Barely four decades ago, Baga was a little strip of beach, a poorer cousin of the white sand Calangute. The area was a haven for hippies who had a small nudist colony there. The only time Goans visited in large numbers was pre-monsoon when older folk sat in the swirling eddies that churned the river and sea bed in Baga. Considered a natural cure for circulatory ailments, my grandmother made the annual ‘pilgrimage’ to this secluded strip of sand fringed by a river, dunes and palm trees. I watched in amusement at the elders seated in the waters, chatting with each other in Goan comraderie and later sharing a frugal picnic lunch.
That Baga has long since vanished. The reality has become such a nightmare that I do not visit Baga unless there is a valid reason to do so. Work, family and friends are the only valid reasons to visit what was once a happy childhood memory.
What happened at Baga this New Years Eve points to the evil direction that a lawless land inflicts on Goans and tourists who visit Baga beach. That it has become a haven for loud music, drug mafias and prostitution is a given. But when a beach shack meant to serve food and drinks become sinister dens of vice, it is time to question the raison d’être of Baga. Are we Goans so depraved over money that we want to sink our reputation and tourism?
Making a shack into a sleaze spot where cross dressers, transsexuals, prostitutes and low end, single , drunken men visiting the state get intoxicated to a point of Sodom and Gomorrah? For all the fondling, the sex in urine perfumed bushes and bouncers that keep honest persons from intervening, the question to be asked is about the law. Where are the police? The beach patrol? The local panchayats and administrators, the silent majority of good Baga residents? Why hasn’t the CM ordered an enquiry and thrown the criminal persons in jail? Why have licenses of the beach shacks involved, not been revoked?
The dark result of this takeover by evil elements speaks of the sinister side to Goa. It sends out the wrong signals in every direction. In a season where we have less desirable tourists and more hooligan tourism, it is time to ponder and rectify what is happening in Baga today. It may well spread to other beaches if the cancer is not carved away to the bone.
I presume there are many like minded people and media persons who are shocked and distressed at what is happening in this village. These people need to stand up and take action, demand justice and save Baga from self imploding. The rest of Goa is with you and will support your initiative. An initiative that needs to begin now…this new year 2015.
Let us not imagine that this is exaggerated hype. Those hundreds of men who had sex on that beach, in the open and apparently inside shacks, will go home and spread the word. At the end of 2015, they will be back in larger numbers to enjoy the debauchery passed on by word of mouth. Larger numbers mean larger quantities of alcohol and drugs consumed, larger garbage woes and larger drains on infrastructure such a water and power, pollution and sanitation.
As a teenager I recall that Calangute beach was called the Queen of Goan beaches… for a reason. The sand was a dazzling white, the ocean a beautiful blue and the crowds almost nonexistent. We can all see today what tourism in vast numbers has done to the beach. The result is not because of the tourists. It is because of UNCONTROLLED tourism with scant regard for amenities and the environment.
That is a sobering thought not just for Baga but for Goan tourism. We have the choice to make Goan tourism into a Bangkok sex tourism spot that will keep the good tourists away. Say the word ‘Bangkok’ today and there is an immediate lighting up of eyes conjuring massages, sex and sleaze. Say the word Goa today to many people in India and the same lighting up of eyes happens. But is not for our churches, temples, culture, history or feni. It is for the drugs and raves…and maybe sex now?
On the other hand name most cities around the world and people will sigh over palaces in Europe, churches in the ex Soviet Union, the natural wilderness of the USA and Canada or the Disneyland wonder parks in Hong Kong or the Disneyesque parks in Sentosa, Singapore or the Zoo in Sydney.
I do not want to compare Goa to any of these healthy tourist destinations. Goa has its own beauty, people, culture, cuisine and unique qualities. In the end it is up to us if we want to improve on those qualities or destroy Goa at the altar of adult hedonism which has ruined and sullied the reputation of Baga worldwide.
There is another aspect of this type of tourism. Our Goan children. How can we protect them from these vices. They are young, impressionable and should not get dulled, dazed and confused into accepting the sleaze like the small minority of Thai children do. They see sex and drug tourism as a way to earn money unlike the majority of Thai people who are good, honest and hardworking. The problem here is that the minority are so visible to tourists. I have four nieces. I will never take them to some areas in Goa. I don’t want them to be exposed to those areas… in the same way that I don’t want them to be exposed to the underbelly of Bombay, Delhi. London, Paris or New York.
Which brings us to the point whether this underbelly of the strip will spread off from the coast. I can already see it in my village. Parents are none the wiser what their sons do on the strip. they tell me contentedly “My son is working in Baga or Mandrem. Such a nice boy. gives me ten thousand every month! he works very hard…day and night”. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I have seen her son on a motorbike in Mandrem ferrying prostitutes to clients and gloating that apart from the fetching and carrying, he partakes of the girl as well. Youngsters tell me about drugs being available in Colvale. Vegetal drugs consumed by immigrant labourers every day like feni is consumed by Goan labourers. This is tragic. To grow up in a den of vice is a permanent scarring of young minds. Some are mature enough to look down in disdain. Many succumb to the temptation. In the next generation do we see young Goans as the next peddlers of all that is going on in Baga?
Parallel to this sleaze reputation is another issue that deserves the scanner. Goa cannot have a space as a state for good education. Apart from the Goa Institute of Management or BITS Pilani (both tucked away from the Calangute Baga strip I presume), which sane parent wants to send their children to study in Goa? When I ask why Goa cannot be like Woodstock in Landour or other schools in Ooty, Khandala or Mount Abu, parents look at me in horror. ‘Are you crazy? You want our kids to be near those drugs, raves and nightlife? NEVER!’ Which is deplorable considering that Goa is the most creative environment for a creative mind. On a personal level I have a plan for a Design Institute in Goa. I am stalling the project because we have not done a survey of how many parents will be happy to send a design school student to Goa. I know I must look to the hinterland for such a project. As far away from Baga as possible.
All these points made, as the optimist, I am always with a ‘glass is half full’ attitude. I will not despair and loose hope. If rivers can go from toxic to treated, if deserts can go green, if mountains can be cleaned, if wildlife can be saved from extinction, there is hope.
Baga can be saved: physically, touristically, culturally, morally and environmentally. It can well become an example of learning from toxic mistakes and looking at a future where the very Goaness of Goa is returned to this once idyllic strip of beach.
There are, frankly, no choices in the matter… Shame and Sleaze or Change and Clean!