Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Raju came to Goa from Mumbai in the year 2004, looking for a chilled, laid back life. Having lived in the confined spaces of chawls of Mumbai made him long for open spaces. The hustle bustle of city life was getting to his nerves and when an opportunity presented itself for working as a waiter in a shack called ‘Café Del Venus’ in Palolem beach, Goa, he pounced on it.

The first time Raju set his eyes on the beautiful crescent shaped beach, he was in love with it. The waters were emerald blue and the sand as golden as he had seen in dubbed Hollywood movies. The lifestyle was slow, as if time itself had decided to take a break and enjoy the tropical sun and sand. His job as a waiter was quite rewarding, financially as well as in terms of job satisfaction. His smiling face and ‘can do’ attitude made him popular among the tourists. The English speaking skills that he had so grudgingly acquired in high school were now coming handy. He could be easily spotted by his bright floral shirts and Bermudas.

Very soon he was transformed from a waiter to the man Friday for all guests. With his open smiling face, he could bring in new tourists, strike a good deal and also act as a guide. You need anything, Raju is the man, be it legal or bordering the illegal.

“Raju, your Bloody Mary is not hitting me today, what’s wrong dude.” Sometimes an American guest would complain.

 “ Well John, your body become too strong for alcohol, you need something solid.” He would say winking and flexing his imaginary biceps .

“Yeah and will that something be priced decently.”

 “Bestest price ever, and my guarantee for the kick, if you don’t get it with one puff, you kick me.” Raju replies reassuringly.
And presto, John got what he wanted for a small tip to Raju.

Be it confirmation of train tickets or information about the venue of rave parties, Raju is your man.
Sometimes Raju’s boss would wonder as to how tourists who had just arrived to his shack also knew about Raju’s talents. The truth was that Raju’s name had become quiet famous due the numerous blogs on Palolem and its shacks.

This winter, the business for Café del Venus was superb, with advance booking for the complete season at good rates. To top it up, there was a group of five beautiful French girls staying during the peak season of December. Their charming company enticed many single guys to frequent the shack’s bar and open air lounge. This not only brought in additional profits, but also established Del Venus as the most happening place in Palolem.

Yesterday night’s weekend party had been such a hit because of the French girls, one of them bartended and two even did a fire dance! The party went on till five in the morning, it seemed as if the best crowd of the beach was here to enjoy at the shack.

“Very talented guests by god!” Raju was heard telling whoever would be interested in listening “ Some dance like Helen, some do the bartending for free. Boss told me to make their drinks free. And they speak so sweetly to me. You know the bestest thing about them girls, their English as bad as me.”

 “Oye Raju introduce us to the girls na please.” One of his audiences would often say.

“Shut up, they are guests. You mind your own business.” He would remark and push off for whatever errand he was sent on.

Today was Sunday and after last night’s party everybody’s morning started late in the afternoon. The guests were lazing on the sun beds after a sumptuous lunch.

Raju was stopped by one of the girls, Ann. “Raju, it’s such a tres bien (excellent) weather, we feel like playing Volleyball. Can you do something about it s’il vous plait (Please)?”

“Of course I will play” he remarked thumping his chest, misunderstanding the French, “Raju was champion of Dharavi volley ball team, I play faster than.... who was that? Yes Tiger Woods. You just see.”

And with those confident words he went about to organize a volley match, leaving Ann wondering about what had just happened. Ann was a beautiful six feet tall girl with blond hair and a voluptuous figure. Definitely the prettiest girl on the beach, she was also very soft spoken and gentle in her manners. It was her routine to go for swimming and kayaking in the morning. The kayak owner was also mildly surprised at the sudden surge in his kayak demand by a number of men.

Raju, meanwhile, was having his finest hour. Procuring volleyball was uncomplicated; it was sold on a number of shops on the beach. Making a court was also effortlessly accomplished by using a stick and running it across to trace out the boundaries. Tricky part was the net. None was available off the shelf and without the net; a game of volleyball would not be fun.

However, Raju solved that problem also with his trademark ingenuity. He stuck two bamboos on opposite ends, got hold of a pair of long ropes, and tied them across the poles to indicate the width of the net. Voila, they had a volleyball court ready!

Very soon a spirited game of volley ball ensued, with not only reputation, but more significantly, chilled beer at stakes. Guests from other shacks also joined in the game, while some sat on the fringes, being excellent audience cheering their favourite team heartily. After a few sets, Raju, having proved his mettle, became the referee. The game had certainly become the highlight of the beach.

