THE CITY FATHERS

There was a clubhouse in Arrarim called ‘The Saligão Institute’. It had a large hall with French windows that opened on to verandahs on either side of the building, and two rooms flanking the porch at the entrance. There were bookcases lining the hall, but there never appeared to be anyone making use of the books. In the centre of the hall was a round table covered with current issues of local newspapers and two popular publications from Bombay, namely the Times of India daily newspaper and the Illustrated Weekly magazine.

On weekends, I’d go to the institute in the afternoons with my friend Cyril, and we’d read the Illustrated Weekly and scan the sport pages of the Times of India. My only interest in the sports pages was to find a picture that I could cut out and paste in my scrapbook to illustrate the various kinds of team sport and athletic events from all over the world.

Adults were rarely seen at the Institute since most of them were content to get their news by word of mouth at the fish market. World news didn’t seem to be of much concern to the villagers, the exception being a small group of elderly men who were jokingly called “City Fathers” by their fellow villagers.

The City Fathers were retirees who had made their careers mainly in the business world, in contrast to most of their peers who were pensioners of the British Colonial Civil Service in India and East Africa. And they’d meet every evening to debate current events at ‘The Bridge’, a laterite stone ramp that sloped from the path alongside St. Cajetan’s Chapel to the palm-lined walkway that ran through  the paddy fields between the northern and southern wards of the village. It had two low parapets that served as benches for these gentlemen.

The most prominent member of the City Fathers was Franklin D’Souza who lived in a spacious home along the main street. At around five o’clock every evening, he’d step out of his house and stride briskly eastward towards the bridge swinging a cane held in his right hand and a fat cigar held in his left hand. He had a broad smile that exuded confidence, and he punctuated his speech with hearty laughter.

Approaching the bridge from the opposite direction, at a slower pace would be Marcel Figueiredo on his cane and chewing on a cigar. He lived in a beautiful mansion and had made his fortune in the grocery business in Kampala, Uganda.

Meanwhile, Tommy ‘Emar’ D’Souza, another cigar smoker, and his neighbour and longtime best friend Damasen D’Souza would be walking towards the bridge from the south along the lane that ran past my home, while Eustace D’Souza, my friend Cyril’s father, would be headed in the same direction in the next parallel lane.

Tommy, or ‘Emar’ as he was commonly addressed, was a sports enthusiast and reputedly the richest man in the village. He had a beautiful two-storied mansion with exquisitely hand-carved furniture, a gasoline generator to provide electrical lighting, and a badminton court in the front yard. He had attended every Olympics in  post-WWII, and was the man behind field hockey’s prestigious Tommy Emar Gold Cup trophy. ‘Emar’ was an acronym of the initials ‘M.R,’ of his father in whose memory the trophy was created.

Tommy Emar was an unpretentious and polite gentleman.. He was gracious towards everyone – the old, the young, the rich, and even the poorest – a somewhat rare characteristic in the then class-conscious colonial society. His buddy, Damasen, was reputed to be a confirmed bachelor until he confounded his fellow villagers by marrying late in life..

Eustace had worked in Basra, Iraq before retiring. He was soft spoken and knowledgeable, and he imparted his knowledge to his children (and to me, indirectly) in the form of books that I got to borrow from Cyril.

And lastly, as I recall, was Pedrito (little Pedro) who would make his approach from the north-west. He was tall and amiable, and he lived in a spacious bungalow with a beautiful view of the sprawling paddy fields and waving coconut trees that were the main feature of the village panorama.

And these City Fathers would get together at the Bridge where they would debate current topics that would not otherwise concern the common man.

Although their discussions centered mainly around world politics, the economy, the stock market and sport, my grandmother maintained that another popular (but unsubstantiated) topic of discussion concerned any comely woman who had to “walk the gauntlet” on her way home from working in the paddy fields clad in a tight-fitting mini-blouse above a bare midriff with the skirt of her sari tucked tightly around the hip exposing her shapely legs.

My grandmother’s opinion aside, the City Fathers were upright villagers of Saligão and were held in high esteem by the community.

Individually, they were characters in their own right, and they contributed significantly to the colourful ambience of the village.

At the time, we thought they were full of ‘hot air’. But they also had their fill of the cool refreshing breezes from the Indian Ocean that they enjoyed every evening in the twilight of their lives.