March 01, 2009

A Riverside Inn



Finding no one around to hear her out the old lady turned to me and said, “I asked him for tea. He hasn’t brought it yet.” Then she turned to face the youth she had come with, possibly someone she knew from the village or maybe her relative. He stood near the door talking into the mouthpiece of a yellow coloured coin phone resting on a narrow table that also doubled up as a shelf, and a counter. The light had turned a shade of yellow as it bounced off the folding door painted a bright yellow.



H. N. 35 was marked in clear bold letters on the wooden planks making up the door. I wondered if this place was a home before it was converted into an inn, but I could not remember ever seeing it as anything other than an inn in the decade and half of my intermittent travels to the Volvoi ferry point. Moreover it is not uncommon in Goan villages to find a room in the house converted into a shop, or an inn. Other times the inn becomes the house, the family living in a room to the back.

The folding doors are characteristic of Goan inns. Unlike apartment residences where doors open to admit visitors in before closing behind them, shops need to keep their doors open all times and folding doors take up little or no space.

The inn was beginning to crowd with passengers awaiting the 10:50 a.m. river ferry to take them across the Mandovi to Surla-Maina on the other side of the river, and from there buses awaiting the arrival of the ferry would take them to Bicholim and beyond, to Sanquelim.

I’ve traveled by the Volvoi ferry several times, heading back from Sanquelim, and each time I’ve resolved to avoid the Volvoi ferry if I could, less for the ferry itself than for the road leading to the ferry point at Maina-Surla. Mining trucks making their way back and forth between loading points down river and the open-pit iron ore mines at Surla have turned the roads between Surla-Maina and Sanquelim into dusty bowels, reducing the traveling to bumpy rides.

I had little to worry about this morning, for I wasn’t taking the ferry anywhere. I had come in for a bit of quiet, and a bite of Pao Bhaji for breakfast.


From where I sat, my back to the makeshift kitchen, I could see the door that led into the small inn by the riverfront in Volvoi. The inn was set back from the mud path that led to the river. On the outside two pillars held up the sloping roof fitted with Mangalore tiles. A large window from where the innkeeper conducted his business lay to one side. Beneath the window lay a wooden bench where elderly village folk gather for a casual chat in the evenings, at other times passengers awaiting the ferry rest on the bench in the shade of the roof. The inn faced the approach road to the river, but if one sat by the window to the front of the inn, next to the door, one could see the river and the activities nearby.

Across the approach road from the entrance to the inn, a fishing canoe lay covered in dried coconut fronds. The last time I was here two fishing canoes shining from a vigorous application of cashew oil lay drying in the Sun. I could smell the cashew long before I saw the canoes.


I had scootered down to the narrow riverfront at half past ten for a breakfast of Pao Bhaji, a combination of vegetable preparation and bread, favoured by Goans for a quick bite. The quiet of the riverfront at Volvoi is inviting, though of late sand-dredging in the river has introduced commotion unique to dredging activities.


"Most of the dredgers have been brought in from Orissa," a passenger awaiting the ferry was telling another as they watched workers walk past the inn to their boats in the river. As the boats began to fill with sand dredged from the river, workers on the boat filled baskets with sand and passed them on to other workers who carried them off the boat, walking down the planks leading from the boats to the shore.

“He’s handling the customers all alone,” I replied. The old lady did not seem convinced with my reply.

“He’ll bring you tea. It’s just that he has many passengers to serve, and all are in a hurry like you are to get to the ferry before it sets off,” I explained, smiling. This time she muttered something under her breath, returning my smile. In the noise of passengers stepping into the inn for a cup of tea or a pack of biscuits, or to make a call from the PCO her reply drowned out.

“I have to catch the ferry. What if I miss it?” she asked me in a brief lull in the conversations to the front of the inn. I had no answer to that except an acknowledgement of her concerns.


The old lady sat sideways on the wooden bench constructed from metal angles. Only a little time remained before the ferry would sound its departure. With the clock edging to the time of departure, the elderly lady grew even more irritable and there was still no sign of her tea.

“Tell him you’re getting late,” I said to her, motioning with my thumb behind me where the innkeeper was washing glasses.

Cha maaglele re (I had asked for tea),” she called out to the innkeeper in Konkani, the local language.

