Were I the sort of bloke given to romanticism I might describe these April nights in Goa as sultry and steamy affairs. The reality is that they are long, sleepless and sweaty.
The only way I manage any shut eye is to lie on my bed naked as Adam before the fall with the fan above my bed whirring at top speed. My fan is of a certain age and somewhat cantankerous, maybe we were made for each other, it scrapes and grinds with its turns, complaining aloud hour after hour, as if it has decided that if it must work then I must pay the price & stay awake to witness.
Sometimes at maybe three or four a.m. I admit defeat and head for my little verandah, if I’m lucky there is a cool night breeze and l sit there for a while, smoking a cigarette, gazing up at the stars and dreaming just a little whilst wide awake.
By nine thirty in the morning the thermometer has already reached thirty degrees and the red tile roof of my house turns my room into an oven. I head to the beach to find the sea breeze. I have one favourite spot in the shade when it’s baking hot, a little bar with a few wooden tables and chairs on the sand under a thick cover of palms, my thoughts idle once more as I look at the limb-like roots tumbling in knots to anchor deep in the sand, how they find sustenance never ceases to amaze me. In this title spot nature does a better job of providing cool shade (without trying) than any of the man made efforts along the beach. I while away an hour or two, there in the shade, thinking about writing, or of making a grand plan and moving on, maybe one day soon, and drink endless cups of dark strong coffee, then I head down to the water for a swim, the shallows feel like soup, with me a chunk of English tomato floating in tepid gazpacho, only when I swim out a couple of hundred metres does the temperature fall, there in the deep currents the water is cool and delicious.
Now I know I sound as though I am complaining about the heat, but really I am happy to be here this time of year, I want to be here. Hindu new year came and went two weeks ago, the tourist season has ended, not in a bang but in a fizzle, like a soggy firework that spluttered and faded.
The beaches grow quieter day by day as the tourists drip away, back home to London or Frankfurt or Moscow, early morning taxis leave at ungodly hours with bleary eyed travellers resigned to long flights and dull departure lounges, holidays at an end.
The beach shacks and restaurants that teemed with people are now home only to echoes, the music is silent, the tandoors, once all flame and smoke lie unused. One by one the restaurants close and signs nailed up “See you next year” “Closed for season”. The cooks and the waiters begin to talk about leaving, nostalgia in waves for family and home, eyes glint and sparkle, how soon they will be there, after being away for almost six months. They pack their bags and travel to Nepal or to Northern Indian States, their journeys will sometimes take two or three days by bus and train. The little money they’ve earnt for such very long hours goes with them, where it is needed.
The ladies who work the beach, selling jewellery & making Henna tattoos grow morose and resigned, no business they lament until they too can manage no more and go back to the farmstead or the dusty village home.
Even the beach dogs, pampered and fed by tourists grow thin and ever hungrier, enduring the baking sun on empty bellies.
I find myself here, like the last person at the end of the party, the bubble that is Goa has burst.
From time to time clouds, sparse but nevertheless there appear in the blue sky. I’ve seen none for months, in a month or two the monsoon will come. The dusty earth will be refreshed, the sunburnt vegetation will fill with colour & life. But that is still a while away and the clouds just tease of the things to come.
By night now I hear the cicadas, armies of them, its the first time I’ve registered them on this trip to India. Perhaps the sounds of the tourists and the music drowned them out, perhaps they were waiting for the tourists to leave before they sang again.
Going down to the water for an afternoon swim the sea that a few weeks ago had dozens and dozens of tourists is now almost entirely empty, and again that thought of being the last person at the end of the party comes back, until twenty metres away in the sea I notice a fin slicing the water and then a second smaller fin following. Two Dolphins, one adult one juvenile are playing just off the shore, I stand there and watch them for the longest of time, the thought comes to me that this bubble that is Goa has most definitely burst, but it was no more than a tourists dream, my dream. The season hasn’t ended at all, it has only just begun and the land and the sea is returning to where it belongs.