Sunday, January 28, 2007

It's a small world in Palolem

After a shower, I went back down to the beach to see the sunset, bringing along my camera, in an effort to capture it. It was still a little bit before sunset, and there were some Indian guys playing cricket on the beach. The great tidal movements leave a large area of firm sand that is perfect for beach cricket. I wanted to play with them, but I needed somewhere or someone to leave my camera with. I saw a tourist sitting down nearby. He looked about 40, wore glasses, and most importantly, was holding a baby. It seemed like a safe option. I asked him if he would be there for a while. He would be, at least until after the sunset, so I left my camera with him, and went to play some cricket. They soon let me bowl, and I immediately proved a destroyer with my yorkers and off-cutters, beating the batsman with my first couple of deliveries, and then dismissing him caught and bowled. The batsman had mistimed the shot, and skied it into the air. On taking the return catch, I threw it back up into the air in an ecstatic celebration, a la Roger Harper in the prime. While, my bowling proved a success, when it came time to bat (they had a batting order), I gave a poor showing. Maybe it was the fading light combined with my bad eyesight, maybe it was the suspect bowling action of the fast bowler, but I played and missed at the first delivery, blocked the second one, and then top edged the third one, providing an easy catch to the fieldsman at short mid-on. Regardless, it was something of a spectacle, as I was only foreigner in the game, and I raised a few curious looks from the various tourists who walking up and down the beach. I must confess to it being a source of pride for myself, being the only foreigner willing and able to play with the locals. In some ways, although to a lesser extent, it was a bit like when I was the only foreigner to have ever joined the karate dojo in Ichinomiya Japan. I played on for a bit longer, succeeding again as bowler, and failing again as a batsman. As the sunset approached I retired from playing due to the diminishing light, not to mention that if I sweated anymore I was going to have to take another shower.

I went over to the tourist with whom I left my camera. He asked me how I knew how to play cricket. I told him that I was from Australia, where it is a popular sport. He then asked me where in Australia I was from, so I told him Perth.

“Oh, I have been to Perth, maybe about five years ago. I have some friends there.”


“Yes, they manage a cafe.”

“Do you know where it is?”

He couldn’t remember the name of the area it was in. He mentioned the name of a woman, but it was unfamiliar, then he mentioned the name of a guy “Dror”

“I know a guy named Dror, but I don’t know anything about a café, but maybe he used to…may be Dror Snir?”


“That’s unbelievable! I play futsal with him every week.”

“Futsal? What is this?”

“Five-a-side football…umm… kadur-regel katan, l’chamesh ishim… I didn’t know him when he was in the restaurant business, but anyway, he’s got some importing business now. In fact, he’s in China right now on business.”

We exchanged a few details about Dror, and confirmed for each other we both talking about the same guy. We were both quite excited at the amazing coincidence, or just at how small the world can be.

“Please tell him you met Ronny.”

“Hey, I’ll take your picture and show it to him”

“Yes, take my picture, then show it to Dror, and ask him ‘Do you know this guy?’”

“Ok, I will definitely do that.” I took my camera out of its case to take his photograph. “Hey, is this your kid?” It wasn’t, he was just baby-sitting the shaliach’s youngest kid.

After taking some pictures of the sunset, I headed over to the Beyt Yehudi to celebrate the fifth night of Chanukah. There I bumped into Daniel, an Israeli guy I had briefly met the night before at the Chanukah celebration at Beyt Chabad in Mumbai. In Mumbai, he had told me he had been born in Moldova, but his strongly Zionistic family had moved to Israel from the Soviet Union as soon as it had become possible for people to freely leave. That was around 1990-91, when he was about ten years old. He has said that in Israel he tried to always be friends with real Tsabras, and not other émigrés from the USSR; that way he didn’t grow up to speak Hebrew with a Russian accent. Apart from Hebrew and English, he also could speak Russian, and had decent conversational Spanish too, from traveling in Central America. In Mumbai, he had become heavily involved in discussion about photography with the French photojournalist (keep saying that word in a French accent), trying to learn as much as he could to improve his own photographs, and as a result, we didn’t speak much more after that.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were coming to Goa.”

“I didn’t know either, it was a last minute decision.”

“We must have been on the same train, but I didn’t see you. What carriage were you in?”

