Home >Opinion >Columns >Why Gurgaon residents plan to move to Goa but never really do

When Gurgaon’s finest return from Goa, they get stuck on National Highway 8 in a still dismal river of mostly white cars. At a toll gate, that is, in a spot which defies common sense; there is no toll for private vehicles anymore, but employees of a contractor create traffic jams as they try to nab commercial vehicles, which are mostly white, that have not paid their dues. All around, there is dust. In winter, there is low-hanging smog, as millions of farmers (of ‘the-hands-that-feed-you’ fame) in Punjab burn stubble because more humane ways of getting rid of it are expensive. It is especially in winter that the people of Gurgaon dream of leaving Gurgaon forever and settling down in Goa. There, the air is clean, and there is much natural beauty, and the place has a global vibe, by which Indians mean Caucasian people do Caucasian people things.

Gurgaon is variously considered the richest urban centre in India, the second richest or the third richest. But there is no doubt it is rich even by second-world standards, with a per capita income that is possibly four times the national average. That is, if migrant maids and drivers are not counted, just in case they ruin a perfectly good piece of data.

Gurgaon encapsulates the modern urban Indian middle class—posh, but not artsy; highbrow in furniture, middlebrow in cinema; well-informed about the world through podcasts, and not books. Such identical corporate Indians constitute a Gurgaon in every major Indian city; and many of them ‘dream’ of moving to Goa, a word that this column will use to refer to any beautiful and quiet place that has a reasonable internet connection and the buzz of restaurants.

Some ‘men of action’ have even purchased plots and houses in Goa, and in the other Goas in the Himalayas and Kerala. Yet, very few actually make the move.

The richer Indians, the dollar-millionaires, talk of quitting India altogether. They have quietly bought citizenships of Malta or Canada. But even they don’t make the shift. They live in their urban filth, dying slowly in the foul air and road accidents that need not have occurred. Even this class dreams of Goa. After all, it is close to their ageing parents, and warm, unlike Europe and Canada. But then they don’t even move to Goa.

The fact that affluent Indians long to move to a Goa, leaving their Gurgaon, but don’t quite manage to do that must say something about human nature and India.

It is not that there are no arguments against settling in Goa. There are, in fact, excellent reasons. Goa has very few corporate opportunities for highly-paid executives. But the truth is that even entrepreneurs who have broken free of the prison of office and can work from “anywhere in the world" continue to live in Gurgaon.

The other common reason why people don’t move to Goa is, “schools, where are the schools?" Goa has fewer quality schools than Gurgaon. After hospitals, Gurgaon is probably best known for schools. But then an unspoken effect of the pandemic is that the idea of school has been diminished somewhat. Not that the physical school has become unimportant to the Indian parent; it is just that its centrality has gone. In any case, Goa does have three major types of schools for affluent children—the conventional rigorous school, the confused Bohemian school, and the schools that are rigorous on some days and Bohemian on others.

There is another good argument against settling in Goa. You may feel it every time you arrive in Goa as a tourist and you see a giant ‘expressway’ being built. Like many road projects in India, the work has been going on for years, and from the little you can see of it, you know it is already all wrong. Also, in some areas of Goa, the viral ugliness of urban India is coming. Its politicians are very clear that they do not want Goa to be a mere idyllic place. They want ‘development’, that terrifying Indian word which in all Indian languages means cement chaos, expensive ugliness, smog and amoebic golf courses.

So, maybe in the subconscious Indian mind, there is a suspicion that no place in India will be left beautiful. That everything will eventually be ‘developed’ into a Gurgaon. Even so, that fate, if it ever befalls Goa, is still over a decade away.

So why don’t Indians who can easily afford to live in Goa not move?

I feel there is a distinction between what people say and what they do. That is exactly what this phenomenon demonstrates.

People are conditioned to extol some aspects of life: proximity to natural beauty, the experience of order and quiet, some hint or prospect of sexual mischief, more time away from office and more time with family, or simply more time doing nothing. But most affluent Indians live in urban dumps, leading dull low-quality lives. How people live is a more accurate reflection of what they really want, no matter what they say they want.

If we go by the way of the world, by what people do and not what they say, we see that people are more influenced by habit and familiarity than by beauty or peace. People are used to a place, and to a certain kind of life and community. They are accustomed to the energy of congestion, the joy of a crush of people, the reassurance of sounds, the friction of all that is Indian, and to what it adds up to—the absence of desolation. This beats all the poetic things they claim in their wishes. The world is evidence that everything that the world claims it wants is a lie.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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