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Revisiting Konkan

Revisiting Konkan

In the second week of February, 2016, three women aged 9 to 41 years, embarked on a journey from Mumbai to Sindhudurg. The purpose was to for the oldest woman to participate in a run called ‘Spirit of India run’. This was being run by Patrick Farmer, an Australian, to foster Indo-Australian relations and to raise money for Nanhi Kali, which works towards girls’ education. The three women were myself, my sister and her daughter Amaya, who was allowed to abscond from her school by her mother, on grounds that the experience was bound to be educational for her. Probably true, but that didn’t stop the aunt (that’s me) from worrying that she would be thrown out of her school.

It is a well-established fact that my sister, Devyani, is a free spirit and having accepted this fact, her eminently sane family members go along with her craziness, and even support her in them, to try to make sure she stays out of as much trouble as possible. Doesn’t always work and she gets into trouble anyways, but at least if we are around, we feel reassured. Much like parenting in general, I guess. Yes, she is our wild child, our free spirit.

My father, in particular had an acidity attack because of this proposed trip. Running on roads, with traffic, in the hot sun! Kilometers on end! With a precious 9 year old granddaughter in tow! ‘Where do you get such ideas?’, he questioned my sister. But being the good, supportive father that he is, he took off five days from work, to replace me as the caretaker when I left, as I could only take two days off from my kids. And also arranged for a car and driver for a week for us to travel in.

So off we started, early morning while it was still dark, from Mumbai, stopping on way for some tasty wada pav for breakfast. Mid-morning snack at 11 a.m, over which my sister and I squabbled, she stating it was not necessary, I insisting it was. My poor niece was travel-sick in the car and spent portions sleeping on my lap, while my sister and I discussed about feminism, working women, menstruation and other such topics. Lunch was at 3 pm, at a Malvani restaurant. It’s too bad that I don’t eat any sea food, I missed out on all the yumminess that my sister imbibed all through her trip. We finally reached Tarkarli, Sindhudurg at 6 pm just as the sun was beginning to set over the blue sea. The MTDC resort was right on the beach and we hurried over to see the view before it became dark. It was lovely sight, a pretty and clean beach which was not very crowded. A camel keeper wandered up to us, to try to sell Amaya a ride. But apart from this, no other vendors or shops were around. It was a lovely sight, which uplifted our spirits after the 12 hour journey.

We were taken to the scuba-diving institute guest house, much to our disappointment. we would have loved to stay on one of the beach huts at the MTDC resort, but we were to stay at the guest house where Pat Farmer was also staying with his team. I didn’t even know that there was scuba diving at Tarkarli. The institute had a good sized swimming pool where people were trained before being taken out in the sea to see corals. I was impressed. There was a cultural program organised by MTDC in Pat Farmer’s honour, and we went to see it. There was a puppet show, in Marathi and a dance by the shepherd community. While it was very sweet of MTDC to put all this effort, I kept wondering whether it was any use, for being in Marathi, the puppet show went entirely over the Australians’ head. The shepherd dance, well, it was nice, but I wondered if it was necessary to make the main dancer dress in only a loin cloth for it? That part did not seem authentic to me. It also seemed too much like pandering to the western conception of half-naked Indian fakirs! This is probably harsh thinking on my part and the Australians were appreciative when the show ended.

Amaya was quite taken by Pat Farmer and kept chatting with him. she asked him if he had seen a kangaroo in the wild back in his home in Australia and was quite excited to know that there were kangaroos in the wild in the countryside back there.

It seemed that there was no proper kitchen and one special continental dish had been whipped up, which is what was offered to us for dinner. It was a pretty strange dish, consisting of a banana, a slice of cheese, with jam on top and a cutlet. Amaya refused to eat it and I ate some parts of it, but we were pretty hungry so finally we had to order some proper Indian food from the nearby MTDC resort. Then we slept. I woke up at 7 am to a good view of the beach from the bedroom window. But it was when I opened the front door  that I was somewhat floored by the view. It was a lovely view of the creek. We got ready and drove towards Malvan. We were running late and so did not have time to grab any breakfast.

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In Malvan, we went straight to a college where we were ushered into the principal’s office for introductions. Then we went into a hall which was full of students. Unfortunately, there was a gender segregation, girls seated to the left, boys to the right. But at least there were many girls, which was a heartening sign. I and Amaya chose to sit among the girls instead of the stage. After some introductions, Devyani was allowed to address the students. She spoke to them about not limiting their ambitions, dreaming big and following their hearts. Her Marathi unfortunately is very poor and she had difficulty expressing herself clearly. But she spoke sincerely and I think that resonated with the students at some level. She announced her age (41)on the stage, and there was a loud, collective gasp. I turned around and asked one of the girls how old she would guess Devyani to be. The girl replied, ‘no more than 25’. Nice!

