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A few of us were sitting in a friend's sundrenched kitchen the other day, postbreakfast, talking about our upcoming projects. My friend, a sought-after designer, was arranging rainbow-hued plastic spoons on her polished wooden table - experimenting with the colour scheme for a new artsy-events venue. "You know what I wish?" she said, pretty and relaxed in her soft cotton dress, "I wish we were working at the highest level;our designing, our writing, our art - I wish we were achieving and succeeding at the very top, out there in the big world. We should go for it. "
Armed with fresh mugs of chai, we moved to her 'office' - an outside sofa overlooking lush green jungle. For a moment or two, while three koels and a bluebird tweeted their news from the glistening trees, our spirits wavered as we romanticised and fantasised about the life we've given up by choosing the life we have chosen. The phone rang just then;on the line, a top TV personality from Delhi working on a story. "Ooh, you are so lucky, living in Goa, how do you manage?" she gushed as we finished, "that is my dream! Someday, I'm going to finally break free, make enough money, and do it". "Come, " we tell her, but I doubt she ever will.
But others are making the move. Goa, so goes the current hype, has become the new national hub for alternative minded artistic and creative types, tired of the rat race in the major metros, etc (read: 'Amitav Ghosh Now Lives in Goa: a Trend is Born' ). One thing I know for sure: these rumours are like manna from heaven for property owners and real estate agents, who are suddenly showing houses with "perfect studio light" in the villages of Assagaon, Arpora, and Moira - all too expensive now for anyone except the seriously endowed. The cafê owners delight as well;everyone knows that artists and writers, their beret perched jauntily atop their head, like to sit for hours drinking endless cups of overly priced coffee in bohemian garden terraces.
But, ok. It is true that a new sub-culture is flowering here of late, different from the hippy scene or the 'come down and party' one of previous decades. Every country needs its own California, a place where - like in a bowl of muesli - the fruits, flakes and nuts can hang out together in perfect harmony. Goa, whether she likes it or not, has been attracting some otherly-minded folk, free spirits, cultural renegades, for a very long time, where, free to be themselves, they've invented a life that suits them. Of late, people are coming here to really do their thing, not just have a good time but manifest their creative visions. It is more a trickle than a flow;but, monthly, several more self-imposed cultural outcasts - both IB and NIB (' Indian born' and 'non-Indian born '), wash up onto shore, looking for a little quiet, a little moonlight, some good wine and a couple of close friends, and lots of glorious space for those inward journeys so necessary to some creative souls in order to thrive and survive.
Just yesterday, at the tiny village shop, I met an ex-CEO from Bangalore, in retreat in a crumbling house, working on his novel. "Ya, I'm lonely", he said, a bit gaunt, beard overgrown, "So what, I don't want to be distracted. " If he changes his mind, there is a lot going on, almost (not quite) enough to qualify us as a bona fide artistic hot spot.
Check it out in our new and funky weekly paper featuring cultural and community events. We've got cool NGOs saving animals, creating mobile libraries, and teaching videography to the disenfranchised;workshops on graphic novels, alternative photography, and screen-writing;A fabulously eclectic live-music scene and a budding vintage-film club. We even have an International Film Festival, a Festival of Ideas, and, reigning supreme, Tehelka's Thinkfest. Add to this plenty of yoga classes and organically grown muesli and, ladies and gentlemen, it seems we've got ourselves a modest scene.
All this has been met with some ambivalence by the thriving desi Goan artists etc who were doing just fine before their home became a hub to a few Artsy Outsiders. Quite a bit of segregation still remains and the relationship status is complicated. Those coming from outside, both IB and NIB, are often guilty of acting as if they have arrived in an empty land, ripe for colonisation, populated by nameless extras in an indie movie yet to be made. And possibly, and I say this with due respect, the desi Goans could try just a bit harder to get over their Outsider aversion. "A few young artists from outside have called me, asking about a studio or such advice" says Subodh Kerkar, one of Goa's premier artists invited to exhibit in Sydney and Berlin this year, "but otherwise none have mixed in with our group of Goan artists. Full integration would be of course a welcome thing", he adds, "among artists, among anyone, these kind of distinctions should not exist".
Happily, the different sub-groups have begun to intermingle, courting each other with shy hesitation. Except the musicians among us, man;these guys are breaking down those walls with a passion, with spectacular results.
But what about Amitav Ghosh, you ask, and who are the other big names? Would you maybe like maps to their houses and tours of their studies as well? The whole point of moving here, way across the world, down to the near bottom of the continent, was some peaceful sanity, a break from the mainstream, and blessed privacy. But if you do come down for a visit, do look for someone with a beret perched jauntily on their head in a Bohemian garden cafê. It will probably not be Amitav Ghosh but maybe you will find someone else willing to spin you a good yarn or two.
P. S. Somewhere out there lays a New Secret Hub for free spirited creative types, hype-less and pristine, and if you are smart, you will find it and get in on it before it is discovered by the national press.
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