Mandrem – Sparkling Waters …

By its rustic ambience, Mandrem takes us back in time. The northern village of Pernem has been surrounded by a hill-range covered with caju plantations and a shoreline with a twin-beach buckle. It’s known for fine Goan feni and expert stonecarvers. However, in recent years it has been ruffled from its cattle-driven pace by the tourism trail passing through it to the Arambol beach.

After crossing the Chapora river either from the Chopdem-Siolim ferry-crossing or the Colvale bridge, one lands in the Velhas Conquistas of Pernem. From Colvale,the distance to Mandrem is slightly more than a half-an-hour drive across undulating countryside. The road forks a little less than a kilometre away from the Chopdem ferry-point. The route climbing the hills offers an exhilarating view of land and sea. The coastal route via Morjim village proves equally exhilarating.

Bullock-carts outnumber motorcars in Mandrem and its rural charm ornamented with haystacks, cowsheds, ploughs and carthweels, pervades the balmy sea-breeze, blowing somberly across virgin beachland of breathtaking beauty. Except for the main thoroughfare, the roads mean dirt-tracks to the caju groves.

Geographically Mandrem is surrounded by the villages of Morjim, Parxem, Chopdem and Arambol. But it’s the pristine beachland which works wonders for the village. The foreign backpackers discovered the beach spot while heading to Arambol. The twin beaches of Ashvem and Junas now provide a colourful corridor to the Arambol beach, a much beaten north destination for tourists in Goa.

Woken up by the tourists, local picnickers suddenly remembered Ashvem for Sunday outings or plain ogling. Though Anjuna still retained her Wednesday flea market, now devoted to Rajasthani handicrafts and sweatshirts, the main beachscene cartwheeled northwards. The sombre seashore, where once only fishermen walked, soon came to be visited by masseurs, banana-vendors and their ilk, waiting eagerly on the Europeans who frolic and suntan here.

From January ’96 to June ’97, as many as 1.21 international tourists landed in Goa. A good many of them surely drank in the beauty of Ashvem and Junas beaches in Mandrem on their way to Arambol and Terekhol. Most of the 4.61 domestic tourists, who visited Goa, must have halted for a while here. Despite being swim-safe, the Ashvem beach slants subtly to make a perfect sandsailing locale, where Doug, the English sandsailer, hires colourful sailboards. However, an unsporting intrusion – a motorcycle or a jeep – dashes by the frothing water’s edge. They carry provisions for beach shacks, patronised by the beach-bound foreign tourists. The shack-owners earn good money but lose sight of not only environmental concern but even innocent local picnickers who have been coming here much before the foreigners arrived.

Sparkling waters, golden sands and the hilly background provide splendid locales for Hindi movies. Before reaching the beach proper, a viewer is greeted by a fascinating view of the aquatic band between the land and sand. Again, before the hill descends on the Arambol side, a small wooden hoarding announces “Land’s End”. It’s the name of the shack on the beach nestled on the simply stunning view. Of course, ruddy sunsets is a feature of the Junas beach, where the renders (toddy-tappers) toil for toddy and their family’s distill feni.

The village bazaar has grown in colour and content already. The hangers-on have multiplied, the fisherwoman selling fresh or dry fish ain’t the focus anymore. The local restaurant cum lodge serves delicious bhaji-pao to locals. The foreigners sipping lassi or fruit-juice at the nearby stalls, is a little more attention than locals. The overall setup – trendy, little stores display a wide variety of mineral water bottles, tissue papers, cheese and canned stuff – appear to be gearing to entertain international backpackers. As winter vacation arrives, some villagers vacate their rooms to accommodate foreigners for a little income.

Where does this fluid kaleidoscope leave the Goan ethos of the 10,000 strong population, 36 per cent of whom are Catholic? Signs of the Hindu religion and culture stand out with the presence of umpteen temples – Mhalsa, Girobha, Phalnaik Purush, Kall Bairav, Mahakall, Mahalaxmi, Bhumika, Santeri, Girobot, Ganapati, Sidhi Vinayak and Purke Ravalnath.

