Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Sound Of Silence: reprise

I had posted an excerpt from this article some time back on this blog. It has since then been published in Rock Street Journal. Here's the rest of it. A travel piece on Diu. This is the original piece i wrote. The one that appeared in the magazine was abruptly cut short at the end.

The Sound of Silence: Weekends in Diu

When the going gets tough…..head to Diu! That was pretty much the mantra for us while we were busy pursuing a novel education in Ahmedabad. It was always the easiest place to get to and it was never too hard to find more than willing fellow travelers. For me the lure of Diu was always the promise of an invigorating weekend at the beach away from the madness of busy lives in the city. And the fact that this particular island destination comes without the tourist hoopla that surrounds most beach-towns was the icing on the cake.

A quaint little hamlet, the island of Diu is situated off the Saurashtra coast of Gujarat. Though it is accessible by rail and by air, we always made the overnight trip by bus – a neat 180 Rs to get you from Ahmedabad to Diu. The bus is no luxury coach but the slight discomfort seemed a small price to pay for what lay ahead. By around 7 in the morning, just as you begin to rub the sleep from your eyes, the smell of the sea tells you that you have arrived. Even now, despite having been there before, every time we make the trip, the first sight of the sea never fails to excite me.

We would spot the first signs of life in an otherwise quiet town - the fishing boats anchored in the bay bobbing in tandem with the waves, nets spread out to dry, the wooden ship building yard with unfinished skeletons waiting for the tide, neatly scrubbed kids on their way to school - a sleepy town awakening to yet another sleepy day.

The ritual on arrival was always to first and foremost, hire bikes! Mopeds, scooties, the Luna or bicycles should you choose to exercise while you’re on vacation. There is nothing more satisfying than zipping around on a relic of a moped on a road that bends and dips and curves, giving you fleeting, tantalizing glimpses of the sea. Plus it’s an incredibly economic mode of transport given that the rental is about 100 bucks a day inclusive of one tank of petrol! Another reason I prefer having my own mode of transport when I’m traveling is that one avoids being bullied by over-zealous auto-wallahs who moonlight as tourist guides. Eager-beavers that they are, their sole aim is to hijack your vacation. So beware - independence is crucial to the intrepid traveler!

I must admit though, that sight-seeing in Diu was definitely not a bore. Despite being a small-town with a distinctly laidback quality, there is enough to keep you on your toes. The Portuguese fort that sort of outlines the city is definitely worth a visit. It seems to rise up out of the water and offers a spectacular view of the Arabian Sea. Though overrun by loud tourists on weekends, the fort is not to be missed by the architecture and history buff. Old cannons, ruined ramparts, a lone light house and my personal favourite – the long stone pier that stretches out into the sea - it’s the stuff of movies and legends.

The real appeal of Diu is not so much in the sights but the setting of it all. Huge rocky cliffs, diminished only by the carpet of yellow daisy like flowers, are scattered all over the island. Ideal for soaking up the sun, exploring these mountains of rock chiseled by the sea is a must-do. The Gomptimata beach – a rocky shore with wild surf – on the far end of the island has some phenomenal cliffs where if you look hard enough you can find yourself a comfy little corner on a ledge and while away the hours reading a book or just watch the waves crash into the walls below.

A former Portuguese colony, Diu still retains some of its old world charm. The remains of a colonial past are there for those who wish to see it - in the churches and forts, the names of restaurants and the elusive half Portuguese half Indian families that still inhabit the island. Those who have been to Goa will recognize the vibe – a multicultural strain trying to hold its own in the midst of the local milieu. In Diu though, unlike Goa, this strain stands out simply because it tries not to. And if you’re not careful, you might miss it altogether.

What struck me most about the place on my first visit there was the serenity and stillness that seemed to lurk in every nook and cranny. It was easy – a breeze in fact – to find a deserted strip of sand to spread out on or waves to frolic in without having to worry about strange prying eyes.

In Diu, I have found it much more rewarding to steer clear of the so-called ‘popular’ and ‘best’ beaches and head to the ones that aren’t necessarily listed on any web site or those that feature as a perfunctory remark in the travel guide. In this respect my pick is Jalandhar beach – a pristine golden stretch of sand with big beautiful waves. We were advised against swimming in these waters due to strong currents but we didn’t mind. It was enough to just sit and let the waves come to us while we sipped on beer and felt our skin turn brown. The great thing about Diu is that no one beach is like the other. If one is rocky the other is sandy. One has the perfect waves while the other is a paragon of stillness.

