October 24, 2009

A Vermillion Morning

Udupi, 2009.

In the song of a worn stone
Floating in the silence of time
An ancient temple speaks,
Of how enduring faith
Lent the awakening sunshine
The melody of a vermillion morning.

October 22, 2009

The Bridge At Corjuem

Like with most things in Goa the bridge at Corjuem revealed itself as we rounded a bend in the road we had ridden over from Aldona. The road ran on to Quitla while we turned right before slowing down on the approach to the cable-stayed bridge over the river Mapusa at Corjuem (Khorjuem).

Earlier in the evening while passing through Carona on our way to Aldona we rode down a gentle slope that ran past the Mascarenhas home, the entrance guarded by a pair of lions in a profusion of brightly coloured gardening plants.

Hidden in leaves that rose behind the lion to the left, a clay soldier stood erect, his right hand raised in a smart salute. A letter box was welded to the gate that led up a short flight of steps to the cemented approach to the Mascarenhas home set back from the gate by several metres.

From the gate the porch was visible under a sloping roof of Mangalore tiles. In all probability it housed a balcao where the family rested in the humid afternoons for a bit of breeze or when neighbours stopped by to catch up on events marking the day. A balcao is where Goan families from an earlier era often connect with the world outside their drawing rooms. It is where they watch over children playing outside. It is also where they welcome visitors or see them off.

Growing up I used to sit in the balcao of the Rebellos and watch pigs and piglets upto their antics. Now I cannot imagine Goa without balcaos.

A quick picture later Jags and I rode down the slope before turning left in the direction of Aldona. Ahead lay a red house. Creepers and thick vegetation rose on either side of the narrow road.

As we came up the incline past the red house a group of villagers in Carona had gathered for prayers in Konkani in front of a roadside Cross. Carona is predominantly Christian. We paused by the shrine to Jesus to take in the divinity of the evening. The prayers hit high notes before evening out. To a travelling eye they soothed the journey and in the chorus the unity of a rural setting shone through. A road curved viciously and sloped down behind the Cross, past quiet homes.

There was scarcely a soul on the road save an occasional motorcyclist, the roar trailing long after he had disappeared round the red house we had passed a few minutes earlier. The sky was overcast. It was approaching six in the evening.

We came upon paddy fields to our left. Two women were scything through knee high paddy crop as we rode on to Aldona, reaching the village square minutes later. Further on the road ran to Mapusa. We turned right in the direction of Quitla, minutes later turning off the road the second time and onto the the approach to the Corjuem bridge.

The Sun had broken through the clouds, lighting up the colourful cables that held the bridge over the Mapusa. At the time of its completion in 2004 it was only the sixth cable-stayed bridge in India. For travelers between Aldona and Corjuem it offered an efficient alternative to the river ferry that plied across the stretch of the Mapusa river between the two villages. In time the river ferry became redundant.

The pillars rise to 49 metres and can be seen from far, above coconut groves, only competing with the Aldona church that seemingly rises to the skies when seen from the former ferry point we would visit later in the evening. The bridge spans 235 metres and was built at an estimated cost of rupees 23 crores. At the time there was talk of developing the Corjuem fort, a short distance away, into a tourist spot. The fort dates back to 1705 A.D. and unlike other forts in Goa that face the sea it is one of the only two found inland. On visiting the fort after crossing the bridge and turning left we found little or no sign of much having transpired in the time the bridge was thrown open to the public in 2004.

However we stopped for a bite of Poli and Batata Vada before resolving to visit the fort another time. The light was beginning to drop and we still had the former ferry point to visit. I was not very keen on it though. It’s never easy on me to see a formerly busy ferry point ferrying travelers across the river now lying desolate.

The poli was soft and elastic. The vendor said it came from a bakery in Assnora. The batata vada was oily and cold. I asked for two polis as the vendor reached into his basket fitted to the back of his bicycle. An elderly villager who had stopped by the vendor for snacking on poli and batata vada smiled before asking me,

“You’re buying one poli for the two of you?”

“No, I asked for two,” I replied, returning his smile.

He smiled back.

Then we rode back the way we had come, stopping by a roadside shop for a drink of Fanta. The orange drink soothed our throats gone dry from the long ride.

A calendar on the wall depicted the momentous scene from the Mahabharata when in the heat of battle with the Kauravas at Kurukshetra fought thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna instructs the kneeling Arjun of his dharma, calling him to his duty while dispelling his apprehension and doubts he is beset with on facing up to his own great grand-father Bhishma, his cousins the Kauravas, and his teacher Dronacharya on the battlefield. Krishna’s teachings on duty and righteousness in the middle of the battle at Kurukshetra came to be collected in the Bhagavad Gita, and is revered by the Hindus.

Lord Krishna is worshipped and celebrated across India by the Hindus and rests prominently in their pantheon of deities.

