Wherever one goes in the world, if you stick around long enough and ask questions, the problems you perceive are pretty much the same. They obviously vary by degree and hierarchy, but not in basic content: there are too many of us, our governments aren’t investing in us, and there isn’t enough drinking water to go round. In the 21st century, potable water will replace oil as the most vital resource on the planet.
Sani is eighteen years old, and was sent here to Goa by her parents to earn some money. She is completely illiterate, but speaks four languages – Hindi, her local south Indian dialect, English and Russsian. She helps in one of the beach shacks (eye candy to attract the blokes, serving drinks and generally helping out with moving tables, chairs and sunbeds). They give her one meal a day, and she sleeps in a hovel at the back of the establishment. That’s not a “writer-hovel” by the way: I mean, a combo tent/den constructed from leaves and old rags.
She doesn’t get paid for her beach shack duties. “In return” for doing them, she is allowed to sell her jewellery. Her average daily take from doing that is 300 rupees. So Sani earns roughly 2000 rupees a week….for seven days starting at 8.00 am sharp until 10 pm. 2000 rupees is about £23.50.
I suggested that it wasn’t very much.
“It is better than nothing,” she replied.
Being Hindu, Sani’s marriage will be arranged by her parents. As she is drop-dead exquisitely beautiful, this is obviously going to bring an enormous dowry to her parents, and quite probably a man with great prospects. She doesn’t question arranged marrriage at all.
“Most arranged marriages are happy,” she says, before asking if you want to buy a ring.
“What if you fall in love with another man?” I asked. She laughed out loud.
“Love,” she said, “is a western idea”.
For traditional Indian families, there is “no point” in education or professional training for a woman. She is there for a dowry, a good marriage, cooking and children. Until the dowry comes in, she’s a cost centre.
There’s a vicious circle here. With education and training come broadened horizons, social mobility, eroded traditions, and relationships based on sharing rather than glorified slavery. With training comes the ability to earn more than £1300 a year, and smaller families. With smaller families comes a gradual end to overpopulation.
As I’ve been saying for years, the biggest problems in the world are “too many people and not enough water”. Clean water in India is a major problem still, but the country’s greatest dilemma is that even if it storms ahead at 10% growth a year for the next twenty years, it won’t be enough to employ everyone at a decent wage: robotisation will negate any small effects such growth has, and the water investment required is way, way beyond local or central government.
The answers are fewer kids, more training, and more investment in the infrastructure: that’s true from Nanking to Rio, but it’s especially true of India. At times here, the wilful neglect of citizen training and infrastructural upkeep are tragic to observe.
I will try to explain be example.
Wherever you go in the World, in retailing it very quickly comes down to those who know what they’re doing, those who know but don’t care, and those who just don’t know. Calangute beach goes on for mile after mile, and is home to maybe forty beach shacks – places offering sunbeds and wifi to drag tourists into the food and drink under cover. “Shacks” is doing them a disservice, because the majority of these emporia offer safe food (generally well cooked) plus safe salads, and packaged ice for drinks; the term is really like “sheds” in DIY superstore/tech hypermarketing.
The one I frequent most of the time is Pedro’s Place, because Pedro’s owner Cyril is an ethical man who employs nice, hardworking people – in particular his general manager Asha, who knows exactly what he is about. This in turn attracts a clientele who are good crack, some of whom have been loyal to the place for over fifteen years.
Asha, for example, was the first off the mark when it came to the mega cyclonic storm we had a week ago: not only had he seen the forecast, he had the equipment in place ready to deal with such an eventuality. The night before the high tides arrived, he and his staff + family dragged every last sunbed off the beach, piled several tons of sandbags onto the frontage of the shack, and made some temporary bamboo-and-bags steps so customers could still enter and leave without being carried off involuntarily on a single-handed crossing to East Africa.
The shack to Pedro’s right – run by sour-faced people full of hard-sell tactics and much muttering if you don’t succumb to them – arrived the next morning to a scene that looked like the set of The Poseidon Adventure. I suspect his neighbours come under the heading “Know but don’t care’. The point is, Cyril has invested in his staff – and that works on every level….for him and them.
As to the “Don’t Know” sector…..well, read on.
I’ve eaten meals in small greasy spoons, truckers’ Routiers, hotel restaurants, boutique restaurants, beach shacks and glitterati eateries in every region of the world except South America. I’ve eaten food cooked in Portuguese village pots and over African jungle fires, on Asian junks and West Indian ferries. I’ve breakfasted in tree-houses, dined in strip joints and snacked at motorway service stations.
Some of these experiences were pretty dire if I’m honest, but none of them plumbed the head-bursting ocean floor depths of a restaurant I ate in two nights ago.
