In 2012, during Diwali, I found myself at Karwar. Lying on the banks of the Kalinadi estuary formed at the confluence of the river and the Arabian sea, it is a small town. Idyllic almost. A clean sweep of a beach famed for inspiring Rabindranath Tagore to write a dramatic poem. Speaking of Karwar he wrote ”
Here in Karwar I wrote the Prakritir Pratishodha, Nature’s Revenge, a dramatic poem. The hero was a Sanyasi (hermit) who had been striving to gain a victory over Nature by cutting away the bonds of all desires and affections and thus to arrive at a true and profound knowledge of self. A little girl, however, brought him back from his communion with the infinite to the world and into the bondage of human affection. On so coming back the Sanyasi realised that the great is to be found in the small, the infinite within the bounds of form, and the eternal freedom of the soul in love. It is only in the light of love that all limits are merged in the limitless.
The sea beach of Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realise that the beauty of Nature is not a mirage of the imagination, but reflects the joy of the Infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves in it. Where the universe is expressing itself in the magic of its laws it may not be strange if we miss its infinitude; but where the heart gets into immediate touch with immensity in the beauty of the meanest of things, is any room left for argument?”
Oh to be in the same place as Gurudev!
I also remembered watching an episode about the delicious food offered at the local joints on Highway on my Plate. So when my bus pulled in at Karwar bus station, just before sunset instead of continuing my journey to Gokarna, I disembarked and booked the first place I came across for the night. For a measly Rs. 150 it seemed like a steal because it had an attached bathroom and a toilet. I soon left for the beach. It was a nice sunset, a good clean beach with very few tourists and lots of brahminy kites.
I wandered back to my place soon after. Lakshmi Poojan was to take place that evening. People had started to burst crackers. Women dressed in their traditional best could be seen lighting lamps outside their small houses. I opened the door to my room and lied down reading Catch-22. I had found a spot to rest my back after 15 hours. I had woken up at 4 that morning to catch the Jan Shatabdi to Goa which has only upright seats. I smiled at that thought and soon dozed off. Only to be woken up abruptly. A stinging sensation on my neck and face made me get up. I found myself scratching uncontrollably at the red spots that had appeared on the exposed parts of my body. Bedbugs. I could never forget the bites that I had to endure at a dorm in Bangalore only a few months back. These little rascals are a scourge of humanity, I thought in a fit of anger.
I marched to the reception and the apologetic manager transferred my bag to the top floor. Though he didn’t seem to understand what the problem was. Other guests didn’t seem to be suffering any issues either. But I guessed the shift would be better. The window opened out to the town, direct sunlight so no chance of bedbugs I thought. I was famished so I decided to hit up the local restaurants that came highly recommended. Turned out that they were located on the far end of the town. I decided to walk. Dodging firecrackers going off in the narrow lanes, I finally reached the first of the two restaurants – Hotel Amrut only to find it shut for business. Why? Lakshmi Pooja anna, I was told. I got directions for the other one which was not far away. I almost doubled up in anticipation but only to find it shut. I didn’t bother to find out why. All dreams of eating a good bangda fry, squids, prawns, crabs lay shattered. I looked around to find everything shut for business. No restaurant, no eatery selling anything. Not even hot buns.
How could a town shut down all its restaurants for Diwali? It couldn’t be. There had to be a place where the travellers congregate, a canteen for the passersby, for the wayfarer without a home. For me. I took another route back to my hotel, which ran parallel to the highway which ran parallel to the sea. At least I had a good view. On the highway, I saw a bus headed to Gokarna. Then it struck me. The bus stand! I took a detour to the bus stand road and soon found myself staring at a run down dhaba that seemed to be selling very few items. Daily wage labourers thronged the place. With the smell of chicken curry drawing me in, I soon found myself ordering whatever everyone else was having – chicken and parota. Oh what a meal it was! I don’t remember how many parotas I demolished but I remember I didn’t pay much.
It is amazing what food can do to a tired mind and body. I walked back taking in the sights and sounds of Diwali with renewed interest. In my new room, I found Catch-22 on the chair. I sat down to read hoping that the small town firework show would end soon. But it did not. Small rockets and sutli bombs kept going off through the night. Sometime around midnight, I decided to sleep anyway. I shut the window and lay down on my bed. The adventures of Captain Yossarian and the food had momentarily made me forget about the bedbugs. But as soon as I was about to drift off into a fitful sleep, I felt the now familiar itch on my back. I put on the light to find one little rascal scurrying away to the edge of the mattress. The first bus wouldn’t leave until 5 in the morning. I decided to lie on the hard floor. As soon as the lights went off, they attacked. What the f…loor, is this the Nature’s Revenge?! I laughed dryly at my own silly observation. I had to surrender. I sat up on the chair which, thankfully, was immune from attack. I started reading as if I had an exam the next day, I would have finished the entire book if it was only a silent night. Sivakasi made bombs kept going through the night. The air smelled like Bombay during Diwali. At 430, I got dressed, dusted my bag for any signs of these little creatures from hell and walked away to the bus stand.
I caught the first bus to Ankola and took a nice 40 minute nap until the conductor woke me up. I used the surprisingly clean washroom at the bus stand and another bus took me to Gokarna. En route, I saw a magnificent sunrise and smelled the woodsmoke, watched the familiar coastal birds flit about and I felt home. Opposite the bus stand lay a hotel recommended widely, I entered to find the owner lady watering the plants outside. She promised a good room with attached bath for Rs. 300, I enquired if the bed would bite me and she laughed at my query. She apparently didn’t know what bedbugs were. I checked the bed thoroughly and before I knew it, I dozed off. For the first time in 28 hours, I slept for 6 hours straight.