Rice was Goa’s staple food. Some villagers owned their own paddy fields while others leased a field or two from the Comunidade under a bidding system held every three years.
My grandmother, Mãe, leased two fields of one khandi each. A khandi was a measured quantity of grain, and the paddy fields were divided into rectangular sections of a standard dimension designed to produce around one khandi of rice per section per crop.
Every year, in the first week of June, Mãe would have the fields ploughed by Pandu, the Hindu who occupied the goto behind our home.
Pandu used his ox-drawn plough to turn the soil and plant the rice seed. A few days later, the first of the monsoon rains would fall and the seedlings would sprout. A few more weeks into the monsoon season, and the paddy fields would be a carpet of rich green grass waving in the gentle breeze. But lurking between the furrows under the green canopy would be the pesky weeds.
Weeding of the paddy fields was done by the camerim. The camerim were female labourers who would trudge their way between the furrows and manually uproot the weeds. They protected themselves from the rain by wearing an oversize headgear made of palm leaves shaped somewhat like a ladybug. The camerim that weeded our paddy fields were a team comprising Pandu’s wife, Audi, her daughter-in-law, and their friends.
When the rice paddy matured, the same camerim would reap the crop using a sickle while the men would start setting up for the threshing operation.
The men would construct a rack made up of two upright posts positioned in the ground, six feet apart, and joined at the top by a bamboo pole. Under this rig there’d be a bamboo mat on which sheaves of paddy would be placed for threshing. The men would hold on to the pole, step on the sheaves and knead the stalks with their bare feet thereby separating the grain from the stalks.
The camerim would then winnow the grain by using a basket shaped like a shovel to scoop the grain and spill it over another mat to let the wind blow away the chaff.
At the end of the day, the paddy would be delivered to our home in baskets and emptied onto the floor of the sala. Audi would use a paili to measure the harvest and take her share and that of the other camerim as payment for their labour. Mãe would then store our share in the bathaso kodo – the makeshift bamboo mat silo in one of the back rooms. Meanwhile, the straw in the field would be piled in a haystack and eventually moved by the men to the lofts in their cowsheds.
Following the end of the monsoons, Mãe would set aside enough grain as seed for the next planting, and prepare the rest for husking. The latter process involved boiling the paddy outdoors in the large komfro and spreading it out on bamboo mats in the front yard to be dried out by the warm sun. The paddy would then be taken to the local mill where it would be husked mechanically.
At this time of the year, during my school’s October holidays, I would be pressed into service as a living scarecrow. It was my job to keep the ravenous crows away from the paddy being dried in the yard while Mãe had her siesta.
It was also the season when I would find myself being invited by aunts and other aged relatives to spend the day at their homes where I would be pampered with good food and lots of Goan treats. I know that they were fond of me, but it certainly wasn’t a coincidence that they would always have me over on the very day they boiled their paddy and put it out to dry. For them, the afternoon was time for a snooze; for me it was “rice and shine!”