The Children of Paradise vs. truncheon swinging cops; a mouse and monkeys vs. the vagabond painter. The battles of paradise at Kudle Beach, Gokarna, India.
Names have been changed to protect the luscious, the salacious and the truly delicious.
I never saw a body washed up on a beach before. From a distance he looked to be enjoying the waves lapping over him as you or I would enjoy laying in the surf on a hot afternoon. As I came closer, something, I don’t know what, seemed wrong. His body was covered with a fine white powder which didn’t make any sense. He looked peaceful until I saw his bulging eyes. He had seen something terrible.
Drowning is common in paradise. The rocking horse soothing of the Indian Ocean’s surface belie a treacherous undercurrent.
I live in a thatched bamboo hut on Kudle Beach, Gokarna, India.
Across the neighboring headland to the south is Om Beach and after that is Half Moon Beach and for the truly intrepid who disdain any clothing that unnecessarily impedes getting down to Momma Earth’s primal rhythms there is Paradise Beach. This quartet of sand, as fine as a powdered baby’s bottom, and sea, as blue and sparkling as a strumpet’s come hither eyes, and salubrious entertainments of many a dubious quality, stretches for about, maybe, four kilometers. But who can really be bothered to measure the distance. If you demand specifics, well, the postal code here is 581326.
A large rat, about the size of an alley cat, visits me in the nocturnal hours. She is well behaved for a rat and sometimes slips under my mosquito net to nuzzle me. I call her Lulu. I am assuming Lulu is a she. We haven’t been formally introduced.
Tim lives in the hut next to mine. He is a dislodged Californian. There are no jobs for him in California. Tim figures that if he must be poor he might as well be poor in paradise. Most people would call Tim a hippy. He wears funny clothes and his curly red hair explodes atop his head like lit firecrackers packed tightly into a trash can. I guess we all wear funny clothes here. They look normal to us.
Tim endures an unwelcome celibacy amid a freewheeling carnality seldom seen this side of the Cross. Tim is not a pretty boy. I suspect my duplicitous Lulu also nuzzles Tim in the empty hours. That is the nature of rats.
At sunrise lithe young women emerge from their bamboo huts to greet the exuberantly cheery sun and do yoga. Diminutive cattle, the size of petting zoo ponies, trot out from the back paddocks for a morning of bovine wilding. The yoga gatherings are disrupted by tiny bulls intent on being a nuisance. They steadfastly refuse to be shooed away by now very annoyed young women.
At mid-morning an unsteady truce ensues between territorial ungulates and perturbed yogis and the day settles into an easy cadence gently syncopated by naps and rainbow coloured dreams sorting out the puzzle of existence.
There really isn’t much to do in the hot soporific haze of the afternoon until Juan the Argentine Mad Hatter — so named for the three hats piled recklessly on his head — sets up his chess board and demolishes all of us in less than six moves apiece. Juan is a world class chess master. His reality is defined by sixty-four squares. When outside that realm of harsh geometry Juan stalks the rim of the Arabian Sea looking like he has lost a contact lens.
Most afternoons I paint. It would be easier to paint in the cool mornings but I am not a morning person. I like the afternoon light. It is a factual light. The afternoon sun has nothing to hide.
The monkeys that harass me are a problem. They like my paint brushes and try to steal them. Many people think that monkeys are cute. I find them to be as cute as an impolite mugger on a pre-dawn IRT Express subway train hurtling through Brooklyn. It is difficult to concentrate on painting while fending off furry felons.
I usually return to my bamboo hut on the beach just before sunset. Sometimes I lose track of time and have to pick my way back along starlit paths strewn with sharp, serrated rocks and the few small cliffs that breach the headlands. One time I lost my palette at Half Moon Beach and had to go back and search for it at night. I wasn’t too happy about that.
Sunset is a special time on Kudle Beach. We all gather to watch the big flaming tangerine lollipop slide into the yawning gullet of the violet sea. There is a small hippy market where highly polished shells, coconut trimmings and semi-precious stones are transpired into jewelery. Mostly necklaces and wrist bands. Some of the artisans have been travelling perpetually for over twenty years on the proceeds of their itinerant businesses.
In the crepuscular glow of golden vibes musicians pluck, strum and caress an ad hoc assortment of instruments into a harmonious celebration of twilit joy. An Indian woman’s voice trills high above our heads weaving a magical tonal tapestry within the concordant thread of drum rhythms. It is wondrous and beautiful.
Jugglers emerge to juggle and hula hoops spin upon undulating hips of serpentine temptresses releasing spores of pagan desires into the warm moist air like hot tongues nibbling on eager nipples.
The children of paradise go to bed early. The evening’s festivities usually conclude at nine. The clapped together and slightly disreputable cafes are empty save for the lonely hearts who are cast adrift and bereft of tender companionship. I often contemplate Orion’s Belt glittering in the velvet blackness and once in a while consider Lulu. She is easily summoned with cookies.
Every three days a trip into town is required for replenishing supplies. Mostly sundries such as water, eggs and cookies. Gokarna is a holy town and quite popular with pilgrims, or yatri. There are tensions with the townsfolk who feel that the hippy presence is a sacrilegious affront. Many of us are more Hindu attired than the Indians who are usually dressed like Wal-Mart sales clerks. I wonder what they must think of us with our dreadlocks, elaborate tattoos, drooping dhotis and clattering ankle bracelets playing at being Sadhus. Many of us are in our late twenties and thirties. Arrested children, for sure; better a fantasy life than a florescent lit coffin.