The sign outside said Piccola Roma, thus giving off the strong suggestion it was serving food at least genetically connected to Italian culinary traditions in one way or other. I’m an international man of mystery you see, so I know that Roma means Rome and Rome is in Italy. There are no flies on me: I’ve done my savoir faire apprenticeship, and believe me I got a good 2:1. I have my naval proficiency in flags, and the one over the entrance I spotted immediately as the Italian tricolore.
There are many regional cooking and preparation traditions in Itay, so in reality there’s no such thing as “Italian” cooking. But there are such things as cooking based on Italian styles, chefs trained in Italy, chefs trained in cooking and able to read Italian recipés, chefs who are illiterate but have watched Italian cooks at work for maybe a few hours at least and even – saints be praised – expat Italians cooking justa da way Mamma teacha dem, now shaddapayoface and pay attention Guiseppe, yo wanna a be a bum all your life eh?
The Piccola Roma is situated in Calangute, a beach town of some size in Goa, and Goans are a delightful mélange of Indian and Portuguese language, religions, patois and cooking. Portugal is also (as I’m sure you know) quite close to Italy, and I can tell you – based on many pleasurable experiences over the decades – that they do have chefs in Portugal: they have sharp knives, they are familiar with meats, fish, poultry and veg, they make a wide range of salads, and in the middle of Algarve’s nowhere during the summer of 1984 I discovered what was, at the time, the best wine cellar andmeal I’d ever tasted anywhere. Here in Calangute itself, the tradition of great fish expertise lives on, fused delicately with Indian spices. The cuisine in Goa as a whole is tasty at worst and world class at best.
But none of this has had any effect whatsoever on the folks who own, and work at, Piccola Roma. At some time in the last forty years, the proprietors decided to milk the Italian identity and just take the money….aka, the piss.
They pulled up the drawbridge and cut themselves off from all local and global influences, training methods related to naming, preparing, cooking and presenting food, as well as any working knowledge of varietal alcohol. The attempts at total isolation has been an outstanding success. I’m just not convinced about the wisdom of taking such a radical step in the first place.
We all recognise, do we not, that moment when, soon after arriving at an eaterie, the thing to do is just leave before things get any worse. I knew in both brain and heart within seconds that this was the thing to do at Picccola Roma; but it had been a long day, and the east-flying jet lag was creeping up on me.
I asked to see the wine list. The waiter blinked, furrowed his brow and looked nervously from right to left. I picked up a wine glass from the table. “Wine list?” I hinted. He gave a small twitch and dashed off.
Another waiter arrived, armed with a wine bottle and the menu.
“Can I see the wine list first?” I enquired.
“Yes,” he said, proffering the bottle for my approval.
I observed the familiar name of Fratelli on the label. Fratelli is to wine exporting what Iberia is to air travel. I asked for a glass of house red wine. Waiter2 adopted a puzzled expression, and left. I in turn was left alone with the menu.
There was a Greek fetta salad on offer. And some fettucini al pesto. It sounded healthy, and the sort of stuff you could trust the budgie to cook. So when a third waiter arrived with a glass of wine and a notepad, I ordered those very options. He asked me if I wanted both things at the same time. I said no, I didn’t. The Red wine was ice-cold. It was also very sweet. After a great deal of enquiry, it turned out to be Madeira wine.
The salad was generously pockmarked with cheese, but it wasn’t fetta, and the dressing was from somewhere unrelated to either Greece, Italy or Earth. Look, I’m not being precious about this: the colour and consistency of the cheese was nearer to Emmanthal, and tasted like it might be Neanderthal.
Awaiting the main course, I noticed two tables in the opposite corner to mine. Both were occupied by obese Russian men, and nubile women following the money. There was much laughter fuelled by fawn-coloured fizzy liquid.
The fettucini pitched up disguised as a swamp. After a couple of tentative mouthfuls, I felt nostalgic for the taste of swamp.
“Finish?” said the waiter at last.
“Yes,” I replied. He giggled.
“Very small appetite,” he suggested.
“No,” I corrected, “very shit food”.
Soon afterwards, he brought the bill.
“No charge at all for main course,” he asserted proudly.
“Good,” I said, “because I didn’t eat one”.
Exploitative wages mean value for money, and in Goa, the value is truly unbelievable. But you have to haggle, because in India if you don’t haggle you’re some kind of killjoy idiot….or even worse, an intellectual. Even with such small amounts, their margins are good, so they will try a 300% markup and settle for 150.
This still means that somewhere further upriver, suppliers and their workers are getting screwed. But if 40,000 philanthropists turned up tomorrow and started paying decent wages, it would collapse the Indian economy….and that’s nothing to how severely they’d get screwed if globalist business bought their company. It’s a moral maze of course, but then all of human existence is like that.
