... things we talk ...
Goa – this tiny little state on the western coast of India is perhaps the most sought after holiday destination worldwide.
I have stopped counting now the number of times I have been there. Holidays for me always end up being in Goa. I have visited the place in different seasons and each season had a new story to tell.
My earliest recollection of Goa goes back to the time when I was a little girl. I must have been five or six years old. And it was a big holiday that my dad had planned. It was winters. School was closed and we had not taken a vacation for a long time. Yes, we did go to Shillong once a fortnight, but that I never considered it as a vacation because firstly it was my maternal grandparents home and secondly it was just 100 kms from our home, roughly a three hours drive.
So where was I??? Yes! It was my first big holiday and the first time I’d travel by an airplane! I was thrilled.
We flew from Guwahati to Calcutta and we stayed there for three days. We checked in Carlton, a very old hotel, which my dad said, he used to stay there when he was of my age whenever he came to Cal. Carlton I remember fondly because this is the place where I first saw a television set! It had huge rooms and bathrooms. There was no room service and all meals were to be eaten in the dining hall only. Another interesting thing about the hotel was there was a fixed menu for all the guests. And you had to eat that only. Yes, the soups were amazing; I still faintly remember the taste. The serving dishes, dinner plates and soup bowls were very delicate porcelain with beautiful designs. The caramel custards served after dinner made me feel more at home because it tasted the same as the ones my mother or my grandmother made.
Opposite to the Calrton was the Oberoi Grand and on the left side of it was a movie hall, Roxy I think the name was. That our room was on the left hand side of the hotel too, it was quite noisy at times.
Cal seemed such a big city to me. I was amazed to see even the footpaths broader than some of our car passing lanes back home. Cal was a fun short stay, I rode on trams, visited one of my granny who lived in an old apartment called Lindsay Mansion in Lindsay Street. There were no lifts. We had to walk up six floors and the corridors were dark and cold. There were pigeons flying in these corridors. Similar to this mansion, we visited another family friend who stayed in a pent house in an apartment in Esplanade. The wooden stairs which led to this terrace penthouse was rickety and I remember crawling up like a cat instead of walking on my two legs.
And then our next leg of journey began. We almost missed our train to Bombay thanks to the nasty Cal traffic. Being stuck for about an hour in the traffic our driver rightly suggested that we cross the Hooghly River by ferry and reach Howrah station. And it was so chaotic. I had never been in a situation like that earlier. My mom was literally dragging me by my arms and at one point I threw up and next I remember getting a tight slap from her!
After this epic marathon of sorts we finally were in the Gitanjali Express on our way to Bombay.
Bombay seemed bigger than Cal to me. The skyscrapers made my neck ache as I kept tilting my head to look up how tall these buildings were from the rear windshield as we drove in my uncle’s car from the Victoria Terminus Station to Pali Hills, Bandra.
Bombay was fun. I was with two of my favourite cousins. I realized they were not joking and meant business when they used to tell me, “Rishi Kapoor stays opposite to our home. You can see him if you look out of the kitchen window. Vinod Khanna stays on the 1st floor of our building.”
And then the time came when we boarded a night bus to Goa. I never know at that time that this petite little place would end up being my favourite place in this entire world and I would keep coming back again and again.
Goa has a very different kind of a charm. The freshness in the air, the bright sun or the heavy rains, the saltiness in the atmosphere, the coconut trees dancing in the sea breeze, the smiling faces of people, old Portuguese houses, homemade sausages, sea food, bougainvilleas blooming in bright pinks, oranges, whites and reds, the hills filled with greenery, rivers meeting the seas and the aromatic spices. You just tent to lose track of time and your daily routine once you are there. It makes one laid back so easily.
For a long time my Goa vacations were up in North only. Starting from my first vacation, when we stayed in Dona Paula at a lovely place called Prainnha Resorts by the Sea. The rooms overlooked the Arabian Sea. The resort had its own private beach and what more could one ask for.
And year after year… not literally but when I was doing my post graduation, I went there a couple of time with friends. We again were in North Goa, close to Calangute.
