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Cyprian Fernandes: Evoking memories of a bygone era

Memories evoked by “Stars Next Door” by Cyprian Fernandes

Book Title: Stars Next Door Author/Editor: Cyprian (Skip) Fernandes Publisher: Goa,1556  279 pages   Cost: Rs. 600  AUD$25 (Postage extra) 165 photographs (many full-plate). The photographs alone are worth the cost of the book! Ordering information available from: Cyprian Fernandes – e-mail: skipfer@live.com.au In Canada, contact: John Noronha – e-mail: johnnoronha72@gmail.com ; Cell: 647-643-4029; In the Toronto area, John’s land line # is 905-273-4029. Towards the end of February, John will be visiting his daughter in Calgary and he will have copies of the book with him. Contact him to reserve a copy as he does not have many left.

By and large, Goans are a hardworking community who take our responsibilities seriously. When a hard day’s work is done, however, we like to relax. In the second half of the last century in East Africa, there was an unprecedented outburst of achievement in two spheres of activity that Goans have always been passionate about: sports and music. In both spheres, a dazzling array of outstanding performers emerged in our relatively small community, many gaining local and  national recognition and a surprising number achieving international stature. 

As I was born in 1936, I was a teenager caught up in the explosion of athletic and sporting talent that took place in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I loved all sports and would gladly have sacrificed my academic grades to be a soccer, hockey or athletics star. I participated enthusiastically in a wide range of sports but, alas, I was destined to be mediocre at best in all. I hero–worshipped the Nairobi Heroes and was there for every game they played. I took it all in, the intensity of the game, the consummate skill of the players, the fierce loyalty of the supporters and the inevitable brawls that inevitably broke out at the end of many games. One way or the other, you got your money’s worth, My favourite player was an Egyptian, Mohd. Ghalib, elegant, skilful, an absolute delight to watch. He made us aware that great things were happening in the sport in other parts of Africa.

My classmates included Anthony Vaz, Reggie Monteiro, Tom Fernandes. On the hard-baked murram patch of ground near the Railway Quarters in Nairobi, I got to play with the likes of Alu Mendonça, Silu Fernandes, Hilary Fernandes, Edgar and Egbert Fernandes who were destined for greatness. In the classroom, Mr. Anthony D’Souza, my inspiring English teacher, introduced me to the magic of words when strung together in a skilful manner, the beauty of poetry, the genius of Shakespeare. The brilliant hockey coach that he was, I would much rather he transformed me to a hockey wizard like my friends who were heading for Olympic glory against such titans as India and Pakistan.

Anyway, that is the background I brought to “Stars Next Door,” a copy of which I received a few days ago. I have devoured the book from cover to cover and am now returning to spend more time on each of its 42 “chapters,” savouring the memories that each chapter brings. 

“Stars Next Door” is a rambling compendium chronicling the achievements of many persons I knew and several of whom I was proud to call my friends. It is inevitable that as their stories are told, many of their non-Goan contemporaries will make an appearance. However, this book is essentially focused on Goans who achieved highly and earned glory for themselves and their community through their talents and efforts. The author, Cyprian Fernandes, as a sportsman himself, and as a Sports reporter for the Nation newspapers, knew many of the people in the book personally. The
scope of the book is  daunting, however, as it covers over half a century of accomplishments in a wide range of endeavour in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. As if that were not enough of a challenge, the story continues in other countries, as Goans were forced by the winds of change to depart from the East African countries they had grown to love to seek their fortune in other lands, primarily Britain, Canada and Australia,. 

To cope with the immensity of the task, Cyprian has chosen to invite several guest writers to cover areas of their expertise or where they had personal knowledge of a topic. Thus we have, for instance, John Noronha very ably covering the sports scene in Uganda, and Hilary Fernandes writing a personal and insightful tribute to Anthony D’Souza, a man that so many of us found to be a great mentor, on and off the field of play. Such was my personal debt to Mr. Anthony, as we called him, that I would have bought the book even if it had only that tribute and nothing else.

Quite by chance, I am one of the guest writers. One of musicians that Cyprian Fernandes wanted to feature was George DeSouza who began his career in Dar es Salaam, emigrated to Canada, honed his skills as a troubadour with cross country tours in the U.S.A. and Canada before settling down to a 25-year stint as the resident entertainer in Dick Turpin’s Pub at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. As he is now happily retired in Lethbridge where I also happen to live, I was happy to interview him and do the write-up that appears in the book.

Besides George, you will also find many other talented musicians whose bands were in great demand for social events. Individuals like Henry Braganza were popstars in their own right. I would have liked some mention of the Goans whose skill with the violin (Tony Alvares, Aires Campos and  Albert Rodrigues), the woodwind (Anthony “Oboe” Noronha), and the cello (Braz Rodrigues) made them prominent in Kenya musical circles. When they emigrated, they continued their love of classical music with the London Philharmonic, the Royal Ballet and other orchestras in Britain. They and other musicians of their ilk deserved mention. 

One of the guest contributions is “Growing Up With The Cup,” a 26-page treatise by Hartman de Souza, a Nairobi-born journalist who moved to India in 1967 and is now based in Pune. The link with Goan sports and athletics in East Africa is a bit tenuous but one could not be passionate about any sport in Kenya without following what was happening on the world stage – and what better time for that then the Fifties and the Sixties? “Growing Up With The Cup” is an extremely well written analysis of how in 1958 the Brazilian football wizards led by the Black Pearl, Pele, demolished the set-in-stone European 2-3-5 system with their 4-2-4 system and revolutionised the Beautiful Game forever. Thank you for including this article, Cyprian. It was like a half-time entertainment – one to sit back and enjoy!

“Stars Next Door” has its flaws which a good editor and proof reader given more time could have eliminated. Also, I can think of a few other Goans who merited inclusion. If you can think of some, let Cyprian know. I am sure that this book will be a sell out and Cyprian is going to have to bring out a second edition in which he may be able to use our suggestions. Everyone of my vintage and younger should have a copy of this book. I find myself leafing through it again and again, stopping when I come to some well-remembered name – or one that I had not heard of before. I study the photographs, find out more about friends. Take Jack Fernandes, for instance. I came to know Jack in Nakuru where I was a teacher in the Sixties. Jack played soccer with the Nakuru Dynamos. He was a joy to watch with his body swerve, speed and ball control. Then I saw him perform on a stage! He was a natural – a good singer, a great actor whose every move was followed by the audience. He was a Charlie Chaplin-like comic with a terrific sense of timing and able to bring out
the full gamut of emotions in his audience. The more I came to know him, the more I admired his many talents. Little did I realise until I was reading the account of the greatest Goan sprinter ever, Seraphino Antao, that Jack was also one of Mombasa’s elite squad of world-class sprinters running with the likes of Seraphino, Albert Castanha, Joe Faria, Pascal Antao and Alcino Rodrigues. With all his abilities, Jack remained a modest, unassuming man with a smile that endeared him to all who met him – truly a Star Next Door.

To say that I have enjoyed “Stars Next Door” would be an understatement. I know that I shall return to the book frequently to renew my acquaintance with that wonderful group of men and women who distinguished themselves in the last fifty or sixty years in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and whose achievements will inspire future Goans to build on that legacy.

Thank you, Skip, for bringing this book to life!

Francis Noronha Lethbridge, February 2018