Ming E. Wong
Excuse me, ma’am, but could you step aside? Our director said you’re in our camera view.”
The man seemed a little flustered at having to ask me to move away from the filming site.
“But I’d love to be in your picture! Please, it’s a dream of mine to be in a Bollywood movie,” I pleaded.
The man lopped back across the sand to his team, and I could see him shrugging his shoulders in the distance. Then a movie clapperboard clapped, music started pumping and a cast of dancers in bikinis began strutting their stuff. (Well, not very skimpy bikinis — this was India after all.) He never came back. I guess either they did not mind me in the frame or simply adjusted their angle to keep me out of it.
My attempt to seize the opportunity for a bit of fame might not have worked out, but I did bag some bragging rights in the end. I can now claim that I have seen Prabhu Deva, India’s version of the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, in person, when he was filming the movie Charlie Chaplin 2 at Ozran Beach in Goa.
My husband I were there because we thought it would be quieter than the nearby Vagator Beach, which is famous for its raves. But I only realised later that the beach is located near the bustling capital, Panaji (also known as Panjim). Goa, a Portuguese colony until as recently as 1961, is the smallest province in India with a historic Portuguese quarter that is being gentrified. It is also known for its beautiful beaches.
In the 60s, Goan beaches used to draw hippies by the droves in search of spirituality and flower power. These days, you see mostly middle-class Indians taking selfies on the rocks and pale Russians near beach shacks proclaiming free Wi-Fi. Hip restaurants perch on the hills above.
There are still many small, idyllic towns and villages though. But when in Goa, a visit to the beach is a must to take in the spectacular sea view.
Not all Goan beaches are the same.
Those in the south of Goa seemed more serene and quiet than the ones we visited in the north. Perhaps big hotel chains tend to limit public access to the beachfront areas where their properties stand.
At Mobor Beach, the fine white beaches are quiet and uncrowded, dotted only by coconut groves and bars serving cocktails. The bars and the deck chairs belong to hotels that line the beach, such as the Holiday Inn Resort and the Leela.
Also, maybe not many people swim in the sea because the hotels have giant pools in beautifully landscaped gardens. One evening, I saw a man drive a huge vehicle with what looked like a roller in front over the beach to pick up garbage.
No wonder the beach was pristine.
But despite its cleanliness and pleasant environment, I felt that it was overly exclusive with little sign of local activities. I would prefer some of the smaller beaches near villages where you’ll find boys playing cricket and couples strolling hand in hand along the shore. There is beauty in silence, but too much of it can be rather dull.
The simple life
I felt that Coco Beach, near Nerul in north Goa, was the best of the three beaches that we had visited so far.
There, we stayed at Ahilya by the Sea, a beautiful beachfront villa let out for rent by a prominent local family who was abroad at that time. We loved that it was full of personal artefacts and books, and the view of the Arabian Sea from the open wooden shutters.
Nevermind that the villa’s manager actually apologised for the beach fronting the property when we first arrived.
“I’m afraid it’s not very clean. It’s a working-class beach,” he said.
Coco Beach was indeed a “working” beach. Boats named Jesus, Joshua or Divine Grace, hark back to Goa’s Portuguese Catholic roots.
The local fishermen, the ramponnkars (rampons are fishing nets) are a close-knit community and as many as 20 people could be relying on one big boat for a living. They sleep during the day because they work through the night.
Wooden boats are pushed out into the sea in the evening. To do that, small logs are placed before the boat, much like a train track. Each boat is then pushed by people from behind, or the sides, onto these logs.
It is a hard, laborious process as someone must scurry back to bring up more logs from behind.
In the morning, we would watch the fi shermen sort out their catch of mullets, crabs and shrimps before delivering them to the fi sh markets in town. But the work is not done yet — the nets still have to be carefully rolled out and checked for damage and repaired.
Despite the booming tourism in Goa, the Goans are not interested in the hotel trade. Management staff and investors seem to come from bigger cities, while the cleaning and cooking staff are from Sikkim and other Eastern provinces, and the wellness staff from southern India, birthplace of the Hindu system of medicine, Ayurveda.
“Well, the locals only like fishing.
They sleep a lot during the day. They even have a word for this lifestyle, susegado,” said a hotel manager originally from Mumbai. Susegado comes from the Portugese word which means “quiet”.
As we watched the sun dip over the hills and heard a boat being launched into the waves by a group of heaving ramponnkars, I could not help but think that if anybody deserved some susegado, it was surely these hardworking Goan fishermen.
Even in a seaside paradise, someone has to do the hard work.
• Although Goa is a popular destination, most international flights there have to fly into New Delhi first. You can fly to the Indian capital with Singapore Airlines and go on to Goa with SQ or Air India.
• Soak in the sights and sounds of the Anjuna Flea Market (opens on Wednesday) as you browse clothes, accessories and spices. Bars provide food and music.
• Visit Panaji, where you will find a baroque style Basilica of Bom Jesus that houses the St Francis Mausoleum. At night, multi-storey boat casinos offer live entertainment, international buffets and hundreds of gaming positions. We were told Matt Damon filmed an exciting car chase in the city over the Mandovi River for The Bourne Supremacy.
• Drop by the Literati Bookshop & Café in the town Calangute. It feels like browsing through someone’s living room.
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