November 10, 2008

A Day Out in Divar

Each time I take the ferry from Piedade to Divar and disembark on the island I stay close to the Mandovi, hearing her waffle lazily beyond the thick wall of mangroves that hides a narrow bund hewn from the earth and baked hard by an unrelenting Sun.

The bund keeps the river at bay, separating the paddy fields inland from the estuary where the Mandovi empties into the Arabian Sea. Were the river to breach the bund at high tide and flood the fields inland it would leave salt deposits behind and render the fields unfit for cultivation for a long time.

On the stretch of bund I now take in the direction of Chorao there’s little or no sign of an opening in it though I’m hard pressed to account for the still water on the other side of the bund, in the direction of paddy fields that lie in the backdrop of churches of Old Goa. I can see faint outlines of the churches in the distance. From where I now stand, straining for a glimpse of the churches above the head-high vegetation lining the bund it is difficult to imagine I’m on an island. In the distance haze blurs their outlines. Behind me slapping sounds emerge from the mangroves as the Mandovi laps it on the outside. Up in the sky Kites circle lazily, riding invisible thermals.

In wide open spaces a sense of silence is had from a lack of movement, accentuated by the stillness of the landscape. There the distance between the wandering eye and a life form insulates each from the other. It is as if an invisible blanket separates the two, letting you look in but hiding movements in the distance separating the two. But in enclosed spaces like I’m in, hemmed in by mangroves on either side of the bund, silence makes itself felt in the small noises one cannot easily trace. Not knowing the source from whence the noises emanate makes me acutely aware of the silence separating instances of repeating noises as I count the moments before I hear the noise again. It is in the interludes between signs of life that I live the silence. And nowhere have I experienced it as acutely as when walking on the bund in the middle of the mangroves at Chorao and Divar. And it is only in the breaks in the vegetation where the Mandovi glints silver from the Sun glancing off its surface that one feels there’s life beyond the confines of space one is currently navigating.

When the ferry deposited us on Divar where a small Holy Cross sheltering under a corrugated sheet welcomes visitors to the island I cast a longing glance at the ribbon of a road that winds its way between paddy fields on its way to Piedade, passing picture postcard pretty houses along the way. There’s something about sultry weather on an island with pretty houses set back from the narrow road that winds its way about the place – it keeps people indoors much of time else how does one explain the empty streets. Some homes have fallen to time, others soldier on, and yet others burst with life as if untouched by time, and they make the trip across the Mandovi worthwhile.

“When you come over I’ll take you to show my house in Divar,” Percival Noronha said over the phone. Apparently he meant ‘or what is left of it’ for, it collapsed in 1993, weighed down by want of care. It wasn’t so in the decades leading up to its demise. “Who was there to take care of it,” he said before continuing, “most of them (relatives) migrated to America and elsewhere and it fell into disrepair.”

Percival Noronha returned to India from Uganda when he was all of six years old and went to live in Divar where his maternal grandfather, Joao Silveira-Vital, had a home in Sao Mathias, ‘one of the wards making up the island of Divar’. Piedade and Malar are the other. “Later Piedade was split into Navelim and Goltim. The Goltecars are from Goltim, now they use ‘k’ instead of ‘c’ and spell it Goltekar,” he explained. Divar has come to be known for the Bonderam festival. Celebrated on the fourth Saturday of August, the Divar Bonderam festival is said to trace its roots to the pre-Portuguese era. A harvest festival it commences with the cutting of the first sheaf of paddy.

“My ancestor converted to Christianity in the 1580s,” Percival recollected of the period in Goa’s history marked with much strife in the face of repressive conversions the Portuguese carried out largely under the threat of force. “On converting he was given the surname ‘Silveira’. In time impressed by his knowledge and abilities the Portuguese conferred him with ‘Vital’ and the surname changed to ‘Silveira-Vital. Among all the Silveiras he was the only one accorded this honour,” he recalled with pride. ‘Vital’ is ‘essencial, indispensavel, de importancia vital’ in Portuguese.

In 1930 Percival Noronha left Divar for good, his mother having shifted base to Panjim so he could school further. Remembering the home they left behind in Sao Mathias on the island of Divar, he said, “It was a typical bhatkar’s family home. A stately staircase opened into an imposing balcony. Inside were a large sized drawing room and an equally large dining hall, richly furnished. An attractive machila (means of transportation for two or more in olden days) added a graceful, aristocratic feel to the atmosphere in the house. Both the manorial halls were sided with bedrooms, and so was the long corridor leading to the kitchen. Then there was the nursery with 3-4 nannies in attendance while 7-8 servants looked after the stable of cows and buffaloes in the area adjoining the house. The nearest neighbour was far away.”

