Goan crazy (groan)

When Mood Music
2006-04-05 16:13:00

Palm trees, hot enough to fry eggs on my forehead, cement buildings, in-yer-face catholicism, I’m wearing shorts and sandals without socks: yep, I’m finally in Goa. I’m at a village called Colva, near Margao/Madgaon and already the wierdness has started. But before I get into that, how did I get here? (Can you hear Chris Franz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison on backing vocals?)

Sunday 2nd
Last time I blogged, I was in Satara, the nearest big town to Mahabaleshwar, so I could get a train south. I seem to have spent most of Sunday 2nd blogging and trying to get the Indian Railways website to obey me. It didn’t, mainly because while the major town near here is known as Margao, officially it’s called Madgaon. I gave up in disgust and near tears and crawled back to my hotel. (On the way, I met a couple of lads I’ll blog about later.) At the hotel, I started chatting with a guy who asked where I’m from (the usual first question). At some part in the conversation, he did a very fast piece of mental arithmetic and so I asked if he was an engineer or scientist. He laughed and said that he owned the hotel. He mentioned that his cousin was getting married the next day in the hotel’s reception/function room and pointed out the happy couple (Vaishakh and Latika). I asked him to pass on my congratulations and he said I should speak to them myself, so I did and they invited me to the ceremony. Thank goodness I’d just had some reasonably new clothes washed.

Monday 3rd
I spent the morning wresting with Indian Railways website again – this time their server crapped out. The cyber-cafe owner told me that this is a regular occurence. ABout 11.30, I gave up again and decided to go to the station later (it’s about 11km from the town) and book my ticket there. So I got as smart as I could and headed into the nuptials.

I found out later this was the 4th day of the wedding – the previous 3 days being mostly prayer for a good wedding and a happy marriage. This part was an unusual (to me) event – about 200 guests, all dressed in sumptuous but unique variants on sarees, shalwar kameezes, lunghis and ‘Indian male uniform’, people wondering onto the stage, apparently at random, as a piece of cloth was held between the fiance(e)s and happy(?) songs were played and prayers(?) were spoken. At several times during the proceedings, the guests threw coloured dry rice at the couple (this had been handed around earlier) but because there were so many guests, hardly any actually hit them. In all, it was a lovely, spontaneous/casually-formal occasion and I enjoyed it very much, even though I felt rather out of place because I wasn’t part of either family, nor a friend of either the bride or groom and because I didn’t really understand what was happening.

I was also invited to eat – in another part of the hall, people sat where the liked or could find a space at one of three long trestle tables while waiters walked up and down, offering two types of rice, pakora, curries, puris, other vegetables, fruit-custard deserts, soft drinks and water. I was sat next to a man who described all the food to me and reassured me it was vegetarian and asked me about UK wedding customs.

By 3pm, it seemed to be winding down, so after speaking again to Vaishakh and Latika, I collected my clobber and headed for the bus station to try to get out to the train station. Yet again, Indian folk were wonderful, showing me to the right bus and ensuring that someone would point out the station from the right bus-stop. The only snag was at the station where I was told that all sleepers to Goa the following night were booked and that I should simply turn up the next night, buy my ticket then and live with it.

I also met Marc, a French painter, who was getting similar unhelpfulness – although I think his way of speaking English may have come over as a bit curt (I don’t for a moment believe he intended this) and his accent may also have been an impediment. He’d just arrived from Pune and was on his way to Kolhapur but had had enough travelling for one day. (If he’d been traveliing third-class then I can see why.) We shared a rickshaw back to town and I showed him the hotels I’d seen: he ended up staying at mine but got one of the now vacant, not-en-suite partition-rooms for 80 rupees (I’d paid Rs275 for mine). I also took him to a restaurant that I’d been eating at where something totally unique occurred – two Indian women started conversations with us. It turned out that they were an English teacher and her pupil and so wanted a bit of practice and to hear about Europe but even so, it was pleasant to talk with women and not feel rejected by half of Indian society. (Again, I know ‘logically’ this is a ‘cultural’ difference but it still feels very strange to me!) By a further amazing coincidence, the teacher is a good friend of Wahid, a great bloke I met in Mahabaleshwar.

After dinner, Marc and I walked through Satara. He keenly felt the pollution and longed to see the mountains around the town. He’d had a rough time in Pune because the pollution was worse there. Even so, he kept an essential-oil enhanced Vicks nasal doo-dah up his nostrils and a cloth over his mouth. We found a brand new Ganesh mandir which was absolutely beuatiful but nothing else of note and repaired to the hotel. I didn’t sleep well: insects, traffic noise and random Bruce-paranoias kept me tossing and turning until at least 3am.

Tuesday 4th
After eventually surfacing well after mid-day, I went out to try to get my latest photos backed up to CD. Eventually I found a camera shop which would do this because none of the cybercafes here had card readers. While I was waiting for this, I sat watching a real (Adobe) Photoshop artist at work, retouching photos, arranging family portraits and generally doing professionally and well many of the things I do (now) badly and slowly. I was a bit narked when the artist made strenuous attempts to buy my camera, a bit more narked when he removed my photos from my card after burning the CD (however, he copied them back to the card from the CD when I told him that it was a back-up, not trying to create room on the card) and very narked when it was time to pay: I asked him the cost of this service and he said “up to you”, then appeared unhappy with what I thought was a resonable price for a blank CD and 10 minute’s PC time.

