I returned to Delhi after spending nine blissful days in Goa. And it was like I had landed on another planet. It seemed like I was surrounded by warriors – faces behind face-shields; men and women walking around wearing PPE suits. I should have introduced them to the masseuse at Anjuna who announced grandly, “Madam, Goa se Covid chala gaya” before pounding my legs to pulp!
Like me, all these exhausted Covid slayers would have looked at him with gratitude, eyes brimming with tears and whispered, “Bas kar pagle, rulayega kya?” A few optimistic masseuses later they would have started chanting, “Yeh mera mask hai, yeh caution, aur yeh dustbin… Goa mein pawri ho rahi hai!”
My indoctrination into this alternate universe where COVID-19 is sci-fi was gradual. At first, I would jump like a startled deer every time I felt someone breathing down my neck and extending their plate from under my left armpit for yet another waffle from the breakfast buffet spread. My heart would start pounding and I would try to take refuge behind the mountain of puris. Two days later, I had stopped counting the number of hands that had touched the ladle to scoop out cut papayas and watermelon from the fruit platter and even said hi to the arm under my armpit that had now moved on to uthappam.
Just a few months ago, with a heavy heart, I was busy writing an obituary for the much-loved breakfast buffets where diets die a swift death. But there has been a resurrection. Buffets are back and so is our “kuch nahi hoga” mentality that has helped us sail through epidemics and deadly flus. India has baffled experts with its plummeting coronavirus cases while the rest of the world is struggling with a surge and Goa has baffled India by pretending that the “Go corona go” prayers actually worked.
The carefree folks of Goa, have managed to suppress COVID-19. And the state didn’t even have to send masked hooligans to terrorise the virus. Maybe it’s the air thick with weed and trance music playing somewhere that makes you buy into Goa’s “Fuck COVID” brand of tourism.
Breakfasts start at noon, days are indistinguishable from nights. Sober corporates slip into slouchy pants as they whizz around in scooties. Your “I have to be in control” persona slowly ebbs away, as you sip yet another beer and watch the world around you move in slow motion. Your hemlines start rising. Hours cease to exist. You strike up conversations with strangers. Exchange stories, even phone numbers. Pretty soon your fingers are getting stuck in someone’s matted hair. You are telling them you’ve finally found your true calling – waitressing at Artjuna. You’ll float around in a crepe kaftan, have interesting encounters, get story ideas, and write in your mosquito-infested cabin that smells of hash.
Maybe it’s the air thick with weed and trance music playing somewhere that makes you buy into Goa’s “Fuck COVID” brand of tourism.
Now the Russian chap with a menacing grin wants to play table tennis with you. You nod and show your middle finger to your inner Dilliwala shuddering with disapproval and scream, “Pawri… BC!”
Your mask has started feeling a little lonely in the caverns of your handbag. It has even picked up a fight with your sunglasses for usurping its prima donna mantle. Well, only Batman wears a mask in Goa. But six neat whiskeys later, he has slipped into colourful chaddis and is singing, “Samundar mein naha ke, aur bhi namkin lag rahi ho” to no one in particular. The chooda gang in their skimpies is stuck to their newly minted hubbies like wet Speedos, as they furiously click selfies. Soon, they will gather the courage to kiss in one of the cafes. Maybe one of them will kiss the Russian chap who is now tired of asking women to play table tennis with him.
The wife will walk away in a huff toward the pub blaring “Taki Taki”. She is now swaying with a sea of bodies in her impossibly high heels. Her carefully ironed hair has started frizzing in the humidity. She does a cute little thumka and sends a wine glass crashing onto the floor. Back home in Indore, she had spent the last eight months imprisoned at home, mourning for a life she had lost. Not anymore. She has been possessed by the Goa spirit. She is high on kaju feni that she absolutely hates. But who cares as long as she hops from one pub to another in her car that has the same playlist on loop. But this time, she has the mask on.
This is Goa. The police only care if you have your masks on when you are in the safety of your cars. You are denied entry to one of the snooty sundowner places not because you didn’t have a mask on but because you didn’t have a reservation.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is roaming the streets aimlessly nursing an existential crisis. It feels like a joke that wasn’t even cracked as it lurks behind bars. COVID-19 has been feeling distraught from the complete lack of attention it’s been getting. Goa mein pawri ho rahi hai and it’s not even invited!
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