Pausing at the sacred scene from the Mahabharata in the calendar issued by Sattari Liquor Traders, wholesalers of Indian Made Foreign Liquor, and Haldankar Liquor Industries, manufacturers of Cajulana, Cashew, and Coconut Fenny (Feni), it rightly reminded me of Kali Yuga that commenced on the demise of Lord Krishna.

Kali Yuga is known as the age of Kali, the male demon, and also as the age of vice! In the Hindu school of thought the Kali Yuga is the last of the four Yugas or stages the world will cycle through before ending on account of its spiritual degeneration largely brought upon by vices. The demise of Lord Krishna kick started the age of Kali or Kali Yuga.

Before stepping out I reflected for a moment on the irony of advertising liquor on a calendar depicting Lord Krishna given that the Age of Kali or the Age of vice commenced with his disappearance from Earth!

Refreshed by the orange drink we continued straight down the road past the approach to the cable-stayed bridge, passing the spacious Corjuem Gymkhana dating from 1946 before turning right at the corner where the Mae De Deus (Mother of God) chapel straddles the approach to the former ferry point that was a lifeline to travelers between Corjuem and Aldona not too long ago.

In the distance the bridge seemingly rose from the vegetation along the Corjuem bank of the Mapusa river.

Where the ramp once sloped down to the water thick grass now obscured it. Only on looking closer did the outlines of the ramp reveal themselves in the knee high grass.

I closed my eyes and imagined the probable evening scene from years ago as passengers awaited the ferry at Corjuem, pacing the approach while the ferry lay berthed awaiting passengers on the Aldona side of the river. It must be entirely possible to see the ferryman loosen the rope securing it to the ramp and hear the pulleys lift the gangplank as the ferry blew its horn before pulling out of the opposite bank on its way across the river to Corjuem.

The sight of the ferry mid river would hurry the waiting passengers into walking towards the ramp while those on motorcycles would kick start them, readying to drive over the gangplank onto the ferry. Still others would cease conversations with fellow villagers waiting alongside and trace the approaching outline on the river, watching in silence before resuming their conversations.

The owner of the shop on the edge of the river, now closed possibly from lack of business, would announce to his patrons the approaching ferry as they quickly downed tea or spirits before paying up at the counter and walking out the door to the ramp to join the others.

As the ferry neared the ramp the engine would whine in the silence of the night, and punctuated by the rattling of chains lowering the gangplank it would light up in the headlights of vehicles waiting to drive over. A rush of feet and voices would head over the gangplank and onto the ferry as it swayed in the waters before stilling on the captain cutting its engines.

It is all over now. The ramp is hidden in the grass. The roads are empty. The shop is shut. And there is no ferry operating. Headlights no longer light up the river. Instead they take the bridge at Corjuem on their way over the river to Aldona, the cable-stayed bridge!

Behind me fishing nets dry on a bamboo pole. Further away three villagers sit talking on a sakho where passengers once sat out their wait for the river ferry to Aldona.

I meander in the grass and walk over to where two fishing boats lie in a tight embrace. Lying in silence they must whisper their memories of the river, of waiting voices that floated away into the night, and of how times were some years ago.

Often it is discontinuity that marks the passage of time while making memories along the way.

Related Posts

1. River Crossings
2. A Riverside Inn

October 09, 2009

A Buffalo Gets A Bath

Buffaloes love their bath. They love water, more so if it is muddy. Then they can roll in the mud until the mud can roll no more.

There’re folks who assign buffaloes the capability of thought. I do not dispute their ability to entertain thought, but to say that buffaloes revel in mud baths to keep ticks and flies away is stretching it too far. It might well be true, the effect of keeping ticks and flies away that is. But I am not prepared to believe that buffaloes roll in mud and water so as to keep ticks and flies away. That must be more a consequence of loving a mud bath, not the reason.

Their unmoving nature might prompt some into thinking they’re deliberating. They might well be, but deliberating a thought? No sir. A big head does not necessarily mean all of it is grey matter. As it is the world has enough heads, big and small, cooking up thoughts, and see where it has got us, and the buffaloes.

In the water they are a picture of calm even when a colony of frogs uses them for floating islands like they did with a buffalo lolling about in a streetside pond in Kasargod. It was only on getting closer did the 'warts' in the distance resolve into frogs basking on the buffalo's back in the late noon Sun as I hurried down the mud path for the bus back to Murudeshwar. For an animal that chews so much one might expect them to chew a thought of its frills and spit out wisdom. Instead they chew wisdom and spit out thoughts in those who observe them.

Where obedience is a virtue, it fetches you a bath that lasts three minutes!

It takes a strong man with strong hands to get buffaloes out of a mud pit. But it takes a hard man to give his buffalo a three minute bath!

