Tensing Carlos Rodrigues

Archive for the ‘Goa at Crossroads’ Category

The Kristangs of Malacca.

In Goa at Crossroads on April 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Goa at Crossroads


Christmas was the only time we could go on a trip overseas. So we wanted a destination where we would feel the spirit of Christmas. And we chose Malacca; just because of its association with St. Francis Xavier. Malacca, lying at the confluence of the South-Western and the North-Eastern Monsoons, has wooed the Chinese, the Indians, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Japanese at different times in its long history. Since times immemorial its port has been frequented by a multitude of ships and merchants from all the Asian nations of the time : Arabia, Persia, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Ceylon, and Bengal. In it were gathered and sold all the Asian spices: pepper, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, … . And that is what attracted the conquerors – the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Portuguese ruled Malacca for one hundred and thirty years between 1511 and 1641. Among many remnants of this sojourn are the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, the gate of the fortress “A Famosa” and the community of Kristangs – the offspring of Portuguese men and Malay women. In the mid-1920s, at the fag end of their rule, the British set off a large area of land along the sea, not far from the Malacca port, as a sort of a reservation for the Kristangs; what has since then been called the Portuguese Settlement or Portuguese Village or Kampung Portugis. Untitled But, it is not the history of Portuguese rule in Malacca or even that of the Kristangs that interests me at this point; it is their present. They are organised under the banner of Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Association; and Michael Singho is the president of that association. This is what Singho wrote around the time of Christmas, 2010 : “The coastline at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca has been transformed by the implementation of its Urban Renewal Development Program since 2003. The Portuguese Settlement literally grew by another 6 acres (2.4 ha), with land reclaimed from the sea. Of this, 3 acres now house the Hotel Lisbon and the rest a car park, a food court and a playground. The main purpose of the URDP was to enhance the settlement as a tourism attraction and further top its potential in this industry. This in turn could bring further benefits to the community in terms of jobs and business opportunities.” “There are, however, two glaring situations that need to be looked into seriously. The first revolves around Hotel Lisbon. The building initially planned as a cultural complex, housing bazaar lots and a budget hotel, is designed like a Fortaleza. It has the required features and elements that blend and fit with the Portuguese concept of the surroundings.” “The Hotel Lisbon, however, tells another tale. To start with, when the cultural complex metamorphosed into a hotel, opportunities to run the intended bazaar lots/stalls disappeared altogether. What followed was the acute alienation of the community, in the ownership, equity, management or operation of this hotel. Even as employees their participation was minimal and fell along the ranks of kitchen helps, receptionists or security guards even though they possess a natural flair and a wide spectrum of talents in the hospitality business.” “The Hotel Lisbon with its name explicitly in tow, and situated in the cradle of the Malaysian Portuguese Eurasian Society, is managed by a nasi kandar (Malay Muslim) entrepreneur and of course serves as its main cuisine, nasi kandar. Though exquisitely appetising this Penang speciality sits agonisingly out of sync in such a clearly defined theme and setting. It is like offering Punjabi cuisine as the main spread in a Minangkabau themed hotel in the middle of Rembau.” “To add insult to injury the hotel restricts the sale of beers, wines and alcoholic beverages. This is offensive as it imposes upon an inherent social feature where wines, beers and alcoholic beverages find fond indulgence, and are regarded customary within the context of Portuguese culture. Capitalising on the Portuguese theme but altering the portrayal of some of its social characteristics and mannerisms is rather disrespectful and subjugatory even. In fact whatever is relative about the hotel ends with its name and its building. Beyond that, it serves as an indignation that does not complement the overall surroundings except to, perhaps exploit it.” There are not many Kristang left now in the Settlement; many of them have migrated to Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Those who are still there look pretty affluent. But most of them do not talk the creole Portuguese; they have switched over to English. We went to the Settlement on the Christmas day expecting to savour some real Portuguese cuisine – after all we were missing the sorpatel and san’nas of back home. But nothing of it; all that we could indulge on was Spicy Baked Fish and Calamari in Garlic Sauce. Sounds very familiar, right ? If you find any parallels between Goa and Malacca, do not blame it on Albuquerque or St. Xavier; it’s much more basic.