This was the typical pleasures of sea beach holidays, that tourists from India and all over the world come to Goa for. All those who have been to Goa, specially with girlfriends or wives, will have definitively have a number of beautiful memories, but also some ugly ones of rowdy Indian tourists, specially from the neighboring state. They are a sight to behold. Fat middle aged men, wearing their white vests, boxer under wears, and generally a cowboy hat on top. If with their wives, they would be attired in a sari or wrist length suits and also the trademark cowboy hat. Most of these gentry would either stay away from the sea or at best in the shallow corners, since a sport like swimming has never interested them. The men would have a camera that they would be focusing on women sunbathing and ogle at them to such an extent that it would make them uncomfortable. Unfortunately Sunday attracts hordes of such irritating people to palolem, due to its proximity to the state.

So by four in afternoon, the makeshift volleyball court was surrounded by six of these local cowboys, recording the girls playing, on their mobiles and taking awkward pictures without consent. Most of the well behaved and mild mannered tourists started moving away, disgusted by their presence.

“See Murthy that girl is almost in her undies.” One particular specimen said loudly, nudging his fat friend with handlebar mustaches and pointing towards Ann.

“Hey hello, Im Venkat, one photo with me eh?” another said walking in middle of the game trying to grab one of the girl’s hand for a handshake.

Disturbed by these events the girls started moving towards the shack. Seeing them retreating, one of the guys tried to grab Ann’s hand.

Raju intervened “ Hello, let her go. You have no manners, she is a guest. What will she think of us Indians.”

The group surrounded Raju and started pushing him around. Raju was roughed up by them and even abused, but he stood his ground till he was sure that the girls had reached the safety of the shacks. He then ran off to the kitchen of the shack and huddled there, feeling insulted and miserable. Raju knew there was no point trying to fight the group. They were the stereotypical bullies whose strength lay only in their numbers. 

He buried his head in his palm and started sobbing, feeling ashamed.

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulders; he looked up to see Ann smiling at him.

“You are a very brave man Raju. Only a real man can stand up to six bullies alone for the respect of women. Tue es mon hero.”

“But they got away. And I know they will do the same next Sunday and the next. I wish I was strong enough to fight all of them, you know like Salman bhai.” He lamented.

“Don’t worry, wash your face and come out to the beach in about half an hour, ok. And I’m sure who ever Monsieur Salman is, he would be still proud to know of your courage.” She smiled and walked away.

Raju did as he was told and went to the beach. He was horrified to see Ann frolicking in the sea in her tiniest bikini and the six guerillas following her. What baffled him was that she was even smiling at them and fluttering eye lids at the one who had manhandled him. For a moment he even wondered if the wrong message had been conveyed in her English French translation.

Meanwhile Ann was giggling and moving further into the sea. The six of them, mesmerized as they were, followed as if hypnotized, now shouting even louder and splashing water. They seemed to be out of their senses with lust. In their minds, their wildest dreams were coming true; finally a ‘Gori’ (fair) babe had realized their worth and seen through all that hair and fat. Leading the pack was their Alpha Male Venkat, who, it seems wanted to make sure that he would be the first to grab Ann.

Ann kept moving deeper and was now slowly using her hands and legs to keep herself afloat. All the while she kept smiling and giggling at them, even motioning them to come closer, while she kept moving away.

The men now started moving even more frantically towards her when suddenly the ground beneath their feet literally gave way. They had unwittingly entered the deep area of the beach with strong currents. Sheer terror was plainly visible on their faces and together as one they turned towards the beach and were horrified to see how far they had ventured far into the sea. 

They panicked and started thrashing towards the shore. In their terror they tried to swim against the current and were further swept deeper towards the sea. With every passing minute the tide was also rising, further adding to their troubles.

Their catcalls suddenly transformed into desperate cries for help, which were drowned by the sea. No one seemed to take notice of their plight, for all casual observers, they might still have been horsing round. Ann, however, was totally at ease, swimming confidently and it seemed, enjoying their discomfort.

The gang of six, on the other hand, were in a matter of minutes, in dire condition. They had started gulping salt water and their wild strokes were now slowing down from lack of strength and technique. They were maybe in seven feet deep water, but that one-one and half feet of gap may very well have the mariana trench for them. Slowly, their heads seemed to disappear for longer durations under water and their eyes started glazing with resignation.

