Thursday, 28 June 2018

Through the Neighbourhood, Walking the Rain

Wet rain, dripping rain, non-stop drizzling, pouring rain. This is just the start of the monsoon in Goa, This June it is early, it is heavier than expected, but everyone I meet has something contrary to say. I have only the experience of the previous year and remember that it was hardly spectacular. And this, what I have been witnessing over the last couple of weeks and especially these past few daysy, has been very heavy rain. This wetness, the cold breeze and constant pitter-patter make me restive.  I just cannot stay indoors. I had heaps of work to do today and did want to be disciplined about it. I had been on a wonderful, long wet walk, yesterday evening and said to myself, fun is okay some of the time, lets get down to some work, and I did, but barely. Come 5pm, all that control got to me,  I had to get out.  I put on my raincoat, wore my sturdy all-weather Bata sandals, and off I went.
It has been raining all day long, more or less, since Monday. And between yesterday and this morning the Meteorological department has recorded 124 centimetres of rain, which is termed as ‘heavy rain’. I wonder what they will say of the kind of rain today and how much it would be in  terms of inches or centimetres of rainfall. It has to be tons more than the previous day's 124 centimetres. For  there was absolutely no lull whatsoever. It just poured and poured and poured – just poured. Pure unadulterated showers of drenching, snivelling, shushing rain  that has silenced the neighbourhood to a slithering hush  - of water finding her path through foliage, mud, rocks and drains. Amid the whoosh of the breeze slipping in and out of the leaves of trees.
I have rather noisy Goans, for neighbours. It’s just their way, they speak loudly and seem to work out of doors most of the time. And in the rain, quite naturally they are not heard because they are mostly indoors. But what surprises me is that the birds are also silent. It is only when the rain begins to peter out, when it is less than the occasional drizzle that, usually a crow will kaw-kaw first and another will respond. And a brief exclusive crow-dialogue will ensue. Until the hens join them and then as if an afterthought the Koel will let out one long call and then the twittering and chirping chorus of many others follows suit. But not for long, the moment the rain begins her heaving whispers, everything else becomes silent. I like to call it the silence of rain.
Today was a kind of tense day to begin with. My sister messaged to say that Mummy had gone to the hospital for a routine check-up but her blood pressure was extremely low, so the doctor decided to keep her under observation and do some tests. It was worrying and thankfully by the end of the day they discharged her as all was under control. She completes 86 years of age tomorrow, the 21st of June and it’s a fragile age.
 I am also  coming  to terms with a total change in my daily routine. I have opted out of the Gurgaon-style of housekeeping where I had a whole contingent of staff and someone to oversee them, to trying to work out another methodology. One that gives me efficient housekeeping with less staff and more space of be creative and write. This means that I have to do a whole lot more chores than I have ever done my entire life. Even as a student in London, when my dad was keen I take up a flat, find a room-mate and do that kind of living, I opted to stay in a hostel. Cooking and cleaning have always interfered with things that I would really like to spend my time on. But, the help here is not what I can handle and an open plan kitchen makes it rather crowded during the day – to accommodate a maid and me. Our auric fields clash. So, I have to do the dishes and make my own bed and cook (some of the time). I haven’t got used to the routine yet, so maybe this also makes me restive, but between this and mummy’s precarious health situation, just hours before her birthday, were unsettling and the rain only seemed to make it worse. In anycase, I am not calm in the rain. I can’t sit for hours watching it pattering down. I want to get up and do something. I want to be out there in the rain.

Yesterday, a young neighbour accompanied me and we went rather far from the neighbourhood, walking through lanes and by-lanes that I hadn’t seen till then. This evening, being on my own, I was less adventurous. Cycling was a option I could have explored, but didn’t because the rain was really heavy and while it keeps the dogs indoors – out of barking reach and scaring me away. I decided to walk. And with minutes I realised this intuitive decision was the right one. I had not yet exited the Riviera Sapphire complex, and saw there was water logging more than six inches deep. I made a mental note to return from the other gate because the last thing I needed was to trample a snake or encounter a frog or any other reptilian or amphibian which I plug together in the general category of creepy-crawlies.

