We are home. And wish we weren’t. I suppose things will improve.
This is what we left.
Here are some of the things we’ll miss. The peace and beauty of our huge first-floor balcony, high up by the fluttering palm leaves. The magpie robin that so often sang gloriously from the gable end. The gentle freshness of a cool dawn on the balcony, the soft grey light scented by early wood fires. Having dinner on the balcony, under a huge and very dark sky pierced by thousands of stars and lit by a silver moon. Our mucky pond where pigs rootled and cattle wallowed and they all sunbathed covered in black mud. The huge beach of squeaky white sand that in the early mornings was empty and lonely. The sea, oh the sea! What a privilege to swim in the sea every day for nearly 6 months, to slip in first thing in the morning when it lies flat as honey, or to plunge in on hot afternoons, through crashing waves that have you leaping and dancing in the surf. The warm friendship of so many Indians, nearly all from the lowest economic sectors, who opened their lives to us, their delighted welcomes, their sensuously warm handshakes, their easy humour. The cool grace of marble floors throughout the house and the wrought iron french windows beckoning you onto the balcony. Picking mangoes, cashews, guavas, lemons, sapodillas from our garden, and gorging on garlic prawns and beer under the trees…
So what’s not to like? Quite a lot! Understanding that you may never discover the truth of what happened. (Indians have a different concept of truth. They are quite happy to tell you something untrue if they think that is what you want to hear, and they can tell you a totally different version of an event on three days running without blushing. I tried to stop caring.) The litter! Everywhere! The smells – shit, drains, fish drying, stuff rotting, more shit. Our landlord and lady, their inability to care for us or any of the three quietly rotting holiday houses they owned, and their devious, money-grabbing plots to get us to reimburse them for the many things that went wrong in our house. Our agent, Himanshu, who suddenly turned against us with astonishing lies and threats that frightened us. Being shafted, even when you tried your savvy best not to be. Oh – and cockroaches. And rats. And mice. But not our resident frog who, when you were on a midnight visit to the loo, terrified you as he leapt to the safety of his home behind the pipes.
When we were packing up our Indian home Bob felt plain sad; I felt sad but also very glad at the thought of Home. It wasn’t just friends and family and home comforts but also of a world where everything is simple and works first time, and doing the simple chores of daily living aren’t so demanding of your time and patience. Here’s a flavour. I go to do the washing up but we’ve just run the water pump to get water up to the rooftop tank which means the mains tank is empty so there’s no water in the kitchen (which only has cold water anyway). So I go to do some emailing but the internet is down so I go to hang out the washing but the machine has stalled again. Guessing what point in its cycle it stalled (I’m now good at this), I reset it and go to ring Augustine to book his taxi for later. But the phone signal has disappeared, even when I take the phone onto the balcony where signals are strongest. So I go to make the bed but the clean sheet is stuck in the washing machine. Which is now beeping because it’s stalled again.
And you wondered what we did all day!!
That’s my cue to ’fess up to not getting on with one of my books. I have found an agent who loves me but doesn’t dare launch me on the story about the paedophile. She wants me to give her the book about my dad first, but with all the various frustrations of daily living I never got going. WHICH WILL BE RECTIFIED NOW! I did however do a lot of marketing work for Pardeshi and his wonderful new yoga retreat, emailing English journalists with help from Tamsin and writing a travel article which has been accepted by a glossy mag called Planet Goa. I’m into print for the first time!
Now that we’ve left I can tell you the truth about our cleaner. You may remember we started with a cleaner who was part of the rental package. Fatima was not pleasant and soon disappeared without notice. Ani, our shrewish landlady, pretended she was trying to replace her. Then she so upset the two different women I found that they left. We decided to make our own arrangements, labour costs being all of £1 per session. (I learned to stop talking about hourly rates. If you don’t have a watch and can’t tell the time, an hourly rate means nothing. And before you think £1 a session is mean, you have to know that workers in the paddy fields get around 90p for a full 10 hour day, without breaks.)
A stall-owner on the road named Lola agreed to come. On the morning of her first visit her baby was ill so she sent Sachin from the next door stall. He is a twelve year old, very cheeky boy, and he was overjoyed to have this chance to prove himself. How could I deny him? So I taught him how to clean and after each session I insisted we do some school work together. He’s an illegal immigrant from an impoverished neighbouring state so he’s hasn’t been to school. He’s very bright but his mind is totally unpractised in concentration or discipline. Anyway by the end he knew the days of the week, most of his sounds and a good bit of reading, he knew how ice was made and was brilliant at using my laptop for the interactive literacy games that made him squeal with joy. He learned also that English people need ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and that our visitors would think more of him if he could rein in his over-excitement, do his cleaning and then show off his literary and social skills.
