Goa, Arambol – Story – Beach Fun

The Daily Motions

Eight Westerners pull-up benches on-loan from a nearby restaurant and sit in a wide-open U formation with bongo drums in hand. Arambol beach has a momentum; without being specifically organised there are daily activities that come-together in specific areas and places along the sandy strip.

Pre-sunset is the busiest time on this beach, when everyone congregates to enjoy the spectacle. Newly acquired hobbies are practiced and shown-off; these are the activities of those who have been at leisure on the beach for some time. Guys roll glass spheres up and down their arms in an eloquent balancing act, like juggling but without tossing. There is also juggling, baton-spinning, guys who look like they’re practicing cheerleading poses by lifting girls over their heads, tippy-spinning dances, the occasional girl who just experienced her first belly-dancing class and is now excited to try her new garment with all those little metal dangles. A group gathers around someone with a guitar, drunken Russian voices belt out standard hits from the 70’s and 80’s. But by far the largest crowd has gathered around the seated bongo drummers; the sounds from their drums can be heard far up the beach, unhindered by any buildings or structures.

A circle naturally continues from the open U of the seated drummers and a few people have taken possession of the middle, letting their bodies bounce about to the beat. This group consists of ten to thirty people most evenings, in an ever-changing collection as some dancers join while others have had their fill. Some of the dancers seem to be taking themselves seriously, they dance with serious poker faces as if taking part in a formal religious act. A few have their eyes closed and actually look like they are in pain, having some type of deep spiritual moment I can only suppose. One really tall white guy, as thin as could be with dregs and bad teeth, has the look of someone who has experienced too many black-market substances gone wrong. He has no sense of rhythm whatsoever, so instead of dancing or moving to the beat, he just convulses. Like an epileptic fit but standing-up. If I did those jerky motions I would certainly injure myself. He must be having a good experience though, he is at the centre of the action every evening.

People around the fringe of the dancers are swayers. They lean from side-to-side, move a bit, I think many of them would enjoy to participate more fully but for whatever reason they don’t. The crowd tends to be about ten deep around the circle, probably between one and two hundred people. It takes a bit of effort to get to the centre. I make my way through the outliers, deposit my bag near to a drummer and join the fun.

I fall into the category of the amused, along with some Indian folks who seem near to my age. We are the ones who are laughing and smiling, just having fun being silly. We’re not sure what deep spiritual adventures are being had around us, but we’re enjoying our own spiritual uplifting- I nearly always experience joy when dancing.

The drum beat gets faster and faster until the drummers reach their maximum speed and suddenly it all stomps to a halt with cheering and clapping. A few moments later they start again, usually quite slowly and tentatively, like a train starting out.

The drumming becomes experimental during the third round, off-kilter and a bit random. This takes the fun out of spontaneous dancing, trying to match the changing beat is too much of a chore, too cognitive. I take this as my time to bow-out. As I reach for my bag it seems the drummers have realised their folly; only a few dancers remain now and those who do are the ones who couldn’t follow any beat anyway. They cut it short to start again but I don’t turn back, perhaps I’ll join again tomorrow.

If I had a friend here it would have been fun to capture in video. I am finding Arambol to be a bit of a lonely place for me.

January, 2013.

Mumbai – Story – My Wacky Party Life

My wacky party-life

I’m staying at a hotel in Bandra that has three restaurants within. They were all open and operating at loud full-swing yesterday. Today, they are being torn-apart, all three are closed. Apparently they are to be joined together to form a multi-level KFC.

After several hours of local wanderings all I have found to eat so far today was a stale, greasy muffin at a coffee chain. They had other food items, but I recently found myself quite ill from eating a pre-packaged sandwich at a competitor. I cannot assume adequate freshness even when it comes to expensive coffee shops that cater to foreigners. If that nice-looking wrapped sandwich was made a week ago, I would be the one who pays. I had left the hotel in search of sustenance, and finally I have circled back. It’s after 3pm and I am hungry.

The front desk manager tells me that I can, in fact, have lunch upstairs on the terrace. I find my way there and find the terrace is piling-up with debris and is rather in the centre of a construction zone. I am approached by the restaurant manager who explains at length why I cannot eat there, as if it were not obvious. I beg him to help me find food and lucky for me he knows the perfect place. He walks with me down to the street and points across the intersection to a doorway flanked with speakers with the sign, “Rude Nightclub” above. Well, how did I ever miss that?

Two little guys guard the door and don’t speak a word of English when I try to ask them if they serve food. (I still can’t quite conceive it, and the bar music is loud on the sidewalk.). I’ll see for myself. I’m led up a staircase into a dark, hyper-noisy nightclub which, oddly at just after 3pm, is at about one third capacity. I put-in my noise reducing ear plugs and take a seat. I take a photo of the ceiling, which is covered with broken table legs and rolls of barbed wire. A huge banner, “spoils ur bad mood,” fills the far wall.

The volume, even with my dense earplugs, is incredibly loud. The powerful bass thumps my whole body. My chest especially is reverberating. Even if my ears are protected from abuse, it seems like the rest of my body isn’t. I am completely mystified what makes this an appropriate venue to recommend me. I’m wearing shoes, slacks, a button shirt, and a fedora. I look neither like a party animal nor a hippie by any stretch. Is this really the only nearby food source appropriate for a foreign digestive tract?

Upholstery fabric covering the chairs simulate newspaper pages except that all the topics are definitional and relate to pop culture. “iPod is a line of portable media players invented and marketed by Apple. . . . . .An automobile, auto car, motor car, or car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers . . . .” Additionally, there are joke sections, which are terrible, “Why are you stupid today? Anyway, I think that’s very typical of you.”

