Friday, August 24, 2007

a long evening

On Saturday, 18th August, at about 10:30pm, we began to realize the consequences of my carelessness. Earlier in the evening, lounging on the soft sands of Benaulim, I had kept the keys of our rented Pulsar on my slippers next to me only to conveniently obliterate it from my fleeting memory.

And, with the evening air pregnant with impending rain and the sea gathering its forces like a medieval army, it was such a beautiful setting that we could do nothing save go on a wild sheep chase, rummaging through a sandy plot where we conjectured to have most likely lost the keys, and now our minds. Tracing long straight lines with the backlight of our cellphones and demarcating our respective areas, we tried to bring a semblance of order to our search. More than a few long minutes of such travails and simultaneous futile attempts at procuring a torch hence, a rather helpful chap joined us, throwing off new ideas. He fetched a dry coconut branch and a matchbox to start a fire, but the soggy, wild winds were a literal damp squib. Sumu, meanwhile, decided, rather apologetically, to interrupt a cuddling couple on a bike nearby on the road leading up to the beach. Although the headlights lit up a sandy sweep, the keys remained ensconced, away from our sights. Shrugging off the urgency that such situations threaten to saddle with, I couldn’t but marvel, albeit fleetingly, at the setting, the grandeur of it.

On Sumu’s suggestion, I called up Francis, the rental guy, in Panjim. He had 3 sets of spare keys but couldn’t tell if any were of the Pulsar. After some reasoning, Sumu and I decided to spend the night at the only shack nearby since it gave us the heebie-jeebies to leave the bike in the open. The plan was such: search once more in the morning. No luck—go to Panjim, get keys and try them out, and get a duplicate made if keys don’t work. Lucky—go to hotel and collapse on the cosy beds (the romance of the night was already drenched as it had started pouring, with mosquitoes at us like hags). So, we spoke to one of the waiters in the shack who advised us to wait until the husband-wife duo who owned the shack left for home at 12. We bore a frustrating wait, watching lazy tourists trickle in, cursing them.

Sometime after midnight, Devendar Singh, the tandoori-chicken dishing chef came around to chat with us.
Haan, yahaan so to sakte ho. Bas bhoot aate hain. (Ya, you can sleep here; except that ghosts visit this place.)
Ha ha ha... kahaan aate hain? (Where do they come?)
Yahin pe, baahar, jahaan hum sote hain. (Here, where we sleep)

His words were laced with an earthy accent, typical of a rather docile UP wala with a penchant for recounting anecdotes. He was from Uttaranchal, he told us, and had been in Goa for about 12 years, working at sundry places. The other night, his patraam ( matron) had jumped from slumber on hearing his dead father call him by is nickname (“Damu, Damu”). On other occasions, the deceased patriarch had been seen counting money like a teller on the table that served as the cash counter. On asking him whether he himself had seen the apparition, Devendar casually remarked, as if to an impertinent query:
Main nahin dekha lekin sab bolte hain. (I haven’t seen but everyone says so.)

Changing tack, as evident in smooth conversationalists, he proceeded to acquaint us of the reda-fighting custom in Goa.

Yahaan ke log ekdum jaanwar hain; ladte rehte hain jaanwaron ke jaise. Apna patraam bhi ladta hai. Pichli baar, pachaas-pachaas hazaar do baar lagaya. Jeet gaya. Phir poora ek lakh lagaya. Hum logon ki mehnat ki kamaayi. Dedh ghante lada vo; beech mein vo haar maan liya tha. Lekin phir vaapas aaya mudke. Phephde phat gaye thhey uske. (People here are animals; they fight one another like animals. Our matron also fights. Last two times, he bet 50k each and won. Then he wagered a lakh. It was our money, from our efforts. He fought for an hour and a half. In the middle, he gave up; yet, he came back. His lungs burst.)
We were dumbstruck. I asked, “Kiske? Patraam ke?” (Whose? Patraam’s?)
Nahin, reda ke. (No, those of the reda)

On the verge of chortle on realizing the misplaced sense of drama in the narrative, we reconciled ourselves to the seemingly palatable truth that human beings didn’t fight or burst their lungs; instead, it was redas on whom rode big money and who were pitted against each other. We were further told that reda fighting starts with the rounding off of the tourist season. Several Goan households keep redas, some employing helpers to take care of the animals, who are fed only to be braced for bloody tussles in summer.

