Wednesday, 14 October 2015

‘ESCAPING’ TO GOA



The urban Indians, especially those privileged by caste and class, are at it again. The Condé Nast Traveller India last month carried a two-part article by Revati Upadhya on “How to move to Goa”. While Upadhya’s article is ostensibly about how urban Indians, tired of the rat-race and the hamster-wheel of metropolitan India, can leave it all for the quiet and peaceful life in Goa, what is unmistakable is the trope of ‘escape’ in her article. She says, “Like us, a range of professionals from across India are escaping [emphasis mine] big city shackles only to discover that setting a life in Goa isn’t tough and finding livelihood isn’t much of a bother”.

Not so long ago, Vishvesh Kandolkar, a professor at the Goa College of Architecture, made an astute comment on the changing trends of the real estate market in Goa. He observed that “one should be aware that the large, elite, property sharks from the Indian metros, ably aided by the local real estate industry, are taking bigger bites of [Goa], and that too as a second, or a third, helping, in their insatiable lust for property ownership and leisure”. Obviously, large chunks of Goan land gobbled up by real estate sharks is a real crisis. However, it is not always a simple and clear-cut case. Also part of the problem is the manner in which Goa is viewed in metropolitan India. Thus, the key to the problem lies in identifying that the desire of elite Indians for a piece of Goan land, and lifestyle for their consumption, is an exercise of their privilege, as well as demonstrating how Goa is constructed as a veritable touristic paradise.

Upadhya must be talking of a different Goa from the one inhabited by most local Goans, for if finding livelihood in Goa is not much of a problem, then why are so many Goans migrating out? In the face of this confusion, one might ask why Goa is the most favored destination for privileged urban Indians like Upadhya. Part of the answer lies in the manner in which Goa was created and projected as a site of tourism and pleasure. A deeper understanding of the issue is provided in Paul Routledge’s essay ‘Consuming Goa: Tourist Site as Dispensable Space’ (2000). In this essay Routledge argues that as a site of tourism and pleasure Goa was created “to serve as one of world’s pleasure peripheries, a cultural space for the leisure consumption of tourists divorced from the needs and concerns of everyday life”. The trope of ‘escape’ or ‘going away’ was also important for Routledge as he quite rightly argued that tourists ‘went away’ from their own lives, their cultural and economic milieu to a “timeless, workless paradise” (p. 2652).

To be fair to Upadhya, the main thrust of her article is also about finding suitable working options from Goa, despite hiccups like bad internet connectivity. But the idea that she is ‘escaping’ from a metropolitan city into peace and serenity – to a “timeless, workless paradise” – is very much present. In her own words, “Much as I love my trips back home to Bengaluru [Bangalore], it is landing back in Goa that makes me feel at peace again. As I exit the airport and drive down the tree-lined highway back to Dona Paula, I feel my breathing slow down again. Yes, I’ve come back to slower [i]nternet speeds, nonexistent public transport and close to no home-delivery, but I’ve come home.  
By Angela Ferrao

The argument that needs to be made here is that older ideas of Goa being a pleasure-periphery are still in circulation and combine with the contemporary privileges of urban Indians. Note, for example, Udpadhya’s unconscious echoing of the hippy construction of Goa as a location of peace. If at all Upadhya and others find Goa as an amenable destination, it is because Goa is a pleasure-periphery for India and not in spite of it. What such ‘moving-to-Goa’ views hide is the fact that for most of urban Indians a move to Goa is a way up in one’s career, a move that signals that one has arrived in life – professionally and personally.

Secondly, as many commentators like Richa Narvekar, Vishvesh Kandolkar, Jason Keith Feranandes, and this writer have noted in the not so distant past, it is precisely such a desire of Indian and global elites for a piece of Goan lifestyle which is creating conditions that are making Goan real estate unaffordable for the average Goan. Let alone the fact that land as a resource is terribly scarce in Goa.

Lest this be solely seen as an argument for Goa for Goans, a response that is often used to shut down valid questions about the exercise of elite privileges, let me hasten to add that my intention is to suggest caution in the way we engage with Goa and Goans. My intention is to highlight how privilege works in multiple ways in compounding Goa’s problems. Like Vishvesh Kandolkar, I too would like to reiterate that the problem lies with the elite, both local and external, who use Goa for their leisure-consumption, even though they might tell you how difficult their life is, whether in their respective metros, or in Goa. The cost of such leisure-consumption has to be borne by the mass of Goans for whom living in Goa is becoming increasingly difficult. Moreover to sustain the leisure lifestyle of the elites there comes along many laboring-class ‘migrants’ competing with the poorer Goans to earn their livelihood. Thus, local Goans are hit with an economic double whammy, one from the ‘elite migrants’ and subsequently by their supporting laboring-class ‘migrants’. Idealizing Goa but for its bad internet and transportation is to do disservice to Goa and the migrant labour-class who deserve better.

Idealizing Goa will not help, talking about power and privilege operating in Goa will.

Many thanks to Angela Ferrao for permitting me to use her illustration.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 14 October, 2015)

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