Later in the day we were to pass many a stately home on our way to Piedade. Piedade lay only a short distance from where we had stopped on our way to watch students from the Our Lady of Divar High School practice football in an empty paddy field under the supervision of a coach who would call out urgently at the lads learning the moves. “Go now, quick,” he shouted. “Get the ball here, get it.” Behind us a dead bat hung from electricity wires that ran parallel to the narrow ribbon of a road bisecting the empty paddy field into two.

To our left stretched the other portion of the paddy field, ending in mangroves to the West. The field was covered with ash, and as I walked through it black soot rose and stung my nostrils. In the backdrop of undulating hills a leafless tree stood alone in the distance. Kites took off and landed in the tree.

We parked the car in the shade of a tree by the road where the previous day a group of four men from the village lazed with beer and sandwiches, their scooters parked to the side in the shade of the tree. On the wires overhead Roller Jays paused for breath while Bee-eaters somersaulted in the air, picking insects as they dived sharply. Every once in a while Black Drongos landed on the wires. It was that time of the day, approaching evening when birds go looking for prey.

To the West where mangroves bordered the rice field an occasional Sandpiper, head bent to the earth, foraged in the shallow waters, taking wings as I approached it with my camera. Other species of water birds followed. A breeze blew in from behind me, cooling my neck. Bird calls dissected the late afternoon even as the coach called out instructions to his wards as they practiced on the field, dribbling the football past defenders. It was a setting reminiscent of ‘village life’ that city dwellers occasionally dream of, peaceable and purposeful without being rushed. In the retreating noise of an occasional motorbike passing on the road, the only other activity, other than the schoolboys kicking the football around was that of myriad birds frolicking on the electricity wires.

Speaking of birdlife on Divar, Ajay recalled seeing Asian Openbilled Stork, Osprey, White Ibis, Redshank, Large Egret, Median Egret, Small Blue Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Common Sandpiper, Shikra, Pipits, Drongo, and Roller Jay on the island. “There’re bound to be more species out there that I haven’t seen,” he conceded. Most of the species were to be found in and around the mangroves. Only the Shikra, the Pipit, the Drongo, and the Roller Jay stayed inland. Since Chorao adjoins Divar it is only natural for them to share the number of bird species to be seen in those parts.

I walk back the length of road I had taken to photograph the Sandpiper. A Maruti car, apparently belonging to the coach is parked to the side of the road. A lanky young boy in a blue t-shirt sat with his back against the rear door, watching the others practice. He had cream-coloured capris on. Joel Correa was the captain of his school’s under-14 football team.

“Why aren’t you joining them to practice,” I asked him, pointing to his schoolmates practicing hard under the watchful eye of their coach. He went silent for a moment before answering, “The coach kept me out for not turning up in shoes.”

I kept quiet. I knew better than to comment given the embarrassment he must surely feel to be ordered out of practice, more so given his responsibility to the team as their captain. It was their first day at practice after they had broken for exams. They had a match coming up shortly against ‘a team from Panjim’. There wasn’t much time between now and match-day. Surely it must hurt him I thought.

Time and again the coach, Mario Aguiar, would abruptly stop issuing instructions and sit on his haunches before calling the boys over to explain strategy with a stick, patiently drawing positions in the mud. Then he would straighten up and exhort them with a stinging, “START,” “GO, GO, GO-GO-GO.”

“Does he coach at your school?” I ask Joel.

“Yes, and also at the St. Esteves Sports Club.”

A large cement pipe lay to the edge of the road. Propped against it were several bicycles the boys had ridden to the ground. The older (under-16) among those who had turned up for the practice sat on the pipe watching the younger lot (under-14) being put through their paces by the coach. An extra set of footballs held together in loose netting lay on the ground not far from where the boys sat on the large cement pipe. A couple of them circled tightly on their bicycles, passing time, waiting to be called in to practice. Another bounced the ball on his instep. Whatever else they might’ve put up with; ‘waiting’ was not among them. One of them intoned to his friend who sat alongside him on the cement pipe, complaining about the coach. “Why did he call us for practice if he was only going to engage the under-14s?” he asked his mate. I did not catch the reply, my attention having been diverted by a Kingfisher calling loudly as it took off from its perch over my head.

Dull thuds sounded regularly as the boys made contact with the ball. “Block it. See the body position,” the coach called out instructions, never once tiring in the heat. Evidently there was a lot at stake in the upcoming match-up with a team from the city across the Mandovi.

“How’re you blocking it (ball),” he shouted at a student, displeased with the way he was moving. Then he called out to him with, “Give him the ball,” pointing to another student, before repeating, “look at your body position. Look at it.”

