-Are you Goans?
-We are Indians.
As we were about to enter the AC seating area on the lower deck of the cruise boat, Deepak asked, ‘Are you Goans?’ His eyes twinkled as he held the door open for us to clamber into the space. Inside the boat numerous people were already seated. There were children, families, groups of men, newly-married couples – and us. They seemed to be in a mood for fun. But they did not know what to expect. Some of them had vacant looks on their faces. Others looked tired as though the cruise was the last thing on their bucket list for the day.
Ironically we seemed incongruous, and entirely out of place.
‘Indians,’ I replied. A bit affronted by my defensive answer, Deepak disappeared into the bowels of the boat to attend to his duties.
I was surprised when he went to the front of the seated crowd and assumed the avatar of an MC. ‘Bhaiyo aur beheno,’ he boomed. He was evidently playing to the gallery. In the numbers game tourists outnumbered Goans. It simply didn’t matter that we were on the Mandovi river in the capital of Goa.
This was a land of syncretism. A land where the Portuguese influence was felt the most, stretching over a period of no less than 400 years. Its forts, its altars, its maands, and its hills told a story of conquest and ceding. Yes, it was the Rome of the Orient. Could we not offer even a slice of this to visitors?
Deepak was exhorting the crowd to indulge in ‘masti.’ And then the capitulation to the naach-gaana of Bollywood film songs. All were urged to sing along through a Karoake act, with the transliterated Hindi words projected in English on a screen.
Rather than becoming an immersion into the legacy of Goa – like a sound and light show of Goa’s history -- the cruise, in its offering, bordered on the banal. On an overcrowded stage couples took their turn to shake a leg. Then there was a set only for the ladies. (‘No pictures or videos please!’) And finally a set only for the men. By then the men had downed drinks available on the top deck, and were in a mood for fun. They danced with abandon, shedding their earlier inhibitions. Disco lights fretted feverishly above.
Of course there were four Goan dances of a few minutes each. The koti dance was one. The last was the Portuguese dance ‘O malhao, malhao.’ The dancers seemed listless, unenthused by the charade.
Seeking refuge from the din, we headed to the top deck to take in the view. As the raucous sounds of merriment and music floated in the air from another boat I wondered what impression tourists would take back with them.
I hope it was not that Goa was a place with a permissive culture, with masti as its middle name, pandering to their whims for thirty pieces of silver.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 13th May 2018. Pix of Mandovi river at dusk on 8th May 2018, courtesy Brian Mendonca.