"Darling... you are impressed with my remarkable intellect yes?" "Of course Sidin..."
"Not to mention that sense of humour that so bewitches you..."
"It still bewitches Sidin... except when you make puns of course..."
"Ha ha of course dear. Not so punny sometime eh?"
It is always good to sort out such critical relationship issues with the missus when one is moments away from hitting a beach (Morjim) in North Goa. One that is almost entirely populated by Russian, Scottish, Irish and other such country-ish young men in tiny swimming trunks. Some of these gentlemen, I gathered the previous night from a pleasant waiter, were tourists looking for a small break after a few years of military service.
My glee took little suppressing.
So I reminded the missus of my many fine characteristics while we went down to the seaside cafe for breakfast. Our first tryst with a Goan beach would follow.
"Missus... these scrambled eggs are not bad at all eh?"
"Not at all and this toast is so goo... OH MY GOD IS THAT A MAN STANDING THERE WITH THIRTEEN PACK ABS AND A SPEEDO ON?"
"I know. I have no idea how they scramble it this way. You think they add a little milk maybe?"
"Shaddup Sidin. Check out that guy before he runs into the sea will you..."
So I did. The guy was a Russian god. Remember that statue where the Greek (roman?) guy is bend over and about to throw a discus? Yeah, well compared to tourist boy, discuss man was a fat slob. I, in contrast, was a continent. A slow, undulating continent.
I ordered extra bacon to help me cope.
Finally, after two blog posts, we were in Goa. And our holiday had begun. Yay.
And, would you believe it, it was my first time. Goa I mean.
It is a matter of fact. A Universal Theory of Everyone. Everybody in the world except me has been to Goa. Ek dum. Fultu. All humanity. Dad, mom, cousins, the complete cast of both Bombay to Goa movies, neighbours, Mrs. P. next door, landlord, Pastrami, Pastrami's parents, Pastrami's neighbours... you get the idea.
But not me. For some odd reason, just the way I never ended up getting a driving license, I've never been to Goa. Not that mallus need a reason to really go to Goa. When we want to throw back a few drinks by the side of large water bodies and want to see foreigners in skimpy clothes we have a simple solution: home with a DVD player.
Yet Goa and I always eyed each other from afar, the twain never meeting.Till this holiday. And I was beginning to like it already.
The Montego Bay resort was nice enough. Our cottage was ethnicool with thin wooden walls, uneven floors, a bed that broadly satisfied the dictionary definition and a refreshingly austere bathroom with a shower drain that didn't.
But it was stone's fling from a very clean, mostly untouched beach, had a passably good cafe with cold beer and all-day breakfast (sooper!) and Greg. (Greg was the guy who was great with a WagonR but not so hot with the English language. When he spoke both Wren and Martin went Mach 3 in their graves. They were spinning blurs.)
Post-breakfast we walked down to the beach and planted ourselves on deck chairs by the water's edge. Few things calm as much. It was like that exact moment in school when you finish your final annual exam (General Knowledge, Moral Science, Sewing), run back home, hand over the question paper to your mom with all the "questions I am sure I got right" marked and then sat down for lunch with NOTHING to do. Bliss.
Both of us leaned back into the chair, carefully within the shadow of a beach umbrella, and pulled out our books. And we tried to do as little possible. Sometimes I just sat their and looked out at the horizon. Sometimes I turned over and my eyes would fall on a very large Russian guy, most of who was on the chair, sunning gently. So I turned back to look at the horizon.
Life was good. Life was too good.
"Sir. Yeh chairs free nahi hai. Aapko pay karna padega."
A gentleman soon appraised us of the fact that those particular set of chairs was owned by the Russian shack outfit next door. The Montego's chairs lay behind a fence so far up-beach that the sea was invisible due to the natural curvature of the earth.
I was miffed... but we moved seats anyway. The view was no longer the same though. So I called the waiter.
"Boss do you have any Royal Challenge..."
The missus speed-frowned.
"... golf accessories by any chance You know. Here's to you Jay! And all that."
"Ek Virgin Mary and don't go easy on the Tabasco."
Large swathes of Morjim, we later learned, was controlled by a strong local Russian mafia. And anyone who has seen any of Schwarzenegger's lesser known movies know that the Russian mafia are scary bastards. If you don't have the other half of the same dollar bill they immediately respond with comas.
