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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ASH WEDNESDAY - DUST THOU ART


Church of St. Diogo
(Photograph by Tony Fernandes - 2005)
Parish of the villages
of Guirim and Sangolda, Bardez, Goa.

ASH WEDNESDAY - DUST THOU ART

          In sharp contrast to the general gaiety and exuberance during 3 days preceding Ash Wednesday, with the Goan Carnival of music, song, folklore and parades of floats passing through the streets of the major towns of Mapusa, Panjim and Margao, the Lenten season begins today on a sober note.

          After the partying into the wee hours in the morning has ended some are still probably asleep. But the faithful line up for ashes to be placed on their forehead, and to many of the devoted, a period of regular fasting and abstinence, prayers and repentance begins. It is a period of what is known in Portuguese as 'Quaresma', adapted and used in the local language of the land which is Konkani.


          The year 1961 was the last year when the traditional re-enactment of the encounter between Bounsule/Rane and Portuguese soldiers was carried out in the town of Mapusa in Bardez.


          In the old days the 3-day carnival was followed by a more pious and subdued 40-day period of Lent than today.


          The ashes are obtained from burning palm leaves of the previous year. As the faithful kneel or stand before the priest, he makes a sign of the cross with the ashes on their forehead saying: 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return'.


          The Ash Wednesday Service is held only in churches and not in chapels. In the old days most of the folks walked to church about 3 kilometres away. As children we walked, and then as teenagers we bicycled to church. After the service was over, we would go to the sacristy and request the sacristan for some ashes for distribution to the old folks in the village who had not been able to walk the long distance to the village church. The sacristan would then oblige by tearing a piece of old newspaper from a pile and wrap the ashes in it. I would carry this tiny packet in my shirt pocket and give it to the old lady who lived alone near my house; she would then raise her feeble hand to bless me and say a prayer.


 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

INTRUZ (CARNIVAL IN GOA)


CARNIVAL IN GOA - circa 1972

Carnival or Carnaval (in Portuguese) is a pre-Lent celebration held for three days beginning on Sunday before Ash Wednesday in Goa. It is full of fun and frolic for the young and old. Clad in various costumes and garbs of every style and colour, children, young boys and girls roamed the villages from house to house showing off their fancy dresses. Sometimes they could be your next-door neighbours in a costume you will probably not believe or recognize. But guessing who the reveler might be was part of the fun.


Intruz (Carnival)

It was the premiere day of the Carnival,
The first day of the exuberant festival,
Morning as bright as could be,
Long shadows in the early dawn
Cast across the village earth so forlorn.

As grandma swept rhythmically
With besom in one hand
The other in a peculiar style of own
Perched gently on her hip
The entire front courtyard
She swept tirelessly.

The crow perched on the branch
Of a nearby mango tree
And cawed repeatedly;
She looked towards the crow and said:
“Is there a letter on its way for me from my grandson?”

As she shifted her gaze from the arched pattern
Made from the constant movement
On the cool morning earth
By the bristles of her broom;
She motioned to the hens and chicks in the backyard
To quieten down their very own grand symphony.

But Grandma was brave,
She had handled many a “devchar”
And innumerable “moenkar”
And witnessed many a “Intruz”
In her time before;
So daringly she held her ground
As she stood in the doorway.

She guessed right who the lads were,
But was polite enough she was
Not to mention their names
Of the faces
That hid behind the masquerade;
The lads did not a single word utter
Out of their own fear
Afraid as that would blow
Their own cover.

