“Let’s go to Goa!”, J exclaimed. I tried to match the excitement in his voice and said, “Yes!”
How many times have I heard this proposition from my friends. How many times have I faked wistfulness. And how many times have I heaved a sigh of relief when the plans have flopped. Goa to me was a cliché. An urban myth equivalent of the Fountain of Youth : All the young and the yippee at heart head straight to Goa because Goa is what Dil Chahta hai. Every story traveling from Goa had the same elements- booze, beach, babes and Bollywood. Bollywood because what you did at Goa seemed to me heavily inspired by what Bollywood projects as the cool things urban youth does when it holidays.
So it wasn’t the Goa factor that excited me. It was going on a holiday with J that did. I would not have minded Jhumari Talaiyya either.
Beginning Goa with a traditional Goan wedding was a good way to start as it was very far removed from the Goa of clichéd images. It was J’s friend’s wedding and to make things even better, the wedding was a small affair. No wedding choreographers, no staged performances, no fuss over toothpicks and tissues. The ceremony did not take forever and people could soon move on to what mattered most- food. A large steel bowl of gelusil-pink liquid lay at the entrance of the food court. Veritably, it was called Sol Curry – Curry for the soul, I interpreted. Seven glasses of the pink curry down, Goa began getting rosier. Booze is only half the story they tell you.
In the evening we rented a scooter. Six years of life in metros had made me completely forget the joy of gliding down the road, wind kissing the skin. For the first few hours we must have stopped twenty times only to feel the freedom of stopping wherever we wanted to- something we cannot do with autos and buses. Stop! There’s a pastry shop! There’s a coffee shop! What if we miss a place? We can turn around and go back! Scooter was freedom for the middle class us and Goa was beginning to be the open sky.
Going to the beaches in Goa is like the char-dham –yatra: you cannot miss any. With only three days in Goa, the long checklist for beaches would have left us with just enough time to teko our matthas at each. Or worse, click a good we-were-here facebook picture and fool ourselves into thinking that we really were there. But the good part about holidaying with J is not worrying about checklists. Carpe diem we say, seize the day as it comes! We had barely dipped our toes into the sea, when something else seized me – my fear of water-bodies. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t anticipated it. It’s just that I had made the unreasonable plan of sitting at the beach and reading a book and J could wallow as much in brine as he wished. Apparently J did not appreciate this plan and dragged me shoulder deep into the sea, despite my protests. I told him I would die! He gave me some scientific theory about saline water and wave motion making it difficult to die. I didn’t care a damn about science! Science is based on assumptions! What if we are discounting some factor? I had never even been waist deep into the swimming pool and here was a monstrous sea, threatening to swallow me up! He asked me to look around and take inspiration from children half my size riding the waves. I wanted to advise him never to make a career from motivational talks as they were only irritating me. But before I could open my mouth to tell him that, something twice my strength pushed me. The wave was affronted.This was it! Goodbye world!
I was going down and under when my crash landing was saved by a hand – J’s. In Hindi movies this sequence is usually accompanied by a moment of manufactured silence followed by the romantic strumming of guitars. In my ears I could only hear the loud pounding of my heart and the high frequency sound you hear when you’re going to faint. Followed by a highly amused laughter – J’s laughter. He asked me, “maza aya?” I wanted to tell him something very filmy like, “tumhe marna mazaak lagta hai?”. Instead I said, “haan”. Perhaps for similar reasons why I said yes to going to Goa in the first place. Seize the moment, I told myself. Seize the fear. We spent the whole afternoon in the sea, he frolicking in the waves, I between fight and flight reactions. To say that I overcame my fear would be an overstatement. That’s the stuff that happens in movies, followed by symphonies of triumph. But I did have some kind of a confrontation with my fear- sometimes managing it, sometimes panicking. And I confess that in some little corner of my heart, my chicken sense of adventure did have a good time. Goa was about becoming who I wanted to – a braver me.
Goa is also about becoming who you cannot otherwise, about living your taboos. Young women in shorts who are probably dupatta clad back home, a little self-conscious, but very pleased with their men flaunting them. Mummies, papas, bhabhis, bhaiyyas soaked in playfulness. The sea seemed to dissolve all inhibitions and social barriers.
In the beginning I mentioned my distaste for the Goa of clichéd images – where everyone comes back with the same stories of having lived ‘the cool life’. These stories smacked of wannabeishness to me. Three days in Goa and my distaste was dissolving into something more palatable, even enjoyable. To see us all become someone we wanted to, whether Kareena on the beach or hippie on the rocks, made me realize something that changed my outlook. That we were all enjoying our little acts while we could, however unoriginal they may seem to be. As I looked around at the firangs wearing hare-rama-hare-krishna on their sleeves, at teenagers flaunting tattoos on their butts, at young married couples canoodling amidst the sea, I felt as if we all knew that little bits of freedom can be claimed only in these little acts, in a stage geographically and psychologically far removed from the home-context. The beauty of Goa , perhaps lies in being the stage that allows the other side of our selves to manifest.