I’m sitting in a beach shack in Baga, Goa. Bosco, the waiter hands me a menu. I’m horrified. It’s in two languages — English and Russian. Konkani and English is one thing, but Russian? Bosco explains, reeking of cashew feni, “What to do, men? The Ruskies have taken over Goa.” It’s true — shop frontages and street signs are all in Russian.
And I think about my favourite cities of the world — all colourful, all characterful, all cosmopolitan, some colonised. But all fiercely strong in identity, totally iconoclastic and completely individualistic. They determine who you are, not vice versa. Their character` traits, their cultural ethos, it’s theirs for you to buy into, not for you to impose your will on.
You can’t violate New York. You can’t dictate terms to Istanbul. Even vehicleless Venice, has an aquatic, seemingly unaggressive vibe but still goads you into its ways. These are cities with a strong personality. Flexible but resilient and strong. And then there’s beloved Goa. Laid-back and languorous. With a point of view, but passive.
The Portugese invaded, raped, plundered, converted the place. So Goa has had its one colonial nightmare. It doesn’t need this modern, more insidious one to invade the beaches of Baga, the waves of Vagator, the shacks of Siolim and the motels of Morjim. Don’t dare take advantage of Goa’s gentleness, just because she doesn’t object.
Goa isn’t a Russian colony. It just isn’t a colony. It’s no one’sand to just walk in and dictate terms to. It is God’s own Paradise. And I’m saying equally to Goa, stand firm and unique. You’re India’s richest state, but a simple beach resort in your heart. Don’t try and please anyone. You don’t need to try so hard. Don’t change your colours to seem more city/state-like. Don’t neonise and electronicise and lose your individual nature.
You can never be a Cairo. Or even a Chandigarh. You don’t have North Indian pluck. Or Hindi belt guile. You have an unhurried Goan quaintness. But in our restless, ‘24/7’, ‘cities never sleep’, ‘sell, sell, sell’ environment, you continue to exude passive hospitality. Bangkok does that, but no outside power tries to dominate it. No marauding Russians changing road signs from Thai to Russian.
I’m not blaming the Russians. They’re just an aggressive people seeing an opportunity. Don’t change character, beloved Goa. And stand strong in your ‘susegado’ state of mind. I don’t want to have to say ‘dasvidaniya’ to you.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.