Picturesque Goa

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016


(The Talented Seniors of Yesteryear)
By Tony Fernandes

Late 1950’s.  My little and lovely ward of Cumbiem Morod. Call it the north-west silent ‘Bairro’  (Portuguese for neighbourhood) of the village of Guirim, bordering the village of Canca to the north-west, Parra to the south,  Sorvem and Figueira wards of Guirim to the east. Sleepy and quaint community with hard-working folks. Sparse Christian and Hindu family homes living peacefully.
Almost a forgotten little ward of Guirim – referred to and known for some reason as a part of ‘small Guirim’. There was no road passing through the village then, but a well-trodden path for many of the people of Candolim, Calangute, Nagoa and Arpora who wished to cut short through our village to Bastora and to the hills and villages beyond.

Though a sleepy ward as it may have seemed, it was a very vibrant one in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The village of Cumbiem Morod consisted of about 15 Christian and 15 Hindu households. The men of Christian homes were employed in Bombay and returned home every year, mostly during the months of April and May.

These men were literate, and very adventurous, having first left their families and homes as early as the beginning of the 1900’s in search of employment in other parts of India besides Bombay (now Mumbai)  like Jodhpur, Ahmedabad and Surat in the north, and even as far down in Kerala in the south. During those days it was difficult to find employment in Goa.

Likewise, the sons of these pioneers later often followed their fathers to work out of Goa. Though these great and adventurous men are no longer with us today, we owe them a lot of thanks for their guidance, for setting good examples in everything they did, for teaching us the good ways and values, and inspiring us in turn to do our best in whatever we attempted to do.

The women folk took care of their children in Goa, and made sure that they got education by sending them to nearby schools, sacrificing the companionship of their husbands. They worked in the fields cultivating two crops a year. Rice was harvested by the end of the monsoons, and various vegetables were grown at the end of the following season in autumn, in allocated patches in front of my ancestral home in Cumbiem Morod (now generally called Kumya) before the onset of winter. This agricultural cultivation provided sustenance during the summer holidays, and even some more to spare in storage for the rainy season with a variety of produce like sweet potatoes, corn, eggplant (aubergine/brinjal), beans, onions, chilies, cabbage and radish. A water-melon patch was planted separately along the raised pathway leading to Monte de Guirim.

The men mentioned below are the ones that I remember, and with whom, at one time or another, I have had contact with, and in retrospect, who I believe have had a good influence on me, with their good example and values. If there are any that I have not mentioned about, it could only be through an oversight.

One of the first brave men and talented seniors from Cumbiem Morod with a firm determination to venture abroad for employment was the resolute Mr. Miguel Mendes, who worked for an oil company in Kuwait in the late 1940’s. He was considered as a pioneer and a role model for the village. A very modest and soft spoken man, he was very unassuming. A father of 7 children - one of his eldest daughters, Terezinha, taught us Cathecism in Sunday School. The village people admired him for his humility and kindness. He was talented in music and played the violin by ear - a talent that he has handed down to his grandson and namesake Michael Mendes along with his brother Savio.

When Mendes Senior returned home on his vacation, the entire village seemed lively. He would have all the village folks at his house for a sung Ladainha (Litany). On Sundays he would hire a bus for all the village kids for a fun trip to Calangute beach followed by a wonderful treat of snacks and cold-drinks thereafter at sunset. He would also reserve a day for a long trek for prayers to his favourite cross on the top of the nearby hills of Canca/ Verla.

On his vacations to Goa during the early 1950’s, the Mendes residence was the first one to be lit up by the wonderful ‘Aladin’ lamp of yesteryear, that lit almost the entire village. It was in their house that I first had first heard the sound of vinyl records on on an HMV (His Master’s voice) gramophone. Vinyl records by Konkani singers like C. Alvares, Minguel Rod, Anthony Mendes, Jacinto Vaz and Kamat de Assolna and Pat Boone’s ‘Remember you’re Mine’ were the one of the first ones that I had heard and seen spinning on this incredible invention of that era.

The first senior to write and stage a ‘Tiatro’ was Custodio Piedade Fernandes. He worked in Bombay and had a grand and happy family of 8 children. His eldest son was a talented artist - my inspiration. Their white-washed house had the largest ‘sala’ (living room) in the village. It was big enough for a ‘ping-pong’ (table-tennis) table. Boys and girls gathered in their home for all sorts of games like carrom, and board- games like draughts, ludo, and snakes and ladders. Their home was like a club house for all the village kids especially during the rainy season. The place next to their house had the least number of coconut trees, so it was ideal to be improvised as a mini football ground for boys of Cumbiem Morod. The windows of their house were always open and the chimney lamp suspended from the ceiling burned bright till late into the night.