A few examples of the cost of living here will suffice to make the point. A taxi to take you to a large shopping mall 25 minutes away, wait an hour and return is roughly £9. Fifteen items of clothing washed and pressed at the laundry is about the same. Full apartment clean plus linen change is £3.50. Omelette with toast and fresh fruit for breakfast is £2.50. Half a litre of good quality lager is 90p, and 750cl of the local 43% abv coconut hooch is £3.50.
The last of these items [left] is pretty fierce stuff – it should come with a free white stick and a guide dog – although mixing it with plenty of something else like for example a vat of papaya juice, serves to disguise the fact that it really is only a short distance from the spectrum end called meths.
An excellent 2-course fish dinner – and I mean, really good – will set you back £6, to include lashings of beer. Since arriving here, I have not touched a single cooking implement: there’s no point….at these prices, I can’t compete with the quality on offer. And waking up each morning to a clean kitchen is a joy I’d struggle to describe adequately.
But one has to accept the culture shock, go with it – and thank Christ you were born in the West. By all means complain when something is wrong and/or not as advertised; however, if you want every building to look immaculate and electricity supply or internet to be effortless, then don’t come here. You’ll get that in Monte Carlo. What you won’t get there is an apartment with two beds, two balconies and aircon about ten minutes walk from the beach for the less than princely sum of £11.50 a night.
The apartment I’ve rented is sparse but spotless, and is behind the quieter shop frontages on the Western side of Calangute. The complex it’s in could be termed faded elegance Indian-style; in Britain, it would be called a slum. But I have anything but slum landlords: teething problems have been sorted out quickly and effectively, and they’ve been enormously helpful in helping me find my feet quickly. Once or twice – on the way back home from Pedro’s towards the midnight hour – I have had trouble coordinating my feet, but I can hardly blame them for that.
Also, the company continues to purchase and renovate apartments in the complex, as well as improving those available for staff accommodation. But this isn’t typical here: Goa is archetypally Third World in its neglect of communal facilities like pavements, electricity supply and traditional architecture. Everywhere, there are fascinating ruins and delapidated villas (“Lieut-Colonel Ambrose Pinto Retd”) from the Potruguese Raj period, but the biggest boom industry right now is bulldozing and hotel building.
While the elegant old ruins are sad to behold, the might of nature in a tropical climate is ever-apparent, and staying on top of it is a fulltime job. All along Calangute strip, new high-rise accommodation is sprouting. But as yet I’ve seen no sign of anyone in local or national government here with anything approaching a clear idea about what kind of tourism Goa should try and attract, and how the charm of sandy lanes through tall palm groves can be retained.
Just this summer, jellyfish became an issue off the Goan coast. Jellyfish thrive on human pollution. One of the first signs that Greek islands were getting overdeveloped in the 1970s was the arrival of giant shoals of jellyfish.
There’s a lot of 1971 Greece in Calangute….except that in Greece, the stray population is feline. Here, it’s canine….but very likeable for all that. Unfortunately, there’s also an element of 1970s Costa Brava Spain in Northern Goa too. Predictably, the same pink blobs covered in tattoos (very probably the very same kids grown older) are now eking out their dotage here during the winter months; but they have new competition in the shape of Russians.
The smarter destinations these days are occupied by large divisions of Japanese infantry. In North Africa and Asia, the children of the Red Army are everywhere. Their drinking is, at times, alarming (that is, if you’ve never seen the Poles in action) their manners aren’t great, and the most popular national sport is without doubt belly-building. Most middle-aged Russian blokes look as if they need to go to an ante-natal centre and get induced before they explode.
But there is one thing that the Russians are still getting: a very good technical and literary education. Their general manner may be that of a flying brick much of the time, but they’re not ignorant. Talking to some Russian ladies last week – on a hen holiday from which husbands had obviously been banned – they weren’t Zil laners, but they all had jobs involved with making and exporting stuff. They also showed me shots of their various home towns….clean, modern, tree-filled places with good roads and nice parks.
Am I wandering again? No, I don’t think so: Russia is a million light years from perfect, but it takes pride in its achievements in educating, housing and training its people. Its exports are growing, and there is no overpopulation problem. It is less services and financially obsessed than the West, and it is trying hard to rebalance its economy away from oil.
Britain doesn’t have Russia’s problems: it has different ones. Russia is doing something about its problems, Britain isn’t. Russia has an enormous (and growing) mafia problem. Britain has a political class that has sold out to corporate amorality.
The problems may be different, but the key questions are the same: are you investing in the future of your People, are there too many people, and are too few people making too much money? Are you hidebound by tradition and blackmail, or are you up for the future? Are you constipated by religion and ideology, or are you practical and open-minded about the responsibilities and freedoms that go with democracy? Do you value the rule of law and equality before it, or do you think caste privileges overrule all other considerations? Is your desire for huge quantities of money clouding your respect for a stable society with a decent quality of life?
Investment, training, people, population control and water. Build a culture or make a mess. Er, that’s it.