When A.K Sahay first broached a trip to Chorao, I readily agreed. It's not often that I get to see from the other side the Mandovi meandering toward the Arabian sea. For years I've seen her from Old Goa, then past Ribandar on my way to Panjim, the capital of Goa. And I like the ferry ride from Ribandar across the Mandovi to Chorao, watching the mangroves come up as the ferry nears the island, a part of which is declared a bird sanctuary and named after Dr. Salim Ali, the celebrated birdwatcher, though I'm sure I can find more birds on a lazy afternoon in Mollem than out here. We drove down in Sahay's Maruti from Ponda, and waited in the summer sun at Ribandar jetty for the ferry to return from Chorao while a Paradise Flycatcher frolicked in a nearby tree, then took the ferry across the Mandovi, and walked on the elevated mud pathway (a bund) that holds the saline water back from the paddy fields to the east.
We passed a sluice gate, mangroves and low lying banks. The tide was out. As we walked in a single file on the narrow bund, mangroves hid the placid Mandovi to our left, only occasionally opening up to afford us clear views of Goa’s most famous river. To its left, hills rose in the distance beyond the strip of mangroves that ran the length of the Mandovi on the other side. We paused to watch fishermen out on the river in their canoes. They drifted gently, two to a canoe.
All along A K Sahay kept his eyes peeled out for water birds. He found many. Curlews and Sandpipers went about looking for fish while Large Egrets paced up and down the riverbank. He had fitted his Nikon with a 300 mm Tamron lens. Occasionally, birdcalls floated in from near and far. Suddenly I caught a hint of movement to our left where the water had receded to expose the riverbank. Laterite stones were placed in a line across a shallow channel to allow people to walk across. “There is a mass of movement down there,” I pointed out to him. “Could be crabs,” I said. Sahay climbed down the bund and went looking for them. I stayed back to watch the landscape. A gentle breeze blew across. As I looked around I noticed a pair of chappals a few metres from where I was. Walking to get a closer look, I was intrigued to see them neatly placed, indicating that someone had taken them off recently before getting off the bund to wade across the exposed bank. A fisherman, I thought. As I bent down, curious, I saw that one was shorter than the other. ‘Strange,’ I remember thinking. Why were they not the same, had he lost the twin of the shorter chappal or the longer one? Where did he get the other one to go with the one he lost? From someone who had lost one of his own?
In empty places there are no answers.