My first holiday with my husband was again Goa. It wasn’t a planned decision. We were in Bangalore at his sister’s place and on a weekend we took a train to Goa. We were again somewhere between Calangute and Baga. We stayed in a guest house run by an old Goanese couple, Mr. & Mrs. Ruberio. We rented a bike like all travelers do and went on exploring places. We sat by the beach post sunset, counting waves, sipping beer and eating.
And then the time came when I took my daughter to Goa for the first time. Much before going I looked up for places to stay. This time around I was being a well planned Goa traveler because I had a two year old going as well. I did a random search for Priannha Resorst on Google and boy! Yes! It was there! It had a website and reservations could be done online. So I sent them a mail and wrote that as a five year old and on my first visit to Goa, I had stayed there and now after all these years and with a daughter, I want her Goa sojourn to start from this very resort. They responded very warmly and so that was it… I felt like homecoming. I knew the roads, I know the resort and I knew the private beach. As we reached, I saw it had changed immensely. There were so many rooms now; there was a swimming pool too. It was beautiful. But I had such wonderful memories of my own visit to this very place earlier, it made the stay all the better.
My daughter loved it to bits. I remember telling her as we were walking out of the airport to the cab, “Look … we are home”! Yes Goa feels like home to me. I wonder if I was a fisherman or a Portuguese woman in my earlier life!
I do not do the usual touristy things when I am there. Just spend most of the time by the waters, or sipping beer and reading a good book or exploring newer places, unnamed secluded beaches and new food joints and shacks.
Another time I took a couple to Goa. They were first timers. It was the monsoons and no matter how many times I had been there, I was never there earlier during monsoons.
I thought we had had enough of Panjim, Dona Paula, Calangute, Baga, Candolim, Anjuna. So this time we moved further ahead and decided to stay in Morjim.
Morjim was almost closed when we went. Due to heavy rains, the tourist dwindles. We took up a service apartment and the beach was just a few steps away from our apartment. It was quiet, tranquil and the rains made it all the more beautiful. It was a total bliss. The tides were high most of the time. The sound of two giant waves crashing against each other on a high tide is like a roaring thunder. This is what I wanted. For me I have had too much of noise and crowd in Goa. I was immensely enjoying this state of nirvana. But the couple friend of ours and their super mischievous seven year old lad got a trifle bored after two days. They wanted trance music, psychedelic and neon lights, they wanted to be amongst swarm of strange people shaking their legs and booty and sipping port wine and cashew fenny. The husband wanted some weed too. So that was it. I ended my tranquil and nirvana like state of bliss in which I was cocooned and we packed our bags and came to Baga.
I wouldn’t say I do not like it. I like to see people on the beach, the hawkers, the life guards, the newlyweds. (See in India you can make out newlyweds, especially if they are from Northern India. The brides wear red and white bangles called “chura” for a year in both their hands up till her elbows). So you get to see bikini clad chura wearing brides, you see people wearing formal trousers, shirt and leather shoes and walking on beaches, there are women wearing stilettos to the beach… and then there are those who dons the “I Love Goa” tee with matching shorts, a straw hat and a waist pouch! And there are the overtly romantic pairs displaying a whole lot of PDA, there are the ones who guzzles beer like a fish out of water… the list is an endless one.
You can spend your whole time observing these and weaving stories in your mind about them. It is one of my favourite way to kill time when I am in Baga sitting in St. Anthony’s Karaoke Bar & Restaurant. My best place to hang out in Baga was the Fisherman’s Nook, the last shack on the Baga beach. I loved the guy who used to attend to me. Not only because he was friendly and smart but the amazing tattoos he had on both his forearms!
I discovered South Goa when Sanjive and Michelle had moved there last year. During summers I was in Delhi for a couple of days with a cousin of mine, when Sanjive suggested that I should visit them too. So for one more time I was in Goa again, yet this time around I would be in unfamiliar territories and places. My first stop in South Goa was Palolem. As I looked out to the sea, sitting in Silver Star, I wonder what I was doing all these years up in North Goa!