Once it so happened that a severe drought was scorching the earth to the chagrin of man and animal. In their distress, the villagers took out penitential processions with headloads of laterite stones, which are common in Mandrem. They prayed fervently to their principal deity – Bhagwati. Bhagwati granted their prayers and rain pattered down to their immense relief. The spectacular festival at Kartika Ekadesi is celebrated every November with great pomp as a manifestation of people’s gratitude to divine providence. The highlight is a weeklong Sapta ending in a chariot procession.

The village abounds in temples because Hindus from Assagão, Anjuna, Nerul, Arpora and other villages had sought sanctuary here about half a millennium ago while Bardez was Christianised. They had brought their gods along and this needed new temples at this secure place, since the Portuguese hadn’t gained total control of Pernem until then. They raised a virtual colony of about 13 temples and shrines and the place is called Ascoumvadda.

Another festive occasion calling for gaiety is during palanquin procession of the goddess in December. But the festival to watch is the Holi in Pernem. Many moons ago, each ward had its own romott (rustic drummers) drawn from the low-caste harijans. Today a few of these survive but the ddoom-ddam (exuberance) carries on. The upper caste Saraswats too took a regal procession, in which participated their servants including barbers, washermen, temple artisans, musicians, et al.

Old traditions give way to modern ones in Goa now. Good riddance, however, is the disappearance of the wile devdasi tradition. Devadasis were women devoted to the temple and they had to dance in the temple precincts, and even required to entertain menfolk. If sometimes a Mandremkar spells his name as Manjrekar, it could be to camouflage his humble, devdasi origins. With young socially bent persons like Dadu Mandremkar, who writes exquisite poetry on social themes, caste prejudices could disappear from the midst of Mandremkars one day. They adore their more devout ancestors alongside their deities. Community temples aside, even small households have set up mutts like Ram and Adi Mata at Pandurang Ashram. At these shrines, one gets to see the magical creativity of renowned idol makers Murari Mhamal and Anirudh Talkar.

“One-fifth of the locals are Catholic, who were earlier parishioners of the Arambol parish. The late Fr. Luis Gonzaga Sequeira, who rowed in his canoe across the picturesque rivulet, helped raise the chapel of Our Lady of Rosary to a church in 1933. In 1979 they laid the foundations of a modern church, designed by architect Ralino de Souza. The church misses the traditional facade the churches in Goa are famous for. It was completed on May 25, 1992, while discarded old church accommodates the diocese-run Rosary High School.

While talented Hindus specialise in sculpting, wood carving  and classical music, the Catholics prefer western music. The late choirmasters Jack D’Souza and Joaquim D’Souza, rendered yeoman service by teaching music to youngsters. Talented musicians like saxophonists Joaquim Vitorino D’Souza and Rocky Cunha, and trumpeter Andre Gregorio Britto are the fruits of such pioneering efforts. From Mandrem hails fine reedman and producer of religious music Manuel D’Souza. He is a much sought after musician in Bollywood’s Hindi film industry. Back home, Manuel’s brother Joaquim has rigged up a dynamic rock band Moksha, probably inspired by the vintage musical instruments grand piano, a double-bass and saxophone left behind by his uncle.

Whether Hindu or Catholic, the ethnics have been invariably at the receiving end since times immemorial. The squally winds of the history, brought tidal waves of alien rulers – Marathas, Portuguese and Muslims. The Portuguese defeated the Marathas to capture Pernem. They conceded the area to the Muslim forces of Tipu Sultan in 1786 and managed to recover it only in 1801. Meanwhile, conversion zeal had waned and as a result, western inculturisation failed to impregnate the uncluttered and prosaic lifestyle. Of course, Muslim influences never gained ground here, and one only finds property names like Ramadan, Kabir Khan, Poshe Khan, Udai Khan, etc. is what remains now.

Much earlier the Saraswats came to settle here. Being intelligent and powerful, they edged out the locals, and took control of the entire countryside. The havenots were reduced to penury and slogging in the fields, laterite quarries, fishing, coconut and cashew farming.

