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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Good Friday in Old Goa

The children whine all day. The dogs howl late into the night.
They're waiting for the monsoon, but they'll be waiting a few weeks yet.
"I hope we get a great big monsoon this year," says Andy, who's been living in India for the past 24 years. "It was only a week last year. I hope we get a big bloody monsoon that rains for weeks, to sort out the farmers."
"But you're stuck here," reminds Nilesh, kindly. "You have to mind the dogs."
Andy has 20 dogs, rescued from the street or beach by him and his wife. Almost all of them owned by Western residents of Goa who got a dog on arrival to copperfasten their resolve to stay, then found it inconvenient when they decided it wasn't working out and they had to move on.
"I don't know why they get the dogs," says Andy in between the inking and the colouring. "It's more cruel to get an animal and treat it well then dump it than it is not to give it any care at all."
I think he's right.
Andy is the person I came to Anjuna, the 70s hippy hangout in North Goa, to see. Andy is the king of the fractals. No one tattoos fractals like Andy does. He's been doing them for fifteen years, and he's the only person who can do what I have in mind.
You see a lot of ink in Goa. It's the sort of place that can resemble an ethnic tattoo convention on a bad day. But despite the upsurge in popularity of tattoos among morons in the past decade or more, I'm still an advocate.
I don't approve of piercing or branding, though. Punching holes or melting the skin is not my idea of improving something. But putting colour into the skin is a different kind of act.
In one sense, it's the expression of individuality the drop-out clones desperately want it to be. The ink is permanent, and the skin permanently altered with the pigments. No one else will ever have that tat.
But in another sense, it's a personal possession. You could be stripped of everything, down to your birthday suit, and the one thing that cannot be taken from you is your skin and the colours it bears.
I came to get my fractal done by Andy, and he did an absolutely splendid job. You'll have to trust me on that, but it was an even better job than the one legendary Thai tattooist Jimmy Wong did for me before.
However, a warning for anyone who's never been tattooed on their back before. It does hurt, no messing. There are few things likely to inspire a desire to be elsewhere than a tattoo needle going up and down the spine.
I took a bit of bruising on the kidneys too, which made my trip up to meet the Rani of Sawantwadi a painful experience. Mr Gupta was happy to get the 3 hour round trip to Maharashtra over as quickly as possible and so drove on the wrong side of sanity, even by Indian standards.
Hence, the bumping of my back again and again on hot fake leather of the back seat.
But once we made it to the small city, and after some false starts trying to find the palace, eventually (for the sum of 50 rupees) I was ushered into a cool courtyard where artists traditionally hand paint decks of Ganjifa playing cards.
As a former croupier, playing cards hold a certain fascination. I have a number of Tarot decks at home, like Salvador Dali's deck, solely for the beauty of the unique interpretation of the imagery.
But I have long wanted to get a Ganjifa deck, and today there is only one place where they are still handpainted, in the palace courtyard of Sawantwadi's palace.
I was delighted to pick up a full deck from them, before braving the Kidanpani ferry en route back to Goa. I was the first tourist to visit in four days. The palace drips with photos and memories of past glories.
You wonder how they survive in this half-life of former potency, and wonder how long this ancient tradition can be maintained into the future. Maybe my Ganjifa deck might tragically become one of the last?
Anyhow, tomorrow is Good Friday and this was once a Catholic, Portuguese colony. In honour of those facts, I'm off to look at the ruined churches of Old Goa tomorrow en route to the airport, to remind myself that all things must pass, even Empire, even traditions, even religions, even one far away day, the colours shining brightly from my back.

UPDATE: A reader has been in touch by email to correct me on the scarcity of Ganjifa cards. Apparently, there are a few other places than Sawantwadi where Ganjifa cards are produced. If anyone wants to know more, please mail me and I'll pass on Kishor's contact details. Here's the mail:

I have read the item on Good Friday, Goa, Ganjifa Cards etc.
I would like to inform you that at the Palace Workshop, Rani of Sawantwadi gets Moghul, Dashavatara and a few other hand painted Ganjifas made- Sawantwadi, Maharashtra Region, but there are many places in Orissa, Bishnupur in W. Bengal, Nirmal, A. P. etc. where Ganjifa cards are still being made of that region's style.
I have more than 100 different sets of Indian Ganjifa Cards and have written 30-35 articles on Ganjifa in English and Gujarati languages. For other types of Ganjifa . just let me know.
Best Wishes,
Kishor Gordhandas


Rua said...

Wow, it's frightening how different this site could've been. Great post JC, unexpected, but great.

Ella said...

I remember the packs of dogs around Goa alright, I wasn't aware though that they had belonged to Westerners.

JC Skinner said...

Perhaps only the ones around Anjuna do, Ella. Though I got the impression from Andy that it's a problem the length of the Goa coast.

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