I’ve been living in Goa a few years now, lost in my languid love for the place, the people, magic & solitude, the occasional restlessness that tugs at my toes… the perfect peace to play out favorite personas of the socially awkward person: something we call the chameleon complex - situations where you seek out similarly awkward social ‘misfits’ aka Space Cadets.
|"Everything is so Green"|
Urbandictionary.com describes a Space Cadet as “one who is so easily lost in reverie that he or she loses all awareness of the surrounding physical world”. I say, we’re lost in the search of spirituality in the physical world. Ever find yourself rushing into a room only to halt abruptly, struggling to recall why you barged in in the first place? Ever found your self lost in the green of your garden, staring into the trees or the prayer flags fluttering in the breeze? Basically, your mind is always miles away.
I find Goa to be somewhat like Space Cadet Central, each strange inhabitant so peculiar, that we ‘fit in’, or are ‘normal’ when around each other. Chameleon Complex.
There is a little village that curves lazily around a river basin. We hang out on the main drag, a place we call ‘Freak Street’. People of various nationalities, tattooed, leather or feather clad, dreadlocked or bald, all throng this street revelling in the cheap food, even cheaper alcohol, freely available psychedelics and open bars. Freak Street is reserved for nights the world feels fucked up. We melt into the blink-and-you-miss-it corners, watching people mill about in the street, or passed out under the iconic Banyan tree. Strange, yet comfortable. The copious quantities of intoxicants consumed there could easily lead you to assume the inhabitants of Freak Street are exceptionally erratic. Life is possibly a blur for many, smoke lazily wafting through the streets, intertwining with strains of music from huddles of humans, silent cows chomping up garbage, luridly lit up with faint fairy lights…wild laughter or drunken declarations start up from seemingly empty shadows. Sometimes I see the Spoi emerge from an obscure alley…
We lean back, silently observing, occasionally smiling at people who make eye contact, at ease, frayed clothes and chappals, at home amongst the acolytes of alternate living.
I remember going to Juice Bar many years ago, sitting there, staring at people, goggle eyed, slack jawed, simply stupefied by how diverse cultures come together over chillum smoke. Coulda been possible I was just passively stoned. I even went so far as to assure my mom I wasn’t a friend of the ‘freaks’. Four years, lots of travel-tripping, conversations with complete strangers, experimenting with varied experiences, I have learnt to embrace the fricking freak I am, intrinsically a part of Goa’s strange sub-culture, caught in its web of weirdness.
Goa is not all fun & fantasy. It has its share of troublesome tourists, and all the excesses brought upon its citizens because of tourism based economy. The garbage problem of Goa is fast becoming as infamous as it’s drug cartels & corrupt politicians. Insidious whispers make their way, a hushed story about politicians endorsing drug related deaths, and corruption carving their way through the staunchest of social struggles. It cuts to the core to see incompetence and unscrupulousness strangle the Porto-Goan people who have forever been unconventional in the Indian diaspora. The people are straining against the stranglehold of greed gripping their green paradise, tearing up Tiracol to build bridges for the rich & famous who want to fly in to Goa for some golf.
The anatomy of Goa is uniquely anarchist in nature. By ethnicity non-Indian, the Goans buck ‘Indian’ tradition with many of their habits. It’s perfectly fine for boys & girls to intermingle freely at church or weddings, local alcohol is liberally daubed on aching teeth or bones, and their occupations are usually seasonal. Whether from the farming, fishing or tourist based economies, most Goans have a ‘season’ they work in – a solid few months of intense hard work, interspersed with long months of languid consumption of feni. Monsoon is most people’s holiday, with the drumming rain bringing life to a near standstill, when families are forced to spend more time with each other, playing games as they watch the rain wash over their balcaos. Literacy rates in Goa are amongst the highest in the country, with almost an equal number of boys & girls going to school. Medical care available is also rated really high, with every Public Health Centre fully equipped with staff and expertise to tackle basic medical needs of the villages.
More than anything else, I find the people to be the most special. Goans are easy to spot by their sunshine happy smiles. I have a soft spot for the boys in particular, incredibly attractive, with their sun-crinkled eyes, essaying experiences of hustling through their teenage years. They zoom the streets on bikes or sputtering scooters, swinging through palm fronded avenues, with their jerseys glinting numbers in the sun. They’re a strange breed, the local boys, so different from the awkward, gawky ghanti (non-Goan) boys. Smooth talking, fast moving, football worshipping athletic bodies, the Goan boys have gorgeous smiles, almost splitting their sunburnt faces, easy street smart style speaking volumes of their acute awareness of their charm. Most have done their fair share of hustling, and by the time they are in their 20s, they have worldly experience that leaves me way too wide-eyed with wonder.
Yes, they have their intricacies of caste, and few odd instances of division along religion, but as a people they are in general very liberal, allowing us outsiders to stand live among them, and participate in their festivities as if we’ve always belonged. Holi is my particular favorite, as every village celebrates Shigmo on different days. You never know in which village you’ll be waylaid that week, thronged by mostly men, asking for money, putting streaks of colour on you. Every time I shriek ‘white shirt, white shirt’, they laugh indulgently, letting us pass in peace. Unimaginable in another India.
The Depo & I once drove up the road to find a cobra fanned across, with Floppy our neighbour’s dog, barking her head off. Soon the cobra was coiled up in a corner of someone’s yard, as people made frantic calls to local boys adept at catching snakes, ‘the cat scratched a cobra, it's bleeding, it needs medical help!’ We watched with awe as a young man came up on a scooter, obligingly took a few photos of the glorious snake for the bystanders, deftly wrapped it on a stick, stuck it in a sack, and scootered off home. He would look after and release it in a few days. Goa is possibly the only place where this would happen. This story would have only been a resounding ‘THWACK’ anywhere else.
I still sometimes sit at Juice Bar. Not the popular, glitzy one many of the tourists endorse. The one where Aunty lets me have grape juice in a glass, with giant gobs of vanilla ice cream. She’s as strange as a Goan can be, the Juice Bar aunty…she’s too busy for casual conversation, but you know she likes you if she flashes you her rare lopsided smile.
I think about Goa, as I stir the grape juice, watching the white and purple mingle. I think of how cultures swirl together in the soporific sunshine, and how being in Goa has heightened my awareness of the possibility of an alternate life. Its natural ease of being has allowed countless wanderers of the world a place to call ‘home’. Despite being assaulted by the occasional accusations of being a ghanti, I am completely compelled to remain here a while. Goa allows me my moments of anarchy. Goa lets me be Majnuneh.
(To be continued)
 Spoi is a silent stranger I’ve been eyeballing for a few years now. I see him occasionally in the shadows of certain villages across Goa, and am absolutely fascinatedly convinced that he is a Spy. On one occasion he asked me whether I have ‘psychological problaems’ (sic).
 By tradition here I am referring to middle-class Hindutva principles which seem to have invaded all ‘normal’ ways of living.