27th October 1985. 5pm
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting on the verandah in a rocking chair. Noises come from the many happy children playing together, from dogs having a bark-in, and the occasional cycling pedlar with ice cream, cloths and, early this morning, fresh bread.
For background music we have the local radio station playing Terry Wogan‘s favourites, bland, faintly familiar and housewives’ choices. Here in Goa, a favourite album is the Sing Something Simple Singers Xmas songs. That’s particularly incongruous to hear wafting over the airwaves given that not only is Xmas two months away but the world and his aunt are enjoying the shelter from the heat of the sun given by coconut and deciduous trees.
Brigitte is caretaking this old Goan house while the tenant is in France trying to mend his marriage. We met open-armed in Panjim as we were trying to book our steamer tickets to Bombay for the same day. In just one week, I’ll be in Singapore and she home in Switzerland. Three weeks ago we were sharing fruit salads, banana chapattis and good companionship with Claude in Kovalum.
So, happenstance, my last week in India is in someone’s home: no more hotel rooms for me, and no more sleeping nights en train to a strange town where all is new and no one is known. With a refrigerator and kerosene double burner stove, there’s no more dependency on dosas and idlis which are now mere light relief from home cooking.
Not having bought vegetables since leaving London. shopping has lead to a newly rediscovered social experience. Though all readily recognisable – carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages and seasonal beans – without a cooking range I have been unable to transmute these into a concoction for my/our palate. Purchasing for a home is a deeper, more lasting, experience than when feeding transient munchies whilst travelling. Concerns about good quality and a fair deal are as important as the ambiance of a shared life in contrast to being an almost passive passenger.
The stereo is broken, but was good while it lasted. I can now afford treats too as with no rent to pay I indulge in those chocolate bars and expensive ice creams I denied on the grounds of having a limited budget. With company through midnight and, this morning, through dawn, this home away from home is a comfortable place to end my time in India.
On Wednesday I collect the custom made shirt I need for when passing through international borders. With new mad to measure sandals, I will be far removed from the Goa hippy image which coloured my approach to this state. A haircut and beard trim as a final tidy up and my journey can start afresh. But this will be with memories so bright they will colour future experiences. Yet, this is not the India, after all, I will think, as I remember dawn this morning, watching the world rising with the sun.
First the crows, as black as the silhouetted skyline. Then the early morning steam engine pulled express whistled and rumbled into Margao station, unseen yet close. A stream passing under the straight structured shapes and lines of the bridge carrying early morning cyclists. I fed a spider to the fish rising for early morning snacks. Kingfishers, changing colour in the changing light, lending tone to the telegraph notation lines, then diving to snatch the fish. The breadman stopped to sell us two loaves from his pannier which we munched, all crusty and warm.
Etymology: pain = bread (French)
———– —: pannier = bread basket
Two boys washed out two cow stomachs in the stream. The meat provides a traditional Sunday meal to the mass of church goers; the boy’s father had set up a stall in the church grounds. But what happens to the stomachs? Language, or the lack of it, didn’t help. How does one phrase such questions as “do you make haggis – stuffing grain and ground up cow bits into the stomach then boil until Hogmanay?”
“Do you make a football?” would have been easier to mime, but that felt like a bad question to ask. So we smiled and took photographs, with Nature lending a helping hand.
We had a Sunday paper to read over breakfast. The magazine section lead with an article on The Exoteric (sic) Secret of Serenity, a paean of praise to meditation. I found out too that the Indian state radio and TV broadcasts in 25 languages. No wonder I have communication problems – even in Indian English.
I fell down while getting off an extremely overcrowded bus bound for Margoa in order to let off some others. I didn’t pay the bus fare but had to fork out Rs.16.75 for an elastic bandage. So I’ll be leaving India the way I started my travels here: with a swollen left ankle and using my walking stick.