Raju, in the meanwhile undid the rope tied to the volleyball poles, shouting raising an alarm simultaneously and threw it across the sea to the group. Two of them grabbed the rope and were pulled ashore, three more were rescued by the life guards, but Mr Venkat, the Casanova, was too far away for help. His struggle against the sea was ending and finally he was drowning in the muddy salt waters. Those at the beach watched helplessly as they could do nothing for him.

At that moment, Ann came from behind him and caught hold of him. She put his arm over her shoulders to keep his head above water and with her free arm, carrying out strong, sturdy strokes got him ashore.

 At the beach all of them lay prone, puking salt water and coughing pitifully. It took them sometime to regain their composure. It was very clear that they were badly shaken by their near death experience. The group 
was shivering and when Raju came to them handing hot cups of coffee, they couldn't meet his eyes.

“I’m never coming next to the sea again.”Murthy sobbed, and others nodded.

Raju stood there, smiling, staring at the pathetic figures of these bullies, who had just an hour ago swaggered down the beach as if they owned it. He was quiet sure, that these ‘Cowboys’ would not have the face now to come down the beach and display their boisterousness.    

“Next time you want to bother a girl in the sea, make sure she is not the European open water swimming champion, yes?” Ann said to Venkat and then turning to Raju she smiled and continued “Monsieur Salman would be very proud of you.”

