Friday, March 05, 2010

Tree & Leaf

DR MANOEL AGOSTINHO DE HEREDIA (1870-1937) ~ instalment #5

Chapter V


Goans who have not known Goa as it was in the first half of this century can have no idea how different it was from contemporary Bombay. Only two modes of travel between the places were available, both of 24 hours duration. By train the transition from the crowded city’s dangerous traffic, tarred streets and many-storied buildings, to the murmurous quiet, red mud roads, and neat bungalows of a Goan town or village, took place insensibly. By sea it was different. Steamers were less familiar vehicles than trains, moving their human freight in a state of suspended animation, as it were, until their disembarkation at Panjim or Mormugão- a sudden transition that jolted the senses. At any rate the change never failed to impress me. It was like going back in time, and into a different yet familiar world.

There was not one of Manoel Agostinho’ s family who was not attached to grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins in Goa, and who was not happy in their company. All experienced the indescribable satisfaction of belonging, of a shared identity through such relationships, and in the sights and sounds of Goa, the unique flavour of its fruits and its cooking. It hardly ever occurred to any of them to think of any place but Goa for their May or October vacations. It was seldom possible for Manoel Agostinho to accompany Ángela Mericia and their children on such annual changes (mudança in Portuguese), but when it was, it was difficult to judge who enjoyed the occasion more, he or his family. The same could be said of his reunion with his priest brother, Canon António José, and his uncle-in-law Julio da Costa. António José lived in the house,* that both brothers built jointly when he returned from the Missions to the island of Divar.

For his many friends, too, Manoel Agostinho’s presence in Divar on holiday was a much-prized opportunity to enjoy his company and incidentally, to seek his advice on a variety of matters. And quite a few who could not claim even previous acquaintance with him undertook the journey to Divar, then less comfortable and more time-consuming than it is now, to consult him as a physician, a businessman or simply a man of affairs.

The most memorable of his visits en famille were in December 1921, when he gave away his daughter Luzia in marriage to Francisco Correia Afonso, at Benaulim; and in December 1935 when he did likewise at his daughter Olga’s wedding to Jerome Caetano Saldanha at Saligao. The tornaboda (return marriage celebration by the bride’s parents) in 1935 was especially memorable not only for its gaiety, but also because it was Manoel Agostinho’s last visit to Goa. Six months later, he suffered the shock of António José’s unexpectedly early death from a massive heart attack that felled him almost instantaneously. Then ailing with bronchial asthma, Manoel Agostinho could not travel to Divar in time to bid his beloved brother a last farewell.

The manifestations of Manoel Agostinho’s Goan identity extended beyond indulgence of his personal delight in all things Goan. In Bombay, where most of his lifetime was passed, there was a sizeable Goan community whose welfare and progress could not be deemed to be secure in the hurly-burly of a great city, a melting pot of communities drawn from the length and breadth of India in search of employment. Diocesan clergy and members of great religious orders, such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, and nuns of Jesus and Mary, were able to minister to spiritual needs. But the community’s social and economic security and progress called for organised efforts in fields that only lay leaders could be engaged in. Fortunately for the community, it had no lack of such leaders in every walk of life. They were a1most without exception drawn from the intelligentsia; not demagogues, but men of the medical, academic and 1egal professions, as also engineers and administrators. Names that remain memorable over this stretch of time are John Philip de Quadros the judge, Caetano Paulo da Cunha the solicitor, Dr. Socrates Noronha, Municipal Health Service Chief, George Moraes the engineer, Dr. Leandro Mascarenhas popular physician, Dr. Jos Alban D’Souza, Municipal Corporator, Legislator and Mayor of Bombay, Armando Sequeira of the Bombay High Court, John Santos of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service, Professors C.D. Pinto, Francisco Correia Afonso, Manoel Colaço, Armando Menezes, Justino D’Souza, Avertano Correia Fernandes and hotelier Norbert D’Souza.

In this galaxy, Manoel Agostinho was one of the many stars. That his was not a negligible contribution to the cause was recognised when a gathering of representatives of all sections of the community was convened by the Instituto Luso Indiano (ILI), at its own premises in Bombay, to acknowledge and pay public tribute to his services to his compatriots over a quarter century.

The ILI (which had no inhibitions in styling itself ‘Luso Indiano’ despite pejorative implications of the expression) was not the only Goan organisation to which Manoel Agostinho gave time. A more direct and, in material terms, more effective organisation supported by him was the ‘Associação Goano do Mútuo Auxilio’, a mutual insurance society that cultivated provident habits by offering life insurance on the easiest possible terms. The society built a large (for its time) three-storied building in the Goan enclave of Dabul (off Girgaum Road) as an investment in real estate. This housed the society’s Office, a large hall and library of the ILI, and several flats. Amongst the tenants, all Goans, was Manoel Agostinho, and it was from this home that his three elder girls left to get married.

Manifestations of his Goan roots were not confined to persons of his own faith. Proud of his Goan cultural heritage, he developed cordial relations with the progressive and important Saraswat community of Bombay - the Chandavarkars, Lads (‘Lauds’), Welingkars and Moolgavkars making them family friends. Nor were humbler classes of Goan immigrants overlooked. He was a welcome visitor to the clubs (kudds) in which they resided away from their homes and families, in the precincts of Dhobi Talao and Girgaum. When a kudd celebrated the feast of their patron saint, Manoel Agostinho was often an honoured guest.

Having burgeoned, in his multifarious activities, into a man for all seasons, his Christian faith remained the root and foundation of his Goan identity.

*On Ángela Mericia’s death, the house passed to James Nathaniel and in turn to his first-born son Christopher, who after extensive renovations and improvements named it “SAUDADES” on the occasion of the 50th death anniversary of his grandfather.

No comments: