Friday, March 27, 2009

अन ओदे तो तवेर्नस ऑफ़ Goa

Tavernas and other watering holes of Goa

‘Mai, Pai ani Bhurgim’ (Mom, pop and the brats) could be an apt title for a tiatro (play) based on Goa’s traditional bars, for, in most cases, the whole concept of these alcohol-dispensing water holes in Goa is founded on family. This is not a tribute to the significance of family module in taverns of Goa, but it exists even in Europe. “Many a man who thinks to found a home discovers that he has merely opened a tavern for his friends”. This was opined by Norman Douglas, writer of ‘South Seas’ (1917). If a Kudd in Mumbai can be a home away from home to Goemkars, a tavern is a home close-by home for them as well. This family environs sometimes gets incorporated even in names of the tavernas. If one comes across a taverna named ‘marina’, it is not in declaration of love of the sea, but most probably is named after Maria and Inacio! Somewhere I have read a name marIIna! Obviously, both Maria and Inacio were possessive of the ‘I’ factor.

My own family abhorred drinking and I used to turn my head away as I walked down the road to my school in Mapusa passing by a boulevard of taverns! It dawned upon me after some time that I was getting a pain in the neck with its constant half-revolutions. It was then that I decided to catch the bull by the horns as they say and entered a tavern, to have a Coke! The Coke became spirited much later on, but I never appreciated the true value of the tavernas of Goa until I happened to visit Amchi Mumbai and needed some refreshments. The story was repeated in many other regions in India. The taverna ambience was notable by its absence there; the seedy looking characters gulping in a mortal hurry what seemed to be a diluted cobra juice could simply not be compared with a Goemkar having his nourishments at his leisure. In fact, elsewhere, except in Goa, they really do not know how to drink or to even serve a drink! They look more guilty than AA tribe.

A tavern of Goa is an institution by itself, its ambience unparalleled and the feeling of getting tranquilized a bit is unbeatable. A typical Goan taverna gets started in a village when diminishing returns of income are overtaken by the growing family needs, and the thought wafts around that a few extra bucks could come handy. With some space made available within the house and someone to look after the customers, the tavern gets launched. A mai or an uncle is as indispensable part of the venture as alcoholic drinks; a hired help is unheard of in taverns. It serves usually grams, bhetki (pickled raw mangoes) or dry mackerel as accompaniments to drinks, but sometimes, a special customer is favoured with a small portion of a dish prepared for lunch or dinner for the family (“Just for taste, OK?”). Most popular drink in a tavern is naturally fenny brewed from cashew apples or coconut palms, with an unhurried munching of the village gossip. More than from an alcohol, warmth in taverns flows from candid discussions on miseries of health and affairs of the heart.

That, ‘all things good must come to end’ had supposedly first occurred to the English poet Chaucer many centuries ago. Anything that lasts so long has to have some substance in it! The tavernas of Goa are slowly losing out on the fierce cut-throat competition of the short-cuts approach. With mai, pai and uncle passing away, the family ambience gets disappeared and so does the setting. The gen-next has replaced the old world languor with ‘luv’ for the fast buck, a ‘on the house’ customer sometimes doubling as waiter with a hired help who stares at you unnecessarily and screws its eyes when one orders for good old fenny. These are the times for whisky or a shandy (beer mixed with fizz drink)!

But the idea has caught on…In recent times a few metamorphosed
taverns have come up, though with modern concepts such as doing away with the conjoint names of the parents. One simply named ‘Ernesto’s’ at Clube Vasco da Gama in Panaji is another such watering hole where the European concept of a club restaurant including Goan + International menu blends easily with the amiability of tavernas. The ‘Viva Panjim’ in Panjim’s ‘Latino Quarter’ actually gives you home brewed caju fenny and the food masala is ground by the youthful incarnation of old mai! A petite closet, ‘The High Tide Bar’ at Goa’s pet starred hotel, the Mandovi, offers cosiness that is to be experienced to be believed. It has an unobtrusive extension to balcony, which overlooks the river alongside, offering instant cure for claustrophobic customers. This starred bar has none of the frugal simplicity of old tavernas but it disproves the notion that plush locales cannot achieve that same effect if comfy sense and skilful décor is used. In this case it is indeed aided by scenic beauty; the scene reminds me of Lisboa!

The environs in these 21st millennium joints is as amiable as one could get in modern age and importantly, the managements seem to understand your idiosyncrasies with a large margin for whimsy days.

