x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Can Sam Cooke rouse Goa from its trance?

On the road Luke Jerod Kummer's social experiment reaches its climax as he throws a party to seek out Goa's soul.

A fisherwoman walks along the beach at Anjuna.
A fisherwoman walks along the beach at Anjuna.

On our second morning in Goa, the day of the party Lizette and I are throwing to test the spirit of freedom said to reside here, we wander down a dirt path flanked by rice fields and women sorting through piles of the tiny husked grains drying on wicker mats. I flag down a car and ask the driver how much it will cost to go into town. Two hundred rupees (US$4; Dh16), he says, and I wave him on. Lizette signals to a passing motorcycle and arranges the same journey for 150 ($2.50; Dh9). The three of us pile on the bike's back, heaved on top of each other like pond turtles. The rider, a thin, moustached man named Ashok, speaks English.

Where can we get 100 samosas, I ask? There is a stand by the roadside, he says without being the least bit flummoxed by the strange request. Where can we get ice for 100 drinks? He can buy a big block for us and chop it up. Another accomplice, I see. Ashok takes us to a little grocery store-cum-bar that he knows and we start making arrangements, including ordering drinks, cups and a metal cooler that looks like it was airdropped in the Second World War. Ashok rides off on his mission and we head into town with Lizette taping our party flyers to the fronts of buildings and the backs of parked rickshaws. She stops people in the streets, chats them up and hands them flyers like she's been doing this all her life. She's a machine that only needs the occasional mango Popsicle for fuel. She even invites the Popsicle seller.

Next we stop in at a joint down the beach from our hotel called the Shore Bar. I've heard that the owner, Richard, might be able to help us find a generator. Moments later a tanned, shirtless man with grey curls spreading from his muscular chest appears. His good looks startle. I mumble something about wanting to throw a party on the beach and Richard nods meaninglessly at me like someone who's heard every crazy story from foreigners in Goa before.

Watching my feckless ploy fail, Lizette takes over, her blonde hair a glowing, windswept tangle, her eyes turned on. She speaks in a deep Dutch-inflected tone: "It's sort of a social experiment." Richard perks up. That's one, apparently, he hasn't heard before. Watching the two of them is like witnessing Norse and Vedic gods barter for clouds and thunder. Richard whips out a phone and we are set to have a generator in a few hours at a cost of $40 (Dh147). He also says we can throw the party on the beach just beyond and to the right of the Shore Bar.

Around 5pm Lizette points out that if we don't start setting up we'll miss our own event in an hour. Ashok rings us to say that all of the samosa makers are away for Diwali. He's found 100 pakora and 50 mirchi instead. We begin moving our things to the beach and stand the record player and oil lamps next to the generator. Ashok is chopping at a 50kg block of ice with a machete. I'm getting blisters from yanking on the generator's cord to no avail.

As soon as Ashok sets down the box of snacks a crowd of the sari-clad jewellery vendors who ply the beach gather like cats. They reach into the box and grab a handful of eats before darting off. I manage to get the generator whirring and suddenly the record player comes alive with Sam Cooke filling the dusky air. It's 6.30. Lizette and I stare at each other. We've invited hundreds of people and yet the beach is empty around us. I pour her a drink and say, "You know, maybe it's just going to be you, me and Ashok."

Just then descends a pack of wild dogs barking and gnashing their teeth. While I'm chasing after one another dives muzzle-first into the box of pakora, rubbing sand into the last of the crispy dough balls. It's looking bleak. Then someone arrives: a French woman who wandered over from the Shore Bar. "Richard says you're having some sort of social experiment -. Something about seeing how long it will take to get arrested," she says.

One by one, the crowd grows to about a dozen - DJs, journalists, teachers, holidaymakers, kids - sitting around a record player, listening to music and, in the words of Sam Cooke, having a party. At 10pm, we pack up our things, feeling a measure of success, and head to the Shore Bar to thank Richard. "Where's your record player?" he says as we walk up the stairs. "Plug it in." He orders off the thumping trance music and connects the record player to the PA. He winks at me as if to say, let's see what ya got? I pull the soundtrack of The Harder They Come from its sleeve and lay the needle on one of the black orbits.

From the speakers thunder the first Hammond B3 riffs and Richard smiles with a heavenly glint. Lizette rolls her shoulders and begins to dance. Three songs later, the whole barasti-roofed bar is full of handclaps and people singing along to "By the Rivers of Babylon". Around 1.30am I lie down where the kitchen staff is sleeping on the floor, figuring it's a job well done. But when I wake up a half-hour later Lizette is still working the room, bringing drinks, greeting people by name, herding the disparate groups into one central circle and being the life of the party, which only ends sometime in the early morning when police come brandishing batons at people who are skinny dipping in the ocean.

The next day I barely have energy to stand. But Richard has invited us back. He wants to hear the record player again so I lug it over. I am too spent by this point to make any sort of selection but Lizette puts on Tito Puente. As if by preordination there just happen to be professional salsa dancers in attendance and they hot step and twirl across the floor. By this time it's all out of my hands and in far more capable ones: Lizette's and Richard's.

Before we head off to catch our plane Richard commands me to spin The Harder They Come once more, and the 50 or so people sitting in this shack by the ocean who until recently had been nodding along to trance like zombies are now chanting the chorus. It occurs to me that it is the ones like Lizette and Richard who made Goa what it once was. Wherever the party goes, it goes with them. And that's the place I'd like to be.