It’s that time of the year again. Night comes quickly. It drizzles in the evening and dogs mate in the street.
I sit with a glass of whiskey near the window looking out at the dying sun.
My life is brilliant.
My love is pure.
I saw an angel.
Of that I’m sure.
She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won’t lose no sleep on that,
‘Cause I’ve got a plan.
James Blunt is singing from my mobile phone. I have an interesting habit. The songs I hear for the first time in my travels, the ones that create an impression on me, I download and whenever I play them at home, I’m instantly transported back in time to that location. Now, after three visits to Goa, I have a sizable playlist and this song is taking me to that night, to that girl in Baga.
It’s late in the evening and Baga is bustling with energy. Party songs are booming from the shacks. Candle lit tables are placed all over the beach and some even into the sea with waves gently lapping around the legs of the occupants.
We take a short walk around to find the shack with the best atmosphere. ‘Atmosphere’ is a relative term. For some of us it’s the place with the most number of beautiful girls and for some the place that plays the best Bollywood numbers.
We decide that the place where we started from is the most ideal setup and walk back. We lay siege to a table that looks ready to be vacated but a waiter shoos us off saying it’s only for groups accompanied by women. We are a group of 8 impatient men – most of us are in the age group an unassuming college student would call ‘Uncle’ – raring to go after 3 days of alcohol ban imposed by our company. We are in Goa as part of a company trip but the official trip ended that morning and we have surfaced in Baga to kick start our private extension to the trip.
While still part of the official trip, somebody had quipped, “taking us to Goa and not allowing to drink is like making us stand in front of a naked girl and not allowing to touch her”
“Where do we find women to accompany us?” one of us asks the waiter in a tone that is a mixture of disappointment, helplessness and mischief. The waiter is a short man with a pencil mustache and could easily pass himself for a pimp. He gives a short bemused laugh. He Knows, but decides to plays his card close to his chest, “I don’t know Sir, maybe you can get girls from the club” and points his hand southwards at a bright black and white board.
We walk south but we are not looking for girls. Of course there are plenty of shacks which would entertain stags. We soon find a place and hunker down. ‘Atmosphere’ isn’t great, but we don’t want to lose time searching for better options. We order King Fish, (one of the most common Goan delicacies – an item that is marked with an underline in our trip agenda), a full bottle of Teachers and several bottles of beer.
Some of us in the group have peculiar drinking habits. One gets into the mood of drinking only when he crosses the state border of Karnataka. Another one says, “adicha mattai aganum machi. If you drink, drink until you are as stiff as a dead body” (mattai = dead body in local Chennai slang). And I, after years of treating myself to cheap brandy, have acquired a taste for it and my body wouldn’t accept anything else, with the exception of beer. My regular brand is the cheap McDowell’s brandy which comes in paper packets (only quarter) like Fruity juice. Since it’s a bit too low to sit in a group and drink out of a paper pack, I settle for beer.
The King Fish arrives in a slightly bigger than normal sized platter. We find out that it is nothing but the popular Seer Fish which we are already bored of eating in Bangalore, and that it is exorbitantly pricey. You wonder why given the proximity to the source. The answer is simple according to the waiter. He says, “People go too far into the sea to catch fish”. So, if you are thinking seafood is cheap in Goa, note this point: Sea is near, but fish is far.
Amidst the buzz of chatter, merry laughter and loud music, we clink our glasses together and get the party underway. We are sitting under the wide open sky, on the beach with a sea of people around us. The night has just begun and the party is only just starting in Baga.
During the course of a day, Baga takes three avatars – that of a quaint fishing spot in the morning, that of a day trippers’ hub for watersports in the afternoon and that of a party goers’ haven in the night.
The early morning scene is starkly different to the one in the night. The Baga Creek, a tidal estuary, empties into the sea at the northern end of the beach. It’s only a few meters from the shack. In the morning there will be heavy traffic of fishing boats going in and out of the creek. Fresh catch will be auctioned on the shore. The other side of the creek is a small rocky hill. A Retreat House sits atop the rocks. Now in the darkness of the night, the rocky hill only appears as a tall dark shadowy wall in front of us.
A photo from my previous visit. The Baga Creek.
I cast my eyes around at the neighboring tables. The crowd in this particular shack is predominantly stag groups, possibly driven away from the other place, like us. To my left is a small 4-member table. Two men are sitting with a girl, the only girl in the immediate neighborhood.
“I bet she’s an escort” Mr. SK tells me. I’m taken back.
“How do you know” I ask
“Look at the guys sitting with her”
I look at them. They must be in their early 40s. One of them is fat with male pattern baldness and the other one is thin, slightly reddish colored hair and has tobacco stained teeth.
Then I steal a glance at the girl. She’s a pretty girl by any standard with full pouty lips and sexy feline eyes. She’s wearing pink tank top and denim shorts. A cigarette is smoldering between the fingers of her left hand and her right hand is holding a Heineken beer.
