May 08, 2006

Stinking the dogs

A few more vignettes from lazy hot days in Goa.

***

Long leisurely drive through the backroads of Porvorim one evening. One rutted road is marked "House in Woods", so we take it to see what this house may be. It turns out to be a minor colony of homes, huge multicoloured ground-and-one extravagantly architectured homes with enormous balconies and roofs much like the fins on a '56 Chevy. Yes, multicoloured: the first is a bright blue, the next is yellow, the third is a screaming red, the fourth orange ... it's like being in Legoland.

Just for fun, we stop outside the orange home and ask a gent playing badminton in the yard who built these homes, are there any still for sale, what do they cost, that sort of thing. He answers, but he mutters. We can't follow anything he mutters. From the back seat, my son complains, "I can't understand him!" We shush him, then turn to the man and say "Pardon?" and "What?" and "Could you repeat that please?" and the like. But he is intent on muttering. So eventually we nod and smile pleasantly, say "Thank you", and drive on, past the red and then the blue house. We are no wiser than before we stopped to ask.

On our way out from "House in Woods" a few minutes later, the man steps out onto the road and flags us down. More muttering? But he actually says, loud enough to understand, that the yellow house is for sale. We nod and smile pleasantly, say "Thank you".

Then we look at the yellow house. The colour is bilious. Hideous. Ridiculous.

***

Later, we find a lane that winds gently downhill, past small houses with brightly painted Nandi bulls on little pedestals, and then suddenly arrow-straight out through rice fields to a meandering river. On a bridge over the river, we get out and watch a teenager in bright red shorts fish.

He has a small bucket with several fish that he has already caught swimming around perplexedly: two-inch long silvery creatures with long whiskers. "Catfish", he says. Juvenile catfish, that he catches with bright yellow bait made from maida and haldi.

"You eat them?" I ask.

"No, I put them in my pond for my dogs."

"Your dogs like catfish?"

"No, no, not dogs, ducks!"

"Oh. And why do you step on them like ... that?" I ask.

"Because they stink."

"Stink? Really? These small things?"

"No, no, not stink, sting! If one of those whiskers stings you, it will itch for 20 or 30 minutes! So I put my foot gently on them to keep them still while I remove the hook. Like this, see?"

"Oh," I say, deciding that I need to get the wax cleaned out of my ears as soon as possible.

***

From Old Goa, a gorgeous drive twists past the Karmali (which the Portuguese called Carambolim) station and through a number of little villages. Chapels, more Nandi bulls, small clumps of people waiting for the bus and peering at us as we sail past, small pleasant houses. It's the kind of road which encapsulates Goa's mystique, makes you understand the hold it exerts on so many.

And then we pass one house, set substantially below road level, reachable via steps that lead down from the road. Two posts mark where the steps start. Sitting on one is an enormous jackfruit. Sitting on the other is a plate filled with ripe yellow mangos. Nothing else. Nobody in sight.

I brake so hard that the guy behind honks in desperation. Turn around, go back and take a couple of pictures. As I finish, a woman in a long kaftan emerges from the house, brow furrowed in irritation as she peers up at me. I try a cheery "Hello, aunty!"

No response, and the brow furrows some more. I quickly settle into the car and move on.

***

One night we dine at O Coqueiro in Porvorim. Why does this restaurant have a plaster statue of a bespectacled gent sitting at one of their tables? Because that gent is the infamous Charles Sobhraj, once-Tihar Jail escapee. On April 6 1986, Sobhraj was enjoying his Chicken Cafreal at this very restaurant, when Inspector Madhukar Zende arrested him. The story goes that Zende had been lying in wait for several days, disguised as an ordinary customer (what does that disguise look like, I wonder), sure that Sobhraj would come back to this old haunt.

Which, of course, he did.

Zende went up to him and said, Hello Charles!

Sobhraj said, Are you crazy?

Zende replied, What crazy! I know you are Charles Sobhraj.

And Zende clapped the handcuffs on his man.

In commemoration of which, we order the chicken cafreal. Not bad, though nobody comes up and says "Hello Charles!"

While we wolf it down, we are serenaded by the father-daughter duo, George and Lisa Cartt, singing Belafonte's "Island in the Sun" and Terry Jacks's "Seasons in the Sun" and other delights that give away our age. And we like them so much that when they finish with us, we wander over to listen to them at the next table they sing to. And in a curiously appropriate twist for this place where Sobhraj is remembered, sitting at that table is one of this country's best-known police officers.

Julio Ribeiro and his wife, eating quietly.

3 comments:

Truman said...

I think I know the place you are talking about.. in Porvorim.. the lane going downhill.. a little beyond is the gurudwara and the jetty for the ferry, maybe?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Truman, after seeing your note I thought perhaps there was a gurudwara beyond where we turned off that road -- but then last night we drove past the gurudwara on the Reis Magos road, and I figured that's what you had to mean. No, the road I was talking about is on the other side of Porvorim, you go through Defence Colony and west, through the gentle hills there and then you find a road that leads out across the fields and crosses a small river.

Truman said...

Oh I see..I do not know the way around that area very well..Actually last year I purchased (my only) flat, and it is near that gurudwara..by the way in case you may need any help/assistance while you are in Goa, feel free to drop in a line :)