24-Jan-2007

D

One of the toughest things to do when you are a current President and publish your autobiography is to maintain the balance between political correctness and honesty. The dedication in President Musharaf’s book ‘Line of Fire’ was shining with honesty stating that it was dedicated to the people of Pakistan as they wait for a better day…Or perhaps that was too much honesty. The bits and pieces I managed to read before I gave up, however, was politically correct to the T. There is an innocuous paragraph right at the beginning about how when the first leader of Pakistan, Jinnah died, time stopped, skies darkened, the birds stopped singing etc and there were tears in everyone’s eyes. Which is pretty touching except that Musharaf was a five-year-old kid at that point in time.


What was the first death you cried for and how old were you at that time?


I mulled over this question for a couple of days and figured out that the first genuine tears I shed was for my paternal grandfather. Not when he passed away since I was still a kid trying to make sense of why my strong uncles were shedding copious tears. It was sometime when I was around 13 – 14. It suddenly hit me that I would never hear first hand the man who had had the temerity to think beyond his humble origins, educate his sons and set them on paths that would ensure that they (and their progeny) lead far more prosperous lives than he ever would.

Then I thought some more


And I realised that the first time I actually felt sorry for a death was when I was ten. I still remember the day. My sister and me snuggled on a single sofa, watching intently as the lead protagonist of the movie ‘Short Circuit’ was being beaten up. My sister’s tears were freely flowing down her cheeks. As the older, and ostensibly wiser sister, I merely blinked back my tears as the character’s lights went out of his eyes. Literally. The protagonist was a robot and it was the first time in my life someone’s death had moved me to tears. To my parents’ credit (sitting on the sofa behind the two of us), they did not hold their sides and laugh – atleast not too loudly - or try to console us that this was a mere movie. My sister and I watched delighted as were introduced for the first time in our conscious memory to Hollywood’s happy endings. The robot was repaired, given new life and voila! Short Circuit 2 was under production.

All I can say is that the fact I cried for a robot when I was ten as opposed to crying for the father of the nation when I was five probably indicates that I am just not cut out to be President. Or when I do become President and write my autobiography, I might have to edit out some of the parts.

07-Jan-2007

Konkan Trip 10 : Baga Beach, Goa

We headed to our final destination – Baga Beach. Thanks to SA’s encyclopedic knowledge about Goa, we knew that North Goa would definitely be more crowded and more happening than South Goa. It was unfortunately so crowded and happening that our rooms were gone before we could get to our hotel. Instead of two non A/C rooms priced at INR 800 each, we ended up with one AC room for INR 1750 and one non AC room for INR 900. The hotel was located close to a river and not bang on the beach. Plus the rooms were not particularly deserving of the money we were paying. Still, the holiday season was clearly catching on and we were lucky to get what we had. The guys, to make up for days of getting the best rooms, let us have the AC room. Given how much we were paying, PR and I were determined to use the AC even if we died of pneumonia in the effort.

All of us were quite tired by now. Throughout the trip we had relaxed a lot but not really slept. So with nothing to do till dinner, we crashed. When we woke up, it was nearing dark. Following our usual beach routine, we left for the beach to hunt out a good shack for dinner. After a while of walking about, we realised that we actually seemed to be headed toward’s a particular shack. And when we entered this shack, everyone present greeted SA effervescently, beginning with the Nepali manager. SA had spent time in Goa during the off-season and had clearly been a source of entertainment for them. Not only was the service good, but we also got great discounts. The place was not too crowded and you could a clear view of the stars if you cared to crane your neck in the right angle.

Being the last night of the trip, we had decided to do something that would mark our reentry into civilization with a bang. SA’s encyclopedic knowledge became the guiding light again. Post a nice break for desert, we headed to Club Cabana.

