ASSONORA – By the River Par ...

Fifteen kilometres East of Mapusa town lies a forlorn village called Assonora. Whether the name Assonora comes from the asson (a timber tree) known for its medicinal bark is uncertain. But Assonora is definitely a well wooded village by virtue of the gurgling flow of the Par river, which adorns Assonora with immense charm and grace.

The Portuguese arsenal was stationed at Assonora once upon a time. Because being the border of the Old Conquests, it was a place of strategic importance. Otherwise, Assonora is generally known because it nestles in Goa’s premier mining belt, which employs thousands of people. Before the jam-packed bus reaches Assonora, one sees imposing, rather intimidating and high-as- hills iron-ore dumps. Quite a bulk of the mining labour and machinery passes through the village, filling it with noise and dust.

However, by the time the jam-packed bus halts at the busy little market place, the annoying traffic snarl of mining vehicles one encounters en route to this village, is virtually forgotten. The traditional “Assnoddcho bazaar”, held every Tuesday, takes you on with so many rustic elements crouched in such a small space, and ever so haphazardly. One sees village women and children beckon buyers with sweet-scented garlands of jasmine, marigolds and crossandras. Every little standing space is occupied by villagers selling fish, mangoes, papayas, kanttam(wild berries), and vegetables like bhendde, vainguim, chittkeo-mittkeo, virvil (runner beans), etc.

Rural women and girls buy the garlands to adorn their hair, while others offer them to their gods and goddesses. Though the earnings are meagre it helps the villagers supplement their income from agriculture and other rural occupations.

During the colonial times, this bazaar was a significant trading spot, where chillies, rice and vegetables came from Aldona and Bodiem. People from the hilly hamlets of Advalpal, Dodamarg and Nanora would bring caju kernels, honey, jambool, solam (dried mangoes/kokum slivers).

The village still retains some of the pristine charm and idyllic scenes steeped in greenery. The legendary bandit Asnoddcho Kistulo would roam the vast, undulated expanse raiding affluent houses in the stealth of the night and relaxing in the hills. Worth watching, in particular, are the areas in the proximity of the two bridges. The famed Assonora bridge, which the Portuguese dynamited on the eve of Liberation to halt the advance of Indian troops, sits prettily over the river Par.

Deeper in the interior, amidst greenfields and coconut groves lies the Bandar bridge. This bridge links Assonora to Sirigao, a village which is very popular among Hindus for Goa’s famous Shirgoumchi zatra when hundreds of devotees walk across glowing coals in a night-long spectacle.

The neighbourhood comprises of equally dust-laden Usgao, Mulgao and Sirgao, Aldona across the river, Tivim towards the Mapusa end, besides Pirna across the northern hillrange. The population of over 6000 is agrarian in nature and thrive on the produce irrigated by the bounteous flow of the Par. Of course, since the advent of mining, able-bodied men have sought gainful employment in the various mining establishments as drivers, mechanics and manual labourers. With the folding up of some of the mining workshops, they are required to go elsewhere in search of livelihood.

A section of the labour, travelling to work from distant places, prefers to reside here, in the vicinity of their work place. Hence quite a few families rent rooms for boarders. In the past, another sort of visitors would come looking for accommodation particularly to spend their summer vacations. They would come from the more affluent villages of Aldona, Tivim, Moira and the like, and hire houses beside the river.

Prolific writer, eminent educationist and an Assnoddkar settled in Pilerne, Eduardo de Souza, recounts a juicy story of one such vacationer, incidentally from joke-ridden Moira. The Moiddekar had come to the house to spend a few days. But he was surprised by a sudden knock on the door on the very first midnight. On opening the door, he was left gaping at the two lovely damsels beyond the doorstep. The fair visitors informed him that the mansion belonged to them and they had just stopped by to enquire if all was well. He told them that he was perfectly at home and damsels melted into the darkness after a graceful “Good Night”.

The mystifying vision must have left him in a dreamworld during the rest of the night. Moreover, he saw them again in the above the mantle in the dining hall. He was driven by curiosity to find out where they actually lived now. When the poder (breadman) woke him up with the sound of his bell-studded staff in the morning, instead of asking for bread the Moiddekar inquired where the two lovely owners of the large mansion lived. A bolt from the blue left him dumbstruck when the breadman informed him the two girls had drowned themselves in the river quite a few years ago after being jilted by a mistis. Naturally, it was the end of his vacation too.

In summer, if one ignores the ubiquitous dust, Assonora offers plenty of freshness in fish, water and fruits. Succulent mangoes, cajus and jackfruits add to the excitement of the picnikners and vacationers, after a swim in the shallower section of the crystal waters. The Par originates in the Madei tributary of the Mandovi river and flows down densely wooded hills and valleys enroute. The Assonora Water Works located on this river supply water to a large part of the Bardez taluka.

