Windows, and looking in (contd.)–a mystic collides with Goan society

When I initially checked out ‘Sunlife Residency,’ I scheduled the visit with Karen, one of the owners, known also as Ronaldo’s wife, as the bargainer, the bitch who had gotten on the wrong side of a few folks who had bought flats from them. Unaware of the illwill surrounding her, I take to her appearance: in her early thirties, brown (as are most Goans and I), with clearly marked features, she sports a pageboy of neat black hair and arrives on the ubiquitous two wheeler (the transport of choice that buzzes fly-like on the winding, narrow roads). Showing me an isolated apartment, which looks out over the fields, she is observant of my reactions: I delight in the view, but am wary of the isolation. Stuck with the ground floor option in order to avoid stressing my knees, I, consequently, worry about safety.

Karen calls me the following day to offer me an alternative I might prefer. In fact, on seeing it, I like the layout, the white walls, space, and little patios/ balconies. As I muse over matters outside in the car park, a voice greets me. Aruna Mallick is an old woman, smartly dressed in yellow pedal pushers and body hugging tee. Her clothes accentuate her neat figure, but her voice codes her for me. Western inflections overlay a heavy North Indian accent. My reactions are mixed, mongrel though I am I belong to the south of India and am proud of my Tamilian/ Dravidian heritage from my dad (ie. I’m not Aryan although my mixed parentage allows for a Coorg quotient from my mum). North Indians often patronize us, dumb, black southies. But, having a soft spot for older people and curious about the interaction, I greet Asha in turn.

“Oh, are you renting that flat from Karen? Are you alone?” she asks, “and where do you come from?” The inevitable urge to place a new arrival. Although I normally avoid my tangled histories, on impulse I tell her that I’m from an ashram in Andhra. “Which one?” she questions, and, of course, I have to name the place– the country is famous for its ashrams, and their spiritual leaders, gurus. Spirituality” is a postmodern commodity that we Indians market aggressively. In return for my personal info, Usha offers a startling titbit, with an enigmatic smile and wink, “There’s been a burglary here” And, “better watch out for Karen, she’s hard to deal with. Rude woman, not like her husband.”

On the first day I move in nothing is ready, all Karen’s promises to see to stuff remain unfulfilled. Quite enraged, on the verge of leaving the place, I mouth off to Agnello, the guy in charge of maintenance, Karen’s brother-in-law. Curtain rods are falling down, the curtains hung are disgusting, there is no gas hob, the shower head is missing, and, woe betide, the sheets are too small for the mattress. The apartment is in need of a thorough dusting and cleaning as well. But, Agnello, a lanky man in his forties, lackadaisically charms me out of my fury. As he placates me, Aruna turns up again, and, seeing Agnello, informs me sotto voce that he is very helpful; she and her daughter only talk to him after checking to see that the coast is clear of Karen.

Over the next two days when all is slowly put in order, I come to the realization that this process is Goa. Two weeks before, when I had arrived in Luisa-by-the-Sea after a 12 hour drive (we’d started at 4:30 am), nothing had been organized either. The owners seemed to wait for the person actually to walk into the place before running about to put things in order. Agnello is a great pacifier, with his easy smile and lanky stride; and, finally, he explains Aruna’s cryptic remark on the burglary that never was.

“It was a set up. They told the police money was missing from the locker, but there were ten people sleeping there. Don’t tell me not even one person saw anything? Anyway, they were all Kashmiris, you can’t trust them. So much money missing, and nobody sees?”

And much later, Karen,

“it was Fayaz’ relation. He brought Hafiz, they are all in it together. I had to pay up Rs. 95,000 in settlement. If I did not, the police would ‘ve been after me as Hafiz didn’t fill up the Form of Particulars.”

Dear blog reader, please reflect on the names we Indians have:
Karen, Ronaldo, Aruna Mallick, Agnello, Fayaz, Hafiz. The names pay tribute to various religions and cultures. The Portuguese colonized Goa in the 1500’s, quelling a petty Sultan; they were forced out by the Indian Army only in 1961 (the year of my birth). As in the rest of India, the colonized are proud of the heritage and culture imbibed through their colonizers; only here it is the Portuguese not the British. The recent colonizers left a legacy of Catholicism, although, ironically, the caste system remains.

A Brahmin Catholic is distinct from a non-brahmin catholic. Similarly, the vegetarians are distinct from the non-vegetarians–the ‘non’ prefix demarcates the good from the non-good! In the West, vegetarianism may distinguish the politically correct folk, in India, it marks the higher caste Brahmin through their diet. Only the lower caste eat meat, and only the lowest would eat the meat of a cow, ie. beef.

As for Aruna Mallick, that name has Sanskrit roots, Aruna being the dawn, a name common in both the North and the South, to Hindus and “non-Hindus.” Names, as for most Hindus, are chosen by markers of caste, community, astrological significance, and auspiciousness. The difference here is that she introduces herself by her first name to me, a younger woman, and allows me to call her “Aruna”. But, as I shall learn, that westernization is superficial, a diaphanous veil over the high caste, well-born female scion of a ‘good family.’ “Mallick” is her husband’s family name, a family which, I will be repeatedly informed, is not on a par with hers. Ironically enough, ‘Mallick’ turns out to be common to both Hindus and Muslims, originating from the Arabic malik meaning ‘king’ or ‘lord.’

Their looks mark the Kashmiris, Muslim or otherwise, as the ultimate Aryans, tall and fair with hooked, noble noses. Their names are testimony to their heritage, Mughal, Afghan, Pashtun, and religion, Islam with a strongly Sufi bent.

Rumi, Sufi mystic, writes,
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And, from the Upanishads of the Hindus,

That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added;
Infinite remains infinite.

I find the Hindu scripture expatiating on the Sufi poet, or vice versa, or as you will…