Saturday, April 18, 2015

Remembering my first Goa trip

I was quite boring and geeky as a kid. Teenage was no different ; I wasn't an outgoing guy at all. I hardly even stepped out to watch a movie with friends.  School life for me was all about going to school, coming back, getting my homework done, playing for a bit in the courtyard, and going off to sleep. It was in Fr. Agnel Junior college because of my friends Bunty and Jeetu that I had started learning stuff about the outside world which I was pretty alien to. It was during these two years that I went for a movie with a huge group of friends (including girls) for the first time, I heard about the famous sitcom FRIENDS for the first time, I fell in love for the first time (unrequited of course), and did many other things for the first time. It is safe to say that it was here that I developed a thirst to live life, to explore what else there is to life other than the stuff i know of, and above all - it was here that I began realizing that I was interested in the performing arts. Anyway, Junior college passed by and before I knew it, I had taken some acting classes and started my journey as an actor. However, with my background, it seemed impossible to rely on acting as a career so I took up Engineering. And this started a whole new phase of my life, a phase which perhaps taught me more than any other time period.

After my initial stints with ragging, new hot girls in college, new friends, and a syllabus that I was hating to begin with - I cleared my first year without much of a problem. And then in my second year, a bunch of guys were planning a college trip to Goa. Goa, the place I had heard of so much, had seen in so many films.. a place that brought to mind a lot of glamour, fun, mystery.. for my first big outdoor trip with a bunch of people my age, it sounded perfect and yet made me nervous. I got my Dad's permission from home and enrolled for it. I had just bought a new cell phone - a Sony Ericsson W550I phone (the Walkman series) using the money I made by working at call centres during my vacations. I thought the camera in my new phone would come in handy for this trip. As anxious as I was, I got some assurance from the fact that my best friends Rakesh, Venky, Sneha, Darpan and Megha were with me on this trip. So without any further hesitation, I got into the bus with around 50 other colleagues and my first Goa trip was underway. It was the year 2005.

We were staying at a hotel in Calangute and from what I can remember, we were the only ones there. The first thing to do was to rent bikes from Panaji which was a few kilometres away from Calangute. So, off we went to get our mean machines. Now, not all bikes you rent in Goa come in great condition. Some of them often have issues with lights, brakes, seats, etc. So when we looked at the bikes available, who gets which bike was a major choice to be made. There was one bike which was in excellent condition, one which was fine but needed caution and one that was an absolute gamble as it had no electric start, tricky (moody) lights and not the best brakes. We decided that since Venky and Darpan were with girls, they will get the best bikes. That's right. Even back then, guys without girls were considered losers and were given least priority. Also, Rakesh was the best rider amongst us and I was to go pillion with him. So, we figured we two will get the shitty bike and the other two will get the better ones. Once the bikes were sorted, we went back to Calangute to get the girls and our beach safari began.

The next couple of days was the regular Goa routine almost all tourists go through. We visited the major North Goa beaches - Baga, Vagator, Aguada but we did not go up to Arambol as we thought it was too much of a ride then. We ate some delicious food at some awesome shacks.It was the first time I was seeing so many foreigners around me. It was also the first time I was seeing so much skin! Hot girls in bikins, shorts, wet t-shirts... it was like a teenage (or in my case, a little older) boy's paradise. We went to club Mambo paying around 700 bucks per head which I was opposed to because I thought it was steep. However, when some random foreign chicks came and started dancing with Rakesh and me, I forgot all about the money. They were smiling at us and we were all dancing really close to each other, a new experience and a great high for me. This is when stupid Rakesh decided to drive them off by trying to flaunt his wanna-be MJ moves which they couldn't keep up with. They were so cool and satisfied with the silly little steps we were doing.. but NO.. Mr. MJ had to show them what he got. Strangely, now when we try to recollect what happened that day, Rakesh says I was the one flaunting the MJ moves that drove the girls away. I don't believe him though and I am going to be mad at him for this all my life! Anyway, so much was happening and we were all having the time of our lives without knowing that in the next two days, hell was going to break loose.

