So is there more to life than… ?

There had been a rather long gap after my last book Walking with Angels and friends were wondering what I was working on. How could I be so blunt as to tell them all I was working on was trying to keep my mother alive? So instead of being morbid I would keep an eye on care giving, instructing her ayahs, keeping relatives and family posted on her health status on a daily basis and setting up my desk in the verandah by the door from where I could watch her and “doing my writing”. In other words, trying to keep myself from going crazy with worry.

“Why don’t you write about the Parsi buildings in Bombay?” suggested a friend. I mumbled that for that I would have to leave the house and go out and see the buildings, sit for long hours in libraries and pore over literature on both the Parsis and the Parsi buildings of Bombay. It was a clear “can’t do” project in the situation I was in. So I started writing about myself, my relationship with my mother and what it was like growing up in Baroda. For that I would not need to go out of the house. It was a book that was just sitting in my head.

“But aren’t you too young to be writing your memoirs?” cried another friend from all the way in the south of France. How young or old does one have to be, I thought. Of one thing I had absolutely no doubt. It was a subject I knew best. As I began writing, recollections began pouring in, some funny and pleasant and a lot of them painful. Will I upset this one if I say this, I wondered but kept writing on anyway. I would write it as it happened and then perhaps delete it all, I said to myself.

“Everyone thinks their life is extraordinary,” remarked another friend who read the first flush of writing with some boredom underlaid. So I am not writing this to create a sensation, to startle readers out of their seats, to make people think I was extraordinary. I had a life outside of the one that most people knew about and I wanted to share that. I suppose it happens to everyone. People know you for the work you do, for the brand image that you have carefully worked on so that you can get the attention you need for the results you want to achieve.

An architect for example will project herself using the buildings she has designed and built. She is then known for her contributions to the cityscape. How many of us will see how she juggles her personal and family life? How many of us will see how she looked after an ailing parent-in-law, dropped the kids off to school, organized a family wedding with a smile and also had the time to sit down and design benches for a school run by a charity? There are many facets to us, many lives all rolled into one, many stories to share.

I came to Goa from the tea gardens of Munnar in Kerala in the monsoon of 1995. Not many people knew me then but when I began my advocacy on heritage conservation and preservation, started the Goa Heritage Action Group with architects Poonam Verma Mascarenhas and Raya Shankhwalker my branding had begun. How we started the group, how people reacted to us and supported us is a long and interesting story. It is a story of trials, tribulations, celebrations and commentary. “Who is she and how dare she tell us what to do?” said some people who did not agree with us. The fact that I had worked in Kerala before I had landed here in Goa was also a thorn in the side for some.

I would use my book on Kerala as a calling card thinking that would establish my credentials. I learnt really fast that it was absolutely the wrong move. My being a Parsi from Bombay, instead, saved the day and I had to forget about making any references to Kerala. But that is my past, which is my personal history. That I was India’s first woman tea planter, that I worked in the tea gardens, that I learnt how to ride a motorcycle there and it was a biking accident that put an end to my tea garden career is all part of my personality. I kept the tea garden past quiet because I wanted to make headway into the preservation movement in Goa. If that is how it works here, so be it, I said to myself. People will see what they want to see.

When I was writing this book, however, I did not hold anything back. I have put down everything and anything I felt like writing. I was telling my story, the parts that no one knew about, the parts that did not fit into their idea of my personality. I’ve come a long way since those first few years when I had to struggle to make people aware of the value of their own heritage. Those days all my writing had a purpose, a purpose of creating awareness. My books, however beautiful and glossy, were all designed with a serious, nuts and bolts mission in mind. Creating those books, writing out those articles and making those presentations gave me immense pleasure but right through I had my eyes and ears peeled for an encouraging word, a supportive pat on the back, and a push forward for the cause.

There’s more to life than a house in Goa set me free! I began writing it to not just share my stories but also to liberate myself from the purpose of writing. Here I was telling my story and “dancing like no one was watching”. Perhaps that is why you can pick up any chapter and start reading about that phase. It is perhaps that is why that you wonder, like my friend Wendell Rodricks, if all these stories come from this one single person. Lots of people have said a lot of things about the book. The strangest remark came from someone I met recently when she said, “Autobiography is it? Aha, then it must be fiction?” Clearly, there’s more to life than a life’s story.