“She’s waiting for tea,” repeated a middle-aged woman who had tuned in to our conversation. Soon it became apparent that the middle-aged woman and the old lady were traveling together.


“I’m yet to make tea,” the innkeeper replied from behind me, before walking up to an old Philips refrigerator to the back of the inn. Meanwhile another lady steps in to ask for a pack of biscuits. Opening the refrigerator he reaches in for a cold drink someone had asked for, then reaches for a pack of biscuits on the shelf of the glass cupboard facing the window.

Seeing the refrigerator open the old lady gets up from her seat. “Maka ek thand di,” she says to the innkeeper. (Give me a cold drink). Tea is now history.

He hands her a bottle of orange drink. Zen sells well in villages in the heart of Goa. Locally manufactured it has caught on among villagers in the last few years, considerably cheaper than Pepsi or Coke. However I find its Cola flavour strange to taste, orange is okay though. The youth has finished calling from the PCO. He turns to see the old lady accept the cold drink from the innkeeper but says nothing.

No sooner she had taken a sip from the bottle she drew her head back as if stunned by the experience. “It’s too cold,” she said to the youth.

“You should’ve have a taken a slightly warmer one,” the youth replied.

The old lady went quiet, and attempted another sip.

“For old people it is difficult to drink something this cold,” the middle-aged woman said to no one in particular. The innkeeper heard her but did not break stride as he moved from customer to customer, each hurrying him into completing their purchases, each worried that the ferry would depart without them.

“Don’t worry,” said the middle-aged woman to the old woman, “you drink it warm. The ferry will wait.”

The old woman is not convinced. She looks out the window to check if the ferry is still around. It is. She turns her attention to the orange drink. It’s still too cold for her. She hands the bottle over to the middle-aged woman and that is that!

The refrigerator opens again. A customer who’s just walked in asks for a cola.

Goa feels the heat in October and sales of cold drinks goes up after the lull in the monsoons. I cannot remember the last time I saw a Philips refrigerator. The innkeeper tells me that he bought it second-hand for Rs. 2000, a year ago. “Somebody I knew bought it from somebody they knew in Margoa, then they sold it to me. It’s running well,” he said.

“I owned a Kelvinator before this one, had it for many, many years. I could not repair it anymore so I let go of it and got this one (Philips make). This one is old too, but has not given me any problems yet.”

Just then a call sounds outside the window. In a matter of few seconds the inn empties out of customers as they hurry out to board the ferry. The innkeeper walks up to the entrance and watches the ferry pull out as its sets off for the other bank. Silence returns to the inn.


The innkeeper walks over to where I sit and says, “Now I will get you your Pao Bhaji.”

“Sure,” I smile.

When I had walked into the inn earlier in the day he had asked me if I had a ferry to catch. When I told him I wasn’t taking the ferry he asked me if it was okay if he attended first to customers who had a ferry to catch. I told him to go right ahead.

He returns to the back of the kitchen to whip up Bhaji. I sit still watching out the window.

I eat the Pao Bhaji in silence. The Pao is fresh. In no time I finish both. Then I ask for another plate of Pao Bhaji, then some tea.


Time passes. The wall clock shows 40 minutes past eleven. Voices of sand dredgers float in to where I sit. If I listened carefully I might be able to hear the water lapping the banks in the distance.

The next ferry is scheduled for 11:50 a.m. Until then I have the silence of the inn to myself. A fly buzzes somewhere in the inn. At times when the ear tunes in to a sound in the silence, the sound, more often than not, ceases to be an irritant.


Note: If you’ve enjoyed the travelogues here please do spare a few seconds to vote for Windy Skies in the Best Travelogue category in the Lonely Planet Travel Blog Awards 2009. Your support is valued. Lonely Planet stipulates one vote per person. Thank you.

53 comments:

kenju said...

I enjoy your stories so much. I already voted. Are we allowed to vote more than once?

Cynthia said...

What a gentle place to reflect and find some peace. Thank you for your reflections, photos, and insight. I voted for you yesterday!

bobbie said...

I always enjoy your stories, Anil. This one did not disappoint. And I will go and see if I may vote again.

previously.bitten said...