On Naumi day in Lahavit, a farming village off Nashik, I was witness to just such an atrocity.

Nearing noon, the farmer led his buffalo out of the shed with a sloping asbestos sheet to the water trough. An outhouse abutted the shed. In all likelihood the farmer had his living quarters in an accommodation adjacent to the shed for he was bare-chested when he led the buffalo out. He was clad in a dhoti and the swell of his belly mirrored the swell of the hills in the far distance.

Grass grew lush in the foreground. A pipe ended over the water trough, a likely source of water pumped into the trough.

A tree rose over the trough and beyond I thought I saw signs of a sugarcane field fenced off from the farmer’s dwelling. I’ve no idea whom the sugarcane field belonged to. In the shade of the tree clothes dried on rocks heaped underneath. Power lines conveyed electricity to the farmer's dwelling.

To the other side, under a small tree, a tractor lay parked. A few feet away from the farmer’s tractor a wooden cart stood in the shade.

Next day was Dussera, and I was looking to experience it in Nashik. It was on Dussera day, after nine days of fighting his army of demons that Goddess Durga finally slew the demon Mahishasura after he took on his original form of a buffalo.

Mahishasura had sought from the gods a boon that granted him immunity from death at the hands of a male. Armed with the boon he turned on the Gods themselves. Constrained by the very boon they had granted Mahishasura they conspired to dispatch Goddess Durga, a female, to bring about his downfall.

During Navratri (Nine Nights), leading up to Dussehra day (it fell on Sept 28 last month) it is common to find pictures of Goddess Durga astride her vehicle, the tiger, grace public and private spaces. In the train we took to Kalyan that morning on the eve of Dussehra, fixed to a partition in the compartment was a picture of Goddess Durga by the tiger, duly garlanded.

She slew Mahishasura when in the heat of the battle he took on the form of a buffalo, his original avatar. Elaborate Durga pandals often depict her plunging her trident into Mahishasura as he bit the mud, his horns lying limp at the force of her thrust. And so do pictures depicting the moment.

I’m not sure if buffaloes were tamed as a result. Whatever the case maybe they somehow took a liking to mud and water.

So when the farmer reached into the water trough and splashed the buffalo with water that morning I imagined the buffalo sigh with relief unless of course it knew better.

The farmer was joined by an elderly lady at the water trough. She washed an utensil before leaving the bonded alone.

A quick motion saw the water splash against the buffalo on the left.

It was followed by a quick splash and a vigorous rub of the neck.

Another quick splash followed by a vigorous rub of the back.

No sooner had the farmer finished with the back he turned his attention to her right flank. Two quick splashes later he was done!

All it took was three minutes!

A three-minute bath before she was led back to her shed!!!!!!

October 04, 2009

A Sunday Morning in Chandor

At Guirdolim we waited at the railway crossing for the train to roar past before continuing on our way to the village square dominated by the Nossa Senhora de Belem Church as it rises over the countryside in Chandor, once known as Chandrapura, the ancient capital of Goa during the reign of the Kadambas in 11th century A.D.

Most know the church as Chandor Church. And most know Chandor for the Menezes Braganza mansion that takes up a sizeable length of the church square opposite Luis Antao’s house beside a Government Primary School.

In an open patch of land across the road from the Menezes Braganza mansion a whitewashed Church Cross stands alone on the roadside, aligned with the church entrance. Opposite, in the shade of plants, a gate opens into the Menezes Braganza mansion, its east and west wings stretching outwards from the entrance. A tour of the mansion is a peek into the opulence of the aristocracy of the Portuguese era.

Dating back to the 17th century A.D., the Nossa Senhora de Belem Church, together with the Menezes Braganza mansion, stands as a prominent signpost of the Portuguese era in Goa. The Portuguese were second to none in demolishing Hindu temples and building churches over them. Led by overzealous Jesuit missionaries and an aggressive Church that used violence to ‘persuade’ its conquered subjects to convert to Christianity, Portuguese depredation of Goa is legion.

Before Nossa Senhora de Belem Church came to dominate the village landscape in 1645, a Hindu temple, Sapta Matrika (Seven Mothers) stood in its place until its destruction by the Portuguese a century earlier. Muslim invaders were no different. Together they erased much of Chandor’s Hindu past. Forcible conversions by the Jesuits did the rest, changing the cultural character of the village. The forefathers of the Menezes Braganza family were said to be the Desai, an influential Hindu family from the village before their forcible conversion to Christianity by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

Chandor lies on the banks of the river Kushavati, and is made up of the three hamlets of Cotta, Cavorim, and Guirdolim. The city of Margao lies 15 kilometres away.