But one positive, if you will, byproduct if this foreign influx is the handful of excellent restaurants that have sprouted up around the beaches in Goa. So for lunch Greg recommended we check out a place called La Plage further up the beach. Apparently it was the only foreign run place that gave desis bhaav. Also apparently the grub was supposed to be top notch.
As with many things in life, there were two ways to make it to La Plage, a long walk up the beach, or a relaxed saunter through the Morjim surroundings via the road that ran parallel to the beach. Was there a difference in distance between both routes? We asked Greg.
"Sir means you try to walk up the road Morjim or beach and way go to beach up there. La Plage. Half hour. Every peoples are going La Plage."
"Ok. But which route is shorter? Which way should I go?"
"Very good. Thanks again Greg. Anything special I should order there?"
"Wha... ok thanks."
We could walk up and down the beach whenever we wanted to. But a nice early afternoon march through the heart of Morjim seemed more appealing. The wife had misgivings, but I insisted. "Besides how much longer can this route be? They are both parallel routes no?"
We walked and walked and walked and saw hardly another person out on the road. So much for cultural gleanings. There were several restaurants on the way and each time we saw what looked like an out door dining place from afar the missus chirped up: "That has to be La Plage."
Only to be disappointed time and time again. I was running out of brownie points like resumes out of Bear Stearns.
En route we were able to spot several unique items of local interest. The highlight was when we quickly photographed, in its pristine natural habitat, a large bright orange spool of underground fibre optic cable just sitting by the road gently melting. Also several tourists in dreadlocks and what looked Fabindia-factory-seconds zooming about on rented two-wheelers looking very (narcotics) business-like.
Also, was noted at many restaurant blackboards on the way, the intense popularity of the Mojito cocktail. And this being Goa the cocktail was being sold for anything from 45 to 60 bucks. Can you build a Mojito pipeline from Goa to Wadala? Do we have the technology? Can we get FDI? Private Equity? Venture Capital?
Mojito-backed Securities. He he. Ayyo.
Forty-five minutes later we were at La Plage and a moment later we were ushered to our seats. I ordered a bottle of the famed King's beer for myself and a mild Mojito for the missus. (Of course she couldn't drink all of it. It's what is called a plan, you single men.)
And at that moment I saw him.
"DARLING IT"S MY FAVOURITE PERSON IN THE WORLD SITTING THERE!"
"I said: DARLING IT"S MY SECOND FAVOURITE PERSON IN THE WORLD SITTING THERE!"
"SCREW HIS POSITION IN MY PERSONAL RANKING OF INDIVIDUALS IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE. IT"S WILLIAM DALRYMPLE!"
Initially we had doubts. Surely not more than one famous writer can be expected to be at a random restaurant at any given time. (He he. No? Ok.)
But then WD got a call from someone and I couldn't help but overhear it as I leaned forward and cupped my palms around me ears. Benazir Bhutto was dead. Column was needed. Would he write? But of course! What would be the terms and conditions? He informs them of price. (Brief pause in surveillance while I regain cardiac activity.) They agree. Bye. Click.
So I got up and went to him.
"Are you William Dalrymple?"
"Yes I am. How are you!"
"Ahge lkeres nerhhey neerssa"
Missus: "He is a huge fan. He decided to write for a living after reading your From the Holy Mountain book."
"Oh excellent! And are you having fun?"
"Hjsdsd kjerwe wehhe."
Missus: He writes for Rediff and Hindu and all..."
"Oh! What's your byline?"
And then we took a photo and quickly left him alone before I made a complete dunderhead of myself.
(Later I would email him my byline. And he would email back! Score!)
If there was one moment of my entire Goa trip that will never be forgotten, that will forever be imprinted on my brain as if by permanent marker, that even now sends a shiver down my spine, it was that single moment when, right after we bid farewell to Darlymple, Rohit Bal jogged past me in slow motion wearing a pair of swimming trunks and nothing else.
It will haunt me even in my old age that.
If we weren't tucking into food or sipping on cocktails, we spend our time taking long walks down the beach, sometime in knee deep sea wash, the clean water frothing and foaming. Morjim is simply superb if you're the type who likes peace and quiet. There wasn't a single vendor of any boat, diving or any such service who approached us on the Morjim beach.
