Monday, August 4, 2014

Kenna wind, kenna rain - Goa Monsoon 2014

The drive from the airport and southern parts of Goa 
towards the north crosses the River Zuari. The bridge is like a familiar, reassuring welcome board that seems to say "Welcome to Goa". We know we have arrived! It's early August, and the early morning sun has managed to peep out. For how long, it is impossible to tell.

Looking over towards the west, the river seems to be all swollen up with the water from the late Monsoon rains. Clouds stretch all the way up to the sea on the horizon, and the water looks turbid and agitated. The rainfall pattern in 2014 has been strange. The pre-monsoon rains hit on time, around early June. However, the monsoon went quiet for over a month, picking up steam once again towards the end of July. 

In contrast, the year 2013 was that of incessant deluge between the end of May and the end of July. 

The fields are their usual brilliant green, they seem to be absolutely loving the sun's early morning rays. Not entirely clear and bright, but not too bad, either. 

Destination: Chalston Resort on Calangute Beach, the venue of the fifth edition of the reunion of the Goa Chapter of the Old Boys Association of St Joseph's Boys' High School, Bangalore. For some (like yours truly), the meetings and festivities are typically preceded by a few days of doing whatever one typically does in Goa, a lot of nothing, strolling around and sampling varied menus in the permanent shacks and restaurants. The monsoon driven sea presents a scary sight, as always.  

Gazing at a bunch of cows one evening, I wondered, "Where have they come from, where are they going?". The thought of following them crossed my mind, but then the option of lazing on the lounging chair on the lawns seemed a more comfortable option at that time. 

Souza Lobo is the most familiar restaurant in the vicinity of Chalston Resort, located about 300 metres south. A convenient lunch option, or even an early dinner option, since the after glow of the setting sun stays on for more than 30 minutes, enough for a quick walk back to Chalston. Tuna Salad remains one of our favourite options.

The sole Vegetarian in our family often prefers a hot, not-at-all-spicy Veg steak.

Seafood is yummy at Souza Lobo, both the Grilled and Curry versions. There is no dearth of curries on the menu, ranging from Ambotik to Caldin to Xacuti to Vindaloo to the 'Goan' curry, the latter being a middle-of-the-road offering in terms of spice levels.

Crowds do land up in the Baga-Calangute areas on Fridays and over weekends.

The famous 'Calangute steps' is the most popular converging point for locals and package tourists who arrive in 20-seater 'Tempo Travelers' and 40-seater buses. Their typical schedule consists of wading in the water in clothes ranging from 'Y-fronts' and 'banians' for the men, to 'sarees' and 'salwar-kameez' for the ladies. Large, multi-level 'tiffin-carriers' are opened out, filled with multi-course lunch. The remains are littered on the beach, along with whisky and beer bottles, which appear to be the most commonly consumed liquids.

The Government has put in place 'beach-cleaners' these days, to clean up the bottles, wrappers and food left behind. The litter is a result of the notoriously filthy 'what-me-worry-not-my-beach' attitude of hundreds of package tourists visiting beaches at the rate of one every two hours. The 'Calangute steps' area has been remodeled, resembling a couple of flyovers. The well located Goa Tourism Development Corp hotel visible in the background has also gone through a makeover over the past year.

The scene only a few hundred metres from the 'Calangute steps' presents a study in contrast, allowing one to ponder peacefully about life and the quickly passing seasons.

Well, in about three months from now, thousands of tourists would be back. Scores of beach shacks would spring up. Good for the economy. The nasty water-scooters and other mechanized boats would also be back, polluting the water and the air. Terrible for the environment. So, the off-season is a lovely time to stroll the beach in peace. Junior carries his Canon camera and lenses in a small, water-proof, camera backpack. The backpack survived a camping and hiking trip in Tanzania a few months ago, and was extremely good at keeping the Goan monsoon rains out, as well. We did get caught occasionally in a few short, sharp showers! 

Our typical stroll was about 1.4km. from Chalston Resort in Calangute to Emannul Shack in Baga, a 'permanent' shack run by my old friend Robert, located mid-way between Mambos and Titos. 

Emmanuel is a lovely place to settle down, both during the season or the off-season. The mornings and afternoons would flow gently by, punctuated by unpredictable, at times extremely heavy showers.

Robert's menu is quite vast, ranging from Goan to Continental to Indian dishes.

Yes, tuna salad, again!

