I am going away for a few days. Dutifully I tell my fellow scrabble addicted friends on facebook.
Where you going? One asks.
Oh! Socegad! She says.
Don’t be so stereotyping I say. Besides, I’m going for work.
I am in Goa for a workshop. But I also have a big deadline I need email to help me reach. The hotel is supposed to provide internet to the workshop office. A few times a day I go I go up and ask hopefully: is there internet?
I get resigned looks. Wait they say, it’s coming the hotel people said.
I also sit down, and get that hanging about haplessly body language.
A hotel employee comes up. Internet is not working aan?
He walks around looking intent, but gingerly, not touching a switch or cable. He hovers above the router looking at it with the blank concern of a nephew who is visiting an aunt he has never heard of before under duress and is actually thinking of the cricket match while he waits for the visit to end.
Ok, he says and leaves, never to return.
Desperate, after a day I leave the premises in search of a cyber café.
The reception tells me, ya, it’s here only.
But sterotypes or not, I’ve heard that one before, so I advance warily looking for someone on the street to ask. But there is only the sun-baked road and a dusty Tata Safari, black.
I spy one of the firangi volunteers returning from somewhere, also with hapless body language.
Know where the cybercafe is? I ask.
It’s here. But they’re all closed for the off-season she says woefully.
How can that be? I say, with a superior laugh.
I also said that, but they said nothing’s open.
I control panic rising in my throat.
I am a documentary filmmaker. I know to turn loaves and fish into po’boys. I can wring blood from a stone. I can find a cybercafe.
Sitting in the 60 rupees an hour (what would it be in season?), deliciously cool, iWay with its apostrophe shaped cubicles I do my email and tell my colleague I’ll check for his responses at night.
I ask the girl: till when are you open at night
Girl: Till 10.30 we are open
Me: Oh, ok, great!
G: But today we’ll close 5.30
PV: Oh! So you won’t be open tonight then
G: No, night, we’ll be open till 10.30
PV: OK, so what time will you open in the evening?
G: We’ll close 5.30
PV (now feeling frazzled but acting calm): Ya but you’ll open again na? You’re saying you will be open till 10.30
G: Ya, we are open 10.30 till
PV: Right, but not today.
G (with completely ambiguous intonation): Ya
PV: Ya, open till 10.30 or ya, not today?
G: At 5.30 we’ll close.
PV: Right, so you won’t be open till 10.30
G: We close at 10.30
What should PV do now? She should shut up. But does she? No, our heroine, her redoubtable Punjabi genes fully awakened, thinks.
PV (craftily): Today you’ll close at 5.30, right?
PV(to herself – aha!):So when you close at 5.30, after that what time will you come back and open it in the evening (phew, covered all angles) before closing it at night
G: Don't know
PV(defeated): What time do you open in the morning
PV (meekly): Ok, thank you
Well, at least I wasn’t asking her for directions. Stereotypes or not!
But not all conversations in Goa were so dead-ended. Some opened up like a box and starlings shot out.