Opinion DC Comment 19 Nov 2022 Ranjona Banerji | To ...
The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media affairs, politics and social trends.

Ranjona Banerji | Tourist life, ‘real’ life and the fate of being invisible

Published Nov 20, 2022, 12:05 am IST
Updated Nov 20, 2022, 12:05 am IST
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This is a game us locals regularly play. We look at the car numbers which pour into the city at weekends and abuse them for driving badly and clogging our roads. Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, these are common. Gujarat and Maharashtra are unusual but seen now and then. But what on earth is that numberplate from Telangana or Arunachal Pradesh or Tamil Nadu or West Bengal doing this far north or west?

Dehradun is not exactly a tourist destination, but it is a gateway to tourist spots from Mussoorie and Dhanaulti to the Char Dham Yatra. But the attitude of locals remains the same, unless the tourists spend money at local outlets. Helicopter rides to wave at the gods from on high fails both the religious test and the local outlet tests.

One of the effects of the pandemic has been people coming in from the plains of North India to buy every available spot of land, pushing land prices to exorbitant levels. The land mafia is having a blast from all accounts. Random and unplanned “development” is everywhere as well as crackpot infrastructure schemes, which do almost nothing for local problems but will presumably help visitors get from X to Y with relative ease. Truth be told, even those schemes are so flawed that even greedy developers may not profit as much as they hope!

Is this the same everywhere?

On a recent short trip to Goa, I tried to evaluate myself as a tourist.

Did I take a helicopter?

Er, no.

Would I like to get onto a chopper once in my life?

Er, maybe.

So that’s two points.

I did, however, hire a car. Minus two, although in my defence public transport yada yada and I bet all the tourists say that.

Anyway, our first foray to the beach for sea, sand and fish was jinxed by the tourist travel overlord. Note to self, maybe a helicopter darshan of any deities is better than none at all? The car started fine, heated up, and sputtered and spluttered. The mechanics asked cynically, “Hire car?”, even though it did not have a yellow numberplate. And then instructed us that we had better get our money back because some gasket was about to blow and muttered dire predictions about that childhood favourite collapsing part of my Ambassador childhood — the ever-menacing and ever-dangerous fan belt.

We tucked our humiliated tourist tails between our tourist legs and stopped at a tourist trap for a stupendous fish thali with bombil fry added. Laugh all you want, it was fabulous. Surmai and prawn and crab and bombil and never has the boring cabbage been so exciting.

The next day, we made the trip to the sea, laughed at other tourists falling off banana boats, ignored the fact that all the locals laughed at us regardless of our attempts to be cool, ate too much and felt happy with the world. That evening saw us at a popular joint that was off the tourist track. This made us full of our self-importance. No doubt they see through our types in the non-tourist haunts as easily as they do anywhere else.

Much as Goa has been a tourist trap as well as a tourist magnet for decades it has neither the suave, smooth face presented by Rajasthan nor the bumbling infrastructure inadequacies of Uttarakhand. It sort of exists in its own contradictions; perhaps that is what adds to its charms.

My first visit to Goa in the early 1980s was of a very different place. The hippies still ruled, everything was budget and hordes of Indian tourists had not yet descended. Then I visited in the 1990s because my sister lived there and you learn quickly how tourist life and real life have so few meeting points. Much water under and over the bridges since then and frankly many more bridges built as well. But to the untrained eye, and all the mining licences aside, Goa’s natural beauty does not look as denuded as Dehradun’s surrounding hills… yet.

And although one hears horror stories of marauding Northern tribes scouring the Goan countryside for traditional “Portuguese-style” villas to conquer and interior-decorate, you still have enough old architecture around Goa, to satisfy your need for continuation and culture. Unlike Dehradun where that ugly ubiquitous Indian-speciality concrete square shell rules all forms of building, from shops to homes.

It's a mug’s game though to get into the locals-versus-incomers play. No one wins. And the ripples are felt long after the people are gone. After all, many of us want to travel, most of us want to go home and only a few want to stay on. And let’s not forget we can all be outsiders even in our own homes.

Okay, that’s enough philosophy. I came in peace and I leave in contentment. I return to my own sphere of angry mutterings, of being locked into my home over the weekend because of incoming traffic on the main roads, and giggle a bit at picnickers who forget that people live in these country roads which they see as getaways. And then I stare at the mountains. And I know they have to be shared.

But next time, please, just drive a little better, buy a little local and remember, we can see you even if you don’t notice us!

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