The collage images are from Goa, India, the setting for “Drishti” by Janet H Swinney. Goa came under the control of the Portuguese in 1510 and remained so until India annexed it in 1961. It has an international reputation as a place of
unbridled hedonism, open use of marijuana and hashish,
unbridled hedonism, open use of marijuana and hashish,
sexual license and was at one time a stop on the “hippy trail”. Conservatives might see it as a place of decadence, personally I could use a month there. Tourism is the main source of income for the province. Many of the mostly European visitors are fascinated by Indian culture. Goa has a vibrant nightlife and incredible beaches. The beaches are lined with resorts.The lead character in “Drishti” works as a life guard on one of the beaches. Janet H Swinney’s powerful short story takes us deeply into the life of Satish, we see the beach through his eyes, a world far from the glittering resorts.
As the story opens Satish is perched in his elevated lifeguard chair. It is morning, the start of his shift and the beach is not yet busy. He scans the beach. He glances at his left thumb nail, over an inch long, and varnished bright red. This denotes his membership in the Vaishnavite sect. He enjoys seeing how this makes locals uneasy and intrigues Europeans.
His friend and fellow lifeguard Dhirendra is also a Vaishnavite devotee, they have the same guru. Dhirendra has learned how to profit from the Darker side of Goa:
“Dhirendra is the kind of guy who mooches about the town of an evening, usually outside the loudest bars and wine shops. He’s on good terms with a remarkably large number of people it is important to know – bar owners, bouncers, security guards at posh residences and so on. After the power goes off at eight, he puts the bike into a low gear and trundles round the dark streets with the headlamp off, seeing what unusual goings-on he can uncover – fellows entering houses that are not their own; home-made hooch being transported in three wheelers; girls disposing of unwanted babies in garbage bins: that sort of thing. These days, Satish is often a passenger on the pillion, as Dhirendra roams the drinking dens and eateries and follows solitary women scuttling to get home after work.”
A talented short story writer can take us deeply into a social milieu, one beyond the luxury resorts, which tourists rarely see. In just a few sentences Swinney has accomplished this marvellously, as we can see in the passages above.
Satish’s work as a lifeguard, a job of which he is proud, can get tedious. He passes time by playing games on his cell phone.
We see old caste structures are still deeply embedded in the consciousness of Satish. With the beach full of European women, often very briefly attired he has eyes only for an older Goan woman that collects refuge on the beach, once a job for Dalits. He calls her “Miss Mango Slice”.
“Miss Mango Slice is the love of his life though she doesn’t know it. He calls her that because she always wears a yellow blouse and a concoction of yellow and orange shawls and skirts that he can’t quite fathom. And today, as usual, she has a red leather hat with a wide brim jammed firmly on her head. She makes her way towards him in a leisurely but purposeful manner, with her big basket braced on one hip, and her sweeping brush trailing from her other hand. He can’t take his eyes off her. He admires the way she paces herself. She works long hours, mostly in the hot sun, criss-crossing the beach systematically until the job is done...
Miss Mango Slice is way below him socially. Poor though his family is, his mother would be horrified if she knew that he entertained thoughts of a relationship with a refuse collector. Miss Mango Slice is older than him too. That’s easy to tell. He doesn’t even know if she’s married, as she wears none of the usual markers. However, as he looks down into her laconic brown eyes, and notes the jittery earring that plays against her neck in the breeze, like a bunch of keys inviting entry, he knows he just doesn’t care.
She gathers up her things, and drifts off again across the sand, showing him an excellent pair of pink heels and long, narrow, well-formed calves.”
Satish is excited by a glimpse of her calves, but not near naked much younger Europeans women.
We observe the beach from the lifeguard stand. We learn the supposed reasons Indians are not allowed in the whites area of the beach.
Satish’s shift is almost open. He is thirsty and wants some food but the next on duty lifeguard has not yet arrived. He cannot leave the station unattended but if he calls he office to inform them his friend will be in trouble.
There is a lot more to this story. I’m leaving much untold for new readers. I found the point of view very imaginative. Swinney is very good with small details. Through this story my view of life has been expanded. I read this story twice. I will post on another of Swinney’s stories soon.
I greatly enjoyed this story and endorse it to all lovers of the form.
Author supplied data
Repentant education inspector, based in London but with ties in India.
Eleven of her stories have appeared in print. The most recent of these, 'Political Events Have Taken a Turn,' appears in ‘The Sorcery of Smog.’ (Earlyworks Press 2018). Other stories have appeared online in ‘The Bombay Literary Magazine’, ‘Out of Print’, ‘Joao Roque’ and the ‘Indian Review’.
She was a runner-up in the London Short Story competition 2014, and nominated for the Eric Hoffer prize for prose 2012. Her first collection of stories will be published shortly by Circaidy Gregory Press. She is currently working on a play based on stories by Manto.
Find her on Facebook at Janet H Swinney – Addicted to Fiction, or at www.janethswinney.com