Being a big sucker for homegrown experiences the dented image of Goa as a commercial tourist hub left in my mind, after 2 trips in school and in college, couldn’t have been more wrong. Why, I would ask, that such a small state where the farthest point is not even couple of hours away from the other would have such a stereotypical reputation?
Like been hurt in love, it took me nearly 6 whole months of convincing myself to visit Goa again. And after my last visit in 2002, I saw myself driving on the road to Goa as the beautiful parched landscape, ironically, still provided as much cool as it could. Images of commercialised Calangute with its tattoo artists pimping themselves, crowds, bhelwalas, families and groups talking selfies were some of the images my mind was disillusioning up. It wasn’t just the Maharashtra landscape that was parched, it was me too, who was looking for a new experience: To change my judgement of a place I had derived visiting as a naive teenager in search of a good time.
That is when hope, rising out as a phoenix, raised my motivation. I remembered a friend who has recently moved to Goa, Nilankur Das. I called him up and asked for his coordinates. Nilankur moved to Goa a couple of years ago and, with his wife, runs a local business in Assagao. The chaos of my mind gave way to the soothing voice of Nilankur promising me a much calmer Goa. Disappointed he not, when he took us to Morjim beach, a secluded bank of sand away from the buzz of the tourists. A few hundred feet from the entrance, where the fashionable shoes of the selfie obsessed tourist wouldn’t venture, we took our clothes off and ventured into the water. The beach almost felt virgin and, I think, I was ready to re-open the lock of my mind.
I had hovered over google maps for weeks before deciding the trip to Goa. Just next to Panjim I saw a small island and, hoping it to be scantly populated, booked myself into a guest house. Divar Island has a small history of its own, an age old colonial practice of the Portuguese is celebrated by its jolly residents as Bonderam. With its unique Indo-Portuguese culture Divar has a distinct identity clinging on proudly to its Portuguese past, yet unable to escape its Indian roots and contemporary popular culture. Like a continuum suspended in its own sense of time and place Divar offered us immense sense of peace and reflection. My skeptical past-self had scheduled my visit to the Island for just less than 40 hours, it however gave us a chance to see the local villages and monuments. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that every 3rd or 4th house on Divar is abandoned, just like a lot of swathes in Goa. Beautiful structures being engulfed by nature gives an eerie yet pleasant feel of the family get togethers and husband-wife fights that would have taken place, say, just 50 years ago. These abandoned abodes in itself are a potent subject of exploration through various art forms. What would be mine? I am still wondering.
By this time there was a heavy tang of humidity in the air, our 40 hours were almost up, and so it was time for us to leave the rock and head to the mainland, to Ouloulim. But just before we started, the parched earth got aroused emitting the scent of mud. The almost-dried yellow rice fields I saw on my way to Goa, and had hoped in that moment to be saved somehow from going completely dry, were indeed saved by this delayed natural phenomenon. It gave us permission for another year to continue savoring the fruits of Mother Earth. It rained.
As much as Ouloulim, even the drive to it is unforgettable. If you have to experience the quaint of Goa, then this is it. If I have to remember one thing from this part of my journey then it would be the flashes of swimming butt-naked in a lake with not so much as a soul around, sipping immense amounts of beer by the pool, and playing with no less than 5 dogs at any given time. Yes, and there was also cycling through the alleys like a school kid with not a worry in the world as the wind gushed through my hair, reminding me of my retreating hairline and maybe that I should finally start behaving like an adult! I had come home, to peace, even though momentarily.
72 hours in Goa aren’t enough for a bugger like me. I want to scratch the surface, get underneath, experience the local Goan life. But for that I’ll have to be back another day- when I get rid of my prejudices and come back with a focus and renewed energy.
But before I leave I am not going to lie to you, somewhere in between our Goan experience we did go to Calangute, to face my “Commercialised-Goa Demons”. And no, it wasn’t an unhappy experience. I did see families and selfie-obsessed groups that I had dreaded. But I also remembered 25 years ago coming here as a 9-year-old holding my mothers hand and eating ice cream, along with my elder sister and brother, as my Mum shielded me from the sun with her Sari, while my Dad recce’d a good restaurant to eat. It was fun if you didn’t know anything else and before the term “tailor-made-holidays” appeared in our dictionaries. During those times we’d hit the road in my dad’s Fiat Padmini as summer vacations rolled in. We never knew about, hence never felt the need of, an AC nor a drive-thru McDonalds. We’d start from Pune, stop over at Ganpatipule and end up in Goa. Like many other kids my age I would make sure to have as much fun as super-humanly possible, not giving a damn to the judgmental eyes of someone- like an older me of today, looking down upon people who are only trying to enjoy their vacations. I also remember telling to myself as that 9-year-old kid- “Have as much fun as you can, because you never know, what would the exam results say next week!”.
We all end up having fun in Goa someway or the other.