The bus halted at Alibag at 9am today morning, and the aged gentleman who was my companion for the three-hour journey from Bombay asked in surprise, "Leaving already?" We had grown close in that time, and for that we had to thank the State Transport bus. We held on to each other for support as the bus banked both ways along the rolling hills, and rose off our seats as the bus hurtled over speed bumps, and braced the other as much for them as ourselves as we crashed back on to wooden seats. Our sore behinds bonded us.
We said goodbye, and I never saw him again.
A little later, after examining a room in a shady hotel (walls painted blue, spy camera behind mirror, etc.), I had a brief chat with a restaurant owner. Before he got talking about the forts and the beaches and the Birla temple, I asked him what he did for fun. He looked around helplessly until his eyes met his father's. "We do the same things that you do in the city," his father announced. "We come to work, we work, we go home from work." A quick thanks and I headed off to do some touristy things. Somehow I stumbled into a village and had another chat about corruption (why are all my conversations in obscure places about corruption?) with a Koli fisherman, whose friends - by screaming until I realised that there was more to their calls than a request for photographs - prevented me from walking into a pack of wild dogs.
In the distance, going by what the fishermen say, I can see the silhouette of one of the ruined forts at Chaul. It seems to be on a hill, and is visible enough to evoke memories of fairytales. That's where I'll be tomorrow.