The Heady ‘Kick’ of Querim
The pick of Pernem taluka, this village is avowedly the legendary Jivbadada Kerkar’s creation
By Alister Miranda
Welcome to the balmy spendour of Querim. The pick of Pernem taluka, it is the last village before ferrying across to Terekhol, the North-West frontier of Goa.
The shortest way to get there is by ferry from Siolim, as it lies just 16.5 kms North of Chopdem.
The coastal drive is exhilarating. Mandrem, Arambol and finally Paliem, which offer a hill-top picture-postcard view of pretty little islands and tiny boats dotting the lazily waltzing Tere-khol river. It’s time to begin your countdown as now Querim is just around the down-hill corner. A stone’s throw after you move past the Kiran Pani-to-Aronda ferry crossing, if it’s summer time, your olfactory nerves will be activated by the strong aroma of cashew neera. Then, indeed, you have arrived in the Pernem feni bastion, Querim.
Small in size, Querim is compounded by forested hills on the east and south, beached on the west side by the Arabian sea, and banked along the river Terekhol on the north.
Standing on the threshold of the sandy stretch, the pine trees provide a fine shady cover. In fact, Querim is a shining example of the Tourism department’s successful endeavour of fringing Goan beaches with pine trees. The towering trees seem to whistle as the Arabian breeze ruffles through. The shade provided by them along the entire two-kilometre stretch of the virgin and tranquil beach makes picnicking enjoyable. But, Robert, a robust Querim youth who we met on the beach, informed us that swimming and bathing is relatively safe only towards the southern end of the beach. The northern end of the shore plunges dangerously, because it melts into a bay in which Arabian sea and the Terekhol river entwine into a gurgling embrace, he warned. Marshalled by the hillock, on which stands the historic Terekhol fort like a beacon, Goa’s riverine northern frontier Terekhol lies on the opposite bank. At this panoramic point, the Creator’s delineating skills can be viewed in all their glory via the Querim-Terekhol ferry or the hired speed boats.
Summertime is when Querim is at its yielding best. The summer heat notwithstanding, a flurry of productive activities abound amidst bountiful cashews, mangoes and jackfruits. Cashew feni distillation is the main occupation during summer. The activity of toddy tapping and palm feni production continues all year round.
With cashew trees strewn all over the village, Querim subtly portrays itself as a cashew plantation – with some huge age-old cashew trees . But the cashew bounty is not enough for everyone. Most villagers ‘import’ deseeded cashews from next-door Maharashtra, paying Rs 15 per tin. During our study tour we noticed Esmeralda Lemos and her children busy extracting cashew juice by using a motorized crusher. She was later joined by her husband Pedro Minguel who had just returned from one of his routine toddy-tapping rounds. The feni business is a hard toil, we observe. Pedro tells us that he is happy carrying out the business his forefathers started.
Interestingly, it is only the Catholics, concentrated in Povonvaddo, Modlovaddo and Talvaddo, who indulge in the feni business – a whole ninety per cent of them. The Catholic, constitute a mere 20 per cent Querim’s population; the rest being Hindus.
Since the days when a Kolso of feni could be purchased for as little as six rupees, till date, Siolim has remained their main selling point. Before roads and transport came into existence, the villagers wanting to sell their produce in Siolim would set out at 4 pm the previous evening, spend the night at Mandrem and cross over by canoe to Siolim the next morning, informs Jose D’Souza. Carrying the mud feni pots on the heads, the tiring trudge over hills and through nullahs, many a time would end in disappointment and loss if the pots broke during transit.
If the Catholics can be dubbed as master distillers, the majority of the Hindus can be termed as expert masons. Their masonry expertise is acknowledged all over the State. One of Vasco’s landmarks, the Joshi building, was built by the late Sonu Pandurang Shomji Kerkar and his partner the late Nakoor Navso Naik. So pleased was Vasant Joshi that he gifted a Bedford bus to the skilled dhoti-clad duo as a mark of appreciation.
The other activity both communities indulge in is small time farming. Fishing is no longer a profession that it once was, as the last two rampons no longer exist.
A profession, unusual to Querim, was that of Late Bapu Sitaram Vasht – an expert carpenter who built wooden crafts in Querim until 1982.Trawlers and passenger crafts were his forte, and his expertise used to astound even highly qualified engineers and surveyors. His son Janardhan informs that the boats his father built are still seaworthy and in use.
Querim’s rather miniature wards of Povon Vaddo, Deull Vaddo, Daktebhag, Gadacha Vaddo, Modlo Vaddo, Thorlebhag, Talvaddo and Borod Vaddo are represented by six panchas in the seven-member Querim-Terekhol Panchayat. Terekhol, having a cent per cent Catholic populace, has only one member. The panchayat is credited with doing a fine job over the years in this remote village. Milind Umakant Kerkar, in his fifth straight term as Sarpanch, is at the helm of the affairs. While mentioning that tranport services are satisfactory compared to the time when a lone Carreira began plying to Chopdem in 1958, the elders don’t fail to mention that the only other way besides footing it out was the Portuguese launch that would sometimes be kind enough to carry them upstream upto Pernem.
