FEASTS AND FAIRS
The village of Saligão was made up of nine wards. Mine was the ward of Arrarim which comprised seven sub-wards. Each subward, or vaddo, had a name instead of a numeral to distinguish it from the others. Arrarim was the largest ward in Saligão, and it had its own chapel, built in 1676, and dedicated to Sant Cãetano (St. Cajetan). Three other chapels in the village served the remaining wards.
Every chapel held an annual celebration on the feast day of its patron saint. The celebrations, like that of the church feast, would start with the fama as an introduction to eight consecutive evening services commonly referred to as salve, and the verpera (vespers) held on the eve of the feast day.
The salve itself was a service held inside the chapel and was followed by outdoor entertainment for which each ward would raise money by canvassing door-to-door for donations.
The salve would start with the congregation saying the rosary and reciting the litany before the homily that would be delivered by the chaplain. This would be followed by a candlelight procession of little boys dressed as angels, replete with wings and a halo of white flowers on their heads. They would stand in the aisle in two rows, facing each other, and sing a cantata in Latin to violin accompaniment from the choir at the back of the nave. The service would end with a rousing rendition of the hymn venerating the patron saint.
While the salve was in session, the facade of the chapel would be lit up with multi-colored tissue paper lanterns illuminated by candles stuck to the cardboard base with melted wax. The facade was studded with protruding nails from which lanterns would be hung by a team of boys who would scamper along the outer ledges at various floor levels, oblivious to any potential danger.
The salve would end about an hour after sunset. And the first thing that the congregation would do upon emerging from the chapel is turn around to check out the illuminations. There’d be sighs of “ah” to signify their pleasure, and “areh!” if they noticed a novel illumination. Then they’d walk over to the bandstand for the evening’s musical entertainment.
The bandstand was a box-like frame made of bamboo with the lower ends of the uprights positioned firmly in the ground. The square frame at the top kept the uprights in alignment while a waist high railing kept the kids out of the bandstand. Stuck firmly in the ground in the centre of the bandstand would be another sturdy bamboo pole to which all the uprights were braced. From this pole would hang the bright Petromax lamp with its distinctive hissing sound that came from the release of pressurized paraffin. The uprights would be covered with palm fronds, and the horizontal poles with buntings and coloured streamers. And around this bandstand, amid coconut trees silhouetted against a starry tropical sky, the folk would gather to listen to the band of the evening.
The most affordable band in the village was that of Forsu Irmão (brother Francis). He played the saxophone and was accompanied by Salu on the clarinet, Estaquinho, the Church choirmaster, on the violin, and Menino on the tambor (drum) slung from his shoulder. For about an hour, the band would play a medley of marches and Portuguese tunes while the inviting aroma of deep-frying bhoje wafted through the audience from the nearby frying pan set up by the local vendor.
Meanwhile, boys and girls would be watching the firework display. The pyrotechnist was a Hindu from Morod Vaddo, and he had two and a half fingers missing to show for his hands-on approach to his job. The extent of the fireworks display depended upon the money we were able to collect for this part of the evening’s entertainment.
But the big fireworks display took place at the vespers on Saturday night, the eve of the feast day. All expenses for the celebration of this evening’s event and that of the feast day were borne by the ‘president’, usually an individual home on vacation from his overseas job.
The vespers was a solemn and impressive service attended by priests from nearby villages. They’d stand at the foot of the altar in two rows, facing each other with lit candles in hand, and chant psalms in Latin. The preacher would also be a guest priest with a reputation for delivering eloquent and fiery sermons.
To ensure that the decorations and entertainment following the vespers was better than any of the preceding evenings, the president would request us to donate our decorations and help put them up together with any additional decorations he would have purchased. And the band that played after the vespers was usually one of the two best bands in Goa – Bobby’s Melody Makers, or Johnson and his Jolly Boys. They both played ballroom music and the latest pop tunes. Bobby played the clarinet and Johnson played the violin.
The fireworks would also be the best of the pyrotechnist’s creations, starting with the booming khon’ne (miniature cannons), the loud gon’nals (lemon-size fircrackers), and the rapid-fire fogotteo (the regular firecrackers),
As soon as the band struck up the music, the visual fireworks display would begin. There’d be rockets fired into the night sky with sursurem (sparkling fountains,) and girgirem (spinning rockets) providing amusement at ground level. But the highlight would be the combo-combi (rooster and hen).
The combo-combi was a papier mache chicken suspended from a gallows-like bamboo rack. It was about two feet long, with pyrotechnic gizzards and an opening under its tail. When the fuse was lit, the bird would shoot out a continuous spray of sparks interspersed with blobs of flame resembling eggs. The discharge of every ‘egg’ would be greeted with a thunderous ‘yeh’ from the spectators. This display was usually the signal to wind down the evening’s entertainment and head for home.
After everyone had gone home, all of us who had helped in organizing the evening’s entertainment would gather around the bhoje vendor and spend the last few rupees from our slush fund to treat ourselves to what we considered the best snack this side of heaven.
THE FEAST DAY
The ‘Feast Day’ of the patron saint of the Chapel was a significant event in the village. It took place on a Sunday, and it marked the finale to the preceding evenings’ chapel services, fireworks displays and musical entertainment.
The High Mass would end with an outdoor procession in which the president would have the honour of holding the silver-studded ceremonial staff and acknowledging the polite acclamation of the congregation. Then came the fer – rural Goa’s version of a fun fair.
This fer was nothing like North American fun fairs with rides and Ferris wheels and games of chance, but rather a row of make-shift stalls selling sweets, clay figurines, glass bangles, firecrackers and trinkets. A few feet away from the stalls, there would be another area where clay pots and pans of various shapes and sizes and other kitchenware would be spread out on the ground for sale. My grandmother would browse through this area and make a few purchases while I would check out the stalls that sold trinkets and firecrackers. I ignored the sweets stalls because I knew that my mother or grandmother would buy some for me.
Of all the stuff in the trinket stalls, the items that I looked out for were metal whistles, key chains, and combs. And I’d buy at least one of these items at a church or chapel fer.
The chain was a fashion statement. One end of the chain would be attached to the buttonhole of my trouser waistband, and the other end would be in my pocket with just one key attached to it. The key opened one of the many unused locks that lay in a drawer of dresser in my bedroom, and it served no purpose other than to justify the use of the chain. Likewise, the pil’look (whistle) was useless; but I just enjoyed blowing it for a day or two until it got lost somewhere. I would then buy another whistle at the next fair. The comb, however, was used every day to comb my hair that would be slicked down with a few drops of coconut oil. Constant use would break a few teeth, but this would just give me an excuse to buy another comb at the next fer.
The money to buy all these goodies came from my relatives during the chapel feast of Sant Caetano and the church feast of Mae de Deus. This is when I could count on one rupee from Uncle Piedade, and eight annas (1/2 rupee) each from my grandmother and my mom. And these two rupees went an incredibly long way. After my purchases on the feast day, there’d be enough change left over for me to buy some pippirmit (peppermint candy) and a marble for the game of godd’de (marbles) played during the monsoon season.
For a young lad, church and chapel feasts were a lot of fun, and the purchasing power I got out of a few rupees back then, gave real meaning to the saying “Little things mean a lot”.