I am in Melbourne, Australia on holiday and I cannot help comparing this beautiful city with our very own little gemstone, Panaji. What’s there to compare, you say? Well, for one, both cities have grown dynamically on the banks of two great rivers. Melbourne is on the Yarra or Yarra Yarra ( the swift flowing) and Panaji on the Mandovi (originally the Gomti or the swirling). Both rivers meet the sea in a beautiful luxuriously lazy wide yawn and merge with the waters of the ocean where restaurants and cultural hubs line its banks.
And that is where the comparison ends. For one, Panaji’s waters are mostly crystal clear even when the casino ships and barges pour out their spillage into them. The Yarra is highly polluted. They say that the gum trees wash their sap into the Yarra that gives it the dark muddy colour but going by the limited experience that I have of the rivers, it’s much more than that. You’d think that the river that is enjoyed by so many people would be a lot cleaner than this. You can both see ugly froth and smell the sewage.
This does not stop people from enjoying the river, though. There are pretty Victorian houses along the river that are actually the club houses for the various university and private boating clubs. University teams practice their boating skills in the heart of the city, the Victorian judge’s stand holds its own pompously on the bank for the regatta judges. Trees line the banks of the river just as they do along the Mandovi. There is also a promenade here and a national gallery of the arts as well as an arts centre where plays and operas are held just like at the Kala Academy.
A striking difference is in the boat cruises designed and run for the tourists who come here. The boats are comfortable and most important of all, there is a tour guide on the boat that gives you a running commentary on the various buildings, stadiums and trees that you see as the boat glides along. No, there is no brain-dead Bollywood on the boats. You learn about the city as you go along, the tour guide answers all your questions and even recommends where you can go for dinner. That is something I find missing in Panaji. There is no boat cruise that gives you information on the city, nothing for the slightly interested visitor to Panaji.
When there is a cricket match at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (Jolimont Metro Station – MCG for those in the know) there are up to 4 million tourists into Melbourne from all over Australia and all over the world. If you can’t get yourself a ticket to the hallowed ground, you can sit down on the beautifully patterned paving stones at Federation Square near the Prince’s Bridge in the heart of Melbourne and watch the match on giant screens. Where do we have the facility? I have seen giant screens in pubs and restaurants in Calangute and Candolim for beer guzzling and cup-cake chomping football fans but never a decent open ground where people can come watch films and matches on a giant screen for free. Would it be too much to ask?
Of course you can’t compare Melbourne and Panaji. In terms of size, there can be no comparison. Melbourne has skyscrapers and high rises and tall buildings. If panaji is a gemstone then Melbourne is a diamond bracelet. Panaji is a historic gemstone that has been cut and polished over the years but the roofscapes from both the Mandovi and the Princes bridges are almost equally breathtaking. Both cities have taken pride in their historic past, their churches and chapels have been preserved and are juxtaposed gently into new buildings. Panaji is more compact and limiting in its landscape. Melbourne more expansive and awe-inspiring. Both cities can offer you the most spectacular sunsets, sunrises and days in between.
Cinemas and theatres pop out of nowhere in Melbourne and now with the internet you can find out what’s playing where in the matter of a few seconds. What is different is that if it is too far to walk to a cinema or theatre from where you are, you take a tram. The trams here are frequent and uncomplicated. My hosts here prefer to take the tram to the city rather than take the car because of Melbourne has made parking so prohibitively expensive. The whole city is managed for walking, cycling, skating and going up and down in trams. Office goers put on their jogging shorts and cycling shorts in their lunch hour. The Botanical Gardens are in the heart of the city and you have 45 acres of greenery and flowers to run in, walk your dog or take your little one out in a stroller.
We don’t do that in Panaji. The sun being too hot is a poor excuse, really. The temperature in the city of Melbourne has touched 26 degrees Celcius and that is hot in any country. The sea breeze and the wind over the cool waters of the Mandovi would help you cool off just as it does the people here in Melbourne. So why don’t we use the waterfront more often? Panaji and Melbourne also have something else in common. The number of visitors to the city is almost more than double its local population. Yet, not once did we feel we were outsiders looking in. You just go with the flow, there are people more than willing to help you find your way if you are lost and tram functionaries that help you plan your connections.
So, I must share this story. My friend Dilshad and I went to the Melbourne Zoo (which is a little way out of town) and were waiting at the tram stop for our ride back into town. A lady in a car stopped and shouted out that there were no trams coming our way. Before we registered what was happening another lady from the neighbourhood, walking her dog, stopped and explained that there had been a “dust-up” further down the road and that there were no trams coming. She gave us all an alternate route to take, a walk through a park, to another tram stop that would take us back to the city. She did not have to do what she did. She could have walked her dog minding her own business but she didn’t. We found our way back home that day. Would something like this have happened in Panaji? Yes, I say.


