Every yogi’s favorite part of India celebrates 50th anniversary of freedom

Goa.

Do I have to write much more than that? That single word, I bet, conjures up images of beautiful beaches, coconuts, possible a mind-altering substance or three.

Goa, via 1000lonelyplaces.com

And bliss. Bliss for sure.

Well, prepare yourself. Goa is marking the 50th anniversary of its independence and a “new Goa” may be emerging.

“Hey, hold on a second,” you say. “We’re way past India’s 50th anniversary of getting out from British rule.”

True. But it wasn’t the British in Goa. It was the Portuguese. Here’s more, from what’s clearly one of my favorite Indian news sources, the New York Times’ India Ink blog: “Five decades ago on Sunday, India’s armed forces marched into Goa to dislodge the Portuguese from the tiny, palm-fringed colony the European power had continued to hold on to 14 years after much of the rest of the subcontinent had been freed from British rule.”

Now, I said prepare yourself for the “new Goa,” right. Well, don’t work too hard, because it sounds like it will continue to be a yogi-friendly place:

The celebrations come at a time when Goa is in another period of transition. “I think that there is a new Goa that’s emerging,” said Peter Ronald deSouza, the director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, who is among the organizers of a conference examining Goa. “For 40 years, the idea of Goa was based on its history, its ecology and its diaspora. Now, it’s being redefined as a holiday destination for travelers.”

These current anniversary celebrations are trying to demonstrate that there is a bit more to the area than what not just yogis in the West perceive Goa to be all about:

DeSouza’s seminar, which is organized by the Indian Institute for Advanced Study, Goa University and Portugal’s Coimbra University, will take a long view of the effects of liberation – or the “Indian invasion,” as the event was termed in much of the Western press, including The New York Times. The celebrations will also be given a more serious edge by the Goa Arts and Literary Festival, which will feature several writers of Goan origin from around the world.

[snip]

These rather introspective events are somewhat at odds with the place Goa occupies in the imagination of much of India. During the past decade, fueled by Bollywood films shot in the state, many Indians have come to view Goa as a beach resort sloshing with cheap liquor, where the locals, who always dress sharp because of the legacy of their Portuguese-tinged history, do little more than loll around in the sun all day, looking cool.

It’s an image that irritates Goans – and which they are keen to dispel.

Many Indians “see Goa as a state that’s always having fun all the time, but there’s much more to it” than the postcard impressions, said Nandini Sahai, the director of the International Center Goa, which is hosting the arts and literary festival. “People here love to read – in English, Hindi, Konkani, Marathi and Portuguese. Every second person I meet seems to be a writer, poet or artist. With the 50th year of liberation, we thought it was the perfect time to showcase this aspect of Goa.”

And here’s where things get interesting. Those Portuguese we already mentioned? Well, their influence made for a very different kind of India versus the larger part that was rules by Britain:

The state’s 451 years of colonial rule – among the longest anywhere in the world – have long fascinated social scientists. “Goa interests me because its political and cultural history is so radically different from that of British India,” said the historian Ramachandra Guha, whose book, “India After Gandhi,” contains a detailed section about the Goa freedom struggle. “The Goan experience of nationalism and colonialism was largely unknown outside Goa, and hence, I thought, worth writing about at some length.”

There’s more, but you’ll have to surf on over to the article to discover them.

Posted by Steve

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In Paris, who do you find on the yoga mat? Ex pats

The New York Times’ ongoing fascination with all things yoga — really, the paper has almost an unhealthy obsession with yoga — is neatly explained in a few short sentences from a column in the paper today. (And, no, it’s nothing like the last column that appeared in the paper!)

The author of the piece writes:

New York City is Yoga Central, rivaled in its fervor perhaps only by Los Angeles. Manhattan yoga studios must outnumber Starbucks these days, and practically every third person on the sidewalk is toting a mat. You can find classes in many styles and levels at just about any hour of the day, in studios, gyms, offices, schools and, in nice weather, in the parks.

Not that that is news, but it provides a nice window to how the Times sees its readers and why it has a pretty continuous stream of yoga-related items.

But this one isn’t about New York. It’s about being in Paris and trying to find a yoga studio. Not quite as easy as doing so in New York or LA. Parisians, it turns out, tend to care more about food than exercise.

Still, as the author discovers during a year’s time, it is possible to discover yoga classes and a community that, she says, is noticeably different from the one in the U.S.:

That was more than a year ago; since then I’ve branched out and taken classes with a dozen or more teachers, some Americans, but also French, Dutch, Lebanese, Venezuelan, South African and Italian. Yoga teachers in Europe do a lot of traveling, more so than in the United States, subbing for each other and taking guest turns at studios in other European cities. In the time I’ve been here the number of classes offered, and class sizes, have swelled.

[snip]

When I moved to Paris I had the notion that I would be immersed in French life and language; that turned out not to be the case, although I’ve managed to make some progress. I did find a new culture, though, one to which I could belong instantly: the surprisingly large, welcoming expatriate community.

Her piece is worth reading for the focus on that community, which seems to be a common attribute to yoga. Perhaps it is because the practice can be so dominating to life — “No, I have to get up early”; “No, I can’t eat that” — that the tendency is to be pulled into circles with other yoga practitioners. A shared pain, if not a shared activity.

I do have to note that the final class she describes sounds an awful lot like any big flow class you’d find in America. So maybe what she’s found in Paris isn’t all that different. Or is it a difference between New York yoga classes and those elsewhere, including in Los Angeles?

Posted by Steve