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Goa's allure

Goa is a state of mind


WRITERS' HAVEN: Diviya Kapur's bookshop and cafe Literati is a popular literary and cultural venue

Historically, Goa's allure has rivalled that of the mythical El Dorado. That mystique, combined with a cosmopolitan flavour and better access, is giving Goa a budding reputation as a Riviera of creativity. For 40-odd years, I have tracked Goa's more contemporary incarnations - hippie haven, trance and low-budget tourist attraction, Bollywood party stop, metro society getaway, and over the past few years, the darling of writers, artists, photographers, designers, documentary filmmakers musicians, academics from all over the world.

My first trip to Goa from Venezuela, where I grew up, was to visit my Goan grandparents. It was the sixties. I was six. The beaches of Anjuna, my family's ancestral village, had already become the playground of hippies, but only I realised the mythical proportions of Anjuna's reputation around the globe when, in 1993, burnt-out from metropolis editorship and consultancy, I moved into my ancestral home. When he heard the news, my friend Jack, a California '60s product, now a businessman in New York, said, wistfully, "You made it to Mecca. " For me, Mecca meant red tile roofs, the smell of wood fire stoves, no cable TV;I have always hated flower power and the sweet stench of pot.

Over the years, Anjuna's character has been inexorably altered, and is the site of loud raves and drug racketeering. I escaped to the quiet and more traditional village of Aldona. But the chaotic mishmash that Anjuna has become still has its aficionados. Swatee Kotwal Nair, is the co-director of the Blue Shores prison art project, is a resident artist and Mumbai import who made her name at Pundole in the '80s when it was perhaps the most credible gallery in the country, says Anjuna, with its freaks, offbeat stalls and beach shacks, retains a particular charm for her. About working in Goa, she says, "While it's a good place to work, the local discourse on art needs to be elevated to a more informed level. " To that, art collector, Haresh Chaganal (The Classic Source, Mumbai ), who spends much of the year at his home in the village of Saligao, says, "The art scene in Goa hasn't really developed yet, but it has potential for development;people like you and Raj are doing it. " He is referring to Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts, a process-based arts initiative spear-headed by Raj and Dipti Salgaocar and me, which opened in February 2009, and includes on its advisory board Saryu Doshi (chair), Rajiv Sethi, Dadiba Pundole, Vidya Deheja, among others, who are only too happy to have the occasional board meeting in Goa.

Home-grown Padma Shri recipient, Dr Aurora Couto, and my neighbour in Aldona, who returned after living away from Goa for many years, says, "Many successful writers, if not all, have partly lived in the West or still do;certainly it is the ethos that draws them here. They find both the isolation they need and a society that is congenial. " Booker nominee Amitav Ghosh and his wife, non-fiction author Deborah Baker, have also made a home in the village of Aldona.

According to Bengali import, Sudeep Chakravarty, author of Highway 39, who resides in the nearby village of Moira, "Creative people are drawn by the relative ease with which one can live in Goa. Though in Goa one is away from the networking opportunities of metropolitan cities, away from the social loops of several creative worlds, the space that I have in Goa makes up for that lack. " It seems Goa offers something to everyone. For me, it was the residual drama of the Portuguese colonial period that inspired my first novel, Skin, and kept me in Goa initially. A few days after it was finished, while wandering through Dayanita Singh's Goa exhibition with the artist herself, I found the perfect cover photograph, which she generously allowed me to use for the Penguin edition.

For all its historic importance, geographically, Goa is only 105 km long and 65 km wide. As a Goan, I am often anxious that the exponential influx of Goa-lovers will ruin the still magical elements that make Goa home;yet as a writer, I am relieved to have access to growing peer group, the absence of which previously impelled me to abandon my idyllic village life at least once a year for months at a time. The good news is that there are still a number of places in Goa where neither tourism nor development has drastically impinged on lifestyle. And many Goans, both native and new, are inclined to defend that remaining turf.
The synthesis of Goan and imported cultures is a creative work in progress, accounting for the exotic character of Goan life, infusing it with a distinct flavour in relation to the rest of India. More than a location, for many of us now living and working here, Goa is a way of being.

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