Seat of Learning

 Girvoddea or Guirim, which everyone travelling the National Highway 17 sees everyday, nestles at the centre of the Old Conquests of Bardez. Guirim was known for the sacramental wine for the Mass, prepared by the Monte de Guirim friars. The emerald hillock–Monte de Guirim–bestows on the agrarian village its nomenclature, perspective and famous institutions.

Did mythical Hanuman lift away a chunk of the Guirim hillock to Lanka? Or did a chunk of the hillock, which the monkey god was transporting to Lanka in his palm, spill in the centre of the village? It’s a riddle to suddenly find a hillock in the middle of the fertile, sandy plains of central Bardez. The panoramic hillock, however, adds dimension and tremendous grace to Guirim.

Like pins, needles and coins clinging to a potent magnet, every significant institution–school, church, houses and plant nurseries–here seems to gravitate around the Monte de Guirim hillock. The sandy plains of Bardez not only provide food to the population, but intellectual nourishment as well. Is it a pure coincidence that Goa’s three pioneering educational institutions–St Joseph’s High School in Arpora, Sacred Heart High School in Parra and St Anthony’s High School (Monte de Guirim)–belong to this educational belt of Bardez?

Popularly known as Monte de Guirim, one of Goa’s premier educational institutions–the St Anthony’s High School–stands majestically atop the verdant hillock. It’s run efficiently by the Capuccin-Franciscan Friars. The school was known as the Colegio de Santo Antonio, when built in 1909. In 1922, the late Fr Higino Assuncao Hipolito de Luna added an orphanage to it.

As time went on, Monte Guirim became one of the most prominent boarding schools in Goa. At its peak, it accommodated nearly 800 boys, hailing from several villages, particularly from Salcete. The friars ensured that pupils excel not only in studies but also in the sphere of sports, hockey in particular. The boarding strength has been pruned to 250 now.

Says Fr Felix Ferrao, ofm-cap, Principal of Monte de Guirim, “We also run the National Open School at Porvorim. It is meant for dropouts and slow learners. One of our Friars is also involved in looking after the blind. St Francis of Assisi, our patron, being also the patron of ecology, we carry out a lot of plantation work on the hillslopes.”

Untill a few years back, everyone used to rush to Monte de Guirim in case of snake- and dog-bite. After Bro Peter Ratos shifted to Navelim, there’s probably no one there to attend to such cases.

Guirim does not give the impression that it is a large village. It’s been partitioned into two sections: Vhoddlem Guirim comprising St Anthony’s ward, Perset, Carvalho vaddo and Aradi, and Dhakttem Guirim comprising of Vancio and Sowa. National Highway 17 splits the village into East and West. The Mapusa river, flowing through Bastora, hedges Guirim against Vaddem-Socorro in the West. Sangolda, Parra, Mapusa, Bastora and Povorim also share their borders with Guirim.

The Franciscan ambience permeates the beautiful church of St Diogo at the Monte de Guirim foothill. The church was built by Fr Miguel de Sam Boaventura in 1604, with support from the local Comunidade. Fellow Franciscan saints–St Anthony and St Francis of Assisi–flank the main altar, which is graced by the patron St Diogo. I happened to visit the church on the feast day last year, expecting to click a photograph of the colourful procession, a feature so common at the Goan village fest. But I was surprised to find that the Confrad, wore a rather dull brown opmus unlike in other churches, where it is flaming red, pink or green.

The Hindu festivals in Guirim aren’t any different from the neighbouring villages. But there is one striking event, taking place during the traditional Nagpanchami festival, celebrated some time in the monsoons. Of course, our nostalgia for the feast is mainly due to the tasty patolleo prepared on the occasion. During this nature festival, Arjun Usgaonkar alias Bengal, a frail man of 75, would conduct the puja with a live reptile instead of its usual, mud replica. However, Goa’s young Snake Squad got wind of it this year. So they snatched away Arjun’s pet snake and handed it over to the Forest Department.

Last year we had heard Arjun pray feebly, “Mhajea Deva, mhaka ani mhajea ghorcheank shama kor. Fuddlea vorsa hi puja korunk hanv ghoddiek jivo urchona.” (My Lord, please forgive me and my household. I am too old and may not live to offer the puja next year.)

Guirim was once famous for feuds and arguments…but only with neighbouring Sangolda, which formed a part of the village. Sangolda only shares the parish now with Guirim! Though such occurrences have skidded into the past, passions would flare up at the drop of match stick, for the flimsiest of reasons, religious services not excluded. Moreover, Guirkars would not even display sufficient festive fervour on the occasion of the feast of patron St Diogo in November. They’d celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Rosary with much more pomp. Ironically too, Sangottkars and Guirkars would occupy the left and right side pews respectively in the church.

Locals pick on a particular anecdote to illustrate the running feuds between the rustics of the two villages. In the ears of an old woman, on her death-bed, a young neighbour whispered, “Jesus, Maria, Jose, tumim mhaka pavat.” To everyone’s surprise, the dying woman opened her eyes and shot back, “Jesus tencho, Ruzai Saibinn amchi. Saibinn maim pav,” and breathed her last.

