Archive for the ‘REPORTAGE’ Category

The Perils of Goa

Friday, February 25th, 2011

These are excerpts from a frayed notebook filled with a sort of deranged scrawl that I happened to find in a pavement old-book shop in central Delhi. As will be quite clear to the reader, this is a heart-tuggingly tragic account of the scary unraveling of a mind steadily losing its grip on reality and succumbing to the dark terrors of the  nameless chaos that lurks at the insidious bottom of all our psyches.

I should have known better. There were enough premonitions, enough dark signs, but we never paid attention. Even when I looked up at the sky as I was entering the airport and saw a vulture circling high up there, I didn’t figure it out. Even when JT won a leather valise in the Air Sahara lottery at the check-in counter, and I got a fucking chewing gum pack, I paid no attention. And that is the worst mistake you can make. Trust me.

When, thrilled with his leather windfall, JT became overconfident and tried to chat up a stewardess in Russian, one of the many languages he doesn’t know a word of, I should have read the portents and crept out of the plane. “Always works, this Russian thing,” JT assured me. “I have it on good authority. Pretend to be an Uzbek bigshot in the Russian mafia, and the girls will do anything for you.” He grabbed my pack of gum, and popped two strips in his mouth. “Anything,” he said thoughtfully. “Must have been a lesbian,” he cribbed later, as we were disembarking at Goa.

But by the time we reached the airport building, his spirits had returned. “You think they’ll garland us?” he asked hopefully. “I mean, after all, like, we are two senior chaps, right, come to teach some losers, right?” Which was true. We were in Goa for two days to teach print design at a media institute. Visions of topless wives of English plumbers frolicking on Calangute beach shimmered behind our eyes.

How awfully mistaken we were. Goa in summer is very hot, very muggy, sapping your energy and sweating your souls out of us, and off-season the people in Goa are even stupider. The beaches overflow with thousands of bank clerks and public sector administration manager types and their families, with the men rushing into the water with potbellies overhanging VIP underwear, and the women hoist their sarees or salwars and squeal like stuck pigs as the water comes in and erodes the sand under their feet while retreating. Little children are chased on the beaches by vicious stray dogs and people order dosa and noodles in the beach shacks. There’s an oil tanker called River Princess run aground on Candolim beach, and is stuck there, leaking oil into the sea while the government tries to figure out what to do about that. The ship ran aground 18 months ago and has been leaking since then.

There are no topless English plumbers anywhere, male or female.

We went to famed beach shack Souza Lobo on Calangute beach and parked ourselves, and Mr Souza/ Lobo came to us and said that since the restaurant had been booked for a party that night, they weren’t serving any food that day. We just want some snacks, we told him. What to do man, he said, you go next door, no problem. We went next door to Sun and Sea, where the usual moron, doubtless called Menino or Savio, was the only one around, playing Elton John on a two-in-one. We ordered pina coladas. That was the last we saw of him for 20 minutes: presumably he went to buy pineapples to make juice from them to add to the alcohol to make the pina coladas.

After 10 minutes, the music stopped, and we shouted Savio! Menino! Francis! Braganza! Gonsalves! Bhaiya! No one came. When he finally appeared with the pina coladas, we ordered mussels and king fish and asked him to put some music on. After 15 minutes he re-appeared and said that he had only one king fish so could he serve one king fish and one of some other fish (there were three of us). We agreed and requested him to put some music on. After 10 minutes he re-appeared with a plate of what he claimed was mussels, but this we violently protested. In the end, he agreed not to charge for it, so we ate it like the starved curs we were.

But soon the sea breeze had made us ravenous again and JT was fondling Savio/Menino’s pet kitten, drooling slightly and humming to himself, so we begged S/M if he had some wafers or nuts which we could feed on. He agreed and put on some music. The wafers or nuts never came. We sat there as the sun sank into the sea and the LIC agents and other petty bourgeoisie left with their squealing fat wives and beastly children. Finally S/M served us our kingfish/ whatever fish which we gobbled hurriedly, paid a king’s ransom and trudged back to our car, whimpering in helpless discontent.

