Between man and spirit

 

I am in the middle of reading Ruskin Bond’s favourite ghost stories from around the world. By his own admission, my favourite writer loves seeing and writing about the supernatural world. He has seen or conjured up ghosts that range from endearing to scary, from strange to friendly. Well, with all due love and respect Mr. Bond you have missed out on one very interesting genre of a creature that dwells between being human and spirit. How could you have missed out on the scarecrow in the fields? Is it because one often misses out things that are right under one’s nose?

I have been fascinated by scarecrows in fields since I was little. The ones I remember are almost always tall, well-dressed with round heads and large black eyes. Of course, I have also seen the ones that have flat tin heads but then those were the days when we used to buy our biscuits, our cooking oil and kerosene in big square tins. (Not the same tins though). The square tins sometimes had holes punched in for eyes and rusty necks that were covered up with woollen scarves or even a necktie that had seen better days.

The most recent scarecrow I encountered was the one on the way to Keri village in Sattari. He was wearing a spotless white shirt that was obviously too big for him, with narrow blue pants that were obviously too small. His head lolled about a bit perhaps because it was stuffed with thin white muslin cloth. Tied at the waist to a coconut tree, this poor “man” had no eyes, no teeth and no ears. Yet, I am quite certain that he sees and hears everything around him. Although he has no face, I can see that he faces the road and I am quite sure that he, armless as he is, waves at passers-by in the wind. That of course, is when no one is looking.

The other most recent encounter is with the scarecrow opposite the church in Nagoa, very close to where I live. Here’s a “man” to reckon with. Slim and tall, this guy is dressed to kill. He has a military green plastic pot for a head and beautiful black eyes that look not just at you but through you. “Beware!” say these eyes. “I am impervious to sweet talking females.” He wears a smart pair of pants and a black T-shirt that has a few holes in the middle but then I believe that is the latest in making a fashion statement these days. I go around this “man” discreetly only to find that he is as nattily turned out from the back. There’s a belt that goes around his ample waist. That’s a smart little device to keep his straw pot belly in place. Dressed thus, he keeps a stern watch over the bean field. Never once does he blink.

Do scarecrows really keep away birds from the fields I have often wondered? Away on the highway going out of Goa towards Maharashtra I see bits of old saris floating on shapeless sticks. Sometimes, just bits of plastic squares in the middle of fields. From the point of view of the birds, this is nothing short of a joke. If a marsh harrier can see a mouse in the field from a great distance in the skies, if sparrows can see grains scattered on the ground in a courtyard, if pigeons can see seeds in the garden all the way from their perches on high rises who are we trying to fool? Do we really think that the birds cannot see the difference between a man and his pole counterpart? No, this word “scarecrow” doesn’t scare any crows.

Why do we have them then? Is it to ward off the evil eye from our fields? Is a scarecrow something between animal and spirit? Perhaps. Is that why most scarecrows are men and most workers in fields and farms mere women? Here too, in a realm between animal and spirit, must men play guardians and protectors? The only female scarecrow I have ever seen in all these years is the one on the CHOGM road between the village of Saligao and Calangute in North Goa. There she was, in full splendour, dressed in a complete salwar-kameez suit. The printed suit had no holes, no signs of any wear. In fact, even her dupatta flapped in the afternoon breeze in great style. Her face was fashioned from an old gunny sack and on her shredded forehead there was a red vermillion bindi the size of an old rupee coin. Her head was completely covered with the main stream of the scarf and no straw hair visible. Clearly, a scarecrow who proclaimed her marital status for the entire world to see. Proudly perched on a pole almost as high as the nearest hoarding, she was still a picture of female modesty.

The scarecrows I have seen (and collected as paintings and photographs) have ranged from the white shirt fronted farmer-like village dwellers to helmet and black T-shirt Harley Davidson rider-creatures of mystery. The first painting of a scarecrow I fell in love with was a water colour done by Goan artist Hitesh Pankar. It was simply titled “Tambdi bhaji” and was of an impossibly handsome shoeless scarecrow in a red shirt in the middle of a field of ‘tambdi bhaji”. Tall trees interrupt this synergy of plants and “man” and a few houses play sentinel in the distance. Did this guy not have any pole-feet because he wasn’t going anywhere? Well, he goes everywhere Hitesh, because he has eyes that follow you even if he has no feet!