But grandma hinted instead:
“Up there from the hillside
Of the village on the other side,
I am pretty sure who you are”,
“So take this four “annas” young lads,
And on your way you better be” she said sternly,
“I hope you know that Lent starts tomorrow,
So in church I will see you








On time, and for sure in the first row”.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

SINGING THE LAUDAINHA


Circa 1975 photo by Tony Fernandes

Village Chapel
Guirim, Cumbiem Morod, Bardez, Goa, India
Photo by Roque Monteiro

Singing the Laudainha


As a young boy just growing up, I joined other children along with the elders in singing the ‘Laudainha’ (Litany) at the various feasts, functions or events, and somehow in my innocence, I could not help but think that the “the laudainha” was to pray not only for our own good health, wealth and prosperity but also for the well-being of the village people. Some of the people from our village worked in Goa and others were employed in Bombay, Karachi, Arabian Gulf, Aden or East Africa. As a child I was under the impression that thinking about them and praying to God at the same time by including their names in the litany itself was a novel and awesome idea. There could not have been a better way devised to remember these kind folks.

Believe me, I am not making this up or pulling a fast one. The only reason I did not write about this all this time is because I thought God would punish me for making fun of the ‘Laudainha’. But I say this in all sincerity, and He may still punish me, but the fact that I thought about my neighbours and others when I was that young, must be commended, especially when I prayed for the good of everyone. Nowadays, we hardly sing the Litany, let alone think of anyone else but ourselves. I hope that perhaps singing the Litany in the near future will absolve me, and in addition I will be reciting the ‘mea culpa’.


As a young lad, I knew that the “Laudainha” was sung in Latin language, and that it was dedicated to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary and also recited after completion of the five decades of the Rosary, but then I thought it was so appropriate to think of our own village people, neighbours, relatives, friends and those who worked abroad while having the joy not only in singing, but also being rewarded with 'ukoddlele chonem' (boiled chick peas) in the end. The richer the celebrant, better the chances were of being handed out with two or more types of snacks. A celebrant returning from Africa or Kuwait would mean bolinha, sweets or biscuits, and tambdo soro (red wine) too being generously distributed.


The description below may sound akin to the famous narration of the ‘Deck of Cards” by T. Texas Tyler, but in a different sort of way. My thought was that our rendition was unique in the way. Real people from our community were involved. What was amazing to me were the similarities between what we sang and the names of the people around us, involved in different trades and professions.


To start with, take for instance when we sang 'Sancta Virgo Virginum' or 'Regina Virginum'. My godmother's name was Virginia, her sister was Maria; Assumption was my godfather and the village chapel was dedicated to Nossa Senhora de Assumpta where the batkan's (landlady's) daughter, Angela, sang in the choir every Sunday; Christie, Bonnie and Rosario were my classmates, Rosa and Gracy were my cousin’s neighbours in Siolim where I went to spend my summer holidays, Conception was my aunt, Salvador Jr. was my younger uncle, Violant was the strict lady in the next village on the way to the church in Guirim (we jumped over the high stone compound wall to savour some of the exotic fruits that she grew), Prudencia was the woman who came over to grind curry masala and helped around the house for my grandma, Leticia was my paternal grandmother, Consulem was the one who had petty fights with everyone in the village, Esperança was my next door neighbour and the oldest surviving lady in the village, Piedade worked at the batkar's (landlord) place, Clement worked in Vasco de Gama and Remedios worked for Obras Publicas (Public Works Dept.) in Panjim. These guys seemed to have lived up to their names too. Sucur was the village handy-man and offered help to any one who needed it, Salvador Sr. was an expert and an authority in house roofing and saved many sagging roofs from caving in. Benedict, God bless him, worked in Kuwait and gave me 'Marie' biscuits when he came down on a vacation every 2 years. Fidelis, who had spent 20 years in far away East Africa, was now our village leader and never gave up wearing a hat. David was my older uncle who worked in Bombay, and smoked a pipe when he came to Goa in April or May (aroma of which drifted over the entire village). Stella was my cousin who taught Cathecism, Salu was the well-known caçador (hunter) from Parra who often passed by our house with his rifle on the way to the hills of Bastora and beyond, and Agnel owned a motor-repair workshop in Ahmedabad. His brother Vaz was a well-known tailor and smoked 'Capstan Navy Cut' cigarettes, and Aura was my class-teacher in the village Aula - a Portuguese Primary School. And as if that was not enough, as a bonus prayer, I also thought we were invoking the blessings of the Angels, Patriachs, Confessors, Apostles and Martyrs and Saints. As an extra bonus even the famous advogad (lawyer) from neighbouring Parra wasn’t left out, when we sang the words 'advogada nossa' in the Salve Rainha. So, you see, all the names of people mentioned above are included in the Litany in some form or another, and now as readers are fully convinced, I guess I will be pardoned. Even doce and the jack-fruit were included when we sang Rogai por nos”. (Honestly, 'doce' was often served too after the Laudainha, and what sounded like ponos (jack fruit) I thought we were praying for a better yield of that fruit during the season).


