Let’s drink to that!

“Haw haw haw,” my friends guffawed when I told them what had happened. “We’re going to have one more drink tonight just for that!” With friends like that who needed enemies? For what had just happened was nothing short of tragic. On a Saturday night last week a private taxi had plunged straight into my compound wall, wrecked itself dizzily and came to a complete collapse outside our garage gate impaled on two of the gate bars. It was a Saturday night and it was 2 a.m. There was no one about. My houseboy Tanaji and Maia the cat were fast asleep behind the closed doors of Tanaji’s living quarters.

“I heard a very loud noise and I thought it was the end of the world so I did not get up,” recalled the very pragmatic Tanaji. Our neighbour Sylvester came out in his pyjamas and looked around. The taxi driver, all of twenty years old, had hurt himself rather badly and luckily there were no other passengers in the car. He had dropped them off at our friendly neighbourhood night club. Our neighbour Sylvester called an ambulance and sent the poor injured taxi driver off to the emergency room in the hospital. So far so good.

Now the story gets more interesting. The taxi is facing Arpora towards the west a big gaping hole on its front, the driver’s side. The collapsed engine is looping over the compound wall and now the car looks more inebriated than anyone else that night. Fifteen large men appear out of thin air. They lift the wrecked car like she was made out of paper and turn her around to face Saligao, in the opposite direction. Then they crumple the number plates like those were made of paper too so you couldn’t read the car registration numbers. One of the kind souls from the group wrenched a few branches from our garden crotons and attached the branches to the mangled remains of the tyres so passersby could see that this car was going nowhere. Our compound wall lights had fallen on the garden ground and one column of the compound gateposts cracked down to its concrete innards.

By six in the morning both Tanaji and the cat had decided that it was not the end of the world. Stepping out from their safe haven and rattling a jammed gate open they wondered how a car going to Saligao had a damaged front left side when the gate and compound wall were on the right. Phone calls flew and my staff arrived on a crisp Sunday morning after Mass. Discussions and analysis ensued. More neighbours came to see what had happened. Neighbour Sylvester who had been on the scene had vanished into the thin hot air of a Saligao afternoon. Our neighbour Shilpa tried “uncrumpling” the number plate now bent out of shape. Enlightened, she said she knew who the driver was.

Shilpa and her husband took the situation in hand, made a few calls. My staff made a few calls and dashed off to the Saligao police station to lodge a complaint. Now the story gets even more interesting. The Sarpanch from Arpora arrives on a motorcycle and examines the damaged car, now stationary and mute, awaiting a sympathetic tow to the workshop. My first reaction when I got the news was that of an innocent by-standee. I first asked if the boy-driver was hurt and was told that he had a fractured foot and had received treatment. We were all relieved. The other relief was that our Deputy Sarpanch Daya also came when he saw the dramatic remains of the battered car and compound wall. For a few moments it became a “them versus us” situation.

Our side insisted that some papers be deposited with us to keep a hold on the driver to ensure that the compound wall would be repaired at the driver’s cost. Their side insisted that they were standing guarantee that the wall would be restored to its original state at their cost and “when we are saying it will be done, why do you need any other guarantees?” Our side insisted that the driver’s license and the car registration papers be held by us in custody until the repairs were carried out to our satisfaction. Their side insisted that there was no need. Shilpa played referee. Both sides rattled the car doors to see if there were any papers to be employed as ransom. The car keys were not in the car, the car papers were not in the car glove compartment and the driving licence (if it had ever existed) was nowhere to be seen. The taxi had no tool kit, no dirty rags or dusters, no water bottle, nothing that most cars in Goa have in their nooks and crannies. In other words, the car had been swept clean.

Finally, I intervened. I convinced my staff that it would be alright since such eminent village persons were intervening on our behalf. Life, I said, was all about trusting. With a verbal assurance from the Arpora Sarpanch, we let it wait. A crack team of masons and assistants arrived on Monday morning and our side was quietly reminded that the police complaint should not be taken any further “as long as the repairs are done nicely”. Over the ten days that followed the compound wall and gate were restored to their original status. My new car, not yet 30 days old in its new home was locked up and covered during the operations. Always the one to count my blessings, I thanked the guardian angels of houses and cars for saving the car from being mowed in during the accident.

The compound wall is repaired, the gate is done and the light fixed on top of the gatepost. Tanaji took a quick spin in the car with the driver and declared that the world had not yet ended. Not in Saligao, at least. Shilpa is back in her shop minding the store, reminding me for the tenth time that she had intervened only because she did it “amche sumzoon” a sort of Konkanni version of “your problems are my problems too”. Belatedly, she added that if the mason and his team (distracted with other Panchayat work) did not report to us she should not be held responsible. During the next few days we also learnt that the taxi driver was the only child of elderly parents both too feeble and handicapped to work. We also heard that the family had once owned a tourist bus but that the coach was lying on its side in the village after a road accident. We also learnt that the taxi driver’s bills were being paid by the Sarpanch of his village because they were old neighbours and that everyone was chipping in to help the family while the boy lay in bed incapacitated. I was the only one with questions. Had the boy been drunk while driving? Had he been sampling something stronger?  Did he fall asleep on the wheel in the early hours of the morning? Had he been over-working to ferry people up and down to party locations on a busy Saturday night and was quite simply exhausted? No one knew. Ask no questions. You’ll get no lies.

