in the morning of 25th May 1908, a son was born to Caetano Maria de
Mello and his wife Christalina. It was their second child - their
first having been a daughter, Maria Severina. The arrival of their
first son must have been a particularly joyous occasion.
|Caetano Maria de Mello
Anjuna's well-known writer of happy memory, Lucio Rodrigues : "A son
is always more welcome than a daughter, for a son is the 'lamp' of
the house, one who will help in perpetuating the family name. Above
all, he is a financial asset, a potential wage-earner...... a son's
coming is celebrated with three packets of crackers. That expresses
the fullest measure of domestic bliss in our patriarchal society.
Three is a mystic number, a sacred number, a lucky number, and so, a
salute of three packets at the birth of a son."
room in which the baby was born still stands as part of the present
family house in de Mello vaddo. But with further extensions made to
the house, the room has long been converted into a "dispensa" or
store-room for dumping odds and ends like little-used bamboo mats,
old brooms and kitchen utensils.
baby boy was delicate; and maybe for this reason, or perhaps pending
the arrival of his father, the baptism was delayed for several
months. It was only on 18th August of the same year, 1908, that the
sacrament was administered by the parish-priest in the church of St.
Michael, Anjuna. We have obtained that information from the
baptismal certificate, and also know from the same source that the
god-father was Cosmo Napoleao Nunes and the god-mother Humbelina
know little else, for as Pascoal himself later humbly recorded in
his personal memoirs : "My childhood was an uneventful one, having
been born in poor surroundings." His early years were spent in the
simple rural environment. The vaddo was still a cluster of primitive
dwellings: palm-frond thatched roofs propped on a framework of solid
posts sliced off the trunk of the coconut palm tree. Mud walls rose
up from an earth flooring smeared smooth with a mixture of dried cow
dung. What greenery there was around consisted of the scant
vegetation the inhabitants kept planting near their homes, and
shrubs and bushes which sprang up naturally in the now more fertile
child Pascoal woke daily to a chorus of sounds that gradually became
familiar: the gentle twitter of birds, the lusty crowing of cocks,
their wings aflutter, the grunting honk of pigs and the repeated
barking of the dogs. He knew everyone around him in his friendly
neighbourhood and never tired of watching people getting on with
their daily chores, relaxing at last when the day was done. Life
moved at a gentle pace - no one was in a hurry!
Pascoal played with his friends, running along the mud paths,
chasing the pigs and sending the ducks and chickens helter- skelter;
or just rolling his "atto" or metal hoop - all when he himself was
little more than a toddler! In place of the bicycle of later years
this was a fun-way to run on errands even when he was a little
Greatly attuned to his natural surroundings, the boy Pascoal
was much attracted to the birds and like every naughty imp he aimed
his home-made catapult at them. Yet he also wanted to have these
feathered creatures as pets and searched for baby bulbuls in their
nest. He kept them captive in box cages, alongside little squirrels
that he had also ensnared.
Pascoal was also drawn to the sea. How he longed to leap from the
rocks and dive into the deep water! He also yearned to catch fish.
He did go on the rocks to try his luck, but his mother soon came to
know and strictly scolded the little lad. Perhaps what also deterred
him was an event that he, an octogenarian today, recalls with
startling clarity. Etched in his memory is the awesome vision of a
victim of drowning. A woman of the vaddo had gone as usual to
collect sea-weed, adrift at the water's edge, to use as manure.
Somehow she was dragged away by the raging current, and when her
body surfaced on the beach she was carried home and, in what must
have been a desperate and futile effort at resuscitation, was hung
head downwards for the water to drain out.
young Pascoal indulged his pleasure for water-sports in other ways.
At the age of ten, like most boys of his age, he began his primary
education in Portuguese. This was in 1918, the year in which World
War I terminated. The school he attended was the recognised
Government institution located at the Tembi, a somewhat elevated
ground, not far from his home. He walked there daily with a group of
boisterous little boys from the vaddo. The school was their first
real exposure to what lay outside the vaddo for "Escola Regia"
provided an excellent meeting-ground, bringing together several
children from all over the village. In Pascoal's day a priest from
Guirim was in charge.
in this school that the young lad learnt to read and write in
Portuguese. He acquired also his elegant flowing handwriting which
must have been a great asset to him in his later clerical career. It
has retained a distinctive flourish to this day.
days in primary school also had some very memorable bright moments.
School opened in June; the nights were marked by heavy
thunder-showers and forked lightning heralding the onset of the
seasonal monsoon. Incessant rains then lashed down, cooling the
parched earth and creating a welcome respite from the prolonged
intensive heat of summer. Soon the fields and even the mud roads got
swollen with the coursing water gushing down from high places.
Brooks and streams and numerous puddles appeared most invitingly on
the surface. Overnight the ponds were turned into delightful
healthy lad could resist the temptation of playing truant? Soaking
wet anyway, it was easy to slip home undetected when it was time to
tear oneself from the pleasure of indulging in such heaven-sent
festival of "Natal" - birthday of the Saviour - always calls for
special preparations. Every home in the village, however humble,
observed the long-standing tradition of putting up a lighted Star.
