Thoughts of India

November 25, 2005 · 0 comments

in Articles,miscellaneous

The French say that everyone has two countries–their own and France. Some of us are even luckier. I have three countries and my lifestyle has involved living in all three. I was born in Australia, I live most of the time in Britain and in 1960 I discovered India.

It was a good time to do so. Bombay, where I landed from the old British India ship, the Dumra, was still a sleepy city where you had to beg the taxi-drivers to go a little faster. The Raj had not quite gone. There were still a few British banks pretending nothing had changed, with the occasional English remittance man queuing to collect his monthly cheque. A posse of English jockeys came down for the racing season, the Bombay Gymkhana still played Rugby, and if you were an Indian it was not easy to get into Breach Candy swimming pool.

Using Bombay as a base I explored the rest of India but found nowhere else if would rather live. Then in 1962 the Indian Army liberated Goa and as soon as the shipping service from Bombay to Panaji opened I was on the first ferry.

I loved Goa from the start. It was India but it wasn’t. It was as if the Goans had carefully selected those parts of Portuguese life that suited them, absorbed them and rejected the rest. The English gave India sport and clubs, a lasting legacy still well entrenched. (It is easier to get into a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall than it is to be accepted as a member in many an Indian club.)

The Portuguese gave Goa song and drink. The first things I noticed as I wandered around Panaji on my first night there nearly 40 years ago was that nearly every second place was a bar or a liquor shop. From the bars and from shuttered window and dimly-lit houses came the sound of wonderful singing.

I left India and went to live in Australia and then London. But after eight years I was back in Bombay. It had changed. Progress had caught up with it. Success had taken over. It was all hustle, bustle and expansion. So I took the ferry again and went down to Goa for another look. It was the same, still as sleepy and laid back as ever.

After some hesitation my wife, who is from Bangalore, embarked on the daunting task of building a house in Goa. It was supposed to take two years. It took five. Still it is now finished and up and running and the whole of my family and some chosen friends stay there as often as possible.

Adapting to a Goan lifestyle, rewarding though it is, requires a lot of effort. Over the years the family has developed a series of rules which I am happy to pass on to non-Goans in the hope that it will ease their rites of passage.

1. Lower your expectations. If you expect too much you will be disappointed. The Goan lifestyle has developed over 500 years and remains very different from that of non-Goans. Do not fight it. Accept it for what it is.

2. To this end, do not attempt to do too much in one day. My elder daughter, Aliya, a great list-maker, began by making lists of everything she planned to do each day but gave up when she became depressed each night at how few items she was able to cross off. Now she sets herself a target of just one task a day and goes to bed happy.

3. Realise that Goans lived in a different time zone. If they say that will turn up they will, but they may be several hours late. It is no good taxing them about this because their excuse will be impeccable.

4. Avoid dealing with government officials wherever possible. Engage the services of a local to do it for you. It will not be any quicker but it will save you a lot of emotional energy.

5. Gossip is a mainstay of Goan life. Be prepared to have some to exchange but try to stay out of family quarrels–of which there are many.

6. Goa is the last stronghold of the afternoon nap, progress have destroyed it in the rest of India. So never ring anyone between 2pm and 5pm.

7. Have a project, so you won’t become bored. I feel I know Catholic Goa reasonably well so my next project is to explore Hindu Goa and the fusion between the two religions that I am told is in many ways unique.

After that, who knows? Who cares? In good Goan fashion, something will turn up.

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