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.
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.
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…
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!
Like you, I have often wondered what keeps this corrupt, lazy, inefficient BUT GREAT country going. And, I think it must lie in the honest, day-to-day work practices of millions of Indians who work for a pittance but deliver.
If the Mayura Bhuvaneshwari hotel in Hampi was pretty, the people who ran it could not call for an auto or make a booking for me on the day-long Hampi tourist tour. But it made them no difference, they were simply so polite.
Meet Pramod. Manager, bearer, cook, travel fixer, handyman all rolled into one at the Majali beach resort in Karwar. I persuaded a reluctant auto driver at the Karwar bus station to take me a hotel on the beach and he brought me to Majali beach resort.
And right from checking me in, to carrying my bags, to ensuring that the room was spotlessly clean, Pramod simply did everything.
The stunning beauty of the L-shaped resort was enhanced by Pramod and the three ladies who worked with him – efficiently and effortlessly.
Having arrived in the afternoon, I soon set off for a walk on the stunning beach just opposite the resort. Majali is actually a fishing village and is used as a take-off point for the fishermen whom I saw fixing their nets as the rain came down.
The fishermen also used the beach and the water from the sea as their very private loo – unconcerned by their nakedness – a task they must have performed over the generations.
When I mentioned this to Pramod with some amusement, his agony was visible. “What to do sir!” was the comment that escaped his lips.
To me it didn’t matter, but there were a couple of women, techie guests present at Majali and they weren’t amused by the discussion Pramod and me were having in the dining room.
When it was time to leave for the Karwar bus stand, Pramod’s appointed auto driver reached bang on time to pick me up bang on time. Not only that, the driver came prepared with change for a thousand rupees that I needed.
In my dictionary, that’s efficiency defined.
I will be seeing Pramod and Majali again.
PS: The only issue with the stunning Majali beach hotel is that you can’t consume alcohol there. I’m wondering whether it’s time for me to take some of my heavy-drinking Delhi friends to Majali.
And on the first, long bus ride I met Narasimhan (N from here on). He was the efficient conductor of the Hospet-Hubli bus, giving people tickets on the ride from Hospet to Hubli. In his twenties, the conductor showed considerable interest in my camera and the pictures I had taken.
BTW, the window seat next to the door (where I sat with N) through the journey is the best to take pictures. And given that the Karnataka roadways bus had a speed governor installed, it was the best possible location to take pictures.
We chatted in between his duties. N was scrupulous in issuing tickets and did his job quite effortlessly.
He was curious about me so I told him that I was a journalist – a reporter. That seemed to satisfy me. N also wanted to know where I was from – Delhi was the answer I gave him; again he was quite satisfied.
After we had attained a certain level of confidence in our conversations, he asked me a serious question: “Kya aapke paas pant nahin hain? Don’t you possess a pair of pants”
I wasn’t really surprised at the question given that no one else on the bus or elsewhere was wearing shorts (my uniform through most of July).
I told him that shorts were cool to wear in the hot weather and he should try them as well. N said that the khaki trousers were part of his uniform. Accepted, but I asked him that don’t you wear a lungi at home? Yes, but that was at home, he said.
It was simple curiosity that’s all. N was unfazed by me plying him with all kinds of questions. He answered all in good humour – suggesting pictures that I should take along the journey.
I may have looked like a bit of a freak to him, but it didn’t bother him in the least.
The acceptance of diversity came easily to N.
IN THE RACE FOR LUXURY AND LIFESTYLE …
Dear Mr. Baruah,
Just read the above mentioned article. Very interesting indeed.
I have some peculiar memories of Mhow myself, while staying there for a course my husband attended in 2003.I must share these with you. These include-
The amazing market for paintings-dealing with old British classic styles and copies from latest catalogues from Europe if you wish to buy something more modern.
The leather works- leather moulded on wood horses, camels, rhinos, elephants, tortoise, and bean bags and chairs-cheaper than anywhere else in the country.
The exclusive smocking work on dresses- which people believe in is from Indore, started as a tribal welfare activity by missionaries during British days.
The textile factory which produces baby print bedsheets, but I hear has shut down ever since. The quality of produce was such that it lasts years.
Bhawarilal’s mithai and namkeen- An old traditional tiny, crowded shop which can compete with shops in chandni chowk for traditional flavour and quality.
And a particular kulfi wala who made rounds of the officers quarters every afternoon, rumoured to add bloating paper for extra taste!
During my stays in various small towns and remote corners in India in the last 15 years have seen many architectural and cultural remains of British, Rajput and Mughal times, which must have once been resplendent with luxury and glory, now dying along with their stories and secrets. The ASI, INTACH and rich private hoteliers have saved only a few.
It is a pleasure to see some still being maintained and lived in like the The Capitol cinema in Ambala,Tivoli in Secunderabad,18th century wooden houses in Coimbatore,Gen Dyers residence in Amritsar(with the bar intact),old parsi sanatoriums in Deolali,the Itarana palace in alwar-to name a few.
I was born and brought up in Delhi and over the years I have seen the onslaught of growing population and technology on the city, changing its face and character. The once quiet streets, old trees, sparrows, clean skyline have all gone. But the greater change is cultural-particularly the chase for lifestyle and luxury. Smaller towns still offer some respite and people have more time and concern for each other.
The physical laws say that entropy of a system i.e. degree of chaos can only be zero or more, never lesser. Our changing cities and towns are a prime example!
So, Venkatesh, my friend and owner of Krishna Travels in the Hampi Bazaar, suggested that I hire a motorbike instead. I readily agreed and a motorbike appeared in a matter of minutes.
I must say that I had dressed carefully for the occasion. Don’t quite know what Gurgaon HQ would have said though about my clothes. My (Speedo) swimming trunks doubled up as shorts, T-shirt, anorak, camera bag with some cash, my driver’s licence and special Nokia mobile was all I carried with me. I was immune to whatever the rain gods might send down.
And, guess what bike came my way? A 100 CC Suzuki, which looked quite familiar. Was I seeing things? Not quite. It was the same bike as I had used in Delhi for 10 years – my Ind Suzuki. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy to buy in those days – you had to book and then wait. I think I waited for more than a year for mine to arrive.
After meandering through Hampi and getting to grips with the gears (all four down!!), I was off. It was exhilarating. Just to be on the bike and drive around. For some reason, I took off on the road from Kamalapur to Kampili.
The Ind Suzuki had lost the Ind. Rest of it was just the same; the gears the speedometer panel. Nothing had changed. It was reassuring. Don’t know why, but I like some things to remain the same.
The weather was simply super. So were the rice fields irrigated by the Tungabhadra dam. Stopped and chatted with Lingaraj driving a tractor (he said he was testing it) and had tea just short of Bukkasagar.
I asked Ganesh, who was standing at the tea shop, the name of the village. He smiled and said the row of 10 houses had no name – it was opposite a government nursery that’s all.
Along the way, I saw India that evening – sitting around the village chabutra, cutting vegetables for the evening, doing nothing waiting for another day to go by.