27 May 2008

My Mumbai/Goa Holiday - Part IV

This is Part IV. Part I, II & III can be read here:


Day 05: 12th December

Though I had slept for a good 8 hours, I woke up feeling like I had slept only 10 minutes back, probably because I didn’t wake up on my own, but by the ruckus that these young half-wits were still making. It was just like last night, except that no one hollered at them anymore. I got down from my berth and glanced towards some of those who had screamed at these people last night. They looked as exhausted as I felt: their shoulders sagged, their lips pursed, and their eyes droopy, with bags under them. The Gujaratis and their NRI friends, on the other hand, looked fresh as daisies, and were still at it with renewed gusto.

I looked at the time. The train would reach Thivim at 12 Noon, and it was only 9:30 AM. With nothing else to do, I continued reading H2G2, but after a while, I got restless. I tried forcing myself to concentrate on the words, but gave up after 2 minutes.

I went out of the compartment and stood by its open door for a while, gazing out at nothing in particular, my thoughts a blank, feeling only the wind on my face. Shortly, one of the Gujarati guys and one of the NRI girls came outside to have a smoke. Since the other door on this side of the compartment was blocked by one of those big white bundles of something [if you’ve travelled in a train in India before, I’m sure you’ve seen atleast one of those big white bundles of something which are always found placed against compartment doors in the morning], they huddled around my door and started with their chattering. I went back inside, and went over to the other end of the compartment, but the two compartment doors on the other side were being hung around in by firangs. I went back to my berth, and, sighing as I sat down, hoped the train would reach Thivim on time. I didn’t have any patience left to deal with any more of this.

As if the sardonic train had heard my thoughts, it stopped at this obscure station and refused to move ass for a whole hour. When it finally did, it did so with a small jerk, which I’m pretty convinced was a train’s equivalent of the movement your body makes when you chuckle.

The train eventually reached Thivim at 1 PM.

[Getting off the train at Thivim felt so liberating that I’m tempted to employ sentences as done-to-death as “As I got down the train, I felt the sun shining down on me, bathing me in it’s warmth, and washing off any traces of fatigue and sleeplessness I may have previously had”, but I must restrain myself from being dramatic].

I disembarked at Thivim, leaving behind knee-shattering firangs, pea-brained Gujaratis, Karan-Johar-addicted, fake-accented NRIs, and a train with a cruel sense of humour [This, I realise, is no less dramatic, but... oh well...]. I felt strangely light, and a feeling of relief came over me as I walked out the station [Here again, I was on the verge of turning around, squinting at the leaving train like Clint Eastwood and muttering “So long, suckers!”, but good sense prevailed].

The scene outside the Thivim Railway Station was chaotic. A whole bunch of passengers had got down at Thivim, and as we went out, we were engulfed by a whole bunch of auto-rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, and motorbike pilots [who drop you from one place to another on their bikes]. Two other guys I had met in the train were staying close to where I was going to [Arpora], so we decided to share an auto-rickshaw. However, by the time we decided this, all the auto-rickshaws had already left with passengers, save one, whose driver James bore a strong and eerie resemblance to Keshtu Mukherjee. As we commenced our rickety ride to Arpora on James’ dilapidated auto [the first thing that came to mind when I looked at the auto was the quote from Hemingway’s The Old Man & the Sea about being “destroyed, but not defeated”], we noticed that his behaviour and mannerisms too bizarrely imitated Keshtu Mukherjee.

En route, when we were climbing a slightly inclined road, he suddenly stopped the auto-rickshaw, changed the gear to first, took out an empty water bottle from below his seat, and, saying that he needed to pick up petrol from his place, left us.