I never knew I had much more in store for me. As greedy as I am I went to Goa again in December and I was there right in time to celebrate Christmas and New Years.
As I went further and deeper in South Goa, I discovered Agonda beach. It’s quite, there are hardly any Indian tourist, especially the noisy ones, the water is clear, the restaurants excellent and the rooms cheap. I do not know how many beers I have drank there but yes, after I reached back home I realized all my clothes are tighter and I am one size bigger now.
Paradise beach which is about fifteen minutes drive from Agonda is a little treasure if you allow me to put it that way. This beach is nestled amongst hundreds of coconut trees and you have to walk down close to hundred steps to reach the spot. But its worth all the walking. It’s truly a paradise. The only hitch is when you have to walk up the stairs again… but I have considered it to be a cardio exercise for over eating so much!
I was in love with it until I discovered another beach, which stole my heart away and like a reckless and unfaithful lover my affection towards Paradise beach dwindled when I discovered Talpona.
Talpona is quieter, secluded, barely anybody around and the beach is the cleanest. I decided to spend two nights in Talpona. I took up a shack in Ordo Saunsar. The rooms are beautifully and tastefully made with cozy bed and the roofless bathrooms are one of a kind.
The beach hardly had any people. You could literally run around naked without worrying if someone saw you. The times I have spent on the Talpona beach I counted a max of ten people. That’s it. And then my mind went back to Baga and Calangute. I wondered how over crowded it must be there especially on a New Year’s Day and look where I am! Alone in my solitude and meeting a few likeminded people and in total peace with myself.
After my stay in Talpona, even Agonda felt noisy. So you can imagine how quiet and tranquil Talpona is.
Talpona is similar to Morjim. Ridley turtles lay egg on this beach as they do in Morjim. So these beaches are preserved and are kept noise and pollution free.
Talpona also reminded me of Radhanagar beach in Havelock Island, an experience I think I should write it before Alzheimer’s hit me!
People tell me, “don’t you get bored of Goa” and I simply smile and shrug my shoulders and reply, “I do not know. That feeling has never come”!
It takes a while for that feeling to sink in. Rejection… Denial…
After making love very overpoweringly, we were both gasping for a breather.
I lit a cigarette and kept the ashtray on my belly balancing it in such a way that it did not trip over and spoil the crisp cotton bed sheet while resting my head on his arms.
“When was the last time you had sex?” he asked me.
I thought for a while trying to recall and then I said, “I do not remember”.
In that dimly lit room, I could see the wink in his eyes. He thought I was lying… trying to cover up or sound green.
“When was it that you had sex the last time?” I asked him and without waiting for his answer I continued, “A few hours? Days? Weeks? Months?”
“Three weeks”, he said as he took the cigarette from me and took a puff.
I pulled him close to me and kissed him again. I wanted this moment to freeze. I looked into his eyes and said, “I will fall in love with you…”
And even before I could complete the whole sentence, I heard him saying this,
“No! No! No! Don’t!”, as he moved his head from left to right in disagreement.
“Never do that. I am not the guy you should be in love with”.
I still kept looking at him, kissed him again and then smiled placidly.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing”, I said.
“Come off it, I know that smile of your. Tell me what it is”, he said he wanted to know.
“Put a baby inside me”, I told him.
“Crazy woman”, he said and I felt he wanted to end the conversation.
“What?” he still asked.
“Nothing”, I said.
There was a silence for a few minutes and then I said,
“Don’t worry. I won’t say that I am in love with you. I like being with you. Be it with clothes on or in my nakedness”.
“Me too”, he said.
I found it so hard to believe.
“Don’t worry”, I repeated.
“Why do you keep saying “Don’t worry” all the time?” he retorted.
“….uuummm mmmm… see I won’t behave or … or…act like a possessive and a jealous girlfriend…lover… you do not have to fret. I won’t stalk you either”.
And then we spoke for a long long time. At time he’d sit up and at times he’d lie back along with me caressing my arms, telling me amusing stories about his life, while I was still lying naked on the bed with a quilt covering my bareness.
