Chimbel – Humble Chimbel…
Driving six kilometres east of Panaji, but keeping away from the beaten path, one reaches the little-known village of Chimbel in the Ilhas or Tiswadi taluka. The humble habitat of cucumber growers can be reached either from Merces or Ribandar.
Chimbel is not an affluent village by any means. There aren’t as many large, sprawling mansions as in the other villages of Goa. But the village is blessed with a hardworking population of around 4000, the majority of whom are from the Kunbi community.
Chimbel is a neighbour to Ribandar on the North, Merces in the West and Curca-Santanna on the East. 2The village of about 10,000 population is rather unpretentious. However, Chimbel’s prime physical treasure is a beautiful lake. The lake lies snugly ensconced in verdant hills on which grow thick caju groves. It is definitely one of Goa’s loveliest lakes, the like of which are seen only in Mayem and Chandor. It is an ideal spot for picnics and outings for the cityfolk, who unfortunately are not really aware of it so far.
“The Chimbel lake used to provide water to Panaji city once upon a time,” says Camilo Vaz. Rust covered vestiges of a well-laid pipeline are seen in the bushes. It must have been laid sometime in 1909, as the year is found inscribed on the opening of the underground duct. The hilly pathway to the lake is slightly steep and it is generally used only by the cajukars when they pick up cajus for producing caju feni. At other times, one will find a cowherd or women collecting fireword. Come April and the hillocks are filled with the aroma of the caju apples and the cajukars set up their huts where they pound the fruit for juice, the last dregs of which is called niro. Youngsters flock at the hut at sundown to drink the tasty beverage.
Raw caju kernel and the wild berries like kanttam and churnam, sold by the rustic women in Panaji, belong to the bounties of the Chimbel hillocks. The hardworking folk scour the hills for the rural produce to supplement their income from working in the paddy fields. As soon as the rains come, they are busy on the hill slopes, growing the juicy cucumbers which the petite women, typically dressed and with flowers in their hair, bring to the city markets.
Among the other natural endowments of Chimbel figures a perennial spring called Bombddo. The Bombddo flows down the hill to the plains, where it is tapped by the washermen. There is quite a large colony of washermen here. Prabhakar Borkar (65) claims that they have been washing the linen of the government hospitals since the time of Santa Casa during the colonial rule. Borkar says: “The people from Panaji and nearby areas used to come here for bathing earlier. The water also helped to irrigate the fields at Kirlawada.” But from the time quarrying of crushed construction stones (called metal) began, the natural flow of water has been severely affected. In turn, this has affected the 25 families whose livelihood depends entirely on this occupation since generations. “No one listens to our complaints,” says Borkar
Quarrying of stone is the major economic activity in the village. There are three large quarries and their rumbling, mechanised crushers cling to the hill slopes in the interior of the village. But the washermen claim that it has affected the free flow of the Bombddo. Moreover, Goan labourers being unable to work in the grey dust, only upcountry non-Goans are engaged here.
In fact, there is a large population of non-Goans at the nearby Indira Nagar Colony. From as far as the Nehru Bridge over the Mandovi, one can see the so called colony — like a vast clearing — eating away the greenery. The settlement itself appears like waste dumped haphazardly. On reaching the place proper after travelling past pristine surroundings, one is taken aback by a teeming humanity living in pathetic sanitary environs. It is almost unlike Goa, almost a city slum cluttered with small houses from which people spill out on the narrow lanes. With hardly any room to spread oneself in the house, the women even cook and wash clothes and utensils either on the doorstep or on the road. Kids dance about or squat close by. Construction labour, hawkers, fruit sellers and all the riff-raff of Panaji city seems to be gathered here for a roof over their heads. One can hardly believe that this is a part of Goa, and that too in a rural habitation like Chimbel.
Along with the four wards of the Indira Colony, the nine-ward Panchayat includes Patto, Fondvem, Panvelim, Chinchawaddo, Chimbelwaddo, Gonvlem Bhatt and Shiren. In recent years, the division of the villages gets overlapped when a revenue village is compared with a parish. In the case of tiny Chimbel, the northern portion belongs to the Ribandar parish while the southern part, called Grande Morombim, falls in the Merces parish. Both of them are joined to form a single Panchayat, with Mangal Kundaikar being the lady Sarpanch of the village. Ribandar, of course, now comes within the Panaji municipal limits.
