I cannot remember ever seeing Purple Herons work the water in a pair or more. Most times I spot Cattle Egrets in greater numbers than Purple Herons, fishing together in harmony, the Purple Heron easily recognizable among its shorter, fairer companions.
The image of a lone Purple Heron in its habitat is riveting not in the least because the lone ranger is a powerful metaphor for survival. It’s an image that can abide, and last time. And one which I’ve marveled in in the silhouette that distance will impose on the traveling eye early mornings and late evenings.
It is one reason why when I pass the waters off Borim in the direction of Margao, past a network of wetlands fed by the Zuari, Goa’s best known river after the Mandovi, I’m reminded of the lone Purple Heron outlined in the winter mist at dawn some years ago, poised in the stillness of its reflection, beak pointed at the sheet of water, not a ripple stirring the sheet to life.
In the moment I first saw it, it had metamorphosed into a painting, and I had paused to take it in.
Behind me the Chowgule Shipyard loomed over narrow waterways snaking inland, sheltered among mangroves fencing off the Zuari. I had turned my back to the Shipyard in the hope of ridding human encroachment in the unfolding scene, framing it so I could commit it to the primeval frame of reference that nature is best experienced in.
Across the Zuari, tracing a diagonal with Chowgule Shipyard, lay Mandovi Pellets Ltd.
Not for one moment did the Purple Heron move in the minutes that ticked by. In the urgency of its morning bite, it had delivered grace to the morning stillness that winter day, the wetland gradually revealing itself in the mist.
The wetlands, much of which are Khazan land, serve as a constant in a fast-changing landscape, and stretch some distance along the road in the direction of Margao before disappearing from view as the road turns South-West approaching Raia.
In late February this year, Ajay and I had turned off the highway at Tembim, riding South-East before turning left at Ganapoga where the waters parted on the landscape to reveal a road we might’ve missed if it wasn’t for a motorcyclist riding the barely visible ribbon.
"It looks like he is floating on water,” Ajay remarked. The road approximated a dyke barely rising above the water even as it kept the water at bay from harvested paddy fields turned to a shade of brown at the far end. It didn’t help that the tide was in, the water almost drawing level with the road.
The rumble of the motorcycle came in a series of gentle waves, fading out just as the next wave breached the quiet of the Salcette countryside, riding the light breeze that blew our way. If it wasn’t for the sound washing up at our ears in steady rhythm with the silence, we’d have been oblivious to the breeze.
The Sun was mellowing down for its date with the evening sky as we rode past a bus stop at the turn that straightened up and ran along, piercing a swathe of trees sheltering Portuguese-era homes before pulling up at Rachol Church adjoining the ferry crossing connecting Rachol with Shiroda to the east.
But before we made for Rachol Church dedicated to Our Lady of Snows, we paused briefly at the Chapel Nossa Senhora De Bom Parte in Caver.
Crunching to a stop in the gravel extending the narrow road on either side, we made for the Chapel Nossa Senhora De Bom Parte set back from the road and facing west.
As we walked up to the Chapel, the wetland stretched east behind us. The motorbike was long gone and silence had returned to the fading patch of sunlight dropping steadily on the Zuari hidden away among mangroves.
Behind us, in the distance the freshly whitewashed Rachol Church appeared like a piece of chalk flung into the trees and held fast by branches delighting in the prize, and history, cast their way for, the Rachol Parish Church is among the oldest churches in Salcette.
A gentle incline stretching a little over fifty yards brought us to the Chapel. The Chapel of Nossa Senhora Do Bom Parto stood alone, unlike most Goan Chapels that exist cheek by jowl with homes in the neighbourhood.
Standing in front of the whitewashed Chapel, I trailed my eyes along the contours of the mountains rising in the distance, their brown contrasting with the sky above while the wetland flattened the landscape to the colour of water reflecting the heavens above.
Decorative lights strung out on wires hung from the chapel, likely put up in the event of a feast in the honour of Our Lady, or possibly marking a thanksgiving function. I didn’t know for sure and there was no one about to check with.
