Assagao – THE CROSSANDRA VALLEY…
Assagao figures amidst the tiniest and well laid out villages of the Velhas Conquistas of Bardez. And small is naturally beautiful. Assagao is a mere strip of land of about 7 kilometres in length, and it is sandwiched between greenhills clothed in caju groves. From Mapusa town, the road u-turns uphill and, while descending the pass in the small plateau, splits into two. The main artery proceeds straight along the church of St Cajetan, the Assagao Union High School and St Michael’s church in Anjuna towards the Vagator beach. The second negotiates circuituously westward and passes by the Pallotine Seminary to Badem. These parallel roads run alongside the hillrange and are lined with modest to magestic mansions. Virtually at every kilometre, a crossroad connects the main roads in this valley known for crossandra flowers. In Konkani the flame-coloured flowers are called abolim and since they grew here in plenty once, Assagao was known as aboleamcho ganv or fulancho ganv.
Pals from neighbouring villages generally greet us with Assa re ganv.They tell us that our village got its name when a prince, who was lost on the hills of Assagao on a dark night, heard the cock crow to announce the dawn. Overjoyed, the forlorn prince heaved a sigh, Assa re ganv. Being brought up in the proximity of cocks and bulls, Ascoumkars don’t buy such cock and bull bluff. We believe that Assagao has something to do with the timbre trees called hasson, whose bark is known to cure pain particularly from joints. Hasson being abundant in the village, it was named Asson-ganv or Hasson-ganv. But it’s the height of annoyance when anyone mistakenly presumes that our ancestors hail from Azgaon in Maharashtra.
Anyway, what’s there in a name or even a nickname when Goans take the cake in calling names? The early inhabitants of Assagao were Saraswat Brahmins of the Atri gotra. There must have been others too. But all were invariably Hindu with Ravalnath being the presiding deity. There was no dearth of temples too. However, only an odd pillar called kator on the hill at Socolvaddo is the vestige of the Hindu past. It was the temple lamp-post and to preserve the relic of their Hindu heritage, the elders cleverly slapped a legend over the kator. They the common man to believe that there was something inscribed on the kator in a strange a language. They claimed that the one who manages to decipher the inscription would be blessed with a bhangaracho handdo (a large copper pot full of gold). Nobody ever saw the inscription and so no one ever got any gold either.
The majority of the locals turned Christians sometime around 1603, baptised by the Franciscan missionaries. The temples became redundant and were razed to the ground and white-washed chapels mushroomed. In the early years, the freshly converted Ascoumkars attended the church of St Michael in Anjuna. In 1813, Archbishop S Galdino raised the chapel of St Cajetan (built in 1775) to a church and expanded it.
Being an important village with many illustrious people, there are at least two books published on Assagao, Aldeia de Assagao by Mons Gomes Catao being quite popular. The late Robert D’Souza, writer-poet-advocate from the village, gives an informative account of the church in the souvenir of the bi-centenary celebrations in 1975. D’Souza says that the 46 ft wide and 121 ft high facade of the church presents a multifaceted design of detached structures with two storeys surrounded by a balustrade and surmounted by three towers, one of which is houses two bells. The church of St Cajetan’s in Assagao is often confused with that of St Alex in Calangute because of the architectural similarity.
Prompted by its architectural splendour, JJ Machado, a former Governor-General and an engineer, sent the photographs of the church for an exhibition in Paris. And a beautiful church needs a tidy cemetery. So the local cemetery is probably the tidiest in Goa. All the credit goes to Assis Conceicao Fernandes, the hardworking sacristan. But Assis irmao’s task would have been tough hadn’t Fr Manuel Albuquerque got the cemetery covered with a roof overnight in 1895 ere the government ban on covered cemeteries could take effect.
The overall population is around than 3500 and though there are less Hindu houses, the Hindu population exceeds that of their Catholic counterparts. Our elders always say that virtually in every rich house in Assagao lived a priest. From these, Dom Frei Joao Xavier de Souza Trindade almost became a bishop sometime in the 1800s. He was even elected to the Portuguese parliament from Timor in 1844 and from Goa in 1845. But one whose fame won’t ever fade away was the erudite orientalist Mons Rodolfo Sebastiao Dalgado (1855-1922), who graduated in Roman and Canon Laws and Theology at the Rome’s Papal University. He was a distinguished linguist who knew Kanarese, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Italian, German, Arabic, Persian and Portuguese besides his mother-tongue Konkani.
