The Ringside View

My attempts at writing have always been stacked up in old diaries and scraps of yellowing paper.Time,neglect and phylum insecta however, always ensured that the gibberish i scrawled, never would see the prying gaze of an alien eye.Years later, i still scribble once in a while - this time in word documents stored in some obscure folder somewhere in the innards of my C drive.I am unearthing some of them and opening them up for the interested.To get what i call - The Ringside view.

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Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Go(karna) Go - A travelogue

The tickets to Gokarna were booked for tomorrow. And in the proverbial red bus to boot. ‘Have fun. Be fun. Be frugal’ was the mantra of the tour. No gastronomic splurges. No expensive hotels. No reclining comforters of the Volvos which screeched into the neighboring bus terminals. For us, it was just the free spirit of the true back packers that we so badly wanted to be. And that latent desire to be Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (The fact that that we hardly even possessed the ‘H’ of the hedonism of Kerouac and Cassidy was another matter altogether).

My cold had got worse over the last few days and innumerable inhalations with and without Vicks had not done what those ads did to kids with dripping noses and blazing temperatures. My voice too – changed baritone and then unrecognizable. Suri was christened spokesperson for the tour as we clinked bottles and guzzled mango juice for the road.

The red buses though were no longer red. They had turned chic. All those profits which the transport corporation was making were being invested on paint colours other than red for sure. But the luxuries denied in the buses of yore continued to be denied (so what if the buses were no longer red). Leg room for one was never an ergonomic consideration and it continued to be so. Railings on the window cramped elbow movement and Suri snuggled into a pose ‘half-Khajuraho half Lateita Casta’. But the bigger problem was what made us wait with bated breath. Our seats were part of a three-seater and the prospect of accommodating a stranger into our already uncomfortable abode was sure going to be a daunting task. But to hell with it. Backpackers don’t travel business class. Do they?

We waited.


The spokesperson took his job seriously. (making me ponder if we should have laid out a few rules to keep his responsibilities in check). There was a blatant exhibition of his command over the vernacular (which by the way was no command at all). Eclectic discussions with an equally eclectic cross section of people ensued, keeping me in constant fits of laughter and cough.

It was when the third round of negotiations with the ticket collector in swapping seats to a two-seater was looking promising when the Davanegere bound family entourage boarded. Two sets of ‘men and wives’, two adolescent girls and a young skinny prank. We heard the burly spectacled man shout out the seat number next to ours. We quickly sized up the family. South Indian conservatism would rule out the two young girls. Swish. The two women would prefer sitting together and gossip into the night. Swish. That would leave the two burly men and the skinny kid. If the men decided to sit together and discuss finances, matrimony and property rates at Davanegere – bingo!!!
(we would have the kid. We could even throw the skinny fellow out of the window before the bus hits Tumkur and sprawl over all that green leather.)


It worked out just the way we wanted. And we strengthened our Sicilian defense by making him comfortable with some needless child-like prattle. He seemed happy at first and then suddenly quipped – “Can I sit by the window”. He was going for the jugular right away, that little devil. “Illa. I need to vomit once the bus starts”, Suri retorted.

“Me too”, he replied, as though from a script.

“But I’ am bigger. I need to vomit more”, said Suri (those satanic horns easily visible now.) I choked; coughed. The kiddo looked the other way. The battle had been won. We soaked in the glory by sliding open the window and letting the gushing wind hit our faces as the bus set from Majestic bus terminal.


But the battle was what we had won. The war was lost. When you are a kid of six or seven, there is no way you can sit at the aisle. The window beckons like a candy bar lures the baby; like the neon lights of the strip clubs lure the young and like the wooden benches at the park lures the old. And when you are six or seven and the only male child in the family, you would nine times out of ten get the candy and the window seat as well. The burly spectacled father moved in beside me and I found myself choking again……but this time for space.

The next few hours were purely territorial in nature. We fought silent battles for comfort. Our conversations kept us awake. But it was not so for our adversary. He had to fight not just us. But also sleep. Tumkur flashed past us outside the window. A huge billboard proclaimed a ‘plastic free Tumkur’. We laughed it off like all socially responsibly young men should not. Probably was the sleep (or rather the lack of it) getting to us.

I leaned forward for a change in angle and lazily asked Suri – “Wonder how much the Indians made today?”

