The International Writers Magazine:: Goa

Paradise Found
Shunori Ramanathan

he hot Goan sun burns my back and a bead of sweat rolls down my face as I bend to look at the beautiful bracelet that has been laid down, along with many other exquisite pieces, on a large red cloth. The air is heavy with the smells of the people around me and the fruit shack across the path. Around me I can hear a buzz of konkani (goan's native language), hindi, marathi and the accented English of the garrulous, sari-clad woman in front of us, sweet smelling flowers adorning her side-bun, enticing me to buy the bracelet that I'm so obviously in love with.

The weekly Friday Mapusa market, located about 5 kilometres from the Aguarda area in North Goa, often has a beguiling effect on people, with its blend of aromas - from fish to flowers - the vibrant mix of people and the variety of stalls that make the market a one- stop-shop for all supplies.
With its relaxed air (quite contrary to the frantic confusion that one would expect in a bustling market), Mapusa market is a popular 'bazaar' that can be roughly divided into two sections: one for fruits, vegetables, 'chappals', clothes and other such requirements for the common goan, and one for trinkets - the rapture of the tourists as they whisper in incomprehensible foreign languages into their newly-weds' ears, evaluating whether the bargain is fair or not and whether they could afford it.

As I reach about halfway down the trinket section, the strong smell of fresh fish engulfs me, signaling far before hand, the approaching Goan zone. The wide path becomes smaller and smaller as it subdivides into three narrow trails, brimming with small shacks on either side that overflow onto the already crowded path. The people on either side of me make their way along the track and stop at stalls that they are only too familiar with, chatting knowledgably with the vendor. As I follow them, in vain, hoping they will lead me somewhere, absorbing every atom of the lazy afternoon air, turning my head in all directions in response to the calls of stall owners - who, with one look at me, immediately know I'm not a local - I can't help but submit myself to the warm sentiment that seems to be flowing throughout the market.

Brimming with happiness, I head out of the bazaar, bags full of well-bargained jewelry (a tip from a local Goan: always bargain for 75% of what they are offering) and a few succulent, lipstick red pomegranates, to experience what Goa is truly famous for: its beaches. I jump into the car and eagerly start attacking our purchases, figuring out which is whose, lifting my head only to look at the road-side shops displaying gorgeous skirts, tops and sarongs, promising myself after each shop that I'll visit them all on my way back.

Wearing every piece of jewelry that I possibly can, I lean back, looking out at the mid-afternoon sky and banana plantations that I pass, allowing the cool breeze coming in through the half-open window to tangle my hair. It smells like Goa; sweet and heavy with a tinge of fish. I can get used to this smell I think as I close my eyes with quiet happiness. A whiff of salt alerts my senses and at once I am wide awake, searching for the cause of this change... It seems as though the road I'm on leads straight to it, as though it ends where the ocean begins. There, directly in front of me, glistening through the branches of palm trees, is the sparkling turquoise ocean, dotted with tiny swimmers, golden streaks shimmering on two sides of it. Excitement building up inside of me, my surroundings becomes a blur as the enormity of the ocean overwhelms me. Soon I am sinking my feet into the warm sand, plastic chappals in hand, feeling the grains cover my feet, getting wedged between my toes and stuck under my toenails. This is not the only warm greeting I get though, as I soon find myself swarmed by local entrepreneurs...

'Arre, Madam, bahut accha hai hamara boat ride...' 'Yahan aaiye madam, mein aapko discount doongi...' 'Ma¸am, dolphins ma'am, kitne sundar...'
Before long, all I can hear is a haze of eager voices, sometimes hearing words like 'dolphins' or 'parasailing' when they are shouted out louder than the rest. It seems they are accustomed to no reply, however, for very soon the voices fade as they spot a new arrival who they hope to attract with their broken English and quaintly intonated hindi. It appears that the strength of their voices had an effect on me, for I go back to sign up for both parasailing and dolphin watching shortly after the ambush died down.

The boat churns through the water, it's small Yamaha outboard motor making little wavelets and tossing spray high into the air. I drag my fingers in the water, feeling the cold rush between my fingers and the wind in my hair.

We are chasing dolphins, nipping around headlands and bays in search of apparently the most intelligent creatures of the planet, our fellow mammals. Paulo, a Goan fisherman, is at the tiller, his bronzed skin gleaming with sweat, he has a perfect tan, born of hard labour beneath the hot Goan sun.
Suddenly a cry, 'they're there!' I turn in my seat, seeing Paulo pointing in front of me, I turn and there, for less than a second I see a streamlined, grey shape slicing swiftly through the water. I feel a strange sense of euphoria as I bound to the edge of the boat, scanning the surrounding sea. The engine stops, frantic whispering, Paulo points, then suddenly a long nose, glinting wet in the light lances effortlessly out of the sea, without making a splash it breaks out of the sea, behind it comes the rest of the dolphin, dark grey and moving with incredible grace it surfaces, a great plume of spray bursts from it's blowhole, then just as easily it vanishes. I have not long to wait, suddenly a large mass of dolphin erupts from the sea not ten feet from the boat, it emerges completely, twisting like a ballerina, lights dance around it in the spray, it seems to stop, motionless hanging in the air, then with quite an ungainly slap of the tail it is gone.
'He's showing off,' Paulo tells me.