The ubiquitous Coconut Feni, would simultaneously flow gently by, with lime squeezed for taste, keeping pace with lazy mornings and afternoons. Which reminds me, I missed asking for a few slices of green chilly. From past experiences, a dash of green chilly adds a pleasant 'twang' to the unique, sharp flavour. 

The most productive occupation would consist of gazing at the sea, clouds and the waves that would sometimes leap 20 feet up on the cliff.

Dry periods would signal time for the migrant labourers to emerge from the shack, accompanied by the faithful canine shack mascots.

Tourists stroll by every now and then. The relatively quiet beach seems to be a good occasion to audition for a Bollywood take. First, it's 'her' turn to get behind the camera. 

Next, roles are reversed. 

Then it is time to compare notes - images, I mean. Good enough? Looks like it. Let's go on. 

Moments of nothingness continue. The shack lad draws out a thoughtful doddle on the sand. Junior goes to the water's edge for a stroll. Right then, another picture gets clicked. Thumbs up, a visitor seems to be saying, I'm all set. 

The lazy afternoon wanders gently by. We glance occasionally towards the skies. I wonder what odds the bookies would have decided on. When is the sky going to open up? Will we have a few seconds to run to the dryness of the shack? 

An occasional large group wanders by. They stay for perhaps 30 seconds, look around, click a few pics, and return to the safety of the area where the mini-buses and big-buses are parked near the Tito's area.  

Meanwhile, the number of pieces of squeezed lime pieces in the Coconut Feni drink continues to rise. Next time, a few slices of green chilly should add to the thrill!

True to form, the skies open up about five or six times during the course of a typical afternoon. Each time we would return to the pavilion, with  bag and baggage, waiting for the rain to 'go away'. 

Some lunch, maybe? One afternoon was all Xacuti time. Fish Xacuti and Chicken Xacuti, with rice. The lunch was in two phases. Phase 1 was under the umbrella on the beach. The downpour started about 10 minutes into our meal. Fortunately the skies provided adequate warning by way of a few warning drops, and we had time to run in.

Phase 2 of our lunch was indoors. Sometimes the rain would stop in about 5 minutes or so, but it would be too cumbersome to go back.

The shack dog would also lie on the sand in the comfort of the dry shack, waiting for the downpour to subside.

The heavy plastic sheets would be pulled down by the shack staff with every deluge, and then pulled up after a few minutes as soon as the rain let up. This routine would be repeated with every downpour through the day. 

Finally, it was time to head back. Our destination was Chalston Resort, a walk of about 1.4 km according to the Nike app on the smart phone, glancing up at the skies every now and then.

The Old Boys' reunion provides the opportunity to say hello to familiar, long lost faces and to join in the festivities. It's not always easy to recognize class mates from several decades ago. Time has taken its toll!

The meeting hall is rather unique. It's the beach front restaurant at Chalston Resort, all fortified by thick plastic sheets, barely 15 metres from the sand.

Sunday is filled with music, song, dance, acrobatic shows (by a Tanzanian group) and lots and lots of mostly coastal food. It feels good to walk 1.4 km back to Robert's Emmanuel Shack with Junior and Nephew at the end of the event, getting a little wet in the rain, soaking in the monsoon atmosphere (literally!).

A quick look at the monsoon powered sea is all we have time for the next morning before leaving for the airport.

It has been several Goan monsoons in a row for me. I get reminded constantly of the 'pome' we had learnt in school: "And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas."  It's the 'cloudy seas' bit that has particularly made an impression on me. The boundaries between the ominous clouds and the angry sea get erased for a few months as the sea seems to roar in glee.

The latest brand campaign for Goa Tourism, unveiled in Sept 2014, plays on the word 'kenna', which means 'sometimes' in the Konkani language. The message alludes to Goa being a destination of contrasts. The monsoons play up to the 'kenna' tune: 'Kenna wind, kenna rain, kenna clouds, kenna sun'. However, always Fish, always Feni! 

Thanks for reading so far. Besides, I hope you enjoyed the little glimpses of eating 'kenna' under the umbrella, 'kenna' inside the beach shack as the rains played out their usual monsoon game.

See you next year, for another look at the 'cloudy seas'!

Oh, in case you are interested in taking a look at Goa and South Maharashtra during Jul-Aug 2013, please click here for several posts.

-=-= end -=-= 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

SJBHS OBA Connect 2014 Goa

The first weekend in August is slotted for the Goa chapter of the Old Boys' Association of St Joseph's Boys' High School, Bangalore.  While the school was founded in 1858, the OBA was started in 1919.

