THE FEAST OF SAN JOAO

san joao.tiffThe first monsoon rains in June were always welcome. They flooded the paddy fields and topped up the village wells that would have dropped to a low water level in the preceding dry months. Trees would be cleansed of all the dust accumulated on their leaves, and they would sparkle in their green glory.

Although the word ‘monsoon’ conjures images of incessant rainfall, the rainy season actually had breaks of light drizzles and a fair share of sunny days. However, there would be the odd heavy thunderstorm that would have the village awash in water. This is when the runoff from higher ground would gush into narrow lanes and drain into culverts connected to open storm-water sewers that discharged into the Indian Ocean. The open wells would be full to almost ground level and, if this happened to coincide with the feast day of San João (St. John), it would be time for some of the young men in the village to celebrate the event with a big splash!

These youngsters would don their kashti (the thong covering the thing) and go calling on households that had a well at least wide enough in which to take a plunge. They would then dive in pairs following a pattern that was unique to this festival and a great source of amusement to the divers and the spectators.

The dive would start when one reveler would hold his nose with one hand, press both arms snugly against his chest, jump feet first into the well and go as far down as possible. His rapid descent would create a large bubble that would rise to the water’s surface. Then, with perfect timing, the second diver would take the plunge, his knees touching his chin, and arms around his shins, landing on the buble just before it reached the surface of the water. The result would be a loud “bloof” as the bubble burst, echoing against the sides of the well, much to the amusement of the participants and onlookers. A cheer would then greet the first diver as he surfaced exhaling a lungful of air. The divers would then either come out of the well or cling to the sides while another pair of divers repeated the routine.

There was almost a carnival aspect to this celebration; it was fun just to watch the revellers prancing in the rain and enjoying themselves as if they were little kids.

The San João festival period was also the time for children to learn to swim. The floatation device we used was a freak coconut that was all husk, lightweight and buoyant. A coir rope would be run through a hole drilled in the coconut and tied around our waist. The rope used for drawing water from the well would also be tied around our waist as a safety line. Then we’d enter the water and dogpaddle frantically to stay afloat. Our swimsuit was the khaki shorts we wore to school.

Girls, too, wore their blue school uniform when swimming. They would tie a knot to the front hem of the skirt with a coir rope, draw the rope tightly between their knees and tie the loose end around the belt behind their back.

Swimming was never a popular sport in Saligão; most villagers were content with just learning how to stay afloat so that they could join in the fun on the feast of San João.