Laying on the bed under an open window, listening to so many bird calls, I try to parallel the experience with something else – but I can’t and that makes it easier to ‘be here now’. So much time is lost either going in reverse or fast forwarding. Of course, our environment can help or hinder staying in the present, but for me, the biggest distraction is my own mind. I suspect others are also afflicted with this malady. A few minutes walk from the one lane road, our guesthouse is tucked away among the jungle. Black-faced monkeys leap among tall trees, butterflies glide on the breeze. A tree frog hides in a bucket. Not a vehicle to be heard. The only thing that reminds us we are in India is the barking dogs at night. And of course every paradise has its snake or two; in the jungle, the snakes take the form of mosquitoes.
When we were in Goa a year ago Gerard had a running conversation with old-timers about where else we can go; Agonda has become too crowded. Someone said there was a small beach town with very few facilities in Maharashtra.
Last summer Gerard spent many hours on Google Maps to find this elusive place. Eventually, he settled on Paradise Beach; then the task was to find somewhere to stay. No websites, just vague references, but we finally got a phone number and made contact. Arriving at a new location has never been my strong point and Gerard must have felt my rising anxiety because he kept asking me if I was all right. Eventually, I reminded him it took me time to settle in. Walking down the beach, commenting on how few people there are on this long stretch of white sand, I say, “This certainly isn’t Agonda.” Gerard retorts, “And a good thing too, that’s why we came here.” The following morning, when I walked along the shore alone, I felt so happy. Now I’ve settled in!
The guesthouse owner, Martin, couldn’t be a more agreeable human being. Living here alone, he engages in conversation whenever we encourage it, always with a smile. Martin has an admirable lifestyle without the complexities of failing Internet, noisy motorcycle, problematic AC or hot water heater. He seems to prefer household chores (he has no maid to clean even the guestrooms) and pottering around his plot of land instead of the excitement of Mumbai, where he grew up and his wife and daughter still live. He goes to the market on his push bike. A man after my own heart! In the hot afternoon, I watch Martin sitting serene in the shade of his verandah. He chooses not to complicate his life with the computer, website and Trip Advisor, instead giving the enterprising young owner of the local cafe a cut of the profits in return for bringing him bookings.
The first few days we were the only guests and Martin invited us to use his kitchen. Every morning he taps on our door at 8 o’clock with two large cups of masala chai. Not always easy to find in this part of the country. We linger over breakfast on the verandah while he tells stories of his childhood and summers spent here with his grandparents.
Brought up in Mumbai, he returned to his grandfather’s land and built a guesthouse on the property. The ruins of the family home below the window of our room add a dimension to what could be a scene from God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s classic novel set in the jungle of Kerala.
Even for India, the pace here is S L O W. There seems little ways of making money, beyond fishing and the seasonal fruit trees.
There’s no farming and the tourist industry is here but not robust enough to support the community. Among the few tourists, the majority are Indian with a dash of Russians.
“How do people manage to eke out a living here?” Gerard asks the waiter. “How long is the season? He replies, “Basically 5 months, December, January in full force.” “Not much of a season. What do you do the rest of the time?” “I do nothing. Just relax!” Maybe that is why everything is so slow here. When there’s not a lot to be had, it’s interesting to see that people can live their life in such a simpler style than that to which we’re accustomed.
The cook has adopted us at the small restaurant across the lane. His only customers, he takes pride in serving us more tantalizing veg dishes day after day. Even if there was an alternative, we have no inclination to go elsewhere. Our immediate connection with Martin and the overwhelming accommodation of the cook are wonderful but in our experience, this happens more than you’d think. A good friend of mine visiting before we left, commented, “You have such a beautiful home, why do you leave it for four months of the year?” My reply was, “Yes, we do have a beautiful home and enjoy living here for two-thirds of the year. Going to India shakes things up. The adventures we have there probably wouldn’t happen in Boston.”
A man in a lowered tone of voice says, “The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent.”