If you asked for a time line of my sojourn in Goa, I fear I may not be able to furnish one. You see, as I found out, that one great Goa cliche is really quite true — time really doesn't seem to have much meaning here. It only turtles along and wraps you in gelatinous languor. I cannot tell you which day precisely was spent tramping about Colva or which day in Panjim. Nor can I say which days were spent watching the sea or simply staring at it, sometimes idly, sometimes glassy-eyed.
What with it being my first trip, I was labouring under both my own expectations and too many recommendations. So after some deliberation, we decided upon North Goa with a day in South Goa thrown in. A miserable bus journey later I arrived in Baga — in the middle of the Eid weekend. It's true, you know, what they say about Goa in season. There really were far too many people already down in Baga and most of those from bloody Bombay! Of course, things settled once the throng left on Monday (but still!): we got lazy, discovering Baga, Candolim, and Vagator in the silence of the early season.
Goa's the most beautiful country — lush and green and truly, quite like Kerala. Both so abundantly flaunt the blessing of the South-west monsoon in their waving palm trees and mid-harvest fields. The Baga, the Zuari, and other rivers meander across Goa with elephantine grace as do so many rivers across Kerala. Both states also carry the unmistakable stamp of familiarity with the Portuguese. This is especially true of Panjim with its brightly painted buildings in Fontainhas, the Latin quarter, so greatly reminiscent of Jew Town in Fort Kochi.
Another intriguing similarity — you can't go five kilometers in either Goa or Kerala without some symbol or house of religion!
Goa's also amazing food and alcohol country. It's at least a mildly disorienting experience to be in a decently fancy eatery and find that Smirnoff's only 45 bucks to the large. And you know that we're doing something right as a country if we're producing a liquor as fine as palm feni and a beer as mellow and easy as King's. It's such a pity that neither are available in Bombay. I'd like to rant about the food because God knows Goan food deserves the paeans, but then I won't have a next post. But I will say this: as it is usually is with hearsay, I was disappointed with some of the restaurants so long hallowed.
Live in sight of the sea for most of your life and you may begin to take it for granted. I, on the other hand, have learned its true value in the last three years. And so, I rediscovered the sea in Goa. There is such a pure and beautiful joy in sitting in the deepening twilight, reading or writing or talking or being silent, letting the sound of the waves wash over you. In the North Goa stretch, Candolim is the best beach for those evenings. Candolim is also where I walked the sands of my childhood: where memory nibbled in small tendrils of nostalgia. Some roads were familiar and some vistas beloved.
The elder sibling warned me that because of the length of my stay, I might just end up being disillusioned about Goa much sooner than I need be. And perhaps, I was. In season, I don't think there is much of a difference between Baga-Calangute and Juhu Beach. Unthinkably irritating, don't you know, being kept just too far off the beach. Also, since I don't see a point in partying in Goa, I take at least some manner of exception to the loud, intrusive Bollywood and other "music" and the speeding cars along a road wide enough for two bikes!
Over that week, I came to realise that I like some of the big things, like the restaurants, but otherwise Goa is in the quieter and smaller things. In the little "bar and rest" that no one notices. In the genial, rumbling patrao who checks three fish markets to get your crabs. In the homes of people who don't know you from Adam but welcome you warmly at their tables just the same. In the stark, deserted beaches that bring you back in touch with your penguin roots. In the run-down bungalow down a green lane in Colva selling sausage-pao for 10 bucks. In the old, friendly and pushy aunty who sells chorizo at the Mapusa Friday Market but owns a flat in Napean Sea Road, Bombay.
Finally, I'm glad I went with the ex-reviewer. I doubt that I would have seen so much of Goa otherwise - a fact the elder sibling corroborates. Or had such a completely indulgent vacation. He watched me thumb through the guidebook only to finally gleefully let the susegaad win me over. He stopped obligingly on rattling and busy bridges for photographs. He laughed when the feni made me mad in my toes and very, very drunk. He also stole my camera every now and then only to make me the unwilling and tortured subject of too much wasted camera battery. And yes, those will never see the light of day!