May 14, 2007

The Remains of the Day


The rail bridge over the Zuari runs parallel to the road bridge. From the window I watch vehicles speed over the bridge in the direction of Panjim (the capital of Goa), but soon we leave them behind as the Mandovi Express puffs her lungs out and lunges forward on her run north along the West Coast. To my left, a fork in the road splits into two, one ascends the bridge while the other runs on to Vasco, passing Sancoale on the way.

I trail my eyes over the spans to my left, held up by six visible pillars, and then linger for a second where both ends of the bridge disappear into a mass of green trees. For a moment I imagine I’m watching a tree bridge held up at both ends by dark green, leafy pillars. I count fourteen pigeons keep pace with us. Time goes still as the behemoth rattles over the bridge against the placid backdrop of the Zuari, only the metal girders flashing past in quick succession confirm our progress across the waist of the Zuari before she flares out into buxom curves, distancing Marmagoa (also spelled Mormugao) taluka from Tiswadi along the contours of an open mouth; the Marmagoa bay. To the south of the bay lies Marmagoa taluka. The city of Vasco sits on its lower lip. From Velsao where I visited Philip’s place sometime ago one can see planes take off and land at Dabolim airport.


In the late evening as we stood on the beach, facing the Sun go down on a fishing trawler returning ashore with its catch of Mullets (shevto in Konkani), Philip pointed out the darkening silhouette of the landmass to our right, jutting out into the sea and obscuring the Marmagoa harbour on the other side. It reminded me of a giant table rising from the sea where the gods sit down to early dinner, watching the Sun go down as a reluctant twilight prepares to bring the curtain down on the day. Unlike buses, or for that matter, trains, there is nothing to tell where planes are headed. A road or a railway track point in a definite direction, a peg in the Earth, a fixture, a steady, identifiable landscape. Up in the sky there is none.

We pass over the Sancoale creek that abuts Sancoale, a small village before Chicalim on the way to Vasco. From the time I first heard Sancoale pronounced ‘Saanq-Oooaal’ as a kid, I hung on to the notion that the sea must have spoken the name using a conch, rolling its tongue to be heard over the lapping waves – ‘Saanq-Oooal’. This was way before I visited Sancoale. It still evokes the feel of a faraway place; somewhere you will never visit but never stop imagining what it must be like to be there either. Eventually I did visit it three times. On one of the trips, Jaggu and I rode the long afternoon from the hinterland, lugging cameras and heading to wherever our fancy took us, even if it meant free-riding sixty kilometers in the blazing Goan Sun. Any place was good enough if it promised memorable photographs, a rustic wayside inn to stop for a pao-bhaji and empty roads to free-ride with the wind in the teeth. And Sancoale in that one image of the whitewashed façade of the Our Lady of Health church, only its front wall now survives the fire of 1834 and the vagaries of age ever since, standing against a deep blue sky, almost defiant in its centuries-old ruins, and marked by refugee-like barrenness of overhanging branches of a nearby tree, stands fixed in my memory like a rusted spear tip in fluorescent blue jelly.



Facing the façade I looked up and traced my eyes along the uneven laterite contours, wondering what must it be to stand alone in a reminder of an age long past, and for a purpose long replaced. Wisps of clouds broke through the branches, setting off the façade in patches of discontinuous deep blue skies. I knelt to take pictures while Jaggu looked around. Skeletal branches cast weak shadows around my feet. A few metres to our left a narrow strip drew up short into the flanks of the estuary. Here the Zuari flows into the Arabian Sea.

A narrow canoe lay anchored to a wooden peg driven into the ground among the mangroves. Broken footwear, pieces of nylon ropes, runaway fishing-net floaters and sundry little debris lay washed up in small laterite rocks piled up on the sides, fashioned to hold back incoming tides. They had met their ‘reefs’ and reduced to debris they now spoke of fishermen and fishing. I wondered if the footwear belonged to a dead man, and whether he had died of drowning, and whether he had drowned from being pushed out at sea. Somehow I felt that such an end seemed likely in the setting the ruins commanded. There was every likelihood the flotsam might have resulted from a fate as innocuous as someone casting away their worn footwear let alone a sinister end in the middle of the sea, but I was not prepared to concede that possibility; believing instead in the forlornness of the landscape abutting the sea and the dark promise it held for an unsuspecting victim. A black dog regarded us nervously as we took in the silence, and contemplated our strangely disquieting setting. In such places, noises cease to be noises, instead they voice the silence of the departed, and the rage of those whom time left behind.