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Your city, your soul spot

My nephew Rustom is just back from a business trip to the city of Bangalore. The once beautiful “garden city” has disgusted him. It is dirty, there are no trees and the gigantic monstrous malls in the new areas of the city are so enormous that he felt dwarfed by them and therefore alienated by them. A short walk on the streets was a challenge to his olfactory senses. The footpaths had been taken over by vendors and the gutters had been laid open to the machinations of an indifferent urban populace. Trash was being tossed into these open gutters as a matter of right. A desperate group of young people, he says, run a weekly unguided, speech-free walk through these dung and filth covered areas calling the exercise Olfactory Walks. The only trees he says he could see were in private gardens and they were lovely to look at but not accessible to the public. The public gardens, romantically named and reminiscent of British Colonial times were laid under siege by a city that seems to be constantly in a rush to get underground with their cabling, sewer laying and relaying. Traffic was a non-stop nightmare.

“Traffic’s bad in Mumbai too,” I said, defensively although Bangalore, as Indian cities go, is an indefensible city. “Panaji too has traffic jams. I think we’re giving permissions to build in our cities without worrying about what havoc it will generate for the city.” It got me thinking though. Indian cities have become chaotic and noisy but there is one beautiful and magical thing about them and that is the feeling they give of being under ownership. Like it or not, you get a funny feeling that you belong. Your footfalls on the tarred streets are yours alone, unique. When you dodge an open drain or jump over an empty packet of chips your thoughts, your speech, your sighs, smiles and exclamations are yours to own. There is no one else in the world who can claim them. Everything that happens, happens between your city and you. It is a secret shared between you two, a pact of tolerance, and a tryst with the future. For you know that for one reason or another you are there because your city needs you as much as you need it.

I don’t know about other cities but the three urban areas that I am familiar with – Baroda, Mumbai and Goa give you a sense of dialogue, a conversation. The dialogue spans a range of polite sweet nothings to aggressive interactions bending on fights. The conversations oscillate between happy greetings to cold and illogical arguments. In any case, whichever way you look at it, interact with it, there is no silence.

What is it that makes a place? They say it’s the people that make a place. I am beginning to wonder if that is completely true in its wholeness. A place is also your surrounds and what roads, streets, lanes and by-lanes you wish to plant your footsteps on. It is also the aura you radiate within a radius of ether around you as you move around your city. If I had not chosen to walk into the historic neighbourhood of Fontainhas and Mala in Panaji or live in a house in the village of Saligao I would never have had a dialogue with the people of the area, the curve of its lanes, and the swing of its paddy fields, listened to the bleat of its goats. There would have been no dialogue with its trees, the sky over its spaces, the raindrops on the roof and the rustle of other footsteps besides mine. So is a place only the comfort of being in the company of old trees? In the company of being with other people on the same street? Is it the comfort of knowing? Is that why we get a creepy sense of fear when we are alone in a dark alley even if we know we are in a safe part of the city? Is that why we give our favourite places nicknames and acronyms?