“Dhoni yeshtu hoditha”, a strange voice next to me suddenly quizzed. It was our adversary. And also the first overtures of friendship; of bonhomie; of connect. We blurted out a few numbers but he seemed better equipped with latest scores. Cricket, the unifier. And strangely, shortly there after we all found our comfortable reclining angles. Positions that suited everyone. (hey, wait a minute. I haven’t read Vatsayana’s work yet, but hope it does not sound similar. It’s a world where eighteen year olds are first paid a fortune for writing a novel and then ripped in public for ‘copying’ someone else. Why take a chance.)


In between fits of sleep, I saw small towns and groves of trees slid past. The changing imagery seemed surreal in the dark. And reality it seemed existed far away – in the small talk over coffee back at office; in the monotony of changing television channels at home; in alphanumeric gibberish plastered on plasma monitors in my cubicle. With every passing minute, the yawning gap between reality and me seemed to widen. And I didn’t mind it one bit.

The clock, I remember showed 5:45 when we boarded the bus. And it was forty-five minutes past five when we reached Tumkur. I strained my eyes and focused at the clock in the dark. It was pitch dark now. It said 5:45.

“What time do you reckon we’d reach Gokarna”, I asked Suri.

He rubbed the slumber off his eyes and enquired – “What’s the time now?”

“5:45”, I said.

“Oh…then I guess, we’d be there by………….5:45”, he replied and turned the other way.

I smiled and nestled deep into our time warp.


At sun dawn, the bus rolled into Sirsi. We jumped out to give our sore and twisted muscles a well deserved stretch. The reddish brown stone façade near the bus station invited exploration. A flight of stairs descended down into city square with only the odd mongrel strolling about an otherwise empty bus station. The obscurity of the small town was perfect for the early morning ‘open the eyes and you are not in the rat race’ feeling. A well groomed man with a baby in tow was checking the bus timings to Panjim.

“Are you guys on the bus to Panjim”, he enquired.

“No sir. This bus goes to Gokarna”, I replied.

“5:45 ko ayega na”

I stuttered. “Board me to yehi likha he”

I shuffled for the mobile in my trouser pocket. It was fifteen minutes past five!!! Suri and I walked around in search of the loo. And then finding none, pissed against the brick wall of a building which we later realized was the men’s rest room. There was a cool moist feel to the air and it thrilled me to believe we were heading the right way. Seaward.

The engine revved up and the ticket collector blew the shrill whistle. We abandoned our musings and boarded back into the bus. I looked up at the clock. 5:45. The young man would have probably found his bus to Panjim. I looked out of the window and he was standing there all alone, baby in tow. There was no sign of the bus. Was it late I wondered? Possibly not. We were back in our time warp. That’s all.


Kumta seemed like a larger town. And its scale of importance grew heavier when we realized that our Davanagere bound family was actually Kumta bound. “They hand over the collections here before heading to Gokarna. It should take not more than an hour from here”, smiled a ubiquitous South Kanara good samaritan. There was something genuinely warm about the people in this belt – that wide earnest grin or that extra word of advice to your concern of where to go or what to eat.

I got off the bus, persevered and found a loo. Suri did the same and found a cigarette. Back in the bus, I preferred staring out at the salt extraction plants lining the entire Kumta-Gokarna stretch while he stretched out and slumbered. An hour later, we hit destination one on our travel list – Gokarna.


Gokarna glistened in the mid April sun like yellow metal. We disembarked and were immediately accosted by two touts of the religious kind. The kind who play tourist guide whenever they do get time from their main job – seeking nirvana. It did not take long though, for them to realize that getting business out of us was only as difficult as seeking the elusive halo around their heads. The odd family or two standing around looked more promising and they left us to fend for ourselves.

I was not feigning cognizance of the mythological importance of Gokarna. In fact I hardly even knew if the place was Vaishnavik or Shaivik. This was the very me who harbored thoughts of learning all about Greek mythology oblivious of my limited local knowledge. (Like the me, who wanted to learn French when not knowing how to read or write in my mother tongue). Me, the hypocrite. Okay, now that’s it for negative shades. For the rest of this story, I am going to be this character worth being reproduced on screen (if at all it ever got to be reproduced) by some smart hunk from tinseltown. Nothing less.


Two main thoroughfares diverged from the bus station. We walked down one of them in search of the sea and cheap accommodation (the latter preferably overlooking the former). Five minutes into the walk, lodging was coming for as cheap as fifty rupees a day provided we compromised by looking into the bus yard instead of the sea from our bedroom window.

I wonder if it was the heat or practicality or lack of romanticism. We eventually settled for a restaurant called ‘Gokarna International’ with a twin bed, television set and a balcony to boot. It costed five times more than what the ginger bearded man who accosted us on the roads offered, but we took it all the same. And it did not even overlook the sea. It just happened to be the closest place at hand, when our tired bodies (bowels included) decided ‘Enough is enough’.