(Published in Herald of March 3, 2009)

Kalidas Sawkar

11, Singbal Bldg. Tonca, Caranzalem Panaji Goa


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The soul of a Goan lies in fish

The soul of a Goan lies in fish

Parshuram, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu is supposed to have shot his arrow and created the land of Goa on the western side of India and protected Vedas living there by sustaining himself mostly on fish. I generally don’t approve of Parshuram as he had beheaded his mother upon his father’s orders, but this story of him creating Goa and living on fish as much as I do, in my mind, transferred the major blame of his matricide on his father. Downwards of Parshuram, [as in my case] fish enters a Goan baby’s life, all of it a few months, with simple word ‘meme’ [both ‘me’s to be pronounced as in men with second m a bit nasal], and the baby gets hooked for life. As the baby would grow older, turns into an adult and then gets on with years, for medical reasons, may be advised not to drink milk, but never not to eat (boiled) fish. Only option left would be to put the miserable person on intravenous drips.

Many non-Goans do not understand the affinity of locals towards fish. A typical Goan declaration is ‘if you want to insult a Goan in a simple way, invite him/her for dinner and don’t serve fish’. Most Goan Hindu families do not eat non-vegetarian food during the days of religious functions, but later, with gusto, would arrange a lunch or a dinner where the main item would be fish, not even chicken or mutton. This applies even for Ganesh celebrations, a much-cherished festival for Goans. Many Hindu families get mackerels and cook and keep them in an outhouse for consuming immediately after the immersion of Ganesh on the last day of the festival. Mackerels do hold a place of gastronomical appreciation on this particular occasion. Umpteen times I have heard elders in the family during Ganesh days looking inquisitively at catholic neighbours returning from market with a ‘poti’ in hand. Knowing fully well they would still ask, ‘Kitem hadlem re’. The good neighbour would smile mischievously, ‘Kay na, tumi khay naat tem aayj ani fallyam.’ Rubbing the salt on tormented soul, he would continue, ‘Bangde, best asaat, savvay!’

For some people, the variety in seafood gets over with prawns, pomfrets or king fish; one may, as an afterthought, add crabs to the list, but there are more than 30 types of fish normally eaten in Goa, each having its own characteristic taste. It is said that fruits of labour taste sweet. Nothing could be truer than when dealing with fish, those with a lot of thorns or of smaller size taste better than other varieties. My friend from Belgaum would wholeheartedly agree to this. He once tasted in Sanvordem the fish curry made from nano (tiny) fish called ‘motyalim’ meaning pearly. The shining fish is so small that it cannot be cleaned or cooked individually. As a result, one just washes them in bulk and if fried or curried, eats them in bunches. The taste is divine. The friend added with righteous anger after devouring the meal, “why the xxxx Panaji restaurants do not prepare such lovely curry, ‘motyalim’ are so easily available, no?” I didn’t understand why he should be angry with me for idiotic management of Panaji restaurant guys.

Really, the truth is that most restaurants in Mapusa, Panaji or Margao make a mockery of that delectable dish called fish-curry. Usual practice in most of these is to simply prepare a general sauce of little coconut, slight onion and lot of turmeric and add to it whatever fish is available in the market. Sometimes, even the head of a big fish serves the purpose. Ask a Goan connoisseur, and you will get to hear that when fish curry is being prepared, the aroma emanating from the kitchen should tell you which fish is being curried. So prepared, curry has to have spices and other ingredients specific for the type of fish used. Unfortunately, restaurants while preparing curry with sardines or mackerels have started using tomatoes in place of trifala, a dark green coloured pea shaped, strongly, very strongly flavoured spice, which grows on a thorny tree. [Unfortunately, I have not seen this tree, too, in recent years, may be its ghost lies under some concrete somewhere; tomatoes can grow in colonies of balconies, can’t they!]

In childhood fairy tales, the soul of the beautiful princess could be kept in a parrot on an island; if so, the heart of a Goan would be in a fish, well, any seafood. Take your pick, but mine would be in an oyster, a rock oyster. Take care, an oyster should never be bitten with cruel teeth. One should play with it, live, with tongue. You would never know when it possesses your full mouth and slips inside you. That, I think, is the celebrated union of the body and soul!


Published in the Times of India, Goa edition, 1 June 2008
Kalidas Sawkar
11, Singbal bldg. Tonca, Caranzalem, Goa-403002