 

 

Same time, same Saligao?

I prepare myself. Hat on head? Check. Distance glasses on the nose? Check. Sunblock lotion on face and arms? Check. Headphones snug in ears? Check. My favourite FM station working without static and crackle? Check. Sweatpants, T-shirt and matching socks? Check. You might think I was going on an expedition but no, I am only going for my evening walk on the Saligao promenade. I dodge both chatty neighbours and suicidal traffic until I get to the promenade and enjoy the luxury of looking around. On the first bench on my left is an elderly couple taking a breath of fresh air. Behind them is a lady in a zari saree separating beans from their shells. The field has been harvested and the farmers have left. This is probably the lady who buys the bean crop, cleans it in the field, and separates the shells for animal fodder and then dries the beans in Goa’s hot summer sun for sale at the Mapusa market this Friday. The zari saree sends out starry sparkles, the fuschia tinted beans catch the beams of a setting sun. It is a picture perfect exchange of light and colour.

I must exercise. The battle of the bulge must be met with a war gait. I cannot tarry. FM station to the rescue! I walk to the beat. The next bench has three young men sprawling on it, legs spread-eagled. The back of the bench has given way already but they don’t seem to mind. They have eyes only for one thing that is in front of them, their parked scooties. Behind them is an array of all kinds of cans, some of which I have never seen. Paper plates with leftover ketchup stick to the grass near the fields. Tired bulls graze on the grassy patch that is clean and sample some greens leftover from the harvested beans. One of the young men clutches a bottle of water and sprays himself to beat the heat. Perhaps he’s partied hard last night and it’s time to be cool.

More benches and more paper plates, more scooters and a few more beer cans later, the sound of racing bikes roars over my headphones. Crash helmets are for “woosies”. I wonder which of these super power bikers goes roaring past the house at 2 in the morning and which of these I silently pray for as he whizzes past my corner house at lightning speed. Mufflers on exhaust pipes are also for “woosies” I believe. After a race that shakes the coconut palms on the road down to their roots, I see a large section of the promenade festooned with super bikes. Admiring looks are exchanged and “selfies” taken with the bikes from the middle of the busy road that served as race track only minutes ago.

Two young women on another bench have their heads covered. One has toe nails painted black and white (alternately) to match her black and white striped head scarf. One takes a picture of the other. I take a double turn. No! She’s actually not taking a photo of her friend. She’s caught the two guys on their speeding bikes on her phone. That leaves the other girl still smiling freeze-still. The super bikers are sharing rides, information and camaraderie. They are a class apart, the boys with the scooties look askance with envy. Two girls on a Bullet (Royal Enfield) dressed in black from head to boots, with only Lakme Absolute Matte “Pink Me Lip” No 114 for colour and company ride past slowly. The sound of the Bullet hasn’t changed in a century, I think. It reminds me of when my boss, Arun Maharaj, Manager on the tea estates that I once worked in could be heard approaching us over the rolling hills covered in tea. The boys do not give the girls on the Bullet the time of day. They do have their eyes on The Bike.

I give one of my neighbours a friendly wave. He returns a royal wave. There is no time to stand and chat. We are in the serious business of losing fat. I look to my left in the fields and see a sight that sends a thrill of excitement. I count seven peacocks and three pea hens in the fields. A man walks his dog on the grass and the peahens look on with curiosity. It will be monsoon soon and the tail feathers of the peacocks are showing signs of growing into long, unwieldy, clumsy but beautiful attachments that the males will need. A car stops and two Lhasa Apsos are gently lowered on to the promenade by their “mommy and daddy”. Both dogs wear diamonte-studded collars and tiny leather shoes to protect their feet. The selfie-taking couple on the bench get distracted for a few minutes. “Cute” is the buzz word on the promenade pavement.

Wild grass grows in between the paving stones that have gone uneven with age. They are only a few years old but then wild grasses have a way with stones. A man in his fifties walks past me without a smile. He is my neighbour from a few houses away and I see him walk past my home every day. Yet he does not smile, he does not give me a friendly wave. I wonder why although it does not offend. At the end of the promenade, the mystery solves itself. I see him sitting on the parapet of the promenade engaged in deep conversation with another lady, his age. Conversation comes to an abrupt stop when I go past. I try and smile. I am met with stony silence. On my way back, I see that they are both walking again. They have a fallen coconut distance between them.

