Only the three of us together in Goa for nine days was unexpectedly a rare event, it happened for the first time and let’s hope not for the last. Soma Biki and me, siblings, through the grace or call it sledge of some unseen puppeteer’s hands spent a ‘blink and you miss’ period (from the 17th to 25th Nov) in our respective lifetime in each other’s company at Biki’s place, doing nothing, just relaxing, sight-seeing, eating out, cooking, talking and not talking. Generally speaking touching each other’s souls. That such an occasion has never come to pass earlier did not dither any of us, but that such an event could never have been imagined earlier is also the sacred truth. It was meant to happen somehow; it happened through some quirk of fate and now is history, yet another memory.
During those nine days Biki had his weekly off on a Saturday when all of us went to a further down south Goa’s pristine beach. A few of our evenings were spent at some local gourmet restaurant. Biki spared his car for us and on a few occasions I took Soma around Old Goa and Margao. I spent many a mornings walking around Margao reliving childhood memories. Rest of the time was spent reading, eating and resting. Together we did not have any profound talk sessions, we did not utilize the opportunity to bond together, we did not tie our hands around each other’s shoulders to laugh and cry, and neither did we squabble and fight. There was no need to. We were just - comfortable. Biki and Soma can easily gel together while obviously I am the odd ball.
Margao Goa a significant town to this world is also a major milestone in our present life journey. Biki was born there while Soma and I have our fondest childhood memories still nesting there. I first cut my teeth as a kid at Aquem Alto Margao and therefore visiting the place is like a pilgrimage to me. From the moment we landed at the Dabolim Airport I was transfixed into my past. The very smell and color of Goa puts me into a subdued and reverent mood. Goa smells different from any other place. The fragrance of the sea, fish, feni, pav, sausages, curry masala, church, they add up into a feisty concoction. Goa is colorful in unique ways. The elderly folks preferably wear either white or black to church but the youngsters wear bright colours, the inside of the church is multi-coloured and all lighted up, the Goan houses are painted in every shade of the rainbow, and from the beach while on one side you see only blue the other side is all green and red. And I haven’t yet referred to the carnival.
We stayed in Margao from 1968 to 1976. Since then the place hasn’t changed much except in subtle ways. While the old roads have remained intact without any increase in width, a few new highways have propped up. While old houses continue to stand as permanent landmarks, vacant plots have been swallowed up by new flat schemes. In fact every open space and erstwhile forest land has vanished. The Municipal Park and Municipal Office building in the heart of Margao still continue as distinct and beautiful show-pieces. These are not tourist attractions but to me they mean significant structures from my past, some assurance of permanence, some comfort to be able to relate to my childhood again through real visuals. The lanes and buildings, the Kamat hotel and old market nearby the park, the Milan Kamat hotel some distance away, the old fish market, the Longuinhos and Woodlands hotels, these are all old sights which refresh and kindle old feelings. Walking west from the park is the Vishant cinema hall, and further is Aquem Alto, its old power house and their staff colony, St Joseph Convent where we studied, the old house where we stayed, Acharya’s Saw Mill, the places where the Patel family and of course Neela Didi and Manik teacher stayed. At times nostalgic waves have taken over my heart. Nothing else was comprehensible. The drama plays out in front of my eyes as I stood at these places, remembering the people who were there along with me in the past, distinctly my mother, father, Soma and friends, what did they say, what did they do, like a movie flashback the scenes rolled on. These nine days I must have walked around these points numerous times and everytime I have been overwhelmed with emotions beyond my control.