The Litany is also still sung in the homes, at road-side Crosses or in the village chapels in Goa, prior to a member of the family, a husband, a son or a loved one leaving in search of greener pastures for employment abroad, or those returning to work abroad after spending their holidays in Goa. A sung Litany or Ladainha is also held in honour of a saint for favours granted or prayers answered.

An unique feature of the sung Litany is its tri-lingual quality. For example, we begin with the sign of the Cross in Konkani followed 'Deus in adjutorium meum intende' and the 'Kyrie eleison' which in Latin, the 'Salve Rainhan' and 'Virgem Mae de Deus' in Portuguese followed by several hymns in Konkani evoking different saints in Konkani, English and Portuguese.

It is customary to invite all the village folks around, sometimes for adjoining villages, relatives and friends. Beside this sort of a prayer meeting also serves as a social gathering, a convention, a reunion or a farewell, thereby preserving the social fabric. The village chapel served also as a community centre. Immediately after the Litany was completed and the final blessing granted by the village elder, the benches would be brought out from the inside of the chapel and all the children and village folks would sit, awaiting their hand-out - their share of boiled or roasted gram (chick peas), biscuit and “Branco”, Portuguese wine. For me the ‘ladainha’ will remain as one of the best-loved and most well-known sung prayers of all time. It still remains very much as a part of the Goan culture. I am trying to paint that picture through my poem below that I hope will convey and summarise those eventful and fun-filled days of yore.


THE SUNG LITANY IN THE VILLAGE

Early in the hot afternoon sun
Two young lads come over to our home
"We have come to invite you for the ladainha"
They falter as they announce.

"In our chapel, eight o'clock sharp it will start"

"You must come along" they insist
"And bring your son too" says the other
I will, I promise, says my mother.

Later in the evening that day I hear the sound

Of the triple chimes of the village chapel bell
As firecrackers accompany
They beckon the folks
To join them for the sung litany.

The violinist and his son decide

On the key and pitch;
The elders among the folks
Strike the initial chords;
As quite eager are the youngsters
To join in the chorus
Full of hope, without any hitch.

The kids sang in perfect unison

And in choral harmonization
Their high-pitched voices
Were heard at their loudest
Specially with the "Ora pro nobis"

One young lad keeps dozing;

But the thought of sweets and boiled gram kept me waking
When it was time for the village elder
To recite the final prayer at the finale of the litany
He complied with a special request in honour of St.Anthony.

Have I to say any more special prayer?

Asks the village elder of the celebrant
As the burning candles grew smaller
“Yes, please” replies the lady
Could you please say one more "Amchea Bapa"
For my son's safe departure?

The ladainha was finally over

Bringing the youngsters much relief;
The "branco" wine spilled
As the greying elderly man
In his shaking hand
held up
for the saud the tiny cup.

Someone behind in the congregation

Was quick to mention without hesitation
"This is the best ladainh by far"
"No comparison whatsoever to the one before”.

To the family and the host

To their son wishing a safe journey
in his homily,
Full of praise was the village elder
with his toast
And for his eventual successful return
Was his earnest prayer.

Almost with a skill honed

with words specially chosen
The "Saude" was complete
in the briefest time having done his best
To cover as much he could,
His wits were put to a real test.

And before he could tip

The contents of the tiny glass over
He was stopped short in the nick of time
By the local village crooner
With a timely start of
Uddon guelem
parveanchem birem.”