The sun has moved to setting position by now. It turns orange and lights up the top of the trees on the morod or high ground, not far from the fields. I am distracted by the calls of the Brahminy and Pariah kites as they call out to one another to roost amongst the trees. The peacocks and peahens are also making their way to the morod where they will rest collectively for the night. A little girl on a cycle goes “phee phee phee” as she rides past. Her little cycle does not have a bell that she can ring to warn us walkers. At one point on the walk a young couple has had a fight, the boy accusing the girl of being too “bossy” and “dominating”. The sweet sickly scent of sugarcane juice hits the nostrils at the end of the promenade. The Bombay Bhel-puri cart reminds me of how it had hit my stomach once. I turn the corner and head towards the road to the house. And just before I begin to analyse the mini scenarios I have just seen, the FM station welcomes me to “retro hour”.

 

 

 

 

 

OPEN HOUSE GOA?

I’ve just heard about the Open House Festival in Amsterdam from my friend Kiran Keswani who spent some time there and now lives in Bangalore. I was fascinated with what Kiran was saying and that got me thinking… couldn’t something like this be replicated or adapted for Goa? Let me explain it the way I have understood it.

Kiran says that every year there is this festival in Amsterdam when people of the city open up their homes to visitors. People from all walks of life participate in the festival, sponsors can advertise in the homes open to visitors and food and music is on offer by choice. This Festival sounds a lot like the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts that Goa Heritage Action Group had staged so many years ago in the heritage neighbourhood of Fontainhas and Mala in Panaji, where the whole neighbourhood became the stage. Art was displayed in peoples’ homes, music was enjoyed on street corners and on make-shift platforms and it made for a unique and characteristically un-Goan intrusion into the whole privacy issue. The Fontainhas Festival turned this otherwise quiet very private neighbourhood into a public arena where just about everyone interacted with everyone, artists with home owners and with visitors.

This Amsterdam Festival seems to be a little different in the sense that it is not so much about artists displaying their works and turning heritage homes into temporary art galleries. This Festival seems to have the houses and gardens on display! Home owners first sign up for the Festival (Amsterdam is a small city) and agree to participate in this community show. The houses need not be grand or ostentatious. They may or may not have beautiful gardens. I think the only qualification is that you should be house proud and willing to show off! Once the dates are announced the home owners stay at home for the duration of the Festival and not just allow complete strangers to walk through their homes and gardens but actually entertain them with music, some coffee or a friendly chat.

Art does form part of the Open House Festival but in a limited sort of way. If a home owner has a piece of art work in their homes, they will display it and talk about it including stories and anecdotes related to the art work. These stories would not only be interesting to other art lovers like themselves (I for one always want to know how a piece was first seen, acquired and always remember how I first saw it hanging on display and how it caught my attention) but the conversation would take the “fear out of art”.

During the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts, for example, I was taken aback when a visitor confessed that she had never been inside an art gallery in her life and that this was the first time she had looked at art in a gallery-like environment. Her words are words I will never forget. She said, “I used to go past an art gallery on my way to work every day and I used to always wonder about what happens in there. I never dared to go in, thinking I would have to buy something.” The way she said it, it sounded almost like the artist would be waiting behind the doors holding a gun!

The Fontainhas Festival of the Arts changed that fear to wonder. Art was no longer a scary three-letter word. Art was accessible, friendly and warm. Art in the atmosphere of a home touched a chord in many hearts. Perhaps an Open House Festival would do the same thing in a slightly different way. How many of us have driven or walked past a heritage home and wondered about what goes on in there? I mean, we’re not interested in the family’s secrets (and every family has them) but we do conjure up scenarios about how people live in these mansions, on what furniture they sit and read a book, how modern equipment like a television of a music system has been accommodated comfortably in this period setting.

I personally have no qualms about knocking on a door and introducing myself as the friendly neighbourhood nuisance but I don’t know if many people would have the same kind of thick skin. The high plinth and several steps, the balçao as a social screening device and the “high” posture of a typical Goan house could be intimidating to say the least. How many people would be welcomed into homes without a proper reference? It would be unreasonable to expect home owners to open their homes and hearts to a complete stranger.

The Open House Festival could bridge this gap. Only those home owners who wanted to participate would take part in it. During the course of my research visits, I have been pained at seeing so many lonely people in a home, just waiting for “something to happen” to relieve the boredom of a lonely day. It would be exciting for people like them. Besides, the whole Open House Festival could be done under the auspices of a legitimate and reputed organisation and therefore given a certain degree of legitimacy.

One of the nicest fall outs of such a Festival would be a view not just of the house but of the gardens in these homes. Goa has the most wonderful and invigorating homes and gardens in India. And yet, home owners hardly seem to be aware of the wealth of plant material in their midst. Goan gardens are not well-manicured formal affairs. They are a pot pourri of plants brought from all over the world and nurtured in Goa’s humid and “hot house” climate. I used to be amazed at how freely home owners shared plant material in Goa between neighbours and between home owners and complete strangers.

On walks in South Goa, in the small lanes of Betalbatim and Varca, I would often stop and admire a potted plant or a hanging basket of begonias only to be offered a cutting by the generous home owner. Plant nurseries were not yet invented in Goa in the mid 1990’s. Home owners simply asked for plant material from their neighbours or brought back plant material from their travels in India and abroad. And neighbours gave of their plant cuttings and seeds freely, with love. In fact, I detected a sense of pride on being asked for a plant cutting. What’s more you even got free advice on how to plant the cutting, where to place it for best results and what problems to expect.

