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Feature

Letter from Goa

30 Mar 2024 4 minute read

Image by Ben WildsmithBen Wildsmith

At the phone shop in Chaudi our taxi driver, Vincent, is making sure we get a SIM card. It’s the second one he’s taken us to and the refusal of the first has chafed at him.

Half-serious, he smiles at the guy in his ‘Jio Mobile’ T-shirt.

‘They get these good jobs with Jio,’ he teases, ‘and they are up here. Meanwhile us poor people are ringing them up with problems and they are not answering the phone.’

The Jio guy grins and enters his own Indian ID number on the computer, thus fooling the system and allowing us our SIM.

Tooting is life

Outside at the main crossroads, scooters converge on the junction in a cacophony of tooting. Approaching a bend? Toot your horn to warn oncoming traffic. Passing a cow? Toot at it.

Displeased with the road positioning of a vehicle? You’d better know that’s getting a toot. See someone you know? Repeated toots. Toot, toot, toot until there is nothing but toot.

Tooting is life.

Image by Ben Wildsmith

Parathas for breakfast

On the beach at Patnem, we potter about in reverie. Between the bath-warm water and the coconut palms, I feel uncomfortable at first, an unsightly speck on paradise.

I lumber about, consciously avoiding ectomorphic Western yoga students and cleaving towards happy, splish-splashing Indian families who, like me, prefer parathas for breakfast.

If you enjoy detox smoothies and superfood salads, you’ll find plenty of places for them, but the old charge that Goa isn’t the ‘real India’ is out of date.

Real India is doing better economically nowadays and at weekends the beaches throng with people from all over the country, flying into the new Manohar airport and expecting food and customs to suit them.

Your beach hut might be run by someone from Punjab, your chef might be Nepali.

Image by Ben Wildsmith

Where spices grow

Away from the beaches, though, on the back roads where spices grow, water buffalo bellow, and monkeys chatter, it’s still Goa.

In the roadside taverns you can have your fish reachardo fried with kismoor (dried prawns), sukkah clams and a bowl of digestive solkhadi to wash it down.

At night, this time of year, you need air conditioning, or at least a fan. The temperature only drops by a couple of degrees from its midday height of 33 to 35 degrees and humidity makes it feel hotter still.

Escorting a god

Alstid, who owns the little group of huts we are staying at, warns us that we’ll be without electricity for four hours this evening between 10pm and 2am.

‘The government of Canacona is shutting it off so that everyone stays indoors tonight.’

A god, which appears as a ball of light, is making its way down the Canacona highway towards Agonda this evening and it is imperative that everybody be off the roads whilst the police escort it on its biannual journey.

‘Have you seen it, Alstid?’

‘No, I’m not sure it exists, but friends of mine say they have. Apparently, it travels at knee height. If the police catch you out, they will knock you off the road.’

Image by Ben Wildsmith

At distant Talpona beach, the next day, we watch as two Italian women are ordered out of the water by lifeguards.

They have been pulled towards the rocks by a riptide.

Image by Ben Wildsmith

Gratitude

We walk up the beach to the jetty where a gentleman makes his living taking people across the river to Rajbagh beach, from where you can walk back to Patnem.

The sun begins to set as he poles his boat towards the shore, and everything sinks into the caramel luminescence that marks the end of every day in this blessed place.

I’m lost in gratitude for what I’m experiencing.

Image by Ben Wildsmith

God knows what awaits at home. My work phone will be clocking up messages concerning this disaster, that catastrophe, or the other tragedy.

It sits there in the Rhondda, on my desk like a reproach, pinging away belligerently.

Walking up Rajbagh, I watch the fragile sandpipers rushing forwards as a wave recedes, hoping to snatch up bugs.

They run on thread-thin legs, poking at the sand urgently until forced back by the returning wave.

Sometimes the tide brings them something, mostly it doesn’t.


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Rob Pountney
Rob Pountney
12 days ago

Tooting is life.“…
I knew far too many PPL who made that mistake back in the day…

David RJ Lloyd
David RJ Lloyd
11 days ago

so tooting is it? we were in kerala recently & had a driver who we renamed tutankhamun (tooting car man!!). he was lovely but drove us mad pardon the pun

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