April 07, 2011

A Goan Landscape in Salcette

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.


Niranjana said...

I've never heard of or seen Kakon--is it rusk-like in texture?

And nice vignette about kids and wearable food.I remember wearing those cheese rings on my fingers, and of course making necklaces and other jewelry with chapati dough...

Alka Gurha said...

The prose is almost lyrical...I felt as if I was there in that moment.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

nice perspectives Anil

Anonymous said...

You have a way with words.. simple and yet capturing the essence of the subject..

Thank you for visiting me..

Jon said...

Everyone travels only to the few popular spots in Goa...completely ignorant that there is a life outside.... the tones of fotos rhyme with your descriptions!!

Riot Kitty said...

You have gone to so many beautiful places!

Arunima said...

"beak pointed at the sheet of water, not a ripple stirring the sheet to life."


Bhargavi said...

Beautiful pics!

anan said...

its an amazing ride through landscapes on a two wheeler in goa..its a virtual photographic tour of goan landscapes..love the picture of the church and would surely like to try the kakon bread

Anil P said...

Niranjana: Kakon's texture is usually smooth, and is crispy, brittle even. Kakon is hard, but not hard enough to make biting it difficult, mostly it is easily crunchable.

Goan breads offer variety, and most of them are made in village bakeries that dot Goa in the hinterland.

Growing up, most foods are of the 'playable' kind.

Necklaces from Chapati dough :-)

Alka Gurha: Thank you. I'm glad you felt that way.

Shrinidhi Hande: Thank you.

Stranger: Thank you. The Goan countryside manifests simply.

Jon: Thank you. Goa is advertised as Sun, Sand, Beaches, driving visitors to experience the advertisement in its one-dimensionality.

Riot Kitty: And many more still remain :-)

Arunima: Thank you. The Heron is in the middle of the water body in the picture. Beak poised.

Bhargavi: Thank you.

Anan: Thank you. Two-wheeler and Two-legs are the best transport about Goa if one wishes to explore its landscapes.

Anonymous said...

Again this post from you revives my nostalgic memories of Goa. I grew up in Goa and did my schooling and college education there. Love the beaches, temples, churches and relaxed lifestyle!

Lynn said...

The colors in your photographs are so beautiful - they remind me of paintings. Just lovely and I love reading the words that go with them.

My Unfinished Life said...

wonderful post of a Goa so different from all the tourist brochures and tales!!!

would love to see this side of Goa when i do come travelling there

TALON said...

That first photograph takes my breath away, Anil. It's stunning!

Always a pleasure to read your thoughts and experiences and see the world through your photographs.

dr.antony said...

I am short of words to describe my feelings.There is something in the way you write,that makes me pause for breaths.
Your words simply flow in to and merge with the pictures.
The scenario looks similar to Kerala.

chhavi said...

Oh my!!! you are quite a traveler Anil... The pictures are absolutely lovely.... I love the first one :)Different shades of the same colour can conjure such a marvelous scene.

Bikramjit Singh Mann said...

OH MY GOD look at that .. wowow pictures .. I dont know what to say .. I wish one day i am able ot enjoy such wonders of our country ..

Dew said...

You travel alone??? Such lovely pics :)

Meena Venkataraman said...

Very beautifully written. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this one!

Anil P said...

SajeevKMenon: Thank you. The Goa memories must be many indeed, more so when it from student days, not weighed down by the cares of life.

Lynn: Thank you. Quietness is a painting all by itself.

Shooting Star: Thank you. The 'other' Goa is as interesting, and worthwhile in the Visit Goa plan.

Talon: Thank you. It's a pleasure to learn of your sentiment.

Dr.Antony: Thank you. In some ways, similar to Kerala, in many other ways, it's dissimilar to Kerala.

I'm happy to know you enjour reading these posts.

Chhavi: Thank you. Sometimes the morning will do that to waterbodies, though not all mornings, nor to all water bodies. Only to some.

Nature is choosy with her benevolence.

Bikramjit Singh Mann: Thank you. There're many wonders to see in India.

Dew: Not always, sometimes, yes. Otherwise with folks who love meandering as much as I do.

Meena Venkataraman: Thank you :-)

Grannymar said...

I saved this post for a quiet few moments to soak up the sights and descriptions. As always it is so worth it. I am now refreshed to continue my day!

Cuckoo said...

