My favourite way of describing Goa, since moving here over a month ago, has been to say this: Goa is still living in the nineties.
Up until now, whenever I visited Goa (thrice), I would stay around its beaches. I was always a tourist. But when I decided to move here bag and baggage, I wanted to live away from the touristy areas, and experience the ‘real Goa’ (well, at least as real as I could handle), which I was told was in its villages.
When my wife and I had the initial idea of moving here in August 2020, we had laughed at ourselves. “Oh god, not another white-girl-settling-down-in-Goa story”, my wife said, rolling her eyes at how excited we were. “And everyone’s going to think we met in Goa”, I added. Not that there was something wrong with that, but just that it wasn't true. For instance, in the first few months of us dating, a family member of mine had tried to fish out details of how my wife and I met, without talking to me of course, asking my grandmother: “Is this a Gokarna affair?” As a mixed race couple, we had learnt pretty early on to not care about the assumptions people made about us.
But I digress.
Three months ago when I came here to house hunt, the first thing I noticed about Goa was how similar it was to Vasai Gaon, the village I grew up in. I lived in Vasai Gaon from age 8 to 14, my most formative years.
The mango trees, the tamarind trees, laterite walls, pitched roofs with mangalore tiles, lush paddy fields, narrow lanes, a temple here, a church there and very few apartments. I felt a strange familiarity; it was Konkan after all. Within a week, I was besotted by the long winding roads, the welcoming nod from strangers and the keen sense of nostalgia the place evoked in me. I would, however, go on to learn that not all strangers were welcoming. In one particular incident, a woman glared at us from her courtyard while shaking her head disapprovingly, as we slowly drove past her house peering outside the car exploring neighbouhoods. Her ominous look suggested, ‘Don’t you dare think of moving here!'. How the hell did she know?! She knew.
We were aware of this sentiment.
Goa has been undergoing a slow gentrification for a while now. There are row houses everywhere, fancy housing projects dot the villages, many old Portuguese-style homes have signs that read ‘This property is NOT for sale’, cafes tucked away in a completely rural setting have a fully western aesthetic and menu, and charge up to a whopping ₹600($8) for a coffee—peanuts for the upper-middle class from Delhi-Bombay-Bangalore, but no localite is walking through that door. Things aren’t all rosy and I had no idea till I landed here. I read one article where the writer wrote "gated communities are the biggest concern, where immigrants stay cocooned within their communities, refusing to mingle with the local life and culture"; and they probably bring a piece of Delhi with them and drop its crumbs everywhere they go. Delhites, in particular, have a reputation that precedes them wherever they go in the country. They’re known to be loud, garish, money-spenders, who often travel in groups and have a bluetooth speaker for a group-leader, with someone invariably saying “bhai koi gaana-vaana ho jae” (let's have some music) while drinking “coke-shoke” and until they leave, the place is just unz unz unz unz; all while acting too familiar with strangers. And if you are from South India sitting on the adjacent table, struggling to mind your own business, god help you. I'm being mean. I actually know two Delhiites who are not like that. So...
I digress again.
This pushback from Goans—it seems to me—is not necessarily against tourism itself, which largely remains seasonal (although there are tourists year-round). 'Come after monsoon, make merry on the beach in your drunken stupor on new years and then... please fuck off' seems to be the unofficial but favoured policy. Although, many are annoyed by the tourism, too, thanks to how the tourists ravage Goa every New Years. So, when outsiders move here to ‘settle down’, and gladly pay for overpriced coffee all-year-round but don’t give two hoots about the local culture, it naturally irks the Goan. In some situations, if a localite looks at you poker-faced for more than three seconds, it feels like you're being asked: we’ve reserved the beaches and surrounding areas for you around New Years, why the heck are you here in May?
I’ve been here for only a month, and even I can clearly spot the tourist. They wear straw hats and sun-glasses, are in outfits that advertisers define as 'beachy', huddle on the side of the road on their rented scooters, examining their surroundings, looking at their phones, with a pillion at the back pointing in some direction—much to the annoyance of the daily commuter who's making her way through the narrow roads. Similarly, it seems, many localities can tell that I’m an outsider from the get go. I’ve no idea how. Often, after sizing me up, a localite will proceed to speak to me in English. Those moments are always disappointing. Damn, is it that easy to tell that I’m not from here? I always think to myself. Conversely, I’m most happy when someone breaks into Konkani with me thinking I’m from here. I nod along and try to keep up the misperception for as long as I can. When I go to the market, I try to speak in Konkani. I know no more than a few words. It helps that numbers are the same as they are in Marathi, a language I speak. So, I don’t look like a complete idiot while trying to get myself a good bargain.
It's summer now and power-cuts are the order of the day. I can only imagine what the monsoon will bring. The network is spotty in most areas. For things beyond essentials, you need to make a trip to the town center, where shopkeepers get upset if you spend too much time on their premises without buying anything, an attitude from a seemingly bygone era. Public transport is practically non-existent. Everybody seems to know everybody. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers are impossible to get a hold of; unless you call someone thrice a day for a week, nobody turns up. Shops shut in the afternoon for a good old siesta. Of course, I had read about/heard of all this before I moved here, so I’m not complaining in the least, if anything, I'm taking delight in it all. And frankly, it’s not that bad (... except for the electricians, carpenters and plumbers maybe). All the cliches of susegad and the chill Goan life seem true.
I'm a privileged outsider who finds all of this charming. I don’t know if this is the ‘honeymoon phase’ and it will all start to wear me down soon. All I can do is be respectful of the place, people and local culture, as I start a new chapter of my life here, and, in many ways, reconnect with my childhood. So, I’m uncertain if it's Goa that is stuck in the nineties or if it’s me; for now, I'm home.