Goa was the first state where I did not have a single contact. I had a few friends at a management institute there but no connections to work openings. I would have to look for a job once I got there. While my sister was calling me to dinner, I checked my email again. I was surprised to see a mail from Janessa, the girl I had met in Himachal. It was brief. ‘I am in Goa, find me if you can’ was the subject line with no text in the body of the mail.
I boarded the Mangalore Express from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus that night. Thanks to the rain and a slight fever, I fell asleep easily. A fellow passenger on the train woke me when we were about to reach Madgaon. When I gathered my luggage, I saw there was a big hole in one of my bags. Clearly, it had been chewed up by a rat.
The view from the window was beautiful. It was the monsoon season and everything looked so green and lush.
At the taxi stand, someone informed me that it would cost nearly a thousand bucks to reach Panjim. I just laughed at the idea of spending three times what it had cost me to travel from Mumbai to Goa.
I was looking for a cheaper alternative when a guy on a bike asked if I wanted a drop to the bus stand. I thought he was offering me a ride as a hitchhiker, but discovered it was a paid transportation service called Pilot. These bikers usually drop you wherever you want in Goa at a reasonable price. The guy put my luggage on the petrol tank, and I sat on the pillion seat. He dropped me to Kadamba bus stand from where I got a bus to Panjim. I found a seat on the bench at the back of the bus, where I was joined by a few more travellers.
On the 30-kilometre journey from Madgaon to Panjim we drove past white buildings in the Portuguese style, through narrow streets and lush, leafy groves – a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai.
I overheard two of my fellow passengers saying that this was the off-season in Goa, with very few tourists during the monsoon. I told myself that I had come at the perfect time. As soon as I got down at Panjim, a guy approached me to ask if I needed to rent a bike. The rent was a reasonable sum of 200 rupees per day. He asked for a copy of my Pan Card as security and two days’ rent in advance. Then I kick-started the bike and took off to find my two Js: Janessa, and a job.
Candolim beach was my first destination. It was not crowded. There were a few vendors selling printed T-shirts with Bob Marley’s face, colourful bags and trinkets made of seashells. A woman was offering to do mehendi or henna tattoos. I declined her offer, but it ignited an idea.
Much before my trip to Goa I had contacted a tattoo artist to ask if he would hire me but he had refused. I figured I would ask a few more if they would take me on as an apprentice. I also looked at every foreigner I came across while roaming around the beach, passing through guest houses, and in small shops, checking to see if I could spot Janessa. Each time, my search ended in disappointment.
I sat down for some time on Calangute beach, looking at the waves. An old saffron-attired sadhu baba came up to me and asked if I wanted weed.
I headed towards Baga for a beer at a shack on the beach. Baga beach is dotted with hundreds of shacks with very little to distinguish one from the other. There was a hoarding advertising Club Tito’s. I had heard about Tito’s from my friends, who said that it was one of the most happening places in Goa. I thought that if I could get a job on the lane to Tito’s, it would increase my chances of meeting Janessa. I remembered that she had mentioned how much she loved this club.
Although I wasn’t very optimistic, I entered the Inkbaba Tattoo Studio in the Tito’s lane. Instead of asking for a job, I walked in like any customer might and looked at the tattoo patterns in the albums.
Manish, the young tattoo artist there, told me about his journey in tattooing. His artistic nature had blossomed at a very young age. When he was in school, he had come to the media’s attention for writing around 100 letters on one grain of rice.
He explained how tattooing had become very commercial in Goa, which devalued its artistry and his creative instincts. He showed me some of his sketches and challenged me, ‘If you get better finished tattoos than the ones I create here, I will do this work for free for the rest of my life.’
His attitude really touched me and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to gain experience at this studio. Later, he showed me some of the works of his boss, Sachin Aarote, the founder of the studio. Sachin, a very popular tattoo artist in Bollywood, had a studio in Mumbai with the same name. He divided his time between Goa and Mumbai. Luckily Sachin was there and soon joined us.
When I spoke about my One Week Job project, he thought it was a cool idea and took me on to assist him.
( This article was first published in the scroll.in)