A Writer’s Diary from Agonda Beach Goa (India)
It’s almost afternoon. We have taken a corner table in the restaurant of our Agonda beach (Goa) guesthouse. Sunlight is abundant but we aren’t under direct sunlight.
Indian ocean rush to the sandy shore. When the high waves crash against the beach, I get transported to the balcony of my parent’s home. I close my eyes. Standing in the verandah of my two-storey childhood home, I see our neighbor’s roof. Since I was little I have seen a mound of dry wooden logs and cow dung cakes kept under a blue plastic sheet on their cemented rooftop. In my lucid dream, I hear the sheet rattle in the wind. The covers writhe and clatter under the brittle branches and rusted metal junk but they can’t let loose. Soon my father calls me inside.
I open my eyes. The ocean is free.
The water has a greenish-blue hue. Seaweed must be peeking from under the bellowing blue water. The rolling waves seem to have embraced a lot of algae for they are darker green than the silky surface.
Blue was once my mother’s favorite color. She would buy everything azure and then complain about having too many aasmani saris.
Now the aasman is a mix of dark grey and yellow. Foreign travelers are tanning on the ocean-facing front tables. The faint sunlight of a pale sun, playing hide and seek from behind the grey clouds, glitters on the playful water mountains. Each drop of water shimmers in a different color.
I have always clung to the brightest shades even though my father wanted me to wear bland colors and loose clothes so boys don’t stare at me. Right now I am sitting in a parrot-green kurta. It was either this or some multi-colored top. The ocean definitely beats me in hues.
I will see you at night, you colorful shrimp,
when the sun is gone,
and the moon pulls you and throws you around,
I will dazzle in the moonlight,
and you will be dark,
stark, but not lonely,
for I will walk along with you,
bathing in the night’s radiance.
When a wave crashes, the spilled water froths. The sand underneath disappears. The shore becomes bubbly white. And when the water makes a futile attempt to retreat, the hot sand gulps it all. The wet sand looks more brown than golden, colors both I like.
I Youtube for Anoushka Shankar songs, but the channel pops up a fairness cream advertisement. I have never searched for a fairness product. I was only obsessed with lighter-skin when I was a child. Then I understood the hoax, like I got so many others, and started to appreciate my earthiness.
The idea of being fair is successfully sold in Indian culture. Such is the aristocracy of the fair that business women and men mint millions by selling fairness creams, face washes, body soaps, lotions, sunscreens, scrubs, masks, and facials.
I wonder what else they can claim to make fairer, and thus better. Pulses? Brown rice? Shakkar? My house help once said she found our cat beautiful because her face was white. If the tiny brown patches on my cat’s body had covered her face too, my help wouldn’t have appreciated her as much.
When I see the fair tourists at various Agonda beach shacks, I don’t get conscious, unlike many Indian people from small and big cities. Foreign nationals are human beings too. I have held the white hands of my foreign friends through sickness and health. I have sat next to them listening to their white fears and white privileges. Some of them are indifferent to the complexion and are the sweetest of all the people I have ever met. Some were didactic with me.
My close travel friends would take off their t-shirts, untie their bras, paste sunscreen all over them, and lie under the hot sun. They would love to get my color, they said. Others would complain about how India is unsafe as we have too many gang rapes. Some found it incredulous we still give dowry. They knew about our rat temples but didn’t know Hindustani is not a language or we have millions of other languages. A Chilean friend once said you don’t know how to swim, but do you know how to wipe your ass? I wanted to scream and say we use water. Water is cleaner, you know.
Today is a hot day. Despite the shade, I cover myself with sunscreen. Many dermatologists have told me my skin is sensitive to the sun. That’s how they reason the rashes on my fingers. But when my face is pasted with white cream, my foreign friends wonder why do I need sunscreen. Inspired by the sunblock, bouncy droplets of sweat glisten on my nose. A small pebble of sweat tickles my forehead before running down my temple.
Under the next table, Blackie, the white cat of the hotel, and Sula, the black and white, pounce on each other. One minute Blackie is on top of Sula, and the next, Sula is pressing Blackie down. They entangle their arms and pull. They roll over and jump. They snarl and bite. I know it’s all an act of play.
When Sula walked away, the animated Blackie jumped on my pink Bata slipper. She wanted trouble but I gaze at her and she totters away.