Some said "Good-night",

Others wished "Boa Noite"
But the evening was not complete,
Not quite, without those words so memorable
That still in my ears linger
In a language like no other:
"Deu Bori Rath Dhium".
"Meuche Ami Faleam
".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DIASPORIC RE-VISITATION - Part 3

Fishing Boats at Pomburpa, Goa, India.
Painting in Water-Colour
by
Tony Fernandes

DIASPORIC VISITATION - Part 3
Felicio continued his daily visits to the bazaar to buy fresh fish and vegetables and drank more Kingfisher beer at his favourite restaurant in the town. He visited his relatives and friends, far and near who had invited him for their village feasts. He went sight-seeing and picnics to the northernmost and southernmost beaches with his few old friends and made some new ones.

Lenten services brought back memories of childhood. Taking part in the solemn procession winding its way around the hill-side and around the perimeter of the cemetery with life-size statues of Christ carrying the Cross, and hearing the touching notes and words of the motets sung in Konkani sent a chill up his spine. In enacting the crucifixion elders guided the young men who climbed up on the ladders to retrieve the “body of Christ” while the haunting rattle of the ‘matraas’ echoed through the church,reminding him of his childhood.

After the church services, Felicio, thinking about his childhood glanced around casually if he could find familiar faces of his younger days. Luckily, he spotted a few and met them after the services, and almost failed to recognise one. He was conscious of the fact that he must have appeared a little older himself to them, just like they did to him, though none of them made any comment. Perhaps each one could notice the old missing sparkle in the other. Thoughts of younger days sent a lump up his throat. He made his way home on the scooter thinking about the times when he had covered the same distance on foot. However, better times in later years had followed when his father had bought him his first bicycle.

Of course, none of Felicio’s visits to Goa would be complete without visiting his Alma Mater, situated atop the hill and known as “Monte de Guirim”. This time, a guided tour of the new building followed a long conversation with the Principal and the Headmaster of the school. The new purpose-built wing, which features a novel sky-light, broad corridors and stair-well, is actually built on the very same spot where a humble but massive shed first stood in the early sixties. Felicio seemed to drift far away in his thoughts taking him back in time, remembering his class in that shed, when the Headmaster who was once a pupil in that same school startled Felicio by echoing his own sentiments when he said: “Remember the old days?” “Oh, yes,” Felicio replied, “I still remember those were the days when during a heavy downpour in the monsoon the students would have had to shift to a safer place to avoid the drops of rain ruining their study books”.

Felicio then paid a quick visit to the refectory of his alma mater, and while passing through the kitchen he was pleasantly surprised to see a medium-duty winch on an overhead I-beam track that is now used to lift the huge cauldrons of food from the cooking stoves. Innovative! Before his departure Felicio decided to pace up to the eastern corner of the terrace just below the refectory and next to the garage where once the famed “Land-Rover” was parked - the laterite stone and asbestos-roofed shed, next to the washing-ramp. But something was missing. It was the mango tree.

“Just let me cast one last glimpse south-east towards the beautiful and pristine landscape of fields and green hills of Socorro, Porvorim and Sangolda before I depart” a thought that he heard himself whisper as he gradually panned his head like a movie camera. And he took it all in! The green watermelon and vegetable patches in the distance lay sprawled along the twin roads that led to the hilly slopes of Sangolda. The view had not changed much. “May it always remain so and not turn into a concrete jungle”, he prayed.

Tony Felix (a.k.a. Felicio) Fernandes
Author: Goa – Memories of My Homeland

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DIASPORIC RE-VISITATION - Part 2


River-side Wharf
Water Colour & Ink
Painting by Tony Fernandes

DIASPORIC RE-VISITATION
Part 2


The house located on the perimeter of the village had undergone a major change. It was now a modern house with a terrace. But sadly Felicio could not find the old owners there. Apparently some people who did not speak Konkani had now occupied it. A few houses had somehow managed to keep up and maintain the old rustic pattern.

