09 Dec 2018 01:22am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
Remember how Bollywood would almost always portray the Goan as a drunkard? Remember the man on the silver screen taking out a bottle from his hip pocket and taking a swig? And the woman in a dress screaming at him for his alcoholism? That image seems to have stayed put in people’s minds. Even as Goa takes strides in all spheres, the State continues to be slapped with insinuation for its alleged fondness for liquor. And even politicians do not hesitate to remark on this, though their statements are not direct, but rather veiled. But, listen closely and you catch some of the nuances of what politicians mean when they speak.
Union Minister Suresh Prabhu said something on Friday in Goa that has raised strong questions in certain quarters as to what exactly he meant. Speaking at a conference in Goa Prabhu said, “Ideas are there but to make it into form and to be converted into business opportunity needs some sort of creativity. And creativity has always been seen when your mind is calm. When you come to Goa the mind becomes calm and to make mind calm, Goa government reduced taxation on beverages which can make your mind strong.”
Really Mr Minister, just what beverages were you meaning? You have left us with no alternative but to infer that it is alcoholic beverages that you were referring to. The price of an aerated drink, whether in Goa or anywhere else in the country is the same. The cost of a cup of branded coffee or tea also remains the same in the entire country. It is only the price of alcoholic beverages that differs in Goa from the rest of the country. It is cheaper yes, because the tax is cheaper and that is why the tour buses that roll into Goa from other States bringing in domestic tourists stop at the liquor shops where the tourists purchase bottles of alcoholic drinks and take back to the their State, carrying along a permit that says that the final destination of the bottle of alcohol is Daman. Everybody knows Daman is not where the bottle of liquor will end at, and yet everybody overlooks it.
It is sad, but it is a fact that cheap alcohol does bring in tourists to Goa. But Goa does not advertise it. It publicises its beaches and its heritage structures. The relative cheapness of the alcohol is passed around by word of mouth, and appears to be as good a means of publicity than the advertising campaigns that the government of Goa spends on trying to entice foreign tourists, whose number is now decreasing. So are we to be branded as a State that has ‘reduced taxation on beverages which can make your mind strong’?
Today it is a Union Minister who has something to say about cheap alcohol in Goa, but this is not the first time that this is happening. At a World Economic Conference in London in the 1950s, Goa was paid the dubious compliment of being ‘one of the most intoxicated lands in the world’. The first half of the century was characterised by the fact that there existed one tavern for every 200 inhabitants in Goa. The population has increased and so have the number of liquor shop and bar licences. Goa has in the region of over 8,500 retail liquor licences – that works out to one liquor licence to every 175 persons. The statistics have remained more or less constant. The government has even gone out of its way to ensure that every bar and liquor shop that came under the axe due to the Supreme Court order of closure of alcohol outlets along highways.
Last year, during the discussions by the liquor traders and government regarding salvaging the business from the Supreme Court ban, the Liquor Traders Association of Goa, had said that about 47 percent of Goans are drinkers. According to their analysis, the drinking Goans contribute up to 92 lakh customers (the calculation appears to be per month), even if every drinking Goan had a drink on every alternate day. That’s a lot of drinkers.
Long years ago, the first paragraph of an article that appeared in the magazine section of a national gives an example of how people from outside the State look at Goa. The article started off in this way: ‘The allure of the azure sea. Sand, drenched gold by a benevolent sun. Feni under the leafy cool of palm trees. And at night, the relentless partying. If there is a hedonist’s haven in India, it is Goa. Prettier than a postcard, India’s tiniest State remains the vacationer’s hottest spot. And post-millennium, Goa’s become a hip international destination for trance-heads and rave-cravers.’ And Goa kept silent at that time. It still does. Sadly, the news reports of drug and prostitution busts in Goa that fill the newspapers only appears to give some credence to such statements.
It is the silence from the Goenkar at being typified in a particular manner that has allowed everybody to take barbs – subtle or otherwise – at the State. Goa and the Goan has been stereotyped to such an extent that many even look at the Goan as some kind of exotic species worth gaping at. Bollywood, of course had a hand in making people see Goa through such a tinted lens, but then Goa did nothing to change that image, ignoring this portrayal, quite content to let it pass. Today even Bollywood films on Goa revolve on the theme of drugs or alcoholism, or show that this happens in Goa.
If films get a creative licence and may be ignored for what they portray, we need to, however, be serious when Union Ministers talk of Goa in the same sentence as a State that has brought down taxation on beverages that can make the mind strong. So then perhaps the time has come to strengthen our mind and our resolve to fight the innuendo that is heaped on this State of ours and on us the people.