If you’re not sunning yourself on a beach in Diu you should be in Naida Caves. When we got to the dirt road that said “this way to Naida caves” we were in half a mind to turn back and head to the beach where it was open and sunny and bright. What was in front of us was nothing short of something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Prehistoric was the word I believe someone used to describe these caves. But do work up the courage to venture into the underground labyrinth because it will be well-worth the effort. Once we had navigated through the undergrowth the caves just opened up in front of us. The afternoon light came in through shafts in the ceiling and suddenly it wasn’t so ominous anymore. A photographer’s delight the light, shadows, textures and sheer scale are mind-boggling once you’re there. Though it is unwise to venture into the caves late in the evening, a trip to Naida is a great diversion from the sun-sand-and-sea.

Just a few meters down from Jalandhar is Chakratirth Beach or Sunset point. A crescent shaped cove, it was here that we spent many many hours floating in the still water, playing the fool as the sun set on the horizon. If you’re traveling on a shoe-string budget you might want to consider shacking up at the Sea Village Resort on the hillock that overlooks this beach. The rooms here are made out of cargo containers which explains why it’s so easy on the pocket. It’s a tad grungy but makes up for what it lacks in comfort by its proximity to two of the best beaches in Diu.

On one occasion when we were feeling relatively rich, we decided to stay at the more up-market but curiously delightful Resort Hoka named after the Hoka tree - a strange branching variety of the palm that was introduced in Diu by the Portuguese. Hoka was marvelously comfortable with large, airy rooms, hammocks in the garden and the latest addition – a swimming pool! Another reason to go to Hoka – the food! Their sea food curries are delectable in their simplicity. Despite being a beach-town the sea-food in Diu was by and large disappointing till we discovered the menu at Hoka. I despised Tuna till the cook here made me change my mind!

It was on one such culinary excursion when hungry and hapless we stumbled upon Heranca Goesa. Tucked away in a by-lane opposite the Church of St. Francis this intimate breakfast and dinner joint is run by a pleasant Portuguese-Indian family. We were more than grateful for a hearty breakfast of chocolate and banana pancakes, eggs, toast and coffee. Their own personal kitchen dishes out these tummy-pleasing delights and for a moment you forget you’re still in Gujarat. It’s a great place to meet other travelers since everyone eats together at one table.

I have been to Diu four times till today and each trip has been incomparable to the previous one. It’s surprising how doing very little while you’re on vacation can work wonders for a mangled wreck of a brain. I remember coming back to Ahmedabad with my pockets full of sand and thinking “does it really get better than this?”

The road curved and the sea came up in front – moonlit, the landscape seemed dramatically altered. After sun-down, cruising at a comfortable 20 km/hr on our mopeds down the road that runs parallel to the sea, someone from the distinguished convoy of travelers would always start humming “Riders on the Storm”. And somehow it fit – a familiar melody, the distant but constant sound of the surf, the wind on our face and the salty smell of a weekend well spent.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paul Schrader Live!

image courtesy: google

At the Osian's Cinefan film festival held recently in Delhi I had the chance to go (read sneak out of work) and listen to Paul Schrader talk about screen writing. To my mind this was a golden opportunity to a) maybe learn something about screen writing from the guy who wrote the most precise character sketch ever b) to be in the company of Scorsese's ghost :)

The Siri Fort Auditorium is uncomfortably large. There was a table, chair and white board on the enormous stage and some sort of video projection at the back which I thought would give me a decent view of Schrader as he delivered his lecture. I took my seat at the back just as he walked on to stage and took his place. Bald, chubby, casually dressed in shorts and a t-shirt Paul Schrader was as far removed as can be from the mental picture I had of him from an iconic photograph taken on the sets of Taxi Driver.

As he spoke in that distinctive American drawl about writing and creating cinema in words, he became more familiar. The session titled 'Masterclass in Screenwriting' shaped up like an outline of a lesson in scriptwriting. There were some bold statements that were thrown at the audience. I'm paraphrasing at best but here's one such statement "If you're not willing to drop your pants and let it all hang out, or if you're looking for something more polite and discreet - this [filmmaking] is perhaps not for you." Not the best orator and hardly eloquent - but then it made sense when he spoke of the need for economy of expression. Words cannot make up in number what they lack in girth. In a time when words are cheap and silence costs dear, to say nothing is saying a lot.

The audience was waiting for some sort of an epiphany. But it didn't come. Instead what we got was Paul Schrader talking about his failed marriage, many failed relationships, his suicidal rage, the birth of his daughter, the problem of abject despair and loneliness and its most absolute ambassador - travis bickle and his yellow taxi cab, sparks that fly when a problem finds its own suitable metaphor and a film we thought was about Jake LaMotta when what it was really about was two brothers.

Naturally expectations ran high - and people did end up being disappointed. However, I did find something valuable in that lecture despite the general opinion that Paul Schrader 'aint much to write home about. Which was that no matter how many scripts you write or how many films you make, everytime you write a new script or make a new film or create anything - you have to begin at the very beginning. It's never easier, shorter, quicker or any less agonising. And the journey is always inside out.