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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Modern India Goa’s new invader

Goa sat quietly on the west coast since the beginning of time. First we concentrated on rearing cattle, growing crops, orchards and people. Upheaval was the name of the game in the rest of India and every change that convulsed Goa’s larger neighbours affected Goa too, with new rulers every couple of hundred years or so with the only representative of the king being the tax collector.

First it was a series of Hindu kings who set up empires all around, so Goa while ostensibly changing rulers every time, actually was left alone to develop a strong culture of her own. The land was fertile, the weather perfect, the people prosperous and peace loving and we have enough evidence that our ancestors had their own music, art, literature and poetry. They had a very successful system of community farming which remained pretty much untouched for centuries. The Sultans found that it was a good idea to continue the Gaunkari system of village community farming, as did the Portuguese who renamed it the Communidade.

So, it must have been a slight shock when the Bahamani Sultans conquered Goa, only to lose her to the Vijayanagara Empire. After another 100 years the Bijapur Sultans ruled over Goa and the culture shock must have been immediate and long lasting. Islam added itself to the tapestry of Goa and then came the Portuguese with their vastly different culture, clothing and creed. Almost five centuries of being an important part of the Portugal ethos, the Goan people morphed once again into a beautiful Eurasian type of culture with a strong Indian core. Liberation which saw Goa become part of the Indian nation. And in less than 50 years we are bang in the middle of another culture shock and a very different one this time.

The difference is this: In the past the changes in Goa were wrought on the people in their creed and culture; their style and standard of living. Invading armies left the land alone. They added to the forest cover introducing new species from Brazil and Africa. Post Liberation the culture of which can only be called Modern India is cutting haphazard swathes across what was respected as Nature’s bounty. Previous invaders (yes, it’s time to call a spade a spade and Modern India is the new invader of Goa) recognized and respected the traditional systems for nurturing the land.

Modern India has no time for that. Because Modern India worships at the altar of Instant Gratification and has found more than half the population of Goa an eager convert to this way of life. “I’ll vote for you tomorrow provided you give me a motorbike today.” “If the price is right I can change forest land into settlement land with the click of a mouse.”

I wish the news channels would do an aerial shoot of the changing face of Goa as the plane circles, banks and lands at Dabolim. I wish they could introduce it on a fortnightly basis so that Goans could see for themselves, the terrible changes happening in our hills and plains practically every week.

Even when flying in to Goa, it’s the tourists who are all agog with their noses plastered to the windows, Goans stare at the seat backs in front of them. Is it because they cannot bear to look out? Or because they just don’t care?

Hotels and farmhouses are built in seemingly inaccessible places, they spread over what they refer to as a “small area, just a few acres”, but 20 metre wide roads connecting them to airports and road and rail networks, gouge out centuries old portions of the rainforest and the forest cover shrinks again and yet again.

Meanwhile in the towns and villages that were known for the beautiful proportions of their structures are changing by the day with old houses pulled down and apologies for architecture shooting up. Tiled roofs cower beneath steel glass and concrete and art-deco structures, as if the tiled roofs know that their day in the Goan sun is comprehensively over.

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