23 Dec 2018 05:41am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
You may have heard of me, or perhaps you may have not as you only keep an eye out for little children. My name is Goa or Goem and I live permanently on the west coast of India. The reason you may not know me is that I am not a child, not the kind who runs around with mischief in mind, but a land sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and the Sahayadri range of mountains. Remember Goa and the blue mountains that Richard Burton wrote about? That Goa is me there, but at that time I was a different Goa, not the one that I am today. At that time I was a timid piece of land, subjugated by the Portuguese, but still what you call pristine, beautiful and a paradise. Graham Greene, when he wrote about me in the essay ‘Goa the Unique’ saw me when I had just escaped from the grasp of the Portuguese and been reunited with India, and then came the flower children and then more tourists and businesses and industry and I quickly changed from pristine to polluted. I offer this background so you can get an idea of me, because if you type my name on an internet search engine, you will see beautiful pictures of clean beaches and palm trees under a blue sky with the azure waters of the Arabian Sea lapping at my shore. But that’s marketing and you know what marketing can be like.
I thought I would write to you because there are a few gifts I would like this Christmas. I know, I know that you bring gifts only to children, and only to those who have been good during the year. But even though I turned 57 on December 19, what’s that figure in the age of a land? Or for that matter, what’s 57 for you who are a few centuries old? I’m still young, a child and the growing up pangs have not ended. Actually, had you been checking me out over the year you would have noticed that I am still suffering the pains of teething problems and deserve a few gifts like all other good little children do. Well, I think I do and I hope you think so too. In case you are confused, I’m 57 in this life, the past were other lives that can’t really be counted along with this one.
Here’s what I would like, and I do think that this is not too much to ask for.
Remember I am a land that has been ravaged, I pointed it out just a few sentences ago, so what I want is for my guardians, those who determine my future, to make a commitment to protect the environment. Let me tell you a few things that happened this year, and how nature got furious. The year had hardly started when the sea got quite angry and one day sent its waters quite a bit inland upsetting the shacks that are set up on the beaches every year after the monsoon so that tourists can sit and enjoy what nature has offered the land. I thought this sudden ingress of water was a sort of warning to my guardians that they have to change their policies, but they just ignored it. Later in the year, the monsoon that quenches my thirst every year came as usual, brining life to me, rejuvenating the plant life and you can imagine my happiness when it rained copiously. I thought I would be having one of the best monsoons in recent years, but suddenly the clouds disappeared and the rains stopped. I was left dry, there was not enough rain to fill up the ground water that is being continuously drawn by those who live on me and with the permission of my guardians. It is quite scary for me, and it turned a little bit more frightening when the winter decided to delay coming. It was hot even in November. I must reiterate Santa, that if you don’t send that commitment to the environment then next year I don’t know whether I will be in a position to be writing to you. Who knows what more warnings nature has in store, or whether there will be no warnings, but firm action from nature, the kind that it sent to Kerala. I shudder to think.
The second gift I want is for my guardians to understand just how much I can bear.
If you look up the new vocabularies that are now available there is a term called ‘carrying capacity’. Are you familiar with it? My guardians don’t seem to be, so I want you to send them this understanding because without that, I will not survive for long. I said earlier that I was once pristine, now I’m not. The reason for this is that where there were hills is now red mud as miners dug deep into my bowls in search of minerals that they extracted and shipped to lands overseas. I am a generous land and I am glad to give of my resources, but some of these miners got greedy and began to take even more than they had permission to extract. It got so bad that suddenly one day a retired judge calculated that thousands of tonnes of ore had been illegally dug from me and the mining sector was brought to a halt. I was glad, but it restarted after a few years, but earlier this year it was stopped again. I am told that there is a big movement to start extracting the ore again. My fear is that this ore is a resource that cannot be replenished, once it has been all taken from me, there will be no more, so they have to be careful now before much is taken away.
If that happened with the hills, then here is the story of my fields. At the onset of every monsoon the farmer would yoke his bulls and plough the field and grow paddy, once it was harvested the lads would come with a ball and kick it around until sundown, their feet swiftly running over the land tickling me pink and their cries bringing more reason to my existence. Then suddenly it changed. The farmer put away his plough and sold his cattle and also his land. Heavy machines trampled upon my fields and dug into the earth and where paddy sheaves once swayed in the wind, there rose concrete buildings. This carrying capacity is important because I don’t know how much more I can give of myself to the people of the land. These guardians – they change every five years – have to learn that the pressure upon me is increasing and I may not be able to bear it much longer.
These are just two gifts, and as I said Santa, I don’t think they are undeliverable. You can make this Christmas grand for me and for the people who live on my land, with jut these two gifts. I trust I can expect a delivery as I have been good, even if those who decide for me may not have been. But then, you decide on the gifts by how good the recipient has been. I await your delivery this Christmas morning.