Does not sound like Goa, right ?

In Goa at Crossroads on March 31, 2013 at 4:16 am

Goa at Crossroads


Hardly a three metre strip of sand, choc-a-bloc with chairs, arm chairs, beds, stools; a broad road running along it, giant Merc buses and Isuzu pick-ups zipping up and down; rows after rows of stalls selling all types of knick knacks, cold drinks, snacks, undergarments, curios; speed boats anchored right as you get off the sand into the water, picking tourists for rides to the islands and parasailing platforms in the sea; the sky punctured by towering Hiltons, Marriotts, Hyatts, InterContinentals, Accors and BestWesterns; that is a beach.

 Drive inwards, food joints jostle for space and attention – local, Chinese, Continental, fusion, all types of cuisine; very prominent are the eateries run by the whites (should I say expats ?) – they have high sounding names, difficult to understand and offer “back home” menus.

 No less prominent are the massage parlours – almost every third establishment that is not an eating place or a chemist’s is a massage parlour. Behind glass windows, you can see beds with impeccable white linen, towels neatly rolled up and silhouettes of women in waiting. But not all have the glass windows; all that you see are sign boards and pretty women sitting or standing at the door. Sometimes it is just a small board with an arrow pointing to the upper floor. Most of them have a sign upstairs that says “Rooms Available”.

 PattayaHowever much that may arouse your imagination, the days are rather dull here. Let the sun set and lights come on, the city sparkles in sensuous colours. The eating places get crowded and the side alleys almost spring out of nowhere, like bright enticing  tentacles of an octopus that have pool parlours for their suckers; so many of them. After a few of those I simply lost count of the alleys and the pool parlours; almost got lost; tired and scared, I returned to the base at Golden Beach Hotel. For the pool parlours was something that I had not seen before – so large, so many tables, with young girls loitering around, waiting for “players”.

 All over, the roads are full of whites, walking hand in hand with local girls – well, so many of them that one finds it rather weird. What are all these whites doing here ? What do they come here for ? They understand no local language; their female consorts interpret it for them and help them choose the dishes on the menu.

 Does not sound like Goa, right ? Well, it is not; it is Pattaya. But could be Goa, say circa 2061 !

My encounter with tourist Goa.

In Goa at Crossroads on March 7, 2013 at 12:29 am

Goa at Crossroads


In late eighties I was working on a project on Impact of Tourism in Goa (Ave Cleto Afonso, TOURISM IN GOA – SOCIO ECONOMIC IMPACT, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, 1989). During the interactions with the stake holders, and those who had applied their mind to the matter, I got the “costa del mierda” view of tourism in Goa. I still cannot forget those prophetic words of Dr. Meenakshi Martins “Upto 200 metres from the high tide line, it is not Goa.” Some years later I found myself once again in a close encounter with tourism while doing market research for a company that contemplated to start a superfast luxury train between Mumbai and Goa. British charter operators predicted the end of charters in a few years. Well that has not happened. Or has it not really ? Bizarre descriptions of male prostitution involving German widows and local fishermen haunt my mind when I think of the charters. For me the trail of tourism ended there; I changed my track after that, and my only view of tourism was what I got from my daily newspaper. By the way, that superfast luxury train never started; do not blame me for that; I reported what I gathered from the horses’ mouths !

Old anchorBut the beginning of my encounter with tourism was much earlier. As a young undergraduate student at Dhempe College in mid seventies, it was not rare to have a couple of guys in trance on the backbenches in the amphitheatre lecture rooms. But, perhaps for me tourist Goa phenomenon was even more personal. Most of my childhood summer evenings were spent on the then virgin Fatrade beach. Occasionally we would walk along to Mobor and be awed by the sheer beauty of the dazzling white line of sand drawn over a shimmering blue sea. My father told me it was the most beautiful place in the world. A few years later when we began to work, and have loose change in the wallet (some of us a little more as they went on board the ship), we dreamed of buying up that “most beautiful place on earth” ! But when Old Anchor set its anchor in the sands of Mobor, it was the end of our age of innocence. We knew we had lost the damsel we had loved all along.