You've done a wonderful job of bringing Goa to life for me. Both of my trips to Goa were literally 'resort trips' without stepping out to get a local flavor of the place. You did that for me. I feel like I was a ghost-pillion rider soaking in the smells and sights of Goa with you. Please travel more often, and therefore write more often!

Anil P said...

Grannymar: A Thank you. A pleasure to learn of your sentiment. Makes the effort put into the post all the more worthwhile.

Cuckoo: Thank you. Maybe the next time you'll get to venture around Goa.

Much travelling has been done, only I haven't come around to writing them yet. Hopefully I'll be able to do more writing here in time. Thank you for your kind comment.

PallSin said...

Write a book. you must. I beg you to.

Anil P said...

Pall Sin: Thank you for the vote of confidence. Hopefully, it will materialise into a book someday. Thanks.

JayaBidkar said...

I love Goa :) Thanks for sharing this. It sure brought back old memories.

Magan said...

Anil, (here it is)
Again, another nostalgic trip down the alleys of Goa.

Turning left at 'Tembi' is still familiar way of visiting my aunt. The stretch of 100 metre road almost floats in tidal waters.
I scrolled down to see the arch just before the Rachol Seminary, probably you left it out for a reason. All India Radio's Panaji station would play quite a few religious songs at their 6 Am start, made by 'Rachol Seminary Choir' that surely make memories of many.

How can we forget the ubiquitous 'poder' and the 'paav' he brought every early morning for the breakfast before we ran to the school assembly. Long time ago! However lately I also see them on their
bicycles even at 8.30 am and very likely 'he' has a north Indian accent. So much for globalization. The ' kakon' is called 'bagel' in the Europe & elsewhere. I wonder then if the term came from mispronounced bagel into bangle. Nevertheless, it fitted perfectly as a bangle in my hands as a small kid then." Not a long time ago!"
BTW Goans in Mumbai are/ were
called ' pawwalla' as my cousin from Thana says. Kids in Mumbai of Goan origin were often made fun by saying 'mhaka paav' ( that means bless me) as often the Roman Catholics would say in Konkani. That the paav part of the exclamation was misunderstood by the non Konkani speakers as the bread.
The picture of the poder with his basket tucked to the career of his bycycle, not to miss - using the worn out bicycle tyre tubing,the mangalore tiled house at the bend and the exposed laterite fence that is or used to be quite common with the 'maad' and the dried coconut leaves at the background. I' m glad that you did capture one of the things that is conspicuous in the photo is the 'ponk ponk' air horn that the poder carries.
Cannot forget the aroma of the freshly baked paav that the poder scented the neighborhoods with.

My cousins from Santemol near Rachol speak version of Konkani that their majority neighborhood Catholics use. And in that sence are non distinguishishable.

As I know from my father, coconut harvesting takes place every 3 months for each 'maad'. And if you are a 'bhatkar' (like the Vaidhya family of our childhood), then you'd have every 1/4 th of your palms harvested every month so there is a continuous supply of both coconuts to the house as well as income and the cleaning and the maintenance that the tree needs.

Anil P said...

Magan: Thank you for a detailed comment. Your reference to the origin of Pao was interesting, something I hadn't known of before.

The Catholic Konkani accent can only result among Goan Hindus if they've stayed in Catholic-majority neighbourhoods, not otherwise.

True, I left the picture of the arch leading up to the Rachol Seminary out so that I could include it in a post centered around Rachol sometime later.

Many poders now hail from Hubli, some from Belgaum as well. I'd have preferred Goans retaining the activity if only for the sdake of tradition, and the free-wheeling banter they'll indulge in with fellow villagers they've grown up with.

Of late I've noticed the poders do not use blue plastic the way they would before. Now it's more of the colour and design you see in the picture I've included in the post. The use of tyre tube to fasten it around the basket remains intact.

The call of the poder and the fragrance of freshly baked pao is an incomparable constant in Goan landscapes. The village bakeries are an institution as well.

The whole process of keeping track of coconuts and its distribution among the tenants by the Bhatkar is actually interesting, and fairly involved given that in olden days there was no paper and pen used.

Those tasked with protecting coconuts ripening in trees from theft were held responsible for missing coconuts and were penalised by being deprived of their share of coconuts equal to those missing when under their care.

And so much simplicity associated with the bakey and poder scene as well.