Goa: A musical note

I write this sitting in the departure lounge of Goa’s airport waiting for my flight to Cochin. I arrived here after travelling for an hour and a half on the back of a motorbike. My main concern during the journey was not getting sunstroke. It cost £6 and if I’d taken the bus it would have been about £1. I’m such a big spender.

The driver had my rucksack perched between the handle bars, over the petrol tank and nestled between his thighs. I had my smaller bag on my back and sitting across my thighs was… wait for it… my newest purchase… a small harmonium called a dulcetina! Or actually, this one’s called ‘Don’ but that’s another story.*

My friend Radasi (see previous post) was selling hers and so I decided to buy it. How very exciting. Now when I return to see Babaji (a previous post includes a photo of him), I can show him how much I’ve improved.

My Diwali dinner with Babaji’s family was memorable, as were his son Shriniwas’ final words of “Do not forget us”. Whilst I said my farewells, Babaji played a bhajan (chant) on his harmonium to send me on my way. Anyone who knows me will be unsurprised to hear that I struggled to hold back the tears. They have suggested that I return next year with my parents and stay with them.

Diwali dinner
Diwali dinner
Two of Babaji's grandchildren, Priya and Pradnya
Two of Babaji’s grandchildren, Priya and Pradnya
Halasana over a chair taken from yoganga.com. We did it with a bench but you get the picture.

I am also happy to have completed two weeks at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre and my tadasana (simple standing pose) will never be the same again.

Our teacher Leo was brilliant and on the last day of each week, he’d give us a musical treat. He’d get us all into halasana/plough over benches and play his flying saucer-shaped ‘hang drum’.

I’d never heard one before and we couldn’t see what he was doing. Was it a drum? Was it a string instrument? Don’t question it! Just relax and focus on your breath! Anyway, week two I was prepared with my camera and this is 15 minutes of bliss:


I’m sad to leave Goa but tomorrow I’ll see my parents in Cochin and I can’t wait.

* Radasi sometimes gets words wrong and when she first bought the harmonium, she thought her music teacher said it was a ‘donsetina’ hence calling it Don. She said that I was welcome to change its name but I don’t want to give poor old Don an identity crisis.

Arambol living

I’ve now been in Arambol for almost two weeks and I must say I’m really enjoying it. Friends at home said that I should avoid Arambol (“rat infested” was how one buddy described it but I’m yet to see the evidence). They suggested I head further south to quieter Palolem and Patnem but I came here specifically to do the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Course.

Local faces
People here are friendly. It probably helps that loads of us doing the course are staying at the same place. We’re always bumping into each other – on the beach, in restaurants – and it’s nice. I’m beginning to recognise many familiar faces and a lot of the long-stayers are living at this end of the beach as it’s more relaxed than up near the cliff.

Having my breakfast in a hastily thrown together bamboo beach restaurant this morning, I bumped into Zuzu. I first met him a few days ago at a bonfire night party. He’s in his fifties, Dutch and this is his ninth winter here. He’s an interesting character. With ginger Afro hair and a beaming smile, he told me that he works in ‘musical theatre’. This means he invents crazy acts to take to music festivals. He proudly told me about his latest act in which a small carriage is made to look like a UFO. It plays Japanese electro music whilst he and a couple of friends are painted green and “dance like aliens”. His words, not mine.

He organises a carnival event on the beach every February and last year it didn’t go according to plan. Some girls were dancing topless and a photo somehow made it onto the front page of a Goan newspaper with a headline suggesting debauchery. I bet that edition sold a lot of copies. Zuzu told me how the police tried to prosecute him for organising a pornographic event. Not unsurprisingly he had to lay low for a while after that.

There’s also Radasi, a Bolton lass who I met at an ashtanga class when I first arrived. She talks about “letting the universe decide” and calls people “love” with a husky voice that perhaps can only be found in Bolton. She teaches yoga at a centre on Koh Phang An in Thailand and we know some of the same people from The Sanctuary. She’s preparing to go on a pilgrimage with her Indian guru and is a good giggle.

“Mamma Mia” it’s Leo the Iyengar teacher
Our five-day course for ‘continuing students’ started today. Whilst I was disappointed that we haven’t got Sharat, the guy that set up the centre, Italian/Argentine Leo who is one of his students, is doing a fine job. Putting us down at every opportunity, attempting to break our ego and make us more humble, it’s an authentic Iyengar experience.

Every class he’s exclaiming “Mamma Mia!” – shocked at our inability to remember a detail or stretch adequately. I’d heard that Sharat was the same. A friend of mine said that he’d once told a woman in class that she was too fat to do a pose.

I’m learning lots about alignment and that every small adjustment in the body counts. He’s making me focus on my turned-out feet and had us doing urdva dhanurasana with a belt around our thighs. That was two days ago and I’m still aching.

20121110-154634.jpg Urdva dhanurasana (from Yoga Journal)

My harmonium efforts
And my lessons are continuing (read a previous post about my lessons). After accidentally showing the entire family a photo of some naked bottoms from my yoga training course in Thailand, I thought I’d blown it – living up to the stereotype from the front of that Goan newspaper. But either they didn’t realise what they were seeing on my iPad before I rapidly flicked to the next picture whilst inwardly dying a thousand deaths, or they were willing to forgive me.

