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The Graipe Of Goa

The Graipe Of Goa

What a word! My word, it isn’t.  Ask our very own wordsmith – Shashi Tharoor. So why did I choose such an obnoxious sounding word? It is actually a combination of three words – Grape, Gripe and Rape; with which I have taken poetic licence to write some prose!

The first word, Grape, came to mind, not because of the fruit, but because of the best-selling novel “The Grapes of Wrath” by Nobel laureate John Steinbeck in 1939. Written during the American depression, it is about a poor family of tenant farmers seeking greener pastures. The second word, Gripe, is usually associated with gripe water; a concoction of sodium bicarbonate and aromatic herbs. It is commonly administered to babies suffering from colic pain, teething problems, hiccups and flatulence. The other meaning of gripe is to persistently complain about something in an irritating manner.

As for rape, we know its sinister meaning, when applied to an individual. In the case of people or places it means the forceful exploitation of the weak or voiceless.

I was on a recent 10-day vacation in Goa, with family and friends, and interacted with several people, both known and unknown. These three words seemed to express their common angst, which is why I chose to amalgamate them into GRAIPE.

Noted Goan environmentalist Hartman de Souza has written a book “Eat Dust” about Goa’s mining mafia. It was presented to me by a dear friend in Goa. Hartman has ascribed an altogether different meaning to the word rape. For him the red pit of an open iron ore mine, with fluid oozing out, caused by the hard nosed excavator, is so akin to penile penetration, with its attendant pain, trauma and lingering after effects. A vivid, but horrific picture.

Mining is not the only reason why the Goans are griping or devouring the grapes of wrath. They are angry about the potholed roads, the innumerable speed breakers, tourist invasions, outsiders buying up property, heaps of garbage and defecting MLAs. Hartman identifies Goa’s colic as – Tourism, Real estate, Infrastructure, Mining and Consumerism. He even bemoans that the Mandovi River at Panaji now has three bridges spanning it. Before Goa’s liberation in 1961 there were no bridges and ferries were used for the river crossing.

Hartman also rues inflation caused by tourism and consumerism. He claims that in 1967 one could buy 100 mackerel for one rupee in the Mapuca market. However, I recall my first visit to Goa in 1965, when my mother packed me off to Mapuca, where I got 8, not 100 mackerel for one rupee!

So are the Goans griping persistently? Hartman himself admits that “Goans complain long and hard, but always stop short of actually taking a stand and pursuing it to its logical conclusion”. Is such griping, and apathy, as he calls it, unique to Goa? It has a highly educated populace, especially among the Catholics. Unfortunately, the “educated middle class” tends to gripe more than coming to grips with a situation. This is equally pronounced in other “educated” areas like Kerala, Bengal and more recently in Gurugram.

I am both an outsider and an original inhabitant of Goa, because my great grandfather left Goa circa 1854, to eventually establish his business in Kanpur in faraway U.P. way back in 1858. Hartman begins his book with an aerial survey like a “crested serpent eagle with a bird’s eye view”. All our ministers do aerial surveys when there are floods. How useful are they?

Hartman had undoubtedly done immense groundwork as well, and is to be commended for it. Like me, he too is an ex-pat Goan. His family relocated back form East Africa. But I remain an ex-pat. So I may enjoy the slight advantage of not being tied down to Goa, hence having a more expansive view. Having travelled far and wide, my basic observation is that Goa’s colic is not unique in itself. It is a story repeated across the globe – from the Amazonian forests in South America, to melting Himalayan glaciers and Arctic icecaps, to the recent flooding of Venice in Italy.

This in no way dilutes Goa’s dilemma. To the contrary, Goans must realize that the battle they are waging is not theirs alone. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Instead of griping about what is happening they need to co-ordinate their efforts with others across the country and the globe.

Comparisons are said to be odious, but they can also be useful. Goa is 40x100 kms, with the Arabian Sea as its natural Western boundary. It has a population of fewer than 2 million, for which it has 40 MLAs. My hometown Kanpur has similar territorial limits, and the Ganges River as its northern geographical boundary. But it has a population closer to 5 million, for which it has just 5 MLAs.