The next morning, the plan was to take off for Palolem in South Goa. Everyone was super excited about this long ride (nobody knew exactly how long it would take but we estimated around 3 hours). What followed were the most shocking, adventurous, mad and panic-filled two days of our lives. It so happened that while riding to Palolem, one of our friends met with a bike accident. All bikes were riding within short distances of each other so all of us riding behind him took notice of this accident and stopped. We got off our bikes and we couldn't believe our eyes when we saw him. Our friend's bike was lying flat at the side with a few drops of blood leading to where he was lying in pain. He had injured his knee and when we looked at it, we could see his bone through the skin. He was bleeding and crying in pain. Venky and a couple of other guys arranged for an ambulance  but before the ambulance could get there, the cops paid a visit. Some guys tried to convince the cops to put our friend in their jeep and take him to a hospital nearby but they refused to do so saying that it was too risky for anyone other than hospital guys to handle our friend. The ambulance got there in a bit and our friend was rushed to a hospital located somewhere mid-way between Calangute and Palolem. Venky went in the ambulance and I was supposed to ride Sneha to the hospital on Venky's bike. After we reached the hospital, I was to take the same bike and head to Palolem with some others to get some people from there to the hospital. I reached Palolem but seeing the beach didn't even cross my mind. I met my friend Ankita (whose boyfriend and now husband Akash was also at the hospital) and brought her along on my bike to the hospital. Once we got the news that our injured friend was conscious and doing better, everyone relaxed a bit. However, some guys had to stay while the girls had to be taken back to Calangute so once again, driver Dilip was on duty. Sneha and me took Venky's bike key and rode from the hospital towards Calangute with me riding as carefully and slowly as I possibly could. We took a little break somewhere near Margao when the next strange thing happened.

Our friend Manan was really upset after the accident but not just because of our injured friend. Amidst all this chaos, he had lost his bike and had no clue where it was. He assumed that someone left it at the accident spot while he rushed to the hospital in the ambulance. As he described every detail of his bike one by one to me, it turned out that the bike I was riding with Sneha behind me is actually Manan's bike. He was so relieved on seeiing his bike that he forgot all about the accident for a bit. It brought a huge smile to his face. However, this terrified me to the core. If the bike I was riding was Manan's bike, where the hell was Venky's bike?? We all got back to Calangute and when Venky showed up after a few hours, I was just too scared to bring this up with him. However, it had to be done. I told him about this confusion and after ridiculing my absence of mind for a while, we all put our heads together to figure out what must have happened. Clearly, all these Pulsars that we were riding did not have unique keys. Venky had given me his bike key at the hospital to get back to Calangute with Sneha. I had unknowingly used the key to start up a similar looking Pulsar that belonged to Manan. This meant that Venky's bike would still be parked at the hospital. The problem was - our injured friend was no longer at that hospital. He was moved to a better hospital in South Goa closer to Palolem where he was waiting for his parents who were called for. So we were to take a useless trip to that hospital just to look for this bike. Nevertheless, we had to go and thankfully, we were given a ride by a friend of ours who had rented a car. This was a nervous trip with everyone thinking about the possible consequences of not finding the bike there. Venky had already made back-up plans to book a flight and get back to Mumbai to escape the fury of the bike rental guys. I was full of guilt because I felt it was all my fault as I did not check if I am getting on the right bike. But in my defense, why would I find anything suspicious about a bike which started with a key I had?!? Drenched in these thoughts, we reached the hospital and heaved a huge sigh of relief when we saw Venky's bike still standing there.. all alone.  We then put all this behind us and got back to our hotel for a good night's sleep. 

The next day was our last day of the Goa trip and the day God tested my patience with my friend Rakesh. In the afternoon, we took a ride on our shitty bike to Palolem. We wanted to see the beach since we had come so close the last time. And to our surprise, it was the best beach we had seen in Goa. The long stretch of sand, the palm trees, the beautiful girls (more beautiful than the ones at all the other beaches), and to top it all - two rainbows formed one above the other on the vast sky. We took a walk from one corner to the other.. not a gay one mind you! We were checking out chicks all the time. We clicked a few pictures of the lovely beach and the magnificent rainbows, felt the cool evening breeze, saw the horizon and kept looking till we lost the sun.Then, with a heavy heart, we had to leave. On our way back, we took a ride to the hospital to visit our friend. And of all the places in the world, it was here that Rakesh decided to get drunk! Our sports secretary Kaveesh and general secretary Vivek were there too with some other friends of ours. Rakesh suddenly started feeling an emotional bond towards all of them and he expressed this by shouting out loud in the hospital premises. As expected, someone complained and he had to be taken away. Now, being Rakesh's bike partner, Kaveesh gave me the responsibility of riding Rakesh back to Calangute. The problem with this was - thorughout the trip, I was riding behind other bikes. I was a new rider myself and not a very confident one. Add to this the fear of riding at night in a city I don't know on my first real outdoor trip. I had no idea what the riding route was and a drunk Rakesh was more of a liability than a help. And above all this - our bike had problems which only Rakesh, being the pro-rider, could handle. I protested but to no use. Finally, with a drunk Rakesh behind me and an assurance from Kaveesh that everything will be fine, I kick started our bike and took off from the hospital.