Seeing this reminds me a lot of the video game Crysis: http://www.incrysis.com/incgalleryview.php?file=354.jpg

it looks like it was a very lovely location.

marja-Leena said...

Another lovely story! Have voted! Wish you luck, Anil.

Suma said...

that was nice reading


and i voted too...

:)

Judy said...

Thanks for your visit to my blog. I enjoyed your story here and the pictures are wonderful. You really make it interesting. I voted for you. Good luck. I hope you win.

Anonymous said...

Lovely!
Reminds me of an r.k. narayan story..so much to take in although it seems so quiet!

Vibhav said...

Wow....Wonderful story. I felt as if I was in Goa and listing to your conversation.

unpretentious said...

beautiful:)the setting, the old lady, the inn keeper, even the ferry, everything has a role to play...

u ve made me want to visit the place volvoi. amazing...

Amber Star said...

I'd saved this story until tonight when it was quiet and I was feeling better. Thank you for the story and now I know I'm not alone in enjoying the sounds in the silence.

Oh I did vote for your blog and will be more diligent in the future. Sorry it has been a busy time.

Anil P said...

Cynthia: Thank you for voting. Goan villages are relatively quiet places. Lush vegetation ensures a vibrant birdlife.

Bobbie: Thank you, Bobbie, for the faith.

Previously B: This is new to me. I'll check the link you left. It's a lovely location for sure, coconut palms line the river bank, and not much traffic in the river except for occasional barges carrying iron ore.

Marja-Leena: Thank you for voting. I'll need all the wishes I can get.

Suma: Thank you :-)

Judy: Thank you. Early morning pictures have a warmth of their own. And it helped that this inn faced an open area. Paint peeling in places, a worn out feel to the room. Thank you for voting.

Anonymous: Somehow in quiet places there's a lot one ends up noticing. I suppose there's space to notice, and more importantly to reflect on.

Vibhav: Thank you :-)

Unpretentious: Yes, they all come together. If there was a bridge over the river at Volvoi the inn might not have been there. He gets most of his business from customers waiting for the ferry or those who've just got off one. You must visit some of these places in the hinterland.

Amber Star: I like silences for the sounds one gets to hear in the quiet, sounds that would otherwise get drowned in the everyday rush of things. Thank you for voting.

Lakshmi said...

Its amazing the way you bring these characters alive..maybe you shd write a book anil

karen said...

I enjoyed reading this immensely, it was just as good as being there! Lovely photos, too.. :)

Butternut Squash said...

The colors are so warm and inviting. Beautifully told.

Jeanne said...

Anil every post amazes me with the vivid descriptions and photos to accompany and show such color! What a few hours you had! I wanted to be there myself with a wonderful book and some Pao Bhaji to savor. The flavors of the Bhaji having a party in my mouth.
Do you put these posts to paper as well? I'm voting for you also be sure.

Sara said...

A marvelous story...I enjoyed it.

I don't know what Pao Bhaji is exactly, but looking at the photo it appears to be bread and thick soup. It looks very tasty.

Congratulations on your nomination too. I voted for you.

Sarah Laurence said...

This post shows why you were nominated for the travel blog award; I do hope you win it. My visits feel like a quick and warm vacation.

The inn has so much character with its bright colors and natural elements. The backlit old woman was my favorite photo – like a painting! Her irritable manner is a sad match but well observed. I also appreciated the last image and your words that mark time.

Sujata said...

Wow!

Bee said...

Anil - Thank you for your fantastic comments on my recent post on photography. You have used your "third eye" well in this post.

I have no frame of reference for the scenes you describe . . . but you tell these stories so well, and with so much detail. I can almost smell the cashew oil and taste the too-cold orange drink! I'm off to vote now . . .

Juhi said...

Thank you for your comment :)

I checked out your blog and found this piece very interesting...it is so detailed and well written.

I believe the pao bhaji in your picture is something I have sampled in Karnataka - karwar, to be precise. It was called bun bhaji there...the bun was hollow and puffy.

Will definitely go and vote for you.

Anil P said...

Lakshmi: Thank you. Maybe I might :-)

Karen: Thank you, Karen.

Butternut Squash: Thank you. The sunshine, and the yellow colour complemented well.