Mons Dalgado analysed the structure and vocabulary of Konkani and in 1893 he published the first ever Konkani-Portuguese dictionary. Among several works, he also wrote the treatise ‘The Influence of the Portuguese Language over Asiatic Languages’. In 1917, Mons Dalgado occupied the chair of Sanskrit in Portugal. Today, when I say that I hail from Assagao, immediately shoot back, “So you are from Dalgado’s village”. Some even say, “Why have the Ascoumkars ignored Lucasinho Ribeiro? Don’t you know that he is the father of Konkani Tiatr?”
Fr Antonio Vicente Lisboa (1828-1883) too earned honours for his religious fervour and administrative acumen. The honour of being the first parish priest of Assagao, however, belongs to the late Fr Domingos Salvador da Silva. To counter the phenomenon of dwindling vocations, the Pallottines set up a house in 1961 in the residence (Vhoddlem Ghor) of the late Domingos Caetano Athaide. The house was nearly gutted by fire virtually on the eve of celebrating a century, but the Pallotine philosophical seminary goes on from strength to strength. They are already about to embark on a spacious premises for their educational needs.
In the meanwhile, Assagao has a young parish priest for the first time in the person of Fr Gualberto de Souza. Fr Gualberto, who hails from Cunchelim, has galvanised the smallish congregation into united Christians.
Among the predominant Comunidades of Bardez, Assagao alone possessed a large complement of 13 vangors, all of which Brahmins. The Brahmins of yesteryears were well educated, dignified and equally a domineering gentry, in front of whom the common man had to doff his hat. Of course, the mansions of many such bhattkars have now kissed the dust and if they have any kith or kin, they don’t live in Goa or in this village anymore. Assagao also had her share of haunted houses and the one most known is of Cundlo bhattkar. Queerly enough, the ghost wouldn’t harm anyone. He was obsessed with the more charming of the two daugthers of the house. Though the young lady couldn’t see the good ghost, she felt him kiss and caress her. The man who relates this to me is 96 now, and he has so many more incidences to tell.
Ascoumkars are generally considered to be very gentle people. They are justifiably proud of a long list of eminent men. The first Goan to become a governor was Anthony Lancelot Dias, former governor of West Bengal. He was also the chairman of the Goa Land Reforms Commission soon after Liberation and had proposed farsighted reforms which were clouded by political shortsightedness in liberated Goa.
Now let’s turn over to medical science to read a very important chapter. To read about a pioneering physician, botanist, linguist and humanist – Dr Jose Camilo Lisboa. Dr Lisboa has two plants namely tripogen lisboa and respagan odoratus lisboa named after him for his research on varieties of grass in Goa. Dr Lisboa was among the batch of doctors including Dr Bhau Daji Laad, who passed out from the grant Medical College in Mumbai in 1851.
Patrocinio de Andrade, a philosopher, presided over the session on Ethics at the Lahore Philosophical Congress. C.J. Francis, editor and proprietor of the Luso-Concani publication, published ‘A Dictionary of English into Concani with Three Thousand English Proverbs’ by Alex M Dias in 1912. SFr Anthony D’Souza was a director of the Xavier Institute of Management in Bombay and his book “Leadership” has been even translated into Chinese. Judge Luis Cordeiro was a First Class Magistrate of Bombay City and the chairman of the Indian Hockey Selection Committee. Eddie J.S. Godinho was a renowned journalist.
Bengalis may be the country’s soccer wizards but they haven’t scored any goals in Olympics soccer. In India’s soccer history, only the mercurial striker Neville D’Souza, originally from Assagao, notched a hat-trick in Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Deryk D’Souza, Neville’s brother and a renowned coach now, has the record of netting the highest number of goals in a single match while playing for Caltex in 1963. Their earlier generation had Cyriaco and Nelson D’Souza, stalwarts of the Lusitanians in Bombay.
