A VILLAGE BOY

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I was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, East Africa of parents who hailed from the village of Saligão, Goa. My father’s name was Rosario Paulo Tomé Caetano de Souza, perhaps named by his mother after the rosaries she recited and the saints she fervently implored for the birth of her only son. My dad’s home was in the ward of Arrarim where his family was known by the nickname Couth (rhymes with “both”). In Saligão, very few people knew him by his real name, Rosario de Souza; but everyone knew him as “Rosai Couth”. Nobody seemed to know what the word Couth meant, as it was never used in spoken Konkani, the lingua franca of Goa. Consequently, it evolved into a surname that became official when my dad took up employment with the British Colonial Government in Tanganyika. From then on, he was known as “Mr. Souza-Couth”, but with “Couth” pronounced the English way to rhyme with ‘tooth’.

My mother, Maria Joquina Julia, came from the ward of Muddavaddi and was one of four daughters of Florentina and Benedict Fernandes, the latter more popularly known as Munkuto – the Konkani word for a chunk of firewood. He got the nickname from the young boys at whom he would flail a chunk of firewood whenever they played marbles near his balcony and disturbed his siesta.

In 1947, I came to Goa with my mother who wanted to be closer to my older brother and two sisters who were in college in Bombay. I was enrolled in Mater Dei Institution, a co-ed school that catered to children from kindergarten to matriculation (high school level). I was in Mater Dei for just over two years before my mother decided to return to Africa. But shortly thereafter, she developed a health problem and had to return to Goa in 1950. Goa seemed to do her good, so she decided to stay on and have me join her a few months later. And I went back to Mater Dei for another two years until I graduated from high school. Meanwhile, my father stayed behind in Dar es Salaam where he continued to work as a clerk in the Colonial Audit Department.

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Mater Dei was, and still is, a great school. But I envied the kids in Bombay who had electricity in their homes while I had to do my homework at the dining table by the light of a kerosene lamp. They wore shoes and knee-high stockings to school and sported a school tie while I ran around in a plain khaki school uniform wearing ‘phatan shoes’ or sandals. They played soccer in the school playground while I played barefoot in the dusty paddy fields after the rice crop was harvested at the end of the monsoon season. If I wanted to swim, I’d have to dogpaddle in a well with my friends whenever a heavy monsoon rain raised the water level. The well was a far cry from a regular swimming pool, but it was still a lot of fun.

When I was in school, I felt that I was missing out on modern city life… until I realized much, much later that I had gone through a period of my youth in Saligão not knowing how fortunate I was to have been exposed to the great outdoors, with a lively bunch of friends, a good schooling and a solid grounding in the fundamental values that make Goans such a unique society.

In school, I was called “Melveel” by my buddies; but the older folk called me “Couthlo” (rhymes with ‘both-law’), which means ‘little Couth’. Although I grew up speaking and thinking in English, I learnt to speak Konkani fluently, particularly Goa’s Konkani slang which is so musical and funny.

Today, I am a Canadian citizen. Canada has been my home since November 1971. However, like many other Goans who are now citizens of various countries all over the world, I will always retain a sentimental attachment to the village of my ancestors. Life in Saligão was not always easy, but I can reminisce about that bygone era with fondness and a sense of kinship with the villagers who shared my experience.

My childhood days were unsophisticated, but they were rich in all the elements that make rural life so wholesome.