In Mumbai I live in a rather swishy part of the city. People who are new to the suburb of Bandra sometimes stop me on the street and ask for directions to a restaurant or a café where they are meeting friends. If it’s Café Coffee Day they will ask for “CCD”. If it’s Le Pain Quotidian they will ask for “LPQ”. I find this absolutely charming. By giving a place an acronym or in a sense your own name you are exercising a sense of ownership, a sense of “you are mine”. It is like giving your close friend a nickname, a name known. Your status is not that of an alien anymore. You have made a piece of the city your own territory, your friend. You have put a part of the city into your soul. You have made it your soul spot. The cynic amongst you will say that this is one way of showing off, a boast that you are “with it”, with the swish set, that you are one of those people who will walk into a coffee shop or pick up a doughnut in designer wear.

Yes, sometimes true but then why would you want to bother with a boast if it did not mean anything to you. That just shows you care enough to be noticed, that you want to put your stamp on the sidewalk with every step you take, that you want to belong. This city is yours and you will allow it to claim you just as you will allow yourself to claim it. Like in Panaji you would say, “Let’s meet at Ernesto’s”. This meant a lot of things to a lot of people. Ernesto’s was not just a place, it was a culture, a dialogue with a place that claimed you as its own. You didn’t go there just for the music and the food. You went there to bond with friends, sometimes meeting people you did not otherwise meet. You went there because that was one part of Panaji that you knew to be. When you thought of it, it was there.

To me, Mumbai and Panaji have one very important thing in common. In that one thing there is steadfastness, a being there. It is the presence of small parks and gardens that enrich the topography of the city. It is not just the value of the green space as a green lung. No, that would be being too technical. It is the value of the park or garden of being part of your own being in the city. The park behind my house in Bandra is named Guru Nanak Park by the Municipality. Yet, ask someone if they know where I walk in the evening and they will spin their index finger around and say, “I know it. It’s the park behind your house.” All my neighbours walk there and I am certain that each one of them identifies their own home with being “next to the garden”. When we are walking none of us exchange as much as a hello or any kind of perfunctory greeting. There is no need. We all know that this is where we belong, in our garden. For that one hour every evening, this spot of the city belongs to us and we belong to it. For that one hour, the city belongs to us and we assert our sense of ownership.

We are like that only and thank God for lotus feet

How wonderful that a lot of you agree that friends too need to be offered condolences when someone passes on. I received many offerings of solace and comfort after writing about the passing of our old friend Chandu. There were many words of comfort but there were also some pieces of conversations that have left me shocked out of my socks. For example, a friend recalled that his mother had worked as a secretary to a couple in Germany for over thirty years but when her boss passed away she was “not on the list” of mourners at the memorial service. Eh? A list of invitees for a funeral? What’s that?

I was brought up in Baroda in Gujarat in the days when wedding invitations were simple single sheets printed on flimsy paper with a whole lot of blessings from family members who had departed printed on the top and bottom. No one ever forgot to mention their ancestors in their times of joy. The invitation card also instructed you, begged you, urged you to “come with friends and family”. We were called a developing country then, we had not even food to feed ourselves as a nation and we were not even a blip on the internet map of the world. Yet, our wedding invitations asked us to come for wedding feasts with friends and family!

When the story of the German memorial service was shared, another similar story came up. Apparently it is quite the norm in some countries for a person to leave a list of people they would want at their own funeral. If that is strange, it is even stranger to leave a list of people they do not want to see at their own funerals. “Make sure So-and so does not attend.” For most of us in India if you hear of someone’s passing you simply put on your whites and go for the funeral, the ceremony, memorial service or Month’s Mind. You meet with the family, offer your condolences and speak well of the dear departed.

That is another thing we do. We never speak ill of the dead. Why? For fear of exciting the departed spirit from possessing us and harming us? Or is it just a cultural thing? We just don’t, that is it. It’s like touching someone with your foot by accident. We do a little action, like a half genuflection and ask for the person’s forgiveness. Why do we do that? What great significance is there in accidently brushing against someone with your feet? When I was in East Africa, I used to be amused when our African house boy would say “Sorry” if he accidently tripped against the legs of a table. He would apologize to a table! It amused me but I understood. For the African, the table still had the spirit of the tree hidden in it and the old tree had to be given its due respect.

