Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Goan Away For The Weekend

By coincidental but benign providence, just as the internet connection turns up its electronic toes, we already have a weekend away booked, thereby saving a) marriage and b) sanity. Our conjugal karma’s clearly in stasis. We head for Goa, the Pearl of the Orient.
At the airport, ladies are siphoned off for private screening. Men are frisked in the hurly burly of airport to-ing and fro-ing, because they don’t have fragile psyches. Ladies, who do, are invited one by one into an enclosure, protected from prying eyes. First of all, I’m liking this special consideration. Then, it occurs to me to wonder WHAT THEY WANT TO DO TO ME, THAT THEY NEED NO WITNESSES? I don’t have long to fret. You have to stand on a platform in a glorified cupboard, while a female official frisks you with a paddle. (Not as much fun as it sounds, by the way. She makes jolly small-talk, but so do the dentist and the gynaecologist...) I’m not sure what she’s looking for, but I definitely haven’t got any.
We’re bussed out to the waiting plane. The driver noses our vehicle just under the wing of the 737, thus thoughtfully reducing the distance to walk across the bubbling tarmac. It also reduces Mr Roland to apoplexy. I’m thinking, he’s a bit obsessed with the whole “Health and Safety” malarkey, when we see two of the aircrew, nonchalantly leaning on the inside of the engine casing, just finishing off a bit of paperwork before take-off. Do their pens have loose tops, I wonder, and do they know how many paperclips they had to start with? Roland takes a photo, but manages not to get arrested.

We board, stash our chattels, and gawp out of the window. What do we see? A worksite. After a month in India, we now tend to think that a workman in hob-nailed boots, hard hat, and high-vis jacket must be a bit of a pansy. Along the runway, real men, in bare feet, push along wheelbarrows of cement. In their wake, women carry baskets of dust and rubble on their heads, in their hands, dustpans and whisk-brushes. I think of the Concorde, felled in Paris by a stray piece of debris under its wheels. I hope these people are meticulous in their work. There’s no notion of this being a secure zone, it looks like market-day out there. The biggest slum in the world hugs the perimeter of Mumbai airport, with nothing but a rickety fence in between. I think wanly of Ganesh, Protector of All and Destroyer of Obstacles. You can see why he’s so popular.
We ignore the safety instructions in Hindi, then ignore them again in English. We’re served small bottles of chilled lemon juice, by air-stewardesses trim enough to make Kate Moss look chubby. The lemon’s surprisingly substantial, and tastes like Dioralyte. In my normal life I only consider electrolytes fit for consumption after a week of gastro-enteritis, but it’s some weeks since “normal” has been any kind of criterion. The label says it’s made “by reverse osmosis process.” Squeezing lemons, then. There’s zero possibility of being offered a splash of Gordon’s to go with it, so we glug it back, neat.
Three hundred miles unravel under our feet, and we land at Goa airport. You’ll have heard jokes about having traffic-lights on the runway? Go to Goa. Not a joke. Taxi-ing in, we pass through a graveyard of old planes (all in active service, need I say?), which one of us finds fascinating and one of us doesn’t.
Seasoned Mumbaikers, we think we have the hang of India. Goa’s about to prove us wrong.