There were times when I shifted and turned my back on him and also made sure he knew the reason… my troublesome backache.
He came close to me, spooned me and kissed me on my neck and shoulders as we still kept talking.
This is not the first time I am meeting him. We have known each other for about two years now.
Sparks flew from the time we met. He was shockingly flirtatious the first time we met.
The next time around when we met one on one, it was purely lust. Period.
As he left town I had sent him a message inquiring if he had reached home safely. It took him about 72 hours to reply to that message. And I knew it well, that I should not expect anything from this hookup. We were just filling our void. Nothing more, nothing less.
Meetings like such happened a few times thereafter.
And then after a while I did not feel too right about it. Maybe I was dumb…maybe I still am… yet I knew, the only time he longed to make that connect was when he was here. And then for the next few occasions, I always made a reason – genuine or not… I did not want to see him.
Even this time around, the first day I ignored him completely – not because it was a conscious effort, but because I was disturbed mentally, feeling very low about many thing in the personal front.
And then as I came home after watching Whiplash, I replied him shortly, what was troubling me and why I was so distant and aloof.
And the emotional fool that I am, I gave in. I said,
“OK, lets catch up, but we will wind up early…say by 9-ish, if its okay wih you.”
So that was it.
He came over…
We were meeting after a year and a month. He was taken aback to see me so silent …because that is not usually what I am.
Its been five days now that we met, that I got rejected.
There is one particular thing which I liked the most. In the two and hald years that I have known him, he has never done a thing like this.
I was sitting in the balcony talking to a friend of mine, gossiping over somebody not so important in Facebook. I was seated in the old and rickety sofa with both my legs curled to my left side. He was inside. Maybe he had gone to the washroom to freshen up. I am still not aware. But as he walked back to the balcony and sat, I almost removed my feet, making room for him, but he held both my feet with his hands tightly and as I was still speaking to my friend, he kept holding on to my forever cold feet, not letting me go.
He had a dinner invitation that evening.
“I want to spend some more time with you”, he said and added, “ I know its past the deadline you gave me, but still….”
I smiled… and asked him his plan of action.
“…..hhhmmm why don’t you wind up with your chores… and by that time I will attend the dinner and come back. Make sure the gates are not locked. I don’t want to jump over the gate”.
I still kept smiling and said, “Call me if the gates are locked. I have a set of spare keys”.
“Might not be able to call you as my cell phone is almost dead”.
So that was it. He left… I did my last winding up chores.
And then I sat in the balcony again, all alone this time waiting for him… and trust me when I say this, I have never waited so desperately for anybody in my life as I waited for him that evening.
And those moments seemed endless.
I sent him a stinker. Can’t help it. This is so very me. I wrote to him, “I hate waiting games”.
There was no reply from him. His phone must have died a slow death by then.
It was ten past eleven when he knocked on my door and came home back to me.
I am missing him so badly now. Yet I cannot say that. The way he said that I should not be in love with him is so still vivid; I swear on the life of mine, I will never say that I love him.
Yes, he is the wrong guy, yet he feels so right!
I do not remember which year that was. But yes, I was in class VIII then. I had just stepped onto my teenage years and I was a confused soul. More than what I am today… when I am at the wrong side of 30s.
I don’t know how and when things started falling apart. I was too young to comprehend and decipher. But yes… I knew for sure I did not belong to a “happy” and a “healthy” family. I saw my mom and dad cribbing and fighting day in and day out. At times it was violent. I’d wake up and see my mom with a black eye or sometimes a swollen face.
There were times when I managed the courage to ask her but she never told me the truth. My dad was beyond comprehension for me. He would never try and have an “adult” talk with me when it was about my mom and him.
So I left them at their own devises and I tried to keep myself occupied with Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Sheldon and at times the Hardy Boys series borrowed from our school library.
So I was in Class VIII … and my mom eventually decided to walk away from this marriage and we packed our bags and moved to our maternal grandparents place. I do not know what the situation was like. It was a joint family with too many people. I was happy to be around my cousins and mingle around. What my mom was going through was perhaps tough and not easy. But that’s altogether another story I will write some other day.