An Open House Festival in Goa? Perhaps. After all, social media has allowed us access into peoples’ lives like never before. Everyone seems to be interested in where we live, how we live, where we travel to, what we eat and with whom. Now isn’t it time we step out of digital space and reclaim our physical space, our tactile, touchable, “feel-able” contact with our very own friends, neighbours and fellow villagers? I say it is!

 

 

 

 

Heta Pandit

 

I’ve just heard about the Open House Festival in Amsterdam from my friend Kiran Keswani who spent some time there and now lives in Bangalore. I was fascinated with what Kiran was saying and that got me thinking… couldn’t something like this be replicated or adapted for Goa? Let me explain it the way I have understood it.

Kiran says that every year there is this festival in Amsterdam when people of the city open up their homes to visitors. People from all walks of life participate in the festival, sponsors can advertise in the homes open to visitors and food and music is on offer by choice. This Festival sounds a lot like the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts that Goa Heritage Action Group had staged so many years ago in the heritage neighbourhood of Fontainhas and Mala in Panaji, where the whole neighbourhood became the stage. Art was displayed in peoples’ homes, music was enjoyed on street corners and on make-shift platforms and it made for a unique and characteristically un-Goan intrusion into the whole privacy issue. The Fontainhas Festival turned this otherwise quiet very private neighbourhood into a public arena where just about everyone interacted with everyone, artists with home owners and with visitors.

This Amsterdam Festival seems to be a little different in the sense that it is not so much about artists displaying their works and turning heritage homes into temporary art galleries. This Festival seems to have the houses and gardens on display! Home owners first sign up for the Festival (Amsterdam is a small city) and agree to participate in this community show. The houses need not be grand or ostentatious. They may or may not have beautiful gardens. I think the only qualification is that you should be house proud and willing to show off! Once the dates are announced the home owners stay at home for the duration of the Festival and not just allow complete strangers to walk through their homes and gardens but actually entertain them with music, some coffee or a friendly chat.

Art does form part of the Open House Festival but in a limited sort of way. If a home owner has a piece of art work in their homes, they will display it and talk about it including stories and anecdotes related to the art work. These stories would not only be interesting to other art lovers like themselves (I for one always want to know how a piece was first seen, acquired and always remember how I first saw it hanging on display and how it caught my attention) but the conversation would take the “fear out of art”.

During the Fontainhas Festival of the Arts, for example, I was taken aback when a visitor confessed that she had never been inside an art gallery in her life and that this was the first time she had looked at art in a gallery-like environment. Her words are words I will never forget. She said, “I used to go past an art gallery on my way to work every day and I used to always wonder about what happens in there. I never dared to go in, thinking I would have to buy something.” The way she said it, it sounded almost like the artist would be waiting behind the doors holding a gun!

The Fontainhas Festival of the Arts changed that fear to wonder. Art was no longer a scary three-letter word. Art was accessible, friendly and warm. Art in the atmosphere of a home touched a chord in many hearts. Perhaps an Open House Festival would do the same thing in a slightly different way. How many of us have driven or walked past a heritage home and wondered about what goes on in there? I mean, we’re not interested in the family’s secrets (and every family has them) but we do conjure up scenarios about how people live in these mansions, on what furniture they sit and read a book, how modern equipment like a television of a music system has been accommodated comfortably in this period setting.

I personally have no qualms about knocking on a door and introducing myself as the friendly neighbourhood nuisance but I don’t know if many people would have the same kind of thick skin. The high plinth and several steps, the balçao as a social screening device and the “high” posture of a typical Goan house could be intimidating to say the least. How many people would be welcomed into homes without a proper reference? It would be unreasonable to expect home owners to open their homes and hearts to a complete stranger.

The Open House Festival could bridge this gap. Only those home owners who wanted to participate would take part in it. During the course of my research visits, I have been pained at seeing so many lonely people in a home, just waiting for “something to happen” to relieve the boredom of a lonely day. It would be exciting for people like them. Besides, the whole Open House Festival could be done under the auspices of a legitimate and reputed organisation and therefore given a certain degree of legitimacy.

One of the nicest fall outs of such a Festival would be a view not just of the house but of the gardens in these homes. Goa has the most wonderful and invigorating homes and gardens in India. And yet, home owners hardly seem to be aware of the wealth of plant material in their midst. Goan gardens are not well-manicured formal affairs. They are a pot pourri of plants brought from all over the world and nurtured in Goa’s humid and “hot house” climate. I used to be amazed at how freely home owners shared plant material in Goa between neighbours and between home owners and complete strangers.

On walks in South Goa, in the small lanes of Betalbatim and Varca, I would often stop and admire a potted plant or a hanging basket of begonias only to be offered a cutting by the generous home owner. Plant nurseries were not yet invented in Goa in the mid 1990’s. Home owners simply asked for plant material from their neighbours or brought back plant material from their travels in India and abroad. And neighbours gave of their plant cuttings and seeds freely, with love. In fact, I detected a sense of pride on being asked for a plant cutting. What’s more you even got free advice on how to plant the cutting, where to place it for best results and what problems to expect.

