PANDU AND ‘INTERNATIONAL FREIGHT’

Goa did not have any major industries or big businesses that would entail international commerce on a large scale. We were self-sufficient in rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and all the other staples that we needed to survive. However, we did have some ‘import and export’ activity that is worthy of note.

Goa’s main export was people. The combination of good schools and a strict Catholic upbringing produced a large pool of capable and honest clerks who found work readily in Britain’s colonial service in India and East Africa. The other export was contraband Portuguese wines and liquor that was smuggled across the border to the Indian state of Maharashtra where alcohol prohibition was in force.

Goa’s imports were, of course, fine wines from Portugal and liquor from all over the world, and other luxury items that were brought in duty-free. Most of these items were purchased by Goans who would be home on vacation from their places of work abroad, and particularly those from Bombay that was ‘dry’ (alcohol-free) and under import restrictions.

Another Goan import was excess luggage brought in by Goans on vacation from the British colonies in East Africa. It was customary for them to bring home metal trunks packed with cloth, canned cheese, cans of ground coffee, and other items that were either in short supply or costlier in Goa.

Back in those days, Goans from East Africa came to Goa by sea. And the ship would dock at Marmagoa which was one of the few harbours on India’s west coast that could handle ocean liners. To get to Saligão from Marmagoa would entail a road trip of about 20 miles and two ferry crossings of the Zuari and Mandovi rivers. But, to attempt to do it by public transport would involve changing buses, haggling with coolies, jostling in line-ups, and puting up with frustrating delays. So, here’s where Pandu came to the rescue.

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Pandu was a Hindu Goan who ran a commercial operation that handled the transfer of excess luggage from Marmagoa to your home in Saligão. The main activity of Pandu’s business was, literally, cartage – a two-wheeled bullock cart that took care of overland transportation. But Pandu also had a voddem (outrigger) that gave him added flexibility when delivering goods from Marmagoa to the Bardez district. The voddem would be rowed to a village along the Bardez shore where the cargo would be transferred to a waiting bullock cart. By sailing along Goa’s straight coastline, Pandu shortened the distance between Marmagoa and Bardez and bypassed the two river ferries with all their attendant problems.

Whenever we came to Goa on vacation, my dad would look out for Pandu as soon as he had cleared customs at Marmagoa. The heavy luggage would be handed over to Pandu while we made our way to Saligão by bus or taxi, depending upon which mode of transportation was the most economical and efficient for a particular section of the trip. A couple of days later, Pandu would deliver our metal trunks to our doorstep and be paid for his services.

There was no charge for insuring our shipments, and neither did Pandu’s business have any insurance coverage. We just put our trust in God and Pandu, in that order. And as far as I know, no shipment was ever lost, because the Great Insurer in the sky had control over the weather and always provided the best conditions for the safe delivery of our goods.