Another such picnic spot lies at the foothills, surrounded by greenery through which flow the medicinal waters of the Ambexi spring. The spring water is a potent cure for eye diseases, the locals tell us. Back in the year 1885, Fr Anton Xavier de Braganza of Mapusa had erected the chapel of St. Michael on top of the Monte or hillock in the vicinity of the spring. What’s seen from the road now is the weather-beaten facade of the chapel.

The local church of St Clara, however, grew up from a humble chapel of St Clara of Assisi, built by the Franciscan Friars in 1781. It became a full-fledged church on 18th October 1905 by separating itself from the adjacent Tivim parish. Of course, at that time the church had a parochial school and a music school too. Today it caters to the tiny Catholic community of around 1300 members, who celebrate the feast of the patroness St Clara every May with great pomp.

The majority of the population of over 7000 (the irregularly rising Kailaswada itself accounting for 1000 souls, is Hindu. There are a few Muslim households and of late, some Jacobites and Syrian Christians of Kerala have settled here.

For the Hindus, goddess Shantadurga is the village deity and its temple is at Moitem and the temple committee consists of Maparis and Gaunkars. These belong to the Bhandhari class who are in a majority here. There is a Dattatray temple at Bhandar Vaddo.

Of course, as is generally true in the rest of Goa, the small Catholic community alone has been responsible for looking after the educational needs of the village. The St. Clare High School was founded by Fr. A.V.T. Fernandes in 1947. Since 1968, the Poor Sisters of Our Lady, a Diocesan Congregation of Bombay founded by the late Cardinal Valerian Gracias, have been running the schools efficiently and painstakingly.

However, much earlier a benevolent lady, popularly known as “Mary Teacher” (Mary Britto) used to tutor a few children in the three Rs at her residence. Mary was pained to see tiny kids trudging long distances on foot, in sun and rain, to faraway schools in the neighbouring villages. Ms Vivian Fernandes, a dynamic social worker who has consistently won the panchayat elections since Liberation, never had the chance to become a Sarpanch because this position has always been occupied by a Hindu from the majority community.

Assnodkars have written the account of their valour in blood during the freedom struggle. “In our worthy contribution to the Goan Freedom Movement of 1954, nine of our freedom fighters sacrificed valuable years of their life in Portuguese prisons, two freedom fighters laid down their lives,” says James Fernandes, lecturer of St Xavier’s College, Mapusa. In the freedom struggle, Fernandes played his own little role along with Damodar V. Vaze, Datta Chodankar, Gopi Chodankar, Joaquim Pinto, Bala Mapari, Pandurang Vishwanath Vaze, Rohidas Mapari, Prabhaker V. Vaze, James Fernandes, Rafael D’Souza, Vasanta Datta Chodankar, Vithal Chodankar and Vithal Nagvenkar.

Those who studied in St Xavier’s College in Mumbai in the ‘Forties, will remember the late Fred Mendonca, the Shakespearean scholar with a rattling speed while delivering the lectures on the Modern Period in English. The late Prof Frank D’Souza, wrote on him, “He (Fred) had Bradley’s (i)Shakespearean Tragedy
When we recall the name of the late Fr Philip Neri Mendonca, need we mention that he was the most famous Principal of Goa’s prime educational institution of yesteryears – the St Joseph’s High School in Arpora? His brother Fr William Mendonca taught us English at Don Bosco High School, Panjim. We remember how meticulously he would explain to us Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, how seriously he corrected the essays we wrote and how thrifty he was while giving marks. Fred, Philip and William were brothers. The late Clare Mendonca of Filmfare fame was their sister, while their father Isidore Mendonca was associated with the Anglo Lusitano, a Goan weekly, edited by Ignatius Fonseca.

The Right Reverend Ambrosio Trindade was the Archbishop of Lahore. The late Eduardo Bruno de Souza (1836-1905) was the pioneering Konkani journalist-editor, who published the first Konkani journal (i)Udentichem Sallok
Eduardo Bruno de Souza had mastered Konkani, Portuguese, English and a couple of Indian languages. But he had reserved his passion for writing to his mothertongue, in which he wrote the famed book (i)Eva and Mori
Eduardo also wrote (i)A Doutrina Christa. Piedade Sabininnichim ani sabar dusrim Gaenam, Primeira Cartilha do Alphabeto Mariano (First book of Marian Alphabet (1901), Resurreicao do Concani
With Asnoddkars having flown away in search of greener pastures, there is not much to write about those who are left behind. Even journalist Valentino Fernandes, so proud of his little village, has shifted elsewhere recently. Of course, in football Subhash Sinari was a watchable goaltender of the Salgaocar Sports Club once. Later on Baburao Calangutkar shot on the junior national scene and went on to don Dempo colours.

The Mendoncas, of course, prove their credentials even today as the most prominent sons of Assonora. We know about the age-old Lawrence and Mayo optical firm considered to be the “opticians to the nation”. It is run by Robert H Mendonsa and his family.

The highway traffic travels through the village ceaselessly. And now Konkan railway comes as close as neighbouring Sirsaim/Tivim, just about one kilometre from Assonora. And how it influences and takes the peaceful, rural environment to the next millennium remains to be seen.

Joel D’Souza