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.”

“Really?”

“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?”

“Yes!”

“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.

2 comments:

Farm Girl said...

Daniel seems quite similar to you. Do you think so? In that he also reacts in a principled and I suppose inflexible way. Both of you were happy to look for another guest house rather than pay the extra 100 rupees etc. And the thing about being late.

Virginia said...

Great work.