Around fifty years ago, on the lane I live on in Goa, a man hung himself. The older residents on our street tell me this was during the monsoon. In those days the long rains were a long theatrical spectacle: achromatic skies, strikes of thunder, a lattice of lightning, thick, cold downpour that didn’t let up for days.The man who killed himself was mentally unstable; his family left him in the village house to fend for himself, while they were stationed in nearby Mapusa. Right before the rains his family would stock up on his rice supplies; they’d see him only in October, when the skies cleared. That year the loneliness of the Goa monsoon proved insurmountable. Tying a jute rope to a kitchen beam he strangled himself to a forlorn death. When the family returned in September, a skeleton was dangling from the ceiling. This is one story in the larger tapestry of Goa stories about the rains, and it is one about that tremendous force of loneliness particular to this season, the sort that can prepare you for everything. Or it can take you out like skittles.
When my friends visit me during the rains they marvel at the intensely Marquezian landscape, vines that crawl over and disguise old ruins, bird cries at daybreak that sound like witch’s laughing, gauzy strings of sunlight that tumble out of jamun trees. The days are lazy, without structure, ellipsis points in time. Someone rolls some grass. We play Rhye or Apparat. The power crashes. There’s a lot of local gin and campari. We’re all vegetarian. Mushrooms are sold in Mapusa market. We eat by candlelight. In the areca palms, glowworms make a dancing net.
There’s a lot to do in the rains now. You could skedaddle to Assagao, and try out some pretty nifty shirts at No Nasties or check out the absurdly talented Australian duo who run the design outpost of Rangeela. When I first moved here, I’d eat at Gunpowder in July, one of the few places open year-round. Among gumboot-clad diners was not only the palm-rubbing thrill of delighting in cool weather, but also the secret skulking weight of the climate’s innate melancholy—we all felt it, even if we were drinking, believing it was all a wonderland of old novels and space cake afternoons. Sakana is open year-round for the best sushi in Goa, as also my favourite, Mahe, perhaps the state’s first world-class restaurant that features fabulous coastal grub for grown-ups. You can shop at fashion and design headquarters, Flame, in Candolim, a store with a doctorate in groovy (I petition a monsoon collection and a larger range for men) and then hurry over to The Project Café for the best fish and chips in town. Finish with hazelnut ice cream at Mr Gelato in Anjuna (oh, and buy some sage sticks from nearby Orchard Supermarket).
That’s me, of course, telling you what to do, where to eat. Ignore everything.
All advice is useless. You’ll find yourself hanging out by the little jetty in Corzeum, where the school boys are fishing under umbrellas. Or maybe you’ll take the Vespa over to where some of the shacks are open in Ashwem. There’s a Russian woman—wiry, with amphetamine elbows—who blends cold coffee and bakes carrot cake but I can’t remember the name of her café (I know you’ll find it). Residents host dinners in villages with names like Diwar and Bastora. Rivalries are set aside. Friendships, once soured, find atonement and recommencement in the grey-green season. Whiskey stands uncapped at 11 am; it makes for a danky mouthwash, I hear.
As for myself, not a single monsoon goes by when I don’t think of the loneliness of my neighbour, his isolation that made a rope knot with courage that Goa was born from his despair and neglect. I listen to music in the evenings, lone as a street lamp; outside, sheets of rain veil the river, the fields outside my cottage. I can understand why he killed himself—life, quite simply, is unbearable. And if you’re cooped up in an old house where you cook rice every day all by yourself then you clutch the kitchen counter while the saucepan simmers, and you think: this can’t be my life. The disbelief at existence—the ill-fitting, clumsy and drab shape that life takes on eventually—becomes greater than our original, flaring conviction in redemption, hope, love.
When I am alone, I often think the same thing—this can’t be my life. A part of me is dazzled by the truant joy of fate’s astonishing pleasures. But another recognises the loneliness that swims up to sharp relief during the Goan monsoon. In the outside, greater world, climate changes as seas rise, people kill themselves at war, raiment over gender and sexuality fall and switch, stem cell will grow our old chompers back. All this happens, and will continue to happen. I wonder if the neighbour—my padosi poet of solitude, this banished beacon of spent hope—had only waited until the end of rains, or if he might have opened a window on a slightly sunny day. He’d have seen life lunging out of the trees, out of the rain-ravished rice blades, from the night orchestra of frogs crazy in love.