Recently, another young friend, whose lived most of her life in Australia, but now lives in Siolim, told me that she had ordered a pair of gumboots online and couldn’t figure out why no-one in Goa wears them. Then I had laughed and said but why not let your feet get wet, its fun. But today, I thought of getting a pair myself. There were not just puddles to traipse through, these were rivers flowing down the slopes of Siolim. The earth bleeds such an intense russet which is so opaque, it is impossible to see what you're walking on or into. And, at the very start of my trek I fell into something deeper than it seemed. Without even realising it, the grit of the stones got caught between my big toe, on the left foot, and the sandal strap, and within minutes I had a blister that started to bleed. Fortunately it was a tiny one and I strapped the sandal Velcro ties tightly enough so that there was no movement, nothing grazing against the skin and I completed my walk up to the Chapora Bridge or Siolim bridge as it is called, and back.

Turning right as I left Sapphire I headed for the Sodiem Road which can be quite a busy one but fortunately for me it was lean time. Just before I turned onto this road, at the very corner, I stood and looked out at the paddy fields filled with water. Bits of green stuck out of reddish muddy water and it was quite a sight with the odd white stork hunting for something to eat in the earth. The cows, whose backs they are usually found on, were probably sheltering from the rain and the food in  the fields more enticing. This expanse of fields is what I can see from the swimming pool at Sapphire. When I looked today, it seemed as if the sea had come right up to my doorstep. The fields stretch for miles and are called Viangan, which I am told is because they get water logged and therefore are  usually sown in the winter months. When the paddy is green it is a treat for the eyes and I am fortunate to see this en-route, to and from the local markets, almost every day. Elsewhere, one can see people busy in their fields. Small tractors, colourful raincoats and umbrellas can be sighted from afar as men and women go about the arduous job of tilling their fields.
Just a little further down the Sodiem road going towards Tarchi Bhat, about five hundred meters from Sapphire, is another set of flats called Blue lagoon. And within yards of this complex, the road is flanked by fields and these too are water logged at this point. Although the frogs don’t usually start their natter until it gets dark, probably fooled by the darker shades of the sky, they were quite loud  at 5.30 pm. I had heard them yesterday too and thought they were the pigs, who lived in the land we had passed, frolicking in the rain and making a racket. But, when asked if pigs made that kind of sound, I listened and it certainly wasn’t an oink, but a sort of oinky-croak – very loud. And this is what I heard again on my walk today. I scanned the water surface to spot the frogs. I am told they are rather large too, but I could only hear them and didn’t see even one. I walked and walked through the rivulets and puddles and my blister started troubling me.
I stopped at a local kirana store. In my knee-length, lilac coloured raincoat, dripping water from every inch of my being; my hands wet, my face dribbled with raindrops and cap pulled close over my head; I must have made a very curious sight. I took off my cap and the grey hair may well have made things seem even more eccentric than before. But, when  I asked for some cotton wool, informing them that I wasn’t carrying any money, the boys who were manning the Krishan General store were rather sweet. Without much-ado one of them took out the cotton from the Puja stand  - the soft cotton that is used to make the wick for the diyas and handed it to me, saying that I may be better off going to a medical store. Soft as the cotton-wool was, it only made things worse. I thanked them,  abandoned the first aid and continued to walk as I had done before, tightening the strap as much as I could to avoid any friction between the toe and sandal. And somehow, I walked more than six kilometres, because of the puddles where I would stop more than just occasionally to wash the wound. Letting water ease the discomfort, even if just for a while.
I was now walking past familiar terrain. I was heading towards the main road that comes from St. Anthony’s church at Siolim Square on the Aguada-Siolim-Chapora road. I passed Burye’s from where I bought the paint to colour my stool ( a project still pending completion). Then Sahil's shop - the furniture maker from Dehradun who’d made the chest of drawers in the local Shivan wood, which now houses my stash of sequins and beads. His shop is out in the open with tarpaulin for a cover and today,  he had plastic-wrapped it on all sides (like most vendors who have gone home for the off-season in Goa do.) Sahil too, it seemed had gone home.  I spied a  gap on the side that had opened up with the wind and wanted to go across the road to pull the plastic tight but there was so much water everywhere with loose mud too boot, that compassion took a back seat. Even on the way back, I had to remind myself that even though I was out for fun, self-preservation must have its say. He had after all packed up this way, knowing the rains would come and he was an old hand at it, so  knew what it meant. Besides,  there must be someone looking out, to have enabled him to leave all that furniture out in the open with just bamboo and plastic for protection – which was hardly any, was it! Maybe  he’d just taken the day off, and hadn’t gone home after all. And so I  continued walking through the puddles, and running into deep waters, then spying no traffic so rushing to the higher ground – small stretches of tarmac where the road was uneven. Its funny, how one doesn’t notice that the road is so uneven while driving through or even walking otherwise, but water shows up all the cracks, all the shoddy workmanship of road building.
It’s about 3 Km from Sapphire to the bridge that spans the Chapora River. Before this was constructed, which is just 8 years ago, you had to take a ferry across the river. It must have been an awesome experience to pass by the dense mangroves and see the occasional crocodile too. And this is the season when they come to this part of the river, when the water is sweetened by the rainfall. Otherwise there is too much salt from the sea which the crocs don’t like. On my way back down from the bridge, I took a detour,  I came past the Tar Fish market. Clams, oysters and mussels are what fisherman catch aplenty in these parts. The steps from the jetty to the fish market are always littered with discarded mussel shells, especially those that have a viridian green tint. Apparently they were traditionally used to make a kind of chuna for painting houses, before the era of distemper paint. Now they just lie on the steps, like garbage, waiting for the tide to carry them into the sea. The Fish market is only operative in  the mornings, so was deserted by the time I got there. All the brightly coloured plastic tubs were overturned and each person's place saved for the next days trade. It is mostly the women who sit in the market. Earlier, it was just an informal gathering of fisherman’s wives at the village hub and bus stop. People would come from Chopdem, Morjhim, Pernem and beyond, travelling from across the river to catch the buses to and from Mapusa. So the women, prudent as ever, collected there to sell the days catch.
In the empty market-shed I met Anil and two of his colleagues who told me that the way it was raining, we’d had three months of rain in just three days. Adding, that it was too early for the monsoon and in the past three to four years, there had been much less rain. I asked Anil about the crocodile and asked if someday I could ride in his boat to catch a glimpse of it. If he had seen it. He walked to the edge of the jetty, and moved a few feet back and gesticulating, said it is very long, almost ten to twelve feet. "My friends go into the mangroves to collect the oysters and in all these years it hasn’t bothered them, but the unsuspecting dogs who dip their heads into the water at night, have been gulped down in a jiffy". Apparently a few yards down from the fish market, along the river’s edge there is a chicken and meat shop which throws its waste out at night and the croc feeds there, so is a common sight in these parts.
When I had stood on top of the bridge and looked both sides, towards Morjhim on the West and Pernem on the East, I couldn’t see much. The broken lines of water were so intense that it was as if sheets of plastic made the ambience translucent and unclear.  And when I reached the steps of the fish market, I realised how much the river had  swollen. It was beginning to ebb because the tide had changed and was working its way back into the sea, but when I had been there buying fish some weeks back, there were many steps and today I could only see two. I had on my raincoat which keeps me quite snug, but today, the rain was just too much. And I could feel wetness on my shoulder and neck areas. I suppose these things are not made for a two hour walk in the rain, but intended for those who need to get places or get home from work and are on errands for short durations. I cannot imagine the makers of raincoats taking into consideration the eccentricities of those who want to walk in the rain, for the sheer pleasure of it and that too for hours at a stretch.

