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Best friends forever reunite at beachside resort in India

April, 2011

My mother, Ann Lambert, and Maila Shanks met at Trafalgar High School in Montreal and immediately recognized each other as kindred spirits.

My family has been regaled with many a tale of their escapades at Trafalgar (punishments meted out included polishing the school’s illustrious front doors with a toothbrush).

Over the years, their bond endured, and my memory is filled with fond recollections of birthday parties thrown at Summit Circle on Mount Royal organized by Maila. I remember accidentally trekking through stinging nettles as my best friends and I searched tirelessly for gifts hidden in trees as part of a scavenger hunt. I remember the great anticipation with which my brother and I greeted Maila when she returned from winter travels to spend the summer with us. And I remember being upset, shocked, and stunned when one summer we were informed that she was getting married—in India, which had been her part-time home for years. She would not visit us with the same constancy. I was devastated. I didn’t think at the time of the effect this would have on my mother, who would lose one of her oldest and best friends to a foreign country and a man we’d never met.

Alice and her parents under giant trees overhung with vines in India.

Maila met her husband, Rashid Lone, in Goa, a former Portuguese Colony only emancipated in 1961 and the continued residence of many hippified travellers from (or longing to return to) that era. Many Goans do not perceive themselves as Indians; their allegiance is to their state. Goa’s beaches have been a prime tourism spot for years.

After moving between conflicted Kashmir in the north and Goa in the southwest of India for several years, Maila and Rashid winter in Goa, where they run a beach-side resort.

My mother, father, brother Isaac and I arrived in Mumbai and were immediately assailed by the ubiquitous smell of India that always clung to Maila’s clothes. Mumbai was incredible but overwhelming, and we were exhausted by the time we arrived in Goa.

As we stumbled from the cab, we were greeted by Maila, who ushered us and our bags down the small hill that led to her beach resort, Meems’ Arabian Sea (Maila is the Meem Sahib). I drifted semi-consciously over to a bed swathed in mosquito netting and slept.

The next day I fared better. Aside from the inescapable gastric complaints that accompany travelers in tropical climes, my family and I were healthy for the next three weeks. Given the torrent of responsibilities we endure at home and the limitations on our time as a family, it was wonderful to kick back on the beach and feel utterly devoid of obligation.

Maila was unfortunately dealing with a slew of new neighbours who felt the need to infuse the natural sounds of the ocean with pounding techno-music, keeping the guests awake at night. She was also grappling with irritating roadwork, not to mention all the tasks that keep a resort running. Meems’ Restaurant was the most popular on the beach.

Alice Abracen’s brother in Goa. Photos courtesy of Alice Abracen

Between crises she would sit with us as we ate a leisurely meal, enjoying the breeze off the ocean. Maila and Rashid love dogs, and the local dogs know that they’ll be cared for at Meems’ so there was plenty of animal company. We lounged and read on beach chairs and on the cushions that litter the Meems’ porch. We swam in the waves, the dogs hard on our heels, intent on rescuing us. We were treated to one fabulous meal after another, played volleyball and tried bellydancing.

Maila showed us some of the sights, offering a unique perspective into her world, which included a crowded hippy market.

The narrow road was swathed in stores lined with jewelry, figurines, brilliantly patterned cloth and boisterous vendors. Maila deftly haggled, her hard-hearted bargaining prowess and Western appearance startling the shop-owners and saving us from many an overpriced item.

Walking through the market, we tried to avoid rampaging scooters ferrying whole families of hippies, as well as the occasional cow, whose benign but lordly gaze sends tourists scuttling out of the way. It was amazing to watch Maila navigate this utterly foreign world.

We ventured off the beaten path and found an immense tree, a towering behemoth that would seem more at home in a science-fiction movie. We contemplated the possibility of swinging on the multitude of massive vines. Maila eyed a disturbingly thin vine, and said, “This should do the trick.” She drew back the vine, took a small run, swung, and promptly plummeted to the ground, laughing. My brother and I were more careful in our selections and our vines held.

Examining a shrine at the base of the tree, we were chastened to realize that this place is recognized as sacred. We had felt its sanctity.

When we finally left our second home, it was sad for Mom and Maila. But they’ll see each other again this summer.



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