Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Final Message from Mumbai

Every journey moves inexorably to the point that I am currently facing. With every passing day, every steady minute and every fleeting second, that point in time is brought ever closer. And finally, it's presence becomes so apparent that you are forced to adjust your course to meet it. The end.

A point in time with such startling finality. Each of my every-day actions became somewhat more noticeable, more pointed. The simple act of donning my closed shoes, which previously lay forgotten at the bottom of my bag, had such obvious clarity of being the first time I had done so since removing them two months ago. It was a signal of my leaving, my imminent return home. I was struck by the thought that all of this, these experiences and memories, would be just that - memories and experiences - as soon as I leave. The immediacy of being here is condemned to be lost.

My Indian journey has been a true rollercoaster ride of experience. I have felt defeated by the crazy systems and masses of people. I have struggled to find my way and felt out of place. But I have also laughed at the crazy systems, got back on track and found a groove in which I fit. India seemed to fight against me at every possible moment at the start of my trip, and the craziness got the better of me. I felt swamped and overpowered, struggling to make sense of this amazing place. It was loud, fast and overbearing. It was the freezing cold water that I didn't let get past my ankles when the best course of action was just to jump in. I stood at the water's edge for a long while, afraid of the leap required, resisting it, until finally I relented. I immersed myself in India and found that the water was not as cold as I had imagined, or feared. It was refreshing and invigorating. I was instilled with a sense of vibrancy and awareness. I woke up to the wonders of this incredible country.

And now, what seems like such a short time after my awakening, I am forced to say goodbye to India. I have to let go of the country and cling tightly to the memories it has given me. Each place I visited and every person I met will be remembered. I will cherish the memories of all the times I laughed and all the times I felt despair. I will hold on to the fleeting memories of the sights and sounds, the smells and the tastes that so defined my experience.

I must leave India, but I leave knowing I will be back. In my two months of travel I feel that I've barely scratched the surface of what India has to offer. This vast chunk of land holds so much more for me to explore, to learn, to witness.

I must leave India, but I leave changed. India has altered my perspectives and adjusted my views. India has opened my mind to so much more. There is still so much to see and do, and barely enough time to see and do it. A world awaits me...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Old Goa and the Goa of Old

There comes a point in every travelers life that he must get off his arse and type up a blog post to keep the people who read it informed about his whereabouts. That time, for me, has come. I've been putting off typing up another blog post for the reason that there won't be many blog posts left to write after this one. The truth is that there's precious little time left for me in this marvelous country and if I catch up with my writing there'll be almost nothing left to write about.

But I must catch up.

If you're wondering where I am at the moment, I will tell you. I am in the diminutive town of Chapora - the Goa of Old. A quaint, one-street town which is a favourite Goa's hippy scene. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I write about the Goa of Old I must first write about how I got here. And getting here was preceded by a trip to Old Goa. If this doesn't make sense yet, bear with me - it soon will.

Old Goa was the capital of Goa during the era of Goa's Portuguese occupation. It is now pretty much a ghost town. What was once a thriving city at the height of the Portuguese rule is now just a husk of a town. The only buildings which remain are the churches and cathedrals which serve as a testament to the Catholic influence which differentiates Goa from other Indian states. Old Goa is also a convenient 15 minute bus ride away from Panaji, making it a perfect day trip for the travel enthusiast. Well, almost perfect.

Se Cathedral
Old Goa was definitely worth the visit and the churches and cathedrals were large and numerous, but it failed to excite me. I suppose that was partially due to the crowds of other tourists who got bussed straight in, and partly because Old Goa gave off an air of discomfort. It's quite difficult to explain, but Old Goa felt as if it didn't belong in India, in Goa even. Everywhere you looked you were confronted by another massive, out-of-place church. The churches dominated the area and I couldn't help but feel that it was all intended as a display of dominance by the Portuguese. The imposing structures seemed to be built to be formidable. It all felt like a religious prick-waving contest that got seriously out of hand.

Churches aren't my thing, but I do love a good beach. And so, with the beach beckoning I left Panaji and headed north to Anjuna. Anjuna is another stalwart of the old hippy scene and used to have a reputation as the place to go to experience a Goan trance party. I imagine things have calmed down since then because I only caught wind of one party happening and the next day everyone said it got closed down at 11 PM.

The sunset over Anjuna
Anjuna may not be the place to go for a party anymore, but it is a great spot to go for a swim. For once the waves were of a moderate size and could be bodysurfed, unlike anywhere else in Goa. That said, waiting for the waves of a moderate size that could be bodysurfed seemed to take up most of the time that I spent in the water. At this point you can probably deduce where this blog post is going to go. Yep, nowhere. When you're spending most of the day on a beach there's not much to write home about.

I did visit the Mapusa Friday market for a couple of hours, but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. What was on sale was mostly just tourist crap and fish. I did scour the market for anything interesting or different, but all of the places were selling the same slew of tourist trash - trinkets and T-shirts mostly.

Funnily enough I decided that Anjuna wasn't the best place to be staying. I'm not sure why I came to that conclusion, but it made sense in my mind at the time. I decided to move on after only a few days of lazing on the beach. I even moved away from the beach - to Chapora.

Chapora is a forgotten town. Forgotten by
tourists, at least
The Lonely Planet likens Chapora to the Mos Eisley Canteen in Star Wars and when I arrived here I understood why. It's not much bigger than a canteen, for a start, and its residents (local and hippy alike) have a very relaxed and slow pace of life. That might have something to do with the charas those hippies are smoking, but I can't be certain. It is the Goa of Old and that's what makes it an attractive place to stay. Chapora has not grown up with the rest of Goa. Everywhere else in Goa is full of tourists, Chapora has only a light sprinkling - and most of them are long-stayers. Chapora is still decidedly cheap, whereas the rest of Goa has hiked its prices up to milk the package tourists. I like Chapora. It's just what I was looking for, an almost untainted Goa, a lack of other tourists.