In India, especially in the high season, it is not easy to get a reserved bunk on a train unless you book in advance. Daniel told me that he had just turned up to the station, bought a general ticket, and then asked a conductor to find him a vacant bunk, paying him the difference. Does the conductor just pocket it? Possibly. Probably. We discussed our respective accommodation, and somehow resolved that from the next day we would share a room, since a double room generally costs no more than a single room. We arranged a time and place the next morning to meet for breakfast, with the idea that after breakfast we would sort out the accommodation.

“Hey, shouldn’t we synchronise our watches?” Daniel asked, just as he was about to take off for the rest of the evening.

“What are you talking about? Why do we need to do that?” I asked, totally puzzled.

“I don’t like to be kept waiting, that’s all...It’s a thing I have”

“Ok, but how much out could our watches be? Like 2 minutes? It’s not a military operation. I’ll tell you what: I’ll make sure I’m a few minutes early tomorrow morning, instead of undergoing a watch synchronization, ok?” I laughed.

“Ok, if you say you’ll be on time, that’s fine, you’ll be on time, I’ll see you tomorrow then. Have a good night.”

“You too, layla tov, see you tomorrow.”

I must mention that the Chanukah celebrations at the Beyt Yehudi in Palolem were really beautiful. After the menorah lighting, and a meal, the shaliach would hand out a whole bunch of percussion instruments to everyone, from bongo-style drums, to tambourines, to instruments I knew no name for. Some people also had flutes. It was a quite a scene and a sound as all the Israeli travelers sat around on mats and cushions, singing Chanukah songs, and jamming with their instruments. At one stage, a local Indian guy who sells drums on the beach brought his own drum along (as well as his young son) and joined the jam session. Him and the shaliach really seemed to be feeding off each other’s sound.

After hanging around at the jam session for a while, I left, walking back to my hut. On my way back, I walked passed the hut of Paul, Marios, and Ricky. Paul and Ricky were going to sleep, but Marios was hoping to go somewhere for a drink. I wasn’t quite ready to sleep either, so the two of us went to look for a suitable pub. There are several pubs along the beach, and we found one that seemed relaxed enough, named “Café del Mar.” Most of the tables had a nargileh (water-pipe) set on them, a sure sign the pub was catering to Israelis. The television screens were showing cricket, perhaps to cater for the English tourists, but more likely just for the benefit of the local staff. I ordered a White Russian, and though they didn’t quite have the exact ingredients, they managed to make the drink up with approximates. While we were waiting at the bar, I heard Marios exclaiming to someone “Hey, I remember you. You’re from the train.” I turned around, and he had bumped into the very hippy-looking Israeli couple we had seen on the train, the ones who had asked us if we minded if they smoke. They nodded at his exclamation, and somehow, just from not much more than that minimal encounter, the four of us then all took our drinks and went to sit at a table together. Still concerned about an interaction with the Mefloquine, I limited myself to one drink for the night, and then headed back. Besides, I had begun to feel a bit tired, and I didn’t want to oversleep and keep Daniel waiting the next morning, particularly after I had rebuffed the watch-synchronization process.

The next morning, I met Daniel for breakfast at a café by the beach. I managed to get there before him. The Canadian couple was there, finishing up their breakfast. I inquired as to the quality of the food, and they said it had been fine. After breakfast, Daniel taught me one of the numerous card games popular with Israeli travellers, and we then played that game with some people at a neighbouring table. It was the time to sort out the accommodation so I suggested that Daniel first see my hut, as it was quite a nice, and thus the simplest thing would be for him to just move in to there.

“As long it has two beds it should be ok.”

“Yes, it definitely has two beds in it already.”

“Good, because I like you, but not THAT much.”

“Don’t worry, by coincidence, I feel the same way” I continued the joke. “By the way, on a different note, I have several duplicate keys for my padlock, so I can give you one of them, and then we won’t have to worry about who has the key.” In India, almost all budget and mid-range places use a bolt and padlock (I never once came across a place that had an internal lock in the door). They give you the use of a padlock when they rent you the room, but smart travellers use their own.

Daniel saw my hut and it was to his satisfaction. When we exited the hut, I happened to see Sambi walking by, “Mr Everything’s Possible,” the manager who had been so cheerful in his desire to hook me up with various vices the day before.

“Hey Sambi, this is my friend Daniel, he’s going to be sharing the place with me, ok?” I said this with no expectation whatsoever that there would be an issue.

“Fine, but now it’s 600.”