This is a family who approvingly said that I dress well because I cover my shoulders and I always wear knee-length trousers. And then I give them naked bottoms. Shock. Horror. And no, I am not sharing the picture on here.

I’ll share a clip of Babaji playing when the connection’s good enough to upload it.

In less than a week’s time my parents land in Kerala. I can’t wait!

My adopted Indian family (aka I learn the harmonium)

A few days ago, I’d anticipated that my next blog post was going to be about how I’m learning to play the harmonium. You know, covering the trials and tribulations and that sort of thing, but actually the story must be about how I’ve been adopted by an Indian family. And it’s wonderful.

I’m in Arambol – a proper old-school hippy hangout in Goa. There are a surprisingly large number of Europeans in their fifties and sixties with long hair, tattoos and substantial moustaches. And that’s just the women…

Arambol’s just starting up for the winter season so it’s really quiet. There’s vast swathes of empty beach and it’s beautiful. Many of the beach huts and restaurants are still in construction and there’s a new yoga class starting up every day. I’ve come here for the five-day course at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre. Today I had my first class and I’ll tell you more about that some other time.

In the meantime: the harmonium and my adoption. I have been wanting to learn the harmonium for a while. It’s an Indian instrument used to accompany the chanting of bhajans (Sanskrit chants). I like chanting so I thought would be nice to be able to play. I asked a guy who worked on a musical instrument stall if he knew of anywhere I could learn. Later that day I was walking with him to Arambol Market where locals live, slightly inland of the main tourist area. Here there’s guys sitting in chai shops, old women squatting at the side of the road selling piles of fresh fish in washing up bowls. Men sell bananas and cows rummage in grassy verges.

Sharma led me into a tiny shop with a glass counter. The counter contained a haphazard collection of shirts wrapped in plastic. They must have been from the 1970’s. Sharma started speaking in Hindi to an elderly man standing behind the counter. He was shorter than me with grey hair sprouting from his head. He wore a white threadbare grandad shirt that had a hole in one shoulder. He looked grumpy and shuffled about in pyjama trousers that threatened to fall down at any moment. Yes, this was to be my teacher.


Sharma was deep in conversation and referred to him as ‘Baba’ meaning ‘father’ as a sign of respect. I decided to add ‘ji’ on the end as a further sign of respect (Babaji). I got the impression that Babaji wasn’t interested in teaching me. His face remained stern, his brow furrowed. He barely looked at me. I was therefore surprised to hear that he was happy to have me as a student.

We agreed on 5pm everyday and Sharma reiterated how Babaji was a great harmonium/tabla/sitar teacher.

The next day I learnt that the only words Babaji knows in English are “good”, “again” and “more fast”. He’s taught me the Indian version of the do re mi scales (sa, re, ga, ma, pa, de, ni, sa) and we’ve even started on some bhajans. He began with a simple Hare Krishna, Hare Rama and then last night with the help of a piano keyboard app on my iPad, I worked out the tune for Krishna Govinda – one of my favourites. Perhaps I shouldn’t have shown him my findings as today he had me on Raghupati Ragava Raja Ram which was tough.

This video off YouTube gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. I might even get a clip of Babaji before I leave.

We sit on a bench in the living room. The room is quite bare with a ceiling fan and a cabinet containing metal plates and cups and a staggering array of plastic fruit. Next door we hear his daughter and daughter-in-law teaching about 40 children in the small room. The children giggle and peer round the door and get told off. It must be funny to hear this Western girl singing Sanskrit mantras during their after-school club.

Sharma popped by yesterday to see how I was getting on. I will have to say thank you to him in some way.

While I huff and puff working the squeezebox, Babaji’s grandchildren watch TV on the set in the corner and absentmindedly sing along to the bhajans, swinging their feet under the seat. Pradnya is 13 and translates for us, smiling and encouraging me when I hit a wrong note. She smiles a lot.

I am wary of outstaying my welcome but today Babaji’s son and son-in-law came home to find me sitting having a cup of chai and a rich tea biscuit with their children, wives and mother/mother-in-law. They asked me questions about my life in England. What age did I move out of the family home? How far do I live from there? How old are my parents? They were shocked to discover that my Mum is older than my Dad. The women thought this was wonderful as it’s more likely to be the other way round in India. Their son wanted to know what hobbies I had. He’s good at chess. Babaji’s wife was keen to know if I spoke any Hindi or Marathi. I was sad to say no.

They love my iPad and I have been instructed to bring some family photos to show them tomorrow. Babaji showed little interest in all these discussions and instead lit candles at their garlanded altar depicting Ganesha, Shiva and Parvati in the corner of the living room.

I told them that I’ll be around until 15 November and Pradnya excitedly started chatting to her father in Hindi. “You must come for dinner,” he said. “And you will be here for Divali, the festival of lights. Please join us.” I said I would love to. He then gave me a lift back to my guesthouse on the family scooter.

It’s so lovely to get an insight into how Indian people live. I’d much rather do that than hang out in cafes in Arambol eating ommmmlettes (hahahaha), listening to old hippies playing acoustic guitar.