Thursday, December 31, 2009

ROMANCE OF A PUNJABI IN GOA - Nostalgic Recollection!

I had an opportunity to visit Goa in May-June 1965 for the first time. Goa had been liberated from the Portuguese rule only four years before. So it was still a ‘virgin’ in the sense that the “outsiders” had still not come in hordes to settle down here. What prompted me to visit this newly liberated colony was my daily interactions with my Goans friend whom I always found simple, frank and friendly. Even during the Christmas and the New Year I used to have a whale of a time with them and visited them at Byculla, Clare Road, Mazagaon, Nesbit Road, Mathar Pacadi, Rosary Church and Dockyard areas of Bombay. What sent my heart aflutter was that it was so easy to make friends with the Goan young women who were charming, attractive, daring and, at the same time, so unassuming. When my friend, Cajetan, offered me to take me to Goa, I couldn’t refuse him.

As far as I remember now, there was no direct railway connection from Mumbai to Goa at that time. The popular route was by ship. So one early morning, Cajetan and I went to the Ferry Wharf, locally called “Bhaucha Dhakka”, that is located in Dockyard-Mazagaon area. I think it was 10 a.m., when we boarded the S.S. Rohidas. This was a very small ship by today’s standard and nothing to marvel about. After the ship was full of passengers, the ship began its journey to Panjim or Ponje (Panaji), after a couple of hours, to the sound of hootings. We were so happy to be on board!

The ship began slowly and steadily, increasing its speed as it cut across the sea-waves. To my dismay, I found that the ship was hardly steady most of the time during its course. My initial excitement of travelling by the ship began to wane as I felt the nauseated. I was not alone. The sea-sickness had gotten to many passengers. I avoided eating anything for the fear that I might vomit. Thus I was better off than those passengers who were vomiting unrestrained. It was a sickly sight. When the day was done, we slept on the deck under the summer skies of starry night. Sleeping next to me was a very beautiful young woman who had just her granny for company. She was fairer than most Goan girls and I learnt that she was of Portuguese descent. We hardly talked much since she spoke no English. We had some conversations with the granny though, who spoke in Konkani which I could easily understand and even speak to a fair extent during those years – thanks to the Goan neighbours at home in Mazagaon.

My concern was to get off the ship as soon as we landed in Goa. I was counting on sleep to escape the sea-sickness. Gradually I drifted into the arms of morpheus. I was woken up by my Goan friend who said we had arrived. I looked at my watch. It was only 4 a.m. Hurriedly I got up. There was no sign of the dock since it was dark. For some reason, the ship had anchored off-shore. The wait was excruciating. Finally, the darkness gave way to the rosy dawn and then the golden morn. I don’t remember whether it was another boat that took us all ashore. We had arrived at Panjim!

Our destination was Old Goa Velha where my friend’s aunt stayed. I don’t remember much of travel details now. We got into a public motor-vehicle, a kind of bus, called “caminhaao” and paid our fair to the ‘Klinder’ who acted as the conductor-cum-cleaner of the bus. The bus had a limited seating arrangements. My friend wanted to show me the kind of taxis that used to ply during the Portuguese rule some of which could still be spotted. He pointed out to a taxi. It was a black Chevrolet. “That?” I asked incredulously. We didn’t have that kind of a car let alone cabs in Bombay then. Well, after some ten passengers had boarded our motor-vehicle, the driver switched on his ignition key and we set off. Even women travelled alone. The weather was pleasant and the air fresh. The roads were clean and tarred. Along the way, some people got down from the bus where they wanted to, while some more boarded it. I noticed that there were no bus stops and if anyone wanted to board the bus he would just call out “Rau Re” (Hey Wait!). As we progressed, I caught the whiff of fresh cashew-nuts wafting in the air. I still remember that heavenly smell. I could see miles of cashew gardens. “That’s Santacruz,” my friend pointed out. I was only aware of the Santacruz area of Mumbai. I just smiled at him. Finally, after some 10 kilometres, we arrived at Old Goa Velha.

I have no idea what’s Goa Velha like at present, but when I saw it was just a hamlet, not even a village. There were clusters of houses at different locations, each location removed from the other. There were paddy fields running by the side of some houses. There were also mangroves and palm trees. Across the field I could see some villa - a rare sight those days - which evidently belonged to rich guy. This was the time when Goans had not migrated to the Gulf and elsewhere for jobs and money. The Portuguese had not built any industry there despite five centuries of their presence. While departing, they had even damaged the constructions they had built such as the bridges across the rivers. This Goa predominantly belonged to the poor and the middle-class. I knew many of the women who used to come from Goa to Bombay for jobs as Ayahs while the educated ones found themselves the jobs of a Governess or some office jobs. Men were mostly sailors or had jobs in the hotels of Mumbai. Some were musicians, advocates, stage-actors and sportsmen. A few were wealthy and we are not talking about the Goan industrialists. When men came for jobs, or even when some students came for higher studies to Bombay, they stayed in a club called “Kud”. I had an opportunity to visit some such Kuds in Dockyard area, Dhobi Talao, and Nesbit Road at Mazagaon way back in the early Sixties. Football is very popular sport for the Goans. I used to play football with some of my goan friends in the compound of St.Mary’s High School at Nesbit Road. I also knew a star-player who used to play for some Goan Company called Dempo. Having broken his knee he was out of the game.