“What? No, still 500. It makes no difference to you.” I said. I knew Paul, Marios, and Ricky were paying a lot less, albeit without an en suite bathroom.

He wasn’t in his cheerful mood of the day before. He seemed pissed off about something, may be nothing to do with the matter at hand.

“No, 600.”

“We’re not paying extra. Either 500, or we’ll go elsewhere” Daniel cut in.

“Fine, get lost then! Six hundred or get lost!”

It was most un-Indian of him to not negotiate, as well as very unlike his accommodating personality of the day before. On principle now, I decided I didn’t want to stay anymore. I made a mental note to avoid staying at any future places where the manager offers to hook me up with drugs and prostitutes. We went and looked around for some other places. We found another similar hut in a neighbouring complex for 400Rs, and we decided to take it. We walked back to get Daniel’s stuff from the place where he had been staying, and on the way we walked passed another accommodation option - rooms in a building, as opposed to huts. For curiosity, we enquired about the price for a double room with two beds with an en suite bathroom, and it was also only 400Rs. We looked at a ground floor room, which had it’s own little verandah section, and seemed very nice. Apart from the bathroom having more water pressure than the bathroom in the hut, the room seemed so much more secure. It even had security bars on the windows. Compare this to the situation of a straw hut that anybody could just punch a hole through the wall of. We both wanted to take the room, but I was not comfortable with the idea of reneging on the previous place we had just agreed to take ten minutes before. “Don’t worry about it, that’s no problem” assured Daniel.

“Ok, but then you can do the talking when we go back and tell him.”

When we went back to the previous hut complex that we had intended to stay in, Daniel simply said to the manager we had spoken with “I’m sorry, we can’t take this place anymore – we received an offer we couldn’t refuse.” The poor old guy just shrugged. Daniel repeated, “This is very nice, but I’m sorry, we received an offer we couldn’t refuse.” I don’t think Daniel was at all aware that he was semi-quoting from The Godfather film.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Journey to Goa

I was booked for the 10.50pm train for Goa. Having checked out of my hotel, I went down the road to the Beyt Chabad. They were to be celebrating the 4th night of Chanukah there. Every night of Chanukah, just before the large Chanukah Menorah is lit in the ground-floor courtyard, a lot of local Indians (especially little kids) gather around behind the large gate that separates the laneway from the courtyard. I guess it is a curious spectacle to them, as these strange foreigners light their big candelabra and sing songs in an unknown language. Before too much of a crowd had gathered outside of the gate, I noticed two innocent looking boys standing there eagerly awaiting the spectacle, having got themselves a front viewing position. One of them looked about seven or eight years old, and the other one looked a few years younger. The older one appeared to be looking after the younger one, with his arm around him in a protective manner. I asked them if they were brothers, and they were. I decided to take their picture with my camera, and then I showed them their picture on the little screen on the back of my digital camera. This gave them a bit of a thrill, which was my original intention of the exercise.

After the festive meal in the courtyard, I got some information about Goa from an Israeli guy, whose name I think might have been Binyamin. “Is your train going to Panjim or Margao?” he asked me. I had no idea. I took out my ticket, and saw that is was Margao. “Does it matter?” It did. Panjim is in North Goa, and Margao is in south Goa. We each took out our copy of the Lonely Planet, my copy in English, and his in Hebrew, and examined our maps of Goa. “If your train stops in Margao” he showed me “the best place to head for is Palolem.” I asked him about places to stay in Palolem.

“When you get to Palolem, you will see on the main street, a sign pointing you toward the Jewish House.”

“The Jewish House? What’s that? Is it like Chabad?”

“Yes, it’s like Chabad, but different. They’re from a different organization, but it’s similar. Anyway, you can go there, leave your bag there, and then there are lots of places to stay close to that.”

