October 23, 2011

A Sunday Morning On The Mandovi

From Old Goa the road to Panjim meanders along the Mandovi, often at the same pace as the river, conducting vehicular traffic along its gentle curves to the faint fragrance of the river marching steadily to the Arabian Sea off Panjim, Goa’s capital city located at the confluence of the river and the sea.

This is the stretch I look forward to on my forays into Panjim. On clear days, and the skies are usually clear on either side of the monsoons even if not always blue, the breeze sweeps in on the stretch of road and the rumble of the bus turns into a steady lulling drone, only changing on the driver shifting gears up or down the inclines when it isn’t trying to overtake another.

Occasionally a loud blast of horn will sound from large river barges navigating the Mandovi and ferry goers awaiting river ferries for Chorao and Diwar will turn their face in the direction of the horn. If they’re lucky a second blast of horn will reverberate through them, bouncing off the narrow streets before the quiet lays claim to the streets once again.

The stretch of road past Old Goa offers glimpses of the river in snatches of streetside conversation interrupted by coconut trees, groves, whitewashed chapels set off by gulmohars in spring blaze, shipyards, fisheries, shopfronts, fishing jetty, fishing trawlers, and verandahs along the front of old homes, the cast iron railings lending the street a hint of relief, and on Sundays even more so.

Sundays empty urban and rural landscapes not so much of people as they do of purpose, of urgency, of the necessity of travel, of having to be someplace you’d rather not.

In arriving as Sundays do at the end of the week or at the beginning depending upon how you choose to see it, they seek to serve as a prelude to the moment the body, freed of encumbrances, fleshes out a new beginning, shaking off the sluggishness of the week before, not unlike acquiring a new skin as the old one is lost to the mandatory weekly moulting.

While awaiting a river ferry to take one across the Mandovi, there’s little to distinguish the waiting from any other on a weekday, except maybe there’re fewer vehicles awaiting a ride across the river on a Sunday than on a weekday.

The river itself is a picture of calm, barely a ripple in the sunshine unless fishes try to break surface. Kingfishers continue to perch on overhanging branches before speeding into a dive and returning with equal alacrity, a wriggling fish held firmly in the beak if lucky. Off the road life goes on as usual, and the week is but days that’re no different from any other except maybe Sundays on the Mandovi but not by much.

The spring reveals itself in Goa as flowering trees blossom among the chatter of birds calling on them as much for the succulence on offer as for reveling in the warmth of sunshine on the banks of the river on a Sunday morning.

The Silk Cotton tree in particular is insistent with its blood red blossoms setting off the quiet of the street and the blue skies. Like blood shot eyes lined on bare branches, the flowers seem intent on being seen from afar by birds and meanderers alike.

After the mild Goan winter the first sight of colour breaking out in the trees is an occasion to pause along the way and step out for a closer look. On the banks of the river it’s the time to gaze along its length and steady the morning rush into something more manageable and peaceful.

The Red Silk-cotton tree is among the first to blossom and is the harbinger of spring. If you see a Silk Cotton tree in bloom while most other flowering trees haven’t began blooming yet, it’s likely you’re out in January like I was when I came upon this tree on the banks of the Mandovi on a salubrious Sunday morning on the river.

The tide was out, exposing laterite stones along the sliver of land below the road. In the shade of an overhanging tree, local villagers cast lines out in the river from slim bamboo sticks, watching in silence for signs of fish taking the bait.

Watching them perched on stones and gazing fixedly in the river after the lines that’d gone under, I wondered if necessity had driven them to fish in the Mandovi that morning for, fish are plentiful roadside in the villages that dot the Goan countryside as vendors make their way into village centres early each morning, and while not everyone can afford all the fishes on display there’ll always be a variety or another available in cheap and in plenty.

However, it’s entirely possible that they’d time on hand from their vocations on weekdays and had chosen to go fishing for a bit of quiet and sport on the river, hoping to land some for lunch but not overly disappointed if the Mandovi refused to yield any for their effort that Sunday morning. Moreover, fishing brings a Sunday feel to the activity all by itself as any slowing of pace through the day inevitably will.

Across the road from the three fishermen, a local youth stepped to a roadside Cross bearing white candles. After a brief moment of prayer, he lit the candles at the Cross with a deliberate precision that comes from doing it over time. An act of faith strengthens in belief from enduring time, and tide.

Once the candles he had lit were burning bright at the altar of the Cross, he bowed his head before stepping out onto the road. Whether he had petitioned the Cross or was offering thanks for realizing his prayers is something I would never know. It was equally likely he was paying homage to departed memories as is likely he was infusing his day with piety from offering candles at the Cross.

Later, as we boarded the ferry to Diwar, I leaned against the deck as it pulled away from the landing at Sao Pedro before affecting an about turn in the middle of the river as it headed for the opposite bank.

A fisherman on the river bank we had just left swiveled on his heels as he expertly looped the fishing net into the air, pausing mid swivel to watch it settle in a billowing circle, setting off little ripples where it hit the water.