“Though the Church of Our Lady of Ajuda in Ribandar is the parish church for a large section of the people, the chapel of Our Lady of Livra Febre is the main place of religious importance. Fr Almir is the visiting Chaplain of this beautiful chapel, built about 50 years ago. It looks after the spiritual needs of the 400-odd Catholics in the ward,” says young Vienna Dias, a commerce student. She enthusiastically says that they have a lot of activities like a tiatr, carol singing, All Goa dance competition and one-act play competition at the chapel compound during the feast in May and during Christmas. Of course, Hindus are a majority. But recently, more than a dozen new buildings have come up in the village and invariably the flat owners are Catholics, she adds. Chimbelkars have a jest for sports and particularly volleyball. One can see groups of boys stringing up the volleyball net across coconut trees in the groves and enjoying the game.
The people appear quite prosperous, with many houses connected to telephones and tap water since the last couple of years. Most of the Catholic houses have a paddy field of their own, here they grow onions, chillies and vegetables during the off-season. The Conception family are the most prominent landed gentry of Chimbel and the oldest house seems to be the one belonging to the Caiados. Another prominent house is of Eulalio Braganca. For the large number of Hindus, the five-year-old Bhagwati temple at Gonvllem Bhatt has been the main place of worship since times immemorial. There is a built up lake where the original temple of Chimulkarin stood, and where they immerse the Ganapati after Ganesh Chaturthi. The idol of the village deity, Chimulkarin, is at the Bhagwati temple in Marcela. However, a replica has been installed at the small temple.
In the first fortnight of April, before the spirit of the colourful Shigmo celebrations has subsided, the entire village comes alive again with noise and festivity. Like Goans returning to their ancestral villages annually, the idol of Chimulkarin too will return to Chimbel for a fortnight. The first stop of the palkhi before going to the Thorla Mandap and other wards, will be the Bhagwati temple at Gonvllem Bhatt. At least for fourteen days there will be nataks (Marathi dramas) by local youth in the various wards. The village nataks are quite a celebrated event when a lot of guests and relatives descend on Chimbel.
The followers of a modern-day rishi known as Shree Vinayak Masurkar is largely responsible for this temple. One of them has brought five larger-than-life images of Ganapati, Krishna and Rama, flanked by Hanuman on either side. These king-size idols will be a big draw once they are installed, but for the time being they have to sort out some legal tangle because the temple stands on the vast property belonging to the Tarcars. The Poi family is the other big landowner in Chimbel.
The market place has a few shops where people gather for the shopping needs. In the evening, it is quite crowded as people return from work and rush to the closest bar for a small one, and the restaurant for bhaji-pao and tea. Of course, the most popular bar and restaurant seems to be the one owned by a former sarpanch of Chimbel.
Chimbel’s social institutions include a home for the aged called the Asilo, which is run by the Provedoria. There is a primary health centre in Chimbel but the village per se has no doctor of its own. But there is a popular homeopath, Dr Suchen Vittal Raikar, who operates from a small house at Gonvlem Bhatt. Dr Suchen is registered with the Board of Home Remedies and is consulted by a large number of people with all sorts of ailments. The Union High School is the only educational institution in the area. Earlier, local children had to travel to Panaji or go to Ribandar’s Bal Bharati Vidya Mandir High School. Chimbel has only xallas or primary schools teaching Marathi.
Being close to Panaji city, Chimbel could have been converted into a tourist spot because the Chimbel lake is an ideal place for visitors. Some tourism project was proposed some time ago, but nothing has come up since. Even the route leading to the Chimbel is worth travelling through, because if one goes via Merces, the ancient Church of Our Lady of Merces is a monument worth watching. The other route is via the Ribandar causeway, which in itself is another scenic roadlength.
The Chimbelkars are spread all over Goa in search of livelihood, because their village only provides rural occupations. Vishnu Kankonkar, our colleague, says, “A little effort from the Goa government and its tourism department could put our village on Goa’s tourism map, but will the effort be ever made?”