In the same spirit, our neighbours send us food from their kitchens when someone passes on in the house. It was in the same spirit that my young friend Mohin dashed off to the Times of India to place the notice of my mother’s passing without once asking me for the money for the announcement. When I offered to settle the bill, he was most hurt and said, “She was a mother to me too, Heta Aunty.” I can’t think of something like this happening anywhere else in the world. Nearly two years since her passing, Mohin still comes on his birthday and Eid-ul-Fitr mornings after he has offered his prayers at the local mosque. He comes to “pay his respects” to my mother and to “take her blessings”. He will sit in what was once her room (now my living room) and look at her picture on my prayer table. If that gives him solace and a channel to commune with her who am I to say anything otherwise? Please tell me that such a thing does happen elsewhere and not just in India.

I don’t know enough so I will not make a reference to the annual Pitru paksh prayers offered to your ancestors annually. Our muktad prayers are also offered once a year just before pateti when every family has a table in the fire temple dedicated to a dear departed family member and appropriate prayers are offered along with votive offerings of a coconut, flowers in silver vases and fruit and the departed soul’s favourite food in small silver dishes. That is ritual, I participate in it but I know very little about it. All I know is that there is no invitation list and that these are also a good times for family bonding, under the apparent shadow of the dear departed.

Then again come in the feet! Why do we think it sacrilege if our feet accidently touch a newspaper, magazine or a book? The goddess of learning (does she really reside in today’s papers with all the rubbish in it that passes for news?) Saraswati is believed to be insulted. “You must wear a pair of socks when you step into the sacred area,” says one person, “so you are not barefoot when you remove your shoes”. Another will tell you to curl up your toes when you sit on the bench in front of the sacred fire, “so that your toes are not pointing straight out in the direction of the sacred”. Why? What can be insulting about a pair of feet with their toes pointing? How is that seen as an insult? Of course all this will be clear to me someday. But for now, I am keeping my toes firmly tucked in and reined; making certain I don’t accidently trip against peoples’ or table legs and making sure, when I walk, that my feet stay firmly off the ground.


I got the news that our old friend Chandu has passed on almost a week after he died. Its curious how the news of his passing was relayed to me. I had sent another friend a Wattsapp message from my phone to remind him of a mutual friend’s birthday. “Thanks for the birthday reminder,
the friend replied, “and oh, bTW, Chandulala passed away on Monday.” My friend had the good grace of offering an apology. No apology needed, I understand. It’s just that sometimes one friend simply does not know what another friend means to you. You’re busy. You have a hundred things to do and everyone cannot be “top of mind” at all times.

Besides, we were not so much in touch with Chandu over the past few years. That did not make him any less a friend. I first met him, of all places, on the Expressway on our way coming back from a trip to Udwada some forty years ago. There were four of us in our then brand new Ambassador car. Dad was driving and it was that time of the night when the lights of the city were just coming on and the pollution from cars had brought on a thick blanket of haze. We had a mishap on the road and had to stop the car. My brother got out of the car, brave for his young college going years and ran across the road to find a phone. There were no mobiles in those days.

Chandu, then an “ordinary” worker with the Congress Party appeared in a starched white kurta and pyjamas and Kolhapuri chappals and brought with him his own group of people to dispel the crowd that had gathered around us. The matter was soon sorted out; Chandu became a friend of the family, in Indian parlance, a “family friend”. This entitled him to be in and out of our home at all times of the day or night, bring his own friends over, borrow money, use our place as a storehouse for all kinds of things, meetings for all kinds of people and all kinds of plans. And yet, Chandu never once did any of these things. Never once did he take advantage of the fact that we as a family were under an obligation.

“That’s what friends are for,” he would say in a rather heavy Kenyan-Indian accent. Chandu was from Kenya and his entire family lived abroad. I still remember the day when he brought a very shy girl to meet Mum. Bharati, his wife, soon became part of our extended family too. To this day I do not know what his status was in the local wing of the Congress Party. He never spoke of his work and we never asked. Politics interested us but little. Soon the pulls from his family ties in Kenya, Tanzania and the U.K. became stronger than the ties in India and Chandu and Bharati migrated to the western suburb of Harrow outside the Inner City of London.

It was not until I went to the U.K. in the autumn of 1977 that I met up with them again. I had got myself a place in a college in Birmingham but did not stay there longer than a few days. Who did I think of when all I could think of was “I don’t want to stay” but Chandu and Bharati? I made an expensive and desperate call to them in London and all Chandu asked me was, “Do you have enough money for a ticket?” This friend who had hardly been in my mindscape was even willing to send me a bus ticket!

