Sunday, March 23, 2008

Silly Season and the Selfish South

Silly Season and the Selfish South
By Cecil Pinto

Silly Season, as a certain editor calls it, is upon us. People on the beach
belt and in the cities can see it. The non-tourist villages can read the
newspapers. Every year we see the cycle. First come the reports about how
many charters are booked for the season. Then the statistics of Indian
versus Overseas tourists. Following this the debates: Whether miserly
plumbers from UK are preferable to Trax full of alcohol imbibing Biharis or
big spending Russian mafia brutes with their sexy molls. A minor false
scare or two for the foreign tourists - stray dog bites, contaminated
water, molestation, planting of drugs... this year we can add 'garbage' to
the list. The River Princess has become so entrenched in our collective
memory that it is no longer considered a threat. Next the advertisements by
hotels for Continental and Tandoori cooks, musicians, waiters, activities
coordinators, vegetable & poultry suppliers and masseurs.

At Ground Zero extensive multi-cuisine menus are designed, re-designed and printed. So are vouchers, invoices, bill books, tariff cards and even feedback forms. Printing activity is almost as hectic as at election time, and equally prone to payment defaulters. Most hoteliers lament about
losses, however good the season has been. Supply deals are made for beverages and complimentary freezers. Garish vinyl signboards are replaced
with even larger, and more garish, vinyl signboards. The arguments for and
against rave parties begin and the relevance of a Madhya Pradesh Act,
regarding music, for a festive place like Goa is questioned. And finally,
the ultimate sign that Silly Season has actually begun. No, it's not the
arrival of the first charter. The annual 'Shack Allotment Controversy'
is the hands-down winner as the indisputable signal that the season has
arrived. Sarpanch versus MLA versus Panch versus Minister versus Locals
versus Last Year's Shack Owners versus Recently Self Appointed Social
Worker With Political Aspirations. The merry dance begins.

This year, strangely, the South Goa Tourist Taxi Association has jumped
their place in the queue and started agitating - before their allotted time
of beginning December. Their initial list of grievances demands not just
that hotels not be allowed to ferry their own guests in their own coaches
to and from the airport, but absolutely no sightseeing tours can be
conducted sans Tourist Taxis. My German friend Maxi is coming down
end-November. I guess I can't take him around on my motorcycle? The taxi
drivers also refuse to queue up outside hotels but will play cards and
carrom at home. The hotel has to call them up when there is a client and
politely ask if they wish to make a living.

Some few years back the South Goa Tourist Taxi Association drove down all
their Maruti Omni vans to Panjim and blocked the bridges to press for their
demands. Satellite photos of that time showed a strange glow in Panjim.
Whether it was from the white taxi tops or from the accumulated
belligerence is questionable. Since that failed they started stopping hotel
coaches and hammering up drivers. Next they began stoning coaches and even
manhandling the tourist passengers.

"We have loans to pay", they wail. "If tourism does not benefit the locals
then what is the point?". "The big hotels can make enough money from their
rooms, let us make some commission from Kashmiri handcraft shops at
least". "How come the North Goa Tourist Taxis don't have our problems?".
"How come they become friends and confidantes of the tourists and get nice
gifts and tips and dinners - and sometimes even a trip to Europe? Or even a
work or marriage offer abroad?". "What are we doing wrong? Why are we
determined to selfishly kill the golden goose for Rs. 8/- per kilometer
- and waiting charges?"

So many questions. So few answers.

In keeping with the Selfish South attitude I hear that the South Goa Shack
Owners Association is now demanding that all residential hotels can only
serve breakfast in their restaurants. Tourists have to have to have all
other meals in shacks and non-hotel restaurants. "We have bribes to
recover", they wail. "If tourism does not benefit the locals....". "How
come the tourist industry is vibrant in North Goa despite the airport
being in the South? Why are we paranoid about Mopa?".
"How do shacks, hotels, taxi drivers, pimps and MLAs peacefully co-exist in North Goa?". "We in the South have relatively uncrowded beaches, practically no drug problems or
aggressive ill-mannered Israelis. We have everything going for us. Why are
a few selfish taxi drivers strangling the cash cow?"

So many questions.

Cecil Pinto dabbles in advertising and flower selling - when not
writing and poking fun at himself and others.

The column above appeared in Gomantak Times on November 3rd 2005

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