Two white couples, most probably English, are sitting at the next table. An old Indian man makes phone calls from another adjoining table. A few years ago I would have considered the lone man a weird guy. But after having traveled alone for months, I relate.
When I had traveled solo to Goa a couple of years ago, I was welcomed by this same Agonda beach and its city. No one wondered why was I alone. Bar owners asked me how was their service and bike taxis dropped me home even when I had forgotten the way. I felt like I belong here. Not a moment was lonely.
One of the men amongst the two couples grunts. Maybe someone said something disagreeable. It must be his wife. Or he is unhappy with the heat.
My observations go in my leather-bound notebook, my last leather purchase. Words have wings. Like the stark black hummingbird painted on the wall beside me. She flutters above a pink flower. Sometimes words flutter, too, and carry us away. If not, they gulp us all one by one.
After having stayed here for a few days, I’ve realized this hummingbird isn’t a painting. It’s a wall sticker. Must have been easier to put up.
I see myself in the camera of my phone. In the parrot–green kurta and red lips I look like the Indian parakeet. The clouds shrug, and raindrops fall on the scorching sand and suffuse the air with a sweet, earthy smell. A similar scent came from a clay water pot in which my mother kept drinking water in the summers.
Back at my parents’ home, the afternoons were the hottest and the most unbearable part of the day. The current would go off for hours. We aired ourselves with handheld fans and filled buckets with ice water and mangoes. After lunch, we sucked on many juicy mangoes and dozed off while fanning ourselves with the bamboo fans.
Now I find it hard to spend summers at home. I can tolerate the heat but something else stifles me there.
Today I stumbled upon George Orwell’s words from 1984 I had noted in my small black diary, an old gift from one of my best friends. George had said, “Mostly we fight ourselves and nothing from the outside.”
What were my partner and I fighting about yesterday? I was scared of losing my independence and solitude. But his sincere gaze filled with innocent love evaporated all my anger and doubt.
The need for solitude and company co-exist. If we let the scales shift too much, our lives mess up.
I close my eyes. I’m now walking in a desert in a white dress and blue jacket. A string of blue beads falls down my neck and onto my bosom. The wind whirls in my hair and gets stuck in them. Dunes rise and fall around me. I hear an ocean roaring somewhere nearby. My eyes search for something. I don’t know what, yet. Maybe, the ocean inside me is trying to get itself heard. I don’t understand its garbled words.
I focus on the garbled words. The oceans inside and outside both calm me down. I write with my eyes closed. When I hear the waves crashing on the shore, I hear nothing else. The noisy silence of the rising blue and muddy–green waves restarts me. I can listen to this sound through the end of time. The people sitting around me don’t matter anymore. Is Sula meowing or Blackie? Who cares? I’m not here anymore.
Note to self: Always listen to the ocean inside.
All the people sitting between me and the sea disappear. All the past, present, and future are gone.
No matter how confident or jolly or social I might seem, I have fear stuffed in between the shells of confidence. Those deep empty layers have to be filled one by one.
Manvir, the manager of this Goa Agonda beach guesthouse, didn’t take me up on my challenge of finding the Butterfly beach by ourselves. He said reaching the beach in this dry month of June cannot be compared to their monsoon expedition when the trails were hidden under tall grass. It’s not a fair competition, he said.
We found the beach on our second attempt at dawn. It wasn’t that silent or beautiful as we had thought. The sun didn’t rise on that beach.
9 am. Next day.
I can hear the loud ocean from our room where my partner is curled up on my leg like a blooming vine. A vine without which the world would lose all its beauty. A vine that waters my roots rather than drinking from them.
My partner tells me he dreamt about the lighthouse again. He was on the top of the lighthouse drinking beer. He saw two concave surfaces reflecting bright white light. He is precise even in his dreams. He should have been the writer (27 writing tips).
What could this recurring vision mean? Maybe he is fascinated with lighthouses. He has seen many in Mumbai, and, of course, in the movies. He has read about lighthouses in books, too. He loves light, I know. Even if a full moon smiles upon us, my partner wants it brighter.
Or maybe he wants to see the world from the top, from some summit. That’s why he climbs the lighthouse. But why always a lighthouse? Why not a hill or a volcano? Is the lighthouse a distant childhood memory he is not aware of?
While he wakes up with the memories of a lighthouse, I wake up with a fuzzy cloud of dreams, most of which I have already forgotten. My dreams don’t make sense. I think too much. But I started writing them some time ago, and now I have forgotten where I wrote them. I ignore my inner voice telling me I should start recording my dreams again.