Brushed, washed and in better spirits we headed straight to the beach. A non-descript breakfast happened somewhere in the middle but as I mentioned, it is best described non-descript. Gokarna is a small town and there is no way one can get lost. We walked around the narrow streets lined with antique Mangalore tiled houses. An old man stood at the threshold of a house calling out to a lady selling vegetables. Both of them had creases on their faces that seemed antique as well. It looked like a weird experiment in anachronism. Like a world tucked away like a pearl in an oyster, away from the madness we called reality.

Gokarna, according to Hindu mythology is said to have got its name from the fact that Lord Shiva appeared here out of a bovine’s ear. And the bovine community sure did make their presence felt. They were unusually short in stature, with horns tailor made and razor sharp for good penetration and maximum damage. Soaking the old world charm and avoiding confrontations of the bovine kind we finally hit our first beach, Gokarna beach. I widened my gaze and smiled. Blue. And somewhere in the middle, sky became sea.


Little boys heaved plastic lines and waited till it turned taut. One of them held a polythene bag filled with small fish. Laurels for their labour in the hot mid-day sun. Suri chased a few crabs, picked a few sea shells and tried striking a conversation with the fishing boys. Respect was scant but he persevered. Holding a mackerel in his hands, he quipped: “Whoa, that’s the closest any one in my family ever got to non-vegetarianism”. When was the last time you did something for the first time, proclaimed an airline ad. He could have proudly said – Today!!!

“And you better return that back to those boys before they bait you to hunt a shark, you bastard”, I shouted.

April is off season for tourists and we walked in front of shacks proclaiming to be restaurants but looking as empty as a classroom after class time. We trespassed a few private properties and managed to successfully disorient ourselves. (Please ignore my earlier claims of it being impossible to lose yourself in a small town. Where there is a will, there is always a way). We stopped at a small shop and shrugged off the disorientation by asking a few locals for directions.

“Climb that hill you see there”, a young man told us, pointing to a hill jutting into the sea. “Kudle beach lies yonder. And two hills later you will find Om beach”. I splashed some water on my face and looked to see if the hill seemed closer. It did. I splashed some more and looked up. That’s all close it would get.


We walked up to the base of the hill that was pointed out to us in the distance, and surprisingly found a fleet of stairs leading up to a small shrine. Lord Ram and his faithful ape, Hanuman stood firm. We murmured a silent prayer and kept climbing. Half way up the cliff, another shrine awaited. Much smaller, more quaint and affording a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. We read a board claiming that the shrine was dedicated to Bharath, the royal brother of Ram, who was king of Ayodhya when the king-god was banished from the opulence of the kingdom. We sat at the threshold of Bharath’s temple and looked at the sea below. The climb was already reaping dividends. The sky merged into the sea at the far left and the greens of the coconut fronds took over to the right. Somewhere in the middle, the waves shied away into the sands like a bride into the hands of the bridegroom. The riot of colours intoxicated me, like elixir to the eye. A painter it seemed had colours to spare and had been liberal.

The senses can inspire and suddenly, every nerve and sinew is throbbing you ahead. Stones in my path are kicked in gay abandon and the sweat pouring down my back is labour expended for beauty returned. We set sights on distant citadels, a lone palm tree or a hawk shaped rock. Claiming to one another that the beach lies yonder. It never did.

At one such corner, I looked at Suri and said – “Down that bend and its Kudle.No doubts”. We approached in mock anticipation. And with every step it was clear that the beach it was not. A gorge carved into the mountain fought with the sea, its ferocious adversary like warriors in battle. We stood there like at the colosseum and listened to the roar below. It was only apt when Suri screamed - Zeus point.


Zeus, eight feet tall, stood on the precipice of the rock, facing the crimson sun. The reins from his hand extended to the rocky structures on either end of the gorge like prancing horses. His raised hand lashed a whip as thunder and streaks of lightening rivaled his menacing voice. Suri shuffled a bit and clicked an imaginary photograph from his imaginary Cybershot. Zeus himself was mere fantasy. Fabrications of the romantic mind. We knew he was there somewhere; overlooking the sea, unseen to the eye but visible to the spirit.

I stood on the precipice where Zeus stood in our mind’s eye a moment ago and dialed home. “Take care and be safe”, mom was screaming over the line from Bangalore. “Sure thing mom. Not to worry”, I mumbled, stepping back onto level ground.