I lived with Chandu and Bharati for almost a year, squeezing myself into a little box room on the first floor of their semi-detached house on 178, Twyford Road, West Harrow an address that is imprinted in my head forever. I watched the snow fall over the garden from my little window. I sneaked in cookies into my room, went shopping with Chandu because “total vegetarian” Bharati could not bear to watch us grab our fish-n-chips on our way back from Sainsbury’s. Chandu would take odd handy jobs over the weekends. I learnt to sandpaper walls, glue on wall paper, and sand down banisters and bring them up to a gleam. I learnt to shop at the DIY stores outside London and lay carpets, assemble lampshades. I learnt to plant bulbs of daffodils.

Bharati taught me how to clarify butter in industrial strength pans and make ghee, how to cover a bowl of curdling milk and smother it in a blanket to make Indian-style yogurt in the cold, how to peg clothes on the line in the back garden. When there was a phone call from India and the whole house shook with the ring, no one complained. When I had the T.V. on in the living room during the day no one made even a passing reference to it. Friends were welcomed. I was included in every family visit. Not once was I made to feel obligated. Then one day Neil was born and I ceased to be the baby. Now we were a complete family.

When I left London I felt I was leaving home. Chandu must have kept in touch with my family in Mumbai but I was going through a phase where I did not want to keep in touch with “anybody”. Years later, Chandu and Bharati came and visited my cousin Mahrukh and me in our tiny little flat in Mapusa, Goa. There was much sharing, much laughter and much remembering. After that visit, there was the occasional phone call. Mobiles were now very much in fashion. Neil had graduated, he had married a family friend’s daughter. Chandu would fill me in with news. Bharati had retired from active work. He too was thinking of hanging up his boots.

And then, Bharati needed a walking stick. He too had to use a walker after his hip operation. Bharati was now showing signs of forgetting things. She was finding it difficult to remember people. Life was moving in a different direction. “I want to come to India to see a few people but Bharati needs me,” he said on one of his rambling, news filling, “never-ending” phone calls. And over one of these calls I remember thinking, “I know he needs to talk but I wish he knew how busy I was.”

And now, Chandu has gone. I do not even know if Bharati has registered his passing. If I call her to give her my condolences, will she even know who I am? I do not know who in his family is still around. I do not know how to pass on my condolences to Neil. I feel sorry I did not ever tell him how grateful I was for what Bharati and he did for me. And hence, this piece of writing.

The real king of fruit, pomelo

Years ago I was once asked by The Navhind Times in Goa what would have been my career choice if I had not been a writer. “A chef,” I said without thinking. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking. For to make good food you must love good food and to love good food you must love to eat. How can someone who thrives on fruit and boiled vegetables even think of being a chef? Well, let me argue that perhaps I have no right to dream but no one can take away my right to write. And write I shall, in praise of my favourite of all fruit, the real king of citrus fruit, the pomelo.

Now the internet tells you that the pomelo is a fruit that comes from Thailand and China and is found all over South East Asia but the first pomelo I ever tasted was in Dahanu amongst the chikoo orchards in Western India on a farm run by an eccentric Zoroastrian farmer of Iranian descent. I had never seen either the tree or the fruit before then and had only heard of the grapefruit, its wealthier cousing, in books and movies but never in the “first person”. “Before you try the pomelo you must crawl under its branches,” instructed the knowing farmer to the ignorant novice. I crawled under the tree and lay flat on my back with (not under, mind you) the branches of this beautiful tree. A gentle breeze rustled its dark green leaves that flapped over me like the ears of a cocker spaniel. I could not see the blue of the skies, the white of the summer clouds. All I could see were the leaves of this tree and perfectly round globes of fruit that almost touched my nose. Large round pomelo hung over me in various shades of green, lime green, lemon yellow and near-dazzling white. Were these fruit or Chinese lanterns?

