There is something about Goa that makes you feel young, romantic and reckless. And it is not just Feni or the easy availability of Goan wines. It is as if when you enter Goa, you are destined for good times; always summer, always fun on the beaches, dancing and merriment. And you don’t have to be a Herman Wouk to say: Don’t Stop The Carnival.
Merriment was, however, farthest from our minds when our ship Himgiri entered Vasco da Gama harbour. Yes, it was sunny; yes, there was this Goan appeal in the air; and yes, we felt young. However, we had entered Goa only for a few hours and were scheduled to sail as early as 7 AM the next day. Our Captain, a tall and upright submariner (he later rose to become the Chief of the Naval Staff) was the most prim and proper CO I had ever served with. He was very of all good things, ie, very knowledgeable, very intelligent, very effective and very serious. He was the kind that you read about in John Winton and CS Forrester books. He always meant business.
Lets say you were sitting in the wardroom nursing your drink and there was an announcement: “Electrical Officer requested Captain’s cabin”; it won’t be that Captain was feeling bored and wanted company. It would surely be something to do with power, generators, weapons or sensors. You could bet on it and win. As I said, he called you only on business and you’d generally rush to his cabin because he detested delays.
So, when we secured alongside at about 4 PM, the most romantic thing that occurred to anyone of us was to change into games rig and go for a walk, return on board, have early dinner and get up early next day for yet another sailing. It appeared to us that life on Himgiri revolved around sailings: you either sailed or prepared to sail.
It was merely 5 PM when we headed towards the sleepy town of Vasco da Gama in PT shorts and shoes. There were four of us: The Engineer Officer, the Electrical Officer, the Navigating Officer and the Signal Communication Officer. Someone suggested that we walk fast so as to “sweat out the extra fat that weeks of sailing without a stop had deposited on our bodies.” And that’s precisely what we did. At about 6 PM, we reached Vasco da Gama and passed in front of our favourite watering hole: Aunty’s.
One of us suggested – kind of demurely – that now that we had gotten rid of several kilos, perhaps we could just split a couple of beers between us and also Aunty’s famous Goan sausages. The objecting voices within and without were put to rest by the topper of an argument that no one, not even a child, had ever got pissed on half a bottle of beer. The Engineer Officer also added magnanimously that he had brought his wallet for exactly this kind of contingency. I do not know how they reason out things in the army and the air-force, but, the lingo of the naval officers is to be heard to be believed. Any eavesdropper would think they are planning something of great national and naval importance; whilst, all they are doing is to quickly appreciate and assess how many beers and sausages would keep them in good fettle so that four kilometres of brisk walk won’t be wasted.
Beer and peanuts have been made by God with just one purpose in mind: to try the will-power of man. As they say: ‘Will-power is to have just one peanut’. It is virtually the same with beer. After our downing of the first glass of the sparkling golden drink, we slowly bade good-bye to Will-Power and send her back to the ship. By the third glass, the Electrical Officer was offering a wager to anyone who could produce more genial and ebullient quartet anywhere in the world. Clinking of glasses, sounds of “cheers” and appreciative chuckles from all of us proved to him the correctness of his assertion. If another proof was required, the beaming and supportive smiles of our voluptuous hostess – Aunty, that is – confirmed the soundness of his hypothesis that there were no better team of four anywhere in the world.
It is at this stage that the Navigating Officer, who was very familiar with Goa (since his father was posted in Goa Shipyard) suggested that whilst no doubt we were enjoying in Vasco, the real scene was to be had in Panjim. The Engineer Officer objected that we were in shorts and would stand out like sore thumbs. At this, the NO responded with great authenticity that in Goa the only people who stood out like sore thumbs were the over-dressed variety. All misgivings, once again swiftly allayed, we soon found ourselves heading by bus towards Panjim and crossing over the Zuari river at Cortalim, by ferry, to reach the real scene.
The Navigating Officer was, of course right. The very air of Panjim was of a perpetual carnival in progress. Bars, foot-tapping music, good food and jovial company made us believe in Einstein’s Theory about Relativity of Time: whilst elsewhere the hours used to pass like snails, here the Time was galloping as if to win the annual Derby. It wasn’t long before we were happily sozzled. An old grandfather clock in the restaurant showed the time to be midnight. Once again, the Navigating Officer, with his authentic knowledge of Goa, confirmed that the clock there had always showed the time to be past midnight, from the days of Alfonso de Albuquerque.
Naturally, the mention of Albuquerque got us thinking about the famous Adega da Velha wine of Goa and we bought one at the local Wine Shop and headed towards Miramar beach to have it peacefully on the sands. It is only after the last drop of the wine had been consumed that we realised that the clock in the restaurant had indeed showed us the correct time, but, like Oliver’s father in Erich Segal’s Love Story, we had refused to see the time of the day!
A quick dash to the bus-stand was wasted since they told us there that the last bus for Panjim had already left an hour back and there would be one available as early as 6:30 in the morning. Also, the last ferry was at midnight and the next one will be available at 7:30 AM.
Those were not the days of the mobile phones and hence there was no way of informing the ship. Finally, the last bit of money that our treasurer, the Engineer Officer had, was spent in taking an auto-rickshaw to INS Mandovi, about five kms away. It was three in the morning when the Duty Chief was woken up, who in turn woke up the Officer of the Day, a young Lieutenant. These two worthies, well versed in handling naval emergencies, needed not much convincing that a way had to be found to get us across to our ship before we sailed off at 7 AM. The naval resourcefulness, therefore, produced one rickety three-tonner, who took another one hour to get ready since he didn’t have adequate fuel to undertake such long journey (anything more than 5 kms is a long journey for any naval transport).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, as we undertook that journey by three-tonner on the longer road route (rather than by ferry at Cortalim), we realised that life finally has its ups and downs and bounces. The wise-guy who often tells us that in life, journey is more important than the destination, has never travelled by a three-tonner; I can now tell you with great authenticity.
When we reached the ship, Special Sea Dutymen for leaving harbour had been piped. In ten minutes, after having bath and changed, we too were closed up, trying to look as prim and proper as our Captain.
If we had thought that our absence from the ship for more than 13 hours had gone unnoticed by the CO, we were soon proved wrong. As soon as we left harbour, he remarked, “I say, I didn’t know you guys too are such fitness freaks (he himself was). Imagine going for a jog early morning even when we were to sail as early as at seven.”
Ignorance is bliss. If only the CO would have known that it was yesterday’s walk that had ended today.
One has to be very careful of and in Goa. It is always the Goan air that gets you.
© 2014, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.