A personal view
WHEN we decided to leave Delhi, we had no idea where in India we wanted to live. I still remember the evening when we were sitting around the dinner table, discussing what our new living space should offer: solitude to focus on our writing, more or less intact nature, good infrastructure. We certainly did not want to exchange one metropolis with another. But we also could not imagine living in a village with its conservative outlook and too much of neighbourliness. It took us less than ten minutes to conclude that Goa was probably the only place in India that offered what we were looking for.
Since I had not been in Goa for ten years and my husband for more than twenty, we decided to go there for a holiday. To our surprise we found what we desired in less than a week: a huge coconut grove with an old house in Portuguese style two kilometres from the ocean. Our response was immediate and spontaneous: we bought the place and have never regretted the impulsive decision. The suddenness of our decision not only to give up Delhi but also Berlin, where I taught at the university and we spend the summer months, took my friends by surprise. Their response ranged from enthusiasm and excitement to doubt about my sanity.
Having lived in Goa for one and a half years now, I have to admit that the place has exceeded my expectations. What makes me feel so comfortable here? From a personal view, it is the peace we have found here. I have a lot of uninterrupted time on my hands to write and read. Each morning starts with a swim in the ocean or a long walk on the beach, our two dogs chasing crows or small crabs in the sand. I discovered and explored my interest in gardening, a welcome diversion. In the evening we often go for a drink or a freshly fried fish to one of the beach shacks, watching the sunset.
I feel that it is a great privilege to have free time and be able to structure my days by myself. My writing has become much more intense since we moved here. In other words, the new environment my husband and I have chosen to live in allows us to concentrate on what we feel is most essential to our lives.
Don’t you miss the buzz, I am often asked. Yes, sometimes I do miss the seductions of city life: a cluster of stimulating people, good bookshops, parties, interesting restaurants and other diversions. But then, these aspects are not missing in Goa. Though it has the advantages of a remote and quiet place (at least in South Goa, where we live), a lot is happening if one likes to party and meet people. I haven’t been tempted – not yet. Also, I do not need to drive half a day on mountain roads to reach a train station or an airport. Travelling in and out of Goa is easy – for us as well as our friends and family whose visits, so far, have not been rare.
But there are other reasons that add to my comfort of living in Goa – the weather, for example. All around the year the temperature is just perfect: nine months of blue, sunny sky, the wind that sets in early afternoons, pleasant mornings and evenings and three months of heavy rain, which actually is my favourite season. I love the monsoon, when the landscape suddenly turns green and lush, when one can sit in the verandah listening to the never ending sound of the rain and to the loud croaking of frogs and chirping crickets as well as other insects and small animals that hide in the garden. We even see fireflies in the evening, signs of a considerably intact ecosystem.
There is no lack of drinking water, no long electricity cuts and people, in general, are friendly and laid-back. There are no neighbours fighting about insignificant things (at least not with us), no traffic jams or aggressive driving in a congested city.
I love watching flowers grow, harvesting mangos and bananas from our trees, reading in the hammock, going for walks. I do not mind the tourists; I leave them alone, they leave me alone. Sexual harassment, though, is as bad in Goa as in the big cities, when you move – as a woman – without male company. It seems young men, especially on the beach, confuse reality with satellite TV, hoping for a quick adventure in bed. I am surprised how many uninteresting, boring and often ugly men try to hit on you if you are alone on the road or the beach, convinced of their irresistible charms.
Goa has an interesting cultural mix with a mainly Catholic coastal belt and Hindus in the interior. Some festival or the other is always going on. Children, even the poorest, go to school. A major societal problem is alcohol, which is very inexpensive. There is literally a bar at every corner filled – apart from chronic drinkers – with many young men, unemployed or uninterested in making a living. In our part of Goa they say that if you throw a stone, you are sure of hitting either a bar or a priest. With all the wild pigs around, one could also add a pig.
Many of the old beautiful houses remain empty when children leave the state to study or work elsewhere. The aging are moving to smaller places which are easier to maintain. A lack of awareness about Goa’s architectural heritage is leading to the demolition of these beautiful houses, increasingly being replaced by ugly, anarchic constructions that disfigure the landscape and with it Goa’s charm. Compared to the North where most of the tourists stay, South Goa has fortunately been spared this development. But with the rediscovery of Goa, not only by foreign sun-worshippers but also by the Indian middle class, these developments will also overtake our part of this beautiful state.
Goa, visualized as paradise on earth by my Indian friends as much as my non-Indian friends, certainly has its problems. For one, the political class is not very different from its grander version in Delhi. At many a social gathering I have often been tempted to ask an obvious strutting neta, ‘Sir, are you someone in particular?’ One of the former ministers of our area, for example, hates to be overtaken on Goa’s good roads, and is known to stop and slap the driver of the offending car. There are many other blemishes, ranging from the less visible paedophilia to the hard to miss garbage-dumps along the roads and beaches. Yet Goa remains a space full of beauty and vibrating life. I do believe that the most important decisions in ones personal life arise from some hidden, diffused landscape of the inner self. For me, moving to Goa has been such a decision – it happened before I even knew it.