I’ve been back in the UK for a good few months now. I had half-planned a slow summer visiting friends, doing some writing, giving myself a little time to get used to being back and figure out what to do next. Instead, I landed myself with a job almost as soon as I got back, and immediately I was back in the fray or London life, sleeping on the spare beds and sofa cushions of friends until last week, when I finally moved into something a little more long term. It’s been hectic, and I’ve not been in the mood to write, and India feels like something lived by someone else, a long long time ago. I keep coming back to Gokarna, where I left off. I keep coming back and then writing nothing.
I don’t really know what to say about the week or so I spent on Kudle Beach. Up to this point there has been a story to tell, or at least some kind of point I can tease out from my experiences of a place and time. From Gokarna it’s just a tissue of scattered recollections.
I had a room to myself with a bathroom (home to the occasional cockroach) and a bed which was too big for my mosquito net, which just had to hang there, limply. Better than nothing, but in the heat of the night I would stretch out and then wake to find that mosquitoes had been feasting on my limbs. One morning I counted fourteen bites on my right hand alone. That was the worst thing I had to deal with, though. Everything else was gravy. The days rolled by uncontested. Leisurely breakfasts at Shangrila, sitting on plastic chairs looking out at the sea; writing my journal and drinking bad coffee; making decisions about what to do with the day, which was usually nothing. Maybe there would be some thought of a volleyball game in the afternoon, or an acro-yoga class in the shade of the coconuts; or maybe between waking and sleep, the whole day would just drift by in a pleasant, sun-bleached haze.
I had good friends in Gokarna.
Jack, Jess, Eve and Mike were lovely company. A lot of the people I met and spent time with on my little journey were a good fifteen years younger than me and came from every country under the sun, and while that hardly ever made a difference, and endless quoting doesn’t make for good conversation (probably), there is something nice about being able to drop an Alan Partridge reference without receiving a blank stare. I spent a lot of time with them before they skipped town to go on their various ways. Jack and Jess back to Brighton, Mike and Eve to Kerala and then on to southeast Asia.
Jess befriending a cow
My taxi-buddies Miriela, Fede, Katherine and Laura moved into another room at Shangrila.
Laura the desert-cool waitress from Vegas, with her appraising half smile and her guitar. She had an atmosphere of calm seriousness, though the story I think about was a goofy one she told me about how in Hampi one day she was riding a bicycle along one of the narrow paths through the rice and the bouldering mat on her back made her lose her balance and she fell head over heels backwards into the field. It always makes me laugh to think of it.
Katherine the marine-chemist was long of limb and sensitive to the sun (though she was adept at protecting herself from it by building impressive shelters on the beach. Polite and well-mannered in a way I often find in Americans, she was another rock-climber and, like Mike and Eve, was heading soon to SE Asia. Her facebook profile states ‘I like to have adventures. I am not afraid to pursue them solo.’. I couldn’t have imagined having the guts to travel alone as Katherine has done at age 20.
Miriela left Venezuela years ago, living in New York and London for more than a decade before hitting the road a year or so ago. From the outset she was my confidante, meeting my endless stream of near-midlife angst with a mixture of encouragement and gentle mockery which usually did the trick. Miri would talk endlessly with the constant stream of kids selling trickets and always bought something. We had a running joke that she was everyone’s momma, myself excluded on account of my advanced years.
For my part, I was honorary father to Fede, but it was a difficult relationship – he resented my absenteeism (‘I hate you, Daaaad’) and for my part , I was constantly disappointed by my Chilean son’s wayward nature (‘Why can’t you be more like your sisters?’). Fede had a tattoo on the side of this chest of a heartbeat monitor ending in a football, and the skills to match. A Chilean dynamo with an eye for the ladies and the glint of mischief always in his eyes.
A Canadian kid called Charlie showed up and made camp on the beach, hanging a mosquito net from a coconut tree. He had been with the others in Hampi, along with a Dane named Silas, who also arrived after a while. We found Sigrid, too, and Rehan, another Indian from the festival in Arambol, who smoked black, masala cigarettes and wore a dashing trilby. Then halfway through the week Zuza appeared out of the blue. After Arambol she had gone south to the Sivananda ashram near Trivandrum (my current eventual destination). The endless rules and strictures of the ashram were not much to her liking, however, so she was returning to Goa, and had decided to stop in here on the way.
It was a good group. All these people so different, with such different lives and stories, all now hanging out in the endless Indian sunshine.
I was sitting with eating dinner everyone in one of the beachfront places in the evening, when, unannounced, a scrawny and heavily pregnant cat appeared on my lap and lay down in a little ball. She had some nasty scratches on her head and she was clearly exhausted. I gave her something to eat and she fell asleep for about two hours, nestled against my belly like a furry hot water bottle. The heat was uncomfortable, but I didn’t move for a long time. Giving that small creature sanctuary for a little while made me feel somewhat justified in being there; it gave me a small moment, if not of purpose, then at least of usefulness.
I saw a few lean, lizard-hunting cats on that beach. Tolerated rather than indulged, they lived amongst the people but they were no-one’s pet. It’s the same with the beach dogs, who roamed Gokarna in little packs, as they did on the beaches of Goa, or amongst the rocks in Hampi, or the the streets of Udaipur. The scrawny, mongrel hounds of India are ubiquitous. They tend towards friendly curiosity during the day, and at night they get down to the serious business of battling for territory and making as much noise as is caninely possible. From sunset though, and long into the evening, if you sit for long on the beach (better still if you light a fire), they will come along and dig out a little hole next to you to lie in. They like the company. I got annoyed with two Japanese boys one night who were amusing themselves by burying a dog up to its neck in sand as he slept. Looking back I don’t really think they were doing any harm; I just think it seemed disrespectful. I feel that if an animal trusts you enough to lie down and go to sleep in your vicinity, then you should take that seriously and not mock them or abuse that trust in any way. Anyway I reprimanded them in no uncertain terms, and I would do it again, I daresay.
Maybe it was just nice to be annoyed about something. Before I left England I wrote in my first entry on this blog about how I didn’t have a purpose, but from Delhi to Hampi I had always found something. Gokarna was the first time I really felt that lack. And it was uncomfortable, and it’s hard to write about – all of a sudden it feels unworthy. I’m writing this whole entry with the suspicion that I am wasting the time of anyone who troubles to read it, and in fact that after this one you will most likely stop reading it. Because it serves no purpose. It’s just someone chatting about a beach holiday they had, where a good time was had but nothing much really happened.
And maybe that’s the thing. Perhaps there was a point to my time there, which was to expose me to an underlying truth, or at least remind me of one. That I was not on a quest or a mission. I had no reason to be there, no clear thing to learn, nothing to accomplish. And that was ok. When I had my chances to learn some acro-yoga, I chose to rest my back against the trunk of a coconut tree with Miriela and just watch the others do it. I didn’t go to Om Beach, or Paradise Beach, and I didn’t spend much time in Gokarna town. I stayed on Kudle and I mooched around, and I frolicked in the gorgeous ocean. That’s it.
One other thing. One day, bobbing in the sea around sunset, I was telling Zuza about all the serendipitous things that had happened in India, and how it had been the same walking the Camino in Spain back in 2014. She said of course, like it was nothing. Of course, because it is all an illusion. It is what we make it. I remember my dear pilgrim companion Kim saying much the same. Seek and ye shall find, you might say if you were so inclined. And it felt right, then, floating in the Arabian Sea or walking across the endless wheatfields of the Meseta. It felt wholly true.
And it is easy to believe that you are the glowing little centre of your own private universe when you are travelling. But real life is not that. Not really. When there is work stress and money worries and family troubles and political strife.