Maya Rose Fernandes
There’s a standing warning among a small coterie of Goan writer friends of mine. We remind each other to never write about beaches, beer, coconuts or feni, in relation to Goa, because it would feed the tired, cliched, outdated imagery of a tourist-imagined paradise of yesteryear.
This imagery caters to the kind of tourist that is looking to consume Goa. It appeals to the back-packing or life-escaping holiday-er who guzzles beer and covets a certain type of licentiousness that they believe only Goa has to offer.
The speed at which things are rapidly changing in Goa is something else. Visitor-friends tell me how vastly different Goa was, just five years ago. Now, it’s more crowded, restaurants and cafes are everywhere, competing with each other.
Everyone is in search of a quiet beach that no one has heard of before. Noise pollution has become so common along certain stretches that the state now directs police to enforce night-time noise bans.
Locals have become as dependent on tourism in Goa as Goa has become subsumed by the tourism machine.
The latest development in most recent years that many locals are also investing in, is the commodification of Goan culture. We’ve witnessed the transformation of traditional festivals into commercial spectacles.
For example, there’s much more than just jumping into wells with the Feast of Sao Joao. Among other things, it’s also tied to the onset of the monsoon season.
Carnival and Shigmo are two more events one thinks of that were once intimate, community-driven celebrations that have now become performances catering to tourists as well.
Sponsorship and flashy floats, plus the promise of staged photography, turns them into attractions for mass consumption rather than genuine expressions of local identity. It’s a rare tourist among the masses who will know or understand the significance of any of these festivals of Goa.
Food isn’t exempt. Restaurants serve a distasteful version of serradurra, skimping on quality ingredients and served up in a plastic cup. Traditional Goan desserts like bebinca are now sold pre-packaged in shops.
My memory of the best-made bebinca is tied up with the hours my grand-aunt would spend in the kitchen before a feast day, preparing the time-consuming dessert with all the patience and diligence of a saint.
The name of one’s feni supplier used to be sacrosanct within the community, and whispered around when the season began. Now, one can buy feni all year round from off the shelf.
The number of restaurants that serve up true Goan cuisine are dwindling as restaurants pass off bastardized versions of Goan dishes as the genuine thing. This culinary cultural appropriation by chefs, who have not grown up around the kind of cuisine they are passing off as authentic, just contributes to the global homogenization of culinary experiences, passing them off as the genuine article.
Temples and churches in Goa have informal policies in place to manage visits by tourists, and many have commercialized access to these spaces with guided tours and other activities that alter the original sanctity, purpose and significance of these spaces.
Markets are not exempt. Mapusa and Panjim market used to be functional spaces that served a purpose in delivering food at affordable wholesale or retail prices to locals.
They are now beset with photographers or tourists invested in precious selfie moments and many others, who are influencing and altering the economic dynamics within local communities as prices also shift to accommodate these changes in customer base.
Commercial venues and hotels package cultural performances for profit, and in an attempt to commodify traditional music and local dance forms and costume, risk turning these art forms into mere tourist attractions, entirely divorced from their historical and cultural significance.
In recent years, even nature is being commodified at a higher rate and scale than before. Dolphin-watching and turtle hatcheries are accessible at a price, guided bird-watching and nature treks are offered.
Do they contribute to effective ecosystem management and take away from the threat to Goa’s fragile ecosystems, or contribute more threat to it?
The point being made is not that we should not welcome progress and evolution with open arms, but that we should not welcome it at the cost of eroding the value of our daily lives and activities as Goans, nor of our local culture, by repackaging and commodifying these for commercial purposes.
The challenge lies in finding economic solutions that are not driven by greed but balance, while respecting and preserving the authentic traditions of Goa and its people.