This prompted me to buy a card-reader of my own (it cost Rs 350 [about 5 pounds) because I’m sure I’ll be backing up more as I go along and don’t want any more such hassles. I got a bit of grief from the owner of the shop where I bought the reader because he wanted me to pay in dollars and/or give him UK currency. Er, if I’m going to give anything to anyone here, it’ll be to folk who are down on their luck or who have become special to me in some way or other, not to flashily dressed PC-sellers!

By now it was 5pm and I was very conscious that

  • it was time to leave Satara
  • but first I wanted to fulfil a promise to meet up with two lads I’d met a couple of nights ago. Mahesh and Hrumesh are two first-year law students here. We’d met the night before the wedding and they’d invited me into a cafe for chai and insisted on paying because I was their/India’s guest. We’d talked a lot about the different customs and social mores in our contries and they’d wanted to meet up again to continue this.

So I phonedthem, wondering if they would have time to meet before I had to go to the station or whether I’d spend another night in Satara.

By luck they were taking a break just then from revision and so we headed to a nearby cheap restaurant for chai and masala dosa* (and a lesson in how to eat them properly: apparently the thing to do is use cutlery or right hand to dunk some in the ‘oxtail soup’, then spoon a bit of what I’d taken to be coconut dip into my mouth.
*of course, I was happy to pay this time, even though they again tried to insist I didn’t

Mahesh and I shared an autorickshaw with a young couple to the station while Hrumesh followed on his motorbike. I bought my ticket, not realising it was a third-class passport to pain and then chatted a bit more with the lads before they left me in the hands of Munaa, a very young bloke who was heading back to Goa to work after spending a long weekend with his girlfriend in Satara. He was keen to say goodbye to his lady but his phone was out of credit so I offered him use of mine. He couldn’t get through, probably because mine is a UK phone but this still kicked off at least a ‘single-serving’ friendship (obviously I hope for more) and he found us seats and we guarded each others’ luggage as the other tried to sleep or visit the toilet.

A word about travelling third class on India trains: DON’T! The seats are made of wooden slats with no padding, there are about 10% more passengers than there are seats and the **squat** toilets stink. (There was no sign of unpleasant matter on the toilet floor but all the same I’m very glad I didn’t have to use them.) I also found I can’t sleep on a wooden seat and was too slow to grab a luggage rack, not that I would have slept on that either. So I sat up most of the night, sustained by chai and matchsticks propping my eyelids open. I also got to try some of the chewing-tobacco and chalk mix that’s so popular here: once was enough.

Wednesday 5th
The train finally completed its 425 km/11 hour journey (I’m not kidding – at times I could have walked faster) and Munaa led me out of the station and showed me where I could get a taxi to a hotel. For tonight and tomorrow night, I’m staying at Vailankanni, 4th Ward, Colva – Beach (2788584) but I think I’ll move on after that: there are other places in Goa that interest me more, and 400 rupees a night for a room without hot water seems a bit over the top.

I slept for a few hours, changed into shorts and then went out to explore. As I was walking along the main drag, noting escape routes to Benaulim, Palolem and Anjuna, a bloke hailed me and asked me to come to his house. At first I was, er,somewhat hesitant but having checked that I was ready to flee at the first sign of trouble and havving got a vaguely good vibe from him, I agreed. At the house, he introduced me to his sister and niece (aged 11 and wearing girl-scout uniform, complete with left-hand shake). It turned out the house was Suriya (the sister) and Priya (her daughter)’s home but that Raj visited often because Suriya was widowed, so he worked here in Goa* to support them. He and Priya were returning this evening to their native Tamil for his wedding (Suriya would follow later, just in time for the actual ceremony) but for now, apparently because I reminded him of a German friend and because he’d somehow seen something good in me just as I was walking along the road, he wanted to be my friend and offer hospitality in the form of food, chai and conversation.
*as a social worker[? – his english was very emphatic but also idiosyncratic and a little difficult to follow and I don’t yet speak any Tamil]

Again, much chat, punctuated by communication difficulties but accompanied by jeera rice, lime pickle and ginger chai. Raj extolled the virtues of Tamil Nadu and his brother/cousin’s orphanage and school there, along with the tea estate in the Nilgiri hills which pays for all of this. He insisted that once I’d seen it, I’d never want to return to England. (I did demur, saying that I’d need to return to the UK to be near my parents which apparently endeared me to him a bit more but he kept on repeating that I’d still not want to return to the UK.) SUch over-enthusiasm does make me a bit nervous but just guess who wants to visit Nilgiri anyway! If I’m being offered an expense-free place, apparently without strings, well it’s worth a look at least.

Raj then took me back to the main road, I found this cybercafe and that’s us up to date.It’s now about 5pm, so I’m heading to the beach now it’s less madly hot.

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