Saturday, November 3, 2012

Out of Africa in Mandovi

Mandovi Hill resembling the savannah as the monsoon retreats
Since the last shower a fortnight ago, the weather has turned. And so has the season. The land is already looking parched and the days are shortening.  The lush plateau vegetation of Mandovi Hill has started resembling the African savannah. The tall wild grass is no red oat grass - the savannah mainstay - certainly. It is not the superfood that sustains wildebeests. But the overall aura that the lateritic landscape exudes is such. I round a bend on the deserted periphery path and enter the honey-gold landscape of Mara. The same expectation springs in my heart as when I was on an African safari. Maybe, a wildebeest herd – along with zebras – may appear on the horizon. Or perhaps, a lion has stolen himself into the grass-folds, the self-same shade of his skin. In the savannah, often it is the expectation or the wild imagination that is more permanent than the real presence. I admit, my mind is going wild here. Visual is only on the surface, reality is nature-deep.

The barren landscape, now, means more visibility. It means lesser hiding places for the birds. The bee-eaters, rollers and drongos – the Indian species - sally and somersault and pirouette in the full glare of gazers (read me). The dragonflies keep them on their wings. They are out in the open playing to the gallery just like their African counterpart. Like the lilac-breasted roller or the blue-cheeked bee-eater might do in Tsavo Park or in Nairobi National Park. Or in the capital city of Nairobi, for that matter.  The flock of mynahs (grey-headed), swallows (red-rumped) and munias (black-headed) are perched on the telegraph pole. They are fraternizing noisily with their respective flocks. And I hear echoes of starlings and mannikins of my Africa yesteryears. The exotic bauhinia with its purple flowers and spathodia with its vermilion canopy carry the whiff of Out of Africa and The Flame trees of Thika of the Kenyan lore.

On the evening trail, I come upon the vista of Coco Beach. Swaying coconut palms reach out to the Arabian Sea. The sea, itself, reaches out to the River Mandovi. I see a modest stretch of sandy shores. It is the front yard of the fisher folks of Nerul.  They are the rightful denizens of the coast. As the sun sets, local boys are seen playing football on the wet sand as the waves gush in and out. The pastiche blurs the boundaries of memory. I recall a scene from Stonetown, Zanzibar. In the glow of the setting sun, even as the fiery ball dips into the ocean, youngsters are thrashing a ball around. I recall a similar scene back in Kenya’s Mombasa. This time, rival groups of Old Town, Mombasa, are competing with each other. The venue is the ramparts of the historic Fort Jesus built by the Portuguese.

Next door to Coco Beach stands Reis Magos. This is a Portuguese era battlement predating Fort Jesus. It is a symbol, in a sense, that establishes the historic link between Goa – the headquarters of erstwhile Estado da India, and the East African coast. That thread of Portuguese history is inextricably linked to my own personal journey – from Kenya to Goa. But that is another story, for another day.

Sundowner soccer by Old Towners at Fort Jesus, Mombasa

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