Our school term ended in late March and the new term started again at the onset of the monsoons in the first week of June. The peak holiday period occurred during the sunny months of April and May when every Goan villager would yearn to spend some time on one of the many sandy palm-fringed beaches that Goa was endowed with along its 40-mile-long western border.
Older women from the villages would spend a day on the beach and wade in the shallow waters in the belief that salt water would ease any rheumatic pains and aches. Their children would just prance around and have fun with the other kids on the beach.
I spent most of my holidays in the village. The thought of going away on vacation never occurred to me; all that mattered was the break from schoolwork, and the fun times with my friends in the great outdoors.
On some days, we’d walk three miles to Calangute in the late afternoon in the company of young adults and return home with them around 9:00 p.m.
We’d arrive at the beach around 5:00 p.m., and either stroll along the entire length of the beach for about one hour or play games of tag with other kids. We’d then sit in the sand and take in the Goan sunset when the sun, clearly defined as a huge ball of glowing gold, would sink ever so slowly behind the ocean’s horizon.
The disappearance of the sun was the signal for young adults to prepare for a sing-along and a bit of flirting with members of the opposite sex. Groups would form in a circle around a guitarist or two, sometimes accompanied by a harmonica player, and sing in the dark under a canopy of sparkling tropical stars. Depending upon the background of the revelers, the groups sang either traditional Portuguese songs or current English pop tunes. The ambience was very romantic and a stimulant to a bit of platonic dalliance – like just holding hands, or sliding an arm around a girl’s waist, or sneaking a kiss on the cheek when nobody was supposedly looking.
At around 8:00 p.m., we’d head for home. But not before stopping to buy some bhojé, and xacuti, a Hindu hot chicken specialty. These snacks were sold from makeshift food stalls constructed from bamboo poles and matted palm fronds, and illuminated by the pressurized paraffin Petromax lamps.
We’d then walk back to the village in a group, with my peers and I alternating in leading the way with a flashlight (a great thrill for us) as the other young adults followed us in the embrace of a steady or new romantic partner,
But not everyone who wished to go to the beach had the energy to do the return trip from the village on foot. Instead, they rode in a ghadi, the colourful ox-drawn carriage affectionately called a ‘matchbox’. The ‘matchbox’ sat six passengers – two rows of three passengers sitting shoulder to shoulder and facing each other with barely any room for movement in any direction. The ghadiwalla (coachman) sat on the shaft outside the cab and steered the bulls.
For one week in May, my mother would rent a ‘matchbox’, and invite her two spinster sisters or any other relatives to fill the available seats in the ‘matchbox’. I’d either sit on my mother’s lap or squeeze in between the two slim aunts.
For the return trip, the ghadiwalla would light a kerosene lantern that would cast a pale glow on the road ahead. The two bulls would plod along on the flat sections of the road, but would break into a trot on a downward slope. That’s when the brass bells on the leather strap around their necks would jangle in a delightful rhythm.
Upon getting home, we’d have our supper and go to bed.
Some years, we’d spend the months of April and May in a beach home in Calangute. My older brother and sister would be home on holiday from university in Bombay, and my mother would have us spend the summer in Calangute.
The beach homes belonged to local fishermen, and were located in sand dunes amid shady coconut trees. The fishermen would rent out their homes during the hot and humid summer months while they’d move into their storage sheds a short distance away.
A holiday in Calangute was a lot of fun. In the mornings, I’d walk to the water’s edge to see the fishermen come ashore in their outriggers and offload their catch on the sand. The catch would then be divided among the crew while their wives stood by waiting to carry the fish to market in their wicker baskets.
In the evenings, we’d join our friends or other groups of youngsters in games played on the beach. When it was time to leave, I’d walk back to our beach home with my brother and sisters.
A popular feature of Calangute Beach was dances held at the ‘Caravelle’, a summertime night club and restaurant erected on the beach out of bamboo poles and matted palm leaves. The bands were among the best in Goa, with that wholesome sound and lively beat that could only come from a potpourri of the violin, the clarinet, the saxaphone, the banjo, the snare drums and the Latin rhythm of Portuguese music.
Being frugal, my older siblings didn’t go to the dances. Instead, we’d all huddle in the sand under a palm tree and enjoy the sights and sounds that made Calangute beach so uniquelly romantic.