The sea rolls before us, luminous waves break on the shore, and the moon shines down white from a dark sky. We dig our toes in ... .
IDYLLIC HOLIDAY: The beach is paradise. PHOTO: K. GAJENDRAN
FROM the air, Goa is colour. An endless palette: green on green, blue, brown and grey. We are soon walking out of the small aircraft and past the terracotta figures, the sleeping dogs, and the small group of taxi drivers chattering softly. Now we are in a "Maruti Omni" taxi, along the river and then on the long narrow road to Baga. And all around us, on the ground, Goa is still endless colour, green on green, blue, brown and grey.
Little children with chubby cheeks pass us on their way to the Chubby Cheeks School. Buffaloes and cows graze dreamily in the fields. A calf looks curiously around him.
Little white chapels shine in the sunlight. Sunlight so yellow it's almost white. Blue sky fades to white. Everything is suddenly a dazzling white against the green of the fields, and the red soil. Mumbai is light years behind us. The only reminders of the city we left behind are the billboards. These emerge from the green fields. They are broad and beaming like hand-rubbing salesmen. Adorned with curlicued fonts and anglicised names, they offer up apartments, villas and bits of land by the sea for sale.
Tiny Cavala, built of red laterite brick, has an old-fashioned bar, a small library, and a pool. Just the place for us. We are soon ensconced in a large airy non-a/c suite in the Goan monsoon, for the princely sum of 800 rupees a night, on which they have sportingly given us a further discount of 10 per cent.
Our room is a fairy-tale palace: four balconies, two planter chairs, a cane sofa set, a piano yes, a piano! and a friendly calico cat who curls up on a chair on the sunlit balcony every morning. Ivy and speckled money plants climb the redbrick, and through the bathroom window I see a twist of jasmine growing against the wall. When it rains, I can hear the drip-drip-drip of water falling off its leaves.
The resort handbook suggests, rather sweetly, that we needn't worry about the little house lizards because they are harmless. Sure enough, we have one small tik-tiki in the room, but he remains in one faraway corner of the room and doesn't ask for attention.
Brick-coloured cotton curtains, high ceilings, arched wooden doors, pretty prints on the walls. And oh, our bath towels are folded in stiff floral shapes every morning, which gives me a delicious sense of being pampered. We also have a fridge in the room important for me and a flat-screen television, important for the husband. The geyser works on solar heaters, which warms my planet-loving heart.
With some books of our own, some from the library downstairs, and much time to laze in the sunlit balconies, we're all set for a delightful long weekend.
Cavala's library is stocked with a healthy mix of Kate Atkinson, William Boyd, Dick Francis, glossy magazines and more. There are books in French, German and other European languages too. Hesse and Harry Potter, both in languages other than English. The pool is tucked away on the other side of the narrow road. Oh, and the beach? The beach that sheer heaven of open sand, sunlight and sea known as Baga is minutes away.
But first, to breakfast. Dominic, our sweet-faced young waiter, used to be an attendant on a night bus from Mumbai before he got this job. They don't usually play music in the mornings, he tells me, but he put on an Eric Clapton CD for us. Listening to Layla, we unfold the slim Goan papers and tuck into our breakfast of papaya slices, toast, Goan poi and piping hot coffee.
There's a delightful surprise in store for us: it's Saturday night, and Monsoon Nights at the bar. Everyone who's anyone in Goa seems to be here, including an aging Brit group, long hair, tattoos and all, who can easily pass off as the Rolling Stones, except that they are in the audience. The music is loud, the feet are tapping, and soon people put down their glasses and take to the floor. After Mumbai's endless reps of "Just Chill, Chill", and "Nononono Nononono No Entry", it's good to hear "Sweet Home Alabama", "Get Back", "Lyin' Eyes", "Summer Wine" ... And thus, into the early hours of the morning, a good noisy retro time is had by all.
Connecting with the real world
But we can't remain unconnected from the real world forever. Stopping at "Veronica's Cybercafe" down the road, we try to send a message through a fragile dialup connection set up with fragile wires and cords. Around us, "Veronica" offers Bisleri, bread and boiled sweets for sale, while a plump cat meditates on the parapet and ah for a dog's life a pooch lies curled up at her feet. On the wall are little notices for a course in Goan cooking, an exciting underwater expedition, and a reward of Rs.10,000 offered by an anxious woman for a beloved lost dog, an adopted mixed-breed stray.
On our way out, signboards tell us that "Frank", "Jack" and "Louisa" all have rooms to offer. And then there's a magic shop that offers magic training in "two minutes only, no prior experience required, not even sleight of hand". Not even sleight of hand? Then there's hope for klutzy me, I tell myself but alas, the shop is closed for the mandatory Goan siesta.
It's time for our siesta too, but that will have to wait until after lunch for which we are at "Brittos", sprawled before a blue checked tablecloth that flaps crazily in the wind and is held down by paper clips. And then there is a bottle of vinegar right in the middle of all the other sauces and condiments, and there's this one fat discoloured chilli floating inside it like a lab specimen.
At the beach shack
I've closed my eyes, but around me is a medley of sounds: my husband whistling lazily, the sea rushing in and out, the murmur of voices, the hum of vaguely familiar film songs on radio, the clatter of cutlery from the kitchen, crows on the trees, a dog barking, fans swinging slowly, palm branches rustling in the wind. Into this gentle background music, roars a motorbike taxi, bringing one more tourist to share heaven with us.
There's thumping noise at "Brittos" in the evening, so we make our way across the sands. "Namaste", the beach shack where we had parked all day long during our April visit, is shut for the off-season. Baga is mostly empty in the monsoon. I miss the cheery Malayali host at "Namaste" who was saving up to be an ayurveda doctor. He used to offer massages in his spare time, but he was really set on learning ayurveda. I also miss the Oriya cook who delighted in rustling up our breakfast, lunch and dinner until we could barely stagger out of there and back to our room. Piping French toast, onion pakoras, fat gobi parathas, and more.
So a clump of cacti leads us to "Buzz", the only shack open during the monsoon on this side of the beach. It looks like any other season shack: long low deck chairs, thin mattresses, white and blue striped towels, and a couple of cheery dogs who own this territory. But the prices are high and our loyalties are still with "Namaste's" infinitely more talented cook, so we plonk down our empty glasses and weave our way out.
And we hop into a bus for Calangute. Turns out everyone else in the bus is going there too. We spill out into the late afternoon sunlight. Before us is a community football match, with hundreds of spectators watching, shopkeepers standing at their doorsteps, much excitement. We manage to find a shopkeeper who will take a few moments off from watching the live match, to sell us some bebinca and wine. At other stalls, Goa-type clothes are laid out for sale loose shirts, thin kurtas, shorts, embroidered patchwork trousers but no on seems particularly interested in selling things today.
The beach, though, has far more people than Baga. It's got families, hippy-dippies, school kids on school trips, and a small college group that is screeching hysterically in the water. Uniformed guards walk about, pushing the plastic restaurant tables back from wherever they are. So we do an about turn and return to Baga.
Late night. We're on the beach again. Around us, crabs float on the sand like dust balls, here, there, and back again, left, right, left in their curious zigzag. The dogs are stretched out on the sands. A friendly dog runs up to us and curls up in my husband's lap. The sea rolls before us, luminous waves break on the shore, and the moon shines down white from a dark sky. We dig our toes in.
As I close my eyes, I send up a quiet hope for that lady to find her missing dog soon. It seems like such a shame for anyone to be unhappy in paradise.
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