Thursday, August 20, 2020

Before the Monsoons come ....






In Goa, monsoons provide a welcome respite from the opulent heat and stifling dust of summer.  From June to September, torrential rain, ferocious winds, thunder and lightning are a constant.  The dust settles, the air is cleansed, the parched land becomes a huge sponge, the drying wells, river-beds and ponds are replenished, the life-giving waters are garnered in rice paddy fields.  The thunder and lightning chase away evil spirits lurking in the shadows and are the stuff for spooky grandmothers’ tales for kids.  Other than inescapable work in the paddy fields, a sense of semi-hibernation envelops the populace, as outdoor pursuits become subject to the vagaries of the weather, or as occupations linked to tourism come to a seasonal ebb.

Take a walk back in time to appreciate what people had to go through before the advent of the drenching downpours.   Remember that it rains in the same measure on the lands of the poor as the rich.  So, all stripes of Goans had to girth their loins and scramble.  Imagine life without electricity: No refrigerator to store food, no stoves, no electrical appliances.  Paraffin lamps and open cooking fires were the order of the day.


One of the first things that had to be attended to was waterproofing the house.  Broken Mangalore or Sanvordem tiles that had succumbed to errant coconuts, had to be replaced.  Roman tiles had to be re-arranged after leaves and other debris had been cleared from the “gutters” between the tiles.  The roofs of out-houses, chicken coops and the pig’s sty had to be re-thatched with palm fronds.   Since most homes were built of clay, the exposed walls had to be protected on the outside, with upright or plaited palm leaves fastened to a bamboo frame leaning against the walls.  Drains had to be made to divert water away from the house.  Coconut leaves, -shells, -husks and any firewood had to be piled up in a dry place.   It was not uncommon for people to hang coconut leaves, in pairs, astride a horizontal tree branch.  With one layer upon another, the outer layers kept the ones below dry, for use in the kitchen.


Provisions had to receive critical attention.  Coconut kernels had to be dried in the scorching sun, to make copra which was expressed for oil.  Large batches of paddy had to be boiled in huge copper pots, then dried on a bamboo mat, before being taken to a mill, in a basket on a person’s head, for de-husking.  The copra residue and the rice husks were saved for adding to the pig’s daily ration of swill.  Kerosene (paraffin) for lighting, in six-litre tin cans, was a must   Rice was stored in large clay urns or copper pots and rat-proofed.  Plenty of sea-salt was always on hand.  Sugar was kept in an earthenware vessel placed in a small moat to keep ants at bay.  A good supply of home-made sausages was suspended from the rafters in the kitchen, alongside onions and chillies.


Pickled mangoes, berries and fish, plus an assortment of dried fish, were necessary staples.  Coconuts and a slew of spices, including dried sour-mango slivers, were must-have items.    Salted pork was stored in thick clay pails, with a weighted wooden cover as a precaution against rats.  Stored blankets were examined for moth holes.   A supply of cashew nuts in the shell, or jackfruit seeds, was useful for roasting and exuding warmth on cold and dreary nights.


Woe betide those who forgot to stock up on any of these essentials.  They had to depend on the generosity of their neighbours and their limited supplies.


Finally, umbrellas were checked for broken ribs, followed by a triumphant shout of : “Bring on the rain”!


And, let us not forget a monsoon ritual of bygone days.  June 24 happens to be the feast of St. John The Baptist. Men and boys, drenched in the torrential rains, with their crown jewels draped in their best “khastis”, indulged in the religious tradition of “Sao Joao” and jumped into narrow neighbourhood wells. A”ghumot” egged them on.  Their reward was a treat and a big swig of fluid fortification (“feni”) provided by the homeowner.  Then on to the next house and the next and on and on………. The effects of the alcohol seemed to dissipate with each jump. Thereafter, any chapel or crucifix was a pit-stop for a thanksgiving prayer to “Sao Joao” for deliverance in one piece, from their risky dives.



An old-time funeral in Goa



By Armand Rodrigues


Morbid as the subject may be, not many of us can claim to remember what a typical funeral was like, in Goa,  years back.   Some may have been too young to remember, and others may have missed an opportunity as they were abroad.