An Open House Festival in Goa? Perhaps. After all, social media has allowed us access into peoples’ lives like never before. Everyone seems to be interested in where we live, how we live, where we travel to, what we eat and with whom. Now isn’t it time we step out of digital space and reclaim our physical space, our tactile, touchable, “feel-able” contact with our very own friends, neighbours and fellow villagers? I say it is!

 

 

 

 

HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! HELP! NOT JUST ANYBODY!

This article would not have been possible before the year 2001. At that time I was not owned by a house in Goa. I was not a slave to seven cats (six in Mumbai and one in Goa) then and I was not at the beck and call of domestic staff. Before 2001, I was a free woman. My cousin Mahrukh and I could not afford any domestic help and we would do all our own housework, our own shopping and cooking. The homes we rented were small and compact and our needs few. We were happy.

Then in 2001, Mahrukh moved back to her parental home in Nagpur and I moved up in life. I still rented (a small flat in Porvorim) but I could now afford to have a maid come in to sweep the floor and clean the bathroom. The small fridge I had was only slightly smaller than the kitchen. On a good day all it contained was one single cabbage and a tetra pack of milk. The milk was for my first cat, aptly named Catalyst and the cabbage for me. Friends from Mumbai would drop in and come and stay with me expecting a “first class Goan meal” and would get absolutely shell-shocked at the contents of my cupboards. They were, as Old Mother Hubbard would have said, bare.

It was then that Shilpa would come to the rescue. She would slave all day at home and come armed with an assortment of boxes, packets and plastic bags filled with the tastiest Goan Hindu food money couldn’t buy. Shilpa had the key to the flat and would let herself in, finish her work at a time convenient to her and leave all her goodies on the small breakfast table that served as office table, dining table and conference table depending on what was needed at the time of day. In any case, my front door was almost never locked and neither was anything else in the house.

Mobile phones were a new thing then and I had a phone that Shilpa could call me on. One afternoon Shilpa called me, frantic. “Didi, when will you be home?” I asked her what the matter was and she said, “The cat’s mewing from the cupboard! I think she’s locked in there!” I am by nature a calm person. My mother often said that I had swallowed a pot of cold water as a baby. My cupboards were never locked. I asked her why she had not opened the cupboard to let the cat out. Shilpa was close to tears. “But you’re not at home! How can I open your cupboard?” “Yo, if there’s a cat locked in then you can.” “Okay then next time I will”.

My other favourite Shilpa story is when I got back from a long day outside the house and saw that Catalyst had not touched her food. Again, almost in tears, Shilpa says to me, “Haun tika nice nice keley pun ti kai khauchen na” (I stroked her on her head and spoke to her so nicely and yet she would not touch a thing.)

The house in Saligao acquired me in the Christmas year of 2006. Catalyst moved with me from Porvorim and my ever protective mother sent a retinue of Nepali boys to look after us both. I soon acquired the reputation of “living with eight boys”. Actually we did have eight Nepali boys (all related to one another) but they were spread over three homes, Bombay, Panchgani and Goa. Krishna was the baby of the household. How he came to the house is another story. As it so happened both my parents were ill and in hospital at the same time. I had my hands full and absolutely no one in the Bombay house. Mum’s most faithful were away in Nepal and the others were elsewhere. This little boy was standing at the gate and asked me if he could help.

“Yes,” I said, a little breathless. “Go upstairs, there’s no one there. Find a broom and mop and get cleaning. I will be back from the hospital very soon.” That was the be-all and end-all of our domestic interview. Krishna stayed with me for over 15 years and is now a “bus boy” at China Gate from where he takes a day off to visit me every month without a break. He learned everything there was to learn and would cook and clean on a normal day, climb up on the roof to check for leaks and paint the kitchen to relieve himself of boredom. On the day he wanted to play the “baby” he would ask me to cook his favourite vegetable (cabbage, of course!) “Because you make it the sweet Gujarati way”. If someone asked me out on that day I would say, “No thanks but I am cooking for our cook today”.

I now have thirty people working for me in various capacities spread over the three homes and they are all wonderful but the staff star is without a doubt Tanaji. How Tanaji joined our household in Goa is a story. The house has a little replica of itself across the street that we all call The Little House. I was on the lookout for someone to stay at the little house for security, for “someone to be so the big house does not get too lonely”. Tanaji was a security guard at a Maruti Suzuki showroom in Porvorim. With no home to go to, he would do “day and night” duty at the showroom and it was telling on him at the ripe old age of forty. He was on the look-out for pasture.

My driver happened to know the accountant there who brought Tanaji over. I used the traditional Goan screening device (my balcão) to interview Tanaji. Before I could ask him what he would do, Tanaji brought out a list of jobs that he would like to do. “I will sleep in the balcão when you are not there. I will bring in your bags when you arrive. I will put them in the car for you when you leave. I will make a cup of tea for any guests who arrive before the cook comes in. After the cook comes in I will not touch a thing. I will make my own food. You will give me a salary of XXX per month and I will never ask you for a loan.” Interview done, Tanaji had hired me.