To recount a few of these visuals; in those days there were a sizable Gawda population in Margao who vended fruits and vegetables amongst other things. Their women folk wore a particular red and white printed sari in a distinct fashion they could be recognised by their clothing. The Gawda’s are not seen any more - Soma suffered from asthma right from her childhood and due to which she always got preferential treatment at home. I always detested that and have held it against her till date. For every mischief which we both executed, I got beaten and she was forgiven. Once I had accidentally dislodged the gear in fathers Jeep and it rolled into a ditch along with me and Soma. While I got spanked Soma got hugged. However inspite of my animosity, our bhai-phota ritual has survived till date - vendors honking their blow horns and selling bun, pav or fish in a huge basket tied on the back seat of their bicycle and covered with a blue plastic or rubber mat, they are still seen today - sometimes the Goan ladies of the fishermen community would walk from house to house with a basket of fish on their head, which is not seen anymore - once every week in the evening, mother used to take me and Soma to the Municipal Park to relax and play and then to the Kamat hotel for masala dosa. We went by bus and returned along with father in his jeep because his office was nearby. Sometimes we waited for him at the residence of his boss Mr. Chaterjee, whose wife was a great host – father took me on Sundays to the market to buy vegetables and fish/meat. Once I saw many live Tortoise of two feet diameter each being sold as meat - the Acharya family who owned a Saw Mill were family friends, once a group of men including my father went on a hunting expedition into the jungle and returned with deer meat they shot and skinned - Neela Didi was a great friend of mother and she took tuitions for me and Soma every evening. Whenever a new movie was released in Vishant cinema, Neela Didi, my mother, Soma and me used to walk in the sun to watch the afternoon show - Once father had taken us to Panjim to watch the movie Bobby where a stranger had mistakenly spit near me and father had taken offence - Purshottam Patel’s father was the Manager of the Damodar Saw Mill which was about a kilometer away to the south of our house and I used to go to his place sometimes - the space in front of our house was an empty ground where the neighborhood boys used to play football. Sada was one gifted player. I played with them whenever they took me - Anant and Anil Apte stayed a little distance away near the residence of Baba Naik where I went on many occasions to play cricket. Anant used to create box projector and show us some slides. They shifted to Panjim soon - There was a big function hall near our house (still exists). Every year a collage annual day celebration used to be conducted there with boys and girls dancing from morning till evening to western music. Sometimes educational movies were screened in the hall free of charge - there used to be a Kaju tree in front of our house shaped like a horse and we used to climb its branches and then jump down from a height. This routine got repeated - St. Joseph Convent a well-structured school with good teachers and all round curriculum. The Sisters of the convent were sweet and patient with the kids. I remember Manik teacher who also taught us dance. On one school annual day function we trained for African Zulu dance and also took it to a inter school competition. I was always amongst the top three in my class as I was a good student. Girija always used to come first in my class. The senior class had very handsome boys and very pretty girls who always played pranks on each other - Diwali and Christmas were the two most celebrated festivals, both associated with lightings. The whole neighborhood used to get lighted during these times, sweets and namkeen used to be prepared in every house and exchanged from house to house. Troupes of boys used to take the Narakasur and Krishna dance from house to house and stage innumerable performances in a single night - when the rains started in Goa, it rained continuously for days together. I was often down with fever during those times - our annual sojourn to Raniganj was during the summer holidays. We went when the sun was very hot and returned when the rains had already started - on occasions I had been into the nearby forest along with some friends, throwing stones at Kaju and mango trees. I never know the road back home and depended entirely on the others - there was a bakery nearby, and at three in the afternoon sharp they used to open up to sell freshly baked bread. I have walked there to buy bread many hundred times. Bread and butter used to be our favorite snack. The smell of fresh bread still lingers in my nose.
The Christian churches of Goa whether big or small are very beautiful both in terms of architecture and interior design. The ivory and golden hues at the altar accompanied with lighting are really an awesome sight. But that is beside the point. The Christian religion has made their community God loving instead of the common Hindu concept of god fearing. The colourful pictures and statues of the life and times of Jesus Christ as depicted in these churches create images of compassion and humility in the hearts of people.
The music of Goa with its mix of native rusticity and European melody is also a treat to the ears. Music is popular in the Church and the restaurants. It does not matter whether the lyrics are in Goan language or in English, it does not matter whether you understand the meaning or not, but you will most certainly tap your feet and move your hips if you are in a restaurant and sway to serenity if you are in the church.
Lastly the thought crossed my mind that had we stayed back at Margao then what would I have become today. I think I would have still been my low confident self. I can’t say with certainty that I would have been doing a regular job. Maybe I would have joined the church or been a teacher in some school or maybe I would have been associated with the tourism industry as a foot soldier. Over the years infact the tourism industry has exerted some influence over the lives of Goan people. Most have taken to rental income from hotels and guest houses which have mushroomed. But sadly tourism industry have also made the men folk lazy and drunk. No business is transacted in Margao between 1 pm and 4 pm and most of the shops and office down shutters.