The next day, rising early in the morning, Felicio decided to take a stroll on the old path leading to the fields. He had walked along with other boys on this path on their way to school. But that was a long time ago. He tried to retrace the trail through the vast expanse of the fields. He was in disbelief to find that it was overgrown with wild plants and weeds. It appeared to be seldom used nowadays. Then as he was returning home he was pleasantly surprised at a remarkable revelation - to see a bus passing in front of his house that had “ST. ANTHONY’S HIGH SCHOOL, MONTE DE GUIRIM”, sign-written in bold blue letters on its side, picking up the students. That explained the overgrown weeds! No wonder, he thought, he could not find the old path to school!

One of the great experiences in attempting to relive the past was going to buy groceries from the market in the nearby town of Mapusa. One of Felicio’s neighbours was good enough to acquire a scooter for him. It took him nearly a week to muster the courage to venture on the street, another week to try and remember to keep to the left side of the road and join the rest in the general approach, method and style of driving, manner of honking, maneuvering, braking and turning either left or right. It was a different ball game. Since he could not fight them, he decided to join them.

In equally trying circumstances, it took him another couple of weeks to gather enough nerve in getting behind the steering wheel of a car and learn the peculiar art and special technique to get around in busy towns. He went to the bazaar everyday and bought fresh fish and vegetables and drank Kingfisher beer. He visited his relatives and friends, far and near. He went to the beaches with his new friends, saw the 'River Princess', and drank some more Kingfisher beer.

Getting across to the other side of the road in the market town was quite a feat - an accomplishment unlike the old days. He had to be very careful. Motor-cycles, rickshaws, buses and trucks whizzed by every second and in all directions. It seemed as if it was a free for all. After waiting for nearly five minutes to find a clearance between speeding trucks, buses, private cars, rickshaws and motor-cyclists he finally managed to cross the street. He felt it was indeed a major achievement. This happened everyday. And on every occasion when accomplished this feat, he thought he had triumphed, glad that he had emerged as a victor, thankful to be alive to tell the tale on the other side of the road.

In the first week of December he celebrated the Feast of St. Francis Xavier. People flocked to Old Goa throughout the month of December and then until the first week of January. Felicio managed to squeeze a suitable day one early morning. Rising up much before dawn he made a trip to Old Goa and unbelievably was home for breakfast by 8 am.

Combined with the ongoing festivities of IFFI, people flocked to the city, Panjim. On his visit to this beautiful city he had an impression that somehow some things had been left unfinished – pavements stones were stacked up in piles in several places. Government buildings, the balustrade along the river-side promenade and lamp posts were splashed with a fresh coat of paint.

Then it was Carnival – the gaudy floats made their rounds in the major cities – while tourists and Felicio walked around some unfinished pavements.

There was a slight lull in gaiety during Lent followed by some sobriety, moderation and solemnity in the villages. And by Easter it was time for us to join in the festivities of Shigmo.

Long ago there were times when Mapusa market place was crowded only on the day it was best known for – the famous ‘Friday Bazaar’ day. But now to Felicio every day had seemed like a Friday. It is shameful to mention what the wall that separates the bazaar from the bus station had become.

After circling around for about 15 minutes he eventually found a parking spot for his scooter where he could barely nudge in between two other motor-bikes, realizing that he had made a wise decision by not using his car to get there. Another major accomplishment, he thought.

There were hawkers everywhere – at the entrance to the market and on the pavements too. The walkways were full of a huge new variety of merchandise. Half-clad white tourists with locals in tow roamed around the crowded bazaar. Women in mini-skirts and big fat sweating men in shorts with huge bare bellies wandered amidst local folks. It seemed chaotically frightening.

Monday, February 16, 2009

DIASPORIC RE-VISITATION - Part 1


BRIDGE OVER CALM WATERS
River Zuari, Goa, India.
Painting in Water Colour by Tony Fernandes
Diasporic Re-VisitationPart 1


It was a long flight over two oceans and three continents. The plane circled once around the airport, made a smooth landing and finally came to a halt. The air outside was distinct, but slightly humid for the time of year. The airport building had changed quite a bit since his last visit. Felicio’s holiday in Goa was about to begin.