So later the next morning we decided to hire trusty, woefully a-syntactical old Greg for a trip to the reasonably famous Mapusa market. And whatay market it was. I would love to say, like those travel and living people on TV, that the market throbbed with the life of the town, the sheer engine of commerce whipping up a cauldron of sights and sounds and smells and all that. But I, to be honest, can't.
Mapusa market is like any other bustling market in Thrissur or Trichy or Mandaiveli. Lots of people, lots of sliding and gliding to avoid bumping and grinding, and moderate heat and dust. Nonetheless it was lively and an hour or so well spent just roaming around. We finally bought a bag full of sweetmeats of some kind from a shop along with a few packets of biscuits for the cottage. Before leaving, as I sometimes like to do, I tried to kick up a conversation with the shopkeeper:
"So tell me, good man, what are the special things I should buy from Goa?"
"Booze and fish. Thats all they have here. Booze and fish. Where are you from?"
For dinner we decide to peruse of the legendary Fellini's. Accessible through a trail of narrow streets lined with bizarre people and shops, Fellini's is famous and rightfully so. I had the best Pizza I have ever had there. Giving due allowance for the three mojitos I had with it.
But not before we were subject to some special Customer Service of the desi kind.
I've written an entire column about this before, but to recap, there is some strange pleasure many of our compatriots get from treating each other like crap. And what better place to unleash intra-national spite than a restaurant packed to the rafters with tourists and one unsuspecting desi couple waiting for a table. The waiters kept ignoring us while running to firang customers who walked in. Even when I caught them by both arms and looked them in the face. They would just nod and walk away. And probably share the joke with their mates who all tittered at us as they walked past.
WTF! Did they not know that I worked in the media? That I had a photo taken with THE William Dalrymple? That I had just been asked to work on a Bollywood script? That I once had 18 idlis in one sitting with one little katori of coconut chutney as evening snack?
Finally I spotted a mildly stoned firang who seemed in charge and appraised him of our situation. We got tables in exactly five minutes.
Important note: Go to Fellini's -> eat pizza - > and then some more -> wash it all down with great cocktails -> try not to repeat old engineering college drinking songs with missus -> go home.
Our final day was left for some serious touristing. Off we drove to the capital: Panaji. We saw the churches, clicked them snaps, saw the museum (Very good. It's across the road from the church with St. Xaviers remains kept in the silver casket.) and grabbed lunch. We also tried, unsuccessfully, to locate a Cafe Coffee Day or Barista of some kind. Instead we fortuitously landed up in a cafe run by a bunch of super-sweet old ladies who made good chai and nice snacks. And while they weren't looking, we nibbled on the bebinca we had in our bag.
I've had bebinca, Goa's official dessert, only once before, at that Goa Portuguesa place in Mahim where it tasted like something that had somehow been interrupted in it's original intention of becoming a shoe. But this shop opposite Mapusa market had slabs of wonderful, sweet, delicious bebinca. We were soon peeling and eating it all day like a pair of...err...bebinca junkies. You must, must go and buy a bag of it. And buy some for me too. We're all out.
By sundown, exhausted in a nice, warm and glowly fashion, we reached our local bus boarding point. Greg dropped us off and we shared a few words in parting.
"Sir you enjoyed Goa. I hope you will come again, Call me ok."
"You just... how did... sure Greg. I will give you a call. Take care and have fun yes? See you next time. I hope you had a great time showing us around too..."
"Mapusa," Greg said solemnly before driving away. We peoples issa missing him.
We were there an hour early and then spent forty minutes looking for a clean toilet. Finally we found one inside one of those big, shiny antique stores that scream "Firangs! Firangs! Come and buy authentic Indian souvenirs actually made in China!" We went in with full bladders and ginger steps. And left with three thousand rupees worth of stuff.
We got suckered. It was the most expensive leak I've had in my life.
A little after ten we boarded our bus, settled into our seats and stretched. It had been a great holiday really. Good, uncomplicated fun and William Dalrymple. Not to mention several top notch meals. Could things get any better?
Sure they could. Half an hour or so after taking off, the bus people switched on the TV and powered up a DVD of Chak De India. We were well pleased.