Pankaj Sekhsaria recalls the first time his son saw a “doat.”
Tranquebar is that little “coming into prominence” kind of town that sits with tranquillity on the east coast of India. About three hours from Puducherry, this former Danish township of a fort, a few prominent old buildings, old mosques and an older temple is a prominent mark now on modern India’s tourism map. At the centre of its new-found fame is Neemrana’s charming “non-hotel” hotel, the Bungalow on the Beach (BoB). What was once a discarded, decrepit skeleton of an old colonial building is a joy to live in, now with its high roofs, solid circular columns, wooded beams, lovingly restored ambience and a breeze from the sea that can soothe the most frayed of nerves in a few moments.
If there is indeed so much going for this place, is it not a travesty that should be remembered by a “goat”? If our, now a little over two years old, little fellow, had his way it would be about ‘Remembering Tranquebar by a “doat” and thereby hangs this tale.
City bred Kabir (our little fellow) had never seen a goat till Tranquebar happened to us about a year ago. Now, in the open grounds between the Bungalow and the old Danish fort, there were three kinds of creatures that we found loitering day and night — the cows, the dogs and the goats. There might be nothing remarkable about this, because that is what these animals also do in small towns where tourists come to loiter and also relax. I was not surprised, but for Kabir this was important. These were his first goats. The dogs and cows had already been encountered in Secunderabad.
For the first two days, the relationship was a long distance one — Kabir in the balcony on the first floor of the Bungalow; the goats, enticingly, in the soft sands down below.
The first encounter, close up, happened opposite the post office late on the third evening as we set out on a long walk into the little town. Here was one mother goat and two young ones jumping excitedly only as little goats can. I had seen them and wanted to move on, but Kabir had other ideas. He settled down on the road and watched.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Bow, Bow!” came the prompt response.
“No Kabir,” I said, “It’s a goat.”
“Bow, Bow,” he corrected me with a quizzical, “you don’t know?” look on his little face.
I wanted to move and the only way to make that happen was to pick up Kabir and carry him to the end of the street where his mother and our accompanying friend had already reached. We walked past the recently renovated street and a couple of other old buildings that had a clean and gleaming restored look. These were beautiful, but I felt the charm of an old, used, lived-in-feel missing. Not that this was missing in the town. We were to encounter a lot of it in the many houses that we strolled past.
The street was a deceptively empty one — flanked on both sides by old houses with the traditional front porch and elegant rounded wooden beams; and new houses that failed miserably on all counts, certainly the aesthetic. An occasional motorcycle zoomed by and a couple of young boys cycled boisterously in the opposite direction. Kabir walked along sportingly with us till — you guessed it — we encountered the next goat and her two little ones.
We had reached the mosques and Kabir settled down on the street again to observe the happenings of “goat world”. These little ones were even smaller and the little girl from the adjoining house picked one up nonchalantly and stretched out her hand for Kabir to pat him. Tentatively Kabir reached out his hand and then withdrew it quickly. He pondered a bit, worry written all over his face; then stretched out his hand again, patted the animal and pulled it back like a spring. The little goat jumped off and ran to its mother. “Goat, Kabir, goat,” I said pointing to the goats that slowly meandered away and vanished behind the wall of the house on the other side.
I picked up Kabir and our exploration of Tranquebar continued.
There were a series of shops with wooden doors that must have been bolted many years ago. The paint had scraped off leaving behind an abstract matrix of military green and timber brown. A motorcycle stood forlorn between two pillars of a house down the street and a cat meowed suspiciously from atop the boundary wall a few yards away.
The darkness was seeping into the evening aided and accentuated by the fact that there was a power cut in town. On the left was an abandoned building with a goat peering through the broken grill (Kabir hadn’t seen this one). On the right, through a door left slightly ajar, the golden flame of a kerosene lamp flickered meditatively.
It was time to return to the “Bungalow” and Kabir seemed to have sensed it. He didn’t want to go for sure, but for a little fellow with only half-a-dozen half-words in his vocabulary, there was little he could say. He stopped and shook his head. There was somewhere he still wanted to go.
He stretched out his hand and pointed his finger in the opposite direction: “Doat,” he blurted with some struggle and shook his hand. “Doat, doat,” he said purposefully again.
A new word and a new animal had been discovered.