Well, there are scarecrows and then there are scarecrows. There are scarecrows that float on thin air, fly through the skies, follow you with their eyes, and some who couldn’t care less. The scarecrow that gets the highest award so far, though, is the one that I saw once on my way to Nashik. He was tall, dark and handsome and dressed in a neat pair of pants, a clean shirt and a hat. He had been fixed up on the bow of the entrance gate to a vineyard with his back to the grapes and his eyes fixed on the road. There was a roughly painted sign at his feet that simply said, in Marathi, “Haach navra”. Roughly translated, this would be something like, “That’s the only husband”. All your scary ghosts couldn’t beat that now, Mr. Bond, could they?

 

 

 

 

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I return a debt

My school friend K got married when we were just out of school. As if that was not shocking enough for some of us, the wedding being a bleary-eyed midnight affair certainly was. In the early hours of the morning, when the ceremony was mercifully over, (and the memory of shelling 20 kilos of green peas forgotten), it was time for the bride to leave for her new marital home. My heart was bursting with happiness for my friend and I could not stop smiling. Until, of course, I realized that I was getting some nasty stares from the other wedding guests. Why! I was told I was supposed to be howling, weeping and wailing. My friend was leaving! Leaving! I was supposed to be torn apart.

It was a concept completely alien to me. A Parsi wedding is not only filled with mirth and laughter, the bride and groom does leave the wedding but only to go pay their respects at the fire temple and come right back for the dancing and drinking and more laughter. There is no emotionally charged “bidaai” (farewell) ceremony as such. Both bride and groom are henceforth referred to as “the children” on both sides of the family. Having been brought up to think that both families gain daughters and sons, an additional set of parents and siblings through marriage, the idea that a girl “loses” all her ties with her maternal home was a strange concept. After all these years, I don’t think I have understood it fully.

And then, out of the blue, I get a gift of a book written in Marathi by Shubhada Chari from Keri. The book is called Dhangar Stree and as I began reading it, I thought it an important treatise on Dhangar life and offered to translate the book into English for more people to read and enjoy it. I learnt from the book that Dhangar women used to get married very young and that because transport and communication was not what it is now, it was nearly impossible for a bride to go visit her mother’s home unescorted and unchaperoned. Marriage separated families, rivers in spate prevented people from going home for months and a Dhangar wife was so indispensable to the running of her home and herding of her animals that her in-laws were loathe letting her go.

In her book Shubhada tells us that, “There was a time when child marriages were common. It is not so now. However, elders in the community do recall stories of how weddings were celebrated with the six-month old groom and the equally young bride both asleep in their cradles. This practice ensured that the young girls of the community took their domestic life seriously. However, it was a long way before the child bride attained puberty and therefore spent a considerable period in her maternal home. The young bride was tested for her maturity by her mother in a unique sort of way. She was sent alone with the goats and sheep and the day she managed to bring all the animals back home safely she was considered old enough to be sent to her marital home. A Dhangar woman’s life in her marital home is not easy. She wakes up before dawn and begins with the tackling of a long list of household chores. Young or old enough, the task of looking after the animals owned by the family is her main responsibility.

“Beginning her day at dawn, the Dhangar bride ends it with sitting with her mother-in-law on the grinding stone to grind the grain for the morrow. There is food to be cooked for the family and the animals taken to pasture accompanied by her husband or some other member of the family. If no one in the family is available, she takes the animals out herself, her only companion being the family dog. In sickness and in health, there is no respite from these chores. If she is expecting a child, there is no time to rest even when the baby is due. The Dhangar woman often delivers her child without any help from the family or from the services of a doctor or hospital. If the Dhangar woman is an epitome of personal courage, it is perhaps on account of these experiences”.

Some of the songs and phugdi (dance and song routines) of the Dhangar women are strong illustrations of the pain and frustration in the life of these women. In the voice of the bride as she is given away by her parents she sings:

So I am a burden to you now?

So you gave birth to a bud?

When it rains a lot

There is bound to be slush

A sister-in-law is bound to slip

O father you were once the ocean

I can only express my sadness in song

When I was born your wisdom died

When am I to see you next?

O brother you were once my whole life

When will the time come to see you again?

It will be twelve years for sure

That is when they will think it is time?

Or perhaps they will say it is not time yet?

