RESENTMENT: The Goans resent the takeover of the beaches by the Lamani tribe from Karnataka. The Lamanis though largely illiterate are very good at picking up languages and even speak Hebrew (Israel’s mother tongue). Many of them now qualify as bhumiputra and are changing their own names to Goan names and doing government jobs – which is causing much ire and anger in native niz Goenkar. Other outsider migrant settlers too are changing their names to make it easier for them to get jobs as well as Portuguese passports.
By Arvind Pinto
GOA is the only state in the country which treats people from all communities, be they Hindu, Christian, Sikh or Muslim, equally. Goans have a tradition of being a warm hospitable people. However, there is increasing resentment against the huge increasing population of migrants.
FOR many who come to Goa for the first time, one of the first things they notice is the Goan people’s friendly nature – as a people easy to get along with. As one goes about the state, drops in at the many bars and restaurants, one does not fail to notice groups of friends or family sitting around the table enjoying their drinks and food, while in animated discussion over subjects ranging from local politics to the price of vegetables or fish in the market.
Goans love a party, in fact all types of parties. There are beach parties, rave parties, parties in hotels, on ships, the latter are called casino or private house parties. Good food and above good liquor are a must for all parties in Goa. Thus, one of the selling points of Goa is – ‘The party never ends. Goa has become a party destination state, an entertainment state, especially for the several lakh of domestic tourists and middle-class foreign tourists who throng to the state in search of sunshine.
Unlike in the rest of the country, drinking alcohol has never been a taboo in Goa, probably thanks to the several centuries of deep Portuguese influence as also due to the Goan art of distilling local alcohol. The local spirit which is feni or fenny is a Goan countryside distillate – be it from cashew fruit or coconuts. There is a abundance of coconut trees in Goa because it is a coastal state. Cashew or palm feni is an essential liquor stocked in all Goan households and a dose of it is customary to imbibe before retiring for the night, or to serve as a welcome drink to guests, and even for use in many a Goan dish.
INTERESTINGLY enough, a Goan businessman has recently set up an unusual and first of its kind “All About Alcohol” Museum in Candolim, Goa. The 13,000 sq ft museum offers to the viewers a glimpse of the history of alcohol and Goan culture. The five-room museum showcases details of how cashew feni is distilled by crushing cashew apples and then the juice finally distilled, a very intricate process and almost a fine art. Visitors are also offered an opportunity to taste the feni in the museum.
In most Goan villages feni occupy a respectful place both in kitchen and storeroom. Goan men and women drink and love their feni — I remember as a child my grandmother would bring a bottle of feni along with little ceramic tumblers and serve it to everybody just before dinner. Workmen in the fields would be given rice, fish curry and feni for their mid-noon meal. At community feasts, a bottle of feni was the drink of the day; all the men sat in a circle, drinking feni from the little tumbler that were passed around. For in the villages, feni was not considered alcohol, but was known to have medicinal properties especially in the winter months.
DURING the Portuguese era, thanks to the low rates of taxation, alcohol was relatively cheap. Since in the ‘50s and ‘60s with prohibition in the then Bombay province, there was an active smuggling of liquor from Goa to “independent India.” Certain Goan business families owe their initial wealth to the smuggling syndicates organized by their ancestors. Among the elite families, most dinner parties would not be complete without a bottle of Port wine — the Portuguese wine from Opporto.
Interestingly, this Goan custom of drinking Port wine at dinner is no longer in fashion, probably due to the fact that Port is not easily available. Today Indian or foreign wines are common in wealthy, elite families. Interestingly, feni was not considered an appropriate drink at these “high tables.”
At most Goan villages in that era, the taverna or what is known today as the bar, would be an important place for the villagers to congregate after their evening work. This was the meeting place where men would sit with their friends over a glass of feni to discuss the day’s events, the price of fish and in general what was happening in the world.
Several decades ago, I remember being in one taverna – this was the time when the then Prime Minister Morajee was expounding his urine therapy while advocating prohibition. I remember one of the villagers who remarked “Let him drink his urine, but leave us to drink our feni – each man to his own poison.” I cannot help but remember these rural words of wisdom which I had heard!
HAPPY BAR CULTURE
BARS still continue to proliferate in Goa — travel by road into Goa from Sawantwadi in south Maharashtra or from coastal Karwar on the Karnataka-Goa border, while entering your first Goan village you will spot a wine shop or a taverna. In fact, most tourists leaving Goa ensure that their bags are packed with a bottle or two of liquor, since taxes even today on liquor are lower than in the neighboring states.
While the lowly village tavernas continue to draw their local patrons, many of the bars in the towns and cities have become sophisticated imbibing places offering a variety of exotic cocktails as well as branded foreign liquor. Most restaurants also serve liquor since many like to have a drink with their food.
Interestingly, alcohol was even served on the beach, until the government in 2019 started imposing a fine on public drinking and especially on beaches. Recently, the government of Goa was planning to allow liquor to be served on Goan beaches in certain designated areas. For in the mind of most tourists, especially male tourists, drinking liquor is part of recreation and for many travelling in Goa drinking good liquor is one of the joys of being in Goa! Goa has a liberal attitude when it comes to drinking liquor at the table or in the evening when family or friends may drop by for a celebration or some occasion.
It is this easygoing attitude and relationship with drinking a wide variety of liquor which make Goa the ideal celebration destination. Goans drink at home routinely and even for young adults in the family it is not perceived as a taboo. Liberal drinking makes this little state of Goa an attractive tourist destination and its beauty and good food, good liquor and friendly people attract tourists from the world over including India.