Memoirs … of a voice from the airwaves

This is about the most bizarre thing to do while encountering a book: try to read it from the ending! That’s just what I did with the autobiography of someone you might know, a lady called Imelda Dias. So one is still trying to put the pieces of the jigsaw together; but it was an interesting read.

Most of Goa of a particular generation — those around here in the 1960s and 1970s — would probably remember the name “Imelda” (or even Imelda Tavora). She then was the most popular announcer in the State, at a time when radio was the unquestioned king of all the mass media. (Forget about TV, which didn’t exist here yet, and newspapers were far smaller.) So I began reading her book with the Epilogue.

This chapter took me to my schoolboy days in the 1970s, and the music that Imelda played for all of us via the radio. It came through loud and clear on Sunday afternoons. It came on Friday nights. It came in the afternoon siesta time on weekdays. All the names of the programmes sounded so very fresh — ‘Your Choice’, ‘Latin Rhythm’, ‘Your Favourites’ and more. Many readers would probably even recall the sign-off name “Yours truly, Imelda”.

This book is about the Goa that was, touching a bit on colonial Goa and the period just after 1961. Those were times of change and uncertainty. But they were nice times too, in a way. Imelda’s book tells the story of the Catholic elite of the times, the nostalgia with which it looks back, and life in the “good old days”.

Subtitled “An Autobiography of a Woman Ahead of Her Times”, this is also a story of a woman going against the trend, settling for a divorce in the 1960s, and facing the patriarchy of Catholic Goa of the times. It’s a book edited by Margaret Mascarenhas, editor of ‘Skin’.

Spiced with the gossipy details of Panjim’s life in the 1970s, parts of the book are very engrossing. But one couldn’t believe all one read, even if this only incited one’s curiosity to learn more of those times. Besides her boarding years in Pune (then still Poona), this story talks about life in All India Radio, what it meant to be a political refugee of sorts in Salazar’s Lisbon post-1961, and stories of love and romance from another era. It’s a good read for anyone who grew up in the Goa of those years, and one would not hesitate recommending it (2006, Rs 250, printed and published by Imelda Dias, pp 189, hb).

With an catchy title like ‘How Long Is Forever’ and a covered mostly in black-and-white cover, this is a book that would catch your attention. Strangely, it isn’t very well displayed in most bookshops. Friends I mentioned it to, had all not come across it either!

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A life less known (Walter Menezes reviews Renderamam’ ani Tachem Jivit)

Book Review of “Rendermam Ani Tachem Jivit”
Author and Publisher: Fr. Ave Maria Afonso
Pages: 64
Price: Rs.60

By: Walter Menezes

I met Fr. Ave Maria Afonso at Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, Alto Porvorim on a day when Fr. Mathew Almeida, SJ was celebrating his birthday. The book release ceremony of Fr. Almeida’s Romi Lipient Konknni Kurs was over and we were helping ourselves to a piece of cake and a cup of tea when Fr. Ave Maria  presented me with a copy of his book, Rendermam’ ani Tachem Jivit.

This book was released in Margao a couple of days earlier at a function organized to celebrate the first anniversary of the Konknni magazine, Jivit, and although I was present for the same, I had to leave the function half-way through, without buying a copy of the book, whose seeds were sown when Fr. Ave Maria was pursuing his post-graduate studies at TSKK, Alto Porvorim.

I finished reading Rendermam’ on a relaxed Sunday when the nation was celebrating the triumph of good over evil and realized how little I knew about the toddy-tapper who, like the poder and the pagi, (baker and traditional fisherman) has been an essential part of every Goan household. For who can imagine a life without our daily bread, our fish-curry and a peg of feni? Or our feasts without sannas and our mouth-watering dishes like sorpotel, sausages, vindaloo, fish parro and mol without vinegar?

My father-in-law had a bar in Kepem and, on days when he was indisposed, I was the one who was summoned to help him out on such occasions. We normally catered to the aam admi who would flock to the bar in the afternoons and the evenings and help themselves to their favourite drink. I had the opportunity to interact with some of the rendermams, and in one case the wife of a rendermam’, who would come from as far as Sanguem with their kollxo (earthern pot) of feni and deliver the same to Ruzar-irmao, as my father-in-law was respectfully called. He would then measure the grau of the feni by dipping the alcohometer in the bottle, nod his head when it showed 18 degrees, and then make the payment.