If you happen to come across a lovely, little book Goa Remembered: Vignettes of Fading Traditions, written and beautifully illustrated by Angelo Pereira from Sangolda, you’ll find so many amusing anecdotes. “Since there were two turrets to the church, there was a dispute over which should house the belfry. To discuss the issue, the Sangotkars hosted a grand dinner at the parish house in the vicar’s dining room, and invited prominent elders from Guirim. As the dinner went on with good food and flowing feni, the Sangotkars secretly arranged in the dark night to fix the bell on the turret adjoining Sangolda. At the end of the dinner, the bell was rung. There was a commotion in the dining hall, tempers rose, blows were exchanged, and finally, the dispute resolved itself…Zalem tem zalem.”

Among the religious landmarks, figures the Assumption chapel, which is about 230 years old. Popular Konkani singer and tiatrist Young Chico (Francisco Brinjel) who lives next door, says, “It is believed to be the only chapel in Bardez dedicated to Assumpt Saibinn.”

There is scarcely any trace of the ancient temples, which were devoted to Bhagvati, Narayna, Vanadevta, Sati and Santeri. Details found in the archives, indicate that the original Bhumika Santeri Panchayatan stood at Figuervaddo. Conversion compelled the Hindus to flee with the idol of Bhumika to Advalpal. Terrified Hindus even crossed the border and went to Maharashtra. Those who remained behind embraced Christianity. Even some of the mahajans of the temple were converted and became Figueiras.

The new temple of Bhumika Santeri and Ravalnath was raised in 1962 at Vancio. It’s not possible to bring back the idol from Advalpal because even the few Hindu gauncars, who used to come to fetch the Comunidade zonn, don’t come anymore.

Most of the Hindus, living in the village now, are not originally from Guirim, but have come from elsewhere in search of livelihood and settled in the conducive environment. Guirim was a tranquil village, so utterly green in the monsoons with the extensive paddy fields. There was enough work in the fields. Moreover, it is conveniently located on the outskirts of the capital of Bardez Taluka–Mapusa. One could take the local produce to the Friday bazaar and purchase things required for the household.

Though there is hardly any industry worth the name in the village, the old world charm is giving way to things modern: unsightly constructions erected with hardly a care for aesthetics or functionality. If constructions persist, even the town may creep in one fine day and swallow the village within its municipal folds.

Everyone’s eyeing the Comunidade land in Goa these days. It happens in Guirim too. The local Comunidade consists of four Vangors or clans and the Gaunkars belong to the Gauddo class, and quite a few of them had the surname Naik, according to Rui Gomes Pereira (Hindu Temples and Deities).

The Guirim landscape, magnanimously lined with coconut palms, is dotted with several impressive mansions. The largest and the most impressive happens to be the palatial house of Gonsalves. It can be seen on the right of the road while leaving Mapusa. It possesses a treasure tove of exquisite, rich antiques imported from various parts of the world. Gonsalves says that the house played host to a visiting King or Prince from Portugal sometime in the last century. What’s striking, but can’t be seen from the outside, is the rare masonary steps carved out from a single laterite rock.

I mentioned singer Young Chico above, but there were excellent tiatrists like Sebastiao Pereira and Pedro Cunha too. Guirkars or Guirvoddkars excell in sports too: athlete Anna Figueira of the Customs, Salvador Fernandes who played for Sesa Goa’s football team, hockey player and coach Redento D’Souza, etc.

Eventually one reaches the Home for the Aged, accommodated in a house donated by Lily da Cunha Souza. The Home is being run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima, who have their headquarters in Pune. Until a decade ago, before they started the Home, the dedicated nuns used to teach at St Anthony’s High School.

The greatness of a Goan village are her illustrious sons and daughters. The late Dr Teodoro de Souza was a physician and a Member of the Portuguese Legislative Council. The late Pedro Inacio de Souza e Gonsalves was an administrator of the Bardez Comuninades. Late Dr Roldao Zuzarte, physician; late Inacio Vaz, painter; late Judilla Nunes, artist and fine arts teacher; late Conceicao Fernandes, famed music teacher; late Luis Mascarenhas e Souza, advocate; Canon Alvaro Pinto; Sr Musela Nunes, Sr Provincial of Hospitaler Sisters; Fr Felix Ferrao, principal of St Anthony’s High School, and others count among the Guirim greats.

Few locals, however, seem to know that one of their own–Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi–was appointed the vice president of Kenya, after holding several important positions. He was the son of Peter Nicholas Zuzarte, a Goan merchant from Guirim. In her interesting book Goans of Kenya, Tereza Albuquerque says that inspired by Kenya’s freedom fighter Pio Gama Pinto (from Saligao), Murumbi emerged into a staunch nationalist leader.

While on the internet, I came across a message posted by John D’Souza from Canada, informing the netters that the ex-students of Monte de Guirim will have their Annual 5th High School Reunion in Toronto on June 13, 1999, at the Moghul Banquet Hall. There will be a mass at 12 PM, followed by a social with the ever popular band “FUJO FUJO” in attendance.

Joel D’Souza