Four more to go for the OBA to turn 100 years! The series of events held in India and overseas have been branded as the 'OBA Connect'.  

Chalston Resort on Calangute Beach is the venue of the 2014 event, for the second year running, and will probably be the venue in 2015, as well.  

Rahul and Akshay are all smiles at the warm dinner on Sat, Aug 2. 

Several from the Batch of 75 tuck into the food and drink. Food consists of a range of spicy snacks.  

A local singer gets some assistance from Rahul. 

Gopal, President of the OBA tries to scare the photographer away.    

The festivities begin by 8 PM.

The old 'balancing' dance. 

The best represented batch, as has been since 2012, three years in a row.

Four from the Batch of 75 were present on Saturday, and one more (Dr Amod) showed up the next morning. Ally, Harold, Dr Kiran and Jyotinath. 

Sunday morning pre-breakfast activities included walks on the beach and pool volleyball. 

The 'meeting room' is located about 10 metres from Calangute Beach. 

A quick stroll or a quick dip is always on the cards. Some folks find the beach a convenient place to stay connected. 

Rahul with your's truly. 

Rahul with your's truly Junior, a very frequent guest at the OBA events. 

While the OBA meeting is about to start, the sea roars away, typical Monsoon waves and skies. 

Some guests choose to read a book.

The plastic sheets keep the old Blue and White Flag from being blown away by the strong Monsoon winds. 

This is the 'formal' part of the event, the OBA Goa Committee meeting. 

Lloyd (Class of 1974) welcomes the gathering. 

Mike (Class of 1956) says a few words.

Gopal (class of 1974) adds the Indian and Global perspective, and describes a few plans for the future. 

'Faith and Toil', the School Song, is sung loudly, so familiar after all these years.

Rahul provides the accompaniment for the School Song, and also provides much of the entertainment over the two days. 

Quite a range of snacks (Beef and Pork) before lunch.  

Some Old Boys and their families take a break for a spot of Soccer on the beach. 

Dr Amod (Batch of 75) says 'cheese'. 

A troupe of dancers and acrobats from Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania provide an amazing performance for over 30 minutes. 

Smiling all the time, they demonstrate superlative feats that the human body is capable of. 

Enjoy the photos that follow, and the Video further below..... 

Balancing a bottle on a stick...

If that was not enough, balancing two bottles on a stick.

Never letting the spinning balls drop, and no hands are used.

Balancing a ball on a stick.

Amazing flexibility.

Oops, now did he get into the narrow drum? Where's the second leg? 

Strength and flexibility on show.

And a Hat Juggling hat, too, first by one acrobat and then by the entire group. Some of the guests try their hand, as well. 

Here's a Video:

The performance by the Old Boys' continues till lunch. 

Some take a break for a little Soccer by the side. 

The multi-course meal is getting ready, one of the highlights every year in Goa. 

The Bar stays open (till late afternoon!). 

Time to sing 'Happy Birthday'. 

Calangute Beach was the venue of the 2014 edition, the fifth in Goa. The previous ones were held in Calangute (2013), Anjuna (2012), Baga (2011) and Arpora (2010). 

Entertainers from Goa add flavour to the music and songs.

The food consists of a few Veg dishes, and (in alphabetical order), Beef, Chicken, Fish, Pork, Prawns and Turkey. And Rice and Sannas.  Followed by Dessert. An elaborate Goan meal!


The sea breeze, music, dance, food and drink seem to be a happy combination for AGK (Class of 1972).

Shashi seems thrilled that the food was well appreciated. Several of the meat raw materials were sourced from his farm.

Dr Kiran gets the fiendish glint in the eye.

Meanwhile, the music played on, till late afternoon.

Lyrics were read off the mobile phone. 

Colin smiles broadly, in spite of a dislocated collar bone.

Happy family!

Mike (Class of 1956) holds up the 1955 Annual, very well preserved. 

Lloyd gets into the story-telling mood. 

Thanks to Lloyd, Gopal, Rajeev, Shashi and the others in the OBA Committee for having put together another super reunion in Goa. Those who show up are always grateful for the happiness in the air. 

Thanks to the Chalston Resort for hosting the 2013 and 2014 editions of the SJBHS OBA Goa reunion.

Please click below for:

Goa OBA Connect 2013

Goa OBA Connect 2012 (using the same branding!)

Glimpses of the Baga-Calangute area during the 2014 monsoon season

Glimpses of the Baga-Calangute area during the 2013 monsoon season

Faith and Toil!

Until next time, then!