I was still far from home and needed to go to the loo. I knew I shouldn’t have had that cup of tea before my walk. I realised that with all that water around me, that I could have piddled in my pants and no-one would even notice, but thankfully  I remembered that Amancio was only a few steps from the fish market. Amancio is a family restaurant and bar run by Ashley who has taken over from his father, who took charge from his father. It started out as a general store selling fish and tackle as well as stuff for daily use, graduated to a liquor store and now it is a rather nice space in the middle of a small village
It’s getting darker by the minute. I pass by Uday Moyhe the general store that sold me the fishing net just last week and stop to say hello, next I pass by the shop run by Mangama and Srinivas from Hyderabad who iron my clothes. I haven’t been to collect my laundry but reassure Mangama whose untypically lounging among the piles of clothes, that I will come by in the car tomorrow. As I walk, I visually map the route back home. Shall I go past the Goa electric depot, which means I must go farther the Siolim-Aguada Road. Or shall I go back via the Sodiem Road. I choose the latter and return to a rowdy chorus of crickets and frogs. My god, what a noise they were making. I still couldn’t see any, but it was a screeching, girgitting-frogging-croaking at different keys. The sopranos and baritones punctuated with the sharp tenor of the oinking croaks. How I wished I could see even one frog, but I didn’t want to be surprised by any jumping on the road ahead of me. I keep telling myself that I cannot hope to live in such unfettered natural surroundings and expect them to toe the line of social niceties. But I didn’t see any of those large, loud frogs.

And finally, finally, after shedding copious tears, it has stopped raining. The skies have decided to call it a night and I must catch some sleep too. Actually its past 1 am, and another day, forecast with thunder storms and equally unrelenting rain.
PS: on this walk i didnt carry a phone, so the pictures are from various other trips, usually in the car...