The search for simplicity

To slow down from the 24/7/365 cycle, retreat from reality, do as little as possible and eat uncomplicated food


Mint, tomato and avocado salad. Photo: Samar Halarnkar
Mint, tomato and avocado salad. Photo: Samar Halarnkar

Sometimes, you just want life to be simple. There is beauty and comfort in simplicity. It is, as a famous music composer said, the final achievement. So it was when we landed in Goa last week, a bit burnt out, aspiring to five days of finally achieving nothing. 

Our hyperactive minds took time to slow down. We had to resist the temptation to hire a scooter and ramble through the countryside, as we have done before. This decision was made easier by the traffic jams we saw, the perilous conditions of the roads, and the reluctant realization that Goa clearly isn’t what it once was.

Garbage piles are common, once sylvan areas have become overbuilt, unregulated tourist traps—particularly the Candolim-Calangute area—the trees are dwindling noticeably and the local newspapers indicate the depth of corruption and mismanagement. An MLA and a corporator—and their respective goons—had come to blows on the street because the latter called in a bulldozer and smashed a traffic island (don’t ask). Locals were protesting crumbling roads, garbage and half-built sewage systems. It broke my heart to see, read and hear what is happening to my native land. If you did not already know, I am Goan by origin, my home village of Halarn in Pernem taluka giving me my last name; also, the only known photo of my great-grandparents hangs on the wall of a century-old family home, now occupied by relatives, in Salvador do Mundo. However, I would only be a tourist.

So, those simple things.

It took a day to discard half-plans and stray ideas. No scooter, I told the wife. No trip to Halarn, she said. We agreed. Thanks to one of those online deals, we were staying at a wooded, seaside resort with a sparkling pool and an extensive buffet breakfast thrown in. Since lunch and dinner were horrendously expensive, we had to walk out. It was a good move. We found a neat, simple restaurant—a 2-minute walk from the front gate—run by a Tibetan family and became loyal customers—except for one memorable meal at a nearby Italian restaurant run by a Goan man and his Italian wife. 

Thanks to the free breakfast, the first meal of the day was not simple: eggs made to order, fresh fruit, choris pao (Goan sausage and local bread), fried liver, smoked salmon—you get the idea. The six-year-old ate sausages, eggs, salmon and sugary doughnuts for breakfast every day, while the vegetarian wife settled for things like millet upma and potatoes Goan style.

Simplicity, however, was evident at Himalaya House, the Tibetan restaurant. The daughter took orders, while her mother and brother-in-law cooked in a spare, clean kitchen. The wife’s “Tibetan thali” was a smorgasbord of fragrant stir-fried vegetables, a bao (steamed bun), dal, rice and salad. They let us customize our meals every time. A simple spaghetti in tomato sauce? Sure. A super-lightly fried red snapper with fresh cut salad? Sure. Dal and rice? Of course. Wine? Here you go. We particularly loved their simple salads, made with available ingredients. Inspired, we returned home determined to make more quick, easy salads. 

We bought a set of beach toys for Rs100 from the shop across the road. The toys and the pool were all that the six-year-old needed. It was all that we all needed. The sea was too rough to swim in. But we could chase the outgoing tide, get chased by incoming waves, build sandcastles, bury our feet in the sand, play catch in the pool, throw little coconuts to the bottom and compete to get them.

People watching also provided us with much amusement. The garrulous 50-something bunch of Delhi Punjabis had clearly abandoned their children. The Kannadigas who tried aqua zorbing—climbing into a big balloon and trying to run inside, but mostly collapsing, as it floated over the water. The Gujaratis who wore only knee-length swimsuits and looked horrified at the liver on offer for breakfast. There were stray children who became temporary friends with the six-year-old, allowing us to read, smile and just hang out together.

My guilt at this uncomplicated life while Goa went to seed was assuaged somewhat when I studied the local papers more carefully. Humour and simplicity—sometimes poignant—were still evident. “Lord I am coming home,” read the titles of many obituaries. The Prime Minister’s achche-din (good days) slogan was being lampooned at the music-filled tiatr, the local version of Broadway. “Bore Dis Etele (Good Days Will Come)?" was the title of the latest production. Indeed.

Mint, tomato and avocado salad 

Serves 2

Ingredients

200g cherry tomatoes 

1 large, ripe avocado

2 tbsp fresh mint

Dressing

2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, juice of half a lime, sprinkle of fresh pepper, 1 pod finely chopped garlic and a dash of mustard oil. Mix and shake well.

Method

Halve the cherry tomatoes, and cut the avocado into bite-sized pieces. Toss with the vinaigrette and mint leaves.

This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes the fortnightly column Frontier Mail for Mint and is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He tweets at @samar11.

READ MORE