John the madman….

मैं यहां हूं यहां नहीं हूं मैं, जिस जगह हूं वहां नहीं हूं मैं

कौन आवाज़ दे रहा है मुझे , कोई कह दे यहां नहीं हूं मैं

I am here and I am not here, at all places but nowhere

to that which calls me always, someone just say I am not there…

The Varca beach was quite a deserted place when I reached.The two shacks fondly called Mama’s Kitchen and Joe’s Place had a few takers so they hummed some soft tunes from the time when I was young.It was a  night full of moon and its stars and the sea was surfing on the beach casually,its waves silver and dark.

I lit up a smoke and checked the scene to find a place which was alone, yet not too far away from the world. I could find a good one.There were two chairs looking up to the vast Arabian sea with a table that had a T light in its mosaic holder. With the breeze the flickering light played an interesting game of survival dodging the lethal blows to stay alive. All was set and It was time for a drink….

A couple of hours down ,The Moon, its stars and the sea had a life. I sang to the them with a voice that failed in words but was high on passion :

Before you slipped into unconsciousness
I’d like to have another kiss
Another flashing chance at bliss
Another kiss, another kiss

The days are bright and filled with pain
Enclose me in your gentle rain
The time you ran was too insane
We’ll meet again, we’ll meet again

A voice broke the session and called : Jim Morrison.Right ?

I came back from my reverie to respond ” Yup, Crystal ship”

Hey me Jose, Jose Faria and you ?

I didn’t answer trying to stay with the daze.

Jose understood my silence and tried again : Alone ?

“We all are ” A smirk flashed on my face.

“Can I sit here if it doesn’t bother you ?”He asked and I gestured him to take the seat next to me ” You can try bothering me my friend but I didn’t come all the way to Goa on a beautiful night like this to get worried .”

Jose laughed and I gave him company.We were strangers no more.

So what brings you here ? I enquired.

Oh me ! Nothing big, just wanting to dig a bit on my roots.

I glanced at Jose signalling him to go on…

“Well I am Portugese and my father’s father was living here in Goa. I just came to see the house where my father was born. It’s called Casa Bandiera, and its there near Palolim beach.”

Did you find it ?

Yes I did but I guess they have turned into some kind of a museum.

No one lives there ?

Some locals but it’s under the government in some way.

But it’s your house.Isn’t it ?

It was our house, now it’s no more.But I had a good time here looking for it and I saw it like all the other visitors so no regrets. OK let’s just kill this. You were singing when I came.

Really? I thought I was reciting poetry.

You had hurt in your voice.Miss someone ?

No, just me.I miss myself a lot, all the time. And I like to sing to the stars when I am high. They seem to like it and they kind of come close to hear me out. No one else does that…

I think we are ready for a party Man !! Jose had enthusiasm of a kid as he pulled out a pouch and started to roll the cigarettes.

I don’t know if I should have trust a stranger  offering grass but I guess I was beyond suspicion and other such things – a man on the beach with nothing to loose.

Let it roll baby roll ……I shouted at the deep silence of the night hoisting my hands to the sky seeking to touch the stars.  Everything was so weird. The world before my eyes was stuck and moved in ripples going up or going down when I wished. There were too many colors around and gold was just one of them. With each breath I inhaled life and exhaled death. They had never seemed to co exist so side by side. I was not sure about Jose but I knew he was around as his shadow ran up and down the beach, splashing the waves.When he knew the words, he joined in the chorus otherwise he just kept quite and listened  to me like an ardent fan.It’s unbelievable how you can feel so good in the company of strangers when you are trying to run away from those you know so well.

I was on a different plane, completely aware of myself and of everything around me. I was like a self satisfied madman with his own version of reality  –

I had less questions but more answers,  less control but more freedom,I had  less of the world but more of me. I felt complete – like a wave which has just come to know of its vast expanse in the form of the ocean.

It was almost dawn and the sun looked pretty in it’s new day when I woke up still lying on the beach. Jose must have checked if I am still alive and left.The warmth comforted me and brought me to life as I tread the path back home.

By the time I got ready it was noon. The cab was there and Raju(the cab driver) was waiting for me. I had no plans to do anything. I asked Raju ” So where do we go today ?” He suggested a number of places and I picked a 400 year old Portuguese house called Casa Bandiera ! We were on our way in the next 10 min.

It was a perfect day with blue skies and a few clouds to fire the imagination of the child in me – I counted a magician, a cake and lots of balloons and candies. Our car waded through the lush green coconut groves and paddy fields as we moved inland away from the sea. On the way I saw a lot of old houses with curious names.Most had casa or villa added to the family names of the occupants.What I found a bit strange was that most of the houses had the ‘old look’ as if it was carefully preserved.Most tourists find Goa’s old world charm mesmerizing but it was unlikely that the residents would go all the way to be lost in time however Sussegad they might be. I checked with Raju ” Why do most houses look old almost antiquated in Goa even though they are not exactly dilapidated”

The tourist guide in Raju took over ” Well there are two reasons for this – one obvious and the other not so obvious one”

“Ok don’t tell me any ghost stories now” I set boundaries to his imagination.

“No No..it’s nothing like that. The first one is natural and the second is official.You see due to the salt in the moisture filled breeze from the ocean its difficult to maintain the paint year after year especially for the old structures.And the other reason is that many of the houses do not exactly belong to their owners.In 1961 when Goa was liberated the Portugese flee the country leaving everything behind.Many of them had lived in Goa for generations and had built magnificent houses and villas.There was no proper government for a while and the locals just occupied the houses left behind by the Portugese. The government has let them live and own these places but with a condition that the original look and structure must be kept intact.The government pays a certain renovation allowance every year for such houses.”

