Thursday, June 1, 2017

A toast to the coast

For someone who takes a long time in opening up, chatting up random people in the queue while boarding the ferry from Dabhol-Dhopave and then to Tawsal-Jaigad, surprisingly became easy. Away from prying, judgemental eyes, it seemed perfectly natural to lie down in the shade of a shut kirana shop or walk barefoot on the cool grass. Sitting on a blue tarpulin sheet under a makeshift bamboo roof, it was easier to understand a farm hand’s woes about the ‘winter’ in Konkan which spoils the fruit crop.

Two Health Departments workers wait for passengers with kids at Tavsal jetty

These impromptu halts, while doing a l00-km run on a daily basis for six days along the coastal Maharashtra, were postcards to myself; the images were familiar, but they were dipped in different hues. When you are working in a newsroom, you are inundated mostly with stats and a not-so-rosy picture of the world around you. This is not to say that what we saw during this trip from Alibaug to Goa was free of dark clouds. However, they mostly came with a silver lining.

The village kids show us their catch -- the crabs -- which they are going to sell at the market

The journey
While travelling to Dive Agar, to join the cyclists whom I was assisting on their ride, I boarded an MSRTC bus from Swargate. After a certain point, I chaffed at the bus’ slow speed, its frequent halts, until it struck me that it wasn’t easy driving the bus around the winding ghats with four-wheelers racing down from the opposite direction. Amongst my companions in the bus were students from Mangaon, Shrivardhan etc, who were studying in Pune. For them and all those village folk who had to visit Pune for work, the bus was their only link with the city.

Later, when I was following the cyclists in the back-up car, we spotted a few boats at a picturesque spot. I alighted from the car, to take a few pics. A lad came running (perhaps to join his friends). When I asked if I could click his photo, he was thrilled and although I couldn’t share it because it was clicked on an SLR camera, he was happy to see his image, exclaiming to his friends, “Aye! Maza photo aala bagh!”

He and his merry friends then decided to treat me and a friend with crabs. “Take a look!” they urged. The group of kids was going to sell the crabs at the market.

At the jetty, we met two women from the state health department. The jetty was their halt to administer polio drops to babies who were holidaying with their parents. At the arrival of each ferry, they would single out parents with babies, administer the drops to the tots, while cooing and consoling them. It was work and we don’t know if it was pleasure to them.

The experiences
On the way to Achara, while waiting for the cyclists to show up, I dozed off on the veranda of a shop, but was not completely oblivious to the happenings around. A group of school girls was cackling away at the bus stop, without bothering to discuss the ‘stranger’ in their midst. None of the two-wheeler commuters slowed down, no catcalls.

On waking up, my eyes fell on a blackboard announcing ‘Dashavtar’ festival, a traditional theatrical performance based on the Puranas which is one of the interesting features of Konkan. It was organised by autorickshaw owners of Munge village. Dish and Cable TV has its own charm, but getting together and watching a theatrical performance gets the entire village grooving. May be, I shall make time for it the next time I go visiting.

On the last leg of our journey, things could have gone haywire. That day, all the shops, restaurants were shut in Sindhudurg district. A meeting of the merchants was on in a neighbouring town and to show their solidarity, all the shop owners had downed their shutters. We managed to convince one ‘dada’ of Parule village to open his chai-nashta dukan and feed us hot Vadas, steaming cups of chai and Konkani Misal. He served this with a toothless grin and a 1 rupee coin stuffed in his left ear.

In Vengurle, another 60 km away, Ashok Vengurlekar offered to prepare maase thali (fish thali) for the cyclists who were due to reach in an hour or so. Vengurlekar also went out of his way to help this writer send an important email. The internet cafes there were shut, so the guy offered us his relative’s scooter and asked us to follow him to the tehsildar’s office. Unfortunately, there was network problem. Not giving up, the gentleman asked a printer friend of his to let us use his computer and send the mail.

It’s gestures like these that make India incredible and leave you with warm memories of the place made special by unselfish people.

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