So we had a charming and hilarious little cleaner who got downstairs by sliding on the banister, who taught me how to roast our cashews in a bonfire and who made the house resound to his calls, ‘Tee-nah! Come see! I done good? Tee-nah!’ Whenever I cycled past his stall he’d leap onto the back of my bike and steal a wobbly pillion ride into town. His mother, in the tiny shop which he often ran, was delighted with our arrangement, and his father, who spoke no English, was embarrassingly grateful, kissing my hand and touching it to his forehead and doing a lot of devoted grovelling.
But nothing is simple. A friend warned us that what we were doing was illegal and might land us in prison. No child under 15 may be employed – a law most observed in the breach, of course, but one which put the fear of God into Bob. I did not feel morally guilty: Sachin was doing far fewer hours than an English newspaper boy of 12 does; he was getting a training and an education, plus what for his family was a godsend in wages. My dear Bob let me take the risk, we kept very quiet, rehearsed our story, and unsurprisingly we got away with it. It would have been sheer bitchiness for someone to shop us, and the only likely candidates were our agent and landlords, who by this time were blissfully absent.
I miss that cocky little Sachin.
We were hugely interested in Indian attitudes to marriage, women and welfare. Welfare first: there isn’t any. No state pension, no carers, no OAP homes, no disabled facilities. Some casualties are picked up by churches and temples (in Goa there were as many Catholics as Hindus, plus a few Muslims) which are truly charitable, but mostly it is the mighty family that provides for the old, the sick, the disabled, the dysfunctional and the hard-up. A typical setup was that of Augustine, our taximan, who lived with brothers and cousins and all their families in one house, 22 of them. A son’s new wife would expect to cook and clean for her new household, nurse her in-laws through their old age and care for the needy. So it is the women on whom the whole burden of welfare falls.
An Indian woman’s life seems terrible to me. Until she marries she leads a sadly cloistered life. Boys and young men roam the streets and beaches having a laugh (and unfortunately, sometimes a leer) but girls only ever appear in family groups on Sunday jaunts to the beach. They went in the sea in their saris, but never deeper than the knee. (Men were not much more daring however; the sea scares Indians and they take a little dip in clustered masses for confidence. The sea at central Colva beach looked black with all the Indians bunched there, leaving miles of empty beach either side.) Sometime in her teens a girl’s parents will select a husband for her. Really great care is taken to choose a suitable mate, one whose background and character seems likely to suit the girl and whose wealth and prospects match the family’s aspirations. Astonishingly, huge store is put in the astrologist’s chart of the pair, which if inauspicious can cause the negotiations to be terminated. The wedding will last
for around a week and is the height of the girl’s life, but from that time on she is torn from the home that has so sheltered her, taken to live henceforth, maybe many miles from everything she has known, with people she may hardly have met – and a mate she may hardly know. She is now expected to look after this household until her own son brings in a wife. One Rajasthani man told us about the wife his parents chose for him, against his wishes. He lives away from the home because of his work but she stays to look after his parents, who berate him because she’s lazy and won’t work on the farm. He chortles about this, ‘They chose her! Ha ha!’
Arranged marriages fascinated us. There was Punam, our eternally hard-working camel boy in Rajasthan, forced by a bullying father to continue working as a camel boy because it brought good money to the household, and soon to be forced to marry a girl he’d heard was a bitch. His future seemed very black. However Monaj, our favourite waiter, was perfectly happy to trust his beloved mother to select ‘the perfect wife’ for him.
There is of course a modern influence for change. Our guide in Jodhpur was from the superior Brahmin caste. He fell in love with a Brahmin girl, but unfortunately from an inferior Brahmin caste which meant marriage was impossible. But the couple loved each other and they did marry, though they had to have an ‘outcaste’ marriage and therefore had to seek agreement from all families concerned because every one of them would henceforth be cast out of the Brahmins – something that would catastrophically taint the marriage prospects of their brothers and sisters. But the wedding we went to, Soniya and Yogendra’s, was truly a modern love marriage. Of course Soniya has a training and a job (beautician), which shows how very modern she is anyway. Many young parents in arranged marriages said they would perpetuate the system, but many did say they’d let their children choose.
But if India moves away from the arranged marriage and women become liberated, who will then provide the ‘welfare’ for the nation? As ever, the liberation of women leaves terrible vacuums in society ….
Back to Goa. Winter in Goa was ending by the time we left (yes, we had to endure a winter!) and the summer heat was building up. Several times we hit 40 degrees. We’d be sweating minutes after getting out of the shower.