As it was my first time to take a train in India, and the CST station in Mumbai is so massive and hectic, I decided it was best to get there close to an hour early. I took a cab from Colaba to the train station. When I got in the cab, I said to the driver “CST station. 15 Rupees, ok?” He nodded and said ok. Unfortunately, I didn’t have exact change. When we arrived, I gave him a 50Rs note, and waited for my 35Rs change. He tried to pretend that the fare was 50Rs instead of 15Rs. We had a heated argument, and I initially refused to get out of his cab until he gave me change. Eventually he gave me 10Rs change. It was a stalemate, and I decided that given the discrepancy was now not even one Australian dollar, I would just ‘learn from the experience.’ I got out his cab, making a mental note to myself to have exact change next time. A porter in his 20s approached me. He was with a more senior man, perhaps his boss or supervisor. He tried to negotiate a fee for carrying my bags for me. He wanted 50 Rs. I knew it was way too much. The more senior man tried convincing me it was reasonable fare, as the train was along walk from where we were, on the other side of the station. I was happy to carry my own bags, but the problem was I had no idea where my train was, I had no experience with the Indian railway system, and the chaos and size of CST station in Mumbai result in it not being the easiest place to navigate through. I therefore reluctantly agreed. He picked up my large backpack and carried it on top of his shoulder. He would have carried my smaller bag too, but I insisted on holding onto that one myself. I think we had walked for less than 30 seconds before we came across these industrial looking trolleys, the kind you might move a stack of crates around within a warehouse. He put my bag onto this trolley. “What’s this? I thought you were going to have to carry my heavy pack kept the whole way. If I had known you were just going to have to push a trolley….” He just smiled, and we kept walking. It did prove to be a very long walk, and if he hadn’t had the trolley, it probably would have been worth the 50Rs. When we finally got to my train, he found my specific carriage for me. It was still quite early, and he decided to sit with me on the platform, just outside the carriage, as if it was part of the service to baby-sit me until boarding time. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted. We sat down together, and he asked me how old I was and whether I was married. I answered these questions, and then returned the questions back at him. He was 25, and wasn’t married, but would be getting married next year. “Oh, you have a fiancee?” He didn’t have one, but his parents would be arranging his marriage the following year to a girl he doesn’t know. After five or ten minutes, he told me he had to go. I paid him the 50Rs. He then, almost in an embarrassed fashion, informed me that there was another 10Rs to be paid as a “trolley charge.”

“Trolley charge?” I laughed “The trolley only made it easier for you! Hey, I really don’t mind that you ripped me off once, but you don’t think I’m going to get suckered twice in a row, do you? 50 rupees was pretty good fee for you.” He nodded and smiled, as if to acknowledge that he had been a bit ambitious asking for the dubious ‘trolley charge’.

I boarded the train, and found my bunk. There are many different classes of carriage in India. I was in “sleeper class.” Sleeper class means that it is open-air (not having A/C, which wasn’t needed this time of year anyway) with a pair of three tier bunks in each subsection of the carriage, with each bunk reserved for a specific passenger. Fortunately for me, in my subsection were three guys from Europe traveling together, who were also going to Goa. They introduced themselves to me. There was Paul and Marios from England, and Ricky from Holland. The passengers for the other two bunks were to be boarding at later station. Marios, a very laid back individual, noticed the vinyl upholstery on his bunk didn’t look that clean, and was futilely trying to wipe his bunk clean with a paper napkin. I had a large tube of anti-bacterial wet-tissues, and offered it to him and the others to take a few tissues each if they wanted to wipe down their bunks. The wet-tissues were very effective and much appreciated. We all then took out our bicycle chains and diligently chained our backpacks to our bunks. We discussed the possibility of theft, and I said I thought it was unlikely, given that there were four of us, and the odds are that all four of us would not happen to be asleep at the same time. In very little time, the three of them were all asleep and I still found myself awake.

I’m not sure how those guys slept so easily. There seemed to constantly be people walking up and down the train shouting out the name of whatever food product they were selling, such as chai, coffee, sandwiches, samosas, or omelets. I was using my small bag as a pillow, and it was feeling rather uncomfortable. I think it was the small shesh-besh (backgammon) set I had that was sticking into the back of my head. Eventually I managed to get a bit of sleep.

Somewhere in the night, I had what I believe was a Larium (mefloquine) produced dream. My Larium dreams start off as normal and pleasant enough, but always seem to have a horrifying and bizarre ending. To cut a long dream story short, in the dream I had helped organize a Chanukah party that had been great until an unwelcome guest had shown up whom I recognized as a perverted exhibitionist. I tried to evict him from the party, only for some witchy-women (who were confederates of the exhibitionist) to try and stop me. They had their hands on my face, and I was feeling suffocated and also had the feeling that they were digging their finger nails into my face. I awoke at this stage, gagging for breath, and though I realized it was dream, it felt so real that I had thought it must have been inspired my physical stimuli. I looked up and down the carriage to see if some beggar was aboard and had put their hands on my face while I was asleep. I couldn’t see anyone in the carriage who didn’t appear to be sleeping, so I put it down the Larium, and tried to get back to sleep.

