showers brought with them an element of peace and respite best understood by those of us who recall the more untouched Goa.
The rains brought silence, the promise of new life and a fragrance of serenity that raised the spirit out of the body in contemplation, and revitalised the place and its inhabitants.
It was the time when dry fish was a delicacy; when pickle and papad coexisted with curry and rice and caju feni was the tipple that prevented thunder and lightning from robbing Goa’s good people of a good night’s sleep.
Covid-19 devastated lives to the extent that it is difficult to clearly determine the timeline from the past to the present. The period of isolation or separation from society – and two years is a long time – makes it difficult to understand whether we are getting back to the past or this is a new beginning that we need to get used to.
Life, or rather, tourism, one of the mainstays of Goa’s economy, started just about a year back. Still reeling from the after-effects of the pandemic, the industry stabilising, albeit slowly. People have begun meeting without reservations, and cash has started to flow an in the past.
Yet, once in a while, a constant cough or cold, or sudden death of a known one creates fearful doubts or proposes grounds for declaring another pandemic.
With these musings, I await respite from the scorching heat like many others, recalling verses from Gibran’s Song of the Rain: “I quench the thirst of one; I cure the ailment of the other”.