Memories of another Panjim...
I could write about Panjim forever, with no objectivity or clarity, but a chuckle and a tear. I won't mention that spectacular cyclone that lifted our neighbours' roof off and sent it clattering into the angry river flowing under the Patto bridge.
Memories of another Panjim...
By Isabel de Santa Rita Vas
She's quaint, they explain. How picturesque, they tell you. And you blink and take another good look. You've never thought of her in such adjectives. To you, she's full of nouns and verbs, she's your home town, where you've always done things, and who's mapped your life in subtle or more determined ways. To me, Nova Goa, Cidade de Goa, Panjim or Panaji are not sign-boards of plush hotels or sheeth-koddi eating-houses. They are the ever changing make-up your cosy mum wears when she goes to town.
I could write about Panjim forever, with no objectivity or clarity, but a chuckle and a tear. I could take vantage points from roof-tops I've climbed, to river parapets I’ve run on, could describe old schools and frisky school friends so exciting that I invariably prayed I'd fail the year, and please-God-let-me-remain-in-this-same-class-next-year. But I won't. I won't mention that spectacular cyclone that lifted our neighbours' roof off and sent it clattering into the angry river flowing under the Patto bridge. Some memories one does well not to share.
But lest I be accused of being excessively possessive, I shall establish my generosity and equanimity by letting you flick through some of these dog-eared memories. Maybe I shall tell you about sounds, about buying and selling, about moving around, about seasonal events, and if you have a stomach for more such jumble-sale stuff, then I'll show you some great faces from this album, all of a half-century old.
Panjim, to me, has been a melodious city.
The alvorada or the cheerful notes of a brass band at dawn on festive occasions -- this is one of the most gorgeous sounds of my childhood, almost as heart-warming as the bulbuls in the glowing sunrise one is too lazy to watch on other days.
The alvorada would be played by the Panjim Police Band wending its way round town on mornings of celebration and if there's an antonym to alarm-clock, here you heard it: a harmony-clock for the slumbering Panjimite. The same band would often play of an evening in the various garden band-stands, and all of us would crowd around, running in the periphery of our parents, waving out to small friends, craning our necks for a glimpse of the sparkling trombone.
A different sound, but oh-so-homey, is the song of the woman carrying a huge basket of salt on her head, or often following a gaddo full of salt, driven by her husband: "Mitt-zaiem-gue-e-e-e…"
To us sweaty kids swinging a school-satchel at noon (hey, nothing like the heavy-weight back-breaking monsters our kiddies today lug around ) the staccato call of the 'ice-fruit-walla', "aiiice-croatttt!" was irresistible, until we spied the sweaty vendor of the yellow and red lollies, lustily slurping them and smuggling them back into the ice-box.
In later years, a more natty young man had acquired himself a fancy hand-cart and went around dispensing mutton patties that he hawked in the most Mediterranean accents, “Pasteis de cabrito….”
The campa who did the rounds, bell and walking-stick in hand, announcing to the neighbourhood the death and funeral of a townsman or woman, he gave charm to the fact of death. The crows at even-tide, specially around the Campal river banks are the signature tune of holiday time, for those were the days when everybody went to Miramar of an evening to meet friends, listen to music, savour some juicy oysters, and scramble into the lacy edge of the waves. The town pealed church bells, carreira horns, and the hopeful sorticar's (lottery vendor) call "sort-abeitt...".
Looking back, the business of buying and selling was not a crass soul-less affair, but a ritual full of textures, smells, sound effects and light and dark, and people, one-to-one sort of folks that a small town accommodates.
Fish came to the house, or the fisher-ladies did -- who ever went to the market, I never knew there existed a Panjim market until I was a full-grown adult. The women-vendors and the women-buyers from the house had a daily ritual by the back steps, exchanging greetings and news, examining the visvonn or the bangddo with experienced hands, haggling for formality’s sake over the price.
As we helped hoist the heavy drippy basket to the lady's sturdy head, food and fellowship had been shared. If there were nice calvan (clams) this morning, some would be sent to the lady next door, who, granny said, could do with them.
To get our load of firewood, we walked downstairs to the river-front and purchased it from the boat that docked right below our verandah next to the Patto bridge; or from the bullock-cart that drove past; and for lighter fuel we carried a gunny sack to the carpenter next door for the huge loads of sawdust that he sold us for a few coins -- the odour of just-sawn wood, the flying curls of shavings and the “bai-go” greeting of the carpenter is all fuel for joy.
For paper and ink bottles we walked down the street a few meters to the Bholo shop, where Mr. Bhale somehow managed to locate for you whatever you needed from his cascading mountain of stationery. The chaos in the little one-door shop had to be seen to be believed, and we kids at home were accused by our mother of being disorganized and a lost cause, in short a complete 'bholo'.
For dress materials, we visited the Armazens Vaglo, where the older Mr. Vaglos, good friends of our grandfather, measured out yards of flowered prints for our Easter dress and saved a silk fan or a box of sweets and little posies of paper flowers for us at agarbatti-Diwali time. For 'bojes' we went to Café Real and for an ice-cream the place was Esquimo.