On the river ferry, framed by an open window a woman in red corduroys lent her gaze to the river in silence. Like a painting of a river hanging from a wall, the open window framed the stretch of river behind her as the ferry neared Diwar.

Soon mangroves and fishing nets replaced the river scene in the open window and the clattering of iron chains sounded as the boatman lowered the landing.

Then there was silence as we stepped past the gangway and made for land and beyond, for the tree from my childhood travels.

Its leafless outline has been a constant from the time I first landed in Chorao on a Sunday bird-watching trip from school, subsequently making my way to Diwar for no better reason than it was there to be explored. It was there I first saw it, and subsequently ever after. It’s home to the great Kites that hover in the skies over Diwar, a place to land for a breather before opening their wings for a foray in the skies.

The stark outlines of the barren tree relieved the empty rice fields of Diwar midway through their stretch against the hills inland where a whitewashed church stands from before, from way, way before.

Here, on the power lines that run along the narrow road that takes the traveler deep into the island off Panjim, Roller Jays launch into the air playing in the same frame as do Black Drongos and Small Green Bee-eaters, each carving their empty space in which to hunt insects, each dancing to their own rhythm bequeathed them by their own kind.

Occasionally a bus will trundle past on its way to the ferry point. On Sundays, even fewer buses will.

Stepping off the road in the direction of a large, shady tree ringed by a platform for travelers to pause and take in the quiet we find company, of locals who’ve ridden to the shade of the tree for a bit of beer and quiet.

Soon another villager joins them bearing snacks (Vada Pao) to complement the crate of beer and soft drinks. It’s likely they’ve stocked up on liquor to go with beer and have taken time off from home to lighten up their Sunday with a bit of beer and talk while the Mandovi courses past them behind the bank of mangroves at the edge of the field.

They’ll have planned the Sunday morning outing over the week, calling up to confirm the time before riding out to the tree by the lonely road, looking forward to doing nothing in particular and reveling in the thought of it. Soon the Sunday on the Mandovi will pass and the week will be upon them.

The anticipation of doing nothing, even if limited to a day, is a salve for having to live with choices made as a matter of course, compulsion or necessity. The anticipation exults not so much in the freedom to do as one pleases as in reverting to a natural state of being, floating freely and away with time, like the birds in the skies over Diwar on the banks of the Mandovi.


Balachandran V said...

I have always felt like I am reading an epic when your posts run up in front of my eyes.

The anticipation of doing nothing! In one of the Malayalam movies of the '80s, the actor Mohanlal says - ( he is an unemployed youth) 'Oru joli kittiyittu venam onnu leave edukkan' - Gotta get a job so that I can take a leave!

Have never thought of Sunday that way - the beginning of the week or the end of the week - it would be interesting to take out a survey!

Reading the blog was a great pleasure, Anil. As meditative and serene and easy - as a Sunday!

Riot Kitty said...

Wow! Great pictures and text as always - that first picture is really amazing.

Meena Venkataraman said...

Lovely lovely reading.. ah luckily when I clicked on your link I had a cup of tea in my hand!...:)
So true what you say about Sun. Except that in my case its always a sat that holds that feeling. I spend most of sun especially past afternoon sad about the looming monday! :)...

I could have been standing there watching the fisherman fish. It was all so real and wonderfully poetic!

PS - If there was a travel writer I would aspire to be. It should be you. Please don't go over the dark side of blog stats and ranking ;)

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Item# 2 on my bucket list ~ Goa. I luv the pic of the net over the water creating a bubble.

karen said...

Really interesting, as usual! What type of tree is your amazing landmark tree, and what type of kite is flying up above? We currently have our yellow billed kites back after their annual migration - not sure where they actually go to and return from...

karen said...

PS finally got round to reading part 2 of your interview - really interesting!

A said...

Goa is beautiful. Nice pictures

marja-leena said...

I'm always transported to another very different and amazing world by your lovely images and writing.

Anonymous said...

Truly nostalgic. Could be any sunday morning. I first thought you are in Goa for Diwali looking at the pictures, then I saw the cotton tree flowers and Gulmohar that blossom at around March or as you write a nice morning post monsoon.

Anil P said...

Balachandran V: Thank you for your kind comment. Always a pleasure to learn you liked the post :-)

I can imagine Mohanlal saying this. Quite a dialogue. Which film was this?

I think most people work so the week can end in a Saturday or a Sunday :-)

Riot Kitty: Thank you. The Gulmohars are a riot of colour.

Meena Venkataraman: Thank you. That's a big compliment you're giving me. Made my day :-)

With FB and TW catching up for their interconnectivity and short bytes, the era of long form writing as on blogs might be on its way out as in fewer and fewer people reading long form.

This might have more to do with most readers preferring to just look over the pictures and not pausing to read the prose, a lack of interest in prose, a reason why many will attempt to change the nature of their online spaces, with reader stats and ranking determining the direction to an extent.