Although electrified, the power supply is at times at its erratic worst. Water supply hasn’t yet reached the village, but the people don’t really complain on this count, as the wells are never known to dry up. However, their one grouse is that there is no residential doctor in case of emergency. The closest doctor is at Arambol; and the government doctor visits the primary sub-health centre only once a week. The youth complain that they have no ground to play on. “We are constrained because the only option we have is to develop it in a cultivable field, which would mean that the main source of income of a quite number of families will be snapped forever,”says the Sarpanch. He further informs that the Panchayat had played a lead role in refusing to issue the much needed No Objection Certificate for installing the mammoth Usha Ispat industry in Terekhol. In fact, even though it is now functioning from atop the hillock in Redi, Maharashtra, visually it is the only eyesore looming tall against the backdrop of the Terekhol fort and continues to haunt the Querim resident with frightful deafening sound at night, and at times with smelly fumes. Interestingly, some Kerkars inform that prior to the factory, Querim was infested with mosquitoes, but ever since the factory began operations the mosquitoes have vanished. If this can be attributed to the factory, then it is perhaps the only plus point.
On the educational front, two Marathi medium government primary schools and a KG-to SSC English medium New English High School exist. Founded in 1974, the latter is managed by the Keri-Terekhol Area Development Welfare and Educational Society. What was a Portuguese Post (Police Station) houses one of the Marathi primary school. Very soon it may also accommodate a telephone exchange, informs the Sarpanch. A Portuguese primary school, inaugurated by the Governor General, has made way for the other Marathi school.
Politically speaking, the Querim residents are highly conscious and active. MGP has always been the preferred party here. Goa’s first chief minister, the late Bhausaheb Bandodkar, with his frequent visits and the genuine concern he showed towards the village endeared himself to the villagers. Each time he visited Querim, his car would be surrounded by adoring Kashti-clad elders, to whom the philanthropist would unfailingly distribute some money.
Religiosity-wise the Kerkars are prayerful; both Hindus as well as Catholics. The biggest and oldest temple is the Ravalnath temple, but Shigmo, Zatra and Saptah celebrations have come to a standstill since the last 35 years, on account of a dispute over its management. The Ajooba temple it is now that attracts unprecedented crowds for the Zatra that is usually held around January-February every year. Situated close to the beach, it’s affairs are managed by the Talkars. The newer temples are dedicated to Hanuman, Ganpathy, Sai Baba and Kuldevata.
Catholicity has survived literally with the test of fire. Till 1933 there wasn’t even a proper chapel, which was later affiliated to the Arambol parish. Thanks to the missionary zeal of the late Fr Caetano Filipe Soares another Chapel was built on the property donated by one Carmo Vaz from Panjim and was eventually raised to a Church on April 22, 1952. In the early years inorder to help Fr Soares keep body and soul together and also to raise funds, the villagers used to organise a weekly auction of homegrown or made produce. Rice, chillies, feni, fruits and even fowls and pigs were auctioned inform Agostinho C D’Souza and Xavier Pereira. The burial grounds lay high up on the hill until a cemetery adjoining the church was constructed in 1985. Apart from Fr Soares, who served in Querim for 33 years at a stretch, the parishioners also fondly remember the late Fr Benjamin D’Souza. The young and energetic Fr Roland Sebastian Carvalho from Benaulim presently shepherds the devout flock. Besides being the Parish Priest of the Querim church. He is also the Parochial administrator of St Anthony Church in Terekhol.
In a short span of one year, he has managed to bring forth a kind of religious vibrancy. The wholehearted participation of the clergy during all religious activities speaks volumes for his dedicated efforts. Fr Carvalho’s most significant contribution thus far has been the successful disbanding of the Dha Zann, a group of ten members of the society that were authorised to pass judgements on those allegedly responsible for wayward moral acts. Their judgements at times were terribly harsh, even to the point of ostracising of families. The two families that were ostracised before Fr Roland took charge are today back in the fold. A Jesus and Mary Convent is presently under construction, and three nuns of the Order help in the parish work besides giving tuitions.
The nomenclature Querim is very interesting and true. Queli (done) is what it was originally called. History points out that more that 80 per cent of the village was created by reclaiming the land from the waters. And Queli was the satisfied exclamation when the Herculean job was complete. To the great warrior of the Peshwas of Gwalior, Jivba Dada Kerkar, goes the honour of creating Querim. Formerly surnamed Sanzgiri, Jivba Dada fled out of this village after he was ostracised for having a hand-to-hand fight with the Portuguese. Afudlo, was the term used which attracted severe punishment. After staying at his sister’s residence in Malgaon, Sawantwadi, he proceeded to Kolhapur where he managed to get the job of a kitchen supervisor in Shahu Maharaja’s army. Upon request of the visiting MadhavRao Peshwa of Gwalior, he was allowed to move to Gwalior in 1761. Soon from a kitchen supervisor, he moved to the rank of a fearless warrior. He later rose to become a chieftain and in all won 327 battles. Jivba Dada never ever returned home but instead sent money and civil engineers to build a palatial house in which his descendants now reside, the Ravalnath temple and a protective bundh which eventually led to the reclamation of the vast area that would for all time be known as Querim. While the Kerkar family were the original inhabitants of the land, all others were either brought by the Kerkar clan to work on the estate, or are settlers. Until hardly half a century ago, Querim was also the home of tigers, at a time when the villagers slept at night with their doors open. Today only the wild boar, porcupine, rabbits and peacocks continue to be sighted.
Picturesquely speaking, a visit to Querim can be termed as an intoxicating experience – both naturally and in the ‘distilled’ sense of the word.