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