Life was good. We had moved into “Om House” in the jungle and were quite friendly with our landlords. Although we seldom saw her husband, Sukuru, Showme would come over and smoke a beedie with Donna. They talked and laughed as they told each other stories of the day. And there were always plenty of stories to tell. Sometimes it was easier to tell some stories to someone who didn’t actually understand what you were saying! Yet, I’m sure she heard a version of this one.
Rule #1, Don’t Panic
We went to the chai shop each day, where a stream of carrom competitions, music, swimming, and calling out, “Bum bolenath,” continued. We met some of the new people to come to the beach. One young man had brought a bag full of photocopied “Zapp!” comic books, featuring Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural. His idea was that he would sell them along the way, to tourists, as a way to finance his travels. He also had other items for sale, including some charas for a slightly lower price than the chai shops offered.
We had just loaded a chillum when someone pointed far up the beach and said, “Police are heading this way!” It would still be a good ten-minute walk before they arrived. Calmly, we wrapped our chillums and stashed them in plastic bags, dug holes in the sand, and buried them. We waited and watched as the police passed one chai shop and the next. They were coming directly to this chai shop!
Everybody was calm, paying little attention to them, as the five or six police officers entered the shop and looked around. The carrom game continued, and chai was ordered. One policeman pointed at a small duffle bag. “Who’s bag is this?”
The young man selling photocopied “Zapp!” comics raised his hand and said, “Mine.”
“Could you open it up, please,” the policeman asked.
“Sure,” he said, doing so without hesitation.
“And what is this?” the policeman asked as he pulled out a plastic bag with about twenty tolas of charas. A tola is about 10 grams of hashish. “I’m afraid you are under arrest.”
In India, “bakshish” means a small sum of money given as a tip, bribe, or charitable donation. This is a common practice in many countries and particularly in India. Particularly with the police. This was the moment for this young man to pay such a small sum to avoid serious trouble. Unfortunately, he was not so bright and decided this was an option he would not take. So, he looked the police officer right in the eyes and exclaimed, “No bakshish!”
The officer did not take kindly to the impertinence of the young man and ‘frog marched’ him to his rented hut in the back of the chai shop where they could talk to him in private. His girlfriend was horrified at the situation but was much more intelligent than he was and kept quiet. Occasionally we could hear the young man belligerently call out from the back, “No bakshish!”
The police were very courteous and gave the young man every opportunity to get himself out of this trouble. A small offering would have been enough. Nonetheless, he continued to act belligerently refusing to co-operate with them in any way.
“Is this your Enfield motorbike?” the police commander asked.
“Yes, it is.” he replied.
“Not anymore. We’re confiscating it as it was used to transport drugs,” the commander said.
The girlfriend frowned but kept quiet. He was slowly losing everything and still, he refused to co-operate.
The thing about bakshish is that the more people you add to the equation, the higher the payment cost. So, when they decided it was time to take him to the police station, the price of freedom continued to rise. What was once five payments perhaps doubled to ten.
Finally, the police gave up on giving the young man the chance to free himself cheaply of the circumstance he was now in. Before leaving the chai shop, the police gave a few tolas to the shop owner. He had lost some business from the young man selling the charas on the beach in front of his shop and had called the police. The officer then walked to the far end of the beach, giving the remainder of the charas to a chai shop with little to no business. With everybody taken care of and happy, the police left with the young man and the motorbike.
After the police had all left, several of us bought the confiscated tolas from the chai shop. Then three of us walked to the far end of the beach and made a deal for the rest. Everybody was cared for and happy, except the young man who was getting deeper into the system and deeper into trouble.
Chillums and stash were dug back out of the sand. Life on Om Beach returned to a stream of carrom competitions, music, swimming, and calling out, “Bum bolenath.” Everything was the same as it ever was.
One of the interesting things about Indian culture is the cows. Holy cows. The cow represents Mother Earth, a mother to all beings – gentle, kind, and nurturing. The cow is a source of goodness and its milk nourishes all creatures.