When the morning came, with still a couple of hours to go until the train reached our destination, we unchained our bags and collapsed the middle bunks so the bottom bunk can be used as bench for sitting. This is the usual practice. Unfortunately, being the morning, I needed to urinate, which meant having to brave the train toilet, and its stench of decomposing urine. With the daylight, Marios and I were keen to look outside the train, but found the view through our windows a bit limiting. We went to section between carriages, where there was an open door to which we could look out from. I noticed that the air was very hazy. I wondered where the pollution came from, since we weren’t in a motor vehicle infested metropolis anymore. While there, a very hippie looking couple (from appearance, they were almost certainly Israeli) came to where were standing and asked if we minded if they smoke. We gestured that we didn’t mind. Officially, smoking is not permitted on the trains, but they were intending to smoke, holding the cigarette out the open door. “Be my guest.” When I returned to our seats, Paul, as he was often doing, was rolling a joint. He offered me, but I declined. An Indian man was there with his daughter, as they had boarded during the night and taken the two other bunks. The man offered me some Indian style chips, which I accepted, but felt bad, as I had nothing to offer in return. I made another mental note to pack food on the train with me for such occasions.

The train arrived at Margao around midday, and as it turned out, Paul, Marios, and Ricky were planning to go to Palolem. As Palolem was where Benyamin had recommended going, it was all the more reason to go along to there too. Between exiting the train, and walking to the carpark in the train station, we had befriended a Canadian couple. All of us wanting to go to Palolem, we looked to get a taxi-van to take all six of us, instead of trying our luck with the public bus service. I negotiated with a guy, and got him down to 500Rs, which seemed ok given that it was less than 100Rs (AU$3) per person. Well, in fact it was 100, since when it came time to pay the driver, Ricky paid him with a 500R note, and we all gave Ricky a 100R note, without change being returned from Ricky. The van ride to Palolem lasted for about an hour, and was very bumpy. During the trip, Paul took out the joints he had been rolling and had a smoke. He offered to everyone but no one took. I said I never smoked on account of wanting to preserve my short-term memory. This led to a discussion on the adverse effects of marijuana on short-term memory, and even Paul admitted that his memory is probably terrible from smoking pot at a frequency that generally exceeded once a day, although he required Marios to remember for him how often he smoked. The Canadian girl was from Indian heritage, though not her partner (presumably her husband), and I discussed with them some of the problems I had encountered from my night out with Sarita. They didn’t offer me any real insights, however.

The taxi dropped us right at the main junction of Palolem, and amongst a sea of other advertising signs, I noticed a big sign in Hebrew, transliterated as “HaBeyt HaYehudi 100m” and with an arrow pointing the direction. It was just how Benyamin had described. Wearing a large backpack in a place like Palolem functions as billboard on your back effectively stating: “Please come and approach me and try and persuade me to take up your offer of accommodation.” After I realized this, having had a number of touts approach me, I decided to do as Benyamin recommended, and go and take my bag to the Beyt Yehudi (Jewish House), before looking any further for accommodation.

I walked about 50m down the road, and then another “HaBeyt HaYehudi” sign with an an arrow that pointed toward the direction of the beach. The Beyt Yehudi resembled a large Bedouin tent with a small housing structure attached. The tent area was covered with rugs, mats, various cushions, as well as small tables designed for people sitting on the floor. I saw a few toddlers playing there, with haircuts to indicate they had religious parents. I removed my shoes before entering. As I did this, a guy appeared who was obviously the shaliach, stating it wasn’t necessary to remove my shoes, but I did anyway. He was a fairly tall guy, and looked very much like a hippy in all manner of his dress and appearance, except that he was also wearing tzitzit and long payes in his hair. I introduced myself to him in Hebrew. Because I said I was from Australia, and much more so because my Hebrew is inflected (or that should that be ‘afflicted’) with an Australian accent, and is generally of an appalling standard, he replied to me mostly in English, although I could tell that he wasn’t such a confident speaker of English either, so I did my best to reply to him in Hebrew. He was very friendly, said I could keep my bag inside. I asked what time they would be lighting the menorah, and he told me 7pm, and that there would be songs and food afterwards. I then asked him if he was a Breslover, and he said yes. He was somewhat surprised by my question. “You know about Breslover?” Not really, I said, “Just a little bit.” I added that I saw the film Ushpizin, and he asked if I liked it. I said I thought it was very good and interesting. He nodded with satisfaction. I left my large backpack there, and set out to find a place to stay for the night.

