By Sonya Rehman
And there I was. My bright little orange knapsack perched up on my back and a packet of Haldirams’ Moongdal Burfi (a lip-smacking Indian sweetmeat), clutched in my right hand for my extended family in
“Off you go then”, said my grandfather hurriedly, ushering me into the bus that stood before us. “You have your ticket na?” he asked again for the fifth time. “Yes Nana, don’t worry I’ll be fine. And I’ll call you as soon as I reach Goa alright?”
Sighing he ran a hand through his thinning silver-grey hair and pushed up his glasses with his index finger and nodded. Giving him a quick hug and kiss on his left cheek, I boarded the bus, not really knowing that the next twelve hours were perhaps, going to be the longest twelve hours of my life.
The bus was nothing I expected it to be from the inside. It was dimly lit, over-crowded and incredibly suffocating. The air reeked of lime pickle and mango achaar, dosas, egg sandwiches and sandalwood perfume. “Nice, vaaaary nice Sahib! Air-conditioned ya, no problem, no problem Sahib!” the stout, dark, head-wobbling, South Indian man who was handling my seat booking had said. And even though my grandfather insisted I flew instead, I being as stubborn as I was, insisted that a road trip would be much more worthwhile and fascinating.
I was motioned towards a window seat and immediately planted my belongings on the adjoining seat, praying no grimy-pawed creep had to sit beside me. Thankfully no one did. But as the bus started moving, babies wailed, some old men dozed off snoring and a woman in a bright orange silk sari with an even brighter gold bindiya burped loud thali burps, all the while exclaiming: “Hai! Hai raam”!
‘Oh dear’, I had thought to myself – wishing I had remembered to pack my walkman the night before the journey and slunk deeper into my seat.
So here I was, for the next twelve hours. In a bus that smelt like an assorted box of Haldirams, amidst a cacophony of snores, burps and if I may add, the much dreaded – farts. Eek. Wince.
By the sixth hour, I was ready to break out into a mad hullabaloo. I desperately needed to use the washroom, get some fresh air and stretch my legs. My rear felt like lead by now and I was minutes away from walloping anyone with a rolled up newspaper who happened to snore, burp and/or fart again. Breaking out into a cold sweat (my claustrophobia had reached dangerous levels by now); I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. But one ‘urrrrrrrppp’ later my eyelids flew open. I gritted my teeth, tightened my hands around my sorry-excuse-for-a-weapon and got ready to pounce into the arena and take on the belcher head on. But then a funny thing happened. Not funny in a ha-ha-hee-hee way. But funny in a funny way. Funny in a good way.
Someone had tapped me on my shoulder. Turning my head upwards I was looking into a pair of the most brilliant and bluest eyes I had ever seen.
The rest of my journey was spent chatting away with Dave, a young man who earned a living as a comedian/clown for orphans and refugee children in third world countries and those which had been ravaged by wars. Turns out, he had recently been to Afghanistan with his troupe and was now touring
India. He had noticed my exasperation and decided to keep me company for the rest of the journey. Conversation came and went gently like a small marble being rolled back and forth. Dave made me laugh by imitating Indian accents and making ridiculously corny jokes about almost everyone on the bus. Suddenly I was glad I hadn’t brought my walkman after all.
I reached Goa by two in the afternoon the very next day, bid Dave the comedian/clown with the brilliant blue eyes, farewell and told him that he’d always have a friend in Pakistan if ever he and his troupe ever planned on visiting. Up ahead in the distance I saw my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins smiling and waving frantically at me. The sun shone down in bright warm gold set against a cloudless azure sky. With my knapsack perched up on my back and the Moongdal Burfi in my hand I walked and half-ran towards them.
I was finally, in Goa.
My week in Goa was spent making frequent trips to the beach with my little twelve year old cousin Maleesha at the crack of dawn or early afternoons. We made sandcastles of beige sand, collected seashells in shades of bottle greens, dull purples, tea pinks and soft yellows. We visited the Churches – the most fascinatingly quaint one being the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. With a high ceiling, it was large, quiet and tranquil. Lighting a few candles out of respect, we then made our way to Old Goa – some nine kilometers east of Panaji, to visit some of the old Hindu temples. I noticed beautiful little houses tucked away here and there along the way on our trip, nestled in between palm trees and bushes of all shapes, colours and sizes.
The architecture of these houses was undoubtedly Portuguese – with their lovely sloping down tiled roofs in faded blues and light reds. The hot Goan sun coupled with its fresh monsoon rain had only made these houses look prettier and somehow, more magical.
Within a few days I had realized that the Goans just like us Pakistanis had quite a few things in common. Like us, they were an awfully lazy, warm-hearted and welcoming bunch who loved to socialize and entertain. My fondest memory of Goa, to this day will always be of my trip to the famous Flea Market. It had to be the most surrealist moments of my life. Now this flea market was enormous. Everything from bongs, to breathtaking Tibetan, Afghani, Kashmiri and Indian silver jewelry, to funky-psychedelic ‘Om’ T-shirts, to singing Tibetan bowls and musical instruments etc was being sold. This and so much more, was being sold beneath one massive tent at fantastic prices. I was in hippy heaven that day I tell you and felt quite like a flower child of the early 60s.
Throngs of foreigners in bikinis, sarongs, summer dresses, shorts and sandals walked here and there – their once pale skin had been replaced by a charming orange tan. Many hippy foreigners from all over Europe and America had set up their very own stalls too. Stalls of T-shirts which read ‘Make Love Not War’, tribal t-shirts, t-shirts which glowed in the dark, fossil seashell rings, gypsy skirts, hand-made butterfly jewelry, charms, pendants and a plethora of other items which was bound to make any young-arty-pseudo-hippy-flower-child like myself, go absolutely stark-raving mad with joy.
A good three hours later, dehydrated and utterly spent, I dragged a yoga mat along with my other items towards the car where my Uncle, Aunt and kids were headed. Since I wanted to soak it all in one last time, I lingered on behind as my sandals crunched the hot red gravel below. A few feet away from me, I saw a young couple – both with long blond hair perched up onto their silver-black Harley Davidson. The young man was bare-chested in black leather pants with a big tattoo on his forearm, and the girl was in a turquoise sarong and white top. They caught me staring, he revved the engine and both looked my way, grinned and winked. Blushing and smiling back I saw them turn away as tiny clouds of dust picked up behind the H.V’s back wheel and off they were!
I spent the following evening playing cards at the coffee table with my relatives as the song ‘Lambada’ by Kaoma played in the distance on the stereo player. And through the entire evening, the light cotton curtains flapped gently to the salty sea breeze as it ruffled my tresses, tickled my ears and blew secret kisses of Goa on my lips.
The Friday Times