My home was smaller than the typical village home, and very tiny when compared to the large mansions. The roof was of red clay tiles that rested on bamboo slats tied to beams hewed from the coconut tree. The floor surface was of dried cow dung that served as a cushioned carpet for my bare feet. The rooms were tiny, but then so was I. There was lots of space for a kid to run around freely.
My home did not have the classic Goan bolcão (an open-sided porch with a peaked roof and benches flanking the entrance). Instead, the porch comprised a concrete pad with two metal rods supporting a tiled canopy. Whenever I came home from school, I’d take a flying leap at one of the metal rods and swing around it in a full circle before landing on the concrete pad.
The sala (living room) was long and narrow, with my grandmother’s divan near the main door at one end, an orotor (altar) in a niche in the wall, six chairs against the walls, and a folding dining table and bench at the other end. The orotor was topped by a crucifix, and housed figurines of the Virgin Mary and a few saints. One of the figurines was that of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. On the wall around the orotor hung religious pictures and framed photographs of family members. The sala had one window opening with solid wooden panels from the head jamb to the floor that opened from the inside. Opening outward were two window panels made up of vertical wooden slats that were grooved to house pieces of translucent oyster shell window panes. The door had an adamo (ah-dah-maw) – a wooden beam that was pulled out from a horizontal shaft in the wall on one side of the doorway, and lodged in a niche on the opposite side. It was an antiquated locking device that was deployed before retiring for the night. Locking the door from the outside involved the use of a wrought iron key about six inches long that activated an antiquated locking mechanism. My grandmother carried the key in the waistband of her kapod (sari).
A door next to the dining table led to my bedroom that had two beds, one of which was used by my older sister and the other that I shared with my mother. Our bedroom led to another room that housed two clothes-filled metal trunks, storage boxes, miscellaneous junk, and a table that I used as a mini-workbench. In the corner was a bathaso kodo (bath-ah-saw caw-daw) – a bamboo mat rolled up to a diameter of about three feet and propped up vertically to store rice grain prior to husking.
Next to this room was a longer room where firewood was stored. This room was dingy, and it scared me because I always felt that a ghost, a snake or a rat lurked behind the woodpile.
A door next to my grandmother’s divan led to a room where all the large jars of para (pickled mackerel), thor (pickled raw mangoes) and spare earthenware and copper pots and pans were stored. There was also a plywood tea box, about two feet square, that lay in a corner which, I discovered years later, contained old family photographs and other paraphernalia, including my childhood drawings, that my grandmother preserved as a time capsule of the Couth lineage. Being a teenager at the time, I just made a mental note of my findings but didn’t attach much importance to this family heirloom. Oh, what wouldn’t I give to be able to own that tea box today!
Next came the kitchen. It was a tiny room with a raised laterite stone platform against one wall. On this platform were two cooking stations, each made up of a tripod of stone blocks to support a pot or fry pan. The heat source was firewood that was stored under the platform. There was a table and a bench against another wall and a grinding stone in one corner. Above the table was a four-feet long bamboo pole suspended from the roof beams by coir ropes tied to each end. And around this pole was coiled a tube of chourice (smoked Goan sausage).
The tiniest room in the house was the nani for bathing. It was a small cubicle with a low wall separating the bather from the komfro – a large copper pot filled with water. The water was heated by burning dried leaves collected from the forested area along the southern boundary of the village. I would bathe by using a small copper pot to scoop water from the komfro and pour it over my head.
And lastly the kumão – the classic Goan outhouse – located about thirty yards from the house. In the absence of indoor plumbing, the outhouse was used during the day, and the ungnel (chamber pot) at night.
We did not have running water. Our source of water was an open well that served seven neighbouring households. We drew water with the use of a kouso, a spherical copper pot, which we carried to the house to fill up the komfro and other water containers.
By today’s living standards, one may tend to cringe at the living conditions of my childhood. However, I always had good food, I was healthy and I enjoyed the best of Goa’s rural way of life. Above all, village life toughened me up for the real world and taught me how to face up to any eventuality with confidence.