Take the 7 p.m. Kadamba. It’s the best way to dip your toes into Maharashtra across the Goa border., Leaving at 7 p.m. sharp from KTC interstate bus stand ,Vasco, 9.30 p.m. sees you across Sawantwadi. In two and a half hours it’s ‘Welcome to Maharashtra.’
The contrast is stunning. After the glitzy yatches meandering by the Mandovi , swathes of Pernem, brooding in the dark, lead you to the borders of your own self. Is the chimera for real? Can Goa keep up the hype? After the enticements to the international traveler in Goa, you plummet into dark, barren spaces as the bus hurtles by the plains of Maharashtra. In this spare canvas, what immediately stands out -- because they are well-lit -- are the small temple shrines dedicated to deities dotting the path of the traveler. Surely it is faith that moves this land.
At the side of me are a pilgrim couple bound, it seems, for the holy town of Pandharpur. She, clasping a baby; he, elderly, in dusty rubber slippers, solicitous. At one point in the night, when the baby cried for want of space to stretch, the gent promptly got down to the floor of the bus and slept fitfully. Here was great dignity – so unlike those who frequent church gates for alms on a Sunday. Along the way the lady shared the rotis she had prepared with a fellow traveler, both discussing their respective patraos. presumably in Goa. All their possessions, as it were, were in two cloth bags.
The Nakoda bus for Goa leaves Kolhapur at 11.30 p.m. on the lip of the main bus stand at Kolhapur. After putting away a delicious Kolhapuri veg. thali I boarded the bus. Three Goan lads -- two bald -- speaking in Konkani got in. One made much about the delayed departure at midnight. ‘Aat-an pautele’ he fretted. ‘How are we supposed to sleep, with the lights on?’ piped up another as the bus lumbered on.
By Kudal at 2.30 a.m. one of the lads was in bad shape. Retching continuously he quite embarrassed his other two friends. As the bus resumed its journey the second lad now felt nauseated by the smell which pervaded the seat. Thrashing about like a snared fish, he finally grabbed a bed-sheet, threw himself on the floor of the bus and tried to sleep. Taking out his smart phone the only surviving lad, calls up his ageing dad at 4.30 in Panjim and says ‘Hanv Mapusa paule. Sokol yo.’
I was struck by the contrast in the two families. The closeness and concern for the other, which the pilgrims shared, was sadly lacking in the lads. Materially, the Goan lads seemed like spoilt brats, ensconced by excess -- but out of their depth in the real world. The pilgrims were hardy travelers confident in the providence of God.
As I gratefully sipped my steaming chai offered by a beaming Bimla at KTC bus stand, Panjim at 5.30 a.m., I saw how it takes a border crossing for life to reveal one of its truths.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender (Panjim, Goa) on Sunday 10 February 2013.
All pictures by the author. The author at Shivaji University, Kolhapur (Top); The author presents the Valedictory address at D.R. Mane Mahavidyalaya, Kagal, Kolhapur for the seminar on Genre Fiction in British and Marathi Women Novelists 18-19 January 2013 (below).