At around 12:30am, Vicky, another waiter from the shack, came to us swinging a small pencil torch in his hand and turning about a bigger proposition in his mind. He wanted a favor from us in return for helping us look with his torch. Since he was not allowed to drink during work hours, nor buy it from the shack after that, he wanted us to buy HoneyBee (brandy) for him. He placed a Rs 50 note in my palm, asking me to wait for his signal before proceeding to the shack. He went back, and I waited. When I went in, I bought him a quarter of kaju feni since the brandy was beyond his budget.

A little later, when patraam and his wife had left, he came out and downed the feni, neat and bottoms up . Having had his shot, he decided to stick to his side of the deal. So, the 4 of us—Vicky, Devendar, Sumu, and I—ventured to the beach armed with a pencil torch. The search resumed with the 4 of us combing more or less the same area except Devendar, who had gone further to one side.

Meanwhile, I conversed with Vicky, who I learnt had arrived in Goa only a week ago. He had been a captain (main cook), working in Bandra, Bombay. After a bout of illness that kept him away from work for a fortnight, he was greeted with a booting out when he returned. He shifted to Goa. The simplicity of his situation did not escape me; rather, it hit me smack on my face. Not more than a month ago I was thick in the search of a place to stay—calling up brokers, bargaining deals, answering mum who wanted daily updates on the house-hunting process—and here was this guy who relocated his life in hardly a week. Just like that. Where do we, he and I, rank in the scheme of things? And what are the limits of the human spectrum?

After Sumu and I had almost given up the search and were looking forward to a night in the shack, Devendar lifted the pall of resignation and how—hurrying toward us with a beaming smile, keys in hand.

Main apna dimaag lagaya ki aap chappal haath mein leke chale honge. To chappal ke saath saath chaabi bhi thodi door tak jaake giri hogi. Isiliye main us taraf dekh raha tha. (I figured that the keys would’ve been carried along with the slippers for a short distance. So, I was looking further that side.)

We just hadn’t thought of it.

A happy feeling gripping us like a fever, we offered to buy both of them—Vicky and Devendar—drinks. They unhesitantly declined. We decided to sit and chat with them, time suddenly displaying an agreeable mien. I offered Devendar a cigarrette, and he appeared visibly excited about smoking a Gold Flake Kings. Basking, like a school kid who has outscored his classmates and seen his world shrink to the walls of a classroom populated with lesser beings, he laid bare his reasoning for us again with “Main apna dimaag...” (I figured...) to which Vicky, sensing a hogging of credit, countered with “Lekin yeh torch nahin hota to kya chaabi milti.” (But if I didn’t have the torch, would you have got the keys?) A sense of balance appeared to be restored.

L to R: Vicky, Devendar

On being asked to pose for a snap, Devendar wore his happiest expression, his large, round eyes unmistakable; Vicky took his time, lighting up a cigarrete before looking at the camera.

When we left them, my cellphone showed 1:40am. The human condition that I understood had stretched a wee bit, encompassing a few more lives within its purview.

And those who were in wanted to be out; those out, couldn’t wait to get back in.

P.S.: I’m not very sure what a reda is. I’m guessing a fighter bull.


shantanu said...

Good one. I liked the last part about the those who wanted to be in...

In fact I've written a poem abt that. I'll put it up in the blog.

shishir said...

Baba..sahi likha hai..sumu se suna tha..that line about those in, waiting to get out and those out waiting to get in; suuper

satyajit said...

shantanu: thanks..i shall read it

shishir: i didnt know how to narrate an evening's happenings when nothing really dramatic is not possible to convey the feeling inside; instead, what can be done is create a setting for the reader to feel it himself through your words..and thats tricky :-)

thanks a lot..

Ergo said...

A long evening deserved a nice, long post. Very beautifully written. Good stuff! :)

satyajit said...

ergo: thank you

nutty said...

wow! some adventure eh?!

well done! you were successful in creating that setting for the reader to feel it himself through your words...


satyajit said...

nutty: thank you muchly

Nasal Crooner said...

Well put up dude...
Indeed a looong evening :)
Benaulim impressed me a lot... wish to go back to South Goa soon!