Sunday, July 17, 2011

An aberration the Taj Exotica

The Taj hotel--the name conjures up images of luxury. The Taj Exotica at Benaulim beach in Goa wasn't a disappointment in that regard. The hotel was beautiful, the staff attentive. Every square inch of their space was wonderful.

We were there to spend a few days to celebrate our older son's birthday.

We enjoyed the room, the food, the lush green lawns.

Then we visited the beach.

That was a aberration.

I have seen Benaulim in the eighties. White sands, clean , pristine, it was free of five star luxury then.

Today under the care of the Taj resort it is a mess. Stray dogs roam freely, their excreta is often underfoot. The plethora of plastic water bottles the hotel provides the guests also litters the beach. Thermocol, paper, plastic bags. Dirty, sad muddy sand.

"Not our property, madam, it is government property," I am told when I speak of this aberration to the manager.

Yes but you do realize your guests might enjoy using the beach, don't you? When your staff cuts every blade of grass to perfection, could they not perhaps also extend that courtesy of care to a few feet beyond your grounds?

Guilty looks but apathetic minds, I sense.

They try and apologize. I ask them what they plan to do to make difference. Nothing specific is offered, just empty words.

A plaque proclaiming their commitment to the environment hangs by the manager's desk.
I point to it asking them why they bother? Sheepish grins result.

A one time aberration, says the area manager in an email to me. I respond with strong words. No reply. I ask them to tell me what if anything they plan to do. No reply.

Well, I am a small one time tourist but this I can do. I can tell everyone I know.

Don't go to the Taj Exotica on Benaulim beach in Goa. Not if you'd like to spend any time on the beach.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The air is thick, moist. A strong whiff of jackfruit hits me every now and again--a dense, sweet yellow colored fruit, its aroma also sweet, sticky, strong.

Crickets ferociously cry even during the day.

Intensely green foliage between major thoroughfares deceives one into thinking one is in the middle of a tropical wood. Coconut palms rustle everywhere. There are small and large ponds of cool green water. The river Periyar flows into little rivulets creating the ponds.

Narrow streets lead one into the residential areas, their tranquility shattered every few minutes by the blaring horns of cars and motorcycles. Flanking the streets are houses of such variety. Red tiled roofs of glorious erstwhile beauty, boldly colored outer walls ranging from shocking pink to lemon yellow and pistachio green. Large wooden doors decorated with brass trinkets. Some are humble homes from years ago, many of the new are palace and pagoda like--over the top showing off opulence--symbols of prosperity earned in the Middle east. But tasteful all the same.

Temples of yore everywhere--black stone structures mostly. Idols are smeared beautifully with sandalwood paste giving the idol features. God is here. I can feel the presence of a higher power. Perhaps this is because of the peaceful surroundings, perhaps merely because the giant brass lamps lit remind me of happy childhood rituals, perhaps because the women temple goers with wet, freshly washed hair hanging down their backs remind me of how my mother looks during festival days or perhaps because the mantrams are chanted in sonorous voices and the drum beats during prayer time is haunting and hypnotic.

There are sweet expressions on the local folk accompanied by curious stares as I walk by with my baby in his stroller. Close to this little town is the village where my father is from. Not far is the town my mother's people hail from.

I look like the people around me with my dark skin, my unruly curly hair. And yet they know I am not one of them. My clothes, my demeanor, my aura perhaps screams outsider. I know that if I should open my mouth I would reveal that I am indeed an outsider. For although I am from here I speak but a smattering of the local Malayalam.

This is God's country--the tourist posters scream. This is my country, my past. My heritage. This is the place I had once thought could be something more. I had hoped, wondered if it could be home.

But no. This is not home. No, sadly, this is not home.