But, can we just blow away this empire built over last fifty years in a fit of kolaveri ? It shall go nevertheless, whether we like it or not, in a fit of kolaveri. Tourist destinations are prone for self destruction. As S C Plog points out in his Why Destination Areas Rise And Fall In Popularity (Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1974) : “We can visualize a destination moving across a spectrum, however gradually or slowly, but far too often inexorably, toward the potential of its own demise. Destination areas carry with them the potential seeds of their own destruction, and lose their qualities which originally attracted tourists.” The same is reinforced by R W Butler (The Concept Of A Tourism Area Cycle Of Evolution : Implications For Management Of Resources, Canadian Geographer, 1980). According to Butler, there are six stages through which tourist areas pass : exploration, involvement, development, consolidation, stagnation, and decline.

This happens basically because of two strong forces : one, the congestion and the ensuing discomfort – falling service standards, rising prices, dirt and stink – chase away the tourists; two, as tourism empire grows, the conflict between the interests of the host population and the tourists increases, causing frequent clashes and an eventual backlash.

Giedre Steikunaite, the former editorial intern at the New Internationalist, recounts the story of Cancún, Mexico :

“Cancún is trapped in the vicious circle of tourism development, which both feeds it and kills it. Just 40 years ago, Kankun (‘nest of snakes’ in Maya) was a sleepy fishing village with marshes, mangroves, virgin jungle and untouched beaches. The paradise lasted until 1970, when the government decided it was time for a new Acapulco, as the original one had been degraded and couldn’t serve as a reliable money pot any longer.”

Marine biologist Everto Herrera Batista, researcher for Alerta Cambio Climático, explains that rains have decreased in recent years and the state is suffering droughts and desertification. The number of cyclones has almost doubled in the last 30 years, from 10 in 1980 to 19 this year. As if that wasn’t enough, the rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of the white sandy beaches which attract tourists in the first place.

Why Goa became “India’s Tourism Mecca” ?

In Goa at Crossroads on February 21, 2013 at 1:07 am

Goa at Crossroads


“’Eight-finger Eddie’, the original American ‘freak’ who discovered and popularised Goa as a 1960s hippy haven, has died, aged 85.” reported The Telegraph at 6:05PM BST on 28 Oct 2010. “Yertward Mazmanian, an Armenian-American, arrived in Goa in the early 1960s, fell in love with its tropical beaches and lifestyle, and later established a flea-market in Anjuna, North Goa, which became a ‘Mecca’ for hippies throughout the world. … His role put the former Portuguese colony on the tourist map.”

EddieWhy did the beatniks and hippies choose to settle down in Goa ? As they drove down overland from Kathmandu “on bikes, beetles and magic buses“, ‘tropical beaches’ were all over the west and the east coast from Dwarka to Kovalam, and Puri to Nagapattinam; just in the close neighbourhood, and no different, were Shiroda and Karwar – that would very much fit the description “a tiny hamlet with a few tea stalls and houses dotting a pristine sandy beach“, that Mazmanian uses for Anjuna. But they chose Goa. The clue probably lay in the phrase one stumbles upon again and again in the literature about the advent of hippies : “a former Portuguese enclave”.

What did that former Portuguese enclave offer, that others did not ? The ease of communicating in an European language ? A culturally ‘at home’ feeling ? Familiar cuisine ? Or, was it the laissez faire attitude ? “They were in love with this place. And we fell in love with them, because of the way they lived.”, an Associated Press despatch for Oct 28, 2010 quotes a local, Dominic Fernandes, 65.

Goa’s USP of “yahan to kuch bhi chalta hai” has stuck on. No wonder Tarun Tejpal blurted it out at the end of the first day of the Tehelka magazine’s Goa bash, ThinkFest 2011 : “Now that you are in Goa, drink as much as you want, … sleep with whoever you think of.” It’s not just Tejpal; hordes of Indian tourists come to Goa with a lifetime dream : to experience the never before, never again.