My imagination got the better of me in that Dahanu afternoon sun and I closed my eyes turning the rustling of the tree into the whirr of a spacecraft, the pomelo into multi-hued fruit hanging on a psychedelic tree in outer space. I was soon brought down to earth, though. One of planet Earth’s most territorial creatures, folic acid ant warriors, soon objected to my attempt at encroaching on their territory and began spraying me with their tiny sacs of folic acid. I let out an earthly yelp and decided never to trust eccentric farmers as long as I lived. The ecstasy in the taste of the pomelo fruit that followed, however, made up for all the suffering. Large enough to feed an army, the fruit comes with its own cushiony protective armour that saves it from damage while packing or transporting.

You hold the fruit with your left hand, take a very sharp knife with your right hand and slice the top off with a deep cut. A soft white cloud of fibre meets the knife as you carry on with the slicing off of the green/lemon yellow/off-white skin that faintly reminds you of an ostrich egg. Pink and white segments greet your eye just as a subtle aroma meets your olfactory senses and you pick off what remains of the cloud from the outer skin of the segments. Unlike the segments of the orange, these leathery skins are not for eating. Out go the skins and the dry pips from the segment and in goes your knife as you lick your lips.

The best part is yet to come. The taste of the pomelo varies from sweet to bitter and bitter-sweet. A good pomelo will have the right mix of both bitter and sweet and a texture to beat all food textures. It’s pink and white flesh, juicy without being messy, bursts on you and fills your mouth with colour and taste. Is it possible to taste colour? In the pomelo, it is. You can then proceed to enjoy every open segment with a fork or a spoon or better still with your bare fingers, sometimes with a dash of sea salt.

Enjoy every section of the segment thoroughly. Your joy may be short lived. For the lover of the pomelo, no pomelo is too big, too huge, too lasting for too long. The mango is the king of fruit, you say? Well, does the pomelo make a mess on your shirt, on the floor, all over the kitchen? Does the juice dribble all over your chin and make a mango stain that will never go away? Does the pomelo cost an arm and a leg when in season? Does it ripen and fall off the tree and make great big gaping holes in your neighbour’s roof? Does it have a kernel or a seed that causes havoc in the compost pit? Most of all, does it complicate life by having a myriad of varieties, names and hybrid histories? Can you find this king of fruit in a range of sizes that run from almond-size to the size of a bull’s head? Does its sap run out from its eye and cause boils on the sensitive skins of babies?

Now take the pomelo. It has no sticky sap that leaks out on to your dress or even in the scrap of newspaper you’re carrying it in. There are no mango or jackfruit scents that escape the bag when you bring it in. You cannot cut a mango into two halves and give your neighbours a piece each. If you did that you would have both neighbours not speak to each other (and you) for weeks. But with a pomelo, you can cut it into several pieces and give each piece to as many neighbours as there are in your neighbourhood. You cannot use the skin of the mango as a covering “cloth” to stop the rich sticky slices from drying out but with the pomelo you can. In fact, if you’ve been clever at piercing and slicing the skin away you can use the skin of the pomelo to cover anything else on the table.

Am I pushing things too far? Yes, because that’s what you can do with this real king. For in the kingdom of the pomelo, native to Thailand, China and now Dahanu and California, all you can do is be a good loyal subject and say, “Long Live the King!”

A fat man in my house

Do the names Vinesh, Daryl, Carol, Sandra and Deepak mean anything to you? They didn’t to me either before the summer of 2015. And then, all of a sudden Yolanda de Sousa, eminent Goan artist, thundered in her own quiet sort of way and I came face to face with a power house. Even more quietly, Yolanda asked me to come and speak about Goan heritage to a group of artists at an art camp robustly titled ART ESCAPE. The art camp was to be organized by Inspire Trust set up by the above mentioned dynamite detonators and we were to be ensconced in the picturesque jungles at Castle Rock. The whole project was in aid of teaching art to underprivileged children. I had no idea what I was heading into but in Yolanda I trust.

It was in a word, an amazing experience. This is what I had to say at the end of the stay at camp. “When Yolanda de Souza sent me an email asking me if I would come and speak to some artists on the houses of Goa, I said “Yes!” without even asking her what it was all about. Such is the power of trust between two friends. I have known Yolanda for over 15 years. The drive from the airport to the Dudhsagar Resort is filled with colour. The orange blossoms of the abolim decorates most homes that you see as you drive in; new concrete houses add shock value in parrot green, falooda pink and hard-liner saffron. Most of Goa is green. I see it as a prelude to my meeting artists from all over the world. I am on the edge of the Mowlem National Park.