On our way out we passed a low laterite wall fencing off the property. A jamun tree grew over the other side of the wall, and some of its branches reached over the laterite wall where we had parked the bike. Three kids, not older than nine years, were busy collecting jamuns. Two of them stood beneath the tree, holding awkwardly an oversized fishing net to prevent fleshy jamuns from squashing to the ground as they fell. The third was up in the tree, shaking jamuns loose. I picked up some jamuns where they had fallen to the ground on our side of the wall, and brushing off the soil against the seat of my pants I popped them into the mouth. Then I stuck my tongue out to see if it had changed to the colour of the jamuns – inky violet, like I used to do growing up. It had, to the colour of Camel Ink. Old habits die hard.

The setting sun lit up in a shade of gold the fishing net and the two boys straining to hold up its ends. I paused to take their pictures before kicking the bike to life, and entrusting the ruins to the remains of the day, we rode away into the sunset.

24 comments:

kenju said...

As always, I loved reading this post. I was there with you, beside the waters.

bluemountainmama said...

sounds like a wonderful and enchanting day, anil. thank you very much for taking us along with you....and the wonderful pictures. :) sigh.......

what is a jamun? a type of fruit?

Unheimlich said...

there's nothing like a bike ride in goa...

Ms.N said...

hey, love ur desc ription! i also liked the other goa post u had done a long time back (i guess)...

btw, i am jus asking arnd for pro-fotographers top pic in the digi SLR category... whats ur weapon, wat else dyu recommend ?

jenclair said...

A beautiful post to accompany your lovely photographs!

Anil P said...

Kenju: Thank you. The waters there are usually calm unless the trailing in the wake of mining barges.

Bluemountainmama: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Unheimlich: You bet, nothing like it :)

Ms. N: Thank you. I havent't got around to using Digital SLRs yet, all the pictures you see on my blog were taken with my Nikon Manual SLR. I believe Nikon D series Digital SLRs are a good bet, and the results I've seen confirm it.

Go for Nikon.

Jenclair: Thanks :)

woman wandering said...

Thanks for taking me wandering too. The photographs are beautiful and evoke the same mood as your words.

Beautiful beautiful beautiful!

Mridula said...

Absolutely lovely post. And I so much envy your pictures. I have been to Soncaole beach once. And come what may, this December I am going to take a beach holiday.

Cuckoo said...

I don't know which one should I choose.. your wonderful description or the beautiful pictures.

Both are equally good. Keep posting.

Sam said...

It is amazing how you have described it , like a journey ,minute by minute, vivid. I have met so many people from Bombay and Goa and they have described these places with so much passion that I feel left out not having had the privilege to be there ...hopefully on my next India trip:)...and as everyone has said...these pictures are simply great!

Strays said...

Its going to be Goa in the rains for me this time round. I guess thats the only season left to be experienced there. The post is wonderfully descriptive....

Strays said...

Oh and did i forget to mention...your pics are brilliant....soulful. A pleasure going through all of them. I personally loved the blue door...

Anil P said...

Womanwandering: Thank you :)

Mridula: Thanks. Whitewashed ruins of a church against the deep blue skies cannot fail :)

Sam: Thank you. The journey settled in me like a mist that wouldn't part. If you go to Sancoale, the ruins make for a memorable visit even if there's nothing much standing. It is in what fell away that mystery abounds.

Strays: Thank you. Western Ghats in the monsoons might make for a challenging Goa trip.

Yes, the Blue Door :) That door holds memories for me that stretch back over a period of time, even if it was sporadic to begin with.

Sigma said...

Thanks for dropping by at my blog.
This is my first visit at yours, and I love your style ... you are a very good story teller :-)
Read a few of your posts, and loved it. Would keep coming for more :-)
But may I make a little suggestion - could you reduce the number of posts on the front page - because of the huge amount of content, it is taking a lot of time to load (and I have a high speed broadband!)

Janice Thomson said...

Your posts are very informative and interesting to read Anil. It is enjoyable to read about other cultures and countries. Your descriptions are well-written with a touch of the poetic to them...very enjoyable indeed.

backpakker said...

Anil- beautiful pictures and very evocative ...
One of the best posts I have ever read and thanks for visiting my blog

Anil P said...

Sigma: Thank you. What's life without stories to make living fun? :)

Janice Thomson: Thank you. Another country, another culture, another life :)

Backpakker: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Cuckoo said...

Hmmm...

Anil P said...

Cuckoo: Hmmm...

apprentice said...

Yes you have a great gift for travelogue writing. And the photographs are great. I love the inner tube baskets, what a great way to recycle a tyre.

Anil P said...

Apprentice: Thank you. Yes, it's a great way to recycle tubes.

Bit Hawk said...

The photos are simply amazing! They have a great quality about them!

Anil P said...

Bit Hawk: Thank you.

ap said...

great work and photos.....have u heard bout the ...curse upon the fidalgoes and the plague that followed that led to the destruction of the church..myth or reality ..dunno