Today we are caught in a time warp; what we let happen innocently or lazily, has become our distinguishing mark. Let me quote to you from a blog by Som Bhatta, I stumbled upon on a travel site. This is what he has got to say : “I’ve been there as a tourist, which makes me a part of a very large club. Goans are an easygoing and friendly people. They are also deeply religious in general, with a Portuguese Catholic background. The men tend to drop out of secondary school while the women keep studying. The men are content to earn enough money in a day for their heart’s content of beer and xacuti (Goan style pork or chicken) in the evening, and will typically work no more than that. And the roaring tourist trade makes that easy for them. Many more just immigrate to Portugal and onward to other places. As dual citizens, they have that right. Cost of living is moderate by Indian standards; neither cheap nor expensive. There’s not much industry in Goa to speak of, so most people depend on the tourist trade for a living. The local language is Konkani, a hybrid between Marathi and Kannada, the languages of the two adjacent states. The old people still speak Portuguese, but they are now a diminishing minority.”

FotoSketcher - bobNot only do others label us that way, and would like us to continue to be that, but we ourselves believe us to be so.  And we want to build our future around it. We now recognize tourism as the mainstay of Goan economy, along with, may be mining.

It may seem too late to stir up a debate on tourism or no tourism. Tourism in Goa is a big business today. It is not just hotels and restaurants, travel agents and boat cruises, curio shops and discos, casinos and New Year bashes. It goes much beyond that. Take the real estate industry for instance; Goa is the summer capital for some, winter capital for others. Or the drug trade. So many other things came with tourism, and have stayed.

Они приходят, они видят, они побеждают (They come, they see, they conquer.)

In Goa at Crossroads on February 7, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Goa at Crossroads


Raymond Noronha, in his Social and Cultural Dimensions of Tourism (World Bank Staff Working Paper No. 326, April 1979), describes the stages of development of a tourist destination; and they seem to fit the evolution of tourism in Goa rather well. Noronha talks of three stages : (a) discovery, (b) local response and initiative, and (c) institutionalisation.

In the first stage “a few intrepid souls ‘find’ a new area”.  In Goa’s case these have mainly been the hippies. This stage, is largely beyond the control of the host population. The choice of the host polpulation comes in the second stage : the local response and initiative. We have already described earlier how the population in the areas where the hippies landed was predisposed to such an event, given its “outward orientation”. So its behaviour in the second stage was almost predictable. Note the subtle difference in the “reception” that was accorded to the hippies on the North Goa beaches and the South Goa beaches. The people of Bardez have traditionally been more outgoing then the people of Salcete. The popular response thus was spontaneous and instinctive.

Noronha’s description of growth of tourism in the second stage fits very well with what happened in Goa : “Tourism development continues to be spontaneous and generally uncoordinated. The needs of tourists are met through a differentiation of existing resources – for example, partial conversion of houses to guest homes or small hotels. The host population introduces small-scale technological improvements to accommodate tourists – refrigerators, motor boats, flush toilets. Nevertheless, the tourist’s adjustment to the host culture is almost as great as the host population’s adjustment to the tourist.

But where tourism begins to bite is in Noronha’s third stage – institutionalisation; he very categorically describes the radical shift that takes place in the third stage : “Institutionalization implies more than an increase in the number of tourists in the destination area. It usually involves standardised tourist facilities and services (Western style hotels, packaged tours), … loss of local control over the development of tourism, and increased economic dependence on individuals and groups outside the destination area. In the eyes of the local resident, institutionalization is the stage where outsiders (fellow nationals and foreigners) take over.” No, I am not describing what has happened in Goa; I am just quoting from Noronha !

MorjimIf you find that too realistic, realise how inevitable that is. Noronha goes on : “The transition to Stage 3 involves a decision by the national government (or other authorities and economic blocs) to intervene in tourism development in the destination area. … The most common justification for intervention in tourism development by wider political authorities is that it will increase foreign exchange earnings for the host country. Rarely does this intervention involve prior consultation with the residents and authorities in the destination area itself. Unless local interests are given a strong voice in decisionmaking, nonlocal interests take over further development of tourism in the destination area.”