I sit there with the boys, taking in the simplicity of it all. Out there, away from everywhere, you could be a wandering soul and yet belong in ways that makes you one of them. It is hardly surprising for, when you have time to stand and share, and the space to do so, you get to share their passion for life that becomes momentarily yours. The late afternoon is beginning to give way to early evening. Shadows inch across the road as I walk back to where they wait under the tree by the car that’ll take us home.


Anonymous said...

I can just feel the heat, the blessed shadows under trees, the dirt, and hear the sound of water, the quiet and then boys at play, all described so vividly here. Interesting too to learn some of the history of the Portuguese influence.

Granny J said...

Thank you for another picture of life as lived in another part of our world. My visits with you are quite precious.

heidi said...

the shoes... *sigh*

ANC said...

Great writer, an even better photographer! :)

Lakshmi said...

a completely different perspective ..beautiful and a magical world ...u must write more often Anil

Anil P said...

Marja-leena: The sound of water in the silence of the mangroves is quite something. Thanks.

Granny J: Thank you. It's a pleasure to know you enjoy the posts.

Heidi: Joel was quite resigned to his 'fate' for not turning up in shoes.

Absolutely Normal Chaos: Thank you :)

Lakshmi: Thanks. Fleeting moments have a magic about them, more so because they play out in the back of the beyond so to say.

I'll try and write more often, maybe I'm a bit more fleeting as well :)

Reya Mellicker said...

I love seeing these beautiful pictures of India. I've visited, but never got to Bombay - just Delhi and Banaras.

Thank you!

Unknown said...

you know when i read your posts i always feel that i was there doing all this things.. exploring and listening.. i guess the pics makes it easier to imagine..

its was just a lovely trip.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderfully evocative account, which took me out of a drab stalled day into a magical part of the world!

Anonymous said...

your photopgraphs are visually charming,as if resembling a painting.
this post is vivid and gives a picturesque description of an island in goa.
thanks for sharing with your readers.

Anairam said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Anil. When I read writing such as yours, I wish I could write! (But I can't.) I love the description of the soccer practice - the idea of sharing a simple moment - and becoming part of something - just for that moment.

N said...

really enjoyed this post. i didnt think it was possible to get fonder of Goa but going through your post, the writing, the descriptions...... :) was a fun experience.

Anil P said...

Reya Mellicker: The colours lend India characters, the simplicity of the unsophisticated. The next time you could head to the West Coast.

Ani: Thanks. It's a nice feeling to learn how you feel when reading the posts. The breeze waxes and wanes and so do the voices it carries. So it helps to let the heart beat to the rhythm of the breeze, to float with the voices :)

Maria: Thank you :)

Anan: A painting freezes a mood. A photograph freezes a moment. If the moment has a mood to it then the photograph becomes a painting.

Islands invariably develop a character unique to them. I suppose it is the sea that tempers their character.

Anairam: Thank you for the kind words.

When one stays with a moment long enough, it's no longer a moment anymore, it stretches eternity to accomodate the present.

N: Thank you. Goa will continue to expand expectations like only it can. And you don't even have to get on an island to experience it :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, your photos and your descriptions make me feel like I’m there with you, watching and listening. I feel wrapped in the invisible blanket of your lyricism. The blue skies, bright kingfisher and lush greenness is a welcome break from the brown of late autumn in Maine.

Ugich Konitari said...

What a wonderful post. Made me feel as if I could smell the mangroves, and the quiet, and the laid back lifetstyle Goa has. I was there last year(after a gap of 30 years), and it was interesting to see how things had changed . You might want to see This ......

Judy said...

Thanks for your visit. The pictures were wonderful. I really enjoyed seeing the houses and the children practicing their soccer. I felt sorry for the boy who forgot his shoes but it was a lesson for him. The scenery there is beautiful.


A very evocative post with a peep into yesterday's lifestyle, and then balanced with today's football game - the peace and the quiet, and the thrill of the game. Terrific writing, and lovely photographs.

Anil P said...

Sarah Laurence: Thanks. Few things would bring greater happiness than to know that the post brings alive a walking experience. Actually it's a great feeling to know it. Thank you for your comment. :)

Ugich Konitari: Thank you. The quietness there has a charm to it, more like as if stillness walks with you, giving you company, an 'invisible blanket' as Sarah Laurence said in her comment.

Thanks for the link. I'll check it.

Judy: Thank you. It is a lesson for him. Joel did kick ball later but on his own. The coach did not allow him to be a part of the coaching practice.

Raji Muthukrishnan: Thank you. In certain pockets around Goa activities reside in 'isolated' bubbles, which in turn reside in an all pervasive blanket of quietitude.

Unknown said...

I love your writing & equally beautiful pics.