Daryaacho Gaaaz

Daryacho gaaz

There is no clear-cut reason why I should have started reminiscing about folk culture in Goa of my childhood! The inspiration might have come from the sea at Calangute where on a recent evening I had been taking a stroll. When the mind is at sea, go to the sea, they say; if one sits on the seashore for some time till the tides turn back, most depressions would lift off the mind along with them. The steps you take while walking back home are not heavy anymore, the soft sand starts caressing your feet. Seas generally all look alike though no two waves coming to the shore sketch the same pattern. The seas, especially in your backyard, have a poignant kind of music accompanying its waves. They bring to you tides of memories by some unaccountable cross-links. My nostalgia came through this very same sound of the sea at Baga, that misty, orange-red evening. I remember, up till 1964/65, at nights in monsoons, one could hear even in Mapusa sound of the waves pounding on shores about 5 Km away and almost trace their progress from Vagathor to Anjuna. It was like a celestial music, the distant rumble locally called ‘daryacho gaaz’. It was like a lullaby, which would put a late sleeper, me to sleep. But, then, as a friend said to me another day, ‘Atam darya gazona, atam gaztat shimitachim mischinam’! How true, Goa has changed a lot in the last 40 years, you cannot get to hear this humming of the sea anymore, nor can you hear any lullabies like those of your grandmother; along with daryacho gaaz even the simple old village kanio, told especially on a rainy evening with trees swaying with the lashing of the wind, coconuts and leftover mangoes falling down with a thud, seem to have vanished inside the concretised culture; the same culture, which has also taken away wide variety of berries on the Mapusa hillock that sustained me in my hungry childhood evenings. In place of bushes and trees of churna, kanta, boram, jambolam and of course the cashews, you see houses balancing precariously on the slopes of that hill. My memories seem incongruent in such an urban squalor.

I have always wondered what a variety of old lullabies, dances and folklores could have meant to traditional Goans, how a seemingly stupid folkdance form could hold its ground over large periods of time through all its historical ups and downs? Take fugdi for example, which continued alongside foxtrot, though at different social levels, even in Portuguese era. It did not seem probable that a lyric could last over decades or centuries being just a number of words simply collected for maintaining rhythm or tempo to put babies to sleep or older people to dance to the beat in tribal fashion. And, what about proverbs and idioms? How have they stuck around in our language even when other languages tried to shove Konkani under the carpet! There has to be something more practical and meaningful to such an ethereal culture.

One day, out of such curiosity I had asked my grandmother why she always sung a particular lullaby, ‘Jaye jaye mhon re Baba, jaye jaye mhon’, (Say, ‘I want, Baby, say I want’) while comforting a child. It just did not make sense, a continuous repetition of one word ‘jaye’, she could have sung anything else, and she knew a lot of songs. Grandmother answered, “That (the lullaby) is to bring up the child with a positive attitude, so that it does not turn negative and pessimistic when grown up”. How true, looking around one finds so many negative people, who always say no even when it is for their own good. They would not change their mindsets whatever be the exigency. There was another child song, one of the kind, ‘Yetem yetem, yetem yetem bus re mora, charo kha pani pi, Dev ghali vara!’ (Be seated here, peacock dear, be seated, have lots of grass and drink water. Do not worry; God would give the good air). This, too, intended to make the child grow with positive approach in life, encouraging generosity and good relations with guests and society, so that almighty will give aplenty.

On the other hand my mother had a favourite horror story to tell. In short, a woman who used to go to forest to collect firewood kept hearing over many days, ‘hanv yev’ (shall I come!) repeatedly without anybody in sight. One day getting irritated, she replied, yes come, and a giant snake appeared suddenly in front to harass her for many days. Moral of the story, ‘be careful of strangers’. These two stories do not contradict each other, but tell you to pick and choose your friends and guests. They define a general Goan approach to life. Goans are pragmatic people, along with their easygoing ways they also have a no nonsense approach to life, taking life without its superficialities. When one does not realize this they are quick to comment, ‘janen dekhlem na kalu tenen dekhle dharkal ani mhonu laglo, kalu re kalu’. Translation: Ignorant people do not understand the difference between an oyster and the phlegm.

It does happen that some people do not appreciate refinement in culture, manners or approach to life of other communities. Mostly these qualities are formed with and last according to social development. [‘Weltanschauung’ in German language comes closest to it] The celebrated epithet for Goans, ‘susegado’ in fact defines such quality. The idiom, ‘Dhanv dhanv dhanvlo ani tarikoday vochuun ravlo’, describes this unhurried nature of Goan lifestyle. It means there is no point in rushing when you have to wait at the river to cross it with ferryboat. The idiom was constructed when there were no bridges over rivers nor speed bikes and cruising cars on the streets, but walking and canoeing were common modes of transport. Just 70 years back but doesn’t it seem strange today?

Unfortunately, societal development is a one-way street. It is not possible for Goans to go back to the days of bullock carts or horses. I still remember my bullock cart ride from Mapusa to Calangute where we had rented a cosy house to spend the summer. I was thrilled with excitement, in a bullock cart it lasted for over an hour. In car the distance gets over in 10 minutes, the excitement, too, lasts that much shorter. But was there ballooning available in Calangute during the times of bullock carts? And speed boating? There are always two sides for any present situation. Past memories and future prospects! It is sad we do not hear the distant rumble of the sea any more. I cannot hear it even at Miramar, but then, there is always the digital sound. I suppose susegado Goans know how to harmonize themselves with opposing forces and remain serene, just like the sea in their backyards.

Kalidas Sawkar: Panaji Goa-9420975758
(Pub: The Navhind times, 1 July 2007)