Jeanne: Thank you. There's a lot of colour around India. Village inns can be just the places to sit with a book and a plate of Pao Bhaji. Thank you for voting.

Sara: Thank you. Bhaji found in the inns is a vegetable (usually) preparation in a gravy base. The taste to the gravy comes from the vegetables used as well as the masala (mix of spices).

The types of bhaji found in inns around Goa are usually "sukkhi", "patal", "salad","usal", and "alasana". Dip the bread in the bhaji and eat. The bhaji is usally served hot.

It is usually very tasty.

Thank you for voting.

Sarah Laurence: Thank you. Goa is considered to be a 'good' place for a vacation.

Many of the old village inns around Goa have much character. This is where regulars will troop to in the mornings for a breakfast of Pao Bhaji and tea, exchanging news from the village, hailing familiar faces and the like. These inns are but extensions of the villages. It serves as a meeting place over a cup of tea, and the innkeeper will be privy to all conversations happening within, and will participate in it from time to time.

They'll rely on natural light to light up the place, resulting in warm takes of colour bouncing off the walls, the doors etc.

Sujata: Thank you.

Bee: Thank you.

The cashew oil gives off a strong, almost overpowering smell. Boatmen use it to keep the undersides of the fishing boats free off creatures that might latch on to the boat, and eat into the wood.

Thank you for the vote.

Juhi: Thank you. I wouldn't be surprised to find Pao Bhaji in Karwar, though I cannot say the same elsewhere in Karnataka.

Yes, the hollow buns are to be found in Goa as well, and it tastes good with "sukkhi" bhaji if prepared well.

Thank you for the vote.

bindu said...

I could clearly see the warm morning, and feel time moving slowly. Your writing takes us there. Good one!

heidi said...

The colors are amazing!!! Thanks for a peek into your world.

Anjuli said...

As always, I do love your entries- the stories lull me into a relaxed state. The pictures accompany each line perfectly- like the missing piece of the puzzle clicking into place.
Wonderful!
I did vote- if I'm allowed to vote again, I will do so.
As for the cola subject- I remember the "Dixie Cola" - I'm not sure if it still exists in India.

Saurav said...

Anil - you made me smile once again !! Reading your blog after a long time and yes, commenting for the first time ever. You know very well how much I love Goa. Kudos to you !! Hope you are doing fine..

bhumika said...

Lovely post Anil! You have an eye for detail and each character you talk about comes alive through your well-crafted words.

Congratulations for being nominated and not to mention, i have already casted my vote :)

All the very best!

Serendipity said...

gosh, you make everythign look pretty.

Voted :) Good luck!

Ms.N said...

hey Anil!

i really like the photos in the post. the lighting, and the colours lend so much character. As ever, a nice story. i could do with a lazy morning - goa or not!

Anonymous said...

Nicely written!! Ashutosh

Anil P said...

Bindu: Thank you.

Heidi: Yes, they are.

Anjuli: Thank you for voting. 'Dixie Cola' how nice it sounds. Goa is laid-back and relaxing.

Saurav: Thank you. Hmmm, no one who lives in Goa for any length of time can easily forget it.

Bhumika: Thank you for your wishes, and for the vote.

When one is not in a hurry every conversation is loaded with meaning.

Serendipity: Thank you :-)

Ms. N: Thank you. But lazy mornings in Goa are quite unlike anywhere else.

Ashutosh: Thank you.

Renee said...

Anil, thank you, I loved your old lady, and it is too cold.

Love Renee

Deborah Godin said...

All the best to you; I just voted for your blog as well. I don't get here regularly, but I always enjoy your stories.

Bob-kat said...

What a wonderfully evocative piece of writing. I could feel the atmosphere in the inn from reading this, from the bustle of the passengers through to the peace and quiet once they had gone. The photos really helped paint the picture.

Thanks for your visit to my blog :)

Ginnie said...

Thank you for a lovely sojourn into your world. It is about as far from mine as possible and I love that. I will definitely vote for you and thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

Gauri said...

Happy to vote Anil :) You sure merit it

N said...

Waiting for the site to work so I can vote!
Loved this story. Especially loved Pic no 6! Cool pic!

Anil P said...