                                                                    IT'S A STEAL

     “You break my heart Vavrin”. These words woke me from my afternoon siesta under the balmy shade of a coconut tree in Pallolem beach, Goa.
I opened my eyes hoping to see Vavrin get dumped by a beautiful European blond. Sadly, it was just a local salesgirl pestering him.
I guess it was the salesgirl’s Russian accent, with a dash of American flavour that caused the delusion. Isn’t it the       same story at every beach of Goa? The locals, in their weird accented broken English and plenty of hand gesturing, annoying the tourists with their over-priced wares. There was nothing new here, except for Vavrin.
If you take a look at Vavrin, you’ll see a young guy in boxers with an obscenely expansive tattoo on his muscled biceps. The type, who could easily browbeat a salesgirl away! What chances did the girl have, dressed in a conservative nylon saree, with her head covered, in front of the strapping jock? Aren’t tattooed guys supposed to be bullies who know how to get things done their way?
Now, don’t think I am one of those people who judge a tattoed person. Just that I had a bone to pick with Vavrin. Look at him right now, pretending that I don’t exist, as if he didn’t do me a wrong.
“But see…this lovely work…it is art… Vavrin, a real sandalwood elephant!” The salesgirl continued.
Curiosity got the better of me and I ordered a chilled Kings bear to enjoy my dekko at the elephant. Had Veerapan, the feared smuggler of yore, seen the ‘sandlewood’ elephant, he would be tearing off his moustaches in his grave. Granted, there was an iota of sandalwood in it, but the tusks were definitely not of ivory, instead they were made of some dirty bone. I can bet that yellow of the bone was more likely as a result of a dip in ‘chai ka paani’ than its claim of being an antique.
The creator had done injustice to the magnificent beast. Far from paying anything for the piece of junk, I would have charged something from the salesgirl just to keep it in my house.
“Since I like you Vavrin, as we are now friends, I will part with it for just 2000 rupees”, she announced and I almost choked on my Barley water.
“I don’t know 2000 sounds steep for this elephant,” he said hesitantly for fear of hurting the feelings of the salesgirl.
“Okay, where are you from Vavian? What’s your full name?”She asked sweetly, suddenly changing the topic.
“Vavrin Kolinsky, I ‘am from Prague.” He replied proudly.
Aigo, what an impressive name, I ‘am sure you come from family of kings. Don’t you?”
“Well my mother used to claim that her third cousin’s uncle’s step mother was married to a....” he stammered unsure of himself, but the salesgirl cut him short.
“Aaaha, I could see it in your eyes that you are a Maharaja.” She flattered. “Now tell me, will not an elephant from mysterious India look great and beautiful on your centre table in Prague?” She said pointing at the horizon with an enthusiasm that more expressive than her English.
“Amm, I guess… it would?”He replied, sounding confused now.
“So what are just two thousand rupees for Vavrin Kolinsky? Look at the big picture”, she urged.
“Ok, I will take it.” He finally sighed.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, rather my ears. I know that I should have stormed the deal and save poor Kolinsky from the jaws of the evil salesgirl. If not for the ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’ crap, then at least for the great game we played together last evening.
I had met Vavian at a game of Pool I was playing at the Shack ‘Papillion’. The most incredible thing had happened to me; I had, for the first time in my life actually hooked up with a European girl. Her name was Estelle, the most flawless beauty I had ever laid my eyes upon, with blond hair and silky voice; I could already envisage our children. I had been wooing her for the past three days, trying to impress her with my kayaking, followed by guitar, singing skills and so on. Finally, I won her attention by pretending to be a Yoga instructor. I even taught her a few basic Yoga Asans my grandfather had forcibly taught me in my school days.
Things were looking good between us and she had already hinted that we would be heading to my shack after this last game of Pool.
Enter Vavrin Kolinsky, a professional snooker player and a not so amateur Casanova. Very soon he had beaten me in the game of pool and talked charmed to his room.  
So, I summarised that revenge, is indeed a dish best served cold, by a sweet talking femme fatale in nylon saree. So I sat back to enjoy the sight of him being conned.
Let Varian learn an important lesson today: It’s very easy to steal a European girl, but not so easy to save oneself from our Indian chics.
“And how about this original, silver emerald bracelet, from the famous mines of  Panaji not more than a hundred kilometres from here!” She said, producing another fake.
What audacity! The Panaji mines were closed 35 years ago, after 500 years of extensive mining.
“Amm, nice but I really have to go now, you see my flight is leaving in next two hours and it takes an hour to drive down to the airport with the slightly unruly traffic.” He waved, starting to get up.
Slightly unruly! I repeated to myself, understatement of the century. The traffic here is worse than Timbuktu. Last night Varian had announced, “You guys don’t need X-Box, surviving traffic here gives you enough adrenaline rush.”
This didn’t seem to deter the girl. She caught his waving hand, and began reading it carefully, “You have got good lines. You know your future is written on your hands. Your future Vavrin, depends on a girl. You have found her. There is a girl you love. Isn’t there?”
At Vavrin’s age if there isn’t a girl, be sure there is a boy. But she had Vavrin’s attention now.
“Look here Vavrin, just see how pleased your girlfriend would be when you give her this rare emerald bracelet. You think any girl can say no to that? She would fall for you like this.” She said snapping her fingers.
“Repeat a lie a hundred times and it becomes truth”, these words from Gobbles, the propaganda minister of Hitler rang in my ears.
“It will cost you a measly eight thousand rupees because we smuggle the emeralds from the mines otherwise it will cost you 80,000 in a jewellers shop.” She ranted on, dangling the bracelet in front of his eyes the whole time.
“Wow,eight thousand.I ‘am not sure...” he hesitated.
I was sure now. The picture is crystal clear. This devil has a blue eyed girl friend tucked away in Prague. My poor Estelle was just an exotic flavour who completed his visit to the ‘Land of Kamasutra’.  
Good, this girl’s ripping him. You go girl!
“Money is not everything Vavrin. Think how foolish you will feel if you lose the affections of your lady love and luck for a pitiful sum of eight thousand. What will eight thousand mean to you then, huh Varian huh?” She said dramatically.
I don’t know whether it was the irritating persistence of the girl, or her genuine sales talent that he finally nodded his approval and asked her to pack the stuff.
“You will not regret your decision Mr Vavrin Kolinsky. It is a real steal for just ten thousand, mind you.”
“Okay, can I pay in my country’s currency? It’s equivalent to Euros.” He assured her.
“Ok. Let’s see at the present rate, which would be 149.76 Euros, so let’s make it an even 150?” She reasoned innocently.
I felt as if I was watching a lamb getting slaughtered and god, it felt so good. I didn't let the fact that the frame of the bracelet looked like real silver, come in the way of my joy.
“Here 150 Korunas.” He thanked her, picked up his ‘steal’ and boarded a taxi for the airport. “It’s a steal Vavrin”, she shouted behind him waving till he went out of sight. Then she pranced away, looking for her next prey.
I smiled and drifted back to my nap.
In the evening, I went to a cyber cafe to check my mails. It was a typical Goan cyber cafe cum phone booth cum travel agency cum currency exchange centre.
As I opened the door I heard a heated argument and saw the very same salesgirl exit in a daze. I walked up to the shopkeeper and enquired the cause of commotion.
“Some smart-allec taught her a lesson.” He laughed. “Paid her in Korunas, you know currency of erstwhile Czechoslovakia. Since the country split in two in 1991, the Korunas are worthless, maybe after a hundred years some philatelist might be interested, but as of now, good as scrap.”
And yes, while she was leaving the shop she was mumbling “it’s a steal, it’s a steal.”

                                                     Tarang Pande