Nossa Senhora De Bom Parte. It was an uncommon title to happen upon in Goa, surely not in my experience traveling around Goa. The title of this devotion to Mother Mary, Capela De Nossa Senhora De Bom Parte, is associated with the birth of Jesus Christ, and consequently sought by expecting women to offer prayers for their well being in the period, and that of their child while promising to bring the child up in a manner befitting the humanity Jesus Christ preached and lived by. The prayer likely including –
I promise to guide my son
Always the right way,
The way that your Son, Jesus,
Traced for all men,
The path of good.
Built in 1899, the Chapel would have been among the earliest to cater to Salcette’s Christian neighbourhoods springing up in Ganapoga. Amid paddy fields and the Zuari abutting inland in the form of wetlands, the Chapel will have witnessed life steeped in and sustained by agriculture and fishing, with rural folk working as farm-hands and combining as community during religious festivals, first as Hindus, then as Christians upon their conversion by Christian missionaries as Portuguese influence swept inland upon their conquest of Goa, devouring the land with an intensity equaling their missionary zeal employed in forcibly converting the largely native Hindu population to Christianity.
It was a long time ago. It was not a long time ago. It depends on whom you talk to.
About us, serenity had triumphed, laying its card face-up. Floating on the breeze, voices of womenfolk walking along the road the motorcyclist had ridden over a short while ago, nudged us to the presence of humanity. Ahead, past the Chapel, a narrow road ended at the gate of a house shaded by trees and coconut palms (Madd in Konkani) in the front-yard. A dead-end.
Coconut husk lay in a large heap where the road ended at the gate. Walking up to the heap I noticed it to be of recent provenance, resulting from coconuts most likely harvested in the neighbourhood. Coconut groves, known as Bhaat in Konkani, are a common sight around Goa. Later I would come upon similar heaps of coconut husk piled up at Xeldem, and then at Pomburpa, all within days of each other, leading me to conclude January and February to be the coconut harvesting months in Goa, though not necessarily restricted to those months.
The open area fronting each house in the neighbourhood was planted with flower beds and trees. Clothes hung from clotheslines. A Goan catholic woman in a skirt was working in the front yard when I made my way across the road just as Srikant, the Podhyer or Poder (a bread vendor selling Pao from a basket covered with the once trademark blue plastic and hitched to his bicycle at the back), came cycling along, honking his hand-held horn, the signature sound much of Goa stirs to in the early mornings and late afternoons and is as much a part of its identity as its swaying palms.
A little girl ran up to him and asked for Kakon (bangle-shaped hard and crisp bread variously spelled as Kakna or Kankan). Kakon (or Kakna/Kankan) is Konkani for bangle.
The leavened, oven baked bread known as Pao (also spelled Paav) and offered up in several varieties is relished by Goans and is a local institution, owing its origins in the tiny state on the West Coast to the Portuguese, with the possible exception of Kakon.
The Kakon I saw growing up in Goa was favoured by Goans at tea time instead of biscuits. As children we would delight in slipping the bangle-shaped crispy bread up our slender arms and wave them in the air before slipping each off and breaking it before dipping it in tea, or occasionally milk, to soften it. Kakon (Kankan/Kakna) is kneaded hard in very little water and fired up in over 270 degrees C. In the lunch-break between classes the mischievous among my classmates would sometimes gather for an impromptu session of Catch using Kakon in the manner of a Frisbee.
The game would invariably end in the Kakon splintering to pieces but not before it had held its own over several flings, necessitating hectic cleaning up before classes recommenced after the lunch-break.
Placed atop each other and held together by a string, the Kakon you see hanging on the wall in the picture above is from my meandering in a village bakery in Bandora.
Srikant had run out of Kakon. He offered the girl the other variety of bread he had in his basket, Poyi or Poee, holding two out as she wavered with her purchase on being confronted with a choice different from the one she had skipped along for.
The Poyi, made from coarsely ground whole wheat flour as opposed to the finely ground Maida used in making Pao, is generally acknowledged as relatively healthier and not just for the whole wheat flour but as much for the absence of sugar in its preparation as for its fibre content, the latter acquired from rolling it in bran, easily visible on the surface. Poyi with sugar content is also offered up for purchase by traditional Goan bakeries.
