OK, so yesterday I returned to Margao from Base Camp Palolem to meet with Suriya and try again to buy our train tickets to her brother’s wedding. The wedding has been brought forward a few days to the 1st of May so that the prospective brother-in-law (who is to be the best man) can actually be there – he couldn’t get the leave he’s asked for.
bubble bubble toil and trouble
I met Suriya at a cafe she’d taken me to before: this involved a long wait and some toilet-anxiety: Suriya had phoned my lodgings (and woken the owner!) at 7.50 to wake me and to meet her at this cafe at 11am. I’d had time for breakfast and to wonder if Kadamba (Goa State bus company) was running on Easter Sunday: two other brits were in the same fix so we hired a taxi for 500 rupees between us (the bus would have been 20 each) and spent the journey to Margao insisting to the driver that we had plenty of time and would like to arrive in one piece!
By the time I arrived at the cafe in Margoa I was desperate: and then most dismayed to learn that this cafe didn’t have a toilet. Frantic panicking found me a posh cafe with a (far from posh) toilet just in time. Suriya arrived about 11.50 – her friend’s daughter had appeared to go into labour and that, understandably, took precedence.
Wrong side of the tracks?
We then walked to the station, which involved walking across the tracks and tried to buy our tickets. I don’t think Suriya’s done this often and I didn’t have much of a clue. We took ticket-application forms from the pile and filled in as much as we could, assuming that the ticket-sellers would tell us which trains we’d need to take to get from Margao to Salem: WRONG! He just said “there’s no direct train – enquiries will tell you”.
So we queued at the enquiries counter and were told that the only possibility was to travel overnight to Mangalore and take a train the next night to Salem. Still at least we now knew the names of the trains and their numbers and so could rejoin the ticket queue, in the hope of getting something slightly better.
After a conversation between three people who all speak radically different versions of English, we have tickets: Suriya, her family, her friend Laxmi and I are all departing Margao on 28th April at 13.35 to arrive in Mangalore around 5 hours later. About an hour after that, we’ll take a sleeper to Salem, arriving there about 9.30 on 29th. This is costing us 500 rupees each – about a rupee a mile. Even Richard Branson can’t offer that!
Lady in waiting?
Flushed with success and a thali from a local cafe, Suriya and I went to the Hospicio Hospital to check on the progress of the birth I mentioned at the start of this entry. Rechsma, the mother-to-be, was utterly exhausted – the apparent onset of labour had been a false alarm but it had kept her awake all night Her mother (Reunkar) and father (Bhaskar) were in better spirits but still anxious – this baby is Rechsma’s first and may be R&B’s first grandchild.
Party Party Party!
With nothing doing and visiting time over (not that I felt entirely comfortable being there), Suriya and I returned to Colva where Bobby (I mis-spelt this last entry), Ravi and their children (Goutami [daughter, age 7] and Dhanush [son, age 4]) were still visiting Suriya. We told them about our success in ticket buying (Bobby, Gautami, Dhanush and Laxmi are also travelling with Suriya and I). Then I was asked to stay and have a few drinks and a meal. Friends of Suriya (George and “Mr Silent”) also arrived and Ravi and I went to a nearby wine-shop and bought a few beers, some palm wine (14%) and some brandy, a few nibblies and some soft drinks. (Ravi paid for all of it!) We also encountered Surekha and Thanuja (T is Suriya’s youngest daughter [Priya]’s friend and S is her mother – are you keeping up?) who Ravi also invited along.
Lots of banter, a few drinks (Bobby can hold her own with the palm wine), some utterly adorable antics by the kids and a good time followed. Bobby insisted I eat with my fingers (the meal was “drumsticks” [think of something like celery but tasting like sweet gherkins], flavoured rice and “bubble-and-squeak”) and I am so proud that I only got three grains of rice on the floor. Thank you to many friends – above all Adriani – for showing me how!
Pimp my [b]ride?
Before this, George had asked me what I thought of Indian women and I’d replied that they are often pretty. On my way to the toilet (well, both men and women urinate in the garden), he’d cornered me to say that if I wanted an Indian girlfriend, he could fix it but I’d have to agree to marry her. I told him the truth – that I am unable to marry anyone just now and really unsure whether I would want to get married again if and when it becomes possible – and further difficult conversation was avoided when Ravi and Bobby came out to announce that food was ready. (They’d guessed what George was likely to be talking about – he soon made his excuses and left, after insisting I should see him tomorrow. However, I had no wish to do so, especially after Ravi, Boby and Suriya told me that they’d expected something like this and that George would want a cash ‘thank-you’ for arranging this relationship. As I told them, this event had made me feel a little queasy and insulted: I don’t like pimping and I don’t think I’m so repulsive that I can’t attract women all by myself!
By now the last bus to Palolem had long ago departed, we were all suitably fed, watered and pickled and sleep was on the agenda. To complete the context: Suriya’s rented house has two rooms, each about 4 metres by four metres. The bedroom/lounge/day-room contains Suriya and Priya’s beds one either side of the room. The kitchen/workroom/pantry has a shower area inset into it and Suriya cooks on a two-ring gas burner. She washes dishes and clothes in a conrete area outside the house and has a non-flush squat toilet at the end of the garden. What the hell is someone who has this little doing being so lovely to me? I can’t help crying a little as I type this: I find it hard to think that I deserve to enjoy myself at their expense!
Anyway, Suriya and Gautami slept on Priya’s bed, Dhanush, Ravi and Bobby slept on the floor (insisting that they liked being cool from the tiles and being directly under the fan); they all insisted that I slept in Suriya’s bed. Again, I can hardly believe how I’ve been treated – far too good! Suriya’s bed was lovely and comfortable but I didn’t sleep well because of the noise from the fan. I think I dropped off around 5am, just as Suriya woke and started her daily routine.
Don’t say a prayer for me now. Save it for the morning after.
By 9am, life was returning to the rest of us: chai, water and savoury vermicelli were consumed in sufficient quantities to get us back to vaguely human status. (Ravi and Bobby should both have been badly hungover but weren’t: grr!!) I braved the squat toilet after Suriya cleaned it – this was her choice but she used phenol, so I gave gave a her a gentle, concerned her lecture about this being a poison that absorbs through skin. I’m going to buy her some marigolds and make sure she uses them!
Suriya and I went back to Margao to check on the birthing process: no news yet but a lot of thought about how I would feel if I was waiting for the birth of my own child or grand-child – I think I’d go mad with worry in 10 minutes. Suriya then took me to a bus-stop to get a bus back to Palolem and is now either back in Colva with Bobby and family or back at the hospital with Rechsma and her folk.
I think that’s enough tediousness for now: see you later space cats!