Monsoon Memories on the Konkan Railway

Last year, the journey from Tivim to Dadar by the Jan Shatabdi was memorable.

This year, travel has been restricted. So, only photographs and memories from the train ride.

Different shades of green
Different shades of green
Not to miss the blue.
Not to miss the blue.
My train (door) view.
My train (door) view.
Darwaza (door) view.
Darwaza (door) view.
Clouds and more.
Clouds and more.
One more for your eyes.
One more for your eyes.

Notes from an intern at the Cavala bar

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In this day and age, you need to be multi-skilled to multi-task. So, with that mantra in mind, I set off for salubrious Goa to work as a trainee barman. For a few days, and especially one weekend, I worked hard at a job that I had never done before.
BTW, you can’t just land an internship at a daru bar, you have to have the right contacts. But, you see, I did have the right contacts. I called up Marius, the malik of Cavala beach resort in North Goa, and asked him whether he would have me as an intern!
Our conversation on a wobbly mobile connection went something like this.
Me: Hi Marius, how are you. I have an unusual request. Can I come and work at your bar in Cavala for a week?
Marius: (Didn’t sound very surprised.) Sure, when would you like to come? Just send me your dates.
The rest, as they say, was settled by SMS and history.
Before, we go any further, let me state my biases right up front. I have stayed in Cavala with family and friends on seven or eight occasions in the last eight to 10 years. I just love the place, the creepers on the walls, the people (Maria especially!) and the food!
It’s everything you can want. And, of course, as my friend Shammi (who introduced us to Cavala and Marius, and she will kill me if I don’t record this) said – the killer attraction is that you can have breakfast when you wake up – and let me tell you her breakfast usually is around noon.
I did mention my plans to friends before setting off. Most were surprised, but envious. All of them thought it was a great idea.
Marius is an organised man. He had already informed Benny (the chief barman), Bastiao and other members of his staff about what was to be done with me and my slightly off scheme.
Given that I know all of them as a “guest”, it was a bit awkward to begin with, but Benny was stellar. He took charge of me and made everything so easy.
The first couple of evenings were slow. It was Goa in the monsoon. Cavala did have guests, most of them regulars and a few who would drop in for dinner. But, overall it was slow in the week.
I learnt the difference between a Caprioshka and a Mojito, a B-52 and a Kamikaze; how to make a mean Bloody Mary and how to mix a Martini.
Soon, I gathered that all preparations were on for Friday evening. D-day, big day, whatever you want to call it. Friday evenings is when a live band performs at Cavala and the whole of Goa knows seems to know it’s party time.
Let me tell you that life is quite different on the other side of the bar. Preparations , which included cutting enormous amounts of lime wedges and mint leaves, began in the late afternoon. Clearly, there was a drill to it and only I was new to it.
Calls came into the bar making table reservations, which were carefully noted down by Benny in a notebook. Given the hundreds that would arrive, those making a reservation were displaying considerable wisdom.
Benny showed me the peg measures and told me my job. Hand out the beer, rum soda, whisky soda, vodka tonic – all the simple combinations. The others would do the complicated cocktails, including the shots.
People started filtering in around 9 in the evening and the place was soon jam packed, with Tidal Wave belting out all the popular numbers that can bring people to their feet. In Cavala, barring those who had a table, everybody was on their feet in any case.
Women and men were dancing their heads off and, boy, were they drinking. I thought I was forever in a bent position – having to bend down to open the little fridges that contained the chilled beer.
Soon, some of the women were dancing on top off the bar. One couldn’t really serve people their drinks as long as the ladies were atop the bar – shaking a leg like there was no tomorrow.
But, this was no Sahara mall. Old and young, men and women were just fixated on having a good Friday evening and we played a small role in plying them with the spirit needed for the purpose.
After the ladies cleared themselves off the bar, the pressure mounted. There was no time to breathe. Beer. Rum. Whisky. Beer. Jaldi. Abhi. Immediately. Along with the real barmen, I was pouring drinks like mad.
Someone wanted whisky and Red Bull. Who was I to argue? The gent who asked for the same was a kindly sort. Keep the change, he said. He handed over two notes and told me to keep the change. Ten rupees it amounted to. All handed over to the cashier.
Another gent (mostly it was men asking for the drinks though there were a few women as well) told me to keep about Rs. 300. I was happy – had been tipped for the first time in my life.
There was a lady, who spoke to me about something or the other. Couldn’t really get what she said in all the noise. A little bit later, she asked if it was okay to take her purse from the bar. I said sure, please do.
Around 1.15 am, I was tired. Stepping away from the bar, I went and sat near the reception. The lady either happened to be around or sought me out.
And she had a question, “Do you have a brother. Is he a journalist?”
Me: (Think I recognised her in that instant as a reporter working for a TV channel) Yes, sure, I have a brother (actually I have two brothers!) but he’s not a journalist. I am the journalist.
Lady: You are Amit Baruah. (Turning to her friends…He’s a senior journalist. I know him. Have been wondering the whole evening what he’s been doing behind the bar!
Lady, what was I doing? I was enjoying myself — talking to people, soaking in the environment, feeling quite free away from the day-to-day mundane things that seemed to reduce in importance.
Thank you Cavala and Marius, for letting me have the time of my life.
I want a Repeat.

