Incidents at the Christening

Holy Family Cathedral, January 1958
The Christening

The nine o’clock Mass finished about 10 minutes ago but there were still quite  a lot of people still milling around and the grounds were abuzz with some low-voiced chatter in Konkani (the Goan national language) and the somewhat drone of the young English. This was sometimes rhythmic in its clarity, its exquisite gramma and punctuated by voices who command of the English language was still wearing its L-plates. That was the young adults and mature adults. The children were running around with gay (not the kind of gay the modern person is likely to imagine) abandon and creating the jam and treacle sweet din with their happy voices, their jubilant laughter and pat, pat, patter of running feet sometimes screeching to a halt, the noise somewhat  lessened the loose murram earth underfoot. 

There was also a large cemented compound adjoining the classrooms on the southern boundary. Parked fairly close to the classrooms were a few cars, these belonged to those Goans who were doing well enough to earn a motor vehicle. Others could only look on these cars with admiration, joy, celebration, pride … and a few with misplaced and unwarranted envy.

The reason that most people who remained after Mass were parading in better than their Sunday best was because there was indeed a solemn occasion to be birthed soon. Manel Hippolito Fraciscano D’Cunha, the three week old pride and joy of Orlando and Saibina D’Cunha. This pride and joy was multiplied 10 times because on the previous 10 occasions when the D’Cunhas had cause to celebrate Christenings, the subjects to be baptised had been all girls. Mr D’Cunha was beaming with a pride only a father who has finally after 14 years had finally achieved the birth of a son.
Immediately his wife, Saibina, had given the birth the equivalent to child a notch or two below a royal prince (at least in his eyes), he prayed like hell (not there is a particularly unsuitable term, considering the ceremony which will gather one more soul into the holy Christian kingdom, a with a permanent placed booked if he is holy and without sin) to the Good Lord never to bless his wife again with another child. She had wearied of child bearing and now that her job had been made complete with the arrival of Manel she was hoping that she might have to put up the shutters so to speak. That was her dilemma, if she did put up her shutters that may give the God-abiding Orlando reason to find release elsewhere. Saibina had been convinced for many that the then young widow Mirabel always wanted to get her clutches into Orlando. 

Often at various functions, both at the club and in the homes of friends, Saibina often had seen Mirabel slip her arms around his neck in full view of everyone. Once when she questioned Orlando, he had laughed it off and reassuring her: “You are my wife until I die. She is nothing but someone to be pitied a little. Her husband Minguel died so young.” Nonetheless Mirabel was always cosying up to him. Saibina told Orlando to tell her to “Go away”. How could he be so cruel? He asked Saibina. He put her arms around her and took her to bed. That night they made daughter No.9. When the child, Mildredinia, was born, he asked Saibinia, “See, how much I love you.” Saibina, in turn, had blushed a bit, as much as the aching back would allow her.
The night before the Christening, the ninth and final night of the Novena to our Lady of the Milagrosa (never understood what that really meant, Our Lady of the Miracle?), Saibina had asked Father Thomas O’Shannahan to perform the ancient Catholic rite of cleansing both the body and the soul of the nominated person. This rite of Cleansing was designed to ensure that the subject did not err either physically or mentally. The subject was virtually and permanently hypnotised into believing without reservation that should he sin, either by boy or by thought, he was guaranteed a permanent place in Hell.
Hence, in spite of the aching backing, the pain in her abdomen, and persistent light headache, Saibina wore a somewhat holy smile on her face that day. She even let her veil slip down her head … about three quarters of the way. This was not an issue. Only widows, paid wailers and mourners at funerals, others who felt holier than the rest or closer to God, wore the veil down to the tips of their noses. This was not just holy bravado, many believed in the intensity of achieving the Catholic version of Nirvana.

Even though she was a mother of a mixed football team (in numbers at least), Saibina had lost only just a little of her Goan elegance but today she seemed to get it all back. She wore a sky blue sari, dotted with charming gold leaf stars and the length of her sari had an inch-wide strip of gold leaf running the length. At either ends of the sari, there were beautiful braids of sky blue, white and gold. She wore a blouse whose darker shade of blue seemed to enhance both her sari and her midriff and her breasts. Like most Indian women, Saibina walked with an eloquently elegant step which is not learnt but one is born with, part of the DNA … sort of.

Orlando with his short and back sides haircut, his double breasted suit, a dark coffee coloured one, white shirt with a maroon tie, looked a reasonably successful tailor, which he was.
As the family gathered around the baptismal font, the ten girls in almost identical dresses, all very pretty in blue, with mum and dad and the dozing man of the moment and all the friends and relations, Father O’Shannahan and his four servers made a somewhat ceremonial entrance. The first thing he did as to bless the crowd with tiny drops of holy water. From that point on everything went like clockwork except for the God Father who seemed to forget where he was and what his lines were. He got a little help from the God Mother and Francisco Joao Baptista who gave him a staunch dig into his side while whispering the correct response.

At the end of the ceremony, the seemingly hours of congratulations, with each woman present seemingly hijacked the newly baptised Manel. Once the din had died down, everyone, other than those that had arrived by car, trooped away on foot away from the Cathedral. Orlando had arranged with Damaciano Carmelito Dias to drive him, his wife and Manel home. The girls would walk home.

The celebrations would take place in the D’Cunhas two bedroomed flat in Ainsworth Road, off Campos Ribeiro Avenue, opposite the centre hotel. There was ample room in front of the flat and Orlando had erected an army-surplus tent.