The taxi took on the sweeping curves along the river bank. As Felicio was about to turn homeward to the north at the T-junction at the base of the hillock Felicio saw the famous bridge looming over the Zuari river. The barges transporting the iron-ore slowly maneuvering their way under the bridge brought to mind a familiar sight of the past that had not changed.

The breeze hit his face through the open window of the taxi bringing some relief from the heat of the afternoon sun. Scooters were plying about almost everywhere. It seemed that everybody on wheels wanted to overtake Felicio’s hired taxi. Everyone seemed to be in a rush. “Who said we were susegad?” he mused to himself, “or could it be the scooter riders were not Goenkar?” he wondered.

Along the way Felicio received a casual news brief from the friendly cab driver beginning at state level, and then in a subdued tone a weather forecast followed by a general look at the prevailing situation of the land. As the taxi slowly came to a halt Felicio was surprised that he was home earlier than he had expected. He was quick to realize that it was due to the fact that new bridges were now built where none existed before, and so he did not have to wait at the ferry crossings, although he was rather perturbed to hear from the driver that the pride and landmark bridge over the river Zuari has some new problems.

The drive home was an enjoyable and also quite an experience. Apartment buildings now dotted the entire landscape. Felicio was surprised to see the pace of construction going on in places where in the past rice crops were cultivated. Huge factories and their smoke stacks emerged high in the distance north-east of the Zuari. Felicio’s village was bustling with great activity. It appeared to have undergone a metamorphosis. The footpath that ran beside Felicio’s house had now become a street and the once narrow lane in front had become a major thoroughfare. At first sight everything around seemed strange to him. He would somehow try to handle this unexpected situation and take the change in stride gradually, he thought.

His good good old neighbour and childhood friend, Manu, waved out from the balcao of his house across the street and hollered a warm and enthusiastic welcome over the din of traffic. Felicio was glad to see that Manu had not altered the façade of his house. Manu had now retired from his job as the compositor at the printing press in the city after a service of 35 years.

The afternoon swiftly transformed into evening. The road in front of Felicio’s house was full of hustle and bustle. It seemed as if it had been converted into a major highway just in a jiffy. People were speeding home from work on scooters. Bus drivers drove with one hand on the steering-wheel and the other constantly on the air-horns. The change was quite overwhelming.

As it had been habitual during Felicio’s previous vacations, he decided to go around the village and visit his neighbours. This, he remembered, was something he had done from the time of his college days in Bombay. In the month of April he would travel to Goa by ship to spend his summer holidays there. Visiting neighbours had been a courtesy and a habit since the days of his teens. Also he felt he should not let them presume that he has forgotten them.

His first visit was to the house of his closest friendly neighbours to find out how they were doing. Tia Anna hugged him and said she was now old, almost in her late 70’s, and lived alone. He remembered he had seen her upright long ago, but now she appeared frail and hunched. Her son worked in the Arabian Gulf. Felicio’s aunt slept over at her house since she had not been keeping too well lately.

While he was away from home he had often thought about Titi Joao. As a young lad Felicio and other boys in the village gathered around in the balcao of his house and attentively listened to the lengthy and intriguing stories he related during the evenings soon after Angelus prayers. His passing away saddened him.

Paulo Titi had passed away too. Aunt Maria had survived him. Her relatives were now living with her. As a child Felicio had played badminton in front their house. In the beginning the boys used a rope tied between two coconut trees. Later Paulo Titi had provided the village boys a real net, strong bamboo poles and powdered chalk to mark the boundaries. Paulo had organized village tournaments for them, and being a keen football player himself he had encouraged and given them tips on the fine art of the game.