“Vinesh Iyer and Darryl Noronha, Sofia and Raisa are at lunch. I am drawn to everyone I meet. I sense camaraderie and inclusion. Within seconds I am not the outsider anymore, the one who has just entered the company. That feeling stayed with me right through the evening I spent with the artists at the First International Artist Residency.

“I showed some pictures and I spoke about the idea of Goa, a perception in peoples’ heads, not just the houses of Goa. The responses from the artists that evening were palpable; their enthusiasm and appraisal at physical, cerebral and spiritual level was inspiring. I am enriched by the experience overall and return to my world on another plane filled with memories and known treasures.”

What I did not mention that I also met some living treasures at the camp. I met 15 artists from all over the world and other parts of India. I also met up with old friends Rajendra Usapkar, Sonia Rodrigues Sabarwal and Viraj Naik from Goa. At the end of the camp I had found myself walking away with a Sonia Rodrigues Sabarwal, a fat man seated on an air cushion at first glance. Truth be told you cannot look at a Sonia Rodrigues Sabarwal painting in glances. You have to live with her work, meditate by its side and try and reach the same spiritual level that the figure in her painting represents.

What does the fat man in my home mean to me? In what language does he speak? To what parts of the painting do I relate? Why is he so special? When I look at him, I do not just see brush strokes, colours and form in defiance of what art dealers and connoisseurs instruct us to do. I do not just see a bald head bowed in prayer and contemplation. Is the man a priest? A monk? Is it not a man at all but a woman, a nun? There is indigo space around my fat man, the colour of the crown chakra, the chakra from where the white light of universal energy enters an enlightened old soul.

My fat man sits on an invisible air cushion, he has no seat that I can see. He floats on air and I imagine he is transported across the blue of the Goa skies in search of something. He is looking down so he must be up, higher than the ground. But then why does he need to look at the ground at all? For my fat man wears a cloak that has the patterns of rice fields quilted on it. He wraps himself in a soft multi-coloured, many tiered, several textured blanket that has no beginning, no end and no seams. It is an unstitched garment, like the ancients used to wear in the days of old, like a monk, a nun, a priest or a Brahmin. The blanket holds him in; he is self-contained, self-absorbed, self confident.

The fields on the blanket are the fields I see from my balcão in Saligao. There are many hues of green in my fat man’s blanket. In fact, there are many other colours too. There are the browns of when the paddy has been harvested. There are the yellows from the time when the paddy is ripening on its stalk. Fine lines in between the fields represent to me Goa’s many mango, coconut, arecanut and cocum. Goats go in and out of these lines; bullocks are tethered to the fallow fields to stop them from going astray. The goats bleat and nudge one another and hold their heads high. The bullocks have their heads bowed and are only interested in their food. They swish their tails to flick off flies and supply the cattle egrets that follow them with dinner.

In the early hours of the morning, a rat snake dressed in his best yellow sheath takes his morning constitutional on this road in between the fields in imitation of the very winding road he is on. He swallows a rat whole and then retreats into the stones in someone’s freshwater well to digest. A lilac breasted roller watches the drama unfold in front of him and on the ground beneath his feet. Wire tailed swallows dart about making swishing sounds with their thin pointed tails. In the meanwhile, dogs bark, cats mew and neighbours on motorcycles race up and down the lines in the painting that mark the roads.

The best part about the painting, of course, is that none of the egrets, swallows, rollers, goats, bullocks or bikers are in the painting. Sonia has not painted any of them in. They are in my head, in my mind’s eye, my imagination. Sonia has known me for ages, centuries perhaps. She knew, when she worked on the painting that I would be able to see the fields, the birds, the farm animals and my neighbours all within the blanket on the fat man she had created. More important, the fat man knows that every time I look at him, I see anything I want to see. I draw from memory, I see a Goa I miss when I am away through a private spy glass, I have a conversation with myself. After all, I have a fat man in my house.