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Old Goa

The other day, I was in Old Goa taking pictures for an assignment. Old Goa reminds me (occasionally) of Europe. Wide expanses, lawns (green grass now faded brown), magnificent churches, baroque architecture, pavements…

The churches are cool inside, a welcome respite from the heat. But if you are on a photo assignment, November may not be a good time to try indoor shots here.

For starters, the churches (especially the Basilica of Bom Jesus) is over-run with tourists. Loud, pushy, noisy, disrespectful Indian tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting Indian tourists to visit churches – we could do with some demystifying of Catholicism.

What bugged me was the cacophony. Despite numerous signs requesting silence, mobile phones kept going off, mothers called out to their children, people yelled to each other across the hall. A solitary watchman did his half-hearted best. He told people to shut up or quieten down, asked for phones to be switched off/put on silent mode and hats to be removed.

It barely made a dent in the sound levels.

I missed the deep silence that churches should provide. Are temples and mosques full of chaos like this?

Where do we learn to be raucous? At the tomb of St Francis Xavier, someone’s phone went off. Loud, incessant rings rose above the babble of Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi and Tamil before this gentleman dug the phone out from his pocket. Looked at it (phone still ringing), then disconnected. Mr. R and I both glared at him. He looked at us indifferently.

Two minutes later, we were all in the little corridor outside. The phone rang again. This time, it got too much. I went up to him and asked him (in Hindi) to put the phone off or on silent. I told him this was a temple, so please respect it.

I wasn’t rude; said it very nicely. The man nodded in a gesture of understanding. Whether he actually put the phone off or not, I don’t know. I didn’t hear it ring again, though.

Besides the noise levels, there was the problem of dealing with the crowds. Adults and children pushed their way through indiscriminately, not bothering to slow down to step over people praying or admiring the church. A click of the phone camera, job done and they wanted to get out, looking forward to lunch.

Taking good pictures with people shoving you is not very pleasant. Avoid if possible.

If you want peace and quiet, head for the other churches. Se Cathedral, just opposite the Basilica, was serene and prayerful. Of course, the ASI’s interference means that the church is now painted a pale yellow instead of the traditional white, and there’s scaffolding all over the interiors. Ignore that and find a quiet bench.

Even at peak season, you can still find solitude in that space. Enjoy it while you can.

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