The Monks

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So they called them the Carmelite monks of Pajifond. My grandmother’s house was just a three minute walk away from their monastry. An imposing exposed laterite structure atop Paji hill with the later addition of a modern church built after Vatican II with the altar fronting tge congregation, perhaps the first in Margao at the time.

I literally grew up with the monks. From age 6 onwards, all the way until 23, i served mass at the Carmelite Monastry. I even studied in a room given to me. They would even invite me for meals with them ( The sketch is just an exageration of the dining hall, but the ‘story’ it tells is true…simple timber tables with benches. Food served in earthen vessels. No talking whilst eating. Just listen to the Word of God being read by a lector).

The Carmelites grew vegetables and flowers in their garden. They even had cashew and mango trees. A lone cinamon tree stood guarding the entrance of their kitchen.

The cook was my friend and many times, he would allow me to taste some meat curry with a chapati. The cooker was one of a kind- a monstrous wrought iron chest with compartments for firewood beliw and holes on the top to keep the pots. Santarita, the kitchen help would always be heard quarelling with the cook!

My friends (altar boys) and i would collect cashew nuts in season and count them sitting on top of the cemetry wall. In those days there were only three graves and we were told by our parents that the dead monks were saints. Thus we were never afraid to go there. Also, i must say, the place was really quiet and peaceful too!

I will always miss Fr. Anthony Silver, a great preacher and my personal ‘guru’. Others who played an important part in my life were – Fr. Simon Stock, Fr. Anastasio, Fr. John of the Cross, Fr. Berchmans, Fr. Dolphy, Fr. Bragança, Fr Gregory and the brothers… Nicholas and Alex. Truly wonderful souls!

The ‘porteiro’ ( Sabastião) was a dear friend who played excellent Table Tennis and carrom with his left hand ( Right hand was affected with polio). Every holiday was spent playing carrom from morning till late evening, taking a break only when defeated. The losers would then play TT.

Then there were the Legion of Mary girls to eye. The older girls and boys would meet at the Catholic Youth Association. The free medical checkup and pharmacy that they started, runs even to this day!

I believe every girl and boy who was part of the monastry’s sodalities, enjoys the blessings of the old monks to this day!

 

The ‘Stone Age’ of Goa

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Do you know what I love doing when I am in Goa? At least one of the things I love doing … apart from taking a drive through Chandor or visit Big Foot (If I have a non-Goan guest with me) and the customary visit to Old Goa … is to visit GOA CHITRA! Why?

It is one place that kindles my past memories of an ‘older’ Goa when times were slower and more lasting memories could be made, the fruit of which I am enjoying today and sharing with you through my posts. I won’t write more about Goa Chitra and the thankless work that my amigo Victor Gomes (Lovingly known as ‘Pisso Bakar’ in friendly circles but one who is far from being a ‘pisso’!) is doing, because I want my readers to experience it themselves … and when you go, ensure that Victor himself takes you around the place.

It is amazing just how many kitchen appliances were made out of stone. The ‘rogdo’ (A heavy round granite stone base with a deep pocket that had a tear-drop shaped stone grinder) and the ‘fatore’ (A flat stone base with a stone roller), were mainstays of a Goan kitchen. Then there was the ‘ann-musoll’, a hollowed out stone buried into the kitchen floor with a long wooden club-shaped beater for the de-husking of the rice. Sometimes even the sink at the kitchen window was built out of a hollowed out stone, with a steel pipe inserted into it from the outside to drain the water out into a gutter.

Other places where granite stone would be used was the pocket at doorpivots, to resist the wear and tear of cement. Also, soil tamping would be done by a circular disk of granite, with a hole in the centre where a solid core bambo would be passed through (‘knot’ at the bottom end and wooden wedges on the top end to keep the pole in place).

One will see more uses of stones in Goa Chitra where even toilets have been carved out of stone!

 

Fisheaters!

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If a Goan gives up eating fish during their childhood it must be because of the pain and anguish of a fishbone getting stuck in their throats. But even that won’t be for long. As for me, it did take about three years to get back to eating fish and that too if my granny was there beside me to clean the fish for me!

The love affair between a true Goan-bred and his fish is legendary! Nothing can come in the way of that relationship (Not even ‘Formalin’!). As for me, I have fished in Goan ponds, lakes, rivers, and seas right from early years. I have already written about this in my earlier posts on Utorda-My father’s village. Growing up eating ‘fish-curry-rice’ got to be a bore when during later years, i took a liking to pork sausages, sorpotel, and xacuti. But then we were poor and could not afford these things except on special days like birthdays, weddings, ‘ladainhas’ (litanies) and ‘festas’ (Feasts).

My mom went to the Margao market every day at 11 am, making sure that by the time we four brothers got home, we had the freshest of fish on our plates. Although we never saw the bigger and better varieties of fish, only later did we know that eating sardines and mackerels was providing our bodies loads of Omega-3 that holds us in good stead to this day. If I accompanied my mother to the market during holidays to help her carry her bag, it was only because I could have a ‘falooda’ at the stalls in the market! I hated entering the fish market due to the objectionable smell of fish. Also, if the dirty water got into my slippers (‘Payals’ they were!), the discomfort of walking in those, smelling fish all the way home was a dread that I always hated! Then there were the dogs that would mingle with the crowds sniffing at your bags. I would cower behind my mother’s skirt, trying to avoid them licking my legs.

