As we approach Opinion Poll Day, what the State needs is to predict the future by the changes that have taken place in the past
As mid-January approaches, it turns almost natural to get lulled into recalling the past and speaking of an event that every year fewer and fewer people can vividly recall. But that doesn’t stop the conversations in the bar, in the restaurant, at the village tinto, in the balcão, in the church square to revolve around the Opinion Poll that happened 52 years ago, and that gave Goa its identity. But recalling the past with fond nostalgia, while good, will not find solutions to the issues facing our State today. What we need today is to predict the future by the changes that have taken place in the past. Is it possible to see what Goa may look like 50 years from now?
In the book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler refers to a culture shock that occurs when the culture keeps changing so fast that it begins to feel foreign. Don’t be surprised as this may actually be happening in Goa even at this moment in time. Step out from the villages of the hinterland and take a stroll on the coast of Goa, there is a culture shock awaiting you. Let’s not go too far into the interior, but take two villages that in 1967 voted overwhelmingly to keep Goa a separate entity, two villages that five decades ago shared a number of similarities, but today that likeness has changed.
The distance from Curtorim to Colva is but a few kilometers, less than ten from the extremities of the two villages with just Margao town physically keeping the two apart, but there is a world of difference separating them. Curtorim still has that picture postcard quality with its green fields, its lakes, its typical Goan houses, the quaint market place, and once you go past Sonsoddo and enter the village, there are stretches of the narrow road where you can actually drive without meeting another vehicle for a couple of kilometers at certain times of the day.
Colva was a lot like this once upon a time and had something that Curtorim didn’t. It has the Arabian Sea lapping at its sands, and that is what made the change for the village. The village of silver sands and palm trees under which hundreds of romances sprouted to the sounds of twanging guitars and sultry voices is today too busy meeting the needs of the tourists who pour onto the sands in droves that has taken away that romantic quality of the place. Ask any Goan, and they will agree that change has transformed Colva taking away its old charm. The dunes and fields of Colva have given up their green for grey and other multiple colours, gaudy at times, to seduce the tourists and the people. As you drive into the village, you have buildings on either side of the road, where once the fields sprouted paddy, and as you get closer to the beach, the tourist businesses make it different from here. The waves of the sea no longer meet pristine sands but discoloured sand and bring with it the refuse that humans have been dumping into it. There are today more boats of the water sports operators on the sands of Colva, than the canoes of the traditional fishermen.
One wonders whether the people of Curtorim and Colva voted for the same reasons 52 years ago, or whether they foresaw the changes that would occur in the future. In 1967, it would be difficult to imagine the changes that would, in the decades to come, occur in Goa. The only real fear at that point of time was the possibility of merging tiny Goa with its big neighbour and being devoured by the giant across the border. Who thought tourism would change the face of the coastal villages or that mining would do the same in the hinterland, and that its old world charm would get lost with the passage of time?
Given where the land has arrived at today and the precarious position it is in, it is possible to predict that Goa, having taken the path of unplanned development is going down a path that will lead to another culture shock. The Opinion Poll was meant to protect Goa as a separate geographical entity and also retain the identity. The first has been taken care of, but Goans have not been successful at the latter. The identity has been watered down, the changes fairly perceptible, the language being slowly erased, and what Goa is left with are slogans and sloganeering in the language that they call their own.
The challenge today is to arrive at a broad political consensus that will safeguard our society, our culture, our identity from being consumed by the transformation that is taking place. Change in a land cannot be stopped; it can only be controlled so that the core identity of the people is retained, perhaps even nurtured. The opportunity that Goa got with the Opinion Poll may have been laid to waste in the past as none foresaw the changes that would occur, but can there now be a concerted attempt, since there is a growing awareness of change and a desire to retain aspects of the identity, to plan for the future with a dream of a Goa in mind?
For that to happen there would have to be a people’s movement. There is not much that one can expect from a political class that suffers from mediocrity when it comes to vision and future planning. It is up to the socially sensitive people to be assertive with the political leadership to reap the fruits of the Opinion Poll. We have some strong non-political groups that are commonly as activists, but could actually be better described as advocacy groups, that have the potential to force the political dispensation of the day to take measures to strengthen the identity and keep it from being further diluted.
A common lament as the State celebrates, or perhaps observes would be a better word, Asmitai Dis or Identity Day, is that Goa and Goans have wasted the gains of that poll of January 16, 1967. That could be because Goa, which had remained isolated from the rest of India due to Portuguese occupation, had not been able to gauge the transformation that would take place. Equipped today with the knowledge that is now available and the possibility to compute future changes based on available data, a think tank of citizens with no political affiliation could be set up to prepare the roadmap for Goa and for Goans, that would strengthen the identity.