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Living in Goa

Fenilandia beckons

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HAPPY MIGRANTS: Performance artist Nikhil Chopra has moved to Siolim, a village in North Goa, with his wife, art writer Madhavi Gore and their son

Why are so many writers, artists, photographers and culturewallahs moving to Goa?

While Mumbai and Delhi continue to bicker over which city should be called the cultural capital of India, Goa has quietly snuck into the arena and could well slink off with the crown.

This beautiful coastal state known for its beaches, Iberian architecture and gracious lifestyle rather than its dazzling cultural calendar might seem like an unlikely candidate, but if culture goes where the culturewallahs go, then there's something very cultural going on on its green-and-blue shores.

It's been a slow but steady drift. Over the last decade, a number of prominent writers, artists, photographers, film-makers, journalists, architects and intellectuals, mostly from Delhi and Mumbai but even overseas, have bought houses in Goa and started to spend all their time, or several months of the year, there. Drawn as much by the beauty, openness, and quiet surroundings as by its affordability - though that is changing fast - these urban refugees comprise what is now informally being called India's Left Bank.

Psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar, who bought a house in the South Goa village of Benaulim nine years ago, has spent many a pleasant evening at a local beach shack, watching the sun go down over a "meditative cigar and vodka". Others who now have homes in Goa include the economist Meghnad Desai and film-maker Saeed Mirza.

The slow pace suits Madrid native and magazine editor Lola MacDougall just fine. "Moving to Goa has not caused mental stupour or made me lazy, " says MacDougall who moved with her family from Delhi to Goa in February last year. "I continue to have the same standards of productivity I had in Delhi. The Internet connection can be tardy at times, but I see that improving. " Her magazine, Punctum, is dedicated to contemporary Asian photography and she also manages media relations for a photo gallery called Tasveer.

Performance artist Nikhil Chopra, whose work has been showcased at prestigious international venues from Tokyo and Venice to Oslo and New York, decided to move to Goa because he was excited by the possibilities it offered. "I love Mumbai, " he says. "I didn't move here because I wanted to leave things behind but I can't help appreciate the time and space Goa offers me. "

Chopra, who moved to Siolim, a village in North Goa, with his wife, art writer Madhavi Gore and their son only a month-and-a-half ago, is still settling in. Someone's who been there slightly longer, and has loved every bit so far, is Bharath Ramamrutham, who runs Graf, a visual communications and design firm. Ramamrutham moved from Chennai in May 2011. "Goa has always been on my radar and with the growth of infrastructure here it seemed like a great time to move, " he says. "Today it's well-networked with the rest of the country. My work allows me the luxury and freedom to work out of here. I'm at a stage of my career where I have the ability to undertake a move like this. "

According to the 54-year-old photographer, having a Goa address is increasingly been perceived as a chic way of saying one has arrived, both professionally and personally. "Goa today has tremendous brand equity, " he says. "It has a been-there-done-that vibe. Some clients get a little sceptical when they first hear that I live in Goa but in a matter of minutes they want what I have and are thinking of me as a very lucky dog. "

An architect by training, Ramamrutham chose to specialise in architectural photography and is currently planning a series of books that will dwell on domestic spaces in different parts of the country. "Since Goa is base camp, it makes sense to begin with the glorious architecture from here, " he says.

Goa has been muse to many photographers. While the late fashion lensman Prabuddha Dasgupta was one of the earliest of his tribe to relocate here, other eminents like Dayanita Singh and Bharat Sikka continue to divide their time between Goa and Delhi. One of Singh's memorable Goa photos is a warm, blackand-white shot of Amitav Ghosh and his family gathered around a planter's chair on the verandah of their home. Israeli photographer Sephi Bergerson has been living in Goa for almost a decade.

No cultural scene is complete without a good bookstore, and that's where Diviya Kapur's Literati comes in. The Delhi lawyer moved to Goa eight years ago, and started her new life by buying a rustic bungalow in Candolim. She turned it into a bookstore. Today, Literati, with its serene garden and cafe, is a popular literary and cultural venue - it has an active book club, which recently discussed Mohamed Hanif's novel Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, and regularly hosts book launches and art exhibitions.

Kapur lives in neighbouring Calangute, a tourist trap that has been run over by construction and commerce. "In my time here, Goa has seen some unregulated and unfortunate commercial growth, " she says. "On the other hand it has also matured culturally;there's a lot more going on. This is bound to happen as the Goa relocation trend grows;there will be positive and negative developments. "

Nor has it let Savia Viegas down. In 2005, Viegas, who used to teach at a South Mumbai college, moved to Carmona, a beautiful village on Goa's southernmost tip, right on the Arabian sea. "The move was an impulse call, " says Viegas, who had just returned after a Fulbright sojourn and was beginning to feel rather frustrated by the constraints of the workplace. "So I quit with nowhere to go. But since I was born and raised in Carmona and my parents still lived here and I had inherited a house, that's where I went. Looking back, it was the best thing I could have done. Carmona and Goa unleashed my creative energies in a way I never expected. There is so much to write about, and coming from outside and looking into Goan society again has been one hell of a wonderful thing for me. "

In the last seven years, Viegas has written two books - Tales From The Attic and Let Me Tell You About Quinta - has had a solo exhibition of her paintings, and has worked on two illustrated novels - Abha nama and Diddi - which will out later this year. All her work, she says, is "suffused with local flavour and colour and local idioms".

"I think it is a very good thing that artists and writers are moving to Goa, " says Viegas. "Diverse energies will create more sparks and its a good thing for the young people. I have been visiting colleges encouraging young people to write and slowly I think a lot is happening very quietly. It is a very good thing and it could not have happened if Amitav Ghosh had not moved here and Orhan Pamuk had not frequented. "

Chopra is equally excited at the prospect of like-minded people flocking to the state. Chopra hopes to bring a new energy to the scene by initiating performances, setting up interactions with students at the Goa Art College, Panjim, and perhaps even creating a residency model in his new home. He has already interacted with people like the urbanologist Rahul Srivastava. A former director of the Mumbai-based urban research group PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research), Srivastava moved to Goa in 2003. Having grown up in Mazgaon, an old part of Mumbai with a large Goan population, Srivastava feels quite in sync with his adopted home.

Earlier this year, after years of searching, Mumbai photographer David De Souza, 60, finally found land in Goa and is currently in the process of building a home on it. De Souza says, "No visit to Goa is devoid of interesting people. I find that the laissez faire attitude of the hippies continues to ring true even today. "

The influx of the affluent from other parts of the country has raised worries about escalating real-estate costs.

However, buying an old house is not always easy because of the number of claimants allowed under old Portuguese law, and the welter of disputed land titles. MacDougall, who currently rents a home in the village of Bastora, but hopes to eventually have her own home in Feni land, is anxious about the process. It is by all accounts an extremely complicated and even litigious process, she says. The process of setting up in Goa can therefore be long and challenging. Ramamrutham is not off target when he says that a Goa state of mind is not for everybody. "Goa needs more people who are genuinely committed to her and want to contribute to her growth, " he says. "It really doesn't need Delhiites who want to make it their Saint-Tropez. "

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