Two days in Goa, but I didn’t get to the beach at all till afternoon on the second day. If only my friends would believe I was running around for meetings all that first day. Airport to hotel, one hour. Check-in, hate room, change room, unpack, wash – 45 minutes. Drive back to Panjim for meetings – an hour and a bit. Meetings – three hours. Check on retail outlets – an hour. Drive back to hotel – one more hour. So all I had time for was a sambucca lime – mixed to perfection by Gladwell – and a very mediocre dinner. And it rained buckets the next morning. So much for jogging on the beach to a mental soundtrack of “Eye of the Tiger”.
Back of Calangute beach there’s a little neighbourhood with little roads and little houses and little sleepy Sunday afternoon noises. Thing is, they have these Sunday noises all week long. And trees. They have trees like Delhi has Marutis. One of these little houses – half hidden by trees, of course – has a name on the gate. “Mrs. Villa”. Now I haven’t quite figured out whether the house is married, hence the “Mrs.”, or whether the lady of the house is … well, as big as a house.
But this isn’t about Mrs. Villa. Right across from that interesting address … No, let me tell this the Goan way, which is nice and easy. And often backwards. So this little house is down a little lane. And if you’re travelling in from town, you have to go down past the Newton Arcade. Only you take the turn before you reach the Newton Arcade, OK? Go figure. A hundred metres down the turn-off, there’s another turn-off to your left. You park your car under the nearest tree and walk through the open space in the wall (across from “Mrs. Villa”), and you’re at Literati.
Which is where I’d love to be, any given Saturday. (It’s closed on Sundays, alas.)
It’s a bookshop. In an old house in Goa. Near the beach. Under the palms. You walk up the tiny garden path (which is also a tiny-garden path), step across the verandah (first taking off your shoes if it’s muddy outside. It was. I did. Once the Lady asked me to) and you’re in Divya Kapoor’s dining room, which may be her living room as well. Large but cozy, you get the idea? And inside, there are three more rooms lined with books. The big hall has all the swank stuff, the new releases, the books awaiting signing, all in neat stacks. The other rooms don’t do neat. They have books in glass-fronted cupboards, books on any available furniture, books on window-sills, on top of the computer. Everywhere. No discernible order. Weird Scandinavian names on books about Buddhism, a couple of Harold Robbins, travel books, an Aurelio Zen (Cosi fan Tutti, which I am liking muchly, thank you), Julian Barnes, Drucker on management (people still read him?), you name it. A most pleasing disorder. Made more pleasant by the fact that these books are all second-hand, hence cheap. I browsed. I pondered. And decided that it was well worth investing in an even cheaper bag for checked luggage. (Oh, not entirely full of books – I planned to buy two large packs of Goan “port”. I have friends who say my balcony is made for cheap plonk and cigarillos on late autumn evenings.)
In between browsing, I made a trip down to the beach before Souza Lobo stopped serving lunch. A barely competent sorpotel, but superb chorize and lovely soft poi bread. It was hard to decide whether the bread was better plain, for mopping up the nice fat gravy of the sorpotel, or juicy and dripping in a garlic bread avtaar that complemented the chorize-with-onions. I debated the dessert, then decided against it. There is such a thing as too much bebinca.
Back to Literati for another hour of browsing, but now the house was quiet in siesta. I sat in an armchair in the inner room ad listened to the punctuated silence of a holiday afternoon (Anjan Dutta describes it best – mone aan chaan kora shei dupur bela), smelled the smell of old walls and old books co-existing happily, browsed and mused a while before I slipped out to the verandah for a cold coffee and a smoke. When I was about to leave, the Lady of the House appeared, quite obviously arisen from a Good Siesta. I asked for the wash-room and was directed to an outhouse. Which was very interesting, because although it looks like any other shed from the outside, inside it has rough-plastered walls set with a zillion glass bangles, mauve fittings and even a potty-shower. And it was so cool inside. I felt sorry that I did not have reason to enthrone myself there with a book, it would have been so peaceful.
That was, more or less, the high point of my two days in Goa. Oh, I got back to the hotel before dark, even went barefoot on the beach, splashed through a little creek and wandered a mile across wet sand with the tide going out, walked until the holiday crowd were specks behind me and the hotel’s lifeguard tower had faded in the horizon haze. By the time I turned back, dark fat clouds had gathered and I had to duck under a beach shack for vestigial shelter. When the rain slackened I ran back across the beach. The raindrops blurred my glasses, the wind whipped in my face, I was running blind across a suddenly alien landscape while the pain in my lungs and legs grew to a roar. But I couldn’t stop. Very liberating, somehow.
Later, after a swim in the huge irregular pool, the loneliness of the hotel dinner and the routine of packing for an early morning start, I went out on the balcony and listened for the sea. Couldn’t hear it, not at all. All I could hear – faintly, thank the fates – was a couple singing old Hindi duets very badly in one of the banquets. So I went back in and curled up under the comforter and read myself to sleep. This trip was like that only.