Xerkamcho Ghontter *
By Joel D’Souza

Quite early, on a misty morning in October, the smell of newly harvested paddy had already filled the air, in the picturesque Ucassaim village in Bardez. Paddy fields stretch across the low-lying northern half of the village, which virtually ends in what looks like a silvery gem embedded in the fields. It’s actually a rivulet branching inland from the Mapusa river.

An extensive range of typical, bottlegreen hills strewn with cashew trees arch protectively in the South, and the residential area of Ucassaim lies sandwiched comfortably between hills and fields, drawing sustenance and lineage from agriculture.

When the first settlers descended there, probably half-a-dozen centuries ago, they must have decided that it would be an ideal place to dwell, with wood from the hillocks for their fireplace and rice from the paddyfields in the cooking pot. Of course, they did not live by bread alone. They had to go about developing a complex social set up, with all its trappings, to make the place move livable.

So, along with agriculture, they also developed horticulture and floriculture. Walk around the Friday Bazaar in Mapusa, and you are sure to spot Uskoikaram selling potted plants, some sporting beautiful local blooms. These folk are really industrious, and unlike culture-shy Bardezkars elsewhere. They don’t mind being seen right amidst their traditional, rural professions–men in the fields or at their kadnni (fishing) and women tending chillie-onion patches in the fields or flowering plants in their compounds, or selling their traditional produce at Mapusa.

Having set up the basic necessities of life, they had to go about setting up other social institutions like churches, schools, etc. They did all that so wonderfully that in course of time, the petite village, came to acquire the sobriquet mistirincho ganv.

According to the parish priest, Fr Francisco Athaide, who hails from Chinchinim, there are 1500 Catholics in Ucassaim, living in wards with names like Bela Flor, Souzavaddo, Coutovaddo, Dhumpem, Paliem, Punola and Pelovaddo. The majority of the Hindu population is found in and around the Punola ward. The overall population of Ucassaim will be just about 3000 to 3500, according to most estimates.

Fr Athaide says that he found here friendly people and associations of small communities with a co-operative spirit. He, however, feels that there is a serious lack of socio-economic development in the village. There is no school, or any sort of noticeable industry here. Of course, in times gone by, at the ancestral house of the Rasquinhas was a loom on which cloth was woven locally.

The nearest school–Holy Cross High School–is in Bastora. But the parents in the village prefer to send their wards to the schools and colleges in Mapusa, because the town is barely a couple of kilometres away.

Ucassaim nestles cozily amidst the villages of Nachinola, Moira, Bastora and Vaddem-Socorro. The twitter of weaver-birds welcomes you to Ucassaim the moment you reach the vicinity of the church of St Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal. Several expertly knit nests dangle from the palm fronds in front of the churchyard.

Being a Sunday, some Uskoikars were rushing for mass and others were returning home. Their tiny church of St Elizabeth, built around 1619, does not rise from the ruins of a Hindu temple. However, it stands on a patch of land donated by a local Hindu. It was damaged by a storm in the monsoon of 1718.

In front of the church, stands a majestic statue of Christ the King. The feast of the patron is actually on July 4, but the day being in the thick of the monsoons, Uskoikars club the feast with those of St Sebastian, Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Health, and celebrate it in February with great festivity. After a festive lunch of sorpotel, sannam and the rest, everyone prepares to go for the village dance, football match and the tiatr.

Neighbouring Bastora belonged to the parish of Ucassaim, from whom it broke away when it got its own parish. Ucassaim has two Comunidades–Ucassaim and Punola-Paliem. Rather than breakaway Bastora on the east, Ucassaim seems more attached to its eastern neighbour–Nachinola. The representatives of the Confraria of Nachinola come for the Saude feast–feast of Our Lady of Health–in February, and the local Confraria goes to welcome them to the village border. The same, unique gesture is reciprocated by the Nachinolkars during their village feast.

Of all its neighbours, Moira, across the fields, enjoys the best view of bewitching Ucassaim. It’s green grandeur radiates at its best in the monsoons with the lush paddyfields carpetting the fertile cultivable region.