(to be continued)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Studying by the Kerosene lamp


LATE NIGHT STUDYING 
- Pastel Drawing on Paper -

by Tony Fernandes 

'BY THE LIGHT OF THE KEROSENE LAMP
AND THOUGHTS IN CRAYON'
Goa, India - 1961


Good old days they say. In fact our younger days eventually become the good old days. In fact, yesterday, today, tomorrow and the days that follow will eventually become the good old days for the young ones among us, when they in turn will talk about the good old days.

Some of the good old days that I remember are the ones when I studied late into the night by the light of the kerosene lamp while my mother, may God bless her, waited up for me as she was probably too afraid to find me fall asleep on my book before the kerosene in the lamp burnt itself out.

I had my own small study table, a with a small book-case made by my father especially for my books, and an old wooden chair with a cane-strung seat by the window in the 'vosro' of our little house. (Konkani: 'vosro' - a living/prayer room with various framed pictures of Jesus, Mother Mary, Perpetual Succour and our family's favourite saints!)

By the time I got to the higher classes this table and the book-case was not sufficient, and I was then 'promoted' to the big wooden folding table in the 'sala' (Port: sala - hall) in order to accommodate the increasing number of books.

However, the kerosene lamp still dimly lit the pages of the books of my English, Geography, Science, Physics, Math, History and other subjects for sometime until my elder brother brought the famous 'Aladdin Lamp' from Kuwait that brightened the hall with generous luminosity - until electricity came to our quaint and poor little village of Cumbiem Morod in Guirim, bordering the village of Canca, Parra, Bardez, Goa.

I have often reminisced on these days of yore, off and on in the past. I have also often tried to depict the setting, first in my mind, and then in a drawing, and in my own humble way, I suppose I have managed to capture my thoughts in rendering them in crayon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boilanchi Gaddi (The Bullock Carriage)

BULLOCK CARRIAGE
Parra, Goa - India
(circa 1953)

Replica Size 1:16
1/8" thick plywood
Hand-made by Tony Fernandes
No saw, jig or scroll-saw used.
All parts hand-cut with sliding art-line cutters.
(Boil, Konkani, sing. : Bullock)
(Boilanchi, plu.: Of Bullock)
(Gaddi: Vehicle, Carriage)
(Boilanchi Gaddi: Bullock Carriage)

BOILANCHI GADDI

The ‘boilanchi gaddi’ is a kind of 2-wheeled passenger carriage drawn by trained bullocks commonly used in Goa until around the mid nineteen-fifties. It was constructed in a wood/iron combination. Its fastest travelling speed could be compared to the usual leisurely walk of a steer.

My earliest memorable experience in travelling on this sort of conveyance was at about 8 years of age, riding in it to St. Anne’s Church in Parra, Bardez, to witness my cousin’s Baptism. These quaint carriages were privately owned and this particular one was owned by a well-known person called Harichand who lived in Parra.

The two large wooden wheels served a dual purpose - as fly-wheels and riding wheels combined into one, giving it the required momentum once it got going. It seemed it was effortless for the bulls to haul these carriages once they got to a rolling start.

These carriages, although uncomfortable, provided a means of some convenient form of transportation for certain occasions such as the one mentioned above. The ride was bumpy, but the discomfort in riding in one of these could be attributed also to unpaved or pot-holed country roads. The axle passed through a hollow on the underside of the cab with a track width of about 6 feet. The wheels were of a diameter of about 6 ft. with large hubs (around 12" dia).
The cabin had longitudinal bench seating on either side, could sit 4 passengers and 2 small children snug and squeezed in between the passengers or on their laps. The passengers could communicate with the driver through a small window or a full opening in the front. The driver had his own comfortable seat unlike the ‘gaddo’. This raised wooden seat was quite a comfortable perch providing him with an overall view. The seat was more like a wooden chest with hinges, fitted on top of the longitudinal beam. It doubled up as storage space for the driver's personal belongings, tools or vehicle accessories.
 