The celebrations seem to have been a-plenty: Christmas was mid-night Mass and visiting neighbours and relatives and sharing news of family and good wishes. Diwali was doing the rounds of the shops to say hello and good luck. Chathurti was a visit to all the beautifully decorated shrines of Ganapati within the houses of neighbours.
Lent was full of long winding candle-lit processions and opa-garbed men shouldering life-size dramatic statues, wending through the streets of the town. December was a shower of fireworks by the Church square and kaddio-boddio and white-sugar-cashewnut-sweets from Divarkar’s stall at the fair. Carnival was small brothers armed with cocotes, and the commencement of the school year in June was the glorious smell of new rain and freshly baked books and wagging fingers of parents, and splashy puddles to run through on the way back home.
Reminiscing about how we traveled, in, around and out of town, I am transported to another world, one that moved more leisurely, perhaps more thoughtfully.
My father's Morris Minor was so much a part of our childhood that it held no excitement for me -- unlike the previous -- Citroen? --- that needed an energetic manivela or henddel to chug it into motion.
The carro de cavalo was poetry pure and simple, since our grandparents never came back home from their evening drive in the carro pulled by a lovely pair of horses, without bringing something exciting to be tucked into our childish hands: a box of crayons, some peppermint.
But mostly we walked, to Church, to school, to the dentist. We got to know the town, and it grew close to us -- footpath, gully, hill, river, and sea-front. My dream was to travel by carreira -- those squat little buses that have quite vanished from our landscape -- which I finally did when I started commuting to College at Miramar, for the princely fare of four annas.
The bullock-cart trotted downtown too, laden with Mangalore tiles, or salt and what else? Single-bullock carts for passengers were more common after we had crossed the ferry to visit relatives in Divar. The rivers were busy thoroughfares from dawn to dusk.
Tonas (or larger boats) transported merchandise to town, canoas (or little canoes) carried a couple of people in them.
We set out in a lancha (launch) well-stocked with a lunch packet to visit our own village of Aldona; it was the ferry-boat that took us to Betim; the patmarim sailed in the distance and was excitedly pointed out to us, and the barge pregnant with mine ore sailed coldly by. The Bombay Steamer was a thrill beyond compare, and if you were coming home from Bombay for your holidays, your heart swam ahead of the boat, dreaming of the glint of tears in your parents’ eyes, of cashews and mangoes and the rang-te-teng band at the Chapel feast in Aldona.
The city was clean, though I have no idea who swept the streets. I remember no water shortage, ever -- we had plenty of wells that were later deliberately choked when the building fever began -- and no power cut, ever (the charm of candle light and petromax was reserved for the villages).
I never saw the town flooded even in the heaviest downpour. The houses had what an architect friend calls a good connection with the sky and a generous amount of protection and shade from its verandahs for the passerby. In the late 50s and 60s it had a fair quantum of road traffic but no real din on the streets.
Panjim was full of people -- or so I thought as a ten year old. My parents knew so many people. I always wondered how I would get to know all these nice folks on the streets who waved hello and pecked us on both cheeks. I decided that probably my parents would some day hold a large meeting and introduce me to all the people they knew. Alas, they never got round to it... but I still receive my quota of hellos, thank God.
Faces from my childhood are wrinkled with love and grace. Professor Kenkro who taught us drawing at the Liceu; Venkatesh, the old man with and unbelievable little queue on his tonsured head, who always came from Aldona with coconuts by boat; the six-footer of a family tailor whose name was Alfaiate Comprido (the long tailor), who remembers my brothers' names even today; the bhangui lady whose tough lot was to carry the night-soil in a can to the river-front; Laurente, our cook, who composed tiatr scripts in the attic. Friends, family, domestic help and a small town that was safe and home.
Decades later, Panaji is more democratic today. More cosmopolitan: many languages, many ideas. The handshakes cut across many old barriers. But I must confess the old town of the old days had a charm all her own.
It strikes me that it was a kind town that harboured my childhood and youth, probably a place of some privilege for me, a middle-class child.
Was I insensitive to those who must've been on the margins? A vague twinge gnaws at me. But the town did not isolate me, or so I hope. I am grateful for the safety, the human face of a small town, the roads, windows, doorways, river-ways and sea-ways she graciously provided to a child busy growing, asking, questing and -- quietly -- painting the town red. (ENDS)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ISABEL DE SANTA RITA VAS teaches English at the Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar. She's a member of the Mustard Seed Art Company, member of the NGO Positive People for HIV/AIDS awareness, care and advocacy, and a member of the Research Institute for Women, Goa.
This essay was first published in PARMAL, the annual journal of the Goa Heritage Action Group, under the title 'Painting The Town Red', from where it is being reprinted with permission. PARMAL is an easily-recommedable buy, priced at Rs 100. and can be purchased from the GHAG at ghaggoa at rediffmail.com or www.goaheritage.or See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/goaheritage