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A Tourist in Paradise--Fiction

The Pitfalls of Traveling in India

By Ujjwal Dey with photos by pals of Udey
3/21/2015


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The changing tides didn’t mean a thing. The moon was as gloomy as ever. The dark skies were darkening ever more as the monsoon clouds converged. The faint chirping of the sparrows in dusk were muted by the patter of rain against palm leaves.

My slippers dragged on, its rubber inner-sole slapping against my foor with each step I took. The sand seemed unending and the beach extended my solitary walk with its expanding void. Lacking the means to get sober, I kept walking, determined that it would keep me awake, conscious and fearful. Waking up next to a dying man was not my idea of a relaxing weekend by the shores of Goa’s Palolem beach.

Wrong season, wrong place, wrong hour. Monsoon is a bad time to visit any location in India. The enigmatic and exotic beauty illustrated in art and cinema being a romanticized misrepresentation of the horrors of reality. The stench, the chaos, the disrepair of infrastructure, the unhygienic consumables, the dreary nature of all living things...it was enough to drive anyone to alcohol and self-gratification.



My escape from these incessant pains now confined me in a strange obligation. Should I leave him there, or what, drag a dead German tourist all the way back to civilization? I was too tired to wipe the sweat sticking to my face, trickling through my eyebrows, beside my eyes and then hanging by my itchy stubble. So, I looked up into the dark sky, letting the downpour clear them away. If I could help him I would have. Even as a dead man, I was doing all I could for him.

My morning began with the grogginess of languid pleasure, realizing it was actually noon when the tea-stall owner confirmed unavailability of morning tea – he was now offering fresh lime extract in iced water. Having found a McDonalds close enough, I dusted myself, swiped my hair by getting it wet, and went in to use the toilet to perform the morning rituals. These involved, scrubbing my face and chest with a rag. Then brushing my teeth with my index finger.

In between I managed to drink a lot of the tap water. Soon the bowels suggested to make good of the facility. The fresh roll of toilet paper also doubled as my final wet-towel wash of my shoulders, arm-pits and groin. You don’t wet the paper, instead wet your body parts and then use thick folds of the toilet paper to wipe yourself.

If by this time, no one knocks on the door, then I go ahead and puke in the ceramic washbasin. I never could puke in the commode. It would be a self-propelling effort if I tried to puke into the commode – making me puke endlessly at the sight of the potty. I would probably puke till I spilled my guts and liver and that tiny organ between the contracting muscles and the emptying stomach that gives spasms while puking. So, I puked in the washbasin. I made those spasms in the fleshy organ work. The diaphragm responded by practice rather than reflex. This ensured a feel-good factor for most of the day. The puking would drain all the toxins my bowels couldn’t extricate – or so I believed and practiced.



Now a haze of white smoke rose in the distance. Bonfires still burned into the wet night? I was certain they were the watchmen or some other morose breed of people, trying to burn the wet wood to keep themselves warm. Among the siesta and revelry of the tourist hub that is Goa, there were these people enabling everything. A varied bunch of people, with their occupational duties, looking into operations and maintenance with their dull eyes and depressing demeanor.



I could now see the lights from the ATM where the two watchmen shivered, slumped under a thick blanket, fanning the small fire in a metal bucket with yesterday’s newspaper. I kept walking steadily through the rain. The forced walk was now not just keeping me awake, but also keeping me from freezing despite being drenched in the rain.

A low warmth inside me. I felt my pulse by putting my left wrist to my ear; it was normal. It was diagnosed as pulsatile tinnitus by my psychiatrist. Never cared for his diagnosis of my ability to hear my pulse and heartbeat at will. I inferred from my normal pulse rate a calmness probably due to the alcohol working as a sedative. Yet, my mind was a confounded mess of images, sounds, thoughts, plans, explanations, and also a host of memories, which had nothing to do with my current predicament.

I felt my temples with my icy fingers, they were not throbbing, but I could sense my neck stiffening. My mind, trying to race like Atlas attempting to sprint with the weight of the world over his shoulders, suggested it was from snoozing in the mounds of sand. I stumbled past the few establishments adorned with hangers-on. Was it past midnight?

I kept walking. Unnoticed and weary, I wished to walk up to them and chat, hear them say they had a better night, so I could hope for better. Share my remaining jug of whiskey in exchange for a hot meal. Then I damned the idea and managed to lift the bottle to my lips. It held nothing, empty; the narrow tamper-proof mouth of the bottle disabled even the rain water from accumulating inside. So with scorched throat, aching muscles and a heavy head, I kept walking on the unending sandy beach, no track of time. No trail to my destination, somehow I didn’t let go of the empty bottle, it seemed too much of an effort to undo my frigid contorted fingers.

“Hello there, you ride that Enfield motorcycle!” he shook my hand firmly, giving it a shake, as if testing my frozen wrist.



I glimpsed in laziness at the tall figure in front of me, hunching to greet me.

“Have a seat,” I offered the dusty floor next to me.

“I need to get back to the city,” he sighed painfully, as if missing the crowded Panaji city of Goa over the serenity of this obscure end of the Palolem beach. “Help me get there fast.”

“Do you have a cigarette?”

It was a reflex. Whenever abruptly woken up from this drunken siesta, a puff would calm the nerves and put me to rest. He seemed to not take it well. A heavy European accent. I tried to place it, but he seemed to speak English well enough. He mumbled something, then decided he will indeed join me and crashed on the sand beside my mound.