So I was in school. It was summers. As the final bell rang, we said our prayers and walked down to the main gates and then head home.
I remember the huge iron grilled gate. We had to pass through that gate where Sister Theresa would stand like an obedient watch dog and see all the students walk without much fuss and in a single file line. You know how life is when you are in a Convent school. Not that I mean bad but it was too suffocating and claustrophobic. And after that ordeal we would reach the main gate to be outside of our school compound. No one could enter beyond that huge iron railed gate.
And I was walking slowly – I was going home to my maternal grandparent’s house which was a five minutes’ walk from school. Ever since we came to live in with them I walked home alone, missing my other walk-a-thon friends, because they were walking in the opposite way.
As I passed those huge iron grilled gates I spotted my father. Amongst the swarm of parents waiting for their daughters. It was after a long time that I saw him. The moment I saw him, I stopped. I did not move an inch forward. I saw the eagerness on his face. He looked happy. He looked sober. He looked as if he wanted to hold me in his arms tightly and take me back home.
I was always a daddy’s pet. And he knew it too well… there were times when I saw my mom and dad arguing and without even knowing who was right and who was wrong I’d take my father’s side.
But that day was different altogether. The moment I saw him I turned back and ran as fast as I could back to the place where we usually stood for our morning and afternoon assemblies.
I had my classmate Rashida with me. She was clueless about the whole affair. All I remember after this long is she crying out “Nan…Uncle…Unlce… Naaaaaan………”
I do not know how many minutes I waited there in the inner playground. The school seemed empty and then I managed to gather my wits and courage to walk through that gate and finally head home. As I walked though the main gate I did not see my dad.
And when I reached home to my mom, all she did was yell why I got late….
Sometimes things are better left unsaid… but now I seek answers…
I do not know if a “sorry” would be adequate… I lost my dad twenty one years ago.
I don’t know from where to start and where to end. In times like this I miss you the most. It was so rude on your part to leave me like this – the way you did.
Nana… I still remember the last time we met… it was one of those hot and humid monsoon days – some day in August I know for sure. You were in town. I did not know that. You had called me a couple of times and I did not take your calls deliberately. And then my phone screen flashed – Nana Residence…. I answered the phone promptly.
“You are in town?” I asked and without waiting for an answer I added, “You should have told me earlier!”
“Earlier?”, he asked with as he rolled with laughter.
There was a long pause.
“I am here since the last three days. I am leaving day after”.
I did not even have the courage to say “sorry”.
I hemmed and hawed for a while. I felt at loss of words.
“I long for the coleslaw and the baked fish”, he said.
“It will be there tomorrow evening”, I replied and we hung up.
Nana came over the next evening, with his cousin – from his father’s side – someone I barely knew. Both the men ate greedily and in minutes the coleslaw and the baked fish were finished.
The meeting was a small one. They stayed for a while – maybe an hour and half. Before he left, he gave me a tight hug and kissed me on my cheeks and said, “Do answer when the pone buzzes”.
And then they left. It was the last time I ever saw Nana. He was wearing a light blue faded denim shirt and a three quart pants. He had put on a wee bit of weight and boy he was looking good.
I wish I had known that it would be the last time I was seeing him ever. But then that’s how life is. You do not know what is in store for you in the times to come.
The days and weeks that followed were not amusing at all. Nana would keep calling me relentlessly at odd hours and kept talking endlessly. Half of the things I did not understood - it is because he usually spoke what was in his mind at that moment. He would not even care to go into the outer periphery of the story to let his listener understand what that was all about. It got a bit too much for me. And then I decided I would “seriously” not take his calls and listen to his nonsense any further.
One fine morning when I woke up and checked my phone I saw I had 127 missed calls from him. It scared me. I sent him a message – a stinker rather and asked him not to call me at odd hours like the way he did. And then and there I added all his phone numbers in my “call reject” list.
I still feel sorry for doing that.
This was about a year ago. And I also got myself a new phone number. No! You are wrong if you are thinking I got a new phone number because I was not looking forward to take his calls. It had more to do with my bill plans.
