All village parents looked upon good schooling as a prerequisite for their children’s successful future. When I started my schooling, I was constantly reminded of the importance of the Three R’s Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic which I learnt diligently. However, it confused me initially as to how ‘Writing’ and ‘Arithmetic’ could have been spelled with an ‘R”. I felt at the time that the fellow who coined the term “Three R’s” had either gotten his spelling wrong, or that I just didn’t know my R’s from my elbow.
But getting back to the three R’s, there were some parents who wanted another ‘R’ to be added to their children’s basic education. This fourth ‘R’ stood for rebec – the violin – which the Portuguese introduced to Goa. The ancient rebec was an Eastern instrument of the viol class, shaped like a mandolin, and a precursor of the violin.
My dad and most of his peers knew how to read music and play the voilin, which would have been handed down from father to son. They were trained to read randomly the notes in the octave – do, re, me and so on – and sound out the right pitch to match the note. After intensive training, the boys would be able to sing a tune from a music sheet as easily as we read a book today.
However, with the advent of modern schools, the emphasis was on the first three R’s while the fourth ‘R’ was dropped from the curriculum. My father had taken his violin with him to Africa leaving me with no strings attached, so to speak, to a fine Goan tradition. But my friend, Cyril, was not so unfortunate.
Cyril’s dad wanted his son to perpetuate Goa’s musical tradition. So he engaged the services of the village’s best violinist, Anselm Mascarenhas, to tutor his son. Anselm would come to Cyril’s home once a week in the afternoon, and they would go through one hour of lessons while I sat in the balcony waiting for Cyril to come out to play. As for my musical skills, I taught myself to play the ‘flutina’ and the harmonica, and strum three basic chords on the guitar to the accompaniment of most pop tunes.
Today, regrettably, the violin plays second fiddle to the guitar that has become the key musical instrument in most bands. And with back-up music now synthesized electronically, gone are the days of the earthy sound of bands whose core instruments were the clarinet, the saxophone, the double base, the drums… and the violin that intertwined the group with the sound of its melodious strings.