The descent soon came and it turned out to be rocky. The beach of Kudle peeked amidst the foliage. We dug deep into our energy reserves and stumbled along maintaining balance and poise. The latter all of a sudden being more important, what with the hot European woman following our footsteps in the search for the elusive beach. Suri immediately christened her ‘Tan’ia. The one in search of the tan. We could easily see her flaunting her sun tanned body in some distant German café or British pub and claiming she holidayed in India this summer.

Many precarious moments later we hit ground zero. It did not matter that it led us directly into the kitchen area of a beach side restaurant. We walked right through the back door with all the panache that was worthy of a Hollywood starlet making a red carpet entry. The sea shimmered in the afternoon sun like a cauldron of boiling water. We put up our legs and skimmed through the menu. What happened next is but a blur. Gluttony, avarice and hunger were all equal partners in crime. An hour later, the very thought of food made us squirm.

We sat their like pythons after devouring a bigger prey than it should have devoured. Tan’ia meanwhile had her brown bread sandwich and fresh lime without soda and headed out to the beach. The flowery summer dress soon slid down and she was all one with the sea, sun and the sand. The pythons though continued to snore unmoved.


A few heavy hours wafted by in what seemed like a surreal dream. When I opened my eyes, the dream seemed to continue. Dreamland was right there and for real.

The cliffs ahead, the boys at the restaurant told us lead to Om beach and we set off, no questions asked. I remember seeing this travel show on television where this smart alec host once quipped – “You cease to be a traveler when you start becoming a tourist”. We had had our hours as the tourist back at the restaurant and now it was high time we shed that image.

Om beach is so called because it is shaped like the holy Hindu symbol of the same name. Not that we could validate that, because we hardly got an ariel view of it. But it sure was a fabulous beach. A tad more commercial I should mention but doesn’t beauty always bring attention, whether you be a pop diva, television star or even a harmless beach.

Om beach had more than the average share of Western tourists. This obviously meant - more than the average share of shacks serving pasta, pizzas and toast with peanut butter. We entered one of them for want of food and water and were treated as graciously as school boys who knock on every door for Christmas collections are treated back in my colony. The lemonade was luke-warm; like the store keeper’s attitude. And we trudged back to the beach discussing animatedly about the total lack of customer value.

Om is a tree lined beach and we sprawled on a straw mat that we found lying abandoned under the overhanging branches of a tree. The sun bathers swam around and then sprawled face down in the sun, only to get up and head seaward again. And we watched them change from peach to ebony and back to peach.

“Boating hogthera”, a voice asked us from behind.

“Illa boss”, quipped Suri with the nonchalance of one who owns a private yacht. I turned back to look at the owner of the voice. A young fisherman clad in a pair of shorts and t-shirt grinned seeing the weak link. “You get to see dolphins. And two private beaches that is tucked away round that corner”, he said pointing to a distant hill.

“How much”, I asked him like every gullible tourist would ask.

“250”, he said.

I looked at Suri and realized that he was searching for his double barrel Heckler and Koch. And I was pretty sure, if he had just one bullet, he’d have used it on me. “Are you crazy”, he bellowed. “Boss, I’m not asking you how much a dolphin costs”, he told the local. “get realistic and we’ll think of it”.

A few minutes of deliberations later we were on the high sea. And at this point of the story, the writer in me would like to step out and leave the reader with the image of the two of us sitting on either end of a trawler speed boat throttling away into the horizon; in total oneness to the sea and the sky.


Blogger Suresh C H said...

Perfect piece macha.. a rendition holding the perfect blend of literary gleanings and reality is always welcome. neat work. the wait was worth it.
now i shall contemplate writing on my blog a reverse-chronological piece of the same nature in fewer words. let's hope i stick to fact.

u somehow seem to have portrayed u'reself as the mallu hero of the two-protagonist movie we enacted. and me as u're one-liner belching side-kick. bitch.. watch my version. :)

September 19, 2006 12:52 AM  
Blogger chiranth said...

This makes me want to travel to Gokarna sometime. Hopefully, sometime next year.

Shall wait to read what Suri has to write :-)

September 21, 2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger Sudhindra said...

I was hoping you would write about the temple and the businessmen priests in there.....

September 23, 2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger Bikerdude said...

Sob- koi lauta de mere gokarnae ke din.

But those two beaches- half moon and paradise- at the end of your boat trip- bit of a damp squib, no?

I love Gokarna International. Of course the girls in my group had a different view of the flora in the loo and the fact that the wash basin emptied itself- directly on the bathroom floor!! Haha The expressions on those poor bangalore cantt faces- hahahaha.

September 30, 2007 11:51 PM  

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