We take in a short cruise on the Vashishthi River in Chiplun: egrets by the dozen, the occasional hunched heron, a pied kingfisher that easily overtakes our huffing motorboat (the venerable MV Lady Olga of Limassol, no less), the flash of a blue kingfisher in the bushes, two crocodiles -- one huge in the grass who slips silently into the water, one a young dude sunning himself -- and, to my astonishment, huge flocks of cormorants on trees. As we approach, they flee from the trees in great flapping black storms, descending swiftly to water level and racing away into the distance, inches above the wet as cormorants like to be.
With us in the boat are two couples speaking primarily in Gujarati -- two brothers with their wives, maybe? And one young kid each, clasped in the respective wife's arms. The husbands are standing near the prow, shooting the scenery and birds and each other through handicams and other such gadgets, struggling occasionally to keep their balance as the boat rocks and rolls over the waves.
At one point, one of the wives looks up at her husband and asks quietly, in English, can I stand up and take pictures for a while?
He looks down at her, laughs and says in a loud voice, also in English, if you stand up, we'll all fall into the river! (This, presumably, is a reference to her weight -- their child is only months old and she looks like she hasn't lost all her pregnancy weight).
She smiles weakly. I get the feeling she doesn't think it's much of a joke. Nor do the rest of us.
At a wildly popular Goa beach, it's the usual, but always amusing, Indian sight: pretty much nobody is really swimming, and pretty much everyone is fully clothed. There are young men who go in knee-deep and play games there, throwing balls back and forth as they splash happily about, and they are the only ones who take off clothes, usually their shirts. But nobody else. I mean, saris, salwar kameezes, jeans, shirts, everything but the expanses of bare skin you'd see on a Western beach on a day like this.
Having said that, and with mammaries sorry memories of those expanses on my mind, I'm not sure which beach experience I prefer.
One young boy and his father -- shirts removed -- venture out a little further, highstepping hand-in-hand over each wave as it rolls in. Sometimes they play a little game: they lean over to shake a finger at a wave, saying "Stop, wave! Go back!"
The waves heed them not, rolling relentlessly on their way, one or two actually toppling the pair.
That is, I confess, my son and me.
It's a game, but we're only paying tribute to the man for whom this beach is named. Yes, somewhere in ye olde England, sometime in the 11th Century, King Canute marched onto the beach and ordered the waves to go back whence they came. They didn't, of course, but it's not for nothing that he's known as Canute the Great ...
What's that? The beach is called Calangute? Oops.
I am sometimes startled to find how deeply-rooted the stereotypes are. We meet a young man from Meghalaya, call him Robert, who has been in Goa for five years. He works as a cook at a restaurant in Panjim.
When he tells us this, I ask, and am stunned to hear myself asking, do you like cooking Chinese food?
What's the matter with me? Yet how many times must he have heard stuff like that?
Robert doesn't bat an eyelid, he just says, we don't serve Chinese. It's all Continental and Indian food.
And actually, I barely hear him saying those words. I'm overcome by remorse, truly amazed at myself.