NOTES FROM INLAND GOA

Watching the gleaming coaches of my train disappear down a red laterite valley after depositing me at Thivim Station six hours behind schedule, which, according to Goan Standard Time, is not very late at all.

Listening to Prabhakar, my wizened motorcycle pilot, detail the decay of Goan politics and still punctuate every point with “phir kidhar jaaneka?” which, in his tone, meant “what more do you want?”

Being asked to lower my normal speaking voice on my first day here. There is no background noise for me to drown out.

Breakfast every day at Simonia’s, where they wish you “good morning!” like they mean it. Falling in love with a girl named Bebinca, She of Seven Layers.

Warbling away in a bathroom the size of a bedroom, with a lofty ceiling and acoustics that magnify my voice to majesty.

An old man leans against an old post-box, reading oHeraldo, The Voice of Goa – since 1900.

Fish. Fish fish fish. Fish curry. Fish thali. Fried fish.

Banana leaves in the breeze, nodding off to sleep.

A bank shut in the afternoon in the week after demonetisation.

An aged woman in a Nauvari sari, grinding grain by the kerb.

Relishing the crusty Goan pao called poie.

Spending evenings on one of many causeways over the Mapusa River, reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in the sparse shadows of a mangrove. Feet inches above the eddying waters. The whorled reflection of crows on a wire. Red and green leaves drift by. Shutting my book at dusk to listen to the soaring voices of men singing Dehachi Tizori for the evening aarti at a village temple, while someone bangs out a rhythm on a plate.

A sweaty football team sipping on sodas at the village tuck shop.

A couple – amorously entwined atop a motorcycle – snogging away in the middle of a quiet bridge.

A phalanx of shirtless, wrinkled and boiled old white men, riding into the sunset.

Watching the sun set into the Arabian Sea from an almost private beach, just off a popular tourist spot. Guarded by forested crags, in a small cove with plentiful perches among calm waters. No, I won’t tell you where it is. Go away.

An auburn supermoon rises over Panjim.

Swarthy men lean on the low parapets of bridges across the Mandovi, and fish – at night, off a national highway. While petrified motorists like me swerve to avoid knocking their neon-trunk-clad bottoms into the dark currents below.

Finding out that I like pork after all. Trying beef; liking it.

Listening to old Konkani songs on the radio every night. This yearning, maudlin music is the mother lode of every 60’s and 70’s RD Burman tune.

Everything said in Konkani sounds and feels like a friendly backslap.

Churches dressed in white, with blue trimming. Three whitewashed chapels between churches a mile apart.

In Goa, palm trees grow like weeds – wherever possible.

The iconic edifice of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church is flanked by the long, low building of Anjuman Nurul Islam Urdu Primary School.

No two homes are alike; each is wondrous to behold. Painted red and white, white and yellow, yellow and green, green and white…

Regal staircases that zigzag up to the front doors of the hillside mansions of Altinho, designed perhaps to discourage relentless Romeos.

Visiting my schoolteacher and her family in their charming Portuguese villa – stone seats on the porch with a view of the river across the road, a vegetable garden out back, sloping roof with Mangalore tiles and a peaceable dog to warm your feet. Meeting after a decade, for an evening full of warmth, conversation, and fluid hospitality (pun intended). Drinking beer (and rum and Kahlua and Jägermeister) in the presence of a teacher? Check.

Government buildings resemble film sets. The Directorate of Accounts looks like a wedding hall, complete with chandelier.

Exploring one of the unguarded, stately buildings of the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court. Watching teenagers play badminton in the plaza.

Riding my scooty everywhere (I miss you, 6498), ferns brushing against my shins. Developing a distaste for the pedestrian commute.

Finding a Finding Fanny village. And another. And another.

Tolkien could have set Middle-Earth in Goa: the Orcs of Orgao, the Dwarves of Barazan, the Elves of Poriem, the Mines of Morpilla, Lord of the Kingdoms of Arpora and Gaundalim, Radagast of Pomburpa, the Vale of Sangolda, the Marshes of Marcaim, the Last Homely House of Chinchinim.

The odd sight of well-to-do men gesturing at solitary motorists for lifts. Eventually relenting, and discussing parallel cinema over my shoulder with a film festival delegate as I took him from one venue to another.

Flagged down by a bleary cop at a naakabandi. Dismissed without argument after furnishing a PAN card instead of a licence.

Boarding a roll-on, roll-off ferry from Divar Island. Admiring the dome of the Chapel of St Cajetan and the towers of the Chapel of St Catherine, visible above a fringe of palm fronds, as I crossed the Mandovi to Old Goa.

A new bride in a translucent sundress on her honeymoon, with bangles choking her forearms and mehendi up to her knees, kneeling on a pew in a 17th century church and pretending to pray while her freshly acquired husband captures her devotion on camera.

A Caucasian woman in a Punjabi dress next to a gaggle of Indian girls in gowns.

A bald man sporting a dreamcatcher on his head.

From the elegant balcony of Panjim Inn in the old quarter of Fontainhas: a withered dowager in a purple dress has an antique chair brought out of her heritage home and placed on the footpath by her solid wooden door. As she bestows a woebegone smile on all those who pass by, her face is a landscape of pained joy and relished sorrow. When a local stops to greet her, she clasps his or her hand in both of hers, and kisses it.

Tombstones of ancestors buried in front yards. Crosses mark graves by the wayside, some remembered with garlands.

An epitaph: Zolmolo (born), Somplo (finished).

In the classifieds: “Dear Viv, but…why? So sudden, so shocking, unbelievable!!! I shall always remember you.”

Sign at a seaside wedding: “Pick a seat, not a side. We are all family.”

Sign at a Panjim carwash: ‘We give the best hand jobs in town.’

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5 thoughts on “NOTES FROM INLAND GOA

  1. Hey fellow doctor! Please keep writing. Love the way the words flow. Funny, eloquent and humane is a rare combination these days.

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