Lounging in a rattan chair in a beach shack, playing footsie with the warm sand, feni and beer chaser playing games with the palate, myriad shades of orange as the sun sets into the sea, the promise of fish curry for dinner … I close my eyes and ‘Na Maangu Sona Chandi’ echoes in my head, obliterating the hustle and bustle of the world in a land where the carnival is never really over, where the music never dies.
Truly is it said that you can take the Goan out of Goa, but you can’t take Goa out of him, as exemplified by Remo Fernandes, one of the state’s best-known native sons and one of those rare Indians to have broken through on to the international stage, performing with such notables as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and Roger Taylor of Queen.
“Goans tend to see Goa as the beginning and the end of the universe (and there are lots of those) and see (my) first two albums, which were absolutely Goa-centric, as my best. But then I broadened my vision, and started writing songs which had national and even global relevance,” he writes in his just-released autobiography titled simply ‘REMO’.
That’s just because there’s so much about Goa that’s out of this world.
Take for instance ‘Na Mangu Sona Chandi’ from Raj Kapoor’s 1973 blockbuster ‘Bobby’, which in effect introduced Konkani music to the world at large – and almost 50 years later, it still pulls at the heartstrings. Pure blossoming love echoing the pure, simple desires of a young boy and girl who have flipped for each other and just want to live and let live.
And the music! The portly Jack Braganza (Prem Nath), the girl’s father, top trouser button undone, trumpet in one hand, an ‘adha’ of grog in the other, happily leading the village dance as a gleeful safari-clad ‘rich boy’ Raja Nath (Rishi Kapoor) keeps up with him, deferring to him, and merrily singing along as a coquettish Bobby Braganza (Dimple Kapadia), dressed in a knee-length version of a tightly-bound sari, watches.
Pure, authentic, lilting Konkani music that makes you want to jump up and sing and dance along.
There have been hundreds of variations of this over the years, but none like ‘Na Mangu Sona Chandi’, which really set the benchmark for others to follow.
Ramesh Sippy came close in 1985 by pairing the Rishi-Dimple duo in ‘Saagar’. The song ‘Chehra Hai Ya Chand Khila Hai’ (Saagar Jaisi Ankhon Waali) pops up now and then, and the film did rake in the moolah, but the lead pair had aged 12 years and it just wasn’t the same.
‘Bobby’, perhaps in a concession to the box-office, had the usual twists and turns of a Hindi film and its fair share of villainy, but in the end, young love prevailed, and that too, in a manner that was quite believable.
‘Bobby’ also introduced the world to a whole new lifestyle – that of the Konkani fishermen and women who worked hard, and when the day’s work was done, dressed sharply at party time and had a rollicking good time seemingly without a care in the world.
It’s not that fisherfolk had not been previously portrayed in Hindi films, but in a manner that they led miserable existences. ‘Bobby’ brought forth a whole new breed of fisherfolk not wallowing in poverty but living life to the full
In fact, the party time of the Konkani fisherfolk in ‘Bobby’ takes off from where the annual Carnival, which, on a lesser scale than the Rio Carnival or the Portuguese Carnival of Madeira, left off. It is the largest in India and one of the few traditional European celebrations in the country.
The Carnival usually begins on Fat Saturday (Sabado Gordo) and concludes on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), a day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Its Konkani motto is: “Kha, piye, aan majja kar (Eat, drink and make merry).”
But then, who wants to wait a full year for the fun to begin all over again?
The Konkani spirit of ‘work hard’ also extends to the football and hockey fields – so passionate are the Goans about these two sports, and a host of others.
Proof of this can be found in clubs such as Churchill Brothers, which has won the I-League twice and has been among the top three in the League on nine occasions. It has lifted the Goa League Championships Cup eight times, the Durand Cups thrice, and a Federation Cup. Also notable are Goa FC (at present eighth in the ISL), Salgaocar FC and Dempo SC, to name a few.
Not far behind are the hockey Olympians Joaquim Carvalho, Darryl D’Souza, Stephie D’Souza, Walter de Souza, Mary D’Souza Sequeira, Lawrie Fernandes, Leo Fernandes, Peter Paul Fernandes, Marcellus Gomes, Vece Paes, Leo Pinto, Reginald Rodrigues and Maxie Vaz.
All of them household names in a state that is India’s smallest in terms of size (3,702 sq km), which is 0.32 times the size of Qatar, and fourth from the bottom of the table in terms of population at 1,458, 545.
There has been a decline of sorts for some years, but an uptick is slowly visible and hopefully, one should soon see the return of Goan hockey players to the men’s and women’s national squads.
And with sports being such a craze in Goa, can an Olympic-style event be far behind?
Goa, in 2014 hosted the third edition of the Lusofonia Games, which brought together 7,000 athletes from 12 countries where Portuguese is spoken.
What the Lusofonia Games also proved was that there was absolutely no rancour among the Goans for their erstwhile colonial masters – unlike what exists, albeit unsaid, in many parts of India against the British Raj and its legacy of Partition. Innumerable Goans still retain their links with the “home country” and there is much two-way traffic between them.
Remo Fernandes, in fact, divides his time between his ancestral home in Siolim in Goa and Porto in Portugal. Also, the present Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Luis Santos da Costa, is the son of writer Orlando da Costa, who was born in Maputo, Mozambique, to a family to Goan extraction, and his wife, journalist Maria Antonia Palla.
And if Goa’s verdant beaches are a prime tourist attraction, fish curry comes a close second. The trick lies in blending just the right amount of grated coconut, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, and green and red chillies with the kokum that grows in the Western Ghats, especially in the Konkan region.
Such is the demand for this kokum that the bulk of it gets consumed in Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka, leaving very little for export to other states, where tamarind is used as a substitute but is a poor cousin as it lacks the sourness that the original imparts.
In fact, the late Manohar Parrikar, when he was India’s Defence Minister, often complained of the lack of authentic fish curry in New Delhi and was constantly on the lookout for a way to return home. He eventually had his way and returned to Panaji as Goa’s Chief Minister, but fate had other plans for him and he served for a mere two years of his fourth term before pancreatic cancer claimed him in March 2019.
Still, he left behind a little bit of Goa in the national capital with a premier Defence Ministry think tank renamed after him as the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. It stirs up the memory of a soft-spoken man clad in a white bush shirt and light-coloured trousers every time I pass by the place or enter its portals.
Well, are you sufficiently tempted to add Goa to your bucket list? Do so. You won’t regret it.
‘Aamche Goyan tumche swagat aasa, haanga tumche diwas anadaat aasu he aamchi subeksha’. (That’s Konkani for “Welcome to Goa, enjoy your stay.”)
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)