Tag Archives: Friendship

22 – Feel Good Lost

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

But for all of that lack of drive, Gokarna did give me some time.  Not time to do anything really; not even time to think.  Just time.  And I suppose I needed that.

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.

Still, there is something there.  Maybe it’s just the power of a positive attitude, maybe it’s about being in the flow.  Something anyway. Who knows?

16 -Slight Return

Three hot and crowded local buses saw me back home to Arambol and I reached my hut sometime in the afternoon..  It was quiet around but it didn’t seem like much had changed since I left. The little landscape of mosquito net, sheets and general disarray on my bed, picked out by the beams of light spilling through the two large gaps in the roof tiles, had a melancholy air.  I took a quick shower, washed some clothes and tidied the hut.  Then, feeling a bit better about the state of the world, I went out for a walk.  I found the road and followed it round to the Banyan Tree Café, where I bumped into Lucas, a professional juggler from Sao Paolo, who I knew from the festival.  He had been using the space to practice, and was just packing up his things.  He said he was so used to being busy that he hadn’t really stopped since the end of the festival. I said I was going to sit on the beach and watch the sunset.  He thought about this for a moment then said he would like to join me, as if this would be a fascinating new experience.  We talked about juggling and dancing.  He makes youtube videos and teaches juggling, but increasingly he just likes to dance instead.  I asked him if he was going to Ecstatic Dance tonight at the Banyan Tree but he thought probably not.  I wasn’t really sure I was in the mood either, but I didn’t have anything better planned, so I returned to the Banyan Tree at about eight.

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Ecstatic Dance is another curious little subset of this hippy-culture I was spending a lot of time with, and it’s a little hard to define.  Basically it’s like a club night, only there is no talking on the dance floor, intoxicating substances are forbidden, and everyone is free to dance as they please.  This last bit is the key of course.  Everyone is always free to dance as they please, but (in the UK at least) they seldom do unless they’ve had a skin-full to take the edge off the awkwardness and the discomfort of being seen.  Ecstatic Dance starts with a big sitting circle and there is an element of meditation involved at the beginning, aimed at bringing people into the present moment.  This then develops into movement, as it does in Contact jams, while the DJ (in this case one Rico Loop) builds an improvised soundtrack based on samples and live instruments which gradually builds through peaks and troughs to a great crescendo and then a more gentle coda, over the course of two hours.  And everyone dances in their own way as they feel.  I was pretty tired and wasn’t really in the mood, but there were quite a lot of familiar faces there and it was nice to see people again, and I danced even though maybe my heart wasn’t really in it.  When the music finished someone told me that a lot of people from the festival were going to one of the beachfront bars for food, so I tagged along.  There was a large crowd there, including a large contingent of Dance Exchange students, whom I thought had gone home.  I clambered over the bamboo fence, squeezed myself in between Aditya and Amitya and settled in to the candlelight and chatter around me.  This guy Princeton began to sing and shortly it turned into an all-out group medley of everything under the sun from Aerosmith to Shaggy, with a decent amount of Bollywood showtunes thrown in.  It felt good to be back here with these new friends who, after my two day sojourn to Margao, now felt like old friends.

Over the next couple of days I found myself settling into a new rhythm in Arambol; a quieter one now I didn’t have the festival to keep me busy.  I slept in until nine or ten and I took leisurely breakfasts at Totem next door, where there was fairly reliable WiFi (a distant and fantastical memory now), fairly decent coffee and really nice banana, honey and coconut porridge.  I would then go to Love Temple to sit on their comfy seats in the shade and drink tea and write before lunch.  I made a few massage appointments too (for free because it was nice to be keeping myself in practice).  By about 3.30 or 4pm it would be starting to cool off a little so I would sit on the beach and play some guitar, then go for a swim before the sunset.  In the evening there was usually a jam or a dance thing or a concert of some sort.  This would all be punctuated by meeting with people from the festival; some of whom I knew, some who were new to me.

There was Zuza the Polish-born Berliner who sang passionate Polish folksongs and did acro-yoga on the beach, Monica from Slovakia and Mira from Finland, both of whom I met on my first day in Goa.  Then Adi from Mumbai, Ines from Barcelona, and Lucas and his friend Oli from London (also now living in Berlin).  Ulli was still in town, and Carmen (another Berliner) and Sigrid from Tirol in Austria and a bunch of others. A lot of German speakers, now I think about it.  Everyone is so good at speaking in English that it’s easy to forget…

Hanging out at Magic Park (a very nice organic cafe) with Kruti, August, Lucas and a coconut

Passing by Samantha’s bar one afternoon I was hailed by a voice above my head and looking up I saw Vicky; one of the guys who worked there.  We had spoken a few times after he saw me with a guitar and he had asked if I would like to jam with him and his mates sometime.  Now he and two others were sitting with two guitars and a bass on a little platform above the bar, accessible by a ladder.  I clambered up there and we shook hands, and I took out my guitar and off we went, playing for about 2 hours straight as the sun went down.  They were considerably better musicians than me, but not so much that I couldn’t play along and bust out the occasional solo. Mainly I was just happy to be there, playing some tunes and looking at the sunset.