There's nothing to do in Chapora, nothing pressing at least. And I can't help but like that about it. I can spend a full day sipping chai and reading a book and not have to worry that I'm being slack because there's nothing else to do. I think I might just get stuck here for a while...
A short walk from Chapora - Vagator beach

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On Indians

Spending every day on a beach for a week is fantastic, but doing so means there's precious little to share with you, the readers of my blog. I thought I'd take a different angle with this post and attempt to describe the Indian people. This may make no sense whatsoever, but if it does it would be a fitting description of Indian people as a whole.

I'll start off by saying that to group all Indians together and try to describe them as a single people (which is my plan) is a ridiculous notion. The people are different everywhere you go, sometimes only marginally, other times drastically.

Indians never cease to amaze and amuse me and occasionally shock me into silence. I am constantly amazed by the warmth that the people of this fine country exhibit. Everywhere I go I encounter people smiling broadly and laughing loudly. The happiness is contagious and I've often had to stop my self grinning like a maniac while walking down a busy street, garnering funny looks from the laughing locals. Laughs, smiles and jokes are a way of life in India, and yet I'm always left wondering - why?

India's economy is booming, and that is a gross understatement. The new wealth in India is remarkable, staggering even. India is going places, fast. New money is everywhere, it is flaunted and put on display, mostly garishly. It's not enough just to be wealthy, one's wealth must be flaunted at every possible occasion. There is this crazy urge to be seen to be wealthy.. A crazy urge which seems to be killing the smiles and laughs and jokes. Yes, the smiles are still there, ditto the laughs, but they're different - hollow. In public, the wealthy laugh too loudly and speak too loudly. Trying, it seems, to draw attention to themselves, to show a carefree side which probably no longer exists.

It seems to me that the happiest Indians are those who don't have all that pressure of wealth placed upon their shoulders. The rickshaw-wallahs, dabba-wallahs and chai-wallahs. The people who are still surprised to see foreigners and are eager to have their pictures taken with them. The laughs from them seem genuine, the smiles truly happy. These are the people of the India of old, before the craziness of the dash for riches permeated their society. These are the people I love to meet. Those who have so little always seem to have the most to give.

I'll deviate now to something which I find very peculiar - the India-Pakistan relationship. Leaving aside all the history between these two nations I'd like to discuss a strange reaction I got when I asked an Indian man about his thoughts on the relationship. A little background though - this man is from Pune (a city about an hour from Mumbai, fairly large and progressive), he grew up in Mumbai in a fairly well-off family and after school set about making himself a lot of money. He is not incredibly rich, like some Indians, but he is rich enough to want to be seen to be rich. His brother-in-law is a high-ranking army officer.

When I asked him about what he thought about Pakistan this was his exact response:
"I'm telling you, If  I ever meet a Pakistani... or a Bangladeshi... I will slap him in the face!"
I was shocked! Such raw hatred for an entire country of people. I wanted to know why. I asked him...
"I know it's the 20 which give the other 80 a bad name, but I don't care, if I ever see a Pakistani I will slap him in the face!"
More shock! The 20 which give the other 80 a bad name. Here he was, happily admitting that the whole of Pakistan is not to blame for the animosity between these two countries, but that wouldn't stop him from physically assaulting a Pakistani person unlucky enough to come across him. I find the mutual hatred these countries have for each other astounding. Hatred for each other is ingrained in the societies to the extent that even a man from progressive Mumbai would happily attack his counterpart from Islamabad. This is not the way the world should work.

That conversation made a huge impact on me. It took me completely by surprise. I was suddenly left questioning if everyone felt this way. Could a people so outwardly happy harbour such hatred for other people? Even my favourite Indianisms lost there flavour for a while.

The flavour quickly returned, though. But you're probably wondering what the hell an Indianism is. It's an Oliver Goosen invention, that's what it is. India is full of Indianisms. They are, by definition, very funny and distinctly Indian. An example of an Indianism would be talking to someone about cricket and the topic of Sachin Tendulkar pops up (as it inevitably does), "He is the maximum best batsmen in the world, my god!"
Say that with a pseudo-Indian accent and place emphasis on the underlined words and you'll see what I'm getting at. Indianisms are everywhere, in the way Indians speak, advertise and joke especially. Indiansims stem from the almost childlike way that Indians speak. I don't mean that in a condescending way at all, I just think it's oddly charming. When you've sat next to someone who describes a cricket shot as 'ultra-powerful, hyper-goodlooking' you'll know what I mean.

Indianisms are best experienced so I'll share with you a few of my favourites.

On the side of a road I spotted a cement factory. The building proudly displayed a sign which read: "Cement produced with robot technology!"
I was astounded! Here, in a random location in India, robots where making the cement for new buildings. What sheer brilliance, what incredible ingenuity!

I spotted another fantastic Indianism in a bus earlier today. Innocuously hidden just below a No Smoking sign were the words: 'NO SPITING!' I was lucky I spotted that because I had a spiteful comment lined up for the guy next to me who kept extending his seat space by stealing mine. But seeing as spitting wasn't prohibited I decide to mark out my territory with my saliva...

My all-time favourite Indianism comes from quite a large brand of... something... I'm not even sure what they're selling, but their name is one for the records. They trade under the fantastic title of Bumchums, and they advertise everywhere! I get some strange looks from locals every time I come across one of their signs. They all look at me and I can see them thinking, "What the fuck is that guy laughing about?"