By Maya Lalchandani
Keen to highlight interesting things to do in her adopted city Goa during the offseason, Vijaya Josephine Pais founded the Facebook group Offbeat Goa in 2014. What started as a mere social-media page has grown today into 21,000 warriors and activists interested in beach clean-ups, meditation workshops, garage sales, a helpline for senior citizens, and even pet adoption camps. All you need is one person interested in giving back to society.
Vijaya, who will turn 40 this year, has had an interesting life. A Catholic by birth, she was the youngest of five kids, and was brought up in Dubai. When she was six, the family moved to Bandra, Mumbai. Her father was a self-taught musician so the entire family sang a lot, including Vijaya. A nerd with no real ambitions, she did dream of travel journalism and felt deeply for animals, turning vegetarian when she was 12.
At 23, she moved back to Dubai to fly for Emirates Airlines, sharing an apartment with her sister and living the life of freedom. Five years later, she quit her job to marry her partner of nine years, and returned to Mumbai. But life had different plans as the marriage lasted all of one month and there she was: jobless, hit by the global recession, with everything looking particularly bleak.
The 29-year-old moved back with her parents. “Divorce did not really bring me down, as I felt an immense sense of liberation that offered me opportunities to reinvent myself,” she shares.
Over time, Vijaya met someone with similar views on portraiture and experimental photography, and the duo decided to run a studio together. Launched in 2010, her Studio Third Eye in Lower Parel kept her going for three years. It was a creatively satisfying job, and the studio tackled a lot of commercials working with brands and magazines.
But the chaos and stress that follows one in a metro like Mumbai is not for everyone. Vijaya felt it tug at her soul. She shut shop soon enough, making the decision to move, lock stock and barrel, with her ageing parents in tow, to Candolim, Goa.
Taking on all responsibilities, she single-handedly relocated the family. She started writing for a few magazines and since she culturally identified with Goa, she felt right at home.
“Goa is a magical place that absolutely changes you, considering that a lot of people that move here have been either fried after city life, broken-hearted after divorces, or are just basically looking for Utopia,” she remarks. Goa helped Vijaya get rid of her inhibitions, and to understand life so much better.
Her Facebook page started gaining momentum and she started taking on more social-media assignments as time went by. Her content helped new businesses take off successfully. But even though money was coming in, Vijaya felt a sense of dissatisfaction. “I started seeing a virtual life coach Azalea in Mumbai, and that’s how I realised that what really made me happy was not service to myself but to others.”
Vipassana meditation in Kolhapur was next as she felt a major shift happening. Back in Goa, she happened to work with Darryl D’Souza, the Goa-based author of the book Become Healthy or Extinct. She applied some of his advice to help her father who was suffering from an autoimmune disease, but he passed away in 2018.
Vijaya realised that alternative healing was the way she wanted to go. She found a yoga space called Shala 142 in Assagao, which encouraged yoga and music workshops. Here she launched her New Earth Gathering, a healthy, holistic, vegan community market that made people aware of their consumerist choices and helped them transition to a healthier way of life.
Somebody who believes in sustainable living, Vijaya wanted to encourage eco-friendly and locally produced goods, thus reducing waste. To take her vision forward, she created the Good Karma Treasure Shop in 2017 to retail second-hand goods under the same roof where likeminded people could congregate to buy, swap and perhaps donate for a worthy cause.
“The whole idea was to help build community by helping people in the community. It helps the reuse-and-recycling policy, plus it helps the environment,” she says. One thing led to another, and something that started simply from some serious closet cleaning ended up funding various charities, orphanages, animal shelters and old-age homes.
Next, she and three likeminded friends launched the Goa Humanitarian Helpline on day one of India’s nationwide lockdown to distribute food and support to senior citizens. Within five hours, they got over 40,000 calls. Swamped, they called for more volunteers, and the helpline became a movement.
It has since grown to a very diverse group of over a hundred volunteers, who have helped put food on many a table.
Offbeat Goa became an umbrella for all these activities and is now one of the most sought-after platforms in Goa for curated information. “I mainly promote small, local, sustainable businesses, offbeat experiences and events,” says Vijaya, adding, “The platform basically supports the local community and responsible tourism. We also collaborate with clean-up drives organised by other groups.” Clearly all this is what happens when people connect people.
First published in eShe’s September 2020 issue