By Cyprian Fernandes
(An old post)
There is an unwritten law that you don't denigrate the aged, the infirm, the sick, mentally and physically afflicted. This same gene is part of the Goan DNA and from a very early age children used to be taught this. Even more emphatically, children are taught to respect their elders and often called the elderly uncle or auntie. This is common throughout the world among close communities. In Australia, the Aborigines practise it with a gusto that is refreshing. In choosing to perpetrate the mindless insult by another so-called writer, I do it with both disappointment and shame that a fellow Goan should stoop so low. Who the heck gives anyone the right to disdainfully call someone a dodderer? Why is it that the pipsqueaks of this world who cause hurt by doing or saying (or writing in this case) the dumbest things? Or was it really a silly, fruitless exercise in riling the meek?
Roland Francis did not have Selma Carvalho in mind when he spoke of the antics of women of low esteem in his weekly column in the Goan Voice UK? Surely not? However, Selma did
refer to the East African Goans as dodderers and other unkind remarks in a recent Goa newspaper column. Shame on you Selma.
You have to be a contemporary of the dodderer to appreciate that he was once a warrior, a pioneer who was forced out of the comfort of his family home for nearly a century and transported to an alien country where he found no welcome but racist abuse and taunts. Worse he was a called a Paki while skinheads and white supremacists bashed him. He was for a long time "a black bastard" at work or in the streets of England. Whatever the pain and
the suffering, the dodderer persevered "for the sake of the children." Some could not take it and packed their bags for Goa only to return a short time later.
Often being blessed with a good command and an excellent accent in English, the dodderer found it fairly easy to slip into mainstream English life both in the private sector and the
public service. It was not long before the dodderer was commanding high salaries and high positions. It was also not long before the British were able discern between the different
brown skinned citizens. In Parliament, the dodderer and his tribe were recognised for their former colonial service, their quality of service, their loyalty to their colonial masters and if not welcomed with open arms they were accepted with hands across mouths and eyes.
The weather, unfortunately, was hard to handle. Having been born in a heavenly temperate climate, Britain's frozen winters were totally alien, especially for the older folk, soon to be called the dodderers. But they even overcame that, though never completely. There was some respite during the many visits to Goa where the dodderers lavished in sunshine
and home. However, the Wimpy kids, the fish and chips generation, could not handle the pig toilets or the authentic curry dishes.
The dodderers had to come to terms with that too and in the
end sacrificed visits to Goa for the family's sake. If in the very early days of migration in 1968, Goan cuisine was rare and hard to come by, it soon flourished as other brown
skinned entrepreneurs went about setting up spice shops, providing all the needed ingredients. It was also not long before families were subsidising their income by cooking food especially Goa sausages, sorportel, samosas, pasties and a variety of Goan delights. It took some doing to achieve the flourishing Goan food industry which is lauded among the best of cuisines.
Perhaps the Dodderer's greatest achievement is his children who have blossomed into adulthood with a university education that once was thought to be beyond some Goans'
reach. Today the sons and daughters of dodderers compete with the best globally in the sciences, cyberspace, academia, nuclear medicine, highly specialist surgery, engineering of
the highest calibre, music, and every other sphere of life. Young Goans are among the most gifted people on earth and many with Queens English accents! These new Goans, however, are less Goan than the average Goan. Not by intent, but by automatic assimilation. For all intents and purposes, they are British.
They honour their fathers and mothers, give tradition a modicum of salutation but honour the ways of their birth-right and the land of their birth. It is exactly the same in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand. It is only natural, evolution. A friend from Australia who had visited England recently remarked that "they sound like Poms, you can't tell the difference." Exactly, they are Poms and proud of it.
The East African Goan, Indian accent was forced by the colonial British government. They ordered that English was the only language to be spoken at home. No Indian, Goan vernaculars were allowed. There was a noble intent behind this would-be sinister edict. Some Goan kids were growing the butt of a thousand jokes as they directly translated
English from Konkani. The results were hilarious just as they were in the case of Hindi, Punjabi and other Sub-continental dialects.
Goans born after 1940, and some before that, were the lucky beneficiaries of an English accent exclusive to East African Goans and they cherished it. In my own case, having been
brainwashed somewhat by British and American movies and detective stories, I worked at giving full value to the letters L and R like the Scots but without the brogue.
