I was a “paying guest” at a departmental excursion this weekend. We (12 friends plus the rest of the Graphics Design team of my organization) left office at 10pm, having taken the last two rows of seats in the bus. We sang songs till about 12:30, when we stopped for tea. I fell asleep off and on after that, waking up once to see that we were on a road where apparently only bullock carts had ever been, once to help my friends with the line following “Aakash ka soonapan, mere tanha man mein/Paayal chhankaati tum, Aa jao jeevan mein…”, once to see a blob of fog stuck in a valley at 5:am, and then I finally woke up at sunrise, to see palm trees all around.
The Ghats did not impress me much, except as poor cousins of my beloved Himalayas. However, the moody landscape constantly switched between palm fronds and hillocks, which was quite entertaining.
Malvan is about 400 kilometers from Pune, and was probably discovered during an emergency aeroplane landing, since it is bang in the middle of nowhere.
We reached out resort with highly compromised spinal cords, and bathed and breakfasted while plotting to boycott the expedition to the Sindhudurg fort. Grumblings about our unwillingness to mix with the rest of the crowd forced us to fall in line, and off we went. The fort is on a small island, and we went by motorboat. Sitting Swades style, we were privileged to hear a colleague play the Swades song on the flute. Life does imitate art, and if you have doubts, wait for Papun Dada’s pictures, which will prove it for once and for all.
The fort itself was an imposing structure, most of it having been blown to bits by angry Britishers, who obviously had many axes to grind, but at those temperatures and humidity levels, they could have done it just because England was losing to India at cricket. The fort is now punctuated by kokam sharbat stalls that have radios announcing the Indo-Pak match scores. They did good business thanks to hot, thirsty and score-starved graphic designers from Pune. The flautist played songs from Roja in the temple, and the music still echoes in my mind and heart. A flute is a tear-extractor, and that’s that. And Rahman is God.
We came back to the resort for lunch, after which a gallant stone-thrower brought down raw mangoes for us to eat. Yum Yum! I sat on the swing with a four-year old Marathi speaking firebrand after lunch, and without a word, we managed to come to an agreement whereby I was to discreetly propel the swing into motion while she pretended to push it hard and got thrills out of moving that huge contraption with a huge woman sitting on it! Lots of laughter later, she left, and I kept swinging till I was giddy.
After that, a friend and I decided to go walking and explore the area.The narrow lanes were lined with cottages. Mango and coconut trees were everywhere. My friend is the sweetest girl alive and she asked in her sweetest voice if one of the cottage owners could tell us where we could get coconut water, but he gruffly said “not here, and nowhere else”. All this happened in Marathi, of which I know nothing. It’s surprising how there was no coconut water for sale anywhere! In hindsight, that’s perhaps because each house had its own supply and tourists came once in ten years.
Everyone rides bicycles in Malvan, and ladies’ bikes are the vehicle of choice for many men. I wanted to ride a cycle, but when Ajoba (Grandpa) would not let us have a naariyal, who would let us have a cycle?
Then a cycle rental shop happened. It had one rickety ladies’ bike, not at all suited for a rickety rider like me, who has not ridden a cycle for many years now. However, a nice little girl let me use her Ladybird, and off we went! It is so amazing to be able to drive anything! And I did not fall! I am so proud of myself!
We returned the bicycles (One rupee rent for the rickety one, some sweets for the nice girl) and ran back to the resort, where grumbling people were waiting for us to board the bus to the beach. Cashew fruit smells like the worst stuff on earth. You need to wash your hands even if everybody else misses the sunset.
It was a beautiful, isolated little beach (Papun Dada will oblige with photos shortly). We frolicked (strange word) in the water and watched the sun go down. The water was clean in a way that my jeans are never going to be again. Between the five women who shared Room 3, we brought ten tonnes of sand back to the resort.
After some singing and guitar-playing, the gang had dinner, about which I will not talk. Malvani vegetarian cuisine is about as exciting as eating a sponge. After dinner, we went for a walk, and then to bed. A single bed split vertically into half does not make for good sleep, and I could hear my vertebrae typing their resignation letters all night.
I woke up the next morning and was ready by eight, which was the scheduled time of departure. As if!!!!! Kingfisher beer ensured that we could not leave before 10:30. Some of us went for a walk in the meantime, and we saw pineapples growing with red spiky things around them!
We set off on what turned out to be a 15-hour journey home (I think we spent more time on the bus than off it). We stopped at a temple, which we ignored in favour of the beautiful beach. More stops for lunch and dinner, and constant singing on the bus. I reached home half-dead at 2:30, and woke up this morning at 6:30 to fill water in various buckets and have a bath before the water supply was turned off.
It was a great way to spend the weekend, and I am glad I went. No droughts or quarries about that.