Why don’t you guys do it, I tell my band of best friends as we cluster round the cane table in the green courtyard. The pendant light creates a gorgeous interplay of light and shadow in the courtyard. But on the faces around me, glum shadows reign. For long, Goa has been an annual pilgrimage. I’ve been there countless times—with family, with BFFs, with the husband (from before he became fiancé and, later, the husband), with my friends, with his friends, with our friends. The mix of sun, sea and sand creates a cocktail conducive to holidaying and, like many others, we find ourselves returning year after year. But this time, Goa seems to be different. The faces around me say that. Words are superfluous.
“We can’t do that,” says a long face. “What will you do?” questions another. “Can we, really?” a third face seems to ask. I’m not really suggesting anything sacrilegious. I only want my friends to get back into the going-out game. Enjoy themselves without a care. Like we used to. Before parenthood forced us to grow up. They sigh, almost in unison.
Most of us head to Goa for sussegad, the Goan way of life. Derived from the Portuguese word sossegado (quiet), it implies a laid-back existence, one where the leisurely pace of life gives you ample time to make the most of every passing moment. It’s about being content, replete and sated.
A vacation in Goa is for sleeping late and rising late. A vacation in Goa is for invoking the words fried calamari, grilled fish and port wine, over and over again. A vacation in Goa is for dancing the night away at one of the many clubs or else the beach. A vacation in Goa is for umpteen rounds of snacks and shots, followed by visits to the flea markets. A vacation in Goa is for late-night chats on the beach, talking sense and nonsense till the wee hours of the morning.
But with children along, a vacation is more like a voyage. One where each day can be completely and surprisingly different. The six of us, with seven children between us, are realising the difference between a vacation and a voyage. Mornings no longer mean jumping into the pool and drying off with a wine breakfast. An open jeep is fine to get across the sunshine state, but speeding is a no-no. A packed lunch is a necessity before driving off for the day: what if a child doesn’t take to the spicy prawn vindaloo?
The planner in me decided that proper prep work and coordination would ensure that things stayed on track, for everyone. So I made plans. The children swiftly unmade them. So I decided to go with the flow of things.
The place we were staying was the perfect place to get started. Marbella, a Portuguese colonial mansion converted into a guest house, was to a parent what an oasis is to a desert. Colonial and Indian antiques mixed with comfortable cane furniture to create the perfect atmosphere to lounge in. But what won all of us—kids included—over was the central courtyard, lush with greenery and shaded even when the sun was up. This was where we converged every morning and evening, for meals and drinks, for coffee and conversation. The two dogs, Ruby and Rupert; the cat, Karishma; and the school of fish in a little pond meant hours of entertainment for the children.
One evening, we set off on a little path behind the mansion. The walkway, almost taken over by the verdant greenery, led up a hill to a small lighthouse. The stroll culminated in the most amazing sunset, and was followed by moments of blissful tranquillity. We came back, ravenous and happy, and more than ready for the spicy Goan fare the chef had readied for us.
Our daughter Rewa, meanwhile, insisted on her staple night meal: dal, chawal and dahi. “You’re having dal-chawal in Goa!” a friend’s daughter exclaimed. “Hmm,” Rewa replied. Sometimes, no reply is the best reply.
Over the next few days, we did a lot of things. We went birding in the wilderness surrounding the guest house. We walked 10 minutes to the nearest beach in the evening and stayed late into the night, building sand castles and singing poems. We drove up to the 16th-century Portuguese Fort Aguada where we haggled over sunglasses for all the kids. We explored the Bom Jesus Basilica and Se Cathedral, and drove around the many forts and mansions. Fontainhas may have been declared a cultural quarter, but it didn’t really engage the kids. We took the kids to a flea market where they were fine with the awesome food but didn’t really want to walk around. Despite the bags, shoes and frippery calling out to us, we had to call it a night.
One night, we landed at Baga beach. A couple of hours later, we were beginning to lean into our drinks and looked around to see the kids fast asleep on their chairs. We smiled. They were getting their own sussegad!
We ate out a lot. The kids started revelling in the variety and newness of the cuisine: the rice and fish curry, vindaloo, xacuti, chorizo or sorpotel. Somehow, in the company of other children, Rewa forgot about not trying new foods. By the end of those four days, she was a dedicated fish-and-chips girl. I learnt a lot about my friend’s children: one was adaptable, one was a fighter, another a softie. Really, they were all chips off the old block!
We often assume that travelling with children is an uphill journey. It is tough, no doubt, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the ride. A vacation with children many not mean your kind of holiday, but it’s a journey. One that’s more than worth embarking on.
That night, I tried to get the point across.
Please go, I told my friends.
I brought out a bottle of wine and a book to drive home the message: I’m looking for a lazy night in! They left soon after, presumably to set some dance floor afire. I was content to pour myself a glass of red and settle down with my book.
This wasn’t the Goa we had returned to year after year. Like us, it had evolved.