Devyani spoke to them about the importance of exercise and of the mental confidence being physically fit imparts. She also talked about how we should demand respect from everyone towards our bodies and that no one had the right to violate our bodies and if they did, then we had every right to defend ourselves even by physically attacking the violators. She demonstrated a couple of taekwando self-defence techniques with Amaya’s help. Finally, she explained about Pat Farmer’s run and exhorted all the students, especially girls, to run with her, for at least one kilometre.

While leaving the hall, Devyani handed over the flowers which had been presented to her, to some of the girl students, which sent the girls into a spate of happy giggles. We went back to the principal’s office where some journalists had gathered for a mini-press conference. Much to my relief, tea was served as I had been craving for something to eat or drink. After answering a few questions, Devyani excused herself as the students were waiting downstairs. She then started running with nearly fifty-sixty students behind her. The boys and girls looked very happy and excited and were running with enthusiasm. Amaya and I ran to the car and started following them. We were worried as it was already hot and Devyani was not carrying water. But fortunately this was not a long run as Devyani was invited to another school and we had to reach there soon. After running for a km or so, Devyani stopped and said goodbye to the students. The girls all wanted to shake her hand and pose for photographs with her. Waving our good byes we left and went to another place.

IMG_20160211_114220_HDR_1461676311105We stopped to have some breakfast along the way. Then we went to another school. And another. And another. By this time, the sun was overhead and it was really hot. I was hungry and tired and I wasn’t even doing anything. It was Devyani who was doing the talking and the running and I could only imagine how exhausting it must be. I would have collapsed by now. But she made her will power and adrenaline pull her on with this routine for four schools, even though she was tired also.

In our third school, some students were performing in a cultural program. There was a dance and all of us were struck by one particular girl. She was very beautiful and danced extremely well. We remarked on this to the principal. The Principal informed us that this girl was facing a lot of financial difficulties, she was an orphan, she lived in a hostel and found it difficult to pay the fees. It was unlikely that she would be able to continue with her education for much longer. As it happened, before Devyani started her run, a gentleman (who wished to remain anonymous) had offered his help to any one deserving student identified by her by supporting her education. We all thought that this girl (I prefer not to name her) could benefit from his kind offer. Devyani spoke to the principal about this and took down the girl’s contact details and those of her guardian , who was her uncle, and spoke to the girl and her teachers about putting her in touch with the gentleman so that he could make good on his offer. The girl was quite overwhelmed and close to tears. I sure hope that this fructifies into the girl getting supported for completion of her education. Even if this is the only good thing that came out of Devyani’s run, it will be enough for all of us.

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Late in the afternoon, we finally broke for lunch at a roadside restaurant, where we filled up on chicken for me and sea food for the other two. Then we went to yet another school but by then Amaya and I were too exhausted to even get out of the car. We begged off and played Lumosity games on my I pad in the car. After some time, Amaya wanted to go to the washroom. I pointed out the school washroom to her and waited while she made a trip. When she came back, I asked her if she had used the washroom. She shook her head and said that it was the ‘worst washroom she had ever seen in her life’. I reminded her that this was the washroom the girls in this school had to use everyday. She looked glum and didn’t say anything. I guess this was the kind of education that her mother was referring to when she said the trip would be educational for Amaya. And why not? She should find out how the majority of the people in her country live and not always stay in the bubble. I hope that some day, when she is grown up, she will do something to make things better.

After we were done with the fifth school, Devyani decided to quit calling on schools and to follow and join up with Pat Farmer for some serious running. Thus far, she had just been doing a km or so with the school children. So we got on the road and drove till we spotted Pat’s convoy. There were 5-6 vehicles including an ambulance and a police car. I felt a bit embarrassed because the convoy was slowing up the traffic. Also, I knew that the ambulance and the police car were provided by the district administration. But Pat already had a crew which also had a doctor in it. I pointed this out to Devyani who conceded that because the the orders to support the run had come from high up to the district administration, who, wanting to please their superiors had probably offered more help than was necessary. I objected to the waste of resources. She assured me that this waste was much less than that carried out on visiting politicians and dignitaries. But she acknowledged that a system of accountability and evaluation of the resources spent versus the benefits gained for the country should be put in place. I agreed with that very strongly.

So at one point, we caught up with the convoy and Devyani got down and ran with Pat Farmer for some time. Then she fell behind. She has stress fractures on both legs so she has to run very slowly to avoid injury. So she ran. It was 4’0 clock in the afternoon, very hot and she was tired after visiting 5 schools. But she ran 11 kms. I guess that goes to show that the mind is wonderful thing and if it is strong, it can override the body’s constraints. This also I hope was educative for Amaya. Grit in action.

Amaya also ran for a bit, with Pat. Then she got tired and got into Pat’s crew van and hung out with the crew members. I guess they were amused to have a 9 year old among them and put up with her gracefully. It was with great difficulty that she could be persuaded after some time to leave their van and get back into our car.

