“If Winter is here, can Spring be far behind?”
– Percy Bysshe Shelley
So said the great poet, but strangely enough, winter is springtime in Goa! It’s when the air is clean and crisp and when the skies are blue. It’s when the sun smiles down gently and when the birds sing.
It doesn’t just bring flocks of birds (both migrating ones and local natives) out into the open, it brings in hordes of tourists too. I have been here for just over a decade with my aged parents and it has given me ample time to truly appreciate the Goan winter-springtime, as I like to call it. And I have been meaning to write this piece and share the experience with folks.
This morning, as I woke up, for example, the sky was still pitch black, or perhaps blue-black, a shade I only know as the colour of ink. I wake up early – at 4 am – in order to catch up on my reading and it’s so quiet, you can hear a pin drop. Then, in a matter of a half-hour or so, I can hear the birds sing. Not a chorus like before, since the many trees in front of our block of apartments have been cut down recently to make way for a squash court. I used to open the windows of my room to let the cool, bracing early morning air in until I found that moths and other insects started flying in for the light. So, these days I keep the windows shut till around 6 am which is a more decent waking hour for most people, I guess. And when the sun too is beginning to wake from its slumber and peer out of the horizon.
It’s at this time of the year that I open the windows to soft and gentle mist that envelopes the open sports ground in front of our flat. Well, open at least until the squash court is built and starts obstructing the early morning sunshine and lovely view from our balcony. The mist slowly clears by around 8am and we are ready for a sunny breakfast. I find the entire experience of winter mist strange in Goa, having lived in Delhi for more than half my life where winter mornings are spent in a thick haze of fog until almost noon. Goa winters are much kinder, they are like spring, as I said.
The mornings are pleasant and so are the evenings, with cool breezes blowing most of the time. The evenings are in fact, perfect for al fresco dining. Most beachfronts especially, are full of tiny restaurants or “shacks” as they are called and they all set tables out for dining by the sea. It is quite an experience as I recall from my younger days when I would visit my parents in Goa and we would step out occasionally for a meal with our friends. To feel the salty breeze blow into your face and hear the ocean waves as you bite into a Masala (spiced) Prawn and sip your wine or cocktail is an experience not to be missed. And if there is traditional Fado music to serenade you, there is nothing quite like it. Except in Lisboa, I would imagine.
I know some of this sounds touristy, but it is something plenty of local Goans enjoy as well. Friends of my father, for example, enjoy a good Sunday swim in the sea before settling down for chilled beer and a hearty Goan lunch.
You see, this is the time to revel in the outdoors. For Goa knows only two seasons: when it rains (incessantly) and when it doesn’t. Summers here are thankfully shorter than in most parts of India, lasting just April and May. June is when the Southwest monsoon arrives via Kerala, bringing with it, months of torrential rain and grey, overcast skies. It’s when the red, laterite soil of Goa magically turns a lush green everywhere you look.
Nothing then in Goa is quite what it seems. Just as the red earth turns green in the monsoon, the tropical coastal region feels Mediterranean in winter-springtime. The spiced Masala Prawn or Fish Reichado looks fiery, but it has a light sweetness thanks to the vinegar. You imagine the ocean is as close as the crow flies, until you realise that Goa is part of India’s Western Ghats and that means negotiating ups and downs and hairpin bends around her gentle hills. You see trees that haven’t sprung leaves, but they’re laden with flowers. It’s in the air, the flowers, the soft sunshine, the swaying palms, the cool blue waters. It’s in the way time just floats by, like a boat on one of Goa’s backwaters.
Winter-springtime is also when the flowers are in full bloom everywhere. The Goans love the outdoors and try and bring as much of it indoors as they can. You will find most Goan homes have potted plants on their porches, window sills and even inside their living spaces. Driving through Goan villages, I am always amazed by how even the tiniest home will have a tidy patch of garden and plants that they take good care of. Looking at the number of nurseries that have mushroomed in our neighbourhood in recent years, I can tell how popular potted and other flowering plants have become in Goa.
Little wonder, Goans care so much about nature and the environment. And they are often very vocal about it. From protesting about chemical effluents in the ’80s to protesting about mining and coal pollution today, the local population spearheads movements for change.
The mango tree in front of our apartment is gone, but friends who invited us recently for lunch told us that mangoes are already in season in Goa. Something seems to be really awry with the earth’s biological clock, thanks to climate change! Mangoes in the market already means the jackfruit tree in our flat compound will soon start bearing fruit. I am not a fan of jackfruit (a spiky, smelly large fruit, akin to the durian of Southeast Asia, for those who might be familiar with that), but I know the sticky, sweet smell that hangs in the air when the fruit ripens, since the tree is just outside one of my bedroom windows. And I also know that birds and squirrels will throng in large numbers to have a bite of it, flitting and scurrying amidst the tree’s branches. Goans, like the people of Kerala, use jackfruit in their cooking as well to make local delicacies.
The months from November to March are to be savoured then in Goa, like fine wine. It’s when there are a number of festivals held as well. The biggest occasion, of course, is Christmas when families get together and Goans from faraway lands too home in for the festivities. There is also the Carnival, which is in March this year. These help to bookend winter-springtime if you like, with plenty of other festivals of books and literature – like the Goa Arts and Literature Festival I attended last December – as well as art and music in between, especially at the International Centre, Goa
It is when all the good things of life are to be enjoyed in Goa. When people make time for these simple pleasures. Leisure is still a way of life here and in many ways, Goa seems relatively untouched by the hectic pace that technology has brought into our lives. I won’t say that I don’t miss the energy and pace of a big city like Delhi which has been home to me for over half my life. But Goa has been home now for over a decade and I am learning how to get accustomed to her rhythms and changing seasons, how to set aside me-time, time for reflection and thinking, time to just savour and appreciate life.
All this and more are ours to enjoy. Until the monsoon is here that is, when you will hear from me again. The monsoon is when Goa is most beautiful and bountiful, and when she really reveals her tropical nature. It is her Indian Summer and thankfully, it is here every year.
Signing off by wishing a very happy international women’s day to all!