Saturday is as much a draw as a Sunday.

An Iengar Chick: Throwing the net like that requires a certain skill, but it's always fun to watch.

Karen: Thank you. I'm not sure what tree it is.

As for the Kite, it's not clear given the height it's flying at. But it might be a Brahminy Kite since from below the tail does not appear to be wedged or forked as is the case with most Kites.

The Common Pariah Kite looks similar from below except that it's tail is more of a fork or wedge than say the Brahminy Kite.

Nice to know you liked the Part II of the interview.

A: Yes, it is.

Marja-leena: Thank you.

Magan: True. This could be just about any Sunday morning on the Mandovi.

Gulmohar trees blossom later than the Silk Cotton, as you said around March or so, some starting as early as February. By then, in most cases, the Silk Cotton will have stopped blooming, with most of the flower buds having blossomed and fallen off.

Mandovi holds a lot of memories for a lot of people.

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Agreed throwing the net requires practice, but the timing of the pic is impeccable. And please call me Red :D

Anil P said...

Red: Yes, I got lucky with that shot, very lucky. A certain luck is an essential ingredient in photography. Luck, instinct, a little of gut feel. I know this might sound odd, intangible even.

The Ferry was moving away and I had to adjust the zoom and frame it at just that moment as he was in mid-fling.

If you notice he's yet to complete his follow-through, and typically the left hand will be in that position for attaining the circle on landing the net.

Henri Cartier Bresson had some interesting insights on the decisive moments in photography. You might find his views interesting to read.

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Anilji: What you so fondly term as luck, we novices call it experience. The gut feeling and instinct are packaged in with it. Precision comes with perfecting an art and that comes with practice and after a while it just becomes second nature.

Just shut up and take a compliment for what it is and say thank you or something :P

Anil P said...

Red: Okay, Thank you :-)

Still, I remember and can recount all those great candid moments I missed by a fraction of a second. I've mostly forgotten the ones I got right but remember most of those that I missed :-)

Missed for being slow to anticipate it, missed for moving a fraction slow on the settings after anticipating it, missed for straining too hard on the moment without realising the next one was coming, missed for being too engrossed in the unfolding moment and forgetting I had a camera at hand, missed for not forseeing someone would walk into my frame and blind me to the shot I was looking for, missed for . . . . . :-) :-)

Why? Wasn't lucky. And no experience can succeed without that bit of luck :-)

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Luck is a word used to canter someone else's hardwork. Don't believe in luck, never did, never will.

Now timing thats a whole nother ball game by itself.

Anil P said...

Red: Maybe not in all contexts. It's seemingly an intangible, as real at times as anything tangible.

Luck with timming :-)

An Iengar Chick .... said...

Timming huh lol. Intangibles would be feelings, emotions, love et al. Luck is a derogatory word that undermines hardwork. Mine & Yours

I don't thank luck or blame destiny for anything. These 2 words dont exist in Red's dictionary.

dr.antony said...

I have run out of words to describe your blog.

I am going through your older posts to catch up. There was this lazy Sunday feel in all those lovely pictures.The place would easily pass for a Kerala scene,if you dont mention the location.

Beautiful, simply superb post.

Shivya said...

Looks & sounds lovely! It's been a long time since I was in Goa. I'm almost convinced to see the Mandovi again this November :)

Anil P said...

Red: Maybe. That's one way of looking at it. There're other ways.

I see a difference between Determiners and Differentiators, Differentiators between any two relatively equal Determiners.

It might appear Metaphysical in a way but that will not make it improbable in its own context.

The intangible exists in that space as opposed to say, an emotion.

Dr. Antony: Thank you. A pleasure to learn you've enjoyed reading the posts.

Yes, it does seem similar to scenes in Kerala at times.

Shivya: Thank you. Like all great rivers, the Mandovi too seems serene and timeless.

Indian Bazaars said...

Many years ago, a few of us were spending a week in Goa with a college mate. She was a Goan and had invited us over from Bombay where we had studied together. We walked that morning to take the ferry and go across the river. She met someone and stood there chatting forever. We said we'd miss the ferry! She said there was another one in 20 minutes. As Bombayites, who do not like to miss a train in sight, when the next one could be 3 minutes later, this Goan pace of life was so unreal. I remember that incident as I read this post. Now, years have passed and "doing nothing" is very much valued. It would be nice to gather in one's thoughts the places that have brought this quiet into our lives, more than others.

Ambika said...

This sounds like the ingredients for a perfect Sunday! Loved your write-up and photographs Anil.

An Iengar Chick .... said...

So then what determines luck and differentiates it from hardwork?

How much of hardwork is luck and vice versa. Who determines the differentiator and where is the cap on either. Then these become differentiated variables of an opinion and relate to only who is opining.

The little nuance of someone getting in the way or the shaking of hand et al are just tiny errors and not a factored expression of the word luck.

Yeah we as a race have placed blame on everything other than ourselves so yeah luck exists so we can continue to use it as a placeholder for our failures and errors.