I, therefore, see Goa as democratically far better placed. Most of the countryside is managed by Village Panchayats that are duly elected bodies. In contrast, my city has a mayor and over 100 corporators for its municipal wards. However, the 74th Amendment to the Indian Constitution that empowers urban bodies has not been enacted in the State. As a result, the Mayor and corporators have little or no power. In contrast, the 73rd Amendment that applies to village panchayats has been implemented across the country. Goa, therefore, has relatively more democracy and self-government. If it is still griping, it has only itself to blame, for electing the wrong people. Or worse still, for not participating in the electoral process. Let’s face it. MLAs that defect are inherently defective, because the electorate is ineffective.

As an outsider, I have my own gripe about Goa. Who has put up the speed breakers on every stretch of 50 metres of village roads (actually arterial), if not the elected village panchayats? The taxi mafia, controlled by ethnic Goans, has stalled the entry of consumer-friendly cab operators like Ola and Uber. As a result, Goan cabbies are millionaires. They assault outside cabbies, including the drivers of GoaMiles, a State Govt sponsored app for taxis.

Why are the Goans griping about tourism when they are minting money from it? Goan villages, especially in the tourist coastal belt, have gaudy new houses. The fishermen who once struggled with wooden fishing boats are now the proud owners of homestays and resorts. Why gripe about smart North-Easterners staffing the hospitality industry when the Goans themselves are seeking Portuguese passports to do the same menial jobs in the U.K.?

As a Catholic community leader, I had two interactions with some local Catholic leaders. They had two major gripes – of how their MLAs, most of whom were Catholic, defected to the BJP; a party against which the Archbishop of Goa had issued a not so subtle “pastoral letter”. The other gripe, that floored me, was that the clergy was domineering. I had always thought of the church in Goa as being more liberal. Sadly, it seems that the longer the faith has been entrenched – as in Kerala, Goa, Ranchi or the North East, the more powerful is the clergy!

How did this happen in Goa? During fascist Portuguese dictator Salazar’s time the Catholic clergy’s movements and activities were restricted to the church compound. After Liberation in1961 did the clergy strike back with a vengeance? Where are the enlightened lay leaders and organizations in Goa?

Another outside observation is about the archaeological sites in Old Goa that include the uncorrupted body of St Francis Xavier. I saw hordes of tourists being disgorged from buses coming to see the sights. They tramped through the holy places fully shod. None of them appeared to be Christian. Would they have walked into their temples, mosques or gurudwaras wearing their footwear? I didn’t see a single clergyman around to minister to the visitors. Nor did I see any evidence of spiritual or liturgical activity. In contrast, while waiting for my flight back from Goa airport I saw three Buddhist monks in their distinctive robes thumbing their rosary beads. Why are we so reticent to express our faith? 

A final thought for my fellow Goans. The development versus displacement debate, or the environment versus infrastructure one, has no easy answers or simplistic solutions. However, I was reminded of John Chau, the American missionary/ adventurer who was apparently murdered exactly a year ago by the “undeveloped” aborigines of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Nicobar archipelago. Padmabhushan British-Indian anthropologist Verrier Elwin, dear to both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, had prevailed upon them to leave primitive tribes alone. He himself married two Gond tribal women from central India. He didn’t want these tribes to be polluted by modernity. These undeveloped areas are today the hotbeds of violent naxalism against the State. As always, there are two sides to every debate.

Yet we can stay clear of extreme positions and follow the Latin dictum “Virtus stat in medio” (Virtue lies in the middle). I give the example of a distant relative who I met for the first time in Moira village. Two years ago he bought a plot and built his house without cutting a single tree. All his furniture was fabricated in house. It was well ventilated and totally dependant on solar power. He has appropriately named his house Amtan Savli (in the shade of the old tamarind tree). Where there is a will there is a way.

Instead of griping and gnashing one’s teeth in the grapes of wrath at the perceived rape of Goa let each and every one of us look for solutions. As management Guru Shiv Khera says, “If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem”. Let me then wish my fellow Goans “Deo Borem Korun” (God be with you).

(The writer’s family migrated from Goa 165 years ago.)

(Published on 25th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 48)