I found the others from the taxi-van. The three guys were staying in a beach shack for 300Rs total. The shack, with no bathroom, was suitable for only two people in that it had two beds. They actually offered me to also stay in there with them also! The Canadian couple had also got themselves a beach shack in the same group. The guy running it, calling himself Sammo, approached me. I asked if he had a shack with it’s own private bathroom, and he did, for 500Rs. I took a look and it seemed very nice. It had a balcony with chairs and hammocks, and two beds inside. The bathroom didn’t have much water pressure, but at least it seemed nice and clean. I figured I would stay there for one night by myself, and then see if I can find someone to share with for the following night. Sammo asked me if I wanted anything else, like drugs, women, etc, he could arrange it. “Everything’s possible!” he emphasized. I declined, saying the only service I might require is a laundry service.

By the time I had my room, I was so hot and sweaty that I was desperate for a swim. The three musketeers were all now taking a snooze in their hammocks, so I decided to hit the beach by myself. I had a swim to cool off, and then not yet having anything to sit on, I just walked around on the sand to dry off. I saw group of Israeli guys, some playing cards, others playing shesh-besh (backgammon). I approached the guys playing shesh-besh.

“So, are you guys playing for money, or just for fun?”

“We are playing for fun, but we can play you for money if you like” they smiled

“No thanks, I’m new here, so I’m not yet looking to make enemies by taking all your money.”

“Ok, you can play the winner, for fun” they laughed. The two guys playing shesh-besh introduced themselves. They were both named Asaf. Asaf-1 had dark curly hair, and Asaf-2 had lighter and straighter hair. After a game or two of shesh-besh, it was decided to play a game of football (soccer) on the beach. The playing personnel consisted of a mixture of those Israeli guys, plus some Indian teenagers. I played on the team with the Indian teenagers. Asaf-2 played on the opposing team and was a very skillful player. After we finished playing, some of us took a swim to cool off. While in the water, Asaf-2 told me he had been selected to play with a professional club when he was 17, but then he took up smoking cigarettes, and from then his fitness was never good enough for that level. He sighed when he told me this, looking downward, with a facial expression that said he was wishing he could go back in time and not make that mistake. I didn’t say anything in reply, but I couldn’t understand how a guy could have had that talent and opportunity, and then ruined it all by taking up smoking. After the swim, I said goodbye to those guys, saying that if they turned up to the Chanukah celebration that evening, I would see them then.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Meeting Sarita

Having said goodbye to Aaron and Sandra, I went back to the hotel, had a shower, and a brief rest (catching up on the news on cable television). I had arranged to meet my penpal Sarita at 5pm at the corner of Henry Road and Colaba Causeway, the nearest intersection to where I was staying. I had never seen her before, so I didn’t know who I was looking out for, and like all intersections along Colaba Causeway, the sidewalks were madly congested with pedestrians, amongst other things. She had seen a small picture of me before, the one that appears automatically when you chat with somebody on MSN Messenger. She had never entered a picture into her profile, which is why I had never seen her face before. After waiting about 15 minutes on the street corner unable to find her, I returned to my hotel room to phone her mobile. As I didn’t have a phone, she had no ability to phone me. She said she was running a bit late, but her train had now arrived at Churchgate station, and she was getting a cab. After another 20 minutes or so, I went to call her again, as she should have certainly been there by now. It seemed she and the cab driver were lost. Incredible that the cab driver couldn’t find the place, considering Colaba Causeway is only the absolute main street in Colaba. I gave her more precise direction, and returned to the street corner. After another 15 minutes or so, not able to find her, I went back to my hotel room for a third time. She told me that she was there at the corner waiting for me, and was also told me that she was wearing a black skirt and a white top. I went down, and we immediately found each other. It was almost 6pm by this stage. “Sarita?” “Ant!” We both laughed a bit, and then I suggested we walk to somewhere else.

For some reason, I had unconsciously developed a mental set that I was looking out for a girl in traditional Indian dress. Sarita was smartly dressed wearing fashionable and modern western clothing - a long but figure-hugging skirt, as well as a figure-hugging top with very short sleeves. Girls dressed in such modern western ways weren’t even being considered in my mental radar as I had previously scanned the crowd awaiting her arrival. She had a slim build, about 5’7, dark skin, and facial features that at least in my mind, weren’t stereotypically Indian. Later she would tell me that her parents are from Varanasi, so I thought perhaps heer facial features were more typical of that region.

