Camurlly, Camorlly, Camara-halli or whatever the quaint village might have been called by people down the centuries, forlorn Camurlim is certainly worth a visit. Flowing placidly along the palm-lined banks, the Chapora river embosses the green grandeur with charm-filled nooks and crannies.

A seven-kilometre drive North distances us from the hurried pace of Mapusa town, through hilly Cunchelim, and lands us gently amidst the sheer, soothing sights which city folk envy. Here we are driving into some of the quieter hamlets of North Goa’s Bardez taluka where mechanical, suburban sounds give way to nature’s symphony – of barking, mooing, chukling, chirping, grunting, or a cajkar calling out someone in the village from the caju groves on the hill. In the background, the gentle breeze plays a continuous, soothing rustle on the palm fronds.

Besides Cunchelim, Camurlim’s congenial neighbours are Colvale in the East, and Oxel and Siolim in the West. Historians recount that Camurlim was a bastion of blacksmiths and hence it was called Camara-halli. However, one neither sees any smith nor forge here anymore. However, hardy stone-cutters are people one sees here. They extract laterite stones from the bowels of the hillocks for construction purposes, not with traditional pickaxes but an electrical contraption. It resembles a lawn-mover equipped with a hacksaw, which raises a helluva noise and blows up a clouds of thick dust.

Camurlim is a 5-kilometre stretch of idyllic countryside somewhat isolated from the rest of Bardez. Probably people feared attacks from the Marathas and others from Pernem beyond the river which then didn’t belong to the Portuguese. The secluded village would be often raided by the Ranes. Because of this reason, some houses like those of Mendonsa at Cruzvaddo have a secret room in the attic, where the old people would hide with their precious belongings when the invaders attacked. Peep holes, provided in the attic wall, would help to keep a watch on intruders.

The army of the Maratha warrior Shivaji had attacked Bardez on 19 November 1667. The attack was primarily to punish the intrepid Desais, who would cross over into the territory held by the Marathas and trouble the people there. The Desais had their sprawling headquarters in a well guarded house at Camurlim’s Durbarvaddo. The late Yeshwantaji Jaiwantrao Desai, a judge of Visconde de Pernem, lived here. It has been pruned to a quarter of its original size now.

Right in front of their house lived the ancestors of Dr Santosh Laad, the famed Goan neuro-surgeon. The Laad residence has disappeared altogether. Near the road lived the family of Ms Kabade, a famous Indian danseuse and a pupil of the legendary Bal Gandharva.

Age is depicted in the derelict houses in which dwelt families of some honour and repute. In the course of conquest and conversion, the Hindu aristocracy seemed to have been obliterated. In the reordered list of aristocracy, one finds a generous mention of then renowned and powerful Inacio Caetano de Carvalho, on whom the Portuguese had bestowed the title “Visconde de Bardez”, for certain services rendered to their government.

The house, which was furnished with regal splendour, played host to several Portuguese dignitaries and the cream of Goan aristocracy of those days. Though the Carvalhos don’t really belong to Camurlim originally, they did bring fame and recognition to the isolated village a century ago. The Visconde was a man of letters and authored of “A Historia da Revolta das Soldados, Ranes Satarienses, 1895.”

The Carvalhos had raised the chapel of Santa Rita of Cassia in 1751, on top of a greenhill which commands a captivating view of the surrounding villages. It was raised to the Church of Santa Rita in 1954. The Christian population might have been substantial then but today it forms just about a quarter of the over 3500 souls living here. It is true, however, that many a Catholic deserted native Camurlim in search of livelihood and settled elsewhere in Goa or migrated to Mumbai and other places during the last century.

Due to the desertion, many large houses have been turned to ruins. Were the Visconde to be reborn in Camurlim today, he would probably faint to find that his regal residence has been reduced to a shambles. People remember that he was kind to his mundcars but they could come only to the backdoor of the house. They also had to doff their turbans or caps while passing by the Carvalho’s mansion since he was the influential Visconde de Bardez.

The pathetic tale of the Visconde’s house is repeated in virtually all the villages of Goa, where the once powerful families have been wiped out since their progeny refuse to return from Europe or other places where they had gone for higher education or employment. Away from home, Goans have gained fame and honour while their birth-place remains in the desolation of the backwoods and backwaters.

Camurlim, which abounds in lush coconut groves, prompted young Franco Fernandes to leave his native Benaulim in Salcette, to settle in the sweet seclusion of Camurlim. By dint of hard work, today Franco is the foremost Goan artisan, who specialises in articles made purely of the coconut tree.

While the cajkars distill feni on the hilltops, Franco embellishes the feni-filled bottles with a lovely coconut casing. Dainty ear-rings, bangles and jewellery wrought of coconut by Franco’s innovative venture, were displayed at the IGEDO show in Germany. The creations were worn by the models of Wendell Rodrigues, who was the first Indian fashion designer to be invited for the international design festival.