One year to the day, I have never had to give him his roster of duties. Tanaji decides when to water the garden, manure the plants, which neighbour to rent a scooter from and which neighbour to take seriously. I think he is so well networked in the village that he knows more people than I have met in the past ten years. He is also become adept at a very uniquely Goan talent. He can pick up gossip like a sponge, filter it through sand and hold it in a shell to his ear from where he can hear the sea. Like I said, there’s a star in Tanaji.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU NAME IT

When I first came to Mumbai in 1981 I was very careful in the use of names of areas and streets. What we had called Flora Fountain as children had been renamed Hutatma Chowk. What we had always called Byculla Zoo or Victoria Gardens when we were little was now renamed Veermata Jijabai Udyan. At that time to call any place by its old name (read British Colonial) was considered sacrilege and one learnt to respect the sentiment behind the change. Or else.

In those early years I used to write a column in the Sunday Mid-Day titled the Bombay Walkabout and often would go visiting the heritage monument or open space to write about it. When I got into the taxi and asked the driver to take me to the politically correct place, he would look at me and scratch his five o’clock shadow as if to say, “Where is that?” I would then describe the place and he would laugh and say, “Rani Baug bolo na!” (Why don’t you just say the Queen’s Garden meaning Victoria Gardens)? I soon learnt to quickly combine the old name and the new and make it one long sounding totally new third name.

By the time I came to Goa fourteen years after the Bombay stay I was well trained in the art of listening to new names for old places and old names for new places. With all that “Bombay is now Mumbai” training, I was at home with the popular custom of local names both for local people and the places they inhabited. What came as a mild surprise was that not only did people have nicknames for other people but even houses in the neighbourhood had their own nicknames.

My house in Saligao was once owned by Sartorio D’Melo Anslekar, a difficult man with an even more difficult name. Sartorio naturally became Sonny to all his neighbours. What is more interesting is that even his nickname had a nickname! Sonny apparently had a booming voice and so he was called “godgoddo” or thunder. What naturally followed was that the house he lived in was called “Godgoddo’s House”. As if that was not enough, because the house juts out precariously on the edge of the road and taxis, buses and motorcycles come to a screeching halt to let one another pass; most motorists call it “Ah! Corner House”. I have named the house Maia or Mai (Mother) after Mom who was instrumental in helping me with the difficult negotiations when I wanted it. So how many names can this one house have? Godgoddo’s House? Corner House? Maia? It all depends on who is looking at it and how.

Some houses in Goa are attached to their owner’s names. The houses are known by the name of the families that own it even after the families have sold out and gone away. A few visitors to the house and your neighbours start wondering if you’ve rented the house out or sold it. The other day I was compelled to remove my name plate from the back gate because a few hungry termites had decided to make the wooden board their post monsoon lunch box. The small tiles came off with one light touch and the plywood backing for the tiles crumbled like breadcrumb.

Even before I had finished cleaning the tiles and was laying them out to dry in the sun, a gentleman from the neighbourhood walked in and asked me if I was who I had said I was on my name plate. Having peered at me warily in the morning sunlight and reassured himself that I was indeed who I had said I was, he asked me why I had removed the name plate from the gate. “I have always seen the name plate and now you have removed it.” Oh dear, I apologised and then had to show him the termite shredded board and the tile pieces, put on a straight face and tell him the name plate would soon be up as soon as I could find a good carpenter. Speak of putting all my tiles on the table!

“Ah, so you’re not selling the house?” he asked once again. “You will be putting the name plate back on the gate?” And then, “what does Maia mean? Is it Hebrew? Is it from the Holy Book?” When I explained how I had just tweaked the Konkani “Mai” or Mother to Maia, he looked convinced. “Ah, it’s Konkani.” I breathed a sigh of relief when he left convinced but I must say I was touched with the concern a total stranger might have for my name plate being or not being there on the back gate. In Bombay or Mumbai, who would have cared?

Houses are also known in Goa by the colour of their exteriors. It is not uncommon to give directions that incorporate something like, “Take a left at the blue-and-white house”. This only means that you must never ever change the colour of your walls or windows. How will people find other houses in your vaddo if you do? A colour change often means a change of ownership. The blue house at the corner in Sangolda (the one that got knocked down by trucks burning on midnight oil each year) has recently changed hands. I know because the blue has been replaced by a lovely laterite-brick-rose. So now if I want to give directions to drive past the house should I describe it as the “old blue house that is now a pretty pink B&B”? I don’t know. For me, it will always be Barbara’s House, someone I had only imagined living there and had never met. If I had met her perhaps I would have known more about her and the house and given the house a nickname. A new name of my old choice.

