Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Crazy Goan Holiday

Susannah's home
Day One, Friday, 03 March, 2011: Bent but not broken from a 15 hour bus journey that’s best forgotten, we reached Susannah’s home at 8.30 a.m. Her sunny nature was almost a prophetic indicator of what the next three days were going to be like. She gave the bigger bedroom to me and Navneet; I love it that the female gender got priority over flesh and blood. But Anmol and Ram were perfectly happy with their room too, not that we were planning to spend any considerable amount of time indoors. We met and made friends with Peter, who is Susannah’s son and to our great fortune, at home on vacation from his oil rig. Two days of this vacation were ours – over the next two days, he drove us around and took us to some of his favourite places. Generosity apparently runs in the family.

My first Lobster
Super fluffy omelettes with Goan bread ala Susannah later, we left her home for Utorda. It’s a beach in South Goa and it has a restaurant which makes seafood the way it should be made. The sand is gold, the sea is blue green, and there are just so few people around to make this beach ideal if you want to soak Goa in. No litter, no tattoo guys, no salesmen toting random stuff – I recommend this beach to everyone who loves the sea. We frolicked in the water for about an hour, and then had lunch at Zeebop. I had my first lobster ever – it was cooked in the red sauce called Recheado(pronounced ray-shaad), and it was wonderful. The rest of the meal was Goan Fish curry, batter fried squid, and the ubiquitous rice. The restaurant perhaps knows the kind of food coma that will be induced post such a meal, so Zeebop has a large collection of deck chairs strewn about in various degrees of shade. Navneet and Anmol slept happily while Ram and I drifted between snoozing, reading and ordering lime sodas and pina coladas.

The lowlight of the day were the two disappointing dinners – we went to one to forget about the first – at Viva la Panjim and Horseshoe. Both are so enthusiastically recommended by Lonely Planet but both left me with nothing to write about. Except maybe this - Viva Panjim had rats running all over the place, which I confess I would not have minded had the food been good; and Horseshoe served us the most insipid Vindalho that was ever created.We ended the day with telling each other horror stories at the Miramar beach.The mosquitoes bothered me far more than the scary stories. Miramar is an ordinary sort of touristy beach in Panjim. I’m spoilt by the likes of Utorda, I know.

Day Two, Friday 04 March: Peter drove us to Tivim(pronounced thee-vee), a sleepy village in north Goa where Sarita (Anmol's wife to be) has a family home. We teased Anmol non stop on the way, about how he was completely under-dressed for a visit to the in-laws. It was an hour long drive, through lovely roads, and Anmol went crazy taking pictures of the beautiful houses we saw on the way. Sarita's house has a fairy tale look to it, with its symmetrical lines and slated roof. It sits in the middle of a large garden, giving the impression that it just grew out of the ground, as much as the trees did. It is two hundred years old, and although no one has lived in it for more than 50 years, it is easy to imagine the hundreds of interesting stories that must have been created here...Eyes may have met for the first time in this large living room, over a sleepy sunday lunch.....and it'd be so easy to fall in love here, with winds whispering through trees all day and all the general feeling that the rest of the world isn't really there, and all the people who really matter are right here around you in this house.

Sorry, got carried away, Anyway, it's an inspiring little house, and it's inspiring Sarita's father to abandon Delhi and sit in Goa trying to repair the place and make the house the living dream it deserves to be.

Life According to a Goan

Friday, 04 March 2011
11.00 p.m. 

Aulona- “Guess where Zoey delivered her pups? In my bedroom! She just walks in, calm as you please, at eleven in the night, lies down on the floor and proceeds to litter! They’re really quiet you know. By midnight she had had two of them and I drifted off to sleep. When I woke up at seven, Alex asked me: Guess how many puppies we have? I said four, but it turned out seven! We had such a hard time sleeping over the next month, but it was a lot of fun!"

A mother of three, the eldest of whom is in her early twenties, Aulona looks and talks like a peppy 30 year old. She is Anmol’s aunt (it’s a complicated family tree, but I’m reasonably sure that I’ve got this right).  She lives in Goa, in one of the most beautiful houses I’ve seen, with her three daughters and husband Alex who runs an advertising agency, plays in a band, has designed their jaw droppingly beautiful house, and can rustle up a meal that would make you want to write poetry. Seriously, the man was unreal.

Anmol has another aunt in Goa. Susannah Velho lives in a house in Panjim that overlooks a beautiful park. She opened up the house and her heart to the four bumbling friends that Anmol brought over from Hyderabad - keep the house keys, the kitchen’s yours, use the washer–dryer, use the extra towels....Where does so much generosity of spirit come from?

I used to think that Anmol's penchant to pick up random strays, fall in love with them and nurse them to perfect health was an endearing eccentricity but it turns out that he's just following the call of his gene pool. This weekend taught me a few things about Goans –

1. They love no other place as much as they love Goa - no wanderlust for them. Hardly surprising. As Sreeram says, "Where would a Goan go to get away from it all? He's already away from it all...” And he knows this.
2. They all love dogs. Every one of them. Man, woman and child. Every family I met seemed to think that to take in, feed and heal every mangy ill treated dog in the neighbourhood is the most natural thing to do.
3. There are no vegetarians in Goa. If you hate sea food, please don't go to this paradise. You will probably feel like a friend of mine who constantly complained about being the lone guy in a course on gender diversity.

I wish I was Goan. But to have one of them as one of your best buddies is good too.

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