Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chapora Juice Bar
Head due west from the Barat Petroleum Station ("Pure For Sure!") in Anjuna toward Vagator Beach; prior to hitting the water, take a right and dive down a steep, winding canyon road to Chapora, where three roads meet under the boughs of a giant tree to form the heart of this tiny town. The tree is the ground-zero from which a density of tourist-related shops has pulsed outward, as the three streets are crammed with shops that sell the unique Goa clothing (one part military surplus, one part day-glo fluorescence, one part tie-dyed organic Nepalese hemp), the travel agencies, the tour organizers, the STD long-distance phone booths, the guest rooms.

Immediately under the tree’s base, on a small stage that rings all sides, sits a small Shiva shrine. The tree’s trunk has been painted, and is decorated with malas and garlands.

The Chapora Juice Bar is within arm’s reach of the stage. It’s small and typically Indian --- cramped, busy, dirty, utilitarian --- and for that reason is quite anomalous among Goa’s more polished and refined eateries. It’s a small square concrete building with a sliding front window through which one can order a multitude of fresh juices and milkshakes. The menu has been hand-painted on the roof above the order window. Picnic tables sit in front and to the side of the building. Armies of flies hover, drawn by the fruit and the sugar.

Friends suggested the Juice Bar as an interesting hangout, so we visited on several occasions. It’s quite a popular hangout, I think in part because it’s a Goa rarity that offers genuine Indian prices. Juices range from 10 to 30 Rupees, which is a far cry from the 70 to 100 Rupee offerings at the nearby Bean Me Up.

Sit there long enough and one watches tides of people wash in and out as the sun describes its arc overhead. One by one, as morning stretched into afternoon, sadhus arrived to take seats on the stage or at the picnic tables. Their gaunt bodies were wrapped in the traditional orange sheets, their faces painted, their dreads hung down to their waists. Curiously, all four were white Westerners.

Many frequenters were older, sun-leathered hippie ex-pats. One of whom, a Spanish gentleman, told Tara he had arrived in Goa 25 years ago and simply thrown away his passport. Many, their faces ill-used and sun-cured, looked like they’d lived hard lives under the relentless tropical sun. Many smiles were missing prominent numbers of teeth.

The actual juice at the Juice Bar is incidental to the place’s appeal, which seemed to be weed, around which all seating arrangements at the picnic tables were based. Other, younger visitors came and commingled with the older residents, and at table after table it was quickly determined who had the mota, who had the chillum, and who could pack the best bowl.

The other, darker element at the Juice Bar, though, were those visitors, younger and older, looking for more serious hook-ups. The most obvious had pale, spotty skin, dark circles under their eyes, and ceaseless sniffles. One girl who couldn’t have been out of her early twenties sat in a corner, knees in her chest, and alternated between chewing a thumbnail and scratching at her arms, neck and legs.

Goa has a very dark side, one that seems out of place in the sun and sand, and yet is inevitable given the 24-hour party scene, and, on a bigger scale, India’s overall exoticism. The exchange rate means many Westerners suddenly have vast wealth at their disposal, and to take a Westerner and unseat them from the deep structures of family, job, friends, language, and culture, and deposit them somewhere far, far away from the persona they inhabited, is to knock away any center of personal gravity, any psychic and psychological mooring.

Sprinkle on top of this the concept of “vacation” and “holiday,” or “gap year” and “spiritual journey,” and you have two recipes: the first, the anything-goes mentality in which every problem can be solved by throwing Rupees at it, or ultimately and decisively solved by simply boarding a plane home in two weeks. The second is the Holy Mother India mentality, replete with its exoticism and fetishization.

One can come to India and one can quite simply lose one’s goddamned mind, no matter if one is amongst the shrill idleness of the leafy, tree-lined streets of Gokulam, with its mansions and the incessant yoga drone, or whether it’s amongst the dispersed party-burnout transience on the sun-drenched beaches of Goa.

What Sharath has said in Mysore rang true for us in Goa: “Do the yoga --- now go home!” This is a sentiment echoed by my wife, whose pragmatism is doubtless all that keeps me from living, shoeless and soon toothless, on the concrete floor of some ashram in Hardwar, when she takes my face in her hands and says, gently, “Okay, baby, it’s time to go home. C'mon.”