Money was always the first concern when anybody passed away.   Neutral as Goa may have been,  the war meant that money and the necessities of life were in short supply.   Also, very few people kept money in a bank and, in any case, the solitary bank anywhere around was in town, which was several kilometres away.   So, if you did not have enough funds hidden in your almirah or mattress, you had to borrow from the neighbours, and deposit some items of jewellery with the lenders, as surety.


Funeral homes were unheard of, and so related survivors had to attend to every facet of the funeral themselves.   A trusty elder would be hastily despatched to the village church to make arrangements with the parish priest, the grave-digger, the sacristan, the choirmaster, the candlemaker, the confraternity leader and the village crier.   Simultaneous arrangements were made to ring church and chapel bells in the village, to signal the death.   One ding and two dongs, in repetition, sounded the knell.   Another messenger would be sent to the nearest town to fetch a pine-wood type of coffin draped with black cloth and maybe some frilly lace.   One size fitted all.   A band to play mournful funeral dirges, and marches to accompany the funeral procession, also had to be hired.


A quick inventory had to be made of friends and relatives in other villages.   Runners were then sent off in all directions  --  mainly on bicycles -- to notify them.    Word of mouth was the only way.   And woe betide a family that may have unwittingly omitted to inform a relative.   Close relatives abroad were notified by telegram, sent through the nearest Post Office.


Families usually had enough rice, but fish, meat, spices and liquor had to be purchased in bulk and immediately.   Large metal pans and clay curry-pots had to be borrowed.   If the domestic pig was not fattened enough and ready for the table, one had to be bought.   Likewise chickens.  (Those were the days when a "Papal Bull" permitted families that had paid for it, to eat meat on forbidden days)   There was no telling how many people would stay for any given meal or drop in after the interment.   Of course, nobody in the village had a fridge.


More often than not, suitable clothing for the deceased had to be made right away.   There were no ready-made clothes.   To save on expenses, it was not unusual for a man's jacket and shirt to be backless.


People of the same gender would help wash and dress up the corpse.   The coffin would be placed in the hall or else in the largest room in the house, and be straddled by benches for the mourners.   This arrangement and candlelight vigil could last for a couple of days without the advantage of proper embalming.   Flowers would come from neighbours' gardens or be picked in the wild.   The activity and wailing in the front of the house would only take second place to the incessant din and clatter in the kitchen in the rear.   And, the aromas wafting through the house compensated for any offensive odours that lingered on.


For the funeral itself, the band would play melancholy pieces outside the house, and then accompany the foot cavalcade, with sombre march music, to the church.    The coffin would be carried by members of the confraternity to which the deceased belonged.   From the church, there would be a procession to the cemetery.   The actual interment called for everybody to cast some soil on the lowered coffin.


Back at the house, the kitchen would be a frantic hive of activity.   From the cemetery, all would wend their way back to where it all began, to drown their sorrow in copious potions of the potent local brews, and to commiserate with the kith and kin of the dearly departed.   Dinner would follow and take on the semblance of a feast, considering that times were lean otherwise,   The proceedings would go on well into the night. 


All sorrow dissipated, and thirst and hunger satiated, people would gradually start making for home.   Batteries for flashlights were simply not available.   A burning torch, made of palm fronds, lighted the dark path ahead and also helped keep at bay the demons and evil spirits lurking in the shadows.


Until next time, normalcy then returned to mundane life in a pastoral setting.





Saturday, August 8, 2020


(Do not take this for gospel, consult your doctor)

It is zoom time. Instead of the meeting at the club with the girls (mainly widows), thanks to the ravages of Covid-19 it has brought super computer Joe into his element. For a change, he has been a patient teacher as the old guys farted around getting to learn the system. Otherwise, it seems like a hundred voices screaming press this, press that, don’t touch that. You ijiyot! Ducor! And this and that. Another thing, there is no kitty anymore in which everyone contributed their share of the cost of the beers and the profits (remaining change) was held on for the annual bash to someplace with a decent club or hotel.