My schoolfriend Julie and her husband Mike came out for our last week and gave us the excuse for a glorious farewell to Goa by coming with us to ‘Elsewhere,’ a remote beach in Northern Goa, where we lived in an antique Goan house called The Piggery, right on the empty beach. (Honeymooners: look no further.) To reach the restaurant shack we had to trek along little paths beloved by multitudes of bright butterflies as they fed on thousands of flowers, but the best bit was being shown one morning where a turtle had waggled her way up the beach in the night, laid her eggs and shuffled back to the sea. It was thought that she hadn’t chosen a high enough spot however, so we watched as experts probed the sand to locate the clutch. Bingo! A guard was kept and that night the whole clutch was moved to a place of safety which would be guarded until the eggs hatched. (Other local hoteliers are not keen to have turtles nesting on their beaches because restrictions are then placed on development. So romantic of them…)
When the time came to leave we were both emotional. I was determined to leave nothing for the landlord but we’d spent several hundreds of pounds kitting the house out, so we distributed everything from mattresses and tables to plastic baskets and bits of soap. It made it much easier to say goodbye to all our friends, seeing them take away loads of goodies that would transform their lives. Sachin took the single mattress but every other night he sleeps on the dirt floor so his sister gets a turn. Augustine had one of the double mattresses: he, his wife and his daughter find it much nicer than the boards they slept on.
Since some 2 ½ months earlier our agent had blanked our last requests for help, I took huge pleasure in not telling him we were vacating the property two days early, only texting him once we were safely on the sleeper train to Mumbai. Without the blot of him and the owners our 6 months would have been almost totally wonderful…
We arrived in freezing Wakefield to find an immaculate, empty house. We scraped away the snow, we shivered for days, Pickfords returned our furniture, Asda cancelled my huge online order without notice and we struggled in the sleet to put the contents of the garage and the loft back in the house. If this sounds miserable, it was. In addition our bodies changed. In the Goan heat we’d felt 35 years old, muscles and joints sliding sleekly into action like a well-oiled locomotive. Back in England everything seized up, we felt ill and exhausted, every step on the stairs hurt and I went running for all the OAP prophylactics that I’d abandoned 6 months ago.
We’re ten days on now and feeling more positive, thanks to the house being mostly organised and to seeing a few mates. We’ve had a marvellous experience, one that we know was a great privilege to be able to do.
So. Would we do it again?
Thank you very much for bothering to read this blog. We’ve been amazed at the wonderful comments, both on the blog and by email, which encouraged me hugely and kept me typing. At the end of this final post I’ve listed our accumulated tips on Goa, so a record is available for whenever and whoever.
Otherwise – bye-eee!
TIPS ON GOA
For visa, use visagenie.co.uk. Costs no extra and they iron out all the many blips.
Skin So Soft is an excellent moisturiser virtually repellent to mozzies.
IT, phones and internet business: our life-saving Naraindra Kanth: firstname.lastname@example.org, 92 26 281661
WHERE TO GO
Colva: Taxi: our lovely Augustine, tel 9850 464359. To stay: Fishland’s rooms with fab sea view for 500INR per night (phone Fatima +91 9604 748813 or 0832 278 8681). For a house, possibly Santosh and Sharmilla’s house, which was just behind ours but might seem fairly spartan: http://www.goavilla.co.in/ Possibly Beleza hotel. OK eateries: Eddie’s Place and Alex’s (shacks on ‘our’ beach)
Agonda: very basic wooden cabins right on the beach looked perfect on this wonderful undeveloped beach
Palolem: Ordo Sounsar restaurant (northern end, over the rickety bridge), Cozy Nook ‘hotel,’ Dreamcatcher huts just behind the beach.
Goa Jungle Adventures, canyoning and trekking; operate out of Palolem
Majorda: Boultons shack, Blue Waves shack.
Posh hotels: Leela Kempinski at Mobor, Taj Exotica at Benaulim, Fort Aguada at Sinquerim, North Goa (top floor room at the south west end of the hotel with great balcony and views of the sea)
Yoga retreat http://www.yogaschoolgoa.com/ AKA Little Cove, Pardeshi’s place at Little Cola, north of Agonda
North Goa: Elsewhere/Otter Creek Tents/ http://www.aseascape.com Just north of Mandrem Beach on an isolated beach, inaccessible save at low tide or by a long, rickety bridge if you know the way, which is extraordinary. The fabulous Piggery (sleeps 4) is right on the beach but lacks afternoon shade; the Captain’s House still has seaviews but is set back, has aircon and sleeps 6. The most idyllic lonely beach, great food, stunning numbers of butterflies and birds, and maybe even some nesting turtles …
Karnataka: Hampi, The Boulders Resort. Dandeli.
Calangute, Baga, Central Colva
Rental properties from Felix Serrad or through GoaVillas (agent Himanshu Jain) such as ours: http://www.goavilla.co.uk/en/goa-villa-colva-holiday-home-2084.html#ci=20130501|cd=7
FOOD TO REMEMBER
Murgh makhani (butter chicken) or vegetables makhani, king prawns, baby shark, red snapper
Breakfast faves: egg uppam/upma with coconut ‘stew’ or masala dosa
Gin and tonic with a split green chilli