Kenju: Thank you. Few things can beat the feeling of being told the stories are enjoyed. Thank you, Kenju, it's a pleasure to bring these stories.

If your friends enjoy the stories as much then maybe they could participate and vote.

Renee: Thank you :-)

Deborah Godin: Thank you for the vote. It's a pleasure to know you like reading the stories here.

Bob-kat: Thank you. At such places the transition from the 'bustling' to the 'quiet' appear sudden simply because of the contrast they present.

Ginnie: Thank you. Thank you for voting.

Gauri: Thank you, Gauri, for the faith, and for thinking so.

N: Thank you. It was a unexpected glitch that's been straightened out. Thank you for the vote.

Lori ann said...

A wonderful post, I love to read and learn and I thank you so much for sharing. It's a beautiful world.
xx lori

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

I voted, too :-) Your blog is so interesting!

Anonymous said...

Good Luck !!! I am sure your blog has it all !!!

The Junkin' Yaya said...

Hi Anil!

thank you so much for visiting the Yaya!

I live in Houston, TX and when we speak of "outside" or "inside" the loop...we are referring to those that live inside on of our major interstate highways. So, if you live inside the circle of this "inner loop" than you live on the "inside loop" and those of us that don't, than we live on the "outside of the loop".

Houston is the 4th largest city in the US and is approximately 50 square miles wide.

Beautiful writings! and thank you for enjoying my blog!

Have a beautiful & creative week!

xo...deb

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Anil,

I've loved your posts, which convey the smells and sounds of life in the slow mode so well. AND THE PICTURES ARE ALWAYS A PLEASURE, BECAUSE THEY ARE SO ACCURATELY OBSERVED.

I'll definitely be voting for you!!

Lucy said...

How wonderful, not to be in a hurry, and to take in the comings and going like this. I love all the sensual detail, the tastes and smells the cashew oil and the bhaji and the fizzy drink, and the beautiful picture of the old lady, looking slightly ghostly.

Your nomination is well deserved, I've voted for you too!

Anil P said...

Lori Ann: Thank you. Yes, it's a beautful world.

Just a Plane Ride Away: Thank you for voting for me :-)

Anonymous: Thank you for believing so.

Junkin Yaya: That's interesting, more so to learn that in effect a highway in some ways functions as an abstract boundary between what essentially means the 'happening' and the 'not so happening' parts of a place.

In Mumbai, the railway track separates the East from the West of a suburb, and often the two halves are markedly different in many ways, with people preferring one over the other depending on which of the two parts is "in" for a particular suburb. This is not necessarily applicable to all for there're those who're just thankful for a roof over the head irrespective of whether the roof is in the 'east' or the 'west' part of the suburb.

Sucharita Sarkar: Thank you. Pictures are a necessary ingredient, always. Thank you voting.

Lucy: Thank you for the vote. It's a great feeling to not be hurried.

The smell of cashew oil smeared on boats is very strong, and distinct, and many small-time fishermen who use the canoes to take the fishing nets out into the river to string it out for during a change of tides rely on the cashew oil to keep their canoes/boats safe from creatures that cling on to the underside of the boats.

JeanMac said...

My first visit - I was almost dreaming but the end of your post. Great pictures, also.

Hari Vishnu said...

hi Anil

u definitely have a beautiful blog goin on here.. u paint everything in such a beautiful light, even simple happenings..

I have voted for u too :)..

do keep writing..

Anil P said...

JeanMac: Thank you.

Hari Vishnu: Thank you, Hari. Thanks for voting. Yes, I will until I can.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anil,

Each journey is simple yet so interesting and beautiful as captured in your words.

I love travelling and taking photos but you have definately have a gift and I wish you all the success in future.

Me and my friends have voted and hope u win.

All the best
Smiley :)

Anil P said...

Anon: Thank you. It's a pleasure to have you read the travelogues and encouraging to learn you've enjoyed reading them.

Thank you for voting.

Anonymous said...

Your Welcome:)....now waiting for the next read, btw ramu is so adorable.

Keep on smiling & writing :)

Anil P said...

Anon: Thank you.

V said...

oh you give me so much nostalgia Anil... !!!
But such an amazing way you have to recount the simple pleasures of life. The description of a lazy local inn and the spirit of all the customers.
Good one!!! :)