The place was set on a hilltop and had a laser on display that could be seen ten minutes away. It had three levels – a disc on one, a pool on another and a middle one which was some kind of an exclusive affair. The nicest thing about it was the fact that it was open-air and despite the huge turnout, gave everyone enough space not to tread on each others toes. This compared extremely favourably with discs in Mumbai and Chennai. The discs in these cities are usually enclosed rooms with too many people drinking and smoking at the same time and the ventilation struggling to circulate air - the kind of places that makes you wonder why historians crib so much about episodes involving lots of people locked up in the same room without a window et al. So we were all quite thrilled. Plus once you paid cover, you did not have to pay separately for the drinks (However given how cheap drinks are in Goa, one would have to get really really drunk to recover the cover charges). We tried dancing for a while, but the DJ refused to play anything other than some variation of hip-hop or trance or house music. Apparently the world had moved on but SA, PR and I were still stuck on rock and pop. The dance floor, strangley enough, had a combination of middle-aged white people and Delhi kids, rocking with enthusiasm. I was beginning to suspect that they had probably recovered the cover charges they had paid.

We eventually moved to the next level and plonked in one of the beds set on a cliff overlooking the city. The night was beginning to get slightly colder and we were a little drowsy. The Club was however was getting busier and busier. Even as we watched one of the middle-aged white lot decided that it was a perfect time go swimming and promptly jumped into the pool. Anyone who was has ever seen MTV must be familiar with a show where people dance pointlessly in very cool looking open-air clubs. Most of them look too high to be bothered about the fact that dancing all by yourself at the edge of a pool looks weird. I had always wondered if people were capable of such things even in real life. Apparently they were.

We chatted for a while, contemplated going back to the dance floor and then decided it was too much of a bother and just continued soaking in our role of anthropologists. Finally around 3.30 a.m. we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel. It had certainly been a long night and everyone went out like lights.

The last day of any trip is always a little sad. You don’t want the vacation to end but you know that in a couple of days you would probably get tired, so it was good to quit while you were ahead. Or atleast that’s what we told ourselves. Down and tired, SA and I set out to hire a car and pack some lunch. As we waited for lunch to get ready, we plonked ourselves on one of the tables by the beach and I ate a well-made caramel custard to commemorate the excellent tucking in we did throughout the trip. The beach was getting ready for yet another day - tourists were walking about, getting a tan or trying out water scooters. The restaurant owners were beginning to get ready for the noon time meals. Everyone was relaxed and happy. I sunk into the feeling for one last time and watched the west coast waves continue their calm, never-ending trip to the shore, delighting a new bunch of visitors. My holiday was over and so was my caramel custard, but I knew my memories would definitely linger for a while.

03-Jan-2007

Konkan Trip 9 : Palolem Beach, Goa

A few kilometers from Karwar, Goa begins and thirty kilometers into Goa, Palolem Beach is located. It is ranked as one of the world’s top ten beaches as per the Lonely Planet team (as per SA). The plan was to stop for lunch, on our way to Baga beach in North Goa. The beach had nice sand, nice water, swaying palms and a gentle breeze. Many restaurants dotted the beachfront. The tourist presence was not overwhelming. Even better, just as we arrived, a Daniel Craig lookalike was emerging out of the sea, a la James Bond. This beach clearly deserved its reputation.


We chose our venue for lunch on a purely random basis – SA was blocking my way when I turned to the right to head for prospective restaurants. So I turned left and everyone followed. PR heard Cold play playing in one of the restaurants and decided that a restaurant owner with such good taste would have obviously hired a good cook. By the time we had dug into the yummy continental food and ordered the desert, we felt like we had come home. It was time to discuss what had remained unspoken in all our minds – perhaps we should just stay the night in one of Palolem Beach’s shacks. At PR’s insistence, we shopped around and found a reasonably priced place called ‘Waves’. The owner charged us 500 bucks a day for a beach facing shack and 400 for the one with the hidden view. Again, SA’s speed won the day for the guys and he beat us to the beach-facing shack.