The body had quite a reasonable headroom. The passengers were well protected from the elements like the sun and rain with an arched roof. The outside panels of the cabin were usually painted in a shade of off-white, mustard or yellow ochre, and the bordered timber framework finished in red, blue or brown oil-paint. The interior was finished in different colours like white or blue with varnished wooden seats.

Entry into the cab itself was by means of a hinged rear door, boarding into which was aided by a step fitted to the cab's base. Both sides and the back had windows. Some had wooden hinged doors, others has fixed or sliding glass and curtains in them.

The front end consisted of a double bow yoke that was placed on top of a wooden beam and fastened by means of a rope thereby giving it the flexibility of pivoting it to some degree, and giving it a marginal swivel action between the pair of bullocks. This feature aided tight turns. The yoke was harnessed over their necks in order to pull the carriage. The centre-piece curved and extended downward at the front so that, without the bulls, the cart would rest at a least possible slant.

Stopping or braking power was provided verbally, or with gently moderated 'ho-ho'. Braking on some of these carts was quite unique, provided by a cleverly designed device. It consisted of two wooden poles, parallel across the front and back of the wheels. They were connected into an intricate double acting trapezoidal contrivance of ropes. This device was in turn connected by a longer rope from the rear to the front. By means of applying pressure on this rope with his leg he would be able to slow down the cart with his weight, while going downward on a slope or try to slow it down in an emergency.
The wooden poles that acted as brakes were slightly flattened at the point where they came in contact with the outer rims of the wheels. In action the whole system seem very much like centrally-pulled caliper brakes of modern day. If parked on a slope the wheels were chocked with a stone. The rest of the maneuvering and negotiating was done by means of touch or contact conveyed to the bullocks by the driver with a stick. With a slight nudge here, and a slight tap there - on their backs the ever obedient bullocks hauled the carriage faithfully. They were mostly gentle in nature and never seemed to be in a hurry. These animals were held in reverence by the owner and his family members, and respected for the work and sustenance they provided.

The yoke rested over the necks of the bullocks, and in hauling it stopped short just before the ridge of their shoulder blades. Bells hung around the bulls’ necks rang constantly as they passed by on the road. These bells had a distinct sound and acted as warning bells to others, or merely let the people know about the presence of the ‘boilanchi gaddi’ in the vicinity or area. They sound of the bells 'kinni-kinni' could be heard far away and long into the quietness of the night as the lone hard-working driver returned home. At night a gently swinging hurricane lamp hung low in front, beneath the main beam and between the bulls. The light from this lamp was more to warn others of its approach to oncoming motor vehicles rather than a light to guide itself or light up the road.

I was too young to remember or to care how much the fare would have cost for a ride on these carriages of yesteryears, but my guess is they must have been quite affordable and probably would not have cost a fortune. They were taken out of service as their popularity declined due to their slow speed combined with the import of motor vehicles and taxis. They were mainly confined to their own districts and seldom made long trips over the hills.

Another impression stuck in my mind is that people walking briskly along the road often overtook them. Among my childhood memories are the ones that the bulls seemed to make a good team, faithful, quiet, with their downward and humble gaze, always seemingly engrossed in their own thoughts, and also the rare sight of the driver asleep, with the bridle reins and stick in his hands returning empty on his way home. There was certainly an advantage in having trained bullocks so that way the driver could be assured of reaching home safely by taking the shortest route possible after a long and hard day’s work. Having trained bullocks was like having a GPS so that he could be assured of being on the right track. And in the absence of an Auto-pilot he could still reach home while he took a short nap.

The era of these types of slow but reliable vehicles made an exit for good, making way for modern transportation. Those were the days of innovative ways of another period of yore. It is now just a childhood memory - gone but not forgotten.

Tony Fernandes
* Withers yoke is a yoke so called because it fits just in front of the withers of the bullocks. The yoke is held in position by a coir rope harness. The pull is generated from the yoke without exerting too much pressure on the bullocks’ necks. The weight in fact is on the front of the bull’s withers. Ideally, a high hump on the withers prevents the yoke from slipping over.