Tuesday, Feb. 24, 1:40 PM
Palolem Beach, Goa, India
At the moment I’m staying shady in my beachfront grass hut (with a porch), doing some hand-washing, keeping cool. Rinsing, swimming, and maybe a soccer game on the beach with some new acquaintances calls me, but first here’s a story about some good old-fashioned ultra-violence (Indian-style):
Carnival in Goa has been going on for the last 4 days, first in Panaji, then Murgao (where we attended the parade), and in a different city each day until today. The newspapers are saying that’s it’s not a very good year for it, and as the owner of the Inn we stayed at a couple nights ago Anthony Victor said, the minister of culture is taking all the government allotted money in corrupt fashion and not doing anything special or extra for the people of India, as he should be. I’ve never been been to Carnival in New Orleans or Brazil, so I don’t know how it usually is, but I can say, from the roads at least, seeing the fun floats driving down the highways between cities, costumed people painted and decorated from head to toe riding about on scooters to attend the festivities each day, and from the parade we attended in Murgao… it’s a whimsical celebration of anything and everything, and the DIY quality of the giant animated floats were still awesome. As you can see in any Indian wedding video, Everybody can dance, and it was refreshing to see the celebratory spirit spill out into the streets, (while outside the cities it’s less common to watch Indians cutting a rug.) I also appreciated the kids everywhere throwing water balloons. Usually I would mind getting a drive-by soaking, but in this case was cooling and fun.
That same day were were staying at Benalum beach and I saw something different spilling out into the streets… sangre de toro! (bull blood)… accompanied by more water throwing that was more practical. As I was walking alone down the main street to the ocean, someone yelled “Bull Fight!” and pointed to a nearby thicket… I moseyed over to see and indeed there were two massive bulls, heads and horns locked with each others’, and dozens of guys cheering and watching. The battle spilled into the street with what more closely resembled the running of the bulls, over into another yard. The crowd was multiplying and soon hundreds of people were crowding in the field, many (myself included) in trees or straddling fences or peering from behind something in case the livid beasts should charge them. It was like a boxing match, each bull with it’s supporting team, dumping buckets of water over their prized fighters and rubbing the wet around and under their bellies to boost morale. Bookies were yelling and waving large bills, and as I learned later these fights meant big money – 100,000-150,000 rupees per match. This fight was in complete open-air, so the crowd (along with the huge cloud of dust the scene created) was mobile, and it was unpredictable and potentially hazardous. They were so big, angry, and of course I felt sad for them… like any two fighters who are coaxed into a fight by a crowd of barbaric onlookers and ‘friends’. Eventually I felt a bit more daring and went in for a close-up of the fighters. I looked into their huge bloodshot eyes, repeatedly heard the loud thud of their skulls and horns thrashing together, and wondered why are they so mad, how did they get themselves into this situation, and most importantly, how will this fight end? Up close I saw blood all over their faces and necks, snapped a picture and went to the beach. On the walk back I asked a shop keeper nearby the field if he knew anything more about the fight, esp. if the bulls were okay, and he delivered the scoop. First, the fight was planned, and they happen every few weeks. Sometimes they do them early in the morning (like 6am) to avoid law enforcement, but it’s quite common and the cops on duty will turn a blind eye for 3-5,000 rupees apiece. Then he started naming all the guys in town who keep bulls and fight them. Few people in Benaulum beach make a living off agriculture anymore, so having a bull these days serves no greater purpose than for this. Ultimately, I was relieved to learn that the fight is over when one bull loses [his nerve] and runs away, unlike other bull fights I’ve heard about. Phew!
Odd coincidence… that evening as we biked the 8km to Murgao for Carnival and I was telling Jamey about the bull fight, he told me about a (different) fight HE was witness to on the beach that same aftrenoon! Basically two Indian guys started quarreling in the restaurant they were drinking a juice in, things started getting heated, and then one kid ran into the back (kitchen) and grabbed what J described as a cricket-paddle covered in nails, at which point they walked out (as this was pretty much happening right by them in the beach hut). It was just one of those hot hot afternoons where some craziness is bound to boil over (a la Do The Right Thing heehee, just watched it, made me miss Brooklyn so bad!)
This reminds me of the only other fight I’ve seen first-hand during this trip, a couple weeks ago. One morning I slept-in and woke to the loud shouts of a scuffle right outside my beach hut in Arambol. An Indian guy was screaming (as Jamey heard) “why you slap me?” over and over, (I heard “why you set me up?”) but either way this guy lost his cool and wanted to beat the hell out of a tall white tourist in a red shirt. Within moments, 10 guys became an angry mob of 50, and they started to rough this guy up! I was staying on a tiny dirt side street off the main road but it was a main thoroughfare with a steady stream of people/bikes/cows passing through all the time, so before you know it another tourist lady is trying to break up the fight, and gets hit by one of the mob. Now her husband is screaming “Which one of you cowards hit my wife?! You’re not a real man to hit a woman! Which of you damn cowards hit my wife?!” The guy in the red shirt flees down the alley, not before a kid picks up a big jagged rock and nails him square in the back with it, and the mob follows in hot pursuit. Moments later my Indian-American buddy Solomon (BFF in Arambol) shows up and is relieved to see that Jamey is OK. Minutes earlier, on the beach he saw a white guy in a red shirt being chased by some Indians up to the main road, and earlier in the morning he saw Jamey in his signature red shirt, so he followed in pursuit just in case, to save Jamey’s ass if necessary! (Such a good guy!) When we saw our friend Jenny a bit later, who was also staying down the street (in the direction the red shirt guy fled), she saw him getting a “bamboo massage”, so I guess he didn’t make it too far or have much luck. (Yes, he was getting beat up with bamboo sticks. Ouch!) Lesson: don’t slap and/or set people up.
Solomon (Sol) was a great source of knowledge, as he’s spent half his life in Mother India (growing-up in Uttar Pradesh, the “hood” of northern India, as he says), then in Florida and New York. Everyday I learned more and more about India through his uniquely hybrid perspective. He even knew everything that was going on in good ol’ Arambol, what the story was with all the business-owners, the local mafia, long-time expats, and even many visitors who’ve only been around for a week. He was always happy to tell it like it is, or at least as he knows it, and in this scenario he informed me that many Indians have some serious tempers (himself included), which is quite a different impression than I ever got from all of the friendly faces I’ve met as a tourist. Keep in mind I don’t like to make generalizations, or even believe or propagate any, (just as I try to experience things without passing judgment), but it was interesting to hear Sol talk about Indians, his own people. Haha, “My OWN People are doing this to me!” Other words of wisdom like “Indians don’t trust other Indians”, “Indians treat other Indians like $h!t” and “Indians are violent mother#$&!%s” kept me in stitches while giving me an invaluable and hilarious counter-perspective.
These Indian bedbugs are getting violent on my a$$! I discovered an infestation in my travel pillow (I know, eewie, so gross) but I’m trying to drown them now and hope they don’t resurface again. So much violence!