Moonlight in Goa
Goa by moonlight conjures up all kinds of romantic notions – reflections of moonlight on the sea, sipping on a cold beer at some beachside café, and listening to the crash of waves as they roll onto the shore. Tree-fringed beaches and carefree times. Star filled skies and whispering winds. Sounds good doesn’t it? On the other hand, however, moonlight in Goa may conjure up visions of goats, ditches, pain and misery. Moonlight is a curious thing. It all depends on from where you happen to be viewing the moon.
A few years ago, I thought about marketing an idea for a video game concept. It was based on Indian traffic. My initial inspiration for the concept came about after having taken scores of auto-rickshaw rides through Chennai. Rickshaw drivers in Chennai tend to drive like maniacs, emerging at full speed from one traffic jam merely to catch up to the next, while avoiding potholes and hastily erected police barriers which appear from nowhere and always seem to block-off the lane that I happen to be in. And they are experts at driving into the path of on-coming buses and trucks, then veering sharply to miss them by a whisker.
Just imagine a video game based on that; a rickshaw ride through hell! But Chennai would be just too damned difficult for any player to handle. You have to give people a chance of success. So I decided to go for a slightly easier version and my concept eventually ended up being based on a moped ride along dirt roads from Calangute to Anjuna in Goa, which takes place in pitch darkness. I have done the journey in question many times. Of course, the moped is poorly maintained and has a low quality headlight – just like in real life. The driver may drink copious amounts of cheap Goan beer beforehand, so his judgment is impaired just enough to make the ride “interesting” (again, just like in real life!). But, of course, drinking beer prior to embarkation is illegal and, strictly speaking, is absolutely unthinkable!
Ready? Then, off we go. The driver has to keep his eyes firmly fixed to the ground in order to anticipate the divots, excess gravel, sand and potholes. But it’s not that simple. As you are thrown up and down and jolted from side to side, there are numerous distractions. Flying insects get into your hair, eyes, ears and mouth. Cobwebs criss-cross the lanes and also get into your hair, eyes, ears and mouth. As your eyes begin to water from the flying debris, trees appear out of nowhere in the middle of the road. Duck in time to avoid the branches or say goodbye to your head.
As you duck, dive, water and slide, packs of angry dogs bark, chase and attack your ankles. And things just wouldn’t seem right without the cows, goats and hens littering the road. The odd vehicle approaches from the opposite direction. You don’t see any of this until it all comes into the beam of your marvellous headlight about half a metre before possible impact, and, of course, if you are male, as soon as you get on a bike you think you are the greatest driver on earth, resulting in over-confidence and excessive risk taking.
The bike is weaving and pitching to cope with the bad road surface, and the on-coming obstacles. Half the time you only have one hand on the thing as with the other you attempt to brush away the spiders, cobwebs, flies, crickets or whatever eerie horror-insect that may be flying around in the dead of night. And don’t forget about the large quantity of beer in the belly – how could you: it has been churning around inside and frothing up, leaving your stomach feeling like it has been placed inside a vegetable blender for the last half hour.
Now and then, you may catch a glimpse of the moon through the trees, as it sheds some light onto the road. Bursts of full throttle occur to out-manoeuvre the packs of howling dogs (while you try to kick them away as they come too close to your ankle for comfort). So in fact, half the time you only have one leg (and one arm) fixed to the bike.
And the winner is…? Not the fastest time, not the one who gets back first, not anything so mundane – but merely the one who makes it back in one piece – cobweb-free, vomit-free, insect-free, rabies-free and with head intact. Maybe the whole concept is just unmarketable – it is just too damn hard. Where did my inspiration come from for such a hare-brained thing? A moped ride in Goa after a long night out? Well, I can’t really say. Inspiration is a very personal thing.
If you are lucky enough to make it back in one piece then there is just one final obstacle to negotiate. It entails walking the fairly short distance from your vehicle to your place of residence in complete darkness. Easy? Well, not really, because by this stage, any moonlight that may have existed is now blocked out by the thick overhead canopy of tree branches. You can barely make out the outline of your guesthouse in the distance, but the ground beneath your feet is completely featureless in the dark. The trick at this stage is to avoid a cavernous ditch that someone has dug and left uncovered. This is the point where I fail miserably. I plunge feet-first into the ditch, taking the full weight of my body on one knee as I bump and scrape my way toward the bottom.
So there I am: so close to completing my task, yet so far. I am in a two metre deep ditch, cursing the type of idiot who places an open ditch on a pathway and leaves it unlit. I’m half laughing at the situation and half crying because of the pain. A gust of wind blows an opening in the overhead foliage and I see the moon once again.
Goa by moonlight: whatever happened to reflections of moonlight on the sea, sipping on a cold beer at some beachside café and listening to the crash of waves as they roll onto the shore? Tree fringed beaches and carefree times? Star filled skies and whispering winds? Somehow, I don’t think whoever thought of the phrase “Goa by moonlight” had in mind the notion of looking at the moon from the bottom of a dirty ditch with a bruised body and fractured ego. At that point, I kind of went off the idea for my video game. Reality kicked in – game over!
Colin Todhunter is the author of Chasing Rainbows in Chennai, which reached No.3 in the bestseller list of India’s largest bookstore, Landmark. This piece is an extract from the book. All of the other chapters can be found in the India section of BootsnAll.