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Published: November 30th 2013
So there I was heartbroken and just shy of my birthday. The question was where do I arrive and depart from here?
Forty-five minutes later I was rooting for the auto driver as he dodged traffic to get to the bus stand and then before I took stock of things I was on the bus en route to Gokarna with S.
It is funny how our weakest moment can set us free to live more bravely and truthfully. I hope Gokarna will take my mind off things but I take my mind along. A rookie mistake.
I don’t remember much of the bus journey except for the amourous exchanges between the couple in the berth across mine. Day 1
We get off the bus in Gokarna. We trudge along lost and all we know is we have to head to Gokarna International. One look at it and then at each other’s faces, we are back on the street. An auto driver agrees to take us to Om Beach, named so as the beach seems to spell out Om the way it is written in Sanskrit. Soon we are on the hills zigzagging; these are the Ghats.
Higher and higher and I get my first glimpse of the sea. It is green and brown and green and then there’s shimmering blue gazing up at me. That turn where I first catch sight of it – I forget everything and know I did the right thing coming here to this town named after the cows that are everywhere.
We arrive at the Namaste Café and get a cottage. We sit in the café for a while sea gazing. There are guests sunning themselves or smoking on the porches. But otherwise, it is quiet and deserted. We slather on Nutella on the toast. That was mostly what we ate during our stay.
The town is sweltering. But the shops beckon. There are adorable bandannas, dresses, stoles, harem pants and other hippie-ish clothes that soon help us blend in with the crowd. A young boy sells books in many languages, left behind by tourists and he speaks many languages too – Italian, French, Russian…and they are more than a smattering. Yet another invites us into his shop filled with drums, xylophones and more. He shows us how to hold the African drum pressed between our thighs and
Sunset and fairy orbs
how to slap its goat-skin surface with our palms to build a rhythm. He plays and plays until sweat drips down his hair and he is completely lost in the beats.
At a juice shop, we take a break to cool off. The heat is unbearable. A woman, a blonde and older version of Zeenat Aman crooning Dum Maro Dum, sits across the table. A big tikka on her forehead, huge sunglasses, a saffron kurta. She is met by a bald and tattoo-ed man and he asks us where we are from. She is heading to Bangalore, taking a train from there. He says we Indian women are beautiful and the woman swats his arm and laughs. I want to ask them where they are from, where is the train taking them to next, what did Gokarna bring to them…but I don’t.
We stop for a beer at a shack on Kudle beach and the decision is unanimous. We are trading Om Beach for Kudle. We also find the other Gokarna International. We trudge up a hill, the bendy soft grasses brushing our legs and at High Point the views stops us. Day 2
The next morning, we pack our bags and make our move to Kudle. The descent is steep. We exchange hellos with other tourists. It is friendly and non-intrusive. It feels like we are looking at them and with our hellos we are really agreeing ‘isn’t this wonderful? Aren’t we glad to be here?’ These steep climbs turn into mini waterfalls during the monsoons we are told. The shacks are closed down, not the best time to visit Gokarna. But it is November and just the right time to be here and the clouds have long since cleared.
A man is practicing meditation. Barefoot, he is paying attention to every step he takes, feeling his feet press down into the stones and red earth. We don’t exist as he communes with the earth and his soul. Day 3
We wake up to the sea. A few boats are bobbing on the waves. There are mostly families with children early in the morning. Children with pails playing in the pools between rocks the sea forgot to take back. The rocks have black crabs crawling on them. A woman in a neon bikini claims the rocks have changed positions, the sea goddess has moved them, she says.
Shells peek out of the sand, some broken and some whole. There are ridges drawn by the sea waves by swirling and pulling at the sand. We trace a circle around a dead starfish, the circle of life. There are sand mounds, castles decked with shells. A bunch of red flowers float by. A pentacle is enclosed in a circle. 369 it says.
Later an older crowd starts coming out. Some spread out the blankets and lay down to tan. Others occasionally run into the water to cool off. A couple exchanges a long kiss, the waves dancing around them. A man with dreadlocks collects shells to put in his hair. At night, it is pitch black and one can’t take a step forward without a long range torch. Only the shacks are alive.
We sit at the shack. More nutella and toast, interrupted by falafel and hummus (lots of Israelis around) and bonafie pie. And Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage while not gazing at the sea. The Grand Finale
As evening nears, crowds of people sit out on the beach. Cows wander in. There are men selling beaded necklaces. Frisbees in the air. A woman with tassled sticks does her thing. Some just lie back with a book. Slowly, as if by an unspoken agreement, the sea is clear of swimmers and everyone is out on the beach. The cows disappear. The chatter dies down. The clamor of a dog is brought to a halt as an old bearded man with chillum, roars out ‘Shanka!’ We watch the show. Now, there is only the sound of the sea.
A lone lithe woman with wispy blonde hair looks like a sylph thrown out of water. The evening was so heavy with magic, I would not have been surprised if her legs, as they teased the waves with light kicks, had turned into a shimmery green mermaid’s tail and the wave had whisked her away. She seemed to be doing a tango with the sea, taking a step forward as the wave receded and stepping back as it approached. Her boyfriend walked in, a wooden staff in hand, twirling it deftly.
Watching the long drawn out sunset with no promise of an encore, the sky splashed in neon pink, orange like a dragon’s breath and purple, the sun – a great orange ball – sliding down into the sea, I was restored and I made peace with the world. And then all was dark.
© Anuradha Prasad
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