Here was an auto-rickshaw on the brink of collapse, bearing the weight of three adults and their heavy luggage, standing motionless [and only on the strength of its first gear] in the middle of a steep stretch of road, with its driver nowhere in sight. We wanted to lessen the burden on the auto-rickshaw by getting out, but both sides of the auto-rickshaw had windowed doors, and to open them, you had to use a lot of force [When we had tried unsuccessfully to close the door when boarding the auto-rickshaw, James had got down, and smiling at us condescendingly, had shaken his head and said “No sir, no sir, not like this”, and banged the door hard with what I’m sure was a proud and content look on his face]. We were afraid to even breathe, leave alone using force to open the doors. One of the guys tried opening the door near him very slowly, but since it didn’t seem to work, applied a little pressure, causing the auto to shake a little. At this precise moment, James returned, and seeing what the guy was doing, told him “What sir… you must be more careful. The brakes don’t work well. What if you shook too much and auto starts going down the road? Correct time, I came. Otherwise…”

Shortly, I got dropped at Mella Rosa[where I was staying] in one piece. Beer, ayurvedic massage and shower later, I was ready for action. But since it was only 4 PM, I decided to cool my heels by watching TV for a while. I browsed channels for a while, before sticking to this Hindi candyfloss college romance called Ishq Vishq [you can imagine how bad the other channels must’ve been].

An hour later, I stepped out my room, ready, and looking for rental bikes. There was a small shack right in front of Mella Rosa which had taxis and rental bikes, but they told me that since I didn’t have a driving license, they would be charging me a hundred bucks more than the normal rate. I figured this wasn’t worth it, since I would not only have to shell out more money for the bike, but if the cops caught me without a license, I would probably have to shell out more money to pay them. And the last thing I needed now was another dampener like a brush with the law.

So telling them I wasn’t interested, I got a pilot to drop me near Calangute Beach. I went to the Blue Bay restaurant, where I was waited on by a guy called Peter, a guy in his 40’s with salt-and-pepper hair and a very young face [which looked even younger whenever he broke into a grin]. He remembered me from my last trip to Goa, which was in Dec 2006, and accurately told me that I had come with three other guys, two girls and a kid. He had apparently waited on us the last time too.

Peter turned out to be an extremely good waiter, getting me my order real quick and popping up at the right time to check if I wanted more beer or something else to eat, while I read Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow Sleeping Woman, a collection of his short stories. A couple of beers and short stories later, I left.

I spent some time looking at t-shirts and buying a few of them. I wanted a Che Guevara t-shirt, but all the good ones were small, and the only ones in my size were lame: some of them with bad printing, some with lousy fonts, a few with spelling mistakes, some others in loud, garish colour, a few others with a deformed Che Guevara, and the rest with a combination of a few of or all of these disfigurements. Finding none decent enough, I slowly began my walk towards Baga Beach.

To get from Calangute to Baga, you walk down one lengthy stretch of road, with a deviation to the left towards the end. The distance is somewhere between 3.5 and 4 kms [according to a motorbike pilot], and the entire path is filled with pubs/restaurants both posh and inexpensive, shops and boarding houses. Since this was the first time I was walking the stretch, I concentrated more upon the road than the sights surrounding me.

About 45 minutes later, I reached Baga beach. I promptly went to Silver Sands [the restaurant I frequented during my last two trips], where I immediately asked them to put up my table very close to the shore. The tide always rose after 8:30 or 9 PM, and I wanted to feel the waves lapping at my feet while I drank. I’m not sure if you’ve tried this, but it’s a very nice feeling.

Roy, my waiter, this guy with a shaved head covered with a cap, tried making conversation about where I was from, what I did, etc.. I told him I was from Bangalore, and on an impulse, told him I was a writer [I completely relate to Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye when he says, “I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera”]. He got most interested when I told him this, and he proceeded to ask me more questions, like what I wrote on, etc., and so I built lie upon lie on the spot, telling him I was a short-story writer who writes humour, and that I came to Goa twice a year to get away from the monotony of daily life [I’m not sure if you’ve tried lying on impulse, but it’s great fun. Though this may seem easy to do, you actually need to do a lot of quick thinking.

When you start off doing this, you may take a few extra seconds to respond with each lie, and since you’d be pressurising yourself real hard to come up with a lie real fast, your lies probably would end up not being very consistent and may not sound natural and unforced. As you gain experience, however, you tend to start off by telling someone the first thing that comes to mind, and by the time the other person responds to what you’ve just said, your mind comes up with a list of questions that the other person might ask, and almost immediately, it also comes up with answers to these anticipated questions automatically.

