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Goan clubs and Goan culture

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, I HOPE OTHER PEOPLE WILL CONTRIBUTE WITH THEIR MEMORIES OR EXPERIENCES

This is not a criticism. I have the greatest respect for Goans of many echelons of life in East Africa. I count many, many from all walks of life as my very dearest of friends. This is how I saw things first hand, from stories I was told, and some of the written material I was able to get hold of during my young years. I ate with my hands at home, especially if it was rice and curry. My friends used cutlery. But outside of the home, I used cutlery except if it was fish head ambot tik. Not a problem. Tell me I am wrong, or how you saw it and I will happily record it, if only for the sake of balance.


The Goan Clubs and Goan culture
Goan Clubs in East Africa did not always foster Goan culture or the Konkani language. They couldn’t. There was a directive from the colonial Minister for Education that all Asians, especially the parent, should stop speaking to their children in their vernaculars. The reason: translating these vernaculars into English was producing a horror kind of pidgin, the butt of jokes and satire (some of which still stands to this day) and it was all quite ridiculous. The Asian children and their parents ignored this (some students lied about it in school) and the ridicule continued.

Goans had no such problem. The sons and daughters of civil servants, doctors, engineers, nurses and other professions all spoke English at home because most parents recognised the need for their children to speak English, even that hoity-toity version called Queen’s English.

There were others, sons and daughters of tailors, carpenters, shoemakers and like, who continued to speak to their parents in Konkani because Mum and Dad could not speak English. However, as the years went by that too diminished. Yet, these children had no problem reading and writing really good English. Even Goan children who had been educated in Goa, Bombay and Belgaum never really spoke Konkani.

Talking about Queen’s English, a friend of ours flew over the UK en route to somewhere or the other and came back speaking pukka HM’s English. That could be an urban myth, but I know the name of the guy involved.

I remember with considerable affection that my late wife Rufina held a conversation with my mother mixing English, Swahili and Konkani. Somehow, they managed to understand each other. One or two of my siblings, the youngest, spoke very little Konkani.

There was a proportion of Goans who spoke very bad, broken English and they made themselves understood with an insertion of some Konkani into their conversations. Sadly they were butt of jokes and hilarity. Some folks took to English as a matter of class as did the Goans in Goa with Portuguese I am told.

Most of the teachers in Goan schools and parish schools spoke pretty good English. Even those with a decisive Subcontinental twang made themselves understood pretty well even those they were mercilessly the butt of jokes: one of our science teachers, a delightful bloke actually, was called “Boonnsen bearner” something to that effect.

For those households where everyone spoke English, parents spoke to each other in Konkani when they made their childfree secret talks. When these same children migrated to overseas and wanted to make secret talk, they spoke in Swahili.

Parents of my friends who were themselves more 10 years older than me used to regale me stories of the dances and concerts they used to host in their various clubs. I am not sure if this was a conscious decision, or if it was the initiative of the dedicated. Not many youngsters of my generation went to these tiatrs even though quite a few my age friends were quietly mastering the skills. (Must get a few names from Greg Carvalho. The one man who could have written the history of the tiatr in Kenya, Jack Fernandes (producer, director, writer, actor, musician), is no longer with us. In a variety (music, song and dance) extravaganza produced to music a milestone at the Railway Goan Institute, a tiatra featured in three parts as part of the show. One line in Konkani I will never forget (I think it was written by Santan), reading a letter from his mother in Goa: “Baba, that Sancristao died without telling anybody!”

From a 1962 production of Tor Zait Con here are the players: Flavia Andrade, Olive Tavares, Brigitte Dias, Lily Collaco, Bertha Zuzarte, Daisy D’Costa, Carmen Fernandes, Ruth Fernandes, Alzira Zuzarte Vaz, Max Fernandes, Charlie Vaz, Jack Fernandes, M. Rod, Zig-Zag D’Mello, S.V. Barros, J.P. Leitao, Juliao Noronha, L. Santimano, Bonnie D’Souza, Joe Fernandes, Wolfgang Collaco, Tolley Baretto, Jose Fernandes, Cajie Fernandes.