Once we had settled things with our rented car’s driver (who was indifferent) and the car owner (who was furious), we settled back to relax. Staying at a shack is an experience, which has a charm of its own. The room was tiny and just had a double bed and a clean attached toilet. However, it served brilliantly as a room in which you could sleep in the night and come back for a shower after frolicking in the beach. The best part of it all was that when you stepped out of your room, you were..well.. on the beach. PR started playing chess with one of the foreigners staying at the shack. SA and I sat at the balcony of the shack and watched the sun go down slowly. NA went for a walk. All in all, we were quiet and calm and contended. When it was dark, we went for a stroll through the market area with the ubiquitous Kashmiri, Tibetan and other assorted stalls. I convinced PR to buy a jazzy looking belt (which she is yet to wear and is unlikely to wear ever). We chose a nice place on the beach to eat. After a post dinner walk, everyone chatted or wandered off or just went to sleep, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore. Bliss.

The next morning, PR, SA and I got into the water and wandered in to the extent that our respective guts permitted us to. Knowing swimming, PR could do better that me or SA. After a while, I remembered my floating lessons from my swimming classes and began to try floating for short periods. Impossible though it may sound, this activity alone can keep one occupied for a couple of hours. By the time, I was happy with the amount of floating I had gotten in, the morning routine of the beach was changing into the mid morning routine. We could make out that the mornings involved some serious jogging or yoga by the foreigners. Post the workout, most of them disappeared for a while and then had breakfast. The rest of the day seemed to be spent on the beach, sunbathing or reading or swimming. Lunches were had at the shack followed by more sunbathing, reading or swimming. As the evening began, people disappeared into some party or the other organised by some long staying resident or the other. No wonder, Goa attracts as many people as it does. I cannot think of a better recipe for a holiday.

For breakfast, we chose yet another restaurant and tucked in some delicious continental food. We were still exhilarated from the experience of having deviated from our itinerary, having fulfilled our dream of staying in a shack and having slept while listening to the waves. All that we had expected to do in Gokarna, we were doing here and it seemed better than what we thought it would have been.


Konkan Trip 8 : Karwar

We left Gokarna the next morning, still a little shaken by the previous night’s experiences. Of course the light of the day revealed that the dogs were just silly mongrels, keen on chasing autos and motorbikes and not the ferocious bloodhounds they had seemed the previous night. Our hotel owner also rented out cars and rented us a brand new MUV. After a while we noticed that the driver was petrified to hit the pedal and upon spotting a vehicle one km away, would start working on how to avoid it. He was, clearly, a worried man. It did not take much imagination to figure out that given the hotel owner’s general personality and appearance, it would take a strong man to risk damaging a brand new car. We were dragging our feet to the next stop – Karwar.


We were to stay at the Kurumgad Island in Karwar. The island was a 20-minute ride by a motorboat and located in the middle of the sea. There are two famous resorts in this area – Devbagh and Kurumgad. The latter was cheaper and hence was the chosen place. It was a good choice since Devbagh is actually not an island and Kurumgad is a hill, giving you a beautiful view of the sea from high above. The island was also empty save for us, the cooks and Francis, our Man Friday for the stay. Francis was enthusiasm personified. Just as we would settle into hammocks with a book, he would come bounding up with a string of possible things we could do – each one involving Tarzan-like skills. But that came later.

We had two cottages, adjacent to each other. One was thatched and the other had a more modern roof. SA displaying his usual chivalry and speed chose the better-looking cottage. PR and I trudged into the second cottage and found two huge double beds. Within a minute we were sprawled on the beds and in the next, we were out, sitting on the porch. There was no electricity in the rooms and it was a million degrees inside. As the island had no electricity connection from the mainland, a diesel generator was used sparingly only in the nights. The guys had also realised this and were already sitting outside. There was some time for lunch to be ready and NA wandered into our cottage looking for snacks. Suddenly, he marched out indignantly and announced that since their room had only one double bed as opposed to our two, we would have to switch rooms. With that, he marched back into his cottage, grabbed his huge suitcase and began marching back into the girls’ cottage as the rest of us watched incredulously. Clearly the sun and SA’s spirit had gotten into his head.