They are the total recycling machine on Om. For your personal defecation, i.e., toilet needs, there was the path that is the tail of the Om where “the cows that ate everything” lived. Privacy for your chore was stepping carefully off the path behind some scrubby shrubs. Several cows were always excitedly waiting to feast upon your excrement. They ate plastic bags, paper, and… any and everything. (photo Donna Howley)
We’re not talking a bunch of bull shit here. We’re talking cow shit! They defecate little round cow pies which people collect and form into ‘cow dung cake.’ This is used for cooking and heating fuel. It is also soaked and reconstituted as a wall and floor “wash” as we had previously detailed. A little know use is the high fiber substance of cow dung cake helps to produce high-quality papers.
More uses are that the smoke from cow dung cakes has been found to have disinfectant properties. This has led to the conscious use of cow manure as an insect repellent, primarily used against mosquitoes. Cow manure is rich in nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. It is a cheap and good fertilizer and is famous for its availability. So you can easily see why the cow is so important in India!
Half Moon Beach
We had heard that there was another beach over the next rise that was supposedly even more beautiful than Om. People ranted and raved about how wonderful it was so, we decided to check it out. We set out early one morning walking to the bottom of the Om and up the rocky cliffs. The narrow cow paths featured sheer drop-offs onto large, jagged rocks. The climb was a bit much for Donna but she’s a trooper and persevered.
The beach was secluded which I suppose was its big draw. It was rough and was home to plenty of mosquitos and other pesky insects. We decided it was not for us and turned back. Donna held on to the back of my shirt on the scarier bits, closing her eyes and taking it “one step at a time.” A couple of weeks later an Indian tourist would tumble from a similar path. It is said that they would probably survive after the brain surgery. (photo Donna Howley)
Life in the jungle was nice, being able to cook for ourselves, but time-consuming. This took away from our limited distance walk every day, with swimming being our only exercise. Our health began to deteriorate. Donna’s ant bites from the “Love Shack” became infected oozing open sores. Also, a sinus infection slowly became a problem. Slowly is how everything in India happens and before you realize it, it’s too much.
We spent two more weeks at the “Om House.” I composed a lot of music on my Yamaha QY20 sequencer. Donna’s energy drained as her health declined, and unfortunately, her creative juices stopped flowing. The cooking was taking her time instead of creating, painting, writing, or playing music. She realized that the domestic chores robbed her of this time. She couldn’t do it all.
Time continued to tick away, and we realized we were finally rested. Five weeks was plenty long enough. We had really stayed too long. It was time to escape Om Beach. Our trusty Lonely Planet guide assisted us in planning our next move. Hampi, home of Hanuman, the monkey king and loyal friend and servant to Vishnu, would be our next stop.
After packing our bags and saying fond farewells to our beedie-smoking landlord, we walked up the beach toward the brush and rocky hillside. In one of the last chai shops before leaving the beach, we saw a man standing on a table. Curious, we stopped for a second to see what he was doing. “Okay,” he called out to someone behind the chai shop, and suddenly, the first lightbulb on Om Beach lit up. Donna and I looked at each other.
“Well, that’s the end of that and the beginning of something else,” she said. I nodded, realizing the Om Beach we knew would be a memory some travelers would not experience again. We climbed through the brush and up the rocky incline, leaving Om Beach behind. Well rested, this time, there was no Runar to tell us we were tired and to go back. We made our way back to Gokarna, booked the bus to Hampi and prepared for the next leg of our adventure.
Epilog to “Raid”
Some months later, we ran into the girlfriend of the young man who refused to pay bakshish to the police. Yes, he was still in prison. The police had also confiscated any of the money he had in his possession at the time of arrest. His girlfriend had to keep buying him food and supporting him while he was imprisoned. The price of his potential freedom had increased tenfold. She was still determined to get him released. She confided to us that, “The only reason that I’m working so hard to get him out… is so I can kill him!”
I’m pretty sure she actually meant it.
Next: Om Beach Continues