Among its natural landmarks is a cave called Vagbiu up on the hill. A stream emerges from the cave, creeping over moss and fern, bubbling and tumbling its way down the rocks. Here the running water and birds chirping make the only sounds. The water eventually flows down to water the plantation. But many miss the ideal picnic spot as one has to scramble up a steepening path to reach the rather damp, aqueous and green spot, from where one gets a spectacular view of the village spread below. Quite a few Uskoikars don’t even realise that the cave exists though they quite often talk about a famed legend.

Just behind the cave, the giant boulders seem to split into a narrow slit to form a hollow tunnel below it. This is believed to be the entrance of the tunnel leading to the Pomburpa church. They even recount the tale of the priest, who dared to explore the tunnel with a torch and his faithful dog in tow. The dog returned but without its master.

Dainty houses, with neat compound brimming with multi-coloured flowers, line the serpentine roads of Ucassaim. Recent riches have brought in a lot of new, modern villas. However, compared to even the simplest of the old houses, the new villas look rather gaunt, wood-starved concrete blocks.

Uskoikars are quite an interesting and a friendly folk, with several stalwarts gracing a bloating roll of honour. I often meet Arnold Joseph Saldanha, who teaches music in Mapusa and was a teacher and later Dean of Studies, Kenya Conservatoire of Music. If you would like to know who’s who of Saldanha’s village, just begin a conversation with the affable musician.

The list of honour, which will tell you why Ucassaim is called Mistirinho Ganv, can be read elsewhere, but I mention here the erudite Mariano Saldanha, who was often described as a walking compendium on matters Goan. His fabulous collection of books on Goa are regularly referred to by many researchers. He taught Marathi, Sanksrit and Latin at Panjim’s Lyceum. At the Arts Faculty and Higher Colonial School in Lisbon, Dr Saldanha taught Sanskrit and Konkani.

One also recalls the tragic Air India plane crash at Mont Blanc in 1966. The late J T de Souza from Ucassaim was a co-pilot of this ill-fated plane. Just two years earlier, he had had the privilege of flying Pope Paul VI to Bombay for the historic Eucharistic Congress. De Souza’s palatial house at Coutovaddo has been donated to the Poor Sisters of Our Lady, who run the Eventide St Joseph’s Home for the Aged since 1984.

Ucassaim is longing for development and Uskoikars looked up to so many of their earlier MLAs in vain. Sit for a chat with any of the elders here and he or she will talk about the old times with nostalgia. One of them also remarked, “Will the time ever dawn here, when our educated sons and daughters won’t have to roam the world in search of livelihood?”

Like several lonely elders in Goa’s umpteen villages, she too has sons and daughters earning well in the Gulf and the UK, and providing her with everything that she needs. “But will they ever return to Ucassaim, the village of their forefathers? Unlikely, unlikely…,” she added sadly. I quietly left the place…the village, barely managing to wave her goodbye.

Prof Marian Saldanha; Linguist and Sanskrit scholar
Rt Rev Joseph Couto; Bishop of Lahore
Late Dr Ernest Borges; eminent cancer surgeon
Dr Eric Borges; consulting cardiologist at Bombay Hospital
Late Dr Menino D’Souza; Neurologist and Professor at the J J Group of Hospitals
Prof Aloysius Soares; Knight Commander of St Gregory, educationist and founder chairman of the Goan Liberation Council and founder editor of The Goan Tribune
Late Joseph D’Lima, Teacher, pianist and member of the Dorian Quartet. He was the first piano teacher of internationally known conductor Zubin Mehta
Late Maestro Manoel Saldanha, Director of Music, Royal Indian Navy, Western music (1900).
Late Prof Pascoal John Saldanha, Pianist and teacher
Arnold Saldanha; Dean & Senior Professor of Music at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music
Myra Menzie Shroff; Violinist and teacher
Mercedes Lobo: Singer
Leon D’Souza; Pianist and music arranger
Irene Gomes; Music teacher
Alex Rasquinhas; Dy Superintendent of Police
Finton D’Souza; police officer
Adolf Olegario Nazareth; a pioneer in poultry
Dr Anthony Nazareth; leading pediatrician of Mapusa
Cecil D’Mello; executive with Air India
*Nest of Weaver-Birds

If you know about more Uskoikars, who have done something great, please make sure that your knowledge helps us update our records.