When we returned to the Goa International Centre where we were staying and where the classes were being held, we found that a creative director from Lowe Lintas had gathered all the workshop participants on the lawn and was taking his classes there. We stopped and tried to listen to what he was teaching in this class of his called Creative Thinking. He was wheedling at his students and telling them that creativity can only come when your mind is at peace, and so they should tell him all their personal problems so he could then make them creative. The students cringed and cowered and would not look him in the eye. He leant towards the women one by one and said: “You, you must be feeling bothered by something. Tell me, come on, open up, creativity is about openness.” We were trying to creep away on silent terror-stricken tip-toes, but he noticed us and leering horribly (for he knew that we were on the run), invited: “Ah, perhaps you can start?” JT gave a soft sniveling scream and we sprinted into the bar and downed two on-the-rocks Scotches in two minutes, choking on the ice and the fumes going to our heads and making us delirious and panicky. The day was turning into some sort of dreadful paranoid fantasy. Before this Lintas character hunted us down like animals and forced us to reveal our nastiest secrets, we wanted to be drunk enough to cope with the situation.

We sat in the bar, sweating buckets and drinking Teacher’s and whining at each other about mussels and creative destruction. But we were soon spotted by the organisers and herded into a bus and taken to the official dinner, where there was no booze served, and the men sat primly on one side of the lawn, and the women glowered at them from the other side. Since we were faculty, we thought it would not be seemly if we tried to ingratiate ourselves with the women who were all students except for one who claimed she was a fashion stylist and who we left alone because she was so thin we didn’t know if she was facing us or was sideways to us. Conversation died soon, and no one spoke to anyone, except for two young Germans who no one knew what they were doing there and who had a long discussion with JT on many topics which JT couldn’t figure out because they did not seem to be speaking in English or Hindi or Bengali, the three languages that JT is well-versed with.

We crept away with our dinners to the dark corner of the lawn, and ate whatever we could of strange dishes which were doubtless delicious but by that time we had been reduced to jumping at sudden noises and flinching at gusts of breeze and focusing only on crawling back to our rooms without bursting into tears.

When we managed to get back to the hostelry where we had been put up, and were making our way to our rooms, we noticed the door to a room open and sounds of feeble merriment. We peeped in and saw Manuel, an art director JT and I had sacked a couple of years ago, sitting with a couple of other guys and one open bottle of White Stag whisky and one unopened bottle before them. Goddamn Manuel was a student here at the workshop we had come to teach! This incompetent man had been sent to this paid workshop by his employer, whoever that unfortunate and stupid company was, to be taught by us, we who had slammed him against walls and taken his iMac away and run him out of town like a rabid dog! There was no way we were going to allow him to have all that White Stag by himself and his shithead friends!

As Manuel recoiled, clutching at his heart, at the sight of the two most feared men in his life, who should have been 1750 km away but were peering at him and tottering slightly, we moved in pitilessly; there was work to be done. JT grabbed the unopened White Stag while I seized Manuel’s thin moist floppy hand and crushed it in a vicious handshake. “Where do you work now, M?” I sneered at him, my face three inches from the goggling open-mouthed gibbering thing that was passing for his face. “Who sent you here?” He was chief art director some place, he sniffled, in charge of eleven magazines! “It’s OK, Manuel, we won’t tell on you,” JT assured him, taking off the White Stag cap with his teeth. “We are not like the others.” “Please, I didn’t know you were here,” Manuel pleaded. “It’s not my fault.” “It is, Manuel, it is,” I told him grimly, “and you must pay. Everyone pays. Get the soda. A couple of shops may still be open in Donna Paula. It’s just a few miles away.” “We’ll be in my room,” said JT. “And we have little patience. I think you better run.”

(To be continued)

The Perils of Goa (cont’d)

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Next morning, I woke up early and banged on JT’s door till he grunted and groaned and crawled out of bed and opened the door. “Goa without any desirable woman in sight!” he complained. “It’s turning me into a homosexual! Last night I dreamt I was buggering Manuel, and not hating it too much, till that Lintas guy came and started confessing to me about what he did to an armadillo in the Bhubaneshwar zoo.” “Armadillo?” I cried. “What the fuck did he do to an armadillo?” “I couldn’t listen properly, what with him whimpering and all that blood.” “Blood? What blood?” I yelled. The morning sunshine was beginning to look threatening. I needed a drink. “What the hell are you talking about?” JT sneered at me. “Who said anything about blood?” The air was turning thick and humid. Ferocious large and dark women were flashing their knees at us and pretending to cut grass on the lawns of the Goa International Centre. They had been sent to watch us, to make sure we behaved.