Lunch turned out to be an excellent affair. The cook was supremely competent and every meal thereafter turned out to be massive exercises in overeating. By four, the sun had come down and Francis took us to the small private beach on the island for water sports. The first activity was tube surfing, which involved being seated in a tube that was tied to a motorboat. The motorboat dragged you across the sea and you held on for dear life and enjoyed the activity whenever you managed to breathe. We were given life jackets to wear, so really there was no question of any of us dying a pitiful death. However, SA and I did not know any swimming and were a bit worried about falling into the water. PR and NA were more relaxed but they also did not seem like advocates of being dumped in the middle of the ocean. Tube surfing, hence, got over with all of us staying afloat. The next activity was the banana boat ride. The agenda involved being shaken off the banana boat into the middle of the sea. NA and I volunteered to go first, my heart thumping a little faster than normal. When we were in the open seas and the motorboat driver gave the cue for us to let go and fall off, I refused. The driver assumed I was too dense to understand the cue and rather elaborately spread his arms wide open and mock-toppled to his side. I held on tighter. Eventually, after two minutes the driver just cut off the engine and we toppled over.

I was dying. The water was dragging me under. The banana boat was not holding me up and neither was my life jacket. Five seconds later, I had let go of the banana boat, the life jacket’s buoyancy took over and suddenly there I was, relaxed and gently stretched on the water, looking at the sky. If I can think of one ‘wow’ moment for this trip, this would be it. There is no sensation as pleasurable as floating on your back, in the middle of a calm, blue ocean, looking at the evening sky and feeling like the last surviving living being in the world. All too soon, the driver had come over and hauled NA and me back onto the banana boat. On the way back, we fell twice more and eventually reached the shore. SA and PR had a go at the sport too and came back, quite happy.

Francis then told us that we could do wind surfing next. This one involved standing on a wooden board, holding onto a rope tied to the motorboat and gliding over the waters like every macho hero in every action movie ever made. The board did not look particularly safe and none of us dared get onto it. Gently toppling into water was one thing; being thrown off a wooden board rushing at 20 kms an hour was an entirely different thing. Finally, the kayaking began. NA had a kayak to himself and pretty much rowed within five feet of the shore. SA sat this one out. PR and I had a double kayak and after some vigourous rowing managed to atleast get out a little farther into the ocean. We watched the sun set slowly behind the hills for a while and then began to make our way again to the shore. Given the water current, and our rowing abilities, we reached the shore after having gone around in circles atleast ten times. PR managed to hit me on the head in the middle of it and was relieved to find out I was still well enough to row back to the shore. The sun was down by the time we walked back to the cottages to change and dig into the food. After a really huge meal, we sat and chatted meaninglessly and then just quietly watched the reflection of the moon on the sky. It had cast its shine on a large area of the sea, lighting up miles and miles of the deep, sparkling blue and sitting atop the tiny hill, we felt like the microscopic beings that we really were.

The next morning, Francis met us at 7 a.m with a schedule that would involve time travel. We were to go on an island trek, dolphin spotting ride, rappelling and rock climbing and be back by 9 a.m. for our massage. Each of these activities, by Francis’s own admission would take about two hours. So finally, he agreed to do just the island trek. I was wearing sandals without any kind of grip whatsoever and was forced to keep scrambling over the rocks like a monkey. However, given that the route involved climbing up and down various treacherous rocks close to the sea, the rest also had to resort to similar methods. After an hour and a half of some serious scrambling, we reached a small cave. We could get into it, then climb a bit and get out through a hole on the top. It was like living an Enid Blyton novel to say the least. Utterly cool. When we were almost at the end, Francis spotted some dolphins and immediately rushed us to the boat. We got a fairly good view of dolphins going up and down in the water and looking as graceful as they did on TV. Two out of three scheduled activities was not a bad day’s work at all.

The massage however did not go as planned. The masseurs were intent on delivering a longish lecture on the benefits of regular massages (good skin, good blood circulation, long life etc etc). While the talk was informative, the session felt more like a science class and none of us actually managed to relax. Not to mention, the oil stuck to all of us for the next three days.

After a fairly active stay, it was time to move on to our last stop…or atleast that’s what we thought.