I developed a slight twang that pleased radio and television producers and has remained true despite the ravages of living in the UK (sometimes I did sound more Queens English, or an English Midlander, depending on who I was with) or Australia, although I have developed tiny bits of strine and I am quite proud of it. I loved being on stage and being the master of ceremonies came natural to me from the age of 13 and my clear diction was my calling card. My youngest son Carl has taken MC-ing to much larger stages and audiences and to his own unique dimensions.
You marvel at the accents the young people speak these days. You know a Goans come from Liverpool, Manchester, Scotland, Ireland, London, by their accents. In some cases the brogue is thicker than mushroom soup. There are also those young adults who are now blessed with all the language gifts that make up Queens English and, if spoken without life's human foibles, it is delightful. The US kids are a credit to the different drawls from different parts of the US. The same can be said of your Goans from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Asia. Wherever, they pick up the accent because of the need to blend in and not stand out. It is a form of assimilation and no one has forced it on them, it is a subconscious thing.
Only small minds from an ancient past will pick on accents as a negative. Accents should be celebrated in the same way the children of East African Goan dodderers celebrate academic and business success. Dodderers may be, but they have gone through hell to give their children the best chance possible of themselves and the children have repaid the sacrifices of their parents by achieving outstanding results by any world standard. These super Goans may not be as Goan as their parents (some would say, but I don't know how Goan is a Goan or not), or speak Konkani or love going to Goa. They may not even like Goan food or church anymore but they are super human beings and now belong to the world. These are the new Goans.
Life in the UK was not a bed of roses. Some East African Goans did not want to leave Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania or elsewhere in Eastern Africa. They were forced to leave and
for many years a brutal hatred of things African festered in their hearts. Most East African Goans slipped into mainstream English or UK life with relative ease but they suffered all the pangs of racism that had once been reserved for the West Indians. Some Goans suffered injury from the Paki-bashing skinheads and the racist abuse powered by Enoch
Powell and white supremacists. The East African Goan has endured many hardships, abuse and heartbreaks but has continued single-mindedly to make the sacrifices for the
better of his children. The road to dodderer-hood is paved with a martyrdom of sorts.
The East African Goan dodderer deserves your thanks and praise for paving the way for other Goans to follow not your disdain or your insults.
Doddering I think, for most, begins at 65. It is an age thing and you are guaranteed it will come to all of us except if you die first. There is nothing elegant about growing old past 60 for many East African Goan dodderers. Some lucky folk verge on becoming gym junkies but they fart like hell like everyone else.
Their staple diet of fish curry and rice plus one or two vegetables, sorportel or xacuti from the freezer, beef vindaloo, or lamb and potato curry has been replaced with fish grilled without salt and just a teaspoon of virgin olive oil, steamed peas, carrots, potatoes, beans, cauliflower, Chinese greens or a selection from God's garden harvest. And yes, lentils and four or five beans, that's where the farting comes from. Doctors tell me that the Goan coconut curries and alcohol (especially caju feni) were responsible for more than average incidence of diabetes among Goans and Indians living along the Malabar Coast.
The rice and fish curry (now you go easy on the coconut or have none) is still on the menu though in smaller portions and the basmati rice is Low GI and cholesterol resistant to a small degree.
There is also the no-salt smoked salmon with onions, tomato, lettuce, cucumber sandwich on 12 grain bread or the delightful canned salmon or tuna with onions, tomato, green coriander and chopped chilli sandwich. It worked great as a weight reducer for me. You are lactose intolerant after drinking milk for 68 years and you are seriously thinking
turning to soy milk for the porridge. Why, you may ask?
Well a dodderer has got to do what a dodderer has got to do. Got get that cholesterol down, got keep those sugar levels to a minimum! Don't drink Single Malt Scotch anymore. Can't
remember what beer tasted like. Once you binged on 16-20 pints at the local. Soon you are a reformed social drinker who now only drinks 2.5 litres of water a day. You are in the lion's den: your friends now have two beers where once they had three and four; one or two are forced to drink light beer and you sit there, the alcoholic eunuch that you are and, like someone at a wake, you sip on that bottle of pure, unadulterated water. Your friends of 50 years don't know what to think. Some may even admire you for the will-power on display. They could never do that! Otherwise it is heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, cancer or some other such calamity.
You no longer look the talk dark lady killer you once were. Once you were a soccer, cricket, hockey, golf, table tennis, badminton, athletics warrior and now your fleet-of-foot prowess is but a distant memory, sometimes not even that.