After my new phone number was fully operational, I messaged it to all my friends except him. I am sorry again Nana.
Yes, after a long time my phone was silent. It did not beep at odd hours. I did miss speaking to him but slowly and slowly I got used to it.
And then one fine day my cousin called up – you know the kind of cousin you normally meet at social and family functions. You exchange hellos yet you are not too friendly to be in touch on a regular basis. So when she called me I was quite surprised. We were talking about everything – the price rise, weather, weight , health – it was basically wasting time and money talking all this out of the blue and I was telling myself at the back of my mind – come to the point without much ado… and my prayers were answered when she said, “Nana is in a rehab, in Cal. Do you know about that?”
There was a long pause and then I said, “No. I did not know until now. The last time I met him was a year and two months ago. I haven’t spoken to him after that.”
She continued, “He will be out of the rehab in three months time i.e. Jan”.
“I hope he does not get back to alcohol once he is back”, I replied and we ended our conversation.
I remembered him as we stepped into a new year and I thought, “He should be out of the rehab one day or the other. I hope he takes care of himself and does not go back to his heavy drinking”. There were times when I had this desperate urge to call him… if not call then at least send him a message and let him know my new number. But I did not.
Days passed on. My life was going through some major changes as well and I was quite preoccupied with that. Staying alone in a city with a six year old daughter has a lot of perils and responsibilities. And I was totally investing my time managing the house and my daughter.
Once in a while I did remember Nana. But I decided I would call him on his birthday and surprise him. Nana’s date of birth is one date one cannot forget easily. It’s on 25th December. Now as you are reading this I am sure even you will remember the date if nothing else. So I waited. I had made up my mind and that was it. I would call him on 25th December and wish him a Merry Christmas and then a very happy birthday.
I wish life was as easy as we plan out.
It was the 21st of November last year. I had just reached home, dropping Nior at school. My aunt – someone I rarely speak to called up. We spoke about everything – like I had spoken to my cousin about everything under the sun and the she asked me,
“Did you get the news?”
“What news?” I asked her.
“Well I am not too sure, I do not know if it is true or not but Nana passed away last night”.
My world stood still and I froze. There was nothing to say.
We hung up. I called up his friend in Shillong and he was as shocked as I was when the words hit me first.
But yes it was true. Nana was no more.
I took the night train the next day to Jorhat with an aunt of mine and our family friend – the writer Uncle. My daughter is to young to understand what death is all about. It did take a lot of effort on my part to tell her that she won’t see her Nana Mama again.
Nana was kept in the morgue. All were waiting for his younger sister to arrive on Sunday.
Dipli, Nana’s sister arrived by one in the afternoon and by that time there were a lot of movements. Some were arranging his “sangi” (the bed made of bamboo straws on which the body is carried to the cremation ground ), Zulu uncle had already left for the morgue. I was getting uneasy. I did not wish to see Nana in that state. He was a very good looking man. I always said he resembled Sly Stallone. And this was not what I wanted to remember for the rest of my life. We came back to the guest house and rested a while.
That same evening we took the train back to Guwahati. I went to visit Dipli and their Dad. And as I hugged her, it was for the first time I broke down.
Its been close to three months now but I am yet to overcome the fact that you are no more.
Nana… your phone numbers are still my call reject list. What is the point now to remove those? I shall never get to hear your voice again. I shall never have the brother whom I loved so much. I will miss the way you pampered me. I remember how much of cajoling and emotional blackmailing I had to do so that you part away from your Ralph Lauren golf shades. You said they were a limited edition and you bought them for 500 dollars. But then you gave me your shades… and I still remember I said, “Aah! These shades! You could have given me one of your tee shirts instead!”
I wanted to learn golf from you. I wanted you to live to see my grand children. I wished you lived long to see me get older and fatter.
And now I know if you really want to speak to someone do not hesitate or wait for the right moment. That might never come at all.
25th Dec from now on will never be the same.
Nana I hope you are in a better and a beautiful world now. You will be missed always.