I remember my village of Saligao as idyllic. In so many ways it still is. Gentle rolling hills full of cashew trees, a sprawl of a thousand slopping roof houses and the soft sight of green paddy fields making waves in the breeze. Coconut trees dot the village and drainage trenches that turn to streams each monsoon. It’s a calm village, full of a gentle people, each busy with trying to carve out an honest living.
I remember the hills of Saligao the most, for that’s where folks took their goats and cattle for grazing and that’s where you went to snack on the rich fruits of cashew and Jambuls. As little kids, you looked up into those huge trees and imagined vampires and ghosts. Those solid tree trunks took on menacing shapes. We scrambled up and down smaller trees, and I remember playing house as the goats grazed on the rich grass. There were flowers of varied hues and fruits that looked pretty, but you dared not eat. As we played, we could hear the incessant thud of wood being cut, then, villagers relied heavily on this hill for firewood. I remember the night air filling with the eerie howl of foxes and wondered if like the grandmother in red riding hood, they could get near enough to devour us.
Each cashew season, we went into the hill to sneak out a few cashew seeds which we carefully dried out and roasted. On a rainy day the fragrance of roasting nuts filled the neighbourhood and it was delicious. Cashew juice is also extracted to make alcohol, but before the process of fermentation begins, it makes for an interesting, non-intoxicating drink. I remember taking glass bottles and going up to buy ‘niro’ as we call it.
Sometime later the hill was fenced off. The forest department took over, cattle and goats were prevented from going there to graze, guards prevented people from cutting stacks of fire wood and new trees were planted. The green cover got denser, we could now hear the distinct call of peacocks, and those who saw them admired their large, rich plumage. It seems rabbits thrived, the wild boar, once excessively hunted returned to feast on the succulent cashew. The endangered monitor lizards roamed free, the dwindling foxes were back again in large numbers. In the thick foliage of creepers, wines and massive trees one can hear the call of many species of birds. Yes, it’s idyllic or almost, for a decadent industry crept in, unobtrusively and nonchalantly like a breeze, it is a so called clean and green industry, it is glamorous on the outside, but a cesspool on the inside and it is called Tourism.
My village boarders the world famous village of Calangute, better known for its crowded beach, and when the tourists have come and had their fill at the hotels crammed into a few kilometers of space, trucks of waste find their way closer into my relaxed, sleepy village. The garbage has been dumped on the crown on my idyllic village for over a decade now, unsegregated, rotting, untreated, all types of waste. An abandoned quarry that is alight all year round, sending up plumes of smoke in the middle of a picture perfect scene of thick grass filled with morning dew, scampering rabbits, chasing foxes, scuttling birds, languid water buffalo and mud-puddling butterflies.
The stray dogs and scavenging raptors have made the garbage dumping ground a war zone, the rising clouds of smoke has injected toxins into the air, and the fly ash has seeped through the red laterite rock and contaminated our famed, medicinal Salmona spring. Yet local people with no access to any other means of portable water continue to consume it, even as the contamination seeps further into the ground. The people protested, albeit feebly and the garbage dumping continued, unabated, year after year, leveraging the unassuming loopholes in the law and the superficiality of boundary lines.
Now the famed village of Calangute is tired of the charade and wants to wear its pride and forex contribution to the state coffers on its sleeve. No more sneaking into your village with our stinky trucks of garbage they say. We are going to ride in with pride and as victors; we are going to dispose of our waste at a modern day ‘garbage treatment plant’, and they have brought their Goebbel’s along with their magical bottles of star dust.
Pictures of Saligao courtesy Nagaraj P
Pictures of the garbage site courtesy Dean D’Cruz
And the script is not new here. It is exactly what the capital city of Goa – Panjim did to the tiny, exuberant village of Curca, not so long ago. Under the guise of a World Bank funded project, day in and day out, they strong armed their way in, with trucks carrying tons of waste. Feel privileged, it’s from the capital city, it’s the waste of the elite they seemed to taunt, as they dumped their contents into an open abandoned stone quarry on the crown of the village. A tiny vermi composting unit stood in a corner, a farce and façade rolled in one. And then I looked on at what was to be my first glimpse of proverbial hell, a little hut of rag pickers amidst the swirling smoke of burning garbage, as dirt smeared folk rummaged through massive stacks of garbage, trying to eke out a nasty living.
So I need no soothsayer or fortune teller to tell me how this is going to end. It’s a well-worn script and it’s going to be played out with a foretold conclusion. My village of Saligao is going to be the newest goat at the sacrificial alter of tourism or development, however you want to see it.
There are always those with miserably short memories, there are always those greedily yearning for those pieces of silver, and there are always those who arduously pave the way to hell with their good intentions, I think this lot will win, against the prophets who have not been acknowledged for many decades in their own village, and will not be now. And my village of Saligao will live on in a corner of my mind, a little of it dying each time a new truck comes by and empties its rot onto the softest grass and putrid pungent stink fills the crisp clean air, and the reverie of a wonderful village is broken.