”  Wow that’s some education for me.These houses are almost frozen in time !!” I was sure I would keep coming back just like Jose , looking to find something that got lost in history.

We passed the Zuari and for the first time I saw a ship being built , waiting  for the bottle to be broken so it can unleash its voyages to far away lands.It was majestic when I looked at it from the window of my car but it looked puny when I saw it in the backdrop of the never ending ocean.Perspective changes the way we look at a lot of stuff around us. Isn’t it ?

By about lunch time our car stopped in front of an old building. In the first instance it did not look like something awe inspiring but when I thought that it has been standing at the same spot for over 300 years and has housed some 8 generations ,I was filled with a sense of respect. The facade of the house was divided into two portions the east and the west with a central entrance that was common. As I took the flight of steps and stood in front of the door which of what must have been the east wing I was taken by a sense of calm – the kind you have when you sit next to old people. They have seen the uselessness of it all and have no urgency to either please you or themselves. The house was certainly a peaceful place.

Before I could knock on the door , it opened almost magically. I was greeted by a man in his late 50’s with balding hairline and thick black specs the kind they stopped wearing since the 70’s. I knew that I was going to witness history today. There was something disturbing about the man who had introduced himself as John. First of all in a weird almost frightening move he had latched the entrance door as soon as I entered and now he was staring at me as if waiting for a sign to start. I was not sure if he was a guide as I had been told that the family still lives in one part of the house but which I didn’t know.Finally I broke the impasse and said ” well John I suppose you live here ? ”  A faint smile played on his face and he nodded ” I was waiting for you to ask this question. The answer is yes and no. While I show the house to visitors I do not live here and neither am I a member of the family. But I am not a tourist guide either. You can think that I am a mix of all three” He had figured out the question in my mind ”  one who lives in the house as that’s what I do for most part of the day, two not a member of the family who own the place and three the tourist guide as I am the one who shows people around”

” OK You confused me.Let’s get going ” I mumbled.

” Do you smoke ” John asked offering me a cigarette. ” No I don’t” I said. Actually I was not too sure.The slur in his voice had become pronounced from the time I had met him and his expressions clearly showed that he was completely drunk. However, it was quite strange that he did not smell a bit of alcohol.

We went along from one room to the other and John carefully kept explaining to me various aspects and historical trivia about the house. The chandeliers were Belgian, while the marble came all the way from Italy. The ballroom could hold 500 guests at one time and the red candle stand that looked to be made of plastic resin was actually a priceless piece made of real ruby stone !!

After a while John was completely in his elements. He asked me to sit on a antique looking arm chair and guess what was so special about it. I sat on it and tried to put all kind of logic and reason that would have made it something special – may be it was gifted by the king of Nepal, May be this was not made of wood but some stone, may be even that the chair had some magical powers !!

John was in splits at my suggestion. He asked me to disembark my thrown which I had held on tightly to feel the mystery it seemed to be hiding within itself. ” you are completely wrong, my friend” said John as he lifted the seat of the sofa. ” This is no ordinary chair like I said.It is a commode !!”

” Oh shit” was my spontaneous response and I could tell from John’s face that he was not at all impressed with my choice of words.

“Its OK. don’t worry it has not been used since it came into being.I just use it to play tricks with unsuspecting travelers like you.”

I was growing fond of this man who looked stoned, talked like drunk , did not smell of alcohol,  knew his stuff well and was gifted with some whacky sense of humor. The tour was coming to an end and I was so glad I had made this trip.  History has always enamored me and there was so much of it in this place. I had checked with John as much detail as possible about the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the paintings, the chapel,the people who lived in the house at different times and also about those who didn’t. Having such a vivid mental picture gave me such joy that only one who dwells in the past to visit the future would know.

I looked at my watch as a sign to leave and John understood. He stretched out his hand for a handshake and said ” Are you sure you don’t want to smoke ?” I looked into his eyes and said ” you know I do.right ?” He flipped open his pack of navy cut and lighted my cigarette. ” John you knew I smoked or you just guessed ? ”

” Well the moment you hesitated when I offered you a smoke the first time I knew it.You see people say that I am mad but I think I am just different.20 years ago when they thought I had hallucinations they sent me to the asylum.The Doc there was a good guy but he thought I needed to behave myself so he gave me shocks 3 times. I lost a part of my speech but they said that I started making more sense .Tell me Sir – how did I do today ? Did I make sense to you or you thought I am just a waste.Please don’t say something if you don’t  mean it.I beg of you.”

I was shaken not only by his story but also by the manner in which John had asked me for feedback on his act. I was speechless…..words were failing me completely. The events of yesterday night and today morning just flashed in front of me like a movie. While I had made all attempts last night to alter the reality this man was fighting so hard to remain real. I had struggled to let myself loose and here was a man so eager to find himself. The world that I had wanted to let go so pompously was slipping through his fingers like dust while he desperately wanted to hold on to it.My heart became heavy and there was no way I could have passed a judgement. I took his wrinkled hands in mine and   said to him  –

“John I sincerely feel you were great company. I don’t know about others and what they say but if you are different , may be mad ,then so am I.The fact is that all of us are searching for some unknown truths which may perhaps never reveal themselves.It was a pleasure to have met you and I mean it from my the depth of my heart”

John waved at me as my car took a turn around the corner and I waved back at him. It was not  “good bye”  wave but a wave that says – We shall meet again !!!

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4 comments on “John the madman….

  1. ranjeet says:

    a treat to read !! Indeed make you Go Goa

  2. Anonymous says:

    This story really can not be read in a hurry..it is deep and touches you at another level. No unexpected turns or suspense but definetly has a strong flavour..like your fav brew to be enjoyed languidly and slowly..I like it bhai, your writing has reached another level ! Congratulations

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