Living in tropical Goa can be the best and worst of both worlds. On the one hand there are beautiful beaches, swaying palm trees, and lush green rice fields. On the other hand, all this natural beauty draws throngs of tourists so any hopes of finding a deserted beach paradise are dashed by everyone else searching for the same thing.
Not only are there the typical back-packing Western tourists and senior citizens outfitted in safari camouflage (with cameras hanging off them instead of hunting riffles), but there are Indian tourists from every corner of this huge country. While packs of drunk young men looking to get into the kind of trouble they can’t while living at home can be a bit irritating, it’s refreshing to see that as the middle class in India grows so does their disposable income and their chances of enjoying a beach vacation for themselves.
Currently my favorite part about living in Goa has been my ability to meet Indians from so many different states. My circle of friends includes people from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Banglore, Jammu, the North East, and of course local Goans. Goa is no longer a backwater, but instead a burgeoning international masala mix. This international appeal also makes Goa the perfect place to experience great arts & culture and great minds from around the world.
Recently Tehelka, a weekly news magazine in India highly respected for its hard investigative and public interest journalism, organized a world-class event called THINK FEST. Held for its very first year, Think Fest’s aim was: “to bring together some of the most diverse and cutting edge ideas across the world in the fields of politics, technology, arts, culture, and human rights. (And it was an)…opportunity to interact and debate with the foremost thinkers and innovators from India, Pakistan, USA, Britain, China, Israel, the Middle East and Europe.” India’s answer to TED talks, all this was held at a beautiful beachfront hotel and open to the public for free.
I felt truly privileged to experience some of the greatest minds India has to offer, as well as some of the best and brightest from around the world. In a lecture entitled: “Ground Warriors: Battles for Earth, Water, Sky. And Life” activists Aruna Roy and Dayamani Barla spoke passionatly about how Adivasis (or tribals) are fighting to protect the environment from exploitation and plundering in their regions and encouraged “speaking truth to power.” Kopa Kunjam and Himanshu Kumar explained how those fighting for tribal rights are forced to choose sides with either the government or the Maoists, and there’s no way to win when suffering violence perpetrated by both sides. Especially chilling was the story of Soni Sori who is falsely accused of being a Naxalite terrorist and being tortured in police custody. I highly recommend Tehelka’s in-depth article on Soni Sori entitled, “The Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori” to get a better understanding of the complex issues faced by tribal activists.
Nobel Laureate Sir VS Naipaul explained how he developed he unique writing voice and suggested that those hoping to gain their education through school should expect it to take another 10 years after graduation to develop themselves in the real school of life. Architect Frank Gehry also spoke of his creative process and advised India’s architects to develop their own distinct style by ignoring what the mainstream sticks to, instead listening to what makes their own hearts beat.
During “The Story of an Anti-Extremist: Why I Joined the Jihaad, and Why I Rejected It,” Maajid Nawaz, explained that he was not religious nor had he ever read the Koran before becoming radicalized. It was the extreme racial violence perpetrated against the Pakistani immigrant community in England that lead to him join such groups. Only after being imprisoned in Egypt and adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience did his point of view shift. Today he runs non-profits which give Pakistani youth an alternative to finding a sense of belonging and community in counter-Islamist thought-generating social activism. It was refreshing to hear a conversation about terrorism which understood terrorists as human beings with their own complex sets of motivations and emotions.
Pulitzer prize winning columnist for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman spoke during “The Emergency Room: Where Do Capitalism and Democracy Go From Here?” and explained how America can get back on track by learning from India’s growing economy. Justin Hall inspired the audience’s hope for a better future for the planet’s people with his talk: “Free Energy for All: The Promise of Nanotechnology“.
Besides all the mental stimulation, there was plenty of arts and culture from the hysterical and edgy comedian Papa CJ, to the “play for peace” called Four For Jericho which was as shocking and real as the Palestinian situation. After hours there were private events with sumptuous dinners, walks along the firework lit beach, and world class musicians such as upbeat Kailash Kher (check out his hit track “Kaise Main Kahoon“) and haunting Sufi singer Sain Zahoor.
It also wonderful to connect with some other AIF fellows for the first time and appreciate my location thru fresh eyes (thanks Lauren!) One of the best festivals I’ve ever attended, amazingly well-organized and presented, I’m grateful to be living in a place called Goa that allows me to experience the best (and worst) of so many different cultures. It was inspiring to get my think on and be thrown into the masala mix.
Next year this is again an event not to be missed! Check out videos of the lectures at ThinkFest here and decide for yourself.