We wait a while but have run out of luck. Paulo starts his little outboard and the boat begins to head back toward shore, as the dolphin's water antics replay in my mind. This encounter with the dolphins has been an interesting experience, an insight into an alien world that we know so little about and is in danger of extinction.

The sun is melting into the ocean, spreading deep orange ink throughout the horizon, as two Goans hook me on to the parasail. A rush of wind blows me off the boat as the chute inflates, lifting me higher and higher above the blue waters with the boat slicing through the waves, leaving a mere white wake as a souvenir. It's heaven up here.

I am a silent observer, looking at the freckled beach and the vast spread of emerald green while relaxing in the cool evening breeze that caresses my face. The boat slows down after a while and I prepare myself for a 'Jesus Walk'. Instead, I sink waist-down into the ocean, feeling the thrilling force of the strong, cool water against my body as the boat pulls me along.

After a while of bobbing in and out of the water, I am lifted up again, rising steadily in front of the setting sun and looking down at the once majestic rocks and houses, feeling rather like Gulliver in Lilliput land. My body feels a soothing coolness as the water on my arms and legs evaporate into the breeze. The ride is over now and they pull my back onto the boat, where I unstrap and watch the next person go, with envy, the invigorating experience still filling my chest.

Saturday night is a much-awaited time. With the beach parties, dance clubs and pubs, there are more than enough ways to unwind and release yourself to the magic of Goa. A must-see is the Machies Saturday night bazaar, on the bank of Baga Lake. The rhythmic Goan melodies coming from a stand near the entrance lassos us in, putting us in a trance as we walk to the beat of the music. A red glow bathes the market, casting mysterious, shadows throughout; shadows that giddily prance in and out, doggedly clutching the feet of their owners.

I stride down a reasonably wide path with stalls selling music, postcards and the like on either side, leading from the entrance to somewhere I can¸t see but presume is the center of the market.

Enchanting seems woefully inadequate to describe the market. A vast array of stalls and carpet spreads are before me, dazzling with beautiful, gaudy colours, smiling faces, stall owners shaking their heads at unreasonable bargains, tourists with bangles from wrist to elbow and sudden flashes of light reflecting off of myriad embroidered mirrors. The path has opened up to a center square, in the middle of which is a tiny section kept free for a strange reason, though it makes the place look all the more charming. The rest of the space is filled with stalls and different coloured and sized people, making it next to impossible to move, yet at the same time filling me with an insane adrenaline rush. Around me I can hear a mumble of voices in different languages, pitches and tones, the sweet jingling of bangles as excited tourists try them on and the subtle patter of shoes on the mud ground. I go from shop to shop, watching an old lady rearrange items on her display, bedecked in a colourful sari, one bangle-clad hand holding the edge of the pallu that she¸s wrapped around her head, a large gold nose ring attached to one of her too heavy gold earrings which make her ears sag. I see families; children sucking their thumb, wisps of hair falling over their faces while they sit on their fathers' lap watching him sell his mojris and sisters with adjoining shops, gossiping and giggling to each other while at the same time holding out a jewelry box made of colourful beads to an interested customer. These are the people of Goa.

I learn more about them the next morning in the Solar Souto Maior museum.
Their history starts a long time ago, on the boats of the Portugese who sailed to the Indian coast in the 16th century, conquering Goa from the Bijapur rulers and making it their Indian headquarters. Even after India's independence, Goa remained under Portugese control, revolting only in the year 1961 - winning the twenty-six hour battle and thus gaining sovereignty.

Over the recent years, much of Portugese Goa has given way to more contemporary structures and designs, making it difficult to find whole buildings with authentic Portugese architecture. The Solar Souto Maior, located in St. Pedro, is one such building. Built in 1585, it is Old Goa's last remaining Palaciao from the state's Golden Age, now restored with utmost care, using only natural materials and bringing back to life an era that is almost lost. With its sweeping staircases, warm yellow walls and intricate woodwork, Solar Souto Maior is a must see, if not only to transport us back into Goa's architectural history.

Today Goa is one of the top tourist destinations in the world with people from all over seeking the experience of this exotic beach on the Indian Ocean.
As for myself, I can categorically say that I have found my bit of paradise.

© Shunori Ramanathan December 2006

Shunori is a tenth grade student in Goa and this is her first published piece.
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