Arthur D’Costa had arrived with his rebec (violin), Alec Fernandes had brought his miniature drum set, and there were fellows I had not met before. Among them was an accordionist who would later belt out some exquisite tangos but because of the turf underfoot, one or two or three folks played “let’s kiss the ground.” Diego D’Mello was at his best on his trumpet and Pedro Edwardo was twinkling his fingers on the clarinet. Later on, some of the teenagers brought out their harmonicas and mouth organs and joined as much as they could. Oh I forgot, Big Max (aka Maxwell D’Costa) was there with his double bass.

All in all everything was set for a morning (of what was left of it) and afternoon of Konkani songs and dances.
The word Dekhni means beauty in Konkani. In this dance various women or girls who act as 'devdasis' or servants of God and perform around a lovely woman who is the main character in the dance.
The dance is performed to various percussions and has a story line to the dance. This dance and song has been composed by the Christians who were earlier Hindus. The famous Bollywood song ' ghe ghe ghe ghe re, ghe re saiba' from the film 'Bobby' has been influenced by this song and dance form. (Spider blog)
There were those never to be forgotten songs: Tabde Roza, Ya Ya Mayaya, Tuzo Mog, Besao tuje … Goa Amchem and more dances like the Dhalo which is dances by women late in the evening with songs of religious and social themes.
Then of course there is always the Kunbi dance of the peasants of Goa, especially in the south.

So it goes on and on until at the very end there are toasts, after toasts, special songs for the christening, litanies, special hymns for the day until everything comes to a drunk end with a song that goes something like Viva re Viva …
That is the music.

Food and traditional Goan sweets are another matter, especially the sweets. For a feast like the christening baking begins weeks before the actual day and sometimes involves the whole of the extended family. Similarly with the food, Sorpatel (one of the great pork dishes), chicken caldin, fish caldin, chicken xacuti, samosas, beef croquettes, double and triple layered sandwiches, pestalines, pork sausages (on a par with sorpotel in popularity), pillau, beef vindaloo, the unbeatable prawn curry, a fish curry, rechado fish (fish half fillet and fillet with a special masala), and a million other dishes. The memory of the Goan cuisine will leave your mouth watering for centuries.
So after all the drink (especially Goan feni distilled from the apple of the cashew nut and of course the requisite scotch and the local Tusker beer, Wincarnis for some of the women) and the delicious food, everyone it seems is fairly well sozzled.

There were three incidents that were typical of most Goan functions either generic to the mother country or peculiar to the colony of Kenya. I suspect it is the former.
In one corner: Angelino Faustos (Fusco - fart) was boiling like a witch’s cauldron, red hot from the bottom up. Opposite him Stephen (Coito “axe”) Fernandes was doing his best to remain standing up straight and pretending to look reasonably sober.
Fusco said, in a rather heated fashion, mixed with some hurt and possibly feeling sorry for himself because he felt his friend had double-crossed him: “Coito, you are a real bastard you know. A real rotten poppot!”
“Fusco, you are drunk and you are made. Arrey, babdia (drunk), why you say such things? I am your friend.”
“If you are my friend, why you were pressing your face against Christalina’s face.”
“Because she liked it.”
“Arrey bastard, you know we are almost like married.”
“Yes. Almost like. But not yet married.”
“Arrey ducor (pig) (and expletives beyond comprehension to non-Konkani speakers. There was mention of mother and father), you know I have already spoken to her mother …
“But Lina has not said “yes”.
At that moment all hell broke loose. Fusco turned his body into a windmill and all arms and legs came smashing at Coito who was very quickly rubbing his face against the dirt and Fusco was giving him a real thumping. A whole bunch of guys dived in separate the two. Coito kept screaming: Hold me, hold me … I want to take out his heart and his stomach.”
“Come,” said Fusco. “I will show you Lina.”  After Orlando and bunch of the elders (most of them inebriated themselves) arrived to scream “disgrace”, “disgrace”. Calmer minds becalmed Fusco and Coito.
Last word with Christalina: “Arrey Fusco … go make a fusco somewhere else. You are a disgrace.”

The second incident was not even an incident. It had the younger boys and girls in stitches and the old folks going “tchch, chichh, schuch …Saiba Bog us (God Save us).
Curly-haired George Erasmus D’Sa, who was in Form Six and heading for university, was dancing with Mirabel. The band was playing Blue Moon and both George and Mirabel were not gazing for the skies but stuck head to head with their lips accidentally touching, she turning away with a blush before resuming the position. He was getting ever bolder and pulling her closer with the minimum of effort.
All these moments of perceived romantics were closely watched by George’s mother Georgina. After about five minutes, she had enough. She rocket herself through the dance floor and reached her son and his momentary armour.
Georgina screamed: “You harlot, prostitute, have you no shame. You are 40 years older than this young innocent boy. Why are you rubbing yourself against him? Why are you spoiling his innocence? Get out, get out!”
Very quickly those dancing near the couple and others gather around them. Orlando rushed to Georgina’s aid. “Nothing is wrong,” he told her. She screamed: “Are you blind.” With that Orlando quickly ushered Mirabel and walked her out of the house and to her home about 10 minutes away.
When he got back, most of the people were leaving.
But, Saibina was waiting for him. “You got your two minute thrill with her.”
“Darling, that is nonsense. I only made sure she got home safely.”
“Why did you have to do it?”
“Never mind, it will never happen again.”
“Yes never mind, tonight do your never mind  yourself. I will sleep with the girls.”