Minding the Gap between Goa and Gurgaon

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It’s not easy to write about Goa from Gurgaon. Your worldview tends to be different when you’re out of Goa. But, anyway, I’m being brave and am doing it.

There’s little doubt in my mind that its one of the most restful places that you can go to. Even in Goa, there are grades. Cavala, a boutique hotel in Baga, is one of those where I have found more rest than in other places.

So, returning to Cavala was like returning to my second home. But this is not about Cavala (a theme about which I will write about), it’s about the roaming that I did around Cavala.

The gearless Honda scooter took me to Morjim and Aswem beaches and places about which I did not keep notes. I think its Goa’s fault that I didn’t keep those notes.

On many occasions, holidays have meant looking after young children or having no fursat from drinking, eating, lying on the beach or just hanging around.

So, this time there was none of that in my Cavala stay. I roamed around to my heart’s content, stopping, talking, eating and hanging around at any place that caught my fancy.

Apart from the revelation that Morjim and Aswem beaches are quietly stunning, I came to know that there are many, many old lovely, bungalows in the bylanes, which tend to elude tourists. (They are probably well known to property dealers and land sharks though!).

Just to drive around and look at them from the outside was good enough for me. There weren’t too many people around though so I could not really ask anyone for a peek inside these splendid houses.

But, the old houses are disappearing.

So, next time you are in Goa, do look up the old houses because they are going, going, gone…

Agar office ho to aisa; if you have an office it must be this

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If you must work in an office or hold meetings, it must be at Rafael’s, bar-cum-cafe-cum-resting place and much more on the Benaulim beach in South Goa.

For starters, it’s got the best (BSNL) wifi ever. Second, the coffee’s great, the omelette (egg white almost without oil) is perfect and the boss, Darryl, has no compunctions in making it himself.

So, when I landed at Rafael’s – after settling down in our old haunt of the La’mour Beach Resort close by – it was a treat. All that you wanted to do was to just sit, do nothing, gaze into the sea and drink.

And, to top it all, you can have excellent conversation with Darryl, the man from Sydney and Goa, who calls Rafael’s a labour of love. Darryl was reluctant to be photographed.

From the beautiful Malaysian tables (cost him a bomb, Darryl said) in the cafe, to the tasteful bar, and the fantastic-looking kitchen, everything has been done with care and attention.

The attention to detail, so lacking in many establishments, was apparent – the heavy, transparent plastic sheets ensuring that no rain got in but the view to the beach and the sea remained uninterrupted.

Sitting and smoking at the back of Rafael’s, Darryl told me that he had been working with a leading tech company in Sydney and his family was still there. And, at some point, he was likely to go back to Australia.

“My brother will run the place when I return to Sydney,” he told me as and when he returned.

Darryl also told me that he had no experience in running a cafe or a bar. But here was this super place.

Having seen Rafael’s, I can say with some confidence that people who don’t know the first thing about something should first learn and then just do it!