My mom had a few favourite fishmongers who she always went to. Such was their relationship that they would never cheat my mom ….ever! If they did not have good quality fish, they would tell my mom not to buy from them. I have learnt this from my mom and I follow this even in Dubai. My fishmonger in Dubai has been with me for over 25 years and this relationship has lasted because I told him the first time that if he ever cheated me, that would be the last day I would buy his fish. But he hasn’t! There are three fish contractors who share the same shop and each one of them upholds this promise. I remember, every time my boys were with us in the market, they would give each of them 2 large prawns as they knew, prawns were their favourite seafood (They do this even now, though they are past their twenties!).

As I write this article, my mouth waters at the thought of eating ‘recheado bangdas’ (Spice stuffed mackerels) prepared by my mother … (I guess I have to wait till after the formalin issue is formally closed and the rains subsided!).

 

LOST PROFESSIONS

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There is much to be said about ‘lost professions’!

I wonder if anyone has been to a darner of late (i.e. If they can find one!). Or maybe, nowadays, when there’s a tear in your clothes, you just give it away or dump it in the skip!

Why am I writing this article? Well, my son Leroy has this pair of black stretch jeans which he loves so much that he just can’t let go of them although it is badly ripped at the crotch. He was flying out to the UK this morning and he came to me last night with a sad face asking if I could do anything about the tear. My eyelids felt like lead and every part of me screamed ‘sleeeeeeep!’ but then I had seen my seamstress mom darn my clothes several times for me when I was little and I thought I could manage to do it too.

I found the black thread with a rather large needle stuck into it. I struggled to pull the thread through the eye of the needle and doubled the thread and knotted it just like my mom. Soon I was stitching the tear just like her and within 15 minutes, I was pretty pleased with my handiwork! I was also happy to see the look of appreciation in Leroy’s face as he examined it like my mom’s client would!

Back in those days, Lakaki laundry in Margao used to have a ‘darner’ seated on the pavement, just outside the door. He was an elderly man with many-colored strips of fabric piled next to where he sat. He also had a box of different sized needles and reels of thread of different colors. He was always busy darning and was always reasonable in his fee. His work was very fine indeed and I’ve never heard any customer say anything negative about him. After I first returned to Goa for a holiday, I was at Lakaki to hand over some suits for dry cleaning, but the darner was nowhere to be found. When I asked the boys at the counter, I learnt he was no more. The trade also appears to be no more!

Next time you see one, do stand and watch with amazement. Encourage the person with kind words. If you can afford to give the person a tip, let it be a good one! After all, these professions are almost extinct now and we should save them with our patronage.

ALTAR BOY CONFESSIONS

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I was an altar boy from the early age of 6 and I served mass until the day I left Goa for Dubai (When I was in my 24th year!).

Almost all of those years, I was associated with the Carmelite Monastery in Pajifond/Malbhatt, Margao. Some masses were served in the Grace Church where I was a member of the Grace Youth Association.

The Carmelites were monks who built a huge monastery half way up the Pajifond hill that joined the Monte hill further up. My service as an altar boy started when one day, the boy who was nominated for the way of the cross, fell ill and there was no one to replace him. I was only six years of age then and brother Nicholas, who was in charge of the altar boys, hurriedly dressed me up in the brown woollen vestments and made me one of the candle bearers in the procession.

Thereafter, since I was seen with my grandmother at the 5.45 am mass every day, I was made a standby altar boy in case there was a no-show. Initially, I was assistant to an older altar boy (The late Felix, lovingly called ‘Feché’) but soon, I had learnt the ritual and I was promoted to a full-fledged altar boy. My talent as an artist was recognized very early and I assisted Inacio and Anthony, two senior altar boys who were good electricians, to be in charge of decorating the church (and statue of the saint whose feast it was). Two statues dominated the church apart from the central crucifix – Mother Mary holding little Jesus and, Santa Theresinha (of Child Jesus).

Fr. Antonio Silva was a well-known preacher during those days and he was very close to our family. During those days, a military truck from 3MTR Training Camp would be sent to the monastery to pick him up, to say mass at the military chapel. I would sit at the back of the truck while he sat with the driver in front. The reason why we altarboys would quarrel to serve mass at the camp was because, after every mass, the priest and altar boy would be invited to a hearty breakfast prepared by the wives of the military men!

The storage room inside the sacristy was full of brass accessories. Once every year, certain altar boys would be selected to ‘brasso’ the blackened candelabra and thuribles and make them shine until one could see their faces reflected on the metal. The prize for doing all this work was the ‘reste’ (Remainder) of the host bread, which was a thin wafer that tasted great with tea! … and there would be bagfuls of those to take home! It also was the prize given to those who assisted in the making of the hosts on heat presses.

Once a year, we would join the girls from the Legion of Mary and go on a fully sponsored picnic with the younger priests. Many of us had our first taste of love and heartbreak during those outings (Strangely, none of those relationships lasted through our college years!)

Some of us altar boys were very naughty and would take a swig of the sacramental wine when the priest was not looking! (God forgive us for that!). Sometimes, we would enter the kitchen from the back door and take off with biscuits when the old cook was not looking.

All in all, it was a great childhood. There were times when I would spend hours at the blessed sacrament, bargaining with God for the life of my grandmothers. My prayers kept them alive first through SSC, then the 12th standard and lastly, even through my graduation! Looking back, I can say that every prayer of mine was answered. My service to God was paid for handsomely and I reap the blessings of it to this day!