Hope sprang up only after Liberation. Recalls Jose Carlisto D’Souza from Ashvem, “We sweated and toiled to sow, but the bhattkars reaped the harvest”. Highly industrious Jose Carlisto is involved in all the toddy tappers’ associations and the church Fabrica besides being into liquor distillation, fishing, coconuts, caju-nuts, mangoes and mussuri chillies.

Some bhattkars were cruelty personified. Any one from the farming class who didn’t pay back the loans taken for marriages, sickness or house repairs, could lose a axe or a pickax if the bhattkar found any of these while returning home in ire. But a toiling class, burdened with poverty and caste compunctions, couldn’t rebel or retaliate. Rebellious behaviour would go against the fatalism induced by religious beliefs and the conditions of life.

But as they say in Konkani, “Xennantlo kiddo xennantuch uronam.” Their first MLA, the late Dayanand “Bahusaheb” Bandodkar, returned their long lost self-respect. Bandodkar envisaged the Land to the Tiller Act and the Act which would mitigate the tribulations of the mundkars. The enactment of the two Acts, though detrimental to a wide section of Goans, helped liberate Pernemkars from the fetters of fatalism and the bhattkars’ tight grip. But even today 70 per cent of those living below the poverty line in Goa, hail from the Pernem region.

With the type of ideal ambience, Mandrem is beach-resorts land, and cash-rich non-Goans have already bought their plots here. A couple of resorts and the Indana Farm too were on the anvil. Most land, however, is owned by the Deshprabhu family of Visconde de Pernem. According to the Central plan, Mandrem also falls in the CRZ-1 classification of the 20.8-km beachline where no developmental activity can be permitted.

However, after witnessing the rot devouring the vitals of almost every prominent beach location in Goa, Mandremkars probably wouldn’t feel the need of the type of tourism flourishing at nextdoor Arambol. They can possibly exploit the existing resources for economic prosperity. Because with virtually no conventional industry Mandrem already grosses around Rs.1 crore a year from coconut and caju products, mangoes, chillies, onions, fishing, laterite quarrying and other marketable produce. Of course, this began happening after Mandremkars became the owners of the fields they cultivate.

Educational avenues too have broadened appreciably with the rise of three high schools coming up in quick succession. In 1964, the Mandrem Sikshan Sounstha, founded the Pernem taluka’s first high school. Ramakant Khalap, the Law Minister  in the Indian Parliament, founded the New English High School in 1978. About four years ago, the Rosary School too joined the high school ranks. Mandrem also accommodates two Marathi medium schools beefing up the literacy rate to about 50 per cent.”

The Pernem taluka has 12 Comunidades and one of them is Mandrem. This village, coincidentally falls among Goa’s 63 villages where the sarpanchship is reserved for an elected female. The incumbent is Ms Sneha Sashikant Naik. Perhaps, she knows her village and its priorities better, to plan development which goes a shade deeper than the cosmetic layer which panchayats in Goa are noted for.

A land so close to water, has its soil threatened by drought time and again. But as soon as the Tillari projects brings in irrigation, droughts will be a thing of the past. The place is looking up after all, and though the slight surge in incomes can’t be affluence in real terms, it has already spawned three banks in Mandrem.

The late Dr Bhau Daji Laad, an illustrious physician, educationist  and maker of modern Bombay, was born here. Mandremkars are simple but a talented lot for sure. The late Vasudevrao V. Mandremkar was the dean of Bombay’s JJ School of Arts. The late Shantabai Mandrekar wa singer-dancer and the late Shri Krishna Aroskar a noted cine-artiste and Marathi playwright. Mrs Shubalaxmi R. Mandremkar is known for Kathak dance. There could be many more local greats enjoying limelight elsewhere in other fields of endeavour.

It’s up to the educated youth to plough back their knowledge and experience for the good of their birthplace rather than be lured away. If they fly in search of better pastures, they might brighten their horizons. But if they don’t return in time, the void they leave behind will be conveniently filled by outsiders. And the Konkan railway has already dieseled its way into the other side of Pernem in August this year, to give a green signal to the influx of fortune-seekers.

Joel D’souza