The town folk fear that their gentle town will morph into a tourist infested horror like many of the besieged towns in neighbouring Goa. I cannot blame them too much; I fear for the future of Gokarna too. Yesterday a jet ski showed up at Kudle Beach — a harbinger of ill tidings.
Tim is losing his way. His travels have no other purpose other than passing time until his money runs out and he is forced to return to an American splendor of shit jobs.
Tim’s birthday is Friday. Valentine’s Day. He confides that he will be thirty and is disconsolate that his decade of the big pain is closing. Being thirty colors things with less brilliant, more somber hues.
A party is planned for Tim. Tuk tuk drivers are dispatched for beer and salty snacks. Herbal supplements are procured and eager musicians assembled. And the hula hoop girls too. The gateway to Tim’s dismal year will be celebrated beneath the banyan tree in the back paddock where our Bacchanalian excess will be discretely removed from easily offended eyes. And perhaps the hula hoop girls will hula naked. I surely hope so. After all, it is Tim’s birthday.
And a mighty fine birthday it turned out to be with guitars strummin’ and drums drummin’ and hulas hoopin’, albeit fully attired … sigh. Mosquitoes censor libidinous possibilities.
And Tim danced and swayed with a big happy smile casually slapped on his face like a wind-bent highway billboard, his melancholia erased away by skiffs the size of Cuban cigars. I, too, drew heartily on the pungent and sweet embers of mellow merriment and the anchor of my solitary exile broke free and sank into the abyss. For a little while.
Ten cops showed up just before the magical witching hour of eternal and cosmic renewal and demanded an outrageous bribe of 30,000 Rupees. That’s almost $500! Their demand was politely declined which then was met with a very crude rebuttal and raised bamboo truncheons.
An order was barked, cops charged forth and truncheons were heartily swung. A bamboo truncheon, which feels about 42 inches in length, hurts like a sonuvabitch when struck into soft buttocks. I howled like a naughty school girl served a capital sentence. The hula hoop dancers loosed high-pitched animal shrieks of pain when the truncheons raised purple welts on their luscious bottoms. The drummers were drummed without mercy, the guitarists, too, were violently strummed. An unfortunate wretch was dragged into the trees, tied to a chair and pummeled bloody.
Tim, having indulged mightily in Mother Earth’s euphoric bounty and possessed of a sole remaining wit, thought it a good idea to protect his better side by ducking under the malevolent swing of a truncheon. He did not duck low enough and his head split open like an overripe melon. I courageously stumbled forth to his unsightly aid (in the moonlight Tim looked like he was mugged by an outraged bottle of catsup) but was felled under a multitude of blows.
The bamboo spanking sorely dampened our party spirits and fully routed we scampered into the night holding our sorry butts less they slip off our hips.
Alas, not every child of birthday bliss escaped the clutches of corrupt authority. The drummers were hauled off to jail to be processed which meant negotiating the baksheesh — the bribe to be paid for sullying the bamboo truncheons of Indian law and order.
In the morning the casualties gathered to commiserate and compare wounds. Tim’s head was dressed with strips torn from a bed sheet, a large crimson blot glowered like an angry flower. Tim looked like a wounded Confederate soldier showing up for breakfast after Gettysburg.
There was no musical interlude at sunset that day. The drummers were still in jail. The hula hoop girls’ luscious bottoms were too sore and bruised to sway to the syrupy rhythms of tangerine sunsets.
Eventually our wounds and welts receded like surly phantoms slipping and sliding into early morning dew. We resumed our carefree lives and frolicked as spring lambs would frolic upon hearing the news that the local abattoir had gone belly-up. Love and lust again, and again and again, moistened the moonlit beach sands while shards of broken hearts were taken up by the warm caresses of velvet waves and carried away by a demoralized Cupid whose silken wings are moulting causing him to plunge into the Arabian Sea like Icarus shot in the head by a cuckolded sniper.
Frolicking betwixt moon shadows and morning dew drops eventually gathers a tarnish and an ennui descended and snuffed out freedom’s joy like a troupe of hirsute Republicans showing up at a pajama party sporting last week’s unlaundered bed sheets and insisting on peeing in the pool.
Tim, always bereft of love’s sticky baubles, haunted the darkest corner of the Om Shanti Cafe and no longer danced and skipped upon the flickering tongues of the Arabian Sea’s warm, salty waters. Anxiety spun its fine and cloying spider’s web and held him fast. I didn’t know what Tim was going to do with the rest of his life either.
The Dragon Cafe was the first to close up shop for the season. Next was the Paradise. The Monsoon was on the way and the heavy walls of rain would soon wash away the memories and the bamboo huts, stained with the promiscuous excitements of the young and the lustful and the anvil weighted sorrows of the lonely, would be torn down and left to rot in the soggy ground.
Lulu, too, grew despondent. Her nocturnal raiding now yielded precious few cookies and other yummy rodent snacks. A girl’s got to eat and one dark and very fine night Lulu selected a painting for her din din. A belly full of expressive color bound with masterful brush strokes and the gastrointestinal tract of Rattus norvegicus is an unhappy union. Lulu’s appetite for fine art punched her mortal ticket.
Somewhere in an obscure cranny of my hut Lulu’s earthly remains festered in the tropical heat. A few days later Lulu’s olfactory eviction notice sent me toddling into the sunset lugging a heavy backpack and a melancholy love song, sung out of tune and scaring the bejesus out of little children, upon my crusty lips. Another solitary and romantic hero looking for love wherever it may lurk.