 That brings us to somewhere around December 2011 – protesters marching in the city to demand that IFFI be shifted so as to not clash with the Feast of St. Francis Xavier ! And shouts falling on the deaf year. Or take the Sunburn. One young guy told me on the eve of New Year -“Uncle, it was very good. But it was all managed by upcountry people; our people where only paying to get in; to just park my bike for a little while, I had to pay two hundred rupees.” But better was the nonchalant response of the “upcountry” guy : “My foot; nothing can stop it. If police stops, police will be gone. If CM stops it, CM will be gone. Just forget it; come on, enjoy.” Noronha wrote that in 1979, when we were more or less in the middle of stage 2 ! But he was talking of those who had been there and seen it before us – Indonesia, Bermuda, Seychelles, Cyprus, Senegal, Mexico, Tunisia, Malta, Thailand, … .

In the local press : (Keshav Naik, TNN Dec 19, 2011, 05.13AM IST) “As the state celebrates the golden jubilee of its liberation, a new foreign colony is coming up on Goan soil. In a northern corner of Goa, the refrain is “Morjim is Russia” and you are even greeted by “Dobroe utro” (good morning) in Russian. … Vitthaldas Waddo in Morjim, with a large number of Russian restaurants, Russian speakers, and a distinctly Russian atmosphere has already been nicknamed Mini Moscow, and Morjim is on the road to being known as ‘Mini Russia’. Ask a taxi driver anywhere in Goa to take you to Moscow beach and he will drop you off in Morjim. … Anger, however, is building up and has led to brawls. One Goan has already fallen prey to Russian ferocity. Taxi driver Rohidas Shetgaonkar was killed by Russian national Constantine Alexander Borowski in February 2009. … The Russian invasion of Morjim started around 8 years ago, when tourists from the country began investing in businesses. Gradually they became major investors. The tourism and related business economy of the village is now governed by Russians.

From stage two to stage three is growing from adolescence to adulthood – fulfilling, but treacherous. In 1977, sitting on the steps of Susheela Building (where I was doing my first year of post-graduation) I was watching the first Carnival float parade. I was happy then, not just because it was something novel, but more because it had kept the neighbourhood ‘bekar’ youth busy, who would otherwise make public life miserable with their not so innocent pranks. Thirty five years later I say to myself : what a fool I was ?

Destination Goa : The white, the grey and the black.

In Goa at Crossroads on January 23, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Goa at Crossroads


May be that was just a hunch; but I sort of got a feeling year before that those in the marriageable age were in a hurry to tie the knot before the leap year dawns. During one of those year end weddings I got talking to some friends of the groom who had come down all the way from Delhi; and they planned to leave Goa after the New Year. They told me that up in the North, being in Goa between Christmas and New Year, is considered as a life time achievement – sort of Gen Y equivalent of Amarnath or Haj. Next morning I left for Bangalore, to escape the wrath of the pilgrims !

Before I proceed any further, let me define the scope of the word tourism as used here. By tourism I mean everything from shacks on the beach to 7* spas to Carnaval/New Year bashes to Sunburn/Moonlite to river cruises/jeep rides to banana boats/floating casinos to Flea Market/Russian restaurants to nude colonies/celebrity bungalows, and everything in between and beyond that satisfies one criterion : it is nothing about us, all about Destination Goa.

They say Goa was rediscovered by hippies around 1966 or so, a few years after the political heirs of the “first discoverer” Afonso de Albuquerque deserted it; it is believed the hippies were driven out from Nepal, or drove themselves out; the next freak joint they found was Goa. That was definitely true of some beaches along the Sinquerim-Vagator belt. Probably it all began there. Subsequently, as the word spread, more sober travellers began trying out the new destination. But that was a trickle. What really turned the trickle into flood was the conflict in Kashmir and Sri Lanka – both choice destinations for Western tourists. In fact, tourism in Goa was a result of violence – the hippies fleeing the war in Vietnam and the tourists wary of violence in their favourite destinations ! No, I am not trying to recount the history of tourism in Goa – I am trying to draw your attention to the fact that Goa began as a “default” tourist destination !

And tourism was a default option for people of Goa as well. Portuguese fed us with butter from Holland and potatoes from Idaho; I was myself brought up on Cow & Gate milk from England. But during the 450 years of their stay, Portuguese did pretty little to promote income generating activities in their prized overseas possession. Besides a few escolas primarias and a Medical College (and a course in Pharmacy) they did little in the educational field as well. Those who were keen on higher education and could afford, crossed over to the Brittish India or went to Portugal. This is the supply side story.