My partner notices everything but doesn’t share it all. Yesterday night, while walking back from the seafood restaurant, we were summarizing our day. First, I, then he. It’s a thing we do. He narrated even the tiniest event, such as bringing my Mac charger to me in the restaurant from the room. And how he had walked in the shade of the papaya and coconuts through the courtyard of the guesthouse. He remembered I had written in the afternoon about whales and a middle–class Indian woman who had just shifted to a big city. While revising our days, I only talk about the main tasks I had done or hadn’t done. But he builds up the big job from the smaller steps he took to complete it.
I draw the outlines. He inspires me to fill them.
We had tandoori kingfish at a Agonda grill place for dinner yesterday. A man on the adjoining table complained about the restaurant manager to the owner’s wife. She defended the manager. He is too busy, she said. My partner had noticed the man was more upset with the owner’s wife than he had been with the manager. When we complained to the chef–cum–owner about his rude manager, the chef was shocked. He had no idea what we were talking about.
How the most glaring truth can remain hidden from those who don’t want to see it! (powerful questions to ask ourselves.)
The deepest truths and the most detailed realities make good fiction because people need to be told the obvious. Many people find writing hard because the search for truth tires us. But if it ain’t the most unbelievable you can make believable, you ain’t a writer, yet.
While we walked back from our dinner, my partner searched for the cow he had seen the day before. He thought she was drunk because she mooed like a drunk cow. Now don’t ask me what that means or how he knows.
But I was amazed how my partner had remembered the cow from the previous night. Any thought, from any past event, related to any person, any animal, anything, any memory can flush to us in even the most unrelated circumstance (that’s how feelings and mind work). I don’t know what he is thinking right now. I would never know.
We trust people enough to spend our lives with them without ever knowing what they think every living minute. But only by listening to them we know what they want us to know. That’s why we talk about trusting actions rather than words because acts are real while words could just be the twisted fragments of what people want to share or hide from us.
We would go for a run in some time. Whiskey, Manveer’s dog, would know somehow and will come running with us like every day. But he would leave us alone when we go swimming. I don’t know how he tells the difference.
I love this shining blue color on the hummingbird. How could I make that color? Maybe I can mix glitters with the Camel blue poster paint. Maybe after my run. Maybe just in my mind. Maybe in my dreams. Maybe back at my parents’ home.
Where to stay in Agonda Goa? Any good Agonda beach huts?
Stay at the Forget Me Not Resort on Agonda beach.
Forget Me Not is marketed as a resort on both Airbnb and Booking, but clearly, it is a homestay. The manager Manveer lives on the property with his family, and all of them are extremely cordial. I have stayed at his place twice, once with my partner and once alone. Both times I loved my stay and would go back again any time.
Rooms are of various kinds. I’ve always taken a simple non-ac, fan room with an attached bathroom. The homestay-cum-resort-beach house is expensive as it’s on Agonda beach. But you will get good service, kind staff, and a vibrant atmosphere. Manveer also makes the best seafood and vegetarian curries on the beach. His wife is sweet and always ready to help. And wait until you play with their cats and dogs. Their dog Whiskey accompanied us on every walk to the beach.
Forget Me Not is right on the beach.
Cons: The main drawback for me here is that Forget Me Not expensive for a long or short stay. The food and drinks and accommodation all come together to be not so budget-friendly. But it is still one of my favorite homestays in Goa.
Going to Panjim Goa?
Years ago, I stayed at the beautiful boutique homestay Hospedaria Abrigo De Botelho. This Old Portuguese home is run by a kind host. You get a wonderful local breakfast and free wifi. I cycled around Goa, visited old forts, went to restaurants on my own, returned from bars late at night on scooter taxis, and just had a fabulous stay there. I could only do a lot of things on my own because the host had great recommendations. One night I fell sick and vomited ferociously. In the morning, when I told the host, he was concerned and made it clear that in such a situation I was to call him. Nice guy!
I recommend this homestay with a pleasant nostalgia for being cared for. Here you can expect good service, hygiene, and all the promised amenities.
Check the photos and book Hospedaria Abrigo De Botelho if it fits in your budget.
Did you like reading my diary from Goa Agonda beach? What do you write in your journal? Tell me in comments.