Sapna Anu B.George said...

Thats great Anil......though total stranger to you, the blog read was great

Coffee Messiah said...

I've only taken a river crossing once in east berlin in '89 and, although the experience was unique, I felt sorry for those who ended up on the wrong side of the wall. Especially since they were all the same germans.....

Thanks for the trip and your interactions are always fascinating.


Slogan Murugan said...

Top class!

Unknown said...

Its been almost 18 years since I've walked on that bund and around Chorao... thank you for taking me back there for a while.

Anonymous said...


I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be very good.. u write well.. Why don't you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘Windy Skies’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)


Unknown said...

Thank you for having visited my blog. I discover yours now with beautiful pictures and a good text which makes me discover India that I do not know. It's very interesting for me. I'll come back.
Good evening

Ken Mac said...

paradise no less!

Anil P said...

Shillu: Thank you.

Sapna Anu George: Thanks.

Coffee Messiah: Thank you. River crossings, more so as in traveling from one bank to the other, is charming.

SloganMurugan: Thank you :)

Sree: I can well imagine how it must feel to be returned to a memory from that long ago. The bund is going strong, with appropriate repairs I'm sure.

Ray: Thanks, Ray. I'll check the site.

Le Cheval Endiable: Thank you. It's nice to know you enjoyed reading the post.

Ken Mac: It is.

anudivya said...

You have a nice blog. Nice experiences and awesome pics.

Lucy said...

Pour a cup of coffee, settle down, read each sentence carefully, some two or three times, to steep in it and let it work; I'm travelling in the unique space and time of Windy Skies, a perfect slow read for a weekend morning!

I especially enjoyed the bird notes.

I've heard David Beckham used to regularly practise playing football barefooted, it strengthened and perfected his technique.

Kay Cooke said...

As always - the poetry of your prose drew me into the account of a life observed with patience and wisdom. Beautiful descriptions. Great bird life too!

meb said...

I'm not sure how you found my blog but thank you for visiting. Of course it prompted me to come to your blog and I'm blessed to have read your account along with the descriptive pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Lavinia said...

Hi and thanks for visiting my blog. In answer to your question about birds in winter, yes, we do have birds that remain here over the cold months. They are brave little souls!

You live in quite a different landscape and climate, I can see by your beautiful photos.

Tess Kincaid said...

Lovely tour via your wonderful photos! I thoroughly enjoyed this. And thank you so very much for your kind comment on my header over at my blog. :^)

P said...

You weave words...:)

Ravi Kumar said...

i m not fond of long posts. but yours is an exception ..coz your flow is natural keep it up.. :)

Louise said...

Beautiful photos.

The football stories make me a little sad.

Nihal said...

Smiling Hello Anil:)
It's really exciting to see how other pens speak:)
Reading the riches of India is something like to watch a new dance for me. Hope I find a chance to discover it w/ my eyes.
Btw, I was feeling myself as if writing to my cousin. His name is Anil too, and a very popular name here:)
Anyway thanks for your kind comment left on my little space, and hope to see you again at CrossRoads.

bindu said...

Your writing is so visual! Thanks for taking us along on this trip. I feel like I've been there! Thanks for your comment on my blog.

Kavi said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog !

And you have a great space going here! And the intimate dance between picture and pen is so vivid and enthralling !!

Will come back for more !

Anil P said...

Anudivya: Thanks.

Lucy: The bird notes, yes. Mangroves and estuaries are a potent mix for birds.

Thank you for your kind words. They mean much, and leave a lingering smile behind, not to speak a coffee fragrance as well :)

If only the coach would've allowed Joel to do a Beckham.

Kay: Thank you. The unhurried lingers in the mind.

Meb: Thanks to the interconnectedness of the Web such visits are made possible, and by chance as well. Thank you for the visit.

Lavina: Thanks. It must be a difficult time for them in the winter. Seeing the bird bath freeze up I couldn't but help wonder.

Willow Thank you. It's great to know you enjoyed the Divar tour. Goa is beautiful in more ways than one. The blog header at your place is one of the best I've seen.

Priya: Thanks :)

Ravi Kumar: Length is merely an attribute. Short or long is secondary to what goes into the intent :)

Louise: Thank you.

Nihal: Thanks. There'll always be more to India than we can cover. Hopefully every effort will count for something.

Bindu: Thank you:)

Kavi: Thanks. 'Intimate dance between picture and pen' was a lovely way to describe how you felt :)

please sir said...

Amazing photos and experience...

Dots said...

Lovely description... great pictures.

Jani said...

Absolutely fantastic picture story :) Loved it.

Anil P said...

Please Sir: Thank you.

Dots: Thanks.

Jani: Thank you :)