Mostly you did your best work at the card table or at the races. More recently the US casinos were a delight. You grew up in the shadows of Goan hockey and athletics Olympians. You were among the gods of your sports scene. Once you rocked! You jived, waltzed and tangoed with the power and grace of a gold medal skater. Today, you opt for
the economy movement and space; you stand in one spot with your partner and generate some movement from the hip down and in your mind's eye you are at least making any attempt to dance. No the sweet bird of youth flew away many decades ago. Instead, you are 10-20 kilos lighter. Your skin is fairer and looks healthier. You will be 70 or 80 next month but you can jog a little on the treadmill at 4 kph, you are doing three minutes but aiming for six.
You may be kidding yourself because shuffling your feet is not jogging. So, for the first time in your life you are on the verge of becoming a gym junkie. Once you laughed at those old guys who spent hours walking laps around the football ground at the Railway Institute in Nairobi. Today, you push yourself just that little bit. Hey, at least your knowledge of the current pop scene is improving from the video screens at the gym.
Your life is at the mercy of the specialists and vampires (blood tests) at the local medical centre. You see your cardiologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, psychiatrist and ten other
specialists every six months. Today, life is full of tests: blood tests, urine tests, this test and
that test, X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, CT scans, ECGs, stress tests, etc. Your heart is home to a pacemaker and blood flows through your arteries thanks to stents. I had a stent while on holiday in Goa not so long ago. These days some dodderers get their kicks visiting the physiotherapist or the Chinese massage parlor where manipulative fingers and machines easy the pain in the joints, the lower back, the upper back, the neck, the knees etc. Soon you will be looking to replace this or that. Imagine you are in the market for spare parts
Church and the good deeds it offers form your new sanctuary. Here you find peace amongst acquaintances of different racial backgrounds. And there is always a village feast somewhere in England or a tiatr to catch with friends from long ago.
What the heck! No regret. You accept that the damage has already been done and you only have yourself to blame. Loved it when you drank all that beer followed by a few shorts of
scotch, every day! Worse, all those cigarettes you smoked such a long time ago. And that sorpotel, chicken skin-on xacuti, those wonderful vindaloos, prawn, crab curries, marinara chilly-fries, succulent pork curries, those extra-ordinary goat and lamb curries, pullao, heaps of basmati, butter chapattis, naans, yes you gave thanks and loved it all, especially those recipes for diabetes, those unforgettable Goan sweets. Now you dodderer, dodderer you,
you put up your hands in resignation and say: happy to go when I am called, I have no regrets.
Regrets you have a few. Being the last of your generation from East Africa where the umbilical connection with Goa was generally strong, you still dwell on some old school hopes and aspirations. You accept that mixed marriages, even with Muslims and Hindus, is a matter of supply and demand ... the children tell you it is only because of love. Once you might have killed or packed your daughter off to Goa or a nunnery. today you ask your friends: what to do? You find solace in: as long as they are healthy and happy. You forget that this particular DNA gene was cut a long time ago, when the young people quit on religion. You say: I guess that's evolution.
I am delighted to be a Goan of East African origin having been born in Nairobi, Kenya. There will always be something Kenyan running through my veins because I owe Kenya a debt of gratitude for giving me life, a career and the experience of many wonderful and magical moments. Similarly, my DNA can only be Goan thanks to my father and mother,
even though I speak very little Konkani and that with an accent. I am comfortable with the Goan in me and the Goan in my friends and acquaintances. I am also comfortable with the Goan in my children who are more Aussie than Goan or British or Kenyan. They have their parents' DNA and nothing else Goan. They are cool with that. You seek out old friends from the old country because you share a common East African gene: a lifetime of memories, shared events, sport, growing up, births, marriages, deaths,
loss, achievements, nightmares, dreams, Goan food, and a million other specks of life in a once African paradise where we thought we were in heaven on earth. All this before the
shanties invaded Eastleigh and went viral all over Nairobi and a like the favelas in Rio, Nairobi's shanty towns are the living evidence of the desperate poor eking out an existence
The East African Goan, as the label suggests, is a breed apart (although of the same ethnic Goan fold, but a slightly different version). There are a million things that bound us
together forever. We shared in the joys of birth, marriage, of growing up poor and not knowing it, propped by hundreds of friends who were in the same boat. We share what little we had as did our parents. Those that had a bit to spare did it with discretion worthy of sainthood, mainly through fear of the evil eye. We saw our loved friends die and we buried them. Others we pulled out of car wrecks which had taken the lives of others. We went through the nightmare of recovery together and we all became victims of the aftermath. The memories of the lost loved ones binds us together forever. We shared broken hearts and dreams. We chooked (tssk) at the heartbreakers and soon made up once the healing was done. We raised children and shared the First Holy Communion and Confirmation with our inner circle of friends and family.