We staggered over to the bar, last night’s White Stag still lurching in the pits of our stomachs, but they wouldn’t serve us before 11 am. So we had some breakfast while Manuel and his cronies watched us from the corners of their eyes, including those who had their backs to us. A scruffy schoolboy of about 12 came up to us and whispered: “I am the technologist who they called in. Is there problem with your presentation?” “I have a lot of Outlook covers stored on my Apple Powerbook, but your projector isn’t recognising its feed, so there’s no way I can make my presentation,” JT revealed. “USB or Scuzzy?” asked the juvenile delinquent. “I have a Scuzzy port.” “Hmm, let’s have a look…”

The conversation degenerated into serial ports, compatibility, G3, G4, PC, reboot, S-Video, RGB, 15-pin sockets, AppleTalk, ethernet and other gibberish as the minutes ticked away. JT was supposed to take his class in another two hours, and he had nothing to say if he could not show his pictures. My head spun. What was in store for us? If JT had no pictures to show, and tried to cover up by blabbering and stammering for two hours, would they listen quietly, or would we get chased and hunted down like rabid dogs and lynched? I was sure Manuel was waiting gleefully for us to screw up so he could rouse the rabble and unleash the bloodbath. There was rising menace in the rhubarbed mumblings from the other breakfast tables. And it was still far from 11 am. Was there any White Stag left in JT’s room, or had that debauch finished it all off last night after I staggered back to my room?

The students, including Manuel and his savage cronies, were all herded into the classroom now to listen to the fashion stylist who was dying of starvation right in front of our bleary eyes. I crept in after the lights were switched off for the slides and took the seat nearest to the door, ready for a quick getaway at the slightest sign of danger. But the unwashed masses were riveted to the screen where the thin woman was projecting pictures from Elle of other thin women in swimsuits and spiky hair. The sap was rising in the room, the situation could turn ugly at any moment. I knew. I rushed out into the blinding sunshine, sweating like a hog in heat, and searched for JT, but he was nowhere to be seen.

What had happened? Had they come down to the level of Kidnapping him? Were they giving him the third degree? If they could do that to JT, who had worked on his presentation, what would they do to me, who was still trying to figure out a topic to talk on? The large dark women with knees like spiked clubs cutting grass seemed to be involved in this. They were openly sneering at me now.

The bar was open. There was no one around. Two Teacher’s down, I started feeling better. The Savio or Menino tending the bar brought me some nuts to chew. I needed a topic to talk on. Time was running out. Tomorrow, at 9 am, I had to face the crowd who would have been by then excited to fever pitch by the insidious Manuel with twisted stories about my depravities, the crowd would be waiting for the slightest faux pas on my part to cry havoc and fall on me like a pack of pit bulls. I needed a topic.

JT walked in with a clearly deranged grin, jabbering about ACDC Viewers and Adobe Photoshops and retrieved pictures. What had they done to him? Had they turned him into a Dumb Beast? “Get a grip on yourself,” I snarled. “Have a whisky, fast. It’ll help.” We could hear the delirious hoards coming out of the classroom and heading for the toilets to wash the blood off their hands and mouths. We never saw the thin girl again.

Lunch and the next hour passed in a haze. Did we even have lunch? Holed up in the bar in a place far from home, guzzling whisky at high noon, things were turning very very suspicious. Would we ever get back to our families? Why was the Savio or Menino tending the bar talking softly into the phone while looking at us? Who were his masters? Who controlled his mind? In off-season Goa, we had no place to hide, no crowds of merrymakers to merge with. When they came looking for us, we would show up like sore thumbs with our Hawaiian shirts among all the pot-bellied VIP-underwear-clad BHEL accountants.

Ye Gods, where will this end? Mama, I want to go home.

(To be continued)