After the first few minutes, I wanted to ask someone for directions because the last thing  wanted was to take a detour. I saw a guy walking towards us at a distance and moved the bike closer to him so that I could ask for his help. Just when I was about 5 feet away from him, Rakesh spotted him and shouted loudly "Iss chutiye ko pooch.. iss chutiye ko pooch" (Ask this dick-head).The alcohol had flushed away Rakesh's sense of distance, sound, morality, and the fear of getting beaten up! He did not realize that the guy was standing right ahead of us and can hear even our breath. It was too late. The guy had already heard him so stopping there would mean a death warrant. I just slowed down the bike and quickly yelled "Calangute?" and he impulsively pointed towards the right direction. Before the guy could process anything else that happened, I raced off as far away from him as possible. After that close shave, it was smooth sailing for the next 20 minutes or so except for Rakesh who kept irritating me by asking me if he should take over and me asking him to stop moving so much or the bike will lose balance. The first time I couldn't apply the brakes when I saw a bunch of rumblers, Rakesh pointed out from behind in his drunkard voice - "Dude, when you see those, you need to press the brakes". I thanked him for this valuable advice and kept moving. From there on, every time I did manage to apply the brakes, he complemented me saying "Good breaking man... good breaking!". We were riding through a hilly patch with no street lights when our bike lights decided to stop working. It scared the shit out of me and I thought I will be hit by a speeding vehicle anytime now. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out a way out of this situation. I started following a vehicle whose speed I could match. I used its tail lights as my headlights. I followed and followed and followed till we reached a part of the city where there were enough lights and as luck would have it, this is exactly when our bike lights started functioning properly too. And after this, I reached a part of Goa which I did not know existed. I was riding for almost ten minutes with no vehicle behind or ahead of me. All shops were closed, all houses were shut. The only thing I could see was a graveyard every now and then. I began to worry if I had taken a detour. It just felt impossible that Goa could be this quiet and this scary. To add to my fear, Rakesh, (who despite being drunk, was my security) had to say this - "Dude, for the first time in my life, I am really scared..."

Another five minutes down this road and I was sure something was wrong. I considered taking a U-turn but feared going through the route of last ten minutes again. I stopped the bike and Rakesh got off. All we could hear around were crickets. For as far as we could see, there was not a single living soul. Once again, I saw a big cross structure at the corner and a graveyard next to it. I was just about to pee in my pants when I heard a sound. It was the sound of an approaching vehicle. I was relieved because it meant I can ask for directions and more importantly, it meant that I was not alone on this route. The car drove up towards us and stopped right in front of our bike. Behind the car were four bikes one after the other. it was our friend Sameer and another bunch of guys from our college who were heading back to Calangute. I don't clearly remember but I think I teared up a bit. After this, I joined the group of bikers and followed the car right till Calangute. The irony is - by the time we reached Calangute, Rakesh was all sober and talking sense again. What stunned me was that he behaved like nothing had happened. We slept off and laughed out loud remembering this whole thing the next day.

It was time to leave and everyone was happy that nothing worse had happened. Our bus took off from Panaji and stopped a couple of hours later for dinner. And just as we were all looking back at this trip as a good roller-coaster ride where everyone had their share of fun, I got my final blow. We left the hotel where we were eating and when we got into the bus, I realized that i had lost my cell phone. The whole college gang looked for it everywhere we possibly could, we checked the hotel staff and waiters, but it was too late. I was sad for a bit but today when I look back at the trip, I realize that me losing my cell phone was just one episode of a marvelous series that was - My first trip to Goa.

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