We share a love of God, the church, the school and the club. We chose our club according to the like-minded friends who were already members. So we joined the Railway Institute,
the Goan Institute, the Goan Gymkhana, the Tailors Society (reserved for trouk, Konkani speakers, fans of tiatr, generally the butt treatment from the likes of women of low
esteem that Roland Francis wrote of recently. It was not long before tailors' children deserted their fathers' club for the RI or GI), the Mombasa Institute, the Kampala Goan
Institute and similar institutions.
possible. We tasted the first kiss that no more than a fumble of lips, French kissing came much later with experience. We taught the girls Babycham, Wincarnis, gin and tonic, Bacardi and coke, the lager shandy, and a glass of wine, preferably Portuguese Mateus. We drove to Snowcream parlour for a late snack or coffee at Embakasi airport and wished the night would never end, especially as the girl was in your arms, eyes closed and a heavenly vision at that, just as you kissed her lightly on the lips, nose, and forehead and
you sighed a gently sigh of wonderment. We spoke to the parents of our girlfriends for the first time and, if we were lucky, we had an adult conversation.
Sometimes we got invited to dinner. For the son of a tailor, his was a different lifestyle and, more often, intimidated by it, you feigned working late or some such honourable decision to turn down the invitation. And if you wanted to take a girl out and too afraid of the draconian parents, you asked a special kind of guy who could charm the old folks to ask on your behalf. But if the parents had a habit telling boys to "come back when you have your university degree" you sometimes gave up the love of your life.
tyrannical father-in-law to be. He believed very firmly that the sons and daughters of carpenters, tailors, motor mechanics, clerks, accountants, public servants, should marry
their own kind as well as from the relevant north-south Goa divide as well as the all-important financial or education status.
Children of the poor did not have to worry about that. Their education would be limited to secondary school for the boys and secretarial college for the girls, and they were happy
with that. Some would argue that there was one club that was the home of the imagined Goan upper class, something which has been relegated to a sad past.
The club provided us with all our heroes and role models and they were most superstar sports men women, many of them current or past Olympians. We played, tennis, badminton, hockey, cricket, soccer, table tennis, darts, snooker, billiards (before we ever heard of pool). We played sport hard, sometimes we drank hard foolishly and even more
foolishly we fought amongst ourselves. At the final whistle of life, all was forgiven and we friends and sportspersons again. We had fought the good fight and there would be another day, another challenge. We had learned some of life's lessons with a black eye or two but we had earned some mutual respect. We also became members of the club so that we could avail ourselves of the facilities for our wedding, whenever that was.
We shared the pain and trauma of being denied a work permit, in effect the "get out of Kenya" kick up your butt. We held the painful farewells and drank a few Tuskers to drown our sorrows.
In Sydney, Australia: I meet every Friday with Tony Reg D'Souza, Loy D'Souza, Felix Nazareth, Cajie Miranda, Leslie and Andrew Scott, Terry Pereira (Peter Pereira's (Railways)
son). We are all from Eastleigh, except Felix who was a member of that other club I mentioned. Now we live within 10 minutes of each other except Harold who is 40 minutes away. We are occasionally joined by Harold George D'Souza (ex Mombasa) and whole bunch of other East African Goans. What is even sweeter is that the young adult brood and their partners join the wazee (old men) bringing to the table a breath of fresh and new ears for well-worn stories and jokes.
My friend’s wives also join us from time to time although Tony's wife, Rebecca, is a fully paid-up member. When he is in town, we are also joined by the mirth and merriment of
Kenyan Drake Shikule and his wife Joanne.
These dodderers have a great time although our drinking habits are on the wane. The ravages of a deliriously happy past seem to taking their toll. So some of us have cut down
on our usual three pints of beer to a couple of lite ones. Random breath testing is one reason, taking care of health business is another. But there is no surrender on the cute, sharp one liners, or piercing, laughter rendering retorts. The Friday Club is known the world over. Three of us have retired from work. Don't know how long this happiness can last.
As I wrote in an earlier blog, we have nothing to apologise for. What makes an East African Goan? I hope you can share your thoughts with me at skipfer at live.com.au.