She took my hand with hers as we walked. I wasn’t sure what this meant, but she smiled, so I simply returned the smile. While walking, two guys holding hands walked passed us, a sight I had seen many times since I had been in India. I had assumed it was no more than an indicator of close friendship, but was not 100% sure. I decided it was the perfect time to find out, so I asked Sarita about this. “It just means they are friends” replied Sarita. “So, they are just like us then?” I followed up, but that was the end of the dialogue on that matter, and we both smiled as we continued walking in no specific direction.

Whenever some tout or beggar would approach us, Sarita’s personality appeared to change instantly, and she would sharply tell them to get lost. Her personality would then appear to instantly change back into the warm friendly person she was to me. Likewise, when we went to a restaurant for a drink (non-alcoholic), she appeared to speak to the waiter in a terse fashion, almost as if she was speaking down to him.

It was when we were in the restaurant that I really noticed other people were staring at us. In this part of Mumbai, foreigners are very commonplace and thus one is unlikely to be stared at. However, the sight of an Indian girl out with a foreign guy was clearly a different matter. People were not just staring out of curiosity, but also out of a disapproving attitude. As we walked back toward the hotel after the restaurant, I was no more aware of the disapproving looks such as the ones we received from a group of girls in their early twenties who walked passed. However, far from bothering Sarita, I was getting the feeling that she actually revelled in the attention, although she would never explicitly admit this to me. I think it was somewhat similar to an older man who dates a much younger woman. On one hand, his contemporaries might look on disapprovingly, but also a little jealously. It’s conceivable that the older man takes some satisfaction from the jealousy of his contemporaries. I think Sarita took satisfaction in believing others were jealous of her. If this perception of mine sounds a little conceited, it isn’t that I necessarily think that I am that special, it is just that I have a certain western appearance, which in the context, did make me special.

When we were almost back at the hotel, Sarita asked me what my room was like. I told her truthfully how I had a really nice big room the first few nights, but as I hadn’t reserved it and the hotel was close to full capacity, I had been forced to move to a small room that morning which wasn’t as nice. She expressed a desire to see what the room looked like, so I her invited her in. When we walked into the building, the guy guarding the entrance (to keep out undesirables) called something out to her in a language I didn’t understand, presumably Marathi (the primary language in Mumbai), and presumably something not very polite. Sarita replied, shouting something back in the same language. I looked back, but she motioned me to keep walking. When we got inside the room, I immediately asked her “What was all that out about?” “Nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing. Tell me, I want to know what was said!”


“Please, tell me!”

“He just asked how long I was going to be staying in the room, and I replied ‘not that long’.” I wasn’t convinced, and now the warnings that Almora had given me back in Perth were at the forefront of my mind. “I think I better walk you back to the main street to catch a cab.” “Ok” she resigned. We walked across to the other side of Colaba Causeway, away from the hotel, sat down at a bus stop and talked a little, but the mood was now a little strange. “Are you ok to get home by yourself? Is it safe?” “Sure, I can ride in the ladies’ carriage.” Eventually, we said goodbye, and I she took a cab to the station.

As I walked back into the hotel, this time by myself, one the door guys made some comment I didn’t understand, which I assumed to be related to earlier incident, and which I also assumed to mean something like “Have a good time?” in the sarcastic connotation. I stopped, walked right up to him, and said “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Did you say something?” He didn’t reply, but the guy with him tried to gesture that he didn’t say anything, but I continued, challenging him “No, you said something, but I didn’t hear. Why don’t you repeat it to me now while I’m listening carefully?” He was may be about to say something, but the other guy, sensing confrontation, started to try drag him away, saying “Nothing, nothing” as if he were breaking up a potential bar fight. “Oh, because I could have sworn I had heard something” I continued, “Oh, you were asking about my friend, weren’t you? She just wanted to see what the room looked like, that’s all, nothing else.” I said patronisingly.


At this point, purely for future reference, I should point out that there are certain things in life that one would should not publicise to all and sundry, and I would not write such about such things to be published on a freely available website. Quite simply, I am above that. It would take something like a GENEROUS BOOK DEAL for me to abdicate from these high principles of mine.