 

The girl-child as a burden may seem strange to some of us today. That one owes a “debt” to one’s parents and that one has absolutely no right to anything owned by one’s father (and therefore owned by one’s brother and his wife) may come as a shock to some of us. I can think of several Goan daughters who are bread-makers and bread winners, writers, engineers, architects, painters, sculptors, businesswomen and lawyers who may find this memory laughable. Yet, for Dhangar women it is an accepted way of life. Listen to a wedding song that goes thus:

Leaves tremble on the trees

Water cascades down the rocks

The basket coat over my head has blown away

The rain covers me, covers me completely

Who feeds on the grasses?

The “margal” buffalo chews on the cud

Chews on the cud

The “margal” buffalo gives a little milk

The little milk has a little cream, a little cream

Who will eat the little cream?

Who will enjoy the treat?

My Ganga vhani* will enjoy the cream

Enjoy the cream

O brother give the buffalo to me

But the buffalo belongs to our father

Can give only “shelga kunga”

The “shelga kunga” will bring me luck

Not to worry

Leaves tremble on the trees

Water cascades down the rocks

The basket coat over my head has blown away

The rain covers me, covers me completely

Who feeds on the grasses?

The “margal” buffalo chews on the cud

Chews on the cud

The “margal” buffalo gives a little milk

The little milk has a little cream, a little cream

Who will eat the little cream?

Who will enjoy the treat?

My Ganga vhani* will enjoy the cream

Enjoy the cream

O brother give the buffalo to me

But the buffalo belongs to our father

Can give only the coconut tree

The tree that stands at our front door

The front door coconut tree will

Bring me luck, bring me luck

Leaves tremble on the trees

Water cascades down the rocks

The basket coat over my head has blown away

The rain covers me, covers me completely

Who feeds on the grasses?

The “margal” buffalo chews on the cud

Chews on the cud

The “margal” buffalo gives a little milk

The little milk has a little cream, a little cream

Who will eat the little cream?

Who will enjoy the treat?

My Ganga vhani* will enjoy the cream

Enjoy the cream

O brother give the buffalo to me

But the buffalo belongs to our father

Can give only a kanyadaan**

I pay back my debt, return a debt

 

Note: **kanyadaan, literally “donation of a virgin daughter” is to give away a daughter/sister in marriage

*vhani, brother’s wife

 

For those women, those sisters, I weep.

 

 

 

FINDING LOST TREASURE

 Over the years I have tried various ways of making people aware of Goa’s frescos and murals especially sgraffito and kaavi. I have written about it in my books, sent in several articles to papers and magazines and talked (and talked and talked) about kaavi to anyone who will be polite (or captive) enough to listen.

Having lost most of our frescos, we must now ensure that kaavi and sgraffito do not go the same way. It occurred to me suddenly that kaavi could also be taken out of architecture and introduced into another medium of exposure, taken to another level. Out of the blue, Uma Krishnaswamy, art history teacher (attached to four colleges in Chennai, including NIFT) writes to me asking for more information on kaavi. We bond over several emails and exchange research material and embark on an ambitious project. I would collect stories from Goa and Uma would illustrate them in the kaavi style.

 

This was the first time that I would be collecting stories in Goa. I know nothing about this side of Goan literature and need help. So off I go to meet Rajendra Kerkar who then hands me over to Shubhada Chari who then hands me over to a treasure cave filled with stories in the form and shape of a storyteller named Subhadra Gaus. The stories are sung, (not just told) in a Marathi/Konkanni dialect. Subhadra has a repertoire of over 100 story songs- monsoon stories, childrens’ stories, animal stories, forest stories, hero stories…  The ones that I got most interested in were what I call “grinding stone stories”. You see, long before mobile phones (or any phone for that matter) and in the age when girls were married off very young, a young bride had no friends, no confidant in her marital home. Who would she confide in? Who could she talk to? Everyone seemed so hostile! So, the young Goan bride shared her innermost feelings with the grinding stone. As she sat on the floor, grinding her nachni (millet) or rice, the grinding stone became her best friend. Here, she sat and worked the stone and sang.

