In all the years I’ve lived in Goa, I’ve only checked out the Carnival parade once before. A couple of years ago. I was seriously underwhelmed. Quite frankly I’ve wondered what the fuss is all about. My friend C wrote an insider’s view that echoed many of my feelings. And so I have never been tempted to go back and watch the parade or participate in the excitement. What with my general laziness combined with my aversion to large crowds, being jostled around and forced to smash bodies with strangers.
A couple of years ago Panjim started hosting Samba Square in the central municipal garden in the city – four days of music, food and drink and a host of artsy-craftsy activities for kids and teenagers – in a festive, lively atmosphere – and doubling up as a venue for customary Red & Black Dance that is the grand finale to the Carnival celebrations, and the final party before Lent begins.
It sounded like our very own desi version of Party In The Park, I suppose. I remember driving by once, and getting so horrifically stuck in traffic caused because of it, that I never ventured inside to see what it was all about. For some reason, this year I decided I needed to see what the fuss was about. And so we ventured out on day 1, only to have our efforts shot to bits when we found ourselves in the midst of the mother of all traffic jams. When it took us about an hour to inch along and we had moved just 400 mts, I decided to give up, turn around and return. We were so near, and yet so far. Close enough to want to try and get to the event but too far to just park and walk. You see, traffic jams are still quite rare in Panjim, even though the volume of traffic is growing out of control and we have frequent pile ups at major junctions, this kind of snaking mile long jams with cars backed up for as far as the eye can see, is rare.
Determined, we went back the next day. Starting early paid off and we miraculously managed to go all the way to the venue, and found parking within walking distance too! Win win win. It turned out to be a fun event. Day 2 was peaceful, because the wild crowds had had their fill the previous night (the party went on till 2 am, apparently) and there were enough people to feel like you were at a fete of sorts, but also not so crowded that you don’t have the space to roam amongst the stalls, get the food and drink you wanted and also have the room to dance.
We got there before sundown so the light was beautiful and we roamed amongst the activity centres scattered around the park areas. The entire length of the main street at the entrance to the park had been cordoned off, lined with food stalls, and done up in a street-side eatery set-up with tables along the centre, ample seating and recycle/garbage stations at regular intervals too.
When the sun went down the cocktails began to flow, the food stalls fired up their portable stoves and barbecues. The food was astoundingly good. Many local favourite eateries had taken up stalls selling everything from Goan beef cutlet-pao to sausage-bread to curries to be mopped up with pao, to pizza by the slice, spare ribs hot off the grill, other barbecue and grill favourites, popcorn and fries, and a Mexican food truck too! The music began at 7 and though it wasn’t superlative its easy to get in the mood when a few upbeat classics play, and you feel like jiving instantly.
I had one too many feni cocktails. My favourite brand of feni – Cazulo – had a full stall that was dishing out some brand new cocktails and luring crowds with fun drinking games. The concoction I sampled was made from guava juice, had lots of ice and a salt and chilli powder rim. It was delicious. With a few drinks and assorted nibbles in me, it wasn’t long before I was tempted to dance some. My friends and I being the only ones moving around by our tables, when this began, I realised we were being watched. But not for long, as the music picked up and more and more folks started dancing.
I don’t know how time flew and close to 10 we left, mostly because by then I really needed to pee. Hee. We stopped by our favourite Thai restaurant on the way home, to top up on nibbles and eat dinner before we headed home and called it a day.
Despite my far-from-pleasant carnival memories from the past, this was a good experience to rewrite the memories in my mind. A super relaxed Sunday evening, a new cocktail discovered, some dance practice on a street in Panjim. Not too bad for my first time in six years, I think.
Here’s a few snapshots.