Having a guitar around often turns out to be a useful way of meeting people.  One night I was sitting on my own around sunset just in front of Love Temple, playing some songs to myself (I tend to play to myself at the lowest possible volume, and people usually need to really insist in order to get me to perform, though this is a habit I am trying to shake off) when Kruti arrived.  We hadn’t spoken much if at all during the festival, but she was one of the Dance Exchange group and she had been in the bar singing the other night.  She asked me to play a song and I mumbled through a rendition of something or other.  There was an actual concert performed by real musicians happening nearby so we went along and afterwards went to eat (unsurprisingly disappointing) momos at one of the myriad beach restaurants. Kruti is a dancer but she is trying to move into dance therapy and we had an interesting chat about that and the relationship between mind and body in illness and emotional stress.  She also told me how she had spent the day doing a theatre improvisation workshop with an Australian called Jonno (also from the festival but I didn’t remember him).  She had really enjoyed it and suggested I come along for day two (being such an old hand at acting, etc).  I was a little dubious but I like to say yes to things if I can’t think of a good reason to say no, and Kruti has an infectious enthusiasm which is hard to ignore, so I agreed to meet her at Banyan Tree in the morning.

I’ve not acted in a long time, and comical improvisation was never something I felt very confident with.  I can be clown-like, but it’s usually unintentional.  Anyway, I had mixed feelings about this workshop, and when I got there in the morning my ‘try anything’ mindset had been replaced by a ‘tried this for a whole decade and I think it’s safe to say I’m done with it’ mindset.  Still I was there now, and there were only a few people so it was way too late to drop out.  I muddled through the next three hours in a fog of ambivalence, unable to shake the feeling that I would much rather be sitting outside my hut playing the guitar or eating pancakes on the beach.  I raised a few laughs in a fairly unoriginal little doctor/patient sketch, but I just couldn’t get into it.  At the end we all sat round and Jonno asked who wanted to perform that night.  Perform?  It wasn’t in my mind at all that there might be an actual performance with an actual audience. Hell, no!  Looking around I saw nods of assent and raised hands from all concerned.  Still, I shook my head and said “I don’t think so, no.”

Over the course of the afternoon though, Kruti wheedled and pestered until eventually I said I would do it – for no other reason than that I felt bad being the only person to say no.  Also, while I was never able to make a living out of it, I did spend a lot of time and energy through most of my twenties making theatre and I was a bit embarrassed about opting out.

So I did it.  It was entirely unplanned; Jonno would call out names to do a short thing, in twos and threes, mainly.  Then I heard “Matt.  Do you want to do a solo?”  I was already onstage, so there wasn’t anything for it.  There was a small audience of about twenty-odd people sitting there on the floor in front of me, and I just started talking to them, more or less saying the first thing that came into my head, improvising a strange character whose exaggerated Englishness and colonial superiority was intended to be mildly offensive and ironically amusing.  Actually it went pretty well.  I got quite a lot of laughs and some generous applause, but I was still relieved when it drew to a close and I was free to go to a nearby bar for some food and a cold beer.  I used to love it, but maybe acting just isn’t my thing anymore.  Who knows?

Ten days idled by.  Nobody wanted to leave.  Kruti was perpetually on the verge of taking a train to the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Kerala where she would be working as an assistant teacher, but somehow she always decided to stay another day.  Adi was stretching his resources as thinly as possible to stay on before he had to return to work in Mumbai.  For myself, I had no place in particular to be and I was perfectly happy to linger as long as there were nice people to hang out with.  There was always something to do – a dance performance in a village nearby, or a music concert.  I went to one last contact jam at the Banyan Tree a week after the festival ended, and for the first time it really felt like I was getting the hang of it – it felt like dancing.  Eventually though, the often-deferred end of our time in Arambol became a present reality.

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My last day in Arambol was a lovely one; all sunshine and sand and sea, lazing around on the beach with the remnants of the Contact crew.  Playing guitar and singing with Zuza, discussing Hindu and Buddhist philosophy with Kruti, foiling Ulli’s attempts to haggle with beach traders (I am a total pushover and a liability in negotiations, I have discovered).  Ulli and I had an epic sand-bomb battle in the sea which I must admit to losing after he caught me in the chest with a fist-sized lump of compacted sand which took me of balance and sent me sprawling beneath the waves.  It was the last day in town for a lot of us and we made the most of it.  In the evening we went to Ecstatic Dance again and this time I danced wholeheartedly for the duration, then we all went for dinner at Alladin’s, ending the night in a protracted group hug which we were all so reluctant to break that we shuffled out of the restaurant as a single, many-limbed, organism, much to the bemused amusement of the staff and the local dogs.

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Ulli haggling for shawls while Mira, Kruti and Zuza eat corn

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All good things must end, though, and we made our protracted farewells.  The next day I would be heading down to Mapusa to catch a sleeper bus to Hampi in Karnataka, and no doubt that would be very different, just as Arambol had been a world away from my time in Dharamsala.  I would just have to see when I got there.