After Devyani got back in the car, we drove and again caught up with Pat’s convoy. By this time it was dark, we had reached a resort in Meethgavane where we were to spend the night. The owner of the resort had been informed about the run and came out to personally to welcome all of us. Pat was looking quite exhausted after running 80 kilometres. We were happy to get into a room and collapse on the bed. We had dinner, after which I bribed Amaya with Rs 500 to massage her mother’s legs. After she had earned her money, we went to bed as the next day we were to make an early start. We woke up at 4.00 am and were out by 4.30 am. It was pitch dark outside. We followed Pat’s convoy to the point where he had stopped running last evening. As we neared the spot, we saw lots of crowds. Many officials and school students were waiting there for Pat. Again, I felt a wave of guilt. Almost a hundred people, many of them students had been woken up at unearthly hour and brought out here in the cold to cheer for Pat Farmer. Was it really necessary? Did he even want this? It seemed to me that he actually found crowds annoying- all he wanted was to run in peace, which the crowds actually made difficult. He graciously accepted all the adulation however, and soon, he and Devyani started running. Almost 50 students were running behind them. They ran in the darkness for some time, then it started getting light. Devyani fell behind and we drove after her at a snail’s pace. I encouraged Amaya to sleep but she said that once she woke up she couldn’t go back to sleep. After a few kms, Devyani stopped. There were a lot of school girls who were waiting for her. She posed for a few photographs with them and then she got in the car and we drove to Ratnagiri. By now Devyani’s legs were hurting and she needed some rest and a professional massage, which we hoped to get in Ratnagiri.

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We had lived in Ratnagiri 25 years ago, when our father was posted there. We drove to the same guest house where we had stayed for a few days till we had moved into our house. We remembered it vaguely. We were taken into a suite where we ordered breakfast. After some time, the officer who now lived in the house where we had lived, came to pick us up and take us to her house. She had wi-fi so Amaya was thrilled. She occupied herself on her phone for quite some time, playing games and listening to songs and doing whatever it is that kids these days do on these things. I got an opportunity to rest while Devyani went out to get a massage. We had lunch and then Devyani and I went to Gogate college, where she had studied 25 years ago. She addressed the girls. Some of Devyani’s former teachers, who were still in the college came out to meet her.

Ratnagiri surprisingly hasn’t changed much. Our old house, her old college and my old school, they’re pretty much the same. The town hasn’t developed all that much, though there are more resorts around the outskirts of the town which hadn’t been there before. But much of the old landmarks, like the district hospital, the CEO and the collector’s office, all looked the same. One would have anticipated the development to have accelerated after Konkan Railway started operations, but it seems not to have happened. I wonder what are the reasons behind it. But I also can’t help feeling relieved. The beauty of the Konkan deserves to remain untouched and unspoilt by development. I sure hope the residents of Konkan feel that way too and that they don’t feel disappointed at the lack of development as they are the ones who have the locus standi to have opinions on this issue.  I don’t.

We met up with Pat Famer’s convoy as he came to the district centre for a rousing welcome. Again the crowds, much bigger this time, were milling around. I whispered to Amaya that she could start a rumour in the crowd of school girls that Shah rukh Khan was coming along with Pat Farmer, just for fun. She refused, quite rightly so, I guess, for it may have turned into a mini riot! Then Pat and Devyani started running again. Now they were running in the streets which were busy with traffic. It was a bit scary for us as we watched over Devyani. It soon became apparent that she was in a lot of pain. She practically seemed to be limp-running. We got her a pain-relief spray and she kept spraying that and running. Stopping and running. The traffic thinned out as we got out of town. We were heading towards Ganpatipule, which is, according to me, one of the loveliest beach destinations in the country. The roads were narrow and up and down at some points. As Devyani kept stopping often to spray the pain relieving medication, we kept asking her to stop and get into the car. Finally after running for 5-6 kms, she gave in and stopped. She put her legs up in the car and we rubbed ice over them to reduce the pain.

After reaching Ganpatipule and resting for some time, we parted ways. I came back to Ratnagiri to catch my train which would take me back to Mumbai, to my quotidian life. My parents had arrived in Ratnagiri to take over from me. My dad dropped me off the train station. This was the first time we had ever seen the Ratnagiri railway station because back when we lived, there had been no Konkan railway. My Konkan adventure was over. It lasted only two days but felt much longer. I guess travel is like that. You live a lot more.

Photo Credits: Sharmistha


Sharmistha has worked for and wrote in Channel Y, a former youth tabloid of the Indian Express group of publications. Sharmistha lives in Mumbai with her husband and twin sons.

Sharmistha has published a book of poetry, ‘Selected poems by Sharmistha Khobragade’ through Writers Workshop in 2010. Her articles have been published in the Hindustan Times, Sunday Guardian, and First Post. Besides writing, she likes reading, traveling, music and films.

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