Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An ode to taverns of Goa

“An ode to taverns 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
9420975758, k.sawkar@rediffmail.com

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