This initially involved the simple procedure of slitting firm bamboo
sticks, joining them with string to form a five - pointed star. The
frame was then covered with thin sheets of tissue paper. A lighted
candle was then inserted and set on a perch. This would make the
whole star glow. To every child this simple home-made lamp was an
object of wonder.
was also a bustle preparing typical Goan culinary Christmas
delights: the inevitable "neureo", a rice flour fried pastry stuffed
with a mixture of scraped coconut sweetened with "gor", black palm
jaggery (mollases). Maybe there was also "dodol", a thick spread of
rice flour cooked in coconut juice and "gor", garnished with cashew
nuts. And "dos", yet another platter of sweetened ground coconut
cooked along with cardamon-flavoured pulse. And of course
"sorpotel", that spicy Goan pork specialty which lasts for days,
tasting better and better, gently heated in the traditional "thowli"
or earthern pot over a crackling wood fire. To go with it would be
fresh "vodes", wheat flour pastry cut in rounds and fried in deep
oil or, better still, fluffy white "sanna", cakes of rice fomented
in "toddy", flowing juice of the coconut palm, and steamed in a
special "confro" or deep cooker made of copper or clay.
the real highlight in the village calendar was 3rd May - feast of
the Holy Cross! As was customary, a cross marked the entrance to the
vaddo. Ever revered as affording protection to the inmates, it
stands as a symbol of solidarity. In de Mello vaddo, as all over Goa
this celebration was a big event, a most welcome break in the hot
sultry season before the rains.
cross was invariably given a lick of whitewash. A festive air would
be created with streamers of coloured paper , garlands of flowers
and leaves decked from tree to tree, and flickering wax candles lit
in the gathering dark. Then, at the loud burst of fire crackers the
crowd would assemble to join in the traditional litany, in
"ters" in Konkani, "ladainha" in Portuguese, would be sung with the
greatest gusto by one and all. For everyone knew it by heart as it
had been handed down for generations. Invariably there was at least
one solitary violin accompaniment. After the Litany itself, there
was a long recitation of common prayers, mostly for the benefit of
the living and deceased members of the family of the main
Happily, after this came festivity in a lighter vein. We
have Lucio's description again: "What followed was the usual social
gathering, the distribution of boiled gram with coconut chips,
conversation among grown-ups, mischief among the village scamps, and
general good cheer. The first service of drinks, fenni for men,
branco for women and boys, went round. It was a quick gulp down the
tired throats of all. Then came the second round. The elder holding
the cup of fenni in his trembling hand raised the toast in Konkani
and lastly, an excited "viva" leading to the grand finale "viva
maruya, saud koruya" - long life and health!
Cashew seed contest
Another exciting event in the vaddo during the height of the
summer season was the annual cashew seed contest. Who was best at
the game? It was the marble game, but with cashew seeds used as a
substitute. And who could present the largest seed? This involved
search - no problem at all, for this was the best time in the year
for gathering fruit.
fruit, they say, is the sweetest. Goa has a natural abundance of
delicious fruit. There were in season such a choice variety for boys
on the rampage with nothing better to do. While their elders -
lethargic in the heat - stole a nap, they stole fruit. And the
lovely cashews, bright yellow and red, were far too irresistible!
Specially good to chew on a blistering hot sunny
still green the seed yielded "beebes", a sweet tender white kernel.
But the smooth dull grey seed of the ripe cashew was lopped off and
stuffed into many a boy's pocket for the game. The largest find was
stored hopefully for the final selection. The winning seed was split
open, its kernel scooped out and the hollow filled with molten lead.
This made an excellent "boto" or striker for the game.
many other fruits too! Mouth-watering raw green mangoes , to be
eaten stealthily with salt; and so many mangoes - ripe and luscious,
hanging invitingly from branches, high and low. Which young lad
could resist such temptation? There were juicy "jamlans", big purple
berries literally falling plop, squealching their rich dark pulp and
carpeting the ground beneath the boughs. The scrub bushes too were
loaded with "churnam", white milky berries - just waiting to be
feast fell on 24th June, invariably the day of torrential rain when
all the wells in the village were overflowing. Young men of the
village took this as a signal to display their prowess in swimming.
They donned a green floral wreath on their heads and, bare to the
waist, boldly leapt into the wells. Soon, to the joyous beat of the
"ghumot ", earthern drum, up they surfaced proudly retrieving the
choicest fruits that had been flung down specially for them by young
pregnant mothers of the village.
festival is supposed to commemorate John the Baptist leaping for joy
in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, when her cousin, the Virgin
Mother, entered their home pregnant with the child Jesus.
Pascoal was in primary school he sometimes accompanied his mother to
Mapuca - the big market centre of Bardez!
great Friday Bazar one could purchase provisions to stock for the
rainy season when communication would be difficult. It used to be a
treat though they went on foot for the three miles, sometimes
getting a lift in a passing cart.
his mother and he went along with a group from the vaddo to visit
Bom Jesus, the famous church enshrining the relics of St.Francis
Xavier. December 3rd is the feast day of "Goencho saiba"/ Lord of
Goa! Once every ten years the body of the saint is exposed for
public veneration, and draws thousands of people from all over the
to Old Goa, Pascoal and his mother trudged part of the great
distance on foot. It was interesting: bullock carts chugged along;
now and then passed a wealthy couple seated lazily in their private
"machil" or palanquin, drawn on the shoulders of four burly sweating
"bhoias". And sometimes they watched with a trace of envy people
seated in the "match-box" - a vehicle that matched its name in shape
and size. Drawn by a pair of sturdy bullocks, it was somewhat like a
carriage with a step, doors, windows, and seats for about six
passengers. Yet,despite the discomfort of travel, the jostle and
bustle, it was good to be part of a friendly group and to witness
also the fun of the fair.
were some of the delightful happenings in childhood spent by Pascoal
in the peaceful little vaddo that was his home.