Thanks to both Rajendra “Bhai” and Shubhada, I was able to understand the depth of the emotional outbursts in the stories. It is thanks to them that I have been able to collect 13 stories so far and thanks to them that Uma, when she visited Goa, was able to meet Subhadra and take in the nuances and pathos in the stories. To give you an idea of the despair in these songs, here’s a preview from the book on the “grinding stories” (my title and as retold by me, unpublished):

SANSKAR

 

Oh dear Mother-in-Law! Oh my respected Father-in-Law! You have both been so kind to me…

How kind you have been to me… sending me to my parents’ house

Once again the house for me to see

My mother and my father are no longer around sadly though

Though my dearest brother and vhani* I will joyfully meet…

Oh what joy there will be… to see the trees, the hibiscus and the tulsi

The tulsi in the front yard and in the backyard the bimblim

Ah the bimblim through the door I can already see

See? I am home already. My feet fly over the trees!

Ah my tired feet, my ankles grazed from walking in my sari

My sari I will lift up slightly and my dearest vhani will wash my feet

My feet are being greeted before me? My dearest sister-in-law has no kind word for me?

No kind words for her husband’s only sister?

A sister who was always treated in this house like a precious baby?

With a baby’s forgiving heart, I shall not mind my vhani

My poor vhani is always so busy! She has a million things to do

Perhaps that is why she offered me such a simple meal…

Simple meals are good for me, they make me strong, they harden me

In fact I like hardened bhakris**… my brother has worked hard for the grain

I have rested now; my brother is still in the fields

The fields still have light but I must leave

I must leave before it gets dark and walking alone in the forest frightens me

Ah the future frightens me… but courage! My vhani will now fill my otti

My otti is the end of my sari that I will spread out in good faith

Faith that she will fill it with five coconuts*** and five pails of rice

With a few grains of rice she will press my forehead with a bright red mark of vermillion

And vermillion and turmeric on my lotus feet.

I did place my feet before my vhani and she did fill my otti

My otti, so heavy! But now listen to my story

My dear vhani filled my otti with inedible fruits from the arbora tree

The arbora filled my otti and instead of rice, there were pails of sand

Pails of sand in my otti, and thunder and lightning in the skies above me

Already the monsoons upon us so quickly! And husk bhakris for the journey!

Now my vhani gives me some old sheets instead of the customary volli

The volli made from a beautiful cane weave to protect me from the rain

If it rains what use will this old cotton sheet be?

 

Oh rain gods please shower your blessings upon me!

Upon me my mother’s and father’s blessings upon me!

If my brother hears my song he will surely come to me!

If my brother sees my tears he should not see I am weeping!

For my tears the rains will hide

O how heavy is the sand in my otti

Oh no, the brother has heard his sister’s song

A sister’s voice that he knows so well

“Sister mine, tell me. Who has given you arbora fruit and sand in your otti?

“Drop your sari end down and toss all this into the sea.

“Thank goodness our parents are not alive for this day to see.

“Come back home and I will see… what your vhani has to say to me”.

“I wasn’t thinking,” says my dear vhani. “I am so very sorry”.

“My house is filled with grain, coconut and fruit from the field and you have put inedible fruit and sand in her otti,” says my brother to my vhani.

My vhani gets to her feet. She rushes off to the market in Sankhelim.

She comes back from the market with a new red sari,

She lovingly puts new bangles on my wrist

My wrists are now filled with music, my glass bangles jingle and jangle

A new sari and a new blouse piece, kohl to line my eyes and for my hair a wreath of jasmines

On my forehead a red bindi, a dot of turmeric and a shower of petals

I feel like a new bride again

This day a new bride is leaving her brother’s house!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! This time the new bride is being sent to her new house

By a loving brother and a loving vhani

 

 

*vhani is the Konkanni word for sister-in-law, a brother’s wife.

**bhakris are thick chapattis normally made from wheat or millet

***Five coconuts in the otti is a sign of the highest honour given to a married lady. Two coconuts are the norm.

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s our “go to” man on kaavi restoration?

I got our Panchgani houses painted this January after a gap of maybe four years. Now even I can’t be in three places at the same time so I had to issue instructions over the phone about area to be covered, colour, time schedules, etc. I had asked the painter to do the same terracotta as in the original century old house. Sensibly, though, I had asked him to do a small section as a sample and send it to me on Watsapp. I wasn’t ready for the shock. What he said was terracotta was a deep gaudy red that was nowhere near the beautiful, original orangey red of my Panchgani and Goa “tambdi maati” (red soil).

