The natural madness of the hatters

First a confession. I have never been to Goa before. Then another. I loved it! SP and I ran away from 44 degrees-and-no electricity-Delhi to off-season Goa. Since I can't speak about Goa in season I will tell you that off-season is gorgeous. The best weather in the world and the lushest foliage I have seen outside my sorely beloved Kerala. Faces looked familiar, like they could all be relatives. (I could age into that woman with the glasses and short hair and ill-fitting purple skirt. She looks like she has a raucous laugh at home and a public stash of port wine.)

And sorry to come in so late but what is it about the distances! In the time it takes me to get from home to work in Delhi we had ridden all along the coast of North Goa. And while I am grateful to Lonely Planet for sending us to the nicest guesthouse ever (Each room has a little sign about the resident dog: Rupert is on a special diet. Do not feed him. I am considering getting one like that for my house) LP is totally wrong about the beaches. LP said Miramar is crap. I guess it is if you are looking for shacks and chicken xacuti.

We arrived in Miramar in Panjim the day the rains arrived. The Krishna-blue army of clouds descending on that wide, wide beach takes you straight out of your tiny mind and its teeny concerns. (Okay maybe just my tiny mind. I have become the office's cranky bitch).

On a rainy day we drove inland and looked at emerald fields sporting wedding planner hoardings, pretty bridges and gorgeous old houses. In Mapusa market we ate little neelam mangoes and considered eating a sticky halwa made of ragi.

Back in Sinquerim on the beach, we met a garrulous old British woman in an orange sarong. She swore that the best house in the village was once owned by a drug-dealer (alas siezed by the government of India forcing him to buy the second best house and turn to diamond trading) and that it was only accessible by sea. She had seen it because she had gone by jet ski, she informed us. Shortly after she told us about the trouble she had dating in Sinquerim. She thinks the young local men all assume that she had tons of money. She was going to dinner with a white, elderly compatriot that evening but took time to tell us how dishy she thought several of the men in the vicinity were. SP and I watched fascinated as Dilip, taxi-driver and fisherman of Zen-like calm, began to flirt with the old lady. As straight as Dilip seemed it was difficult to tell how much was actual flirtation and how much was indulgence of an old woman who remembered being dishy all too well.

A woman I am sure everyone wants to date is the super brilliant Divya Kapoor who runs a bookshop (which serves new books, second-hand books and beer) called Literati in Sinquerim. You can wander around a house over a century old and admire the pictures or chill in the garden and toast the brilliance of Divya.

I tried not to think avaricious and dumb-touristy thoughts like I-want-to-live-here but mostly failed. The sea, the sea, the rivers, the rivers, the boys in boats... I could cry for the years wasted wandering around in Lajpat Nagar.

There is kitchy, utterly grotesque statuery everywhere starting with an incredibly vulgar one of what I think is a fisherwoman in Dabolim Airport.

Down the street from our guesthouse is Peter's House. We giggled every time we passed by the tiny house because the porch had a life-sized concrete boy soldier with a gun. When we took a car to Vasco for our train, Peter of Peter's house turned out to be our driver. (The fact that he owned a nice house down the street from the guesthouse clearly means that gentrification's evil fingers are only getting to Sinquerim slowly. I hope) Peter tells us with a grin that he built the boy soldier after 26/11 as a warning to terrorists. We gulped and hoped that he was joking.

One evening we passed by a crazy football match and I took great pleasure in yelling (while riding pillion on SP's scooty): PutthroughmenDesmond! Luckily no one noticed this minor eccentricity. After all that afternoon I saw on one street (not on the beach) a man without pants holding his pants no doubt to ensure he does not lose it; a girl without pants, and several men in underwear. Of the lot the girl without pants was rather delectable and the men I will not judge. Because that's how nice I'm feeling.

I will tell you how nice I was feeling. We had acquired an Ascot enclosure-sized collection of giant hats. It felt fantastic and I kept thinking of Little Women's Jo telling Laurie that she wished she had a big hat, she didn't mind making a ''guy'' of herself. When I walked into the bank in Panjim I removed my hat feeling prompted by the hind brain that it was rude to wear hats indoors. I joined the line of octogenarians and other people without ATM cards, several clutching hats to their chests politely.

On that note, an Elizabeth Bishop poem:

Exchanging Hats
Unfunny uncles who insist
in trying on a lady's hat,
--oh, even if the joke falls flat,
we share your slight transvestite twist

in spite of our embarrassment.
Costume and custom are complex.
The headgear of the other sex
inspires us to experiment.

Anandrous aunts, who, at the beach
with paper plates upon your laps,
keep putting on the yachtsmen's caps
with exhibitionistic screech,

the visors hanging o'er the ear
so that the golden anchors drag,
--the tides of fashion never lag.
Such caps may not be worn next year.

Or you who don the paper plate
itself, and put some grapes upon it,
or sport the Indian's feather bonnet,
--perversities may aggravate

the natural madness of the hatter.
And if the opera hats collapse
and crowns grow draughty, then, perhaps,
he thinks what might a miter matter?

Unfunny uncle, you who wore a
hat too big, or one too many,
tell us, can't you, are there any
stars inside your black fedora?

Aunt exemplary and slim,
with avernal eyes, we wonder
what slow changes they see under
their vast, shady, turned-down brim.


Oh, this is fantastic.

July 5, 2009 at 12:21 PM  

Loved this post. I have been working in Goa now for over a year and had become numb to its charms. I mean when you hardly ever see daylight because you are stuck in office, there isn't much to differentiate Goa, from, say, Chhattisgarh (no offense meant to C'garh - am sure it's a lovely place too). But yes - Goa is absolutely glorious during the monsoons (brave talk coming from someone who's been stuck indoors for 4 days due to continuous torrential rainfall!), Miramar is awesome during the rains (not so much during the dry months though), Sinquerim is definitely the one place in Goa everyone must visit and Literati is THE coolest bookshop I have seen.
Believe me though; you have labeled your "avaricious and dumb-touristy thoughts like I-want-to-live-here" correctly. Because though I love Goa, there hasn't been a day in the past year I haven't wished I was working in Delhi (more so during the winters - except the time immediately around Christmas, Goa was glorious then!) The momos, the Ram-Laddoos at Lajpat Nagar, CP, the historical monuments at every corner, Saket, Priya, GK II, the Zoo, sigh..
I think metro life is more suited for people with 70 hour weeks spent at the office, because one could always head off to a mall or instant gratification, be it for food, books, movies, whatever. Goa, however, demands more time. One would get a good flavor of the place as a tourist, of course, since that is your purpose in the first place. But the luckiest are those with a close group of friends, steady income that doesn’t require the aforementioned 70 hour work-weeks, a house in a lush waddo and a taste for seafood and feni. In other words, Goans! The only non-Goans who would be able to sustain a life like that would be writers, I guess (Amitav Ghosh spends a lot of his time here – at Sinquerim, as a matter of fact!).
All the more reason for you to join the growing gang of bloggers-turned-novelists, then..
Have been an off-and-on reader of your blog for a while now (found your blog via The Jabberwock). Couldn’t help commenting when I saw such a good post on the non-obvious aspects of Goa (not one mention of Calangute or of King’s Beer! Impressive!)

July 5, 2009 at 4:57 PM  


Thanks for writing in and at such reassuring length.

I did feel very strange writing about Goa so it is nice to get some feedback. And your particular observations about living in a place like Goa really makes sense to me.

July 7, 2009 at 2:57 PM  

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