A Goa state of mind
I have joined the openly ridiculed yet secretly envied ranks of those who have escaped the torments of the year and submitted to the promise of a Goan redemption. I report with some unease that the formula has worked so far. This is not an invitation to pack one’s bags and jet off to the overburdened state. Nor is it a word of caution to resist its lure. It is a simple statement of thanks; blessed are those who possess generous friends who have built lives in the Sunshine Kingdom. May their poi never want for butter nor their feni for lime.
The holiday mafia
It is a somewhat troubling fact that Goa is the Id of the country – the wild, wild west of the psyche – to use a Freudian analogy. Its relaxed vibe and unending temptations unburden the conscience in a most alarming manner. From fat-laden chouris to guilt-free naps, there’s something about Goa that breaks one’s inner fence, letting the holiday mafia out. In normal times, this is a nice enough yearly interlude. Ten am gin and tonics and 10pm swims are a necessary aberration in our over-scheduled lives. This year, the fantasy has turned predictably darker.
Getting on a plane at this time is a special kind of hell. Any flight is a risk; a flight to Goa is also a test of nerves. Co-passengers treat Covid protocol like teenagers treat deadlines at college proms. Masks are compulsively lowered and shields casually discarded, as if the flight were, in fact, an escape from reality. And if it’s a short Mumbai to Goa flight, the airline will do its part in completing the circle of doom by serving a lurid yellow sandwich filled, outrageously, with coleslaw – that insipid side that no one has ever touched on their plate.
Social distancing, beach edition
Dipping into the ocean serves as an instant memory cleanser; all the fear and anxieties that 2020 has heaped on us in abundance dissolve like salt in water. The poor Arabian Sea is where so many are currently emptying the dark debris of their overburdened minds. Once you’ve drowned your existential worries in the all-accepting ocean, there are other problems to endure. The seashore is dotted with holidayers sporting swimwear so fashionable, you’re left wondering whether you should replace your 12-year-old burqini with something less austere. As the sun threatens to set, you spot yoga fiends contorting their bodies so expertly, it looks like an act of open aggression against the resolutely inflexible.
If you can’t beat them, browbeat them. So, you resort to mocking those who fill their beach days with physical activity, rather than lying in a sunbed between gentle dips, fried crustaceans and unread paperbacks. The headstanders, meanwhile, judge the beach bums and their lax holiday ethic. All enmities are resolved later in the evening with overpriced cocktails at underlit restaurants.
There are those moments when even the sleepiest conscience kicks into action on a Goan sojourn. And so, one plans character-building activities that involve intellectual stimulation and physical exercise. My personal favourite cultural activity in Goa involves the Reis Magos fort – or what I (sacrilegiously) call a “boutique fort”. It’s small enough to walk around in an hour – perfect for those who always have an eye on the clock and a fish thali on their mind. A meal best rounded off with a serra durra, a deliciously sweet remnant of Goa’s Portuguese past.
For all the pleasures we chase in Goa, it’s the ones that quietly creep up on us that we cherish most. On a cool morning in a quiet village, my window overlooks a low house with a red-tiled roof, palms swaying in a gentle breeze. (Mental note: bookmark this line for my Booker-winning brown exotica novel.) Yesterday, I spotted what could be either a very large mongoose or mutant civet cat in the neighbour’s yard. Soon, I’ll be driving to Divar island on the Mandovi river, an ancient pilgrimage site. If you’re planning to visit Goa too, do carry along a deep sense of respect and gratitude for its endless consolations. That, and an alternative to the maddeningly unreliable Google Maps, clearly buzzing on some potent Goan concoction.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, December 20, 2020
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