Camurlim is not only wellknown for both types of feni – coconut and caju – but also for the extraction of sea-shells. How such a thick deposit of empty shells collects at this particular place in the river is yet a mystery. It was Antonio Jose D’Souza of Assagao, who discovered the vast shell deposits about a decade ago. Eight to ten truckloads leave daily from Camurlim to the West Coast paper mills. Similarly, when houses in Bardez come up for white-washing for Christmas, people rush to the Friday bazaar in Mapusa to buy the “koeracheo shimpeo” (shells) for the purpose.

Many people are employed to fish out the shells from the river bed but, surprisingly enough, most of the labour is non- Goan. For local Camurlekars, agriculture is the main occupation because nearly one-third of the total land is cultivable. Toddy- tapping, caju harvesting and fishing provide sustenance at other times of the year.

Since the advent of education, with the establishment of the English Medium People’s High School in 1977, there is a sudden shift in occupations. After the construction of a tar road in 1967, the village communication has improved tremendously and now people travel to Mapusa and beyond for employment daily.

The elders recall footing out to the “Mapxemcho bazaar” every Friday with headloads of onions, chilies, shellfish and mangoes. Today, however, there’s no need to sweat it out because buses take the load. Also many have given up the sedentary occupations of growing the “porsum” (a cultivable patch with delicate mud walling) for vegetables. There is a regular bus service which takes people from Camurlim to Mapusa and Siolim. In addition, a ferry-boat service operates between Camurlim and Tuem, which lies in the Pernem taluka across the river.

The people are deeply religious whether they are Hindu or Catholic. While the Catholics invoke Santa Rita in times of need, their predominantly Hindu counterparts are ardent devotees of the popular goddess Santeri. They say that there wasn’t ever a real temple of Santeri anywhere in Goa once. Because the deity is believed to be an anthill dweller of the woods. And if there were any other temples, conversion ensured that they were razed to the ground. To avoid conversion, the villagers fled with their deities and build the shrines of Bhagwati, Vithoda and Santeri at Zolurem in Tuem (Pernem). Balkrishna Prabhu temple built in 1901 at Vagallim was probably the earliest temple, while those of Kalle Khaddpeshwar and the Rashtroli mandap are of recent origin.

Gauncars and Catholics live in Gauncarvaddo, Bhandaris in Bhorvonvaddo, the fishing community in Kharwaddo and some washermen at Vethalvaddo. Bondrar is the picturesque ferry point from where on can go to Tuem on the Pernem side.

The Hindus also believe in a benign spirit which they say moves about at night time on a hilly pathway call Zinttvo which separates Camurlim from Siolim. On a fullmoon night every January, virtually the entire Hindu populace climbs the hillock for a grand “sarvajanik” (public) meal. They gather here and pray to the spirit to prevent any evil or sickness from afflicting anyone in their village.

O, to be in Camurlim! For those spread all over the world, their beloved land flows with caju and coconut feni, particularly in the summer months of March, April and May. It was also in this village that the late Francis Xavier Mendonsa, former Mayor of the Bardez Municipality, and the late Nascimento Mendonsa, a writer-poet-politician were born. The imposing Mendonsa mansion was where the renowned Goan freedom fighter Telo Mascarenhas, originally from Velsao, spent the evening of his life, after his return from imprisonment in Portugal.

Among the illustrious sons of the village, the late Prof Belarmino Lobo is being rememberd for being an eminent educationist and Konkani writer. There are quite a few freedom fighters including Jeremias Lobo from Khairat and Rama Fadte. The late Baban Prabhu, a renowned comedian of Mumbai’s Marathi theatre, hails from here. There are many more who standout in the field of arts and craft. Cyril D’Cunha, the friendly journalist and a former State hockey player, is from Camurlim.

Among the religious, the Late Conego Arcedial Sertorio Lobo was a revered personality. But who can forget the most lovable of the Goan Salesian priests – Fr Caetano Lobo? The towering “Padr Lobo” was known for wit, wisdom and painstaking methods of teaching Geography and Social Studies at Panjim’s Don Bosco High School. In the Fifties, he edited a very popular Konkani periodical “Aitarachem Vachop”, which was a forum for a lot of young and enthusiastic Konkani writers to test their writing skills.

Says an elderly local, “Camurlim is calling out to her sons, spread over the world, to return to the village and help it regain its glory, in whatever fashion possible. Because of our pathetic circumstances we could not rise sufficiently, but today it is not difficult with modern amenities available.” Some voice in the wilderness this! Perhaps the echo will escape and soar over the hills and dales and reach the distant beyond.

¬†Joel D’Souza