The story on the demand side was equally depressing. Though Afonso de Albuquerque died desolate seeing his grand dream of creating in India “a community of half-blooded Portuguese who would remain forever loyal to the Portuguese crown” in dust, his successors did succeed in creating a community that was more outward looking than loyal to its roots.

GoaThe result was an exodus of Goans, mostly from the coastal conselhos, to the major cities of Brittish India (Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, Rangoon), East Africa, Persian Gulf and on board the ship. This continued for long, with ebbs and tides and varying patterns. So, when the opportunity arrived in mid-sixties in the form of white tourists, it was natural that many of us jumped at it : here was the Africa-Gulf-ship all bundled into one, right in the backyard. We moved into the kitchen, renting out the living room and the bedroom for paying (rather, heavy paying) guests. Sometimes we cooked for them for the pocket money. Occasionally our daughters kept them in good humour; and our sons helped them in their adventures. Here was the Garden of Eden, full of white sand and rimmed with blue sea. That was the beginning of The Arab and The Camel story.

The map above is interesting : it shows the typical colonial spatial development pattern – the core : Baga, Calangute to Colva, Mobor; the periphery : Arambol and Palolem; and the beyond : the feeding hinterland. Look at its orientation – oriented outward towards the metropolis, the mother economy that it serves. But more about it later.

At this point, I would like to draw your attention to just one fact, and an important one : we did not choose tourism; it happened as we sought the easy way out.

Fifty years down the line : Goa at crossroads.

In Goa at Crossroads on January 10, 2013 at 3:59 am

Goa at Crossroads


A year ago Goa completed fifty years of independence from colonial rule. Not much of a fanfare was made; at least not as much as we wanted to make. I know twenty five is more apt for celebration; by fifty, one is a bit tired. But, perhaps, fifty is the time for a country or state when it begins to question its being; rightly then we are today facing an existential question : To be or not to be what we have been during the last fifty years.

GAC # 01

It is not an easy question to answer, but. One reason perhaps is because during these fifty years we have not all moved in the same direction; as a result, today our interests are diverse. Lest I confuse you by this abstract argumentation, let me recall a small incident that happened many many years back. The Zuari Bridge had just been completed, after a long long wait; most of us let out a sigh of relief – no more of those mad rushes into and out of ferries over precariously positioned wooden ramps. But, days before the bridge was to be inaugurated, there was a huge protest demonstration by shopkeepers who thrived at the ferry points. Once the bridge is commissioned they would be out of business. They were absolutely right; they too had a right to livelihood. But did that mean there should have been no bridge ?

The point is simple : truth is not as flat as we would like it to be; should I say there are layers of truth ? Is it possible to identify those layers and differentiate between them and exercise a choice ? I feel it is possible, if we accept that the layers are basically determined by the time horizon; if we take a shorter time horizon we see one truth – say the loss of livelihood of the ferry point shopkeepers. It is more than twenty five years now since Zuari Bridge is standing; and I have not heard of any of those families dying of starvation. If we take a little longer time horizon, the truth changes its contours. And if we take even longer horizon, the truth may change completely.

Today the air is rent with all sorts of noise about the evils of mining; and, equally loud protestations about the ills of not mining; Shah Commission Report and its aftermath is a part of a larger debate between the “shopkeepers at the ferry point” and the “commuters”. There is also a rupture erupting between “shack owners” and the “locals”, which is again part of a mahasangram between those who have a stake in the tourism pie and those who do not. I suppose that is natural.

I do not want to take any position on these issues right here. I would rather prefer to go beyond them to what underlies all economic conflicts – the problem of resource utilisation and the social and temporal trade-offs. But I shall not do it with the rigour of a college teacher discussing Third Law of Thermodynamics or Keynes’ Theory of Effective Demand. Fifteen years back I would have thought that was the only way to do it. But well past fifty, one develops a certain tolerance for digression and fuzziness; one is less certain about the absolute truths, and history takes on the hue of stories. I would therefore be more personal, and experiential. I shall tell the truth, but the whole truth; not just what fits into the theoretical construct of right and wrong.  You are free to accept it; or dump it into dustbin. Tomorrow, even I may do the same.