A kopin of feni is what I normally had in the night just before supper was served. And on days when I was too tired after a hard day’s work, my wife would not mind at all if I had some ‘extra’ ones! What she never knew was that sometimes I would join my friend at a village bar, where dukhsiri, a strange combination of feni and medicinal roots, was a great hit at that time. Meant for those who labour and sweat it out in the fields, dukhsiri is a soothing drink and like  vodka, there is not a trace of smell at all. But just to be on the safer side, once the bill was settled, my friend would remove a couple of cloves from some secret chamber of his trousers and off we would go, munching them merrily on our way home. We were happy and so were our better halves!

Fr. Ave Maria’s book is a treasure of information. The tools that the rendermam’ uses, the sign of the cross that he makes on his forehead before the risky climb to the coconut tree-top and the process of distilling feni, these and other details make the book interesting. It is a male-dominated world, but, strange as it may sound, Fr. Ave Maria reports of the only lady-render from Verna who once did the job. With a colourful ‘dose’ of photographs by Egidio Fernandes and a cover designed by Willy Goes, Rendermam’ ani Tachem Jivit is a great offering in Romi Konknni.

There is one chapter dedicated entirely to Rendrachim Gitam-Kantaram. The toddy-tapper leads a lonely life, hopping from one coconut tree to another, three times a day. Seated on one of the palm fronds high above the ground, sharp-edged kati, dudinem to collect the sap and the clay pot, damonnem, firmly in place, the poet in the rendermam’ awakens and he
sings:

Jivit chintlear
amchem,

Xirxirta ang
lokachem.

Maddar choddun
denvpachem,

Jivit amchem
Rendranchem!

Yes! Life is a hard grind for the rendermam’. And very risky too. Fr. Ave Maria informs that the All Goa Toddy-Tappers’ Association, headquarted in Margao and established in 1961,
has been in the forefront to protect the interests of the render community. A few welfare measures are in operation and a “Pension Scheme” formed by the Goa Government for
toddy-tappers above 60 years of age, awaits implementation.

The rendermam’ is a fascinating person and Fr. Ave Maria has observed him from close quarters. Even going to the extent of spending a night and a day with his family. The rendermam’ is a god-fearing man. There is rosary in his house every day and once a year, villagers gather at his residence for the ladin (litany) in honour of the patron saint. On the last
Sunday of February every year, he attends, along with his entire community, the Thanksgiving Mass at the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Like any niz Goenkar, he loves football, khell-tiatrs and tiatrs. His breakfast consists of pez with kalchi koddi and kharem nustem and his house is full of Konknni cassettes. He gambles a lot, plays the moddko and has, on many occasions, squandered his hard-earned money on such vices.

Arthur Hailey, best-selling author of such ‘subject-specific’ novels like Airport, Hotel, Wheels, Overload and Final Diagnosis, who used factual research to his advantage, once said, “I don’t think I really invented anybody. I have drawn on real life!” Perhaps Fr. Ave Maria’s next ‘stop’ should be a novel, with characters drawn from real life.

Prof. Jose Salvador Fernandes, in his foreword, shares his own experience of maddar choddpachem when he used to assist his father in ‘toddy-tapping’ whenever the manaim-render (helper) used to be absent. Both, Prof. Jose’s father and the rendermam’ where Fr. Ave Maria spent a night, felt that this is not only a tough job but one where there is no respect at all. “Ami tras-koxtt kaddtat te puro. Amchea bhurgeank tem naka”, they said, expressing in a way, the sentiments of the entire community.

Such a view may just be the reason why the population of toddy-tappers has reduced drastically from a strong force of around 22,000 in 1964 to only around 1100 in 2006. The death-knell has already sounded for many such ancient traditional occupations, Prof. Jose laments in his foreword. In the distant future, books like Rendermam’ ani Tachem Jivit  will become a rich repository of information and a window to our fascinating past.

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From Bookworm… a jumble-sale in Feb 2008

Just got this note from Elaine and Sujata at Bookwormbookworm_goa@yahoo.com  :
 

Bookworm jumble sale

Our second annual fund raising jumble drive is on. Please clear out, clean up and pass the word around.We will hold the jumble event at a park in the St. Mary’s Colony, near Stella Maris Chapel (accessible from D B Marg, via the lane off the Reading Habit) . We hope to have the area signposted and posters out in time to allow everyone to keep  Sunday, February 24, 2008 free. ( 9.30 am- 5.00 pm).

As last year, we promise you a great day out. Loads of good jumble, games and fun activities for the children and food and snacks to keep us all in good cheer. We welcome volunteers  for collecting, sorting and selling stuff. Help, ideas and suggestions are most appreciated. As most of you are aware, money raised through this jumble goes towards our BOOK TREASURY, which presently supports 26 boxes out in schools and growing. Thank you for allowing so many children to read, grow and learn.

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