 

THE REST IS EASY

I had a terrible bout of viral fever last week. Never prone to fevers of any kind, this attack came as a shock and I took it personally. “Me?” I said to myself. “No, not me.” The truth is, I had to rush to Emergency Room in the middle of the night with abdominal pain so bad I could barely move. My sister, her husband and her younger son came rushing all the way from Vikhroli, an hour away from where I live in Bandra. The Emergency Room at the Holy Family Hospital on Hill Road has been done up recently with everything except the most important thing. Doctors.

So there I was, writing and screaming in pain calling out to the nurses, ward boys, sweepers and attendants and asking them all to call the RMO, the so-called Resident Medical Officer who was obviously not in “residence”. Ah well, three doctors turned up after a good half an hour and began attending to the most urgent case in the Emergency Room and it wasn’t me. “There is someone here worse than you,” I was told, apparently referring to a young man who had not eaten in ten days and who was severely dehydrated, his mouth parched, his ribs poking out and his body a rib-cage physical shell. All three RMOs began attending to the poor man while I, a patient too, was told to be “patient”.

When it came to my turn, finally, the RMO who began his examination and his line of interrogation introduced himself as Dr. Back. I kid you not, that really was his name. (I checked my file again when I left at about 2 a.m. that morning to make sure I was not hallucinating.) They gave me the injections I needed and scared me half to death saying I would have to be wheeled into the hospital bed for a week. I decided to get well immediately and my sister took me home and stayed with me until I was better the following day.

I followed the good Dr. Back’s medical instructions to the letter for the following three days and then decided that all I needed to do was go “home” to Goa for a good rest. So as soon as I was able to walk without going belly up I took the flight to Goa and stayed home. From the minute I landed and my friends came to the airport to fetch me I knew I had landed on my feet. “A warm sunshine after many days of Dussera rain,” they said. “Many tourists, Madam, good thing you came after they have all left,” said Eknath, my taxi driver and friend of twelve solid dependable driving years.

Jugs filled with lemonade were meant to be waiting for me since that is all I could stomach at that stage. My cook Anita did not have the courage to let me know over the phone that she did not know what lemonade meant. “Nimboo pani,” I had said over the phone not unlike Mario Miranda’s famous Bollywood character Miss Nimboopaani. So cook Anita promptly put some lemons in a bowl and a glass of water and set both bowl and glass on a lacquer tray lined with a lace tray cloth. Ah well, there was “nimboo” and there was “paani” so what else did I need? Nothing else. I was home and I was determined to get my much needed rest.

I made the lemonade and lay down on my bed when the most horrible screeching soul-wrenching sound came careening down from the neighbour’s house. My neighbour Shilpa was getting another floor added up and the masons were cutting tiles to fit the skirting. How much skirting does it take to do up one tiny floor of one tiny little house? A lot. I tried to remember what I had learnt at my meditation class and how we had been taught how to block off undesirable noise. It worked. I was determined to get my rest.

The noise must have petered off at the end of the working day and I must have fallen dead asleep when I was woken up to the sound of large boxes being loaded on to a tempo next door. Ah well, how much noise can a few boxes being dumped on to the metal floor of a small truck make? They can, especially if they’re filled with tiger biscuits. I decided I could live with a few roars. I was determined to get my rest.

Two more days of Goa-brand of rest and my friends decided that I was well enough to take a scooter ride through the ripening paddy fields of Calangute and enjoy the view of the receding tide at the mouth of the river Mandovi. Calangute was a “free massage” ride over pot holes and not restful at all but the sight of the leaving tide and the steel gray light over the Mandovi, children kicking a ball on the beach and dogs lapping up from a freshwater stream that ran through the sand gave me the rest I needed.

The screeching of the tile cutting and the slamming of tiger biscuits on a tempo the following day seemed too trivial to complaint about. I was getting the rest I needed despite the noise I did not. Somewhere in the distance someone had decided that their trees needed lopping. Somewhere in the distance someone else had decided that their motorcycle did not need its silencers and raring through the quiet of the night with full pistons on was the “done thing”. I did not mind it at all. It was all part of the “sounds of silence” in Saligao. I was rested. I was well enough to sit in the garden with the old newspapers and a crime thriller.

Somewhere over the garden table a pair of purple rumped sunbirds were twittering away deep in conversation. The bulbuls that had paired last year were back in the bougainvillea and flying so low over my head that I could hear the “frrrr” of their wings and tail. A coucal fell into the birdbath by accident. It had chased a cricket and there had been a struggle. The coucal won but hid his embarrassment behind the trunk of the coconut palm. It was then that I decided that I had rested enough. That I was well enough to get back to Mumbai and work.

How to draw/paint/write/enact Goan culture in two days flat

I was invited to a panel discussion over two days on 20th and 21st last month and I must share what I saw and heard at this conference with you. First of all, the invitation was from the prestigious UNESCO, an international body that frames its constitution and its conventions on the assumption that culture exists in every corner of the world, is defined and is both in tangible and intangible form. UNESCO intends to make, in their own words, “Goa an experiment” in the documentation and publication of the various products of culture. It was a panel of concerned artists, writers, culture researchers and performers from Goa and producers of film, books and facilitators from outside Goa. It was a wonderful and energetic meeting of minds and I was in good company. Only, I wish it had been thrown open to the public, students and scholars of culture and the Goan media.

