The last leg of the journey of our 3-day long journey from Kerala to Goa was an overnight bus (with no shocks) from Mangalore. The bus, 24 rows of 4 seats across, was full. There were a whopping five other women on board.
We had intended to stay in Palolem, a beach in the south. But at 7am, exhausted from the sleepless night, we settled on the first place we could get to: thus we found ourselves ringing in the new year in Calangute and Baga.
The so-called New India was out in full force. Well-heeled local tourists from Mumbai and Bangalore poured in by the thousands (millions?) for the holiday: women baring their knees and shoulders, mixed gender groups dancing the night away, young entrepreneurs flashing cash and ordering bottle service. I even saw a precious few Indian women avail themselves of the ocean. But, surprise, surprise, by far the largest demographic – outnumbering even the Russians on package tours – was groups of Indian men. However, to my comfort, the man:woman ratio on the street down significantly from about 20:1 in Delhi, where we began our Indian oddessy.
After dining on fantastic Goan seafood at a lively restaurant featuring karaoke (locals favored Bryan Adams, Russians cheesy 80’s pop of the Toto variety), we headed to the beach. On the way we saw a couple arguing in the street; as we passed the man slapped the woman across the face, shoved her into a moving car, and stormed off into the surrounding throng of men. (India is certainly not unique in its gender issues, and these problems exist on a global scale, but since India is where I am at the moment, I can’t help but focus on how they manifest themselves here.)
On the beach, the sea of humanity was so dense I may as well have been in Times Square. Oddly, the man:woman ratio seemed to be once again moving in favor of testosterone, though there were still a fair number of families. We waded through the sea to get drinks at one of the beach shacks – large elevated wooden platforms open on three sides to the beach, with a back wall that hosts a bar and DJ. There were two women at the bar, and another two sitting along the front edge. Of the 60-80 people on the dance floor, every last one was male. I felt like I was in a gay bar in New York. But all along the beach, every establishment hosted a similar demographic. That’s just the way it is.
Making our way back out to the beach, I was jostled, nudged, rubbed and poked by every man who walked by. (After a period of observation of men walking by Max, I determined that the rubbing past me was, disturbingly, intentional and not happening to him.)
At one point a man walking past me stuck his hand out in an attempted crotch grab. Lucky for me, the hapless groper was foiled by the document belt slung around my hips beneath my dress. All he got was a fistful of passport. Unlucky for me, two other gropers who approached from the back met with more success. In the swarm of men it was impossible to tell who the culprits were. (Maybe the Indian women, in the know about the groping problem, chose to stay home to avoid it? I wish I’d received the memo.)
At about five minutes before midnight the fireworks began. First from about 15 feet to our left. Then from about 8 feet to our right. Then from a couple of yards behind. All of a sudden everyone and their toddler was setting off fireworks. We’re talking massive, industrial size fireworks – think of those photos of the millennium display in Sydney – all the way down the beach for miles. It was suddenly seemed clear why India appears to have such a disproportionately high number of amputees.
Mildly traumatized and thoroughly infuriated by the groping incidents, we decided to pass the rest of the evening in an open-air establishment advertising a “couples only” policy, which actually was a requirement for groups of roughly equal male:female ratios. On the street below, the sea of humanity oozed from the beach back toward the main road. The outlandishly high concentration of women (50%, OH MY!) caused legions of men to stop in their tracks, stare, point, and take a flurry of photos. The bar across the road was filled with men hanging over the balconies aiming their cameras our way.
With the exception of one wayward tourist – a bottle blond well into her 60’s flashing saucy looks at the men in the street from behind her scarf – there was really nothing to warrant all the attention. (Sadly, I think it is often the wayward tourist with poor judgment who give a bad name to us all, perpetuating all the negative stereotypes about western women.) It seemed that so many women all in one place was just such a novelty that most of the people in the street couldn’t contain themselves.
Despite the groping and being witness to domestic violence, we had a fantastic night. It was a fascinating exercise in cultural observation, and good fun besides. Perhaps the highlight was when we accidentally sneaked into one of Goa’s famed nightclubs. We had considered passing the whole evening in one of these establishments, but with cover charges upwards of $100, they didn’t fall into our budget travel plans. We had been directed down a back alley behind the bar in search of the toilet, but instead walked through the backdoor of an exclusive night club. The security guard didn’t notice us. After using the facilities, we passed another hour or so just observing the high life, pretending to be a part of it.
Then we retired to the grubby comfort of our backpacks.