Friday, March 4, 2011

Goan Goodbyes

It’s been hard to wrap my head around making the trip home to the US, but it’s time. My send off from Goa, and thus the conclusion of this visit to India, included eating dinner at a schmancy Thai restaurant attached to the hotel I landed at upon arrival, a morning pranyama class to herald the new moon (and thus day off from asana) and a beach shack breakfast with some other yogis. As I said my goodbyes on the sand, a man in a Speedo, also got up to bid me adieu. I’d never spoken to him before, but I’d certainly noticed this regular at the popular beach shack close to where many of we students were staying. I imagine he was in his 70s, deeply tanned, European, and exceedingly fit from daily swims in the sea. He reminded me of Jack Lalanne, the recently deceased fitness guru of my mother’s generation, whose visage I recalled from the TV program along with my mom had once conducted her leg lifts.

I exchanged pleasantries with the Goan Lalanne. And then he hugged me goodbye and enthusiastically smooched my cheek.

“That was unexpected,” my friend commented as we walked back and I had to agree.

But it was an appropriately Goan goodbye: warm, beach-clad and slightly over the top.

Goa, over the past two and a half weeks of my visit to the beachside state, had felt, to me, as far away from Mysore, my base for the nearly 4 months away as it was from the US. With its hordes of tourists, party atmosphere, beach and faster moving cars, sometimes the only clue you were in India was the fish curry on the menu.

“Oh, this is India,” a friend who lives in Goa most of the year gently reminded me, as I marveled at the seeming differences. “It’s just a different side of it.”

I’ve come to think the minimum visit to any foreign country should be a month. In that time, you’ll kind of get a clue to the place. I'd upped the ante in tripling that minimum on this trip to India...and I’d become that much more comfortable crossing crazily trafficked streets, haggling over prices, eating with my hands, getting clued into sari-tying, and even, yes, nodding my head Indian style (neither yes or no). Nonetheless, I’m perhaps even more aware that I’m still very much a visitor. Visiting only Mysore and Goa is kind of like someone coming to the US and ‘only’ staying in Texas and Los Angeles. Sure, you’d get a lot of cultural flavor…but could you claim to know the country? Hardly. But you could have some legitimate feelings about the place.

“Do you live here?” I’d asked the Lalanne look-alike.

“No,” he smiled and shook his head. “But I love it... like you.”

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