Personally I favour Undo or Katre Pao over Poyi, unless if I’m offered a batata-vada wrapped in Poyi. Even so I’d prefer my batata-vada wrapped in Pao.
I had half-expected Srikant to offer her Undo or at the very least Katrecho or Katre Pao (Cut-bread) since the latter’s crust approximates the Kakon in crispiness as compared to Poyi, which is softer and more in the mold of Chapati. There’re people who’ll pronounce Poyi as Poli, the latter usage alternating with Chapati among Marathi-speaking people.
For a moment the little girl was undecided, probably wondering if she should buy Poyi after being sent skipping along to buy Kakon.
Soon he had another customer asking for Kakon only to disappoint her as well. Instead he sold her Pao. Kakon or not, nobody went back from him empty-handed.
“Don’t you bring Kakon along?” I asked him.
“I do,” he said. “They got over along the way. They’re in much demand.” I was surprised to hear him say that for, in a village bakery in Velim a little over a year and half ago, the baker I met with had told me that they no longer make Kakon since few favour it now. Hearing Srikant note the contrary, I assumed it must have to do with changing neighbourhood tastes though it seemed unlikely.
Srikant spoke in the heavy Konkani accent that usually distinguishes Goan Catholics uniquely from Goan Hindus, and particularly those hailing from Salcette. But that is not to say that Goan Hindus will not speak in the Konkani accent of fellow Catholics if they’ve lived and grown up in majority Christian neighbourhoods.
There was no one else on the narrow dead-end road separating the mostly Goan Catholic neighbourhood from the Chapel. I gathered it was tea time, a time for quiet, reflection, and a bit of rest from working all day.
A badminton court stretched out empty in front of the Chapel, aiding a spot of recreation for neighbourhood youth, more likely womenfolk for, the men and boys likely favoured football, evident in the page affixed to the Chapel door, listing names of donors contributing to the “1st All Goa 1ASIDE & 3ASIDE Tie-Breaker Football Tournament held on 15th Jan 2010,” organized by Caver Youth Association.
‘2010’ was probably a typo. The page had not yellowed with time and exposure to elements. It should have been ‘2011’ and not ‘2010’. Human beings are creatures of habit and it takes more than a month into the new year to get the year right on paper.
Thirty local residents were listed as donors to the Tie-breaker Tournament, a common sight in Goa, particularly among largely Goan Christian neighbourhoods in Salcette, and to an extent in Tiswadi. While most Tie-breaker Football Tournaments in Goa will split the prize money between Winners and Runners-up, some will stage the tournaments to raise funds for the local parish church, or to local charity supported by the church or otherwise. The tournaments draw feverish competition and much of the village turns up to cheer the contestants on.
The Caver Youth Association had managed to raise Rs. 4,750/- from the thirty donors - Anthony Alemao, Xavier Cardoso, Santan, Gloria, Melinda, Joswin Dias, Erkin Dias, Agnelo Moraes, Wilroy Cardoso, Joy D’Souza, Vinya Monteiro, Jose Gomes, Afi Moraes, Inacio Vaz, Joel Fernandes, Anand Bandekar, Janny Vaz, Stanley D’Silva, Kapil Fernandes, Nobert Pinheiro, Soccoro Dias, Richard Oliveira, Samsan Dias, Mary Dias, Agnelo Oliveira, Rosario Oliveira, Fraser Rodrigues, Costao Pinheiro, George Oliveira, and a ‘Well Wisher’ who didn’t wish to be named.
I was intrigued by the cheeky line below the list of donors that read: “Thank you, may God bless you and help you as much as you have lend a helping hand to us.”
While most donors donated Rs. 100, with a few donating Rs. 200, barring two donors who donated Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 respectively, I'd imagine they'd be generally happy with receiving God’s blessings equally, excepting the few who donated Rs. 50 and could not have been pleased upon learning of Caver Youth Association seeking for them, God’s blessings commensurate with their donation, half the blessings of those who'd contributed Rs. 100, and a quarter of those contributing Rs. 200!
Calling out his presence to the neighbourhood one last time, the Poder paused for a few moments before cycling back the way he had come, soon disappearing out of sight past the bend in the road.
And stillness reigned once again.