There’s a delightful English saying: Don’t Throw Out the Baby With the Bath Water. It warns overzealous reformers who, in trying to get rid of unwanted elements, cast away the essentials as well.
The government of Kerala has precisely done that. It knows that alcohol has destroyed the homes of many of its under-privileged people. Instead of fine-tuning its response to solve this specific problem, it has allowed itself to be panicked into using a bludgeon where a scalpel was needed. It thought of imposing a wide ban on the consumption of alcohol in the state. Then it had second thoughts, and said “But we shall permit our state-owned Beverage Corporation to continue selling alcohol.” So the under-privileged continue to form longer and still longer queues at these booze outlets, gulping it by the bottle, and then staggering home drunk and broke to their distraught families.
Curiously, those who shun inebriation but consume their pegs in the sociable company of their friends in hotels and restaurants can no longer do so. Not unless they go to glitzy, over-priced, five-star hotels. God’s Own Country, however, is not famed for such properties. Its USP is its privately owned, often stand-alone, facilities that give visitors a true feel of its regional specialities in architecture, lifestyles, food, handicrafts and terrain. These places do not conform to the stereo-typical bureaucratic pattern that identifies so-called, ‘starred’ establishments. They offer highly specialised services or products which is the dictionary definition of boutique.
Since an essential part of the boutique-living experience is relaxation and having an unwinding drink is part of this, Kerala’s prohibition policy is likely to affect its carefully nurtured tourism image. Tourism entrepreneurs, particularly the little ones who have poured their life savings into their ventures, would like to know what to expect. We, in India, are proud of our democracy. We know that though governments might take skewed decisions occasionally, opting for their short-term survival rather than the long-term benefits of their citizens, the expressed will of the people makes the final decision. And that decision is being made every morning in the little tea-and-newspaper stalls unique to the roads of Kerala. These are the bedrocks of Kerala’s vibrant democracy.
But you, as another stake-holder in Kerala’s tourism success can also tilt the balance. The 2014 edition of the Kerala Travel Mart is the first major international travel event being held in India after the imposition of Prohibition in Kerala. If you are either a Buyer or a Seller in this KTM, you will be asked to express your opinion. Please do so. Your view could decide the future of the tourism industry and of the government.
So far the sudden announcement of Prohibition in Kerala is just a hiccup: a slight irregularity. There is also another one in another state popular with national and international visitors: Goa.
The little coastal state of Goa was ruled by the Portuguese for more years than the British ruled the rest of India. Under the influence of the Iberians, many of the people of its costal lands converted to Christianity, particularly Catholicism, took Portuguese names and adopted a largely western lifestyle. Thanks to this, and its extensive palm-shaded beaches, it has become very popular with tourists. Initially the influx was from the nations of Western Europe, Indian tourists followed and then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rising affluence of Russians, East Europeans and young Israelis flocked in. Thanks to the richness of their tropical state, and their Indo-Iberian culture, the coastal Goans had the friendly, easy-going manner of the people of another former Portuguese colony: the Brazilians. In fact when we were researching Goa for our book, ‘Discovering Goa,’ we learnt that Goa’s pre-Lent Carnival was patterned on the famed spectacular carnival in Rio though it was not quite so uninhibited. For some of its more conservative citizens, however, Goan lifestyles were altogether too liberal.
Recently a senior politician of a rightist party in Goa began to rail against women in Goa wearing bikinis. It is more than likely that, swimmers and sun-bathers have been wearing bikinis on Goa’s beaches for over 50 years that is shortly after Goa joined the Indian Union in 1962. Possibly, the politician raised this issue because he felt that the political climate would now favour his stand and he would gain brownie points with the far right. He proclaimed that, in his opinion, bikinis were against “Goan Culture.” He even went further and proposed that special beaches be segregated for people wearing bikinis. And then, in a truly creative flourish, said that a fee should be levied on all those who wished to enter such beaches. He did not specify if such entrants should be obliged to wear bikinis or if they could come as voyeurs along with their cameras and slavering prurience.
Happily along with these two hiccoughs, there is also a hurrah! Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is reaching out to the world to make India a manufacturing hub so we can expect an influx of foreign technicians with their 21st Century lifestyles. This will call for an attitudinal change in our lawmakers who will have to shed their holier than thou hypocrisies. Consequently we, in the world’s most aspirational industry, tourism, can look forward to much better days ahead.
We’ve got to throw out the dirty bathwater and start nurturing the baby.