Sunday mornings in Chandor are relaxed affairs. Dressed in Sunday finery, village folk start for the church early, walking in a single file along largely empty roads. Every once in a while when fancy takes hold, children dressed in brightly coloured frocks prance on the roads before their mothers pull them to the side of the road, their gentle admonishments lost to the breeze. Gents in open necked shirts, some in black coats and crisp trousers, heads held high, make their way in silence. The faces are cheerful and smiles come easy. Colourful umbrellas twirl to the beat of the parishioners gait and lend colour to the blue skies over Chandor.

Occasionally a church-goer will pause to exchange pleasantries with a fellow villager across the road, headed in the opposite direction, voices carrying back and forth before each continues on his way.

Father Saude Pereira is the Parish Priest and is assisted by Father Damaciano Carvalho.

With the gathering of parishioners in the Church, often spilling out into the courtyard, intonations ring out rhythmically, enhancing the village idyll with lyrical cadences.

As we made our way past the railway crossing at Guirdolim the Sun slanted across the road, lighting up brightly coloured tavernas and shops. There was little or no hint of life within. Casa Miranda General Stores advertising Belo Beer was yet to open. It was still early in the morning for the folks in the village and moreover Sundays start with mass at the Chandor Church before it is time for commerce.

Drums lay against the wall partly hidden under the sloping roof and painted red. They were rusted from exposure to the elements. The door was open and I spied a man inside. A bicycle was propped against a tree. He had probably cycled to his shop on it.

We had ridden through Curtorim, passing along the way nests of Baya Weavers and womenfolk carrying cane baskets on their way to paddy fields. It was early November of last year and the threshing of paddy was nearing completion. If we were lucky we would get to see the last of the activities in Chandor that early November day.

The Sunday mass was underway when we reached the church square. Cars, two wheelers, and bicycles lay parked outside the church. A few shops stood across the road from the church. We stepped inside an inn for tea and pao bhaji. The proprietress was busy at the back of the inn when we made our way to the front of the inn and settled down at a table. The inn was empty. I expected it to fill up to capacity once the church dispersed for the day. Until then we had a gentleman for company.

Stuck to the wall behind the counter an envelope announced NO SMOKING. On an open flap of the envelope transgressors were warned of a fine of twenty rupees for smoking. A picture of Jesus graced one corner. Light streamed into the inn, brightening up the counter before losing its way inside.

We asked for pao bhaji before relapsing into silence. At the entrance a Tiatr performance was advertised on a board propped up against a glass case displaying snacks. The samosas had likely gone cold. An old issue of The Navhind Times lay crumpled in one of the shelves.

Two plates of Usal made their way to our table accompanied by pao (bread). As expected the masala used was strong. We ate in silence.

Shortly afterwards the Sunday mass concluded and parishioners filed out of the church and into the village square. The quiet roads now throbbed with people. Some came by the inn. A middle-aged lady came in and ordered for six plates of pao bhaji to be packed for home delivery. Her young son was with her. The proprietress asked after his studies, affectionately berating him to do well on his mother complaining of his lack of interest in his studies.

“He keeps cycling around the village all day or is out playing football with his friends,” his mother told the proprietress. The boy, embarrassed, shifted on his feet, evading their gaze.

“Collect the package in twenty minutes,” she told his mother before exchanging village banter.

Not all parishioners had waited for the Sunday mass to conclude before leaving for home. A few had left just as it was drawing to a close.

From among the rest a few lolled about in the square catching up with friends. Others stepped into shops for provisions to carry home while still others got behind their wheels and backed out of the open parking lot while children cycled merrily along the roads. Behind the church lay the village soccer field. Further up was the cemetery.

At the head of the road that branched off the main road along the church before running by the inn, bisecting paddy fields along the way north, I paused to watch an elderly Catholic couple dressed for the Sunday mass walk lightly home on the deserted road.

A swarm of swallows settled on electricity lines that ran high up along the road. Numbering in excess of hundred they somersaulted in the air before returning to their perches on the wires and basking in the Sun to the east. Oblivious to their presence the elderly couple walked along, their umbrella occasionally bobbing from side to side. She probably held the umbrella open out of habit for, while the morning was warming up in the Sun a pleasant breeze meandered joyously along.

The road ran straight and narrow. Coconut palms rose in the distance, merging in the backdrop of hills that towered over the route to Quepem. The hills of Chandranath must lie somewhere close I thought. Mud dug up to widen the road lay heaped along one side. The red of the mud offered a stark contrast with the green of the grass.

We started down the open road, reveling in the sunshine of a Sunday morning, pausing to marvel at Small Green Bee-eaters show off their acrobatics in the skies above a field abutting a coconut grove. As they zig zagged after prey we let out excited whoops on catching sight of their successful dives.

There was no one around to share our ringside view of the acrobatics except for a Holy Cross sheltering under a tin roof and set off by grass that had turned to a burnished gold in the warmth of a sleepy little village on the banks of an ancient river called Kushavati.

In a moment of sheer joy happiness makes for happy company.