Carnival. This three syllable word evokes feelings of nostalgia in me as I reminisce the good ol’ days in Goa when all the neighbourhood kids would gather along the River Mandovi Promenade near the famous Jardim Garcia D’Orta in Panjim to witness the majestic spectacle of wonderfully decorated tableaus, unbridled festivities, wacky eccentric costumes, hedonistic street music and dance all exploding in a riot of colour and merry making. The three days (and nights!) of fun and frolic are ushered in by the magnificent King Momo; a rotund man with a huge smile (and a waist to match!), invariably surrounded by a bevy of scantily clad beautiful women. He would issue the official decree-urging his subjects to eat, drink and make merry. Sigh! Between you and me, if even half our world leaders issued such decrees then there’d be far less wars and conflicts and I’d surely be singing “It’s a wonderful world!” But I digress.
This wonderful King Momo is followed by an entourage of colourful displays, musical acts, the ubiquitous brass band belting out jazz numbers, dancers in outrageous outfits and the sponsored floats. Huh, come again? Well the Carnival today isn’t the same as it was in the yesteryears. There are the multinational conglomerates, the cellular service providers, the liquor behemoths (surrogate advertising of course, liquor is considered to be a “harmful commodity”; ironically even in Goa where you get the cheapest booze in the world!) – all jostling for their share of the Carnival pie. With tourists descending from across the globe to witness the magnificent pageantry, the carnival parade represents a goldmine of advertising space. The sponsored floats however have come in for criticism lately, they simply slap on the brand logo, throw in a couple of pretty ladies gyrating to the latest item numbers, play some jarring music and voila! Barely even breaking a sweat they’ve availed of this opportunity to promote their brand in front of a massive audience. The traditional floats in stark contrast are painstakingly conceptualised with attention to the tiniest detail from the bright and flashy (albeit migraine inducing) costumes to the intricate artistry of the tableaus themselves. I particularly enjoy the floats depicting traditional Goan culture from the kunbis to the traditional fishermen and farmers. It takes me back to those simpler times when our major concerns were not the job markets or credit card bills but what would be served for dinner!(We Goans eat more than the clichéd xit kodi nuste(fish curry rice)!) but if I’m going to start on Goan cuisine this will never end!
Earlier Carnival was known as “Intruz” when we’d throw coloured water and eggs at passers-by, go for the village tiatr’s (traditional Goan theatre-not for the faint hearted-but for those with a penchant for loud music, even louder costumes and dramatic theatrics that would put most Hollywood/Bollywood stars to shame!) Being a foodie myself, Carnival represents unrestrained, full-on gluttony; gorging on lavish feasts till we can eat no more. (Elizabeth Gilbert should’ve visited Goa to put the “eat” back in “eat, pray, love”!) Carnival (“Carne”=meat) (“Val”=goodbye) marks the beginning of the Lenten season for Catholics when we practice abstinence from meat and all other worldly pleasures. So essentially, we fatten ourselves for three days culminating in Fat Tuesday (when there’s the famous Red and Black Dance at Clube Nacional); the day before “Ash Wednesday” that marks the beginning of Lent; a 40 day period of fast and penance.
Carnival today means big business. The hotels/restaurants/pubs/bars are packed to capacity almost rivalling occupancy rates during the peak season in November/December. The Goa government has finally woken up to its immense potential for generating the big bucks. Better late than never I say. So they’ve hired a fancy new PR firm, roped in a couple of Bollywood starlets as tourism ambassadors and decked the Capital city with lights (never mind the power outages some local residents have to bear).But that’s Goa for you. A land of eccentricities and contradictions; you have the travellers and hippies going about their business not a care in the world, the villagers enjoying a drink at the local tinto (tavern) and retiring to their afternoon siesta(nap); locals mourning the loss of Goan identity yet selling their properties to the land sharks/builders for tidy sums. It is a land where people of different religions and sensibilities happily co-exist; a melting pot of culture and diversity. At the end of the day, there’s no place quite like it-and I wouldn’t have it any other way.