Go aah!

The image of Goa- and its images- took quite beating since the brutal murder and rape of Scarlett Keeling there last year. But it has been known for a while now that, as Vidyadhar Gadgil wrote in the Herald Mirror last year, that "The image of Goa that is projected in India and the world is a creation of the assiduous efforts of the tourism industry, with a generous measure of help from Bollywood. Thus we have a picture of a hedonist paradise, where the liquor flows fast and easy, the women are Westernised and free, and life is non-stop fun for visitors as well the ever-smiling natives. There is an implicit message sent out that sex is easily available, and that drugs can be had too.

Apart from the misrepresentation and exploitation that is an intrinsic part of the commodification of any tourist destination and its people, another problem with such hyped-up advertising is that it deliberately hides the reality that lies underneath the ecstatic advertising and the advertorials. This is not something that is confined to the tourism industry: pick up any coffee-table publication, even one of the better ones like the recently released Aparanta: Land Beyond the End, and you get an extended visual orgy showcasing the beauty and desirability of Goa, carefully skirting any examination of the dark underside. The few images of poverty that occasionally creep in are always well-composed and in soft focus, and actually end up becoming picture postcards in their own right – poverty as a 'romantic' aspect of Goa's charm!"

The book that he is reviewing is Picture-Postcard Poverty by Kalanand Mani and Frederick Noronha and is available from Goa 1556. "The book begins with examining the forced alienation of tribals from the forests which they have shared a symbiotic relationship with for centuries, and the immiseration that then becomes their lot. It then goes on to cast light on the dismal public health situation in rural Goa, the depradations wrought by liquor on individuals and families, the position of women, the destruction unleashed by the mining industry on livelihoods and environment, the difficulties faced by traditional fisherfolk, the role of caste in Goan society, and the ill-conceived policies and corruption within the government that have led to ramshackle infrastructure and disastrous 'development' projects. The authors do not shy away from examining issues like the demolition of the Baina slum area in 2004, something that was generally applauded by the elites and the middle classes of Goa. They show how under the guise of eradicating prostitution by demolishing this red-light area, the state violated human rights and actually helped prostitution to spread further into areas where there is no regulation and monitoring.

Some startling facts emerge from this tour: domestic violence is fairly commonplace in Goa, alcoholism is rampant and a fourth of Goan women are undernourished. The book tries to find some hope within this gloomy scenario, and traces the evolution of activism in Goa, and how grassroots movements have been trying to make a difference. This book is an absolute must for the bookshelf of any educated Goan, where it should be put alongside the various lavishly produced 'celebrations' of Goa. Warts and all, if we refuse to look reality in the face, there is no hope for change for the better."