But still there isn’t enough to convince me that she’s an escort. I look questioningly at SK.
“Keep watching her, you will know” says SK.
I cannot just sit and blatantly glare at her, so I keep her in the corner of my eye and get on with my beer. A beautiful girl is always an object of interest, but when she’s also supposedly an escort, it adds an element of intrigue to the backdrop.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see her taking swigs from the bottle, dragging at the cigarette and chatting cheerfully with the men. Sometimes I catch her throwing her hands up in the air and arching her body in little dance moves to peppy songs. Sometimes she’s telling something to them and all three are bursting out in laughter. In between, she’s sizing up other tables in her near vicinity and the two men are using these opportunities to send their leering eyes up and down her body.
SK is right, I guess.
Alcohol is making its presence felt in our table. Mr. V and Mr. N get into a nasty quick-fire verbal fight over some petty issue. Mr. V gets up and walks away from the table. I go after Mr. V and bring him back. Upon coming back to the table, Mr. V declares, “I don’t want to sit near him”, so I make him sit at the other end of the table.
Mr. VD has become a bit tipsy. His wayward hand goes over the table to pick up something and in the process knocks down a couple of empty beer bottles. Mr. P signals me to clear the empty bottles from the table and keep it under the chair.
I tell Mr. VD in a lighter tone to stop with his current peg.
“You think I’m drunk, no?”, and laughingly, he brings his large hand slamming down on my upper back.
“Ayo, amma” I cringe in pain. It’s like a coconut tree falling on a frog.
In the meantime, the two men at the girl’s table have suddenly disappeared. In the melee at our table, I missed the events in her table. She’s on the phone.
Soon a thin, long fellow with curly hair and shabby clothes joins her. SK nudges me and says, “This guy must be her agent”. I nod in agreement.
Several minutes later the two men re-enter the scene and all four of them lock themselves in some discussion.
I wonder what they are speaking. She’s a beautiful girl, no doubt, and it’s a pity that she has to entertain two men who are possibly twice her age. She’s in it for money. For the two men, she’s more than they can ever dream of. Yet, there’s reluctance among them to reach an agreement. At least this is the hypothetical situation I’m imagining.
Situation in our table is slowly moving towards crisis point. Mr. VD has downed two more pegs in quick succession, egged on by Mr. P who is in a boisterous mood. He is also partially drunk at this point. Mr. P has said, “Don’t worry, VD, you drink how much ever you want”.
SP, (not SK, he’s a different guy) undeterred by the growing anxiety among the ones who are still in their senses in the group, pores over the menu searching for exotic tequila shots. He has already taken 6 or 7 shots, some even with fire burning on them. After each round, he gets up, makes a dance step with his hands (which will remain the same throughout the night – but it’s really fun, he gives the group a youthful energy), and grabs the menu for the next order. He’s not too far away from reaching his self-gratifying stage of ‘mattai’.
My attention turns to the girl again. SK, the only guy in the group to show as much interest in the girl as me, tells in astonishment at the ongoing talks at the girl’s table, “What’s there to talk so much, Yaar?”
“May be they are family who got separated in a shipwreck and meeting after 20 years” I reply.
Without warning, she suddenly turns sideways and catches me looking at her. Time stands still for a brief period as we sit gazing at each other. The awkward moment ends when she looks away with a half smile. She then takes a deep draft at her cigarette, looks at the sky and lets out a plume of smoke.
In our table, Mr. VD suddenly stands up, cupping his hand over his mouth and begins to walk briskly towards the shack kitchen. Hunching forward, he walks with his right leg moving leftwards and his left rightwards in a tangle but incredibly he manages to stay on his feet.
“Heyyy, he’s going to puke in the kitchen” somebody shouts and Mr. P runs after him. “I cannot handle alone, somebody come with me” calls Mr. P as he runs. Mr. N goes to help. They manage to redirect Mr. VD’s route to the side of the shack.
Mr. V, the oldest member in the group, shakes his head in frustration, “let’s pack the food and leave”. We are grabbing the attention of others.
Moments later the three emerge from the shadows. Mr. VD, being a hefty guy, is taking the other two along with him as he weaves his way back to the table.
Our night has only reached half way by this time. It will go on to be a very long one, and we will be left with 4 ‘mattais’ in our hands to deal with.
As we drag ourselves out of the place, the girl is up on her feet and dancing to the delight of Mr. TobacoStain who laughs gleefully. Looks like a deal is finally struck.
Good luck, TobacoStain, I bet you will have a great night.
I turn to look at her for one last time. She’s laughing, cajoling and cheering. She’s a charming girl.
A song flows into my ears from one of the shacks:
You’re beautiful, it’s true.
There must be an angel with a smile on her face,
When she thought up that I should be with you.
But it’s time to face the truth,
I will never be with you.