Custodio Piedade Fernandes was the oldest ‘Titi’ (uncle), as we addressed him. All the young kids assembled at dusk to listen to episodes of about an hour each every day, which would last for more than a month in total narration time. He must have had a memory of an elephant.  I still admire his great memory and extraordinary prowess in story-telling, which was mind-boggling. I cannot up to this day fathom the power of his mind, or the knack, will or his wit of telling epic stories. Among his other fare included an endless list of episodes at dusk, just before the Angelus, especially during the monsoons, about the adventures of ‘Birbal’ that made us laugh our guts out, while his wife Virginia was getting supper ready for the huge family.

Paulo Monteiro, who we considered as another one of the elders, was a professional photographer, who worked in Bombay during the 1940’s. During his later years Monteiro Senior had come down to Goa for good. He was then working with Kamat Photo Studios in Mapusa (a small town in the north of Goa, in the district of Bardez) as a photographer and laboratory technician, just up the hill, at Altinho. Kamat Studios was situated a few yards down from the residence of the renowned ‘touch and prayer healer’ of yesteryear, the legendary ‘Dixtticar’.

Paulo Monteiro had a collection of plate cameras. The people from our village did not have to travel to Mapusa those days. He would take passport pictures if required just outside his house in the morning, in the existing light and shade of the mango tree next to his house, and he would have them ready by evening. Besides being a professional photographer, Monteiro Sr. was a well-respected senior in our village, and we often looked up to him for guidance and advice. As a young lad I would visit his house at least thrice in a day. In the morning and evening it would be to listen to the radio programmes and evening to play carom or draughts, badminton or cards. He had five sons, two of whom were employed in the Railways in Ahmedabad.

His youngest son, Gabriel, was my best friend and school-mate, who was an aspiring photographer himself. He had a collection of cameras that included a vintage Rolleiflex. He was a natural born photographer and had picked up all the knowledge (and some of the tricks of the trade, so to say) from his father. This talent is evident today, in the fact his profession is still being successfully carried on by Paulo’s grandson, Roque Monteiro.

The fourth in line of seniority was my father, Dionizio (Dennis) Fernandes. His first venture for employment in Bombay was in the 1920’s when he was in his early twenties. He worked hard and put aside savings to build a new home in the same spot where his grandfather’s house stood in our village. He then got married. We would have been 4 brothers had we not lost 2 due to sickness when young. My older brother and I were born in Bombay. After bringing me to Goa at the age of 6 for schooling, my father came home on leave every year to be with us, and also to repair the house and take care of other matters. Like what most sons would say, my father knew everything about everything, from history to politics, and science to geography. He acquired knowledge from reading newspapers and magazines endlessly, keeping himself abreast of international events and happenings. His World War 2 episodes were worth listening to, and one did not have to refer to an encyclopedia to write an essay in school.
He spent his retired life in Goa. He persuaded labourers in the village to put aside savings and taught them how to open bank accounts, accompanying them to banks in Mapusa to have accounts opened for them in their name. People often came to ask him for advice when they were in difficult situations.

My father was an active member in the Village Panchayat. He was also instrumental, along with other people of village community, to draft and send the very first application to the government for the urgent need of a road through our village and pursue its outcome with the authorities till he sadly passed away.

Another staunch member of our village community was Mr. Silvestre D’Souza, father of the famous star hockey player of TATA fame in Bombay, Joe D’Souza, well known for his lighting running speed with the ball. He was the eldest son out of 5 children. What I remember Silvestre Titi most for was his Raleigh bicycle which the village boys took for a ride when he was not around! They had an HMV gramophone in the early 1950’s. Although he would not let us kids touch neither the records nor the gramophone, he was very kind and let us wind up the mechanism before playing or whenever it slowed down! He would also make us happy by giving us the chore of sharpening the needles fitted to the sound-box with emery paper. And we were happy with that, and of course with listening to the songs. We owe our musical interest today because of these men – our forefathers! Among the attributes of Silvestre Titi were having a great and loud voice. He must have been a tenor. He was famous for his first burst into song precisely at the moment one raised a glass for a toast at any function. How he remembered all those songs and lyrics beats me up to this very day. His third son, Felix was a great singer and knew by heart all the latest songs of his favourite singers Elvis Presley, Fabian, Cliff Richard and Ricky Nelson. It’s no wonder then that Silvestre’s grandson is also called Fabian and is a famous DJ today. If I remember right, Silvestre himself could have had a voice to beat any modern-day famous tenor. He also had a great and astounding knowledge about sports in general, but more especially about football, hockey, wrestling and boxing. He would tell you the world champion lineage, from Jack Dempsey to Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson to Sonny Liston, and Rocky Marciano to Mohamed Ali to Dara Singh.

Yeshwant Dirgoikar, the construction wizard and craftsman. Although handicapped with a hip injury through most of his adult life, he was more able and talented than most young men his age. He could estimate the number tiles or timber required for a house in a jiffy, based on square footage or even give you an estimate for repairs just by looking at any house. A man of all trades, he could fabricate all sorts of things – from ladders from poles of bamboo to field ploughs and other implements.