I remember that in Goa Velha I used to sojourn in the house of my friend’s aunt. The family and the people were extremely polite and friendly. In the morning I used to draw water from a well and have bath there just in small shorts, right in the centre of the dwellings that surrounded the well. After the bath, I used to drink a glass of sweet and fresh nectar that had been extracted from the palm tree. The family was also deferential about my eating habits. I used to enjoy a typical Goan xitt-kodi, i.e. boiled rice and fish curry, for my meals. Sometimes I visited the neighbours who always welcomed me and were courteous to a stranger like me. Most of the times I sauntered through the country-side. On such occasions I usually passed  by a quaint structure which had an inscription “Casa De Pova” or some such thing, and the post-office there which always seemed so quiet. There was a market place where the locals used to sell fish in the morning. Rest of the day there was no one in the market. This market abutted the road where I had got down from the bus. Sometimes I used to go visiting the nearby historical sites such as cathedrals and churches. I remember on one such occasion I had an opportunity to see the remains of the 16th century missionary, St. Francis Xavier, which was kept in a crystal glass. My friend told me that such an exposition was rare and it happened once in 12 years. The evenings were usually dull for me since there was no electricity in the village at that time and so people tended to sleep early.

After a week, I had a chance to go to Vasco to visit another relative of my friend – this time the parents of my friend. Again, I am not aware of the current situation but the Vasco of 1965 was certainly different. The man of the house (one D’Cunha) lived with his wife, and two grown up children – a son and a daughter. He used to work in the docks there. My friend, Cajetan, was his eldest son who lived in Bombay as my father’s tenant.

Now this house was spacious single room, but made of wood and dry leaves. The floor was nothing but sand. In fact the entire area was sandy and interspersed with small coconut  trees. There was hardly any furniture. No radio to listen to. TV of course would take another ten years to come to India. Right next to the house were the walls of the Mazagaon Dock and I was pleasantly surprise for I had an impression that the Mazagaon Docks were only confined to Bombay. I liked my new sojourn. For one, there was electricity, and two, it was a big town though I never had an opportunity to explore it. I also liked this particular location because just about half a kilometer at the rear of the house there was the sea. It was sort of a lagoon which was a secluded place. Hardly any one came this side. So my friend and I enjoyed our swimming there in private.

While walking down to this lagoon we had to pass by a villa which, my friend told me, belonged to a German engineer and his Goan wife and their four daughters. This was the only other house there. On one such occasion we met those girls. One was very fair like a European, but no great shakes, and she was engaged to a boy. She had some airs about her. Younger to her was Celia or Cecilia (I don’t remember the exact name) who was about 18 years old. The third one was Ruby who was just 14 years old. The youngest one was just ten years old. Ruby too looked like a European. With curiosity they looked on me and my Konkani accent. The Konkani that I loved was the one spoken in the Bardes area of Goa since it was so easy to understand; but my accent could never match the local spoken dialect. They were glad to know that I was not a “Paklo”. Very often owing to my fair complexion and my Konkani accent, I was taken to be a ‘Paklo’ (Portuguese white) in Goa. In short, the term “Paklo” was not a favourable one, especially where females were concerned and I used to be embarrassed when someone in a function came up with a song that had these wordings: “TUKA PAKLO POITA BURAKANT GHALUN TONDU…”

These girls spoke English and Konkani too. I found Cecilia particularly attractive. It was evident that she had taken after her mother since her complexion was not white but tanned like hers. However, her tall young body was very much pronounced and shapely under the knee-length sleeveless frock that she wore. She was a picture of lusty and rustic youth, with longish black hair that fell over her shoulders and large black eyes that seemed to harbor some deep longings. I would never have remembered these lasses if it were not for an incident. One evening it so happened that when I was near their villa, It was getting dark and there was no such thing as street-light in this patch. Ruby invited me to the jeep that was parked outside their house. I went and sat in the jeep. Cecilia and Ruby sat on my either flank. Without any ado they began to explore my body. I could feel their hands all over me and certainly not in the right places. All the time the girls were giggling as if they were indulging in some innocent fun. I understood that the girls wanted to have fun.  However, I was too dumbfounded. It had been too sudden and I was not ready for this. I made some excuse, jumped out of the jeep, and came back to my shack. All night I kept on thinking  so much so that I have never been able to erase this incident from my life. I never breathed a word about this to anyone ever, i.e. uptil now. The next day I decided to sleep outside the shack and told my friend so. So when the night drew nigh, my friend put some fresh coconut leaves outside on the sand for me to sleep on. When I lay myself down for the night I was hoping that the girls would come up with a repeat performance of last evening. Alas! This was not to be.