These days each one is dedicated to his choice of drink, whatever that is. One or two have raised their eyebrows watching or two others slurping on a Single Malt or two or even a cognac or two. However, this has not taken anything away from the business at hand.

Romeo, the rat, who hadn’t been around for a long time, was welcomed with generous “welcome backs”. Abel, the cat, (because of his light eyes, like Filo Mazor’s) was the first to pipe in: “So. Induur, what was wrong. We heard you were ill, but you would not speak to anyone. We sent some spies, but they came back empty-handed.”

The rat: “What to tell you guys… the medical centre doctors told me I was low on testosterone and I had to see the specialist who told me I had to get an ultrasound of my genitalia and a huge list of pathology tests including a 24-hour collection of urine. This was because there were other elements related to the testosterone that were also in short supply in my bloodstream.

“I was a little nervous about the senior citizen who was doing the ultra-sound on my semi-nude self but she was a professional and did not bat an eyelid or twinge at all.

“What was more daunting was the pathology test over two hours in around the genitalia.

“The result is that I will have to apply a special (expensive) ointment in the genitalia and a course of tablets.”

Dr Google piped in: Decreases in testosterone can lead to physical changes including the following: increased body fat. decreased strength/mass of muscles. fragile bones. Testosterone is a sex hormone often associated with males, though females have small amounts. If a male has a low level of testosterone, the symptoms can include erectile dysfunction, and reduced bone mass and sex drive.

What causes low testosterone?

·         Injury (trauma, interrupted blood supply to the testes) or infection of the testes (orchitis)

·         Chemotherapy for cancer.

·         Metabolic disorders such as hemochromatosis (too much iron in the body)

·         Dysfunction or tumors of the pituitary gland.

If left untreatedlow testosterone can contribute to low bone density or heart disease risk. But it doesn't have to — low testosterone is relatively easy to treat. The goal of your treatment plan will be to get your testosterone levels back into the normal range.


The rat suggested that in his case it was probably a case of infected testes. Why or how or what will remain a mystery.


Is he feeling any better? “I am a little reassured but it is too early to tell. I started the treatment last week.”


The Pied Piper rolled his eyes, shook his head, and asked: “So, how did you know there was something wrong? Did you stop having sex?”


“With whom should I have been having sex? I have not had any since El left us 17 years ago. Nothing comes up and, when it does in my sleep, nothing squirts out. Besides there has been considerable shrinkage, which I am told is normal for most Wazee.”

(It's normal to have a lower sex drive and fewer spontaneous erections as you age. But little or no libido can be a sign that you have low testosterone. Research suggests that almost 40% of men ages 45 and older seen in a doctor’s office may have low testosterone.

Because the symptoms of low testosterone can be vague and because men don't always mention their symptoms to their doctors, the actual number of men with low testosterone levels may be higher.)


The Tight-Fist who is blessed or cursed with a steel wrist was soon up and hopping about: “I am not going to allow any shrinkage. I such see qualitative medical advice next week.”


Well, there were not too many jokes that day. Everyone was thinking about their own personal issues … just for awhile and it was not long before the Golfer was up to his merry-tunes jokes.


A final line on the subject, the Rat explained: “Many years ago, I had made a beeline for Jasmine (everyone in the group knew Jas and in their bachelor days ogled her or even yearned for her but the Presley kid had sole occupancy of that heart) long after we both lost our partners. I did not understand at the time what she meant when she told me “I have nothing to give”. I understand now but would have understood better (maybe) if she had explained the symptom.”


Jimmy the crab, who is something of a considerate member of the group, is also something of an unintentional eves-dropper. He has the knack of being able to listen to two more conversations within earshot.  He explained: “ I was at the Medical Centre the other day and I met a lady who I see regularly at Church. She had three other friends and she introduced me to them. It was not long before we all found ourselves discussing our health problems. The common thread was: Degenerative discs in the neck, upper beck, lowe back; aches in the shoulders, elbows, into the hips and some parts of the lower legs. All were being propped up with weekly or fortnightly physio and heat treatments. The most painful times of the year were the winter months. “No use in complaining,” one of the ladies said, “We should get up and do our best.” For this group, at least, there are tough times ahead.