Harichand, the labour contractor. Ask him for advice on labour in constructing a house, a shed, or work in the fields during the harvest season. You could rely on him till the paddy in the fields was harvested, threshed, put in sacks and carried to your homes before nightfall.
Abdonio, my favourite ‘Titi’ had an aura about him that made him a very likable character, with his kind and pleasant ways in dealing with us, the youngsters of a bygone era. He was very helpful to all folks of our village, especially the very old.

He sang the litany by heart, word to word. The younger boys of the village relied on him for back-up as he knew all the tunes of the hymns that we sang in the village chapel. During our vacations in Goa during the late 1970’s, my wife and I often visited him in the evening when he related wonderful stories of the olden days that astounded me. I always thought he had a strong resemblance to my favourite American actor – Jack Palance. Before living a retired life in Goa, he had worked in Bombay most of his life.

Benito, the handyman, (Abdonio’s brother) was the tallest man in the village, standing at more than six feet (I think he must have been a least 6’4”). This amazing and admirable man had quite a remarkable stamina for his lean body frame. He could lift a ‘vanso’ or a ‘patti’ (a 15’ ft. ceiling rafter) single-handedly. To me it seemed he never got tired of doing any work. He was an expert for precisely divining water patches in the fields, and helped to dig perfectly square wells and prepare the fields for cultivation. He was a man for all night emergencies, including bringing the doctor to the homes of the villagers during sickness come rain or shine, day or night. Whenever he accompanied us we were never afraid of the dark. A master in the construction and decoration of a ‘matou’ (a very large canopy) for weddings in the village, at most times he did not require a ladder, obviously as he was very tall, perhaps the tallest man in the whole of Guirim, and made quick and short work of most things. We could never have constructed the ‘matou’ (especially for the chapel village feast of Holy Name of Jesus) that was held annually on the 2nd of January without him. I remember that he was the only one who could retrieve the ‘petromax’ from the hook of any ceiling.

There is also something to be said about the women folks of our village, for they were very important too. They all had their own very remarkable qualities of holding the fort and the households while their husbands were away, working abroad. They have to be admired for their hard work, both at home and in the cultivation of the fields. Incidentally, I remember Paulo Titi’s wife, Natalina quite well. She had exceptional wit and humour, besides being a very caring mid-wife. My aunt, Deodita, although handicapped, is reputed to have walked great distances, from Mandrem to Guirim, in the night, returning from a relative’s funeral, and also walked along with other villagers from Guirim to Pomburpa (for the Pomburpa feast) and from Guirim to Betim, on the way to Old Goa, starting at 4 o’clock in the morning. By comparison distances to Calangute, Candolim and Baga were very short for these impressive folks of the olden days. She was so strong that men could not open her closed fist. No wonder then she lived a long life of 93.

Some of the women were even bolder than men. I remember one incident when I was very young. A bull belonging to Sahadev's ancestral clan, near our house, fell into our well. And no one dared to get down into the well to rope him to haul the animal out. It was my daring mother, who tied her sari into a 'kas' and got down into the well, managed to calm the bull down, put 3 or 4 ropes around it, and all other women, men and boys helped to haul it up - happy, alive and well. Hooray!

Assis, the eldest son of Custodio Piedade Fernandes, was my father's godson. Assis and Michael were very fond of taking pictures. They had a box camera in the 1950's. They had the largest collection of photos of almost everyone in the village. The photos were well-mounted using photo corner-mounts in one very thick album. I believe the album still exists, perhaps with Michael (Miki). Miki was a very good natural born artist. His depictions of ‘The Prodigal Son’ & ‘The Good Samaritan’ in black and white pencil shading drawings that hung in the ‘sala’ (hall) were the inspiration for me being an artist. He was a role model - an inspiration to all the younger boys of that era. He was the one who led the entire group of 12 boys in line to school at Monte de Guirim every school day, every morning.
Michael and the older and taller boys ferried us across the stream during the monsoon. This type of leadership, care and concern about the younger generation and community in general, these remarkable instances  have remained etched in my mind until now about our humble existence of another time. Michael taught me how to sing the Hindi song 'Main Rickshawallah' from the movie 'Chhoti Bahen' in 1959 and how to play the box bass made from an old tea chest. When I was in college in Bombay, Michael often visited me to see how I was doing. We have lost a great human being, always smiling and witty, loving and kind, not only to his family members, but also to all those around him.

Conversely, today with the narrow winding road now cutting through the village, it has become a major thoroughfare. Our village has always been unique. Nowadays the number of houses may perhaps have quadrupled in number. Our village has a beautiful chapel which is admired by passers-by and visitors alike. It is, in my opinion, that our chapel which is dedicated to St. Anne is instrumental in maintaining a very close social fabric and friendly relations between neighbours, because if they don’t visit or see each other at their homes, there are chances they will meet in the chapel whenever a meeting is called. Three cheers. Hip, hip, hip, hurray!

Perhaps we will continue this article with corrections and additions by other readers, and thus retain and remember our fore-fathers for a long time to come. Amen.