The original red had a deep emotional meaning for me. We grew up with it. For us, it was the colour of our blood. As children when we went to our Panchgani home on vacation up in the Western Ghats from the hot yellow soil flats of Baroda in Gujarat we would fill old cheese tins with our Panchgani soil and carry it back with us “to look at and to smell”. I know it is the same for all of us who live in Goa. The red soil of the land has a special meaning that few will understand. It has been evoked in song, in literature and in the arts. For me, that red from the laterite of the top layer of the land was terracotta.

Who has changed this definition? Go to the hardware store in your neighbourhood and see for yourself. When you ask for terracotta in paint or powder form you get a pot or packet that is this gaudy deep blood red that is nothing like the original. The trouble is that you cannot “doctor” the colour because it is so deep. It’s the dense version of somebody’s dense idea of terracotta. That is why when you pay a visit to the Shri Mahalaxmi Temple at Dhargalim, Pernem or to the Shri Morjai Temple at Morjim in North Goa you are in for a shock.

Both these temples, like many other kaavi art temples in Goa are said to have been restored. In the case of the Shri Morjai Temple, the trustees must be complimented for their good intentions. If you go on a popular tourist site and look up the temple you will see that the entire temple, exterior and interior was once painted a pink that would only look good on a strawberry. The original kaavi must have been washed over with a brush dipped in falooda from Badshah Cold Drink House at Crawford Market, Mumbai. The trustees have now reversed that at great expense and effort.

Since there are no kaavi artists that we know of in Goa, they called in Maltesh from Hungal in Karnataka who did the best he could and who, given the circumstances, did what he knew he could do. So the mix of falooda pink and strawberry sundae was removed and the original kaavi motifs highlighted in the new terracotta colour while the background was washed in white. It is an amazing transformation.

Kaavi is an undated art form that is uniquely Goan. It originated here in sacred Hindu spaces and spread from here to Karnataka and Maharashtra with motifs crossing borders from and back into Goa. It is a form of etching done on architectural walls to define sacred spaces in a home or a temple where the wall is lime plastered first and then a design sketched out. In the next stage the etching or scratching out of the design details is done and these are then filled in with kaav or finely sieved red soil mixed with charcoal powder to give the mixture body. Some binding agent is then applied to make this into a paste and the paste filled into the cavity. The whole design is then etched out again with a bodkin and smoothened out with soft fabric and/or a brush.

If you look at photos of the restored kaavi today you may not be able to tell but when you go to the temple and look closely, your discerning eye will be able to see that the original etching has been covered over with thick paint. I don’t have the technical details yet but perhaps after Maltesh applied the new terracotta paint it was not possible to fine tune the details in the drawings. Maybe they never thought about it. I have been on the phone with mason-artist and he says, “That is what we are doing in Karnataka”.

I am optimistic to a fault. So what is the good side? One, that the motifs and illustrations have been rediscovered under thick layers of pink. Second, that the trustees of the temple are keen on bringing out this art form and showcasing it to the world. Third, that there are some mason-artists keen on trying out the original technique and enthusiastic about undoing the damage done to the art form over the past years. This issue does raise a lot of questions, though. In fact, the more questions you ask the more questions you get. Who were the original kaavi artists? Were they members of the family? Masons who doubled up as artists? Debtors who wanted to pay back their landlords in art? Who inherits the legacy of this art? Who is our “go to” for kaavi art restoration if we want to do it the right way?

Sometimes we have the information and knowledge and we do not know how valuable it is. For example, a trustee we met at the Shri Morjai Temple, Morjim mentioned that the river Chapora met the sea on the edge of the temple once. “When you dig the ground you find sea shells and fish bones. This means the ocean was much closer in the old days than it is now”. This casual nugget of information for us is gold. Kaavi motifs are often aquatic in their renderings. There’s the small ocean wave, the big ocean wave, lotus buds, open lotus, fish. Art, architectural or otherwise, is a reflection of our surroundings, our environment and our social and cultural absorptions. It is up to the viewer of this art to look for the deeper meaning behind the creative process, to appreciate its value and to preserve it for more appreciation.

The appreciation of kaavi as a Goan art form has a long way to go. For a start, however, let us collectively appreciate the humungous effort of the stakeholders of the temples in Goa who have recognised this art form as being valuable. Their effort needs to be appreciated as much as the art. It’s beautiful, it’s true, it’s our “tambdi maati” and it’s Goan.

 

 

 

 

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!