Days lingered on lazily while the nights were alive with the desire of some unfulfilled romance. I did go round about the place sometimes crossing railway tracks to reach a public park there, but did not venture out too far. Sometimes, when I had nowhere to go and it became dull, I would sit under a coconut tree which was just by the side of the road and belt out songs.

Sometimes I would be emboldened to sing some Konkani songs that I knew such as from a hit Konkani film, Amchem Noxib, the lilting Molly number:

Mogaa assonk borem,
Jivit sukhi khorem,
Xitolkaichem varem,
Kalzan asta purem…..

I remember once that when I was singing KOI JAB RAAH NAA PAAYE – a Mohammed Rafi song from the 1964 movie, Dosti, a good motley crowd of passers-by gathered to listen and enjoy the song. His songs from Dosti were a nation-wide hit at that time and are still popular.  Incidentally, Mohammed Rafi  has given quite a number of Konkani songs too such as KITLEM SOBIT TU MARIA and BOM JESUCHEA CONVENTAN, both with Lorna, or the melodious KALZAC set to tune by Chris Perry, and other ‘cantaram’ including a mando and COMBEA SADARI, in early Seventies.

At times there were wedding invitations to attend to, and these too provided me with fun and entertainment. At one such wedding I remember to have picked up a young girl for a dance. When the band played a slow fox-trot music, she just melted into my arms so that literally I had to carry her around the floor. We never spoke, strangers that we were to each other. But the warmth that her body exuded then, I have never been able to forget. In weddings and other functions I always joined the crowd to sing the sentimental TAMBDE ROSA TUZE POLE… or ANV SAIBA POLTEDI VETAM…the chorus of which was copied in the 1973 Bollywood movie, Bobby: GHE GHE GHE GHE RE SAIBA….These, I gather are folk songs that have passed into the rich Goan culture.

Another favourite of mine was the song MANDOVI, MANDOVI which was very popular then. Its singer, Alfred Rose, was a huge name in Konkani entertainment history whose stage shows and music were always great hits. Mandovi, by the way, is the river near Panjim and the experience of crossing it was new to me what with so many people and even motor-vehicles in the ferry.  
The early Sixties were also the decade of my favourite western singers such as Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Connie Francis, Jim Reeves, The Cascades, The Echoes, The Everly Brothers, Pat Boone, Bobby Darin and others. The sound-track music of the movie, Come September, was an unending craze all over India.  I had also the good fortune of watching a new Konkani movie in some shanty theatre there. The movie was Nirmonn, which had a good story-line and excellent music. My favourite was a comedy song, CAZAR ZAUNC ASAA, which has meaningful lyrics meant for a person who wants to get married with anyone he can find – black or white, tall or short and is even ready to become a son-in-law who settles in wife’s home; but unfortunately has no luck because NOXIBA MOJE BOSLA MAZOR (i.e. a cat sits on his fate, meaning “bad luck”). This movie was so popular that a Hindi version was made with the title of Taqdeer that had hit songs of Mohammed Rafi. The heroine of Nirmonn, who happened to be Shalini, was once again given the heroine’s role in Taqdeer. A.Salaam of course was the director too. In the same theatre I also chanced to see a Hindi film, Man Mauji, starring Kishore Kumar and Sadhna, which had a popular number of Kishore Kumar: ZAROORAT HAI ZAROORAT HAI…

A Look-Alike Young Woman

The vacation was nearing end and soon it was time to bid goodbye to Vasco. I thanked my hosts and left for Old Goa Velha to spend the remainder of my holidays there. On the way I was given a rude shock by my friend. He revealed to me that Cecilia used to come every night to the place where I slept soundly outside the shack. A cry escaped my lip. What courage she must have mustered to leave her villa just to see me, to be with me, by 
the shack in the darkness of the nights! I had missed the true romance of my lifetime - the starry nights, the balmy breeze and the waving fronds , the bedding of  coconut leaves on the cool sand, all this with Cecilia by my side! Alas, this was never to be! As I thought about this, I felt as if someone had stabbed my heart though the fact was that I had been stabbed in the back by the conniving circumstances for which I also blamed Cajetan  rightly or wrongly.   I never forgave him for having concealed the fact. I also felt a deep pang of guilt so that I could never forgive myself!  I never had a chance to go back to her. I was not as courageous as her.  Now whenever I hear about Goa, all those old memories come flooding in and  I remember Cecilia.  At such times I pray that may God keep Cecilia in good health and spirit wherever she is, Amen! 


P.S. 4.2.2014:
It is rightly said that some truths are stranger than fictions. As if by some divine providence, I got the sad tidings through a reader of the above story that Cecilia died a few days ago.  She had been suffering from Cancer.  The news was not only painful and shocking but also astounding.  Astounding because after decades I was destined to know about her death.  I pray that may Cecilia's soul rest in everlasting peace, Amen!

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