A list of questions were circulated by the organisers including our own Government of Goa Art & Culture Department and all the panellists had their notes ready and waiting, poised questions with more questions. To illustrate some of the questions and answers, here are the answers I had personally brought on board for discussion. I think it would be appropriate to share them with you.

What cultural/ creative industries are active or have potential in Goa?

  1. Architectural crafts such as those seen in the churches, temples, houses of Goa (mother of pearl shell windows, roof systems, door devices, iron smithy, flooring, false ceilings, stone craft, manufacture of tools required for these crafts, tulsi vrindavans, mouldings, etc.)
  2. Frescoes and paintings on the walls of Goan houses, ( iconography both religious and secular, decorative art forms)
  3. Culinary crafts (to include recipes and the preservation of ethnic culinary knowledge)
  4. Folk dances and related crafts (such as costume design, costume production, musical instruments, dance forms and other forms of oral history)
  5. Goan Tiatr (and related crafts and production of set design, costume, language, popular sentiment)
  6. Furniture (to include chests, boxes, chairs, tables, almirahs, altars, garden and ladinha furniture)
  7. Clay utensils and pottery (to include clay sculpture)
  8. Tile manufacture (azulejos and contemporary tile and ceramic pottery designs and tableware)
  9. Hydro agro systems (sluice gates, tools manufacture, systems)
  10. Wood and lacquer work (dowry chests, paats, icons, statues, etc.)
  11. Cane craft and reed grass crafts(chairs, baskets, winnowing fans, fish traps, storage baskets, mats, etc. and the production of tools needed for the crafts)
  12. Flower and garden crafts
  13. Copper and brass crafts
  14. Silver, gold and marcazite crafts
  15. Matoli or canopy crafts (fruit and vegetable, leaves and flowers in the use of elaborate canopies constructed for the Shri Ganesha festival)
  16. Transient or temporary crafts such as rangoli (floral decorations done daily in rice flour and coloured powders as significant devices in homes to mark sanctified sites within and without)
  17. Crafts related to fishing (to include the making of boats, dug outs, rampons, cultural components such as iconography on fishing vessels, special days of significance, etc.)
  18. Crafts related to toddy tapping
  19. Crafts related to production of urrack and feni (cashew and coconut production)
  20. Crafts as products of the coconut palm (such as rope production, canoes, food, thatching, material for roofing and the production of tools required in these crafts)
  21. Food craft (to include bakery, confectionary, culinary products that illustrate Goa’s rich social and political history and the history of in-migration and out-migration)
  22. Textiles and embroidery (such as kunbi saris and woven products that have been recently modernized and revived)

Do they reflect the cultural diversity of Goa?

Yes, they do with festivals in the villages of Goa marking a significant cross cultural current of exchange and merger. This diversity also earmarks certain milestones in syncretism between communities. They also reflect Goa’s rich cultural history and show off various cultural and historical references and influences.

Are there specific policies / schemes to support the creative industries?

There are but the emphasis appears to be on the value of these crafts only as measures of entertainment. The whole focus appears to be that of appeasement of the tourist industry. Policies do not recognize or include uniquely Goan crafts or cultural components.

Is collaboration between Directorate of Arts and Culture and other departments promoted – otherwise how to do so, for instance, with departments such as small scale industries, skill development, vocational training, media and broadcasting etc?

Government policy must translate into the promotion and development of skills in Goa with infusion from educated, informed and aware designers who understand the location and position of a particular skill in Goa’s societal context. Media, marketing experts and general public all have a role to play. However, caution must be exercised to see that the scope, limitations, sensitivity and intrinsic knowledge base of the craftspeople are not undermined in the promotion.

Does Goa’s media support the need of person with disabilities, marginalized groups etc?

No.

Can we support the modernization of traditional cultural industries through digital media and which areas?

Of course! What will modernization do? Why the assumption that digital means better?

To what extent does civil society participate in policy formulation?

Zilch.

Are there associations / unions that represent the collective voice of the cultural professionals?

Yes but only in a limited sector. Again, only the ones that help the state promote its skewed image as a place “to party” much to the detriment of other custodians of culture and to the detriment of Goa’s women and children.

If so, what is their major policy advocacy for?

A major policy must advocate a balanced view of culture, cultural products, cultural production and promotion and the custodians of culture. Today it’s completely skewed towards tourism and the “consumption of culture”. END

Most of the discussions were lively, animated and passionate. However, there was one observation that I would like to share. Everyone was given a fair chance to speak. Everyone did speak. The artists present spoke about art as Goa’s culture, the oral traditionalists as that being the only evidence of Goan culture, the musicians lamenting that “foreign performers” were given priority over local Goan talent. In the end, we showed concern and complaint only about the shortcomings and lack of government support in our specific field in a narrow myopic view. Sadly, we left off where we had begun. I wonder what the delegates from UNESCO, newly arrived in Goa and keen to learn, had made of it all.