Dr Google: As you age, the ligaments and tendons that hold your joints together become “stiff and leathery,” says Siegrist. At the same time, osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage in a joint to wear away. Both processes can lead to aching, soreness, and pain. The best way to feel younger, she says, is to condition your body in ways so that if you need to run to catch a plane or shovel the snow in your driveway, your body “doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the challenge.”

Anyway, let’s change the subject and talking about cooking ….

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is Konkani relevant anymore?



Is Konkani relevant anymore?


My friend Mervyn stoked up the disappearing embers by writing this:




There was a time, especially during the colonial era in Goa

and other parts of India, when many of our Goans would not be

seen talking in their own mother tongue; not that these individuals

couldn't speak the language. For them,  speaking in a foreign

tongue gave them that air of superiority(at least so they thought!).

They felt important. Speaking in Konkani was considered below their

dignity.  SHAME ON THEM!

  As a lover of Konkani myself and all that our culture embodies,

I find it difficult to gauge the motives of these "foreign" Goans.

The following verses(sadly, the only ones I can remember) - from

a poem composed during my school days by that well-known

Jesuit historian, the late Fr. Claude Saldanha, S.J. - seem to sum up

everything. Referring to these self styled foreigners as kalafirngis-

Black Europeans), this, in 1940, is what he wrote:


   'They are shy to talk sweet Konkani

    Because they think it's low,

    They rattle off in company

    A foreign tongue for show.

       The men put on some pantaloons

        And think they look quite fine,

        They hardly know - the good buffoons

         That borrowed plumes don't shine!

Melodious mandos -swaying songs

With all their hearts they hate

Which cannot swing the girls around

With arms at any rate.

       And so, they say, 'the mando's dead'

       Not meant for cultured folk,

       But all their culture it is said

       Would not impress a bloke!


Konkani is such a sweet language, with greetings and

expressions not found in other foreign languages.

Take the daily salutation, for example:

   'Deo boro dis diun (May God give you a good day)

or 'Deo bori rath diun(May God give you a good night).

And what of that nightly blessing from our Elders?

 'Deo bori rath amcam somestam di Saiba etc (Lord,

give us a good night etc etc).


This last expression has certainly more meat  to it than the

plain 'Thank you'. Besides, all these also have one

thing in common - they embody Christian principles.

Far from being ashamed of our mother tongue, folk

songs and dances, let us make every effort to revive

and keep them going forever.


Future generations will thank us for this.


Mervyn Maciel


A friend answered back in the firmest and most sensible in the negative of the argument.


No many young people in Goa speak the mother tongue. They choose English because they all have dreams of leaving for England.


Even few new, second and third gens in the diaspora speak Konkani because in the great sphere of things it is quite irrelevant. No one else knows or speaks the language.


It natural for Goan migrants to assimilate in their new lands, especially in the language because without it one is complete marooned.


I don’t know of any young people in Australia who speak Konkani, certainly not the descendants of the East African migrants. My children don’t and don’t want to. There is a move in the GOA in Sydney where a small group has started Konkani classes.


In my mind, Konkani is useful to have if you visiting Goa.



Mervyn replies to his friend.


For your 'exhaustive' response to my article which in

no way was directed at those like yourself and others who were

brought up in an English-speaking environment. 

Like you, I too knew precious little Konkani since my parents

both conversed in English. It is only when we were on holiday

in Goa that I heard Konkani for the first time and picked up very

few words. Much later, when I was schooling in Goa and needed

to use Konkani both inside and outside the home, I took an

interest in the language since I also love our folk songs.

  I would never speak Konkani or Swahili for that matter were

I in the company of friends who only spoke English; but I 

have been embarrassed on occasions when some of my

Goan friends, conscious of the fact that we were among

English friends, still passed a few odd comments in Konkani!

   Yes, it is sad to see the erosion of our Mother tongue even in

Goa with the influx of Indians from other parts of India.

Sadly, we Goans are fast becoming a minority even in our own

country and before long I fear that the little bit of Goan-ness

that still exists in some quarters may soon be a thing of the


   All the best, and as they'd say in Goa   VIVA!



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