23 Jun Series Feature: An Invitation to India, Pt 2
An Invitation to India – Part Two
Written and Photographed by: James Artaius
“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running – that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there…”
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Much like Hunter S Thompson, I’m always intrigued as to how most people “find” Jack Kerouac. Certainly in the UK, where his name is less a part of the cultural fabric than in his homeland, there’s usually a fun story behind people’s introduction to him. Like many cult authors, it always seems rather like Isla del Muerta in Pirates of the Caribbean; it can only be found by those who already know where it is… or by those possessing a magic compass. Either way, a fun story is usually involved.
For me, it came quite haphazardly – and perhaps unsurprisingly, for those who read the previous installment of this series [An Invitation to India – Part One], at the hands of my soul brother-come-singer-come-spirit animal, Jaz Delorean. One of his songs, the toe-tapping tubthumper Cakewalk, contains the lyrics: “Dharma Bum, Dharma Bum, you can’t fall off a mountain / Even if you’re on the run from the mind control / ’Cause you are still a bum, Dharma Bum / And you ain’t got a home, ’cause your home is in the sun / And the sun keeps movin’ on.”
“Goa whispers across the wind to all those with magic compasses or fun stories about being introduced to Jack Kerouac”
I remember subsequently asking Jaz about Kerouac and his books, and where I should start with them. “You HAVE to read On The Road,” he replied without pause. “It’ll change your life.” Sure enough, it did. Because years later, here I was in India with Jaz – barefooted and wild-haired, on the beach by the sigh of the sea.
Goa has a unique gravitational pull. It whispers across the wind to all those with magic compasses or fun stories about being introduced to Jack Kerouac. It whispers to sun worshippers, both the beach babies as well as those who literally believe there is something more heavenly in the nature that surrounds us. It whispers to poets and singers, to hedonists and free thinkers, to escapists and escapees, to those seeking answers and those seeking questions. It whispers, then, to all artists of life.
The beaches, often a sea of dreadlocks almost as dense as the Arabian Sea surrounding them, offer a unique existential safari. There are the revellers, producing exotic wafts of herbal essences, keen to assimilate and find peace with the earth and everyone on it. Then there are the Russian tourists, not entirely appreciated by the local population, apparently aspiring to the reputation previously reserved for British lager louts.
Meditators sit as still as statues along the shoreline, backdropped by surfers seeking and succumbing to the crashing waves. Yogis in their various configurations twist like Transformers in the soft sand, some sat in solitude and others in their contorted congregations. One yoga circle concludes its practice with a Shavasana (“dead man’s pose”), reciprocated by the beach dog that has joined the group and settled into a Shavasana of his own in the middle of them.
Dogs are as omnipresent here on the beaches as they are in the towns. Although “strays” by most people’s definition, they are no less local residents than the merchants selling wares from their stalls or the shrill vendors cold-calling tourists beneath their parasols and hawking their chattels. The sight of a native Goan walking a pristine puppy on a lead is far stranger and more foreign than the tatty-eared pups making friends with anyone who has some fuss to spare.
Cows, too, roam as freely (and as bolshily) by the seaside as they do the roadside. A mother and calf saunter across the low tide, nonchalantly soaking their hooves while yogis and Frisbee fanatics clear a path. One particularly hot morning produced the hilarious sight of a weary cow seeking shade next to the bow of a ship, “moored” on the beach in its uniquely Goan way.
Henna artists ornately paint golden bodies while hungry beachgoers savour the unique experience that is a hot curry under the hot midday sun, threatening diners with temperatures in the high nineties. Enterprising locals chop fresh fruit for those after a more refreshing snack, while bicycle-delivered ice cream offers calories with built-in climate control. The tantalising cool water, as always, is eyed with utmost suspicion.
As the sun sets, the sun-shy performers arrive ready to ply their trade in the cool of the evening. Poi are twirled and devil sticks dance as the sky dissolves from burnt orange to the ash of indigo. The soothing soundtrack of chatter and drum circles is now punctuated by an increase of beats per minute, as the sunkissed tranquility of day melts into the firelit and neon-soaked promise of night.
The Goan beach paradise is not all it seems, alas. For it would be dishonest of me to overlook the dark secret of this place – not only of this beach, but of this Goa, this India. A deeply spiritual country, more connected to and respectful of nature than perhaps any other culture, it remains astonishing that its people have almost no concept of the destruction caused by litter. And tragically, when a nation of almost a billion-and-a-half people sees no issue with dropping its litter anywhere and everywhere, the destruction caused is truly profound.
It mourns me to conclude such an idyllic journey with so tawdry a blemish, but looking back on my travel to India that blemish remains one of my most enduring memories. We only have one planet. Not only is it achingly beautiful, it gives life to us and sustains us. You’d think we’d take much better care of it.
About the Author/Photographer:
As it says on his business card, James is a “Maître Jacques” – jack of all trades. An Olympus-addicted photographer, long-in-the-tooth model, lapsed journalist and recovering videogame addict, he currently makes his residence in the birthplace of catch wrestling, Wigan, in the northwest of England. He enjoys deciphering David Lynch and listening to The Midnight.
Check out his portfolio on PurplePort: James Artaius Portfolio