“The city is quite a few kilometers, not worth a trek.” The hippie backpackers walked entire lengths of Goa. God knows why. They rented scooters or motorbikes, but still plenty of them would take in the rural settings with unending walks through beaches, across narrow paved roads, over hills and squatting bullocks, passing all the unconcerned village eyes, feeding stray dogs following them and strolling beyond into the city i.e. Panaji.

The man shuffled clumsily to pull out the cigarettes. Actually, he pulled out his fat wallet and the cigarettes were coincidentally dragged along into the dust.

“Thanks!”

I wiped the wet wrapping of the Davidoffs, unwrapped it, tapped out a Classic and fished for my lighter. He kept moaning as if he had too much to drink or probably had tried the Indian cuisines to the distaste of his complaining stomach. I let out a deep puff and sighed in agreement over the dreariness of monsoon and its effects.

“Get me there.”

“You German? What you need is to locate a reliable auto-rickshaw – the three-wheeled motorized nuisance. Tell him ‘Panjim’ - nothing more.” He listened intently and nodded. “If you say more than that, he will take you for a ride, drive you around to increase the fare on his meter. Act as if you have been here long enough and know your way around.”



I advised him as I would to anyone. Tourists are easy prey in any part of the world, as also Indian tourists visiting Goa or other destinations. He rolled over and his bloodied intestines left a splotch next to the pack of cigarettes.

It hit me then. A sudden surge of blood in the veins in my head. And I noticed that the wrapping of Davidoffs polished on my jeans had left a shimmering graffiti of blood. I sat up and saw the man dying next to me, stabbed; multiple times. He was a strong man to have managed to survive and have a coherent line of thought. His wallet was a sack of wet blood.

“Tell my wife I am here, the address is in here.” He could not point but his eyes strained to find the wallet he had pulled out onto the sandy surface in the dark evening.

“Who did this?”

The German relaxed; seemingly, visibly letting go of the pain. Allowing himself to escape into the unconsciousness. The initial adrenaline his body had pumped, now wearing off. His stiffened feet relaxed and fell to its sides. His breath came slower and was less intense.

As he drifted into semi-conscious sleep, I tried to comprehend the consequences, for me. I was as decrepit as the next bum. The fact that the messenger usually gets slammed down first by the cops made me wince at having to report this incident. I told my head to shut up, to save the man. He knew me. Probably from my Enfield motorcycle that chased the pickpocket in the winding, narrow, crowded flea market at Anjuna beach; three days ago. Will the cops believe me?

“I will get you to a hospital,” I promised him as I used his jacket to tie up his guts, “It’s not so bad.”

His eyes remained closed but he was alert. He grabbed my hand again, this time a final handshake, his firm palm grasped my forearm and I held on to his. He kept saying things. Voice and messages drowned by the crashing waves. I tried to calm him, but he was indeed calm. A man knowing his fate, wishing only peace for his family, who may not find his rotting corpse for days. He was at ease, his pain no longer registering in his tranquil mind.



The tides were still far from our mound of wet sand. I wished it would sweep away all the blood but then prayed it would stay away from snatching the remaining spirit of the brave man next to me. I didn’t waste a second when he let go of my arm. I shoved sand to bury his wallet resting next to him, took another cigarette and walked.

I have been walking since then, determined to locate the resort I think he mentioned. No point looking in the wallet. It was soaked in enough blood to melt the contents, whether it be currency or calling cards. I didn’t look back. I must have walked for hours. The German’s state unknown to me, but my heart knew he was dead when he let go of my arm.

The wind swayed the drizzle spraying me as I clung to my assigned task. The rain washed away my grime, but I felt stained forever. I knew the place, I was sure. Now in the sparse rain, with the resorts popping out in the horizon, the darkness seemed to fade. Hope is such an obsessive-compulsive disorder, makes us believe things will get better. Makes us aspire, strive, struggle to keep onwards, deluding us by suggesting the future is a waiting gift from Santa Claus which would materialize if we are good at present.

The is grass always greener at the other side of reality. My hope had assured me of my ability in fulfilling the German’s wish. That hope was a dual-edged sword – engaging me in wishful thinking while also fostering my perseverance. No wonder the Greeks listed Hope in the Pandora's Box of maladies for humanity.



“Saw him last heading alongside the shoreline at Palolem beach,” I lied, “He may get lost, so do check it out.”

The German’s wife felt reassured. I wanted to stab myself for creating this false-ugly-cruel-demonic spawn of hope. She let out a deep breath and relaxed her tense shoulders. The resort’s staff members were awake to give company to the worried tourist – standing at the gate with her. They assured her of going there with a police constable to check on him.

I couldn’t express my grief. I couldn’t console her while her husband was alive in her head. The speckles of rain cloaked the single teardrop one of my eyes gave up. My mind could recollect the hour-long discussion on cast iron engines, the hospitality in villages, the clutter in modern lifestyle, the busyness of man due to supposed progress of mankind, and I sang a ballad instead of an elegy.



I told the German’s wife of how wonderful it was to have met her man a few days ago, of his passion for fine workmanship, his honorable endeavors and sensitive words, of her husband’s fondness for the familial world, and his exploration and documentation. It was all true. She listened and grew restless. My burden was mine alone. We said goodbye. It wasn’t a good night.


**** THE END ****

For those interested in travelling to India including you, here is a reliable discussion forum and travelogue made by Europeans and Americans who have seen India by being here and being stranded.

http://www.indiamike.com/

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Reader Comments


Great story and great photos, Ujjwal. Wonderfully executed. The photos were a great supporting touch.
http://www.marksafranko.com/


Mark SaFranko
Mont Claire, NJ
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Editor Response You just made his day.
--Bandit

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