East of Heart

Further Down the Coast

I am in Calangute in the state of Goa. This area of the Konkan Coast is famous amongst Westerners for its hippie past, beach parties and in Europe for its all-inclusive vacation packages. It is presently the low season of foreign travelling  but summer vacation time for Indians. The beach here is full of families visibly from all over the country, few of them catching sun anywhere else but in the water. I happily joined them all yesterday afternoon and even got some good body-surfing done on the metre-and-a-half waves.

In between bouts of sea, I helped some young guys from Mumbai get there car out of the sand and joined them for a Kingfisher Strong beer in the shade after (not the guys in the photos). They were all well-off but notably eager to work and make their own fortunes; real ones, not like “the Indians who keep their money abroad in Swiss bank accounts”.

Having goods friends is always more important than having the girls. Here we value having close friends.

I had originally planned to stay here only one day but I developed some sort of food poisoning overnight and will catch the bus on Friday. I am fast recovering. I blame some fruit I ate last night before going to sleep.

I did not have the most comfortable or fairly-priced of bus rides down to Goa but thankfully my sleeper bed mate was a cool guy named Kalpesh, a young electronics and telecommunications engineer from Gujarat. Installing networks in the field for his company has allowed him to travel to almost every corner of the country. I peppered him with questions about every state and on his own life of course, and then he told me about one of his most interesting projects which had involved setting up a distance teaching infrastructure in Kashmir. He had supervised installation of the system in every single last village of the state. A live feed of a professor would be sent and captured to all units via a microwave dish of the type used for HD television transmission in Canada, and in order for students to still be able to ask questions and interact with their teacher, a secondary outgoing transmission line would be setup over dial-up or ADSL internet connections allowing students to make their queries in writing, by e-mail for example. This allows even the most far-off of students to be exposed to a centralized high level of teaching through two-way communication. The same system has since been implemented in Orissa State as well.

It is starting to feel very real to be on the other side of the world.

Mumbai was a fantastic introduction to the diversity, rhythm, environment and urban culture of India. “Mumbai is the New York of India” I heard more than once and it is true that the city has a very cosmopolitan atmosphere once you get past the trash, the cars, the din, the crowds, the animals, the smells, and this happens rather enchantingly fast.

On Sunday, I walked in the near 40 Celsius temperature along the entire south-eastern seawall to Malabar Hill to catch some hot sun, see this famously posh area of the city and make it to Baganga, a pool of freshwater water near the tip of the peninsula in the middle of which Lord Ram placed a wooden post to mark the centre of the newly-created world. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage site with people coming from all over to bathe, a beautiful site to arrive at after the traffic heavy ascent, an oasis as my guide book says.


Of course you are sticky, this is sticky weather!

I was told by a shop owner once I continued my walk up the hill. That night, I attended the final evening of my friend and first college roommate Yasir’s wedding to his wife Asia. Nearly 1,000 people made it out to the Kurla Complex in Bandra East for a chance to congratulate the newlyweds and enjoy a delicious convivial dinner composed of a myriad grilled meats, as typical for Muslim-Indian cuisine, I was told. I stood out as one of the only westerners there, but Yasir’s family quickly took me in and introduced me to their own. I felt very privileged to be there and enjoyed myself a lot, thank you!

Quickly, because I must set a concise precedent to have you come back!

I spent Monday on a Bollywood set as an extra involved in the shooting of a commercial for a new phone. It was really interesting to participate and also meet people from an entirely different separate class of people in Mumbai. It is quite frequent for westerners to be recruited for this type of work in the the area where I was staying (historic Colaba).

Tuesday I visited Laxmi Hindu temple and the famous Haji-Ali mosque out in the middle of the sea before catching my night bus to Goa. That morning I woke up early to take photographs at Sassoon Dock as fish were being unloaded for sale. I accidentally tripped on a sleeping dog in the dark at the Gate of India that morning. He hopped up quickly and barked over a friend who started approaching as well with typical “who are you, what do you want?!” barking. I kept my ground and raised my arm in a gesture to make it go away and five seconds later, it lowered its bark and started wagging its tail five seconds later. A hairy moment though.

My best quote so far comes from a new friend, Partno, who is pastry chef at a top restaurant in Colaba. We were watching mangoes being collected from an enormous tree, when I commented that it was amazing that a firm sour green mango has everything inside it to become a soft incredibly sweet and perfumed one later. He agreed and added that so do people, and Stephen Hawking is an incredible product of that human potential. In fact,

I am sure that if Stephen Hawking should make a dessert, it would be excellent as well!

I am continually amazed by the strong culture of India, of the subcontinent, of a massive developing country with endlessly deep diversity. Everyone seems very knowledgeable about India too. The figure of 1.2 billion inhabitants aside, this collective bond is a force to be harnessed and reckoned with.

Stay tuned for more news from the south in the next update!

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