As far back as 1800 almost, Antonio Filipe Fonseca, nicknamed bandmaster entertained the ancestors of Maharaja Shivaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda. His son Agapito Roldao Fonseca built the Ajoha Sarovar Lake in 1850 and in gratitude the maharaja named a village as Fonsecapura in the vicinity of Baroda. Time stands still while one unfurls Assagao’s list of honour. I wish I knew of more Ascoumkars who have shone in others spheres of endeavour wherever they have spread over the globe in search of greener pastures.
The pioneering sons of Assagao started an English school in 1927 and named it after Dr Augusto Souza. It is a high school already and called the Assagao Union High School. The name of Dr Augusto’s is still retained for the primary section. Of course, the VNS Bandekar Commerce College, built on the hilltop belonging to the Assagao Comunidade, has given a resounding push to education.
The Pallottines prepare priests at their minor seminary, and there is a Pallotine nunnery at Mazalvaddo, near the house of Dr Armando Braganca, who was very popular in Assagao, Anjuna and Siolim. And if the Mapusa merchants give up their dog-in-the-manger attitude over the Assagao Comunidade hillock, then the Agnel Ashram Fathers too can embark on their ambitious Rs.10-crore Agricultural College, for which NABARD funds have already flowed in.
In recent years, many a foreigners have found sanctuary in Badem during the tourist season. People rent rooms to the foreigners and live in the outhouse till the season lasts. Many restaurants too have cropped up and, of course, Edwin Fonseca has opened a hotel called “Hotel Astoria”. Europeans buy dilapidated houses and properties in Assagao now. The house of the late Roque Fernandes in Mardungo, has been brought by foreigners, who have converted it into a holiday home for Europeans with a swimming pool et al.
Badem is an even more beautiful part which split from the Assagao parish when the former got its own church of Our Lady of Miracles. It’s one of the most wondrous spots from where one gets a panoramic view of the Arabian azure and the palm-lined tiny beach of Gudem in neighbouring Siolim. India’s famed rockstar Remo Fernandes lives in Gudem but finds the Badem hill good for inspiration. It is from Badem that the best women’s tailors hail. There was a time when a group of three to five tailors with one carrying the sewing machine on his head, would visit the entire Bardez taluka. Today even Kashinath tailor has put up his shop in Mapusa.
And who has not heard of aging Fenelanv? He and his sons have painted churches and altars almost all over Goa. And there is Johnny A. Pereira, who represented India in hockey, though he is not from Badem, but has settled in Badem. Of course, I can’t miss Hubert McDonald of the school of driving and a host of business activities that he has been conducting so efficiently.
The greenhills separate the Assagao from Siolim in the North, Mapusa in the East and Parra in the South. The only village Ascoumkars can reach without crossing a hill is adjacent Anjuna. But with the tourist inflow coastal Anjuna would prefer the foreigner than their country neighbours. Anyway, Assagao is happy with her hillocks, which prevent industrialisation but keep away the noise, congestion and pollution of the Mapusa town down the eastern slope. Ascounkars are a graceful people but rather sussegad. When a Goa minister proposed a garbage dump on the Assagao hill for Mapusa’s garbage, only Ms Blossom D’Souza and a couple of others protested. The rest of us merely gloat over the fact that this scenic hill is the gateway to the golden beaches of Vagator and Anjuna (Goa’s tourism minister’s ancestral village!).
Once the waters of the Dossa-zor spring would provide water for irrigating the mollo (garden) where abolim, jasmine and other sweet-scented flowers were grown and taken to the Mapusa market by fulkaram (flower sellers) from Assagao. The spring waters also helped heal rheumatism and eye problems and reduce sterility. The tollem water served for drinking purposes and was good for mitigating lung problems and rheumatism. Today there are taps at street corners and in several households but the water is found only in the wells. The taps are mostly dry and when they flow on a few days taps they flow at midnight.
On the threshold of the 21st century, let’s take stock of the village of great Goans, with a population of about 3500 souls. One hardly finds anything commendable happening here. The street lights dim and disappear and so do the coconuts in the groves. The telephone cuts distances but only when the lineman permit it to function. Unfortunately for a village of distinguished men, the first sarpanch the late Subha Govekar, though a very good man, couldn’t even sign his name. Things changed, educated men became sarpanchas but nothing really worked still. Today Assagao has a woman sarpanch in Mrs Angela D’Souza for the first time, and this time round at least one hopes for a change.