I was always fascinated by the work of village craftsmen. The tools of their trade were ancient, and the slow pace of their work made it very easy for me to follow each step, and understand the mechanics of each tool.
The craftsmen in Saligão were Hindu, and they were mainly stonemasons, carpenters, shoemakers and goldsmiths. Included in this category would be the Catholic tailors.
Stonemasons used the adze to square off blocks of red laterite rock used in the building of houses. Carpenters used handsaws, chisels, hammers and the bow drill in their trade, while tailors used the manually- operated ‘Singer’ sewing machine. Nobody used power tools – simply because the village did not have electricity.
As a youngster with an enquiring mind, I would often visit Vittol, the shoemaker, and Dattaram, the goldsmith to see them at work.
Vittol was an energetic worker with a pleasant disposition. He had his shoe shop in the front porch of his tiny home where he’d squat and work on the sandals and ‘Phatan’ shoes that were made to order.
I loved the smell of new leather, and I’d sit on a low stone parapet watching him cut out pieces of leather and stitch the parts together with an awl to fashion the finished product. Vottol also supplied the wooden clogs called chirpam which were worn during the monsoons.
Dattaram was one of three goldsmiths in Arrarim. The other two were Utchut and Kashinath.
Utchut was a chronic alcoholic who had given up his trade because of his addiction to alcohol. But he was intrinsically a very emotional and affectionate person without any trace of malice. He lived across the road from the home of my aunt, Virgin mauxi, and he treated her as his own sister. And whenever my dad would come home every fifth year on overseas leave from his job in Tanganyika, he would be welcomed by Utchut with a bear hug and words of brotherly love that were very touching.
Kashinath had taken over the business from his aging father, and rented out bicycles to augment his income. He worked out of his home, and his work station was the first room as one entered his house.
Dattaram worked out of a small corrugated-iron structure that was conveniently located on the main road at the end of the lane that led to it from my home.
One of my pastimes was to drop in at Dattaram’s. I’d crouch on the toolbox next to the tiny forge, with my knees tucked under my chin and my hands clasped around my shins, and watch him intently as he fashioned gold and silver into exquisite jewelry. Precious metals would be melted in a clay crucible over the high intensity flame generated by coconut shells. Dattaram would keep the burning coconut shells glowing red-hot by blowing on them intermittingly through a bamboo tube.
The melted gold or silver would then be converted into strips of various lengths and thicknesses before being shaped into components that would conform to the final pattern. Dattaram would solder the various components together by embedding them in a blob of sealing wax atop a wooden baton and then directing a flame on the joints by blowing through a long and thin metal nozzle. The next step would involve intricate filigree work for which Goan goldsmiths were renowned.
During this entire operation, I’d interrupt him with questions. And he would answer them, regardless of how deeply he was concentrated in his work. I suppose that since I was the only kid in Arrarim who showed a fascination in his work, he felt that I was deserving of an answer. Sometimes I wonder if he treated me as his own son, since I can’t recall ever seeing any of his own children at his workplace.
As for the tailor, he’d come to the house and sew garments on the manually operated ‘Singer’ sewing machine out of fabric that would have been purchased by my mother. He’d take our measurements, then sit on a bamboo mat in the sala, cut the fabric, and sew the clothes single-handed…literally; the left hand controlling the sewing pattern while the right hand cranked the spindle of the sewing machine.
Despite the antiquated tools of the village craftsmen, their workmanship was of a high standard. They were dedicated to their trade, and the fruits of their labour will always be cherished by those who availed themselves of their services.