Chinese food is somewhat common in India, and I am pleased to order lemon chicken since my body doesn’t always welcome spice for my first meal of the day. What arrives is a creamy, lemony curry concoction unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The waiter serves it from bowl to plate as if serving for the first time ever. It must be nerves, I think, that everywhere I dine my server is so slow, awkward, and clumsy. Or perhaps they always make the new guy serve the foreigner because no one else wants to. That creates a repeating experience of continually being served by novices on their first day.

I watch the crowd around me as I eat. With a corner table, I can view the entire room. The music is so loud, I eat quickly so I can leave soon.

How much fun is this daytime nightclub? I never once saw any group mingle with any other group. Groups of 2,3,4,6,10, all completely separate. No one dancing and too noisy to chat. People are drinking and having snacks. Who likes this?

January, 2013.



Goa, Arambol – Story – Spiritual Pursuits

Spiritual Pursuits

I am somewhat dedicated to trying new things. Meditation is highly advertised on the beaches in Goa, along with yoga and Aruveda. I’ve never been meditative, I’ve always been far too contemplative and find it difficult to “quiet my mind” in that serene, peaceful way. To join yoga is a given, I will definitely do that. As for Aruveda, I don’t want to dedicate the time to explore it properly and I already have had warm oil poured over my head for 90 minutes while receiving massage so that introductory experience does not need repeating. I don’t really like gentle massage, it seems without benefit to me.

I follow the direction of a large, professionally-made beachside sign that promises all the services I dream of. I walk up to a service hut, just a double table surrounded by palm fronds to make a semi-enclosed kitchen space, and express my interest. “Sit there.” I am pointed towards a wooden office desk well sunk into the sand surrounded by interior padded office chairs with wheels not really made for beach use. There is a circle of middle-aged men and one woman sitting beside in the shade of a canopy. The oldest among them, wearing flowing peachy religious attire, eventually stirs and lazily makes his way over to the desk, addressing me only after he has made himself comfortable.

I will need to prepay 500 Rs ($10) for a yoga session that will take place at 10AM tomorrow. “I am curious about meditation as well,” I suggest. “What kind, there many kind of medication,” he explains, continuing his heir of importance as a master spiritual guru. “Something introductory, whatever you suggest.” “I can show you best one,” he informs, “it take 20 minute and we can do right now.” “How much?” “200 rupee” ($4) “Can you make change?” “Yes, of course.” He takes another 500 Rs note from me and then he causes much confusion. He’s barking orders around the table, people are handing notes back and forth, people are standing-up to reach into their pockets, it’s too much confusion to get 300 Rs change. Already I know I’m being duped. “Let’s go,” he leads and takes me to a barely tolerable hot spot of sand sheltered from the wind yet in the direct sun.

He proceeds to talk at me at a very uncomfortable distance, standing with his face right in my face. (To do this so closely, he has positioned himself on higher ground, we’re on a bit of a dune.) I sneak backwards and he keeps with me, the lack of inches between us apparently essential for the relay of information. His skin is definitely not his temple, I think, it is so sun damaged. His teeth are narrow brown stumps and I can’t help but wonder how they don’t fall out. He babbles on and on, with his illiterate accent I cannot understand enough of his oddly-chosen words to actually follow along. “Medication,” I understand to be “meditation” but too many other words are not repeated enough for me to create my own translations. I am standing in the hot afternoon sun paying a raving lunatic to teach me meditation with his dirty face inches from mine. Which one of us is the crazy one, at least he’s getting paid.

He teaches me the “surrender” pose so we can do our first chant. I was not expecting chants to be a part of learning to quiet my mind. As for the pose, it’s the basic palms-together in-front-of-chest pose common as a greeting pose in many Asian cultures.

In this position, directly facing the sun but with eyes closed, we chant, “oooommmmm. . . . .namo nana ha,” over and over again, the oooommmm part getting longer and longer over time. This chant we do too many times, perhaps twenty, before moving on.

“Ooooommmmm . . . . . . gama ganapata namaha,” is our next meditative secret. An English girl saunters past, “I like your t-shirt!” she quips. I’m wearing a silly t-shirt from NYC, the entire front is a realistic enlarged face of a guinnea pig.

This chant is followed by the equally futile-feeling, “oooommmm . . . .shyra naraya namaha,” which we again do far too many times.

Finally, I am treated to the very special phrases he has especially coined for his foreign clients, perhaps because when I ask him what we are chanting, he can’t or won’t tell me.

“You must be louder!” he informs me as we bellow, “I am the part of the universe!” I autocorrect to, “a part of the universe” but he corrects me back to his perfect word creation.

My voice now tired, I am thinking that this very long twenty minutes must surely be coming to their end. “All the sun’s powerful living energy comes to my body! Welcome, welcome, welcome!” This chant we do with eyes closed, still facing the hot sun, but this time with arms open to the sky, palms facing the sun. “The energy enters your palms,” he tells me. By this point I feel like a complete idiot having entrusted this man to teach me meditation and instead he shares his practice of sun worship. No wonder his skin is such a wrinkled, blotchy mess.

“I go back, you stay, more chanting, come back when you finished.” I’d rather have a cuddle with the big ugly rats that live under my beach shack, I think as I decline that suggestion. Is he hoping that if he gives the foreigner heat stroke using this very strategically-hot space, that they will be deluded into thinking they’ve had some type of deep experience? That they’ll attribute the feeling of weakness and light-headedness as coming from his profound instruction? “No, I’m finished, thanks.”

Back at reception I ask about my change. He looks confused and wags his head, what change? He took $10 for his 20 minutes rather than the $4 he quoted.

At least I learned how to meditate.

January, 2013.