What Vasco da Gama would find in India if he were to return today:
Many a change would strike Vasco da Gama were he to return to India today. The famous port city and trading capital of the east, Calicut has now been renamed Kozhikode. The Zamorin is no longer the ruler. The reigns of the Rajas of India are over and India is now one country. I have no idea where the descendants of your friend the Maharaja of Vijaynagar are. Their capital Hampi is in ruins. The Maharajas were all stripped of their special privileges a couple of decades ago, their princely possessions having been annexed some time before. Oh yes, even the 'Pearl of the Portuguese empire' i.e. Goa is part of the Indian Union.

India has the second largest population in the world. The advances in education and technology have rocketed in leaps and bounds. Besides spices, India is now also exporting scientists, engineers, doctors, computer personnel and software, teachers, accountants and skilled artisans to many countries round the world. Many of these individuals are helping other nations in their quest for a better infrastructure.

You ask Why are they traveling the world over ? Well dear VdG - it is surprising that of all the people you should ask that question ! For the same primary reasons you VdG embarked on your historic voyage ! Money and the spirit of adventure !

There are other social changes too! The horrendous and discriminatory Caste System is slowly running out of steam. It is true that it was originally practised only by the Hindus. But in Goa, even Catholic converts from Hinduism continued to use the Caste System to discriminate against others.
Only a tiny minority of  Goan Catholics have reverted back to Hinduism. Almost all of them live in the area around Old Goa. They are probably the only Hindus with Portuguese surnames. A sprinkling of Catholics have however changed their surnames to their ancestral Hindu family names. No, there are no examples as yet of any Catholics who have reverted back to Islam. Hindu and Catholic Goans get along fine with each other except perhaps at the times of elections. The politicians have perfected the art of 'divide and rule' quite effectively.

A woman is no longer expected to become a 'Sati' by jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband. You remember Sati of course don't you ?. It was Afonso da Albuquerque who banned it in 1510 by decree! In recent decades Indian women have done very well. It is to India's credit that no significant gender based discrimination occurs at the work place or even in political life. Sure ! within the home it just might be another story !

The other problems experienced during your stay in India half a millennium ago, continue. The intense inter-religious distrust between Hindus and Muslim continues unabated. The age old conflicts and rivalry appear destined to continue ad infinitum. There also is rampant corruption among government officials. No ! No ! you are not being asked to set the house in order ! The country as a whole is much richer but the poor are having a rough time. Prostitution continues to increase along with the woes of the poor ! This time around it is the unfortunate children who are being trapped into the network of paedophiles, many from Northern Europe.

Yes ! the snooty Brits have left ! they did so just over 50 years ago. And it appears that they took a lot of Indians with them to the UK !

Goa ! Ah ! what can I say ?! Well let me put it this way ! There have been some positives . There have been significant strides in education, rural electrification ( but not necessarily electricity ), transportation, roads and health care facilities ( but not necessarily health care ). ! The Catholic Church, especially the Society of Jesus ( the Jesuits ), has played a major role in providing the very high level of primary, secondary and tertiary education all over India. Credit is also due to the Congress Government of India for its vision in investing so heavily on education and technology in India. At this moment India has become a powerhouse of highly trained and skilled scientific minds.

But the Goa you knew when you took over as Viceroy is slowly disintegrating ! Not that everybody is really upset about it. The magnificent city of Old Goa which was described by Goemcho Saib Francisco Xavier, as a COISA PARA VER is mostly in ruins but for a couple of churches. Goa has become dirty, disorganized and depressingly corrupt over the past 30 years. Gone are the days when Goa was safe and its cafés stylish and exquisitely clean. The beautiful and artistic buildings in the cities have been torn down and replaced by some grotesque monstrosities. The classy evening functions like the Medical Ball, the Milagres feast dance, the Carnavalo,   the Festa de Leques or the Harvest dance you may have heard of or read about, have been replaced by 'plastic' variations. In contrast however, many of the lovely family homes in the villages continue to remain lovely even if some have fallen to neglect and desertion. The food is just as good as ever and the famous 'vindalho' is now an international delicacy. The music remains as delightful and lilting as ever even though one hears less of the viola and the famous Goan violin. Many Goans have left Goa - some in bitter disillusionment and some for better opportunities. Many return - some as often as annually. Almost invariably they all have a great time especially with their family and friends. And after their holiday in Goa, with a couple of tears in their eyes and a heavy heart, they go back to the place they had come from. For many Goans, there was no option but to stay on in Goa and for countless others, Goa was the only place they were willing to be in. The affluent among the latter are quite happy. They live comfortably at home and travel as, when and where they please ! There are many Goans who yearn to go back and resettle in Goa. They have worked long and hard in strange and often inhospitable places; and the red mud, rice fields, coconut palms,  raindrops and the prawn curry and rice   beckon them home. Yet almost without exception they get caught in the mire of corruption and red tape. Most learn to side-step it or live with the problems. Some become totally disillusioned and return from whence they came. A growing number try to make the best of both worlds, spending the winters in Goa and the rest abroad.

Christmas is the best time for you Vasco da Gama to meet many of them in Goa.

There is one enemy of yours who has returned recently ! perhaps to protest against the celebrations of your voyage ! It is that dreaded malaria causing Plasmodium falciparum. Unfortunately, this parasite has plans to stay on long after these 500th anniversary celebrations are over ! Malaria and AIDS, a disease you may have been told about, are set to create havoc on the West Coast of India.

And where are the social commentators, activists and others ? and why are the intellectuals not doing something about this or the other problems afflicting Goa ? I don't know whether you noticed, but they are out there protesting your arrival in India and busy burning effigies of you !

To be fair to many of the activists, journalists and like ... they have tried but failed in their effort to effectively mobilize the social consciousness of the people against the frank incompetence of the political operators and the ongoing unfairness that the populace has to continue bearing. The politicians have become intolerant of dissent and have effectively suppressed or marginalized the objectors. What else can they do now ....but protest against you ?! You will agree that they need something to justify their very existence...will you not ?! I wonder what they will do next year ! perhaps they will start the run up to the 500th anniversary of the Conquest of Goa from the Bijapur Turks ... in 1510 ! Ah! we shall probably have just to wait up and see.

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  • Updated:
    November 18, 2011