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The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 1670


Cedar and Annie shuffled through the hot sand, carrying their shoes. When the monsoon came, the rainwater would stream down to wash the beach clean and merge back into the waves that thundered up to and over the edge of the strip where the houses cowered. Those who watched would thrill to the force of the ocean militant and bow the head in peaceful submission. And in the winter, when the air was dry and the wind was down, they remembered and were careful of the feelings of the sea.

The Goans didn't play in and around the ocean, they worked there. They parked their shallow boats above the high-water line and sat beside them, reweaving their nets. They drew strength and comfort from the rhythm of the tides and knew better than ever to think about it, knew it on some important, atavistic level that long predated the Christian missionaries or the Muslims before them; the primordial, pre-conscious sensations out of which the pure, true, certain animism grew in its best, mind-free, all-connecting power.

In the midst of this, the foreigners sunbathed and the Indian tourists came to gawk.

Oh, Baga was better than most. The day-trippers found enough exposed flesh in Calangute, at the other end of the beach, where most of the buses from Panjim turned around. Up in this part of the beach, there was, for the moment, a truce. The freaks were here, enough of them at least, out of a deep and hidden respect they too didn't talk about, didn't understand, possibly didn't even know, for those same ancient forces and the connections they made with the fishing families whose home it really was. There were whiter beaches and cheaper huts down south, there were better restaurants and cleaner showers all over. But there was a deal in Baga: We'll help you with a little cash and you'll let us hang out around your home, and no one's gonna lay any trips on anyone, and no one's gonna get bent out of shape. It was pretty cool.

It wouldn't last, it couldn't. The entrepreneurs wanted to sell hot showers and mango juice, Keralan weed and Manali black; the freaks wanted to buy them; next would be soft beds and Ambre Solaire. The bargain was Faustian, certainly, but it had been made. All too soon, the money men from Bombay and Paris and Boca Raton would surely be there, bringing in the tourists for fleecing and renting the Goans to do the job. The profits would fly away like the suntans, leaving just enough of their poison behind to destroy the old ways and with them much of what drew the first tourists in.

The power of Baga was soluble in cash.

Christmas was not the time to mourn. Annie and Cedar stripped off their clothes and waded, then dived, in the amniotic water. In Calangute, they'd wear clothes; further north, they wouldn't think of it; in Baga, they'd wear them if someone was watching. No one was near, so they played naked in the swell with only the tinge of guilt that aesthetes carry when they walk into a holy cathedral just to look at the paintings.

Did they know they felt uneasy? No, but that doesn't mean they weren't affected by it. It was not a moment for cameras, they knew that, not a picture to skewer like a butterfly's wings. It wasn't a time for conversation, even; for singing, perhaps, if it were gentle enough. To luxuriate in the downy waves, to feel the angled sun, to drift in the awesome arms of the ocean, that was the worship, the practice for the day. They could see the art in the holy place and feel the rapture too, a perfect form reaching behind the mind to touch the soul. It was a beautiful afternoon.

The sun meandered across the sky, as it will in the tropics, until it saw the horizon and began to rush to its goal, spreading and reddening as it went. It kissed the sea and dived, leaving the sudden blackness of the first evenings after the moon is full. The stars winked playfully at the earth, like children in charge till big sister gets up. Three miles away, at the far end of the beach, the lights of the big hotel insisted on their own importance. Nearer by, the oil lamps and candles gave a friendlier glow. Yes, they were just as artificial, and, no, they were not the same. (That truth, like so many others, is there for you directly, or not at all. It dies under the critic's knife.) Behind, electricity was strung along the road, and the little restaurants were open for business.

Even on Christmas, the Goans ate at home, before heading out to celebrate with their rotgut rakshi, but even on Christmas the tourists ate out, before heading on to celebrate with their own and each other.