The educated Goan community did not only value a well-spoken English accent, they valued high English education and as early as the 1940s (or could be even before that) were packing their children into the only known final frontier of their education. They were clever enough to know that that is where their children’s future lay. God Bless them for their foresight.

I must confess I was never devotee or Goa or things Goan other than the fact that when all is done, no matter how far I roam, not matter how many rockets I fly in, when I am dust unto dust, part of me will be Goan dust. That is perhaps a great sin. If the expatriate Goan had invested as much as other fellow Indians have done, their mother country would be a much more prosperous one today. Or would it have turned out to be worst investment ever, with greedy Indian Centre government eyes grabbing it all. Goans in Goa must take the blame for the non-existent expatriate investment dollar. To many expatriate Goans have been fleeced by their country cousins, friends and even members of their own families. The common credo has been “you can’t trust anyone in Goa”. I have not invested a cent either and because I hold no stake, I find myself a somewhat reluctant Goan. 


Bottom line: Those Goans who had a stake in the country returned to it, others come as tourists.

These days it is no longer the Goa I remember. Like everything else, Goa has taken on new traits, new normalities, new characteristics and new excesses as is the want of every nation on earth. When I visit Kenya, I can hardly recognise the place, but I love it all the same. Yet there is a consistent regret. Kenya could have been such a great place if more people had been given a share of the independence pie instead of a life in the shanty towns. In a similar manner, I love Goa, but I cry for it too. Looking at videos of policing the Coronavirus and terrible beating of common folk. Have really come to this?

The diaspora Goan, especially their children, have built a new life in a new world and that does not include East Africa or Goa or Goans for that matter.

Many of the educated Goans also tried to mimic the colonial British. As part of their work they may have come to develop a taste for English food, even it is only finger food that they like most. There were Goan chefs on the Railways, some most important hotels, many of the exclusive whites-only clubs and they would have introduced their friends to the English finger food had parties they held at their own homes. Some even did part-time catering for engagements, birthdays and the like. But it was not long before Goan women were mastering these skills and teaching them to their daughters and the cooks they employed. Friday night was always fish curry and rice, so was Lent. Some homes always began their meals with a bowl of soup and ended with a suitable dessert. 

While the Goan cuisine was dominant in most homes, others chose to serve marinated roast beef or pork with roast potatoes in jacket, vegetables and a chutney for the main course. This was not the norm but the exception. For most Goans, however, it was just curry and rice and a vegetable dish if you were lucky. If you wanted a dessert, you whipped up avocado, sprinkled sugar and thought you were heaven. If avocados were not in season than its dark brown sugar or jaggery sprinkled on a chapati) or thick Whitehouse bread) and rolled up, or banana fritters for dessert, or there was plenty of fruit not too far away, even if it was other peoples. 

In our teen years, we began venturing into Indian restaurants and later into the “white” restaurants like the New Stanley Hotel’s Thorn tree and a whole new world opened up to us. It was the same time Kentucky Fried Chicken and its derivatives and of course fish and chips were always available. I got to love the rare roast beef (still do more than 65 years later) sandwich at Brunner’s or Queens Hotel which also served the best potato chips and unadulterated Heinze tomato sauce (most other places it was watered down).

Oh, by the way, there was always the best authentic food available at the Goan Tailor’s Society at the weekend, special feast days (such as December 3) or on days when loud, noisy, boisterous trouk tournaments were held. Not much English, though.

Oh, there was a bit of culture at the Goan clubs at Christmas, Easter and New Years … traditional dances and community singing.

As far as cooking classes, I think the best most people came up with was Elsie Maciel’s Cookbook, nothing wrong with that. At the RGI, there was something else: Salim's Seekh Kebabs and Ismailia Hotel made the best lamb samosas and potato bhajia.

Anyway, by the time the 1960s came along, turned up noses, class consciousness, prejudice, airs and graces, and all of that human rubbish had disappeared. In fact, much of it has been erased by nature of need long before that. People stopped treating their fellow Goans as some folks in the UK treat the folk from Swindon and Wembley with their Goan Wild West ways. They too will learn in time.

Tell me your thoughts.




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