You may wonder what one could possibly gain by lying impulsively, but believe me, its great exercise for your mind. Like I said, you need presence of mind, and as you go on doing this, your reaction time reduces, and you thinking speeds up. It is also challenging, for you’re always trying to get better at this, your only competition being yourself. In addition, the satisfaction you get when your lies go down well with someone, when you manipulate someone into believing you’re something you’re not, is immense. Moreover, since it’s only harmless fun, why not?]. Me being a writer no doubt impressed Roy, for he showered me with first-class treatment: coming every 10 minutes to see if I had finished my drink, asking me if I wanted to repeat my drink even when there was about 30% left in my glass, recommending snacks without my asking, and generally hovering around and shooting the bull after serving me.

During one of those times when he was tending to other customers, two stray dogs loafing around apparently sniffed the Squid Masala on my table, for they slowly approached me, sat down in front of the table quietly like well-mannered dogs and glanced alternately at me and my plate, never once coming close to the table to smell the food.

Having no company, and impressed with the level of restraint shown by these two dogs, I decided to give them some of the Squid Masala they seemed to be longing for. I gave them a piece each, holding out each piece on a piece of tissue, and the dogs devoured their respective pieces [they didn’t even fight amongst themselves for each other’s piece] and looked at me again, tails wagging. I gave them another piece each, after which they looked at me again. I tried ignoring them, but couldn’t for long [I guess ignoring a hungry dog when it’s looking into your eyes can be difficult, even heart-breaking to a certain extent]. There were three pieces left. I ate one, and gave the other two to the dogs. They looked at me again, but I didn’t have anything left, so I said “That’s all, folks!”, showing them the empty plate. They looked at me for a while, before lying down on the sand beside my feet, heaving a content sigh, waiting for me to order something else.

The scene was near-perfect. I was sitting a couple of feet away from the waves, drinking. Ahead of me was complete darkness, save for the phosphorescence of the waves. The waves kept lunging ahead, trying to reach me but missed. Not for long though. They would soon lap at my feet. There was noise behind me: noise of people talking, orders being shouted, and faint music. I soon tuned out the noise, and all I could hear now was the crashing sound of the waves, the deep, content breathing of the dogs and the music playing in my head.

It was one of those rare moments when you’re content with life, one of those moments when you’re at peace with yourself and want the moment to stretch forever. It was one of those picture-perfect moments which you make a mental note to add as a scene in your movie when you [if you ever] become a filmmaker.

All of a sudden, the loud blare of a guitar riff pierced the air, shattering the moment. I slowly turned around, pissed beyond words. It turned out to be a live band playing Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall in the adjoining restaurant. To rub salt into my wounds, the lead singer had got the lyrics all wrong, and was singing “We don’t need your education” instead of “We don’t need no education”.

I had a closer look at the band when going to the loo. The singer was holding the mike with both hands and leaning onto it [a cheap impression of Jim Morrison], mouthing the words out of the corner of his mouth [like Sylvester Stallone] and occasionally turning his head to give his drummer knowing grins: a cocksure singer who not only botched the lyrics and didn’t realise it even though it stuck out like a sore thumb, but also thought he was the king of cool.

I couldn't let him get away with it. He had, after all, ruined my moment. Through one of the waiters from the adjoining restaurant, I wrote and sent him a small, intense, anonymous stinker of a note on tissue paper [something on the lines of what I think Hannibal Lecter might have whispered to Multiple Miggs in the next cell], which resulted in the rest of their songs being a little subdued and sober in tone.

The dogs had gone somewhere in my absence and eventually returned when they saw I was back. I settled back into my chair, feeling the waves which had now risen and were splashing at my feet, looking at the great black nothingness before me, thinking random thoughts till the restaurant closed.

I took a taxi to my room at around 1 AM. I browsed channels for a while, but finding only junk, turned it off and switched off the lights. I had had quite a lot to drink, but was strangely not feeling sleepy at all. My last thought that night was about how I wished I had my Economics text book from school, which had always had a very tranquillising effect on me...

(to be continued...)

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