VILLAGE ODDBALLS

Like every village in Goa, Saligão had its own mentally handicapped individuals who were referred to as “village idiots” for want of a gentler description. Political correctness was still decades down the road, and our vocabulary was only confined to the realm of political directness.

All these individuals had idiosyncracies which, with the passing of time, have made them legends of village lore.

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The most famous character was Sacro. He claimed to be the reincarnation of St. Anthony, and he would style his hair in the form of a halo resembling that of the saint. He wore a brown shirt with puffy sleeves, frilly cuffs, a frilly collar and frilly shirt front. His shirt matched his dark brown Jodhpur slacks which had a thick chord tied around the waistband. His footwear was a pair of regular slippers except that his had a strap that went behind the ankle. Sacro would always be seen on his trusted “lady’s bicycle” on which he would perform a few balancing tricks upon request, much to the delight of his youthful audience.

Then there was Vasco da Gama. He would hang around the tinto (the village market) and talk Konkani in a jargon that could be deciphered only by a few people who were regularly in contact with him. One such person was the owner/driver of one of the two village taxis who would call on Vasco to diagnose any mechanical problem with his automobile. The story goes that Vasco would raise the hood, lean over the motor and immediately detect any irregular movement or sound. He would then explain the problem and name the faulty part using his own concocted words that only the driver seemed to understand. The recommended repairs always got the car going.

Another fixture around the tinto was Shashikant, a cheerful teenager with a cleft palate. His speech was gibberish, but he greeted every passerby with a broad smile. Many years later, whenever I returned to Saligão on a visit, he would greet me with a warm handshake and a pat on the back as a sign of recognition. And the warmth and sincerity of that greeting would never fail to touch me.

A few villagers had physical deformities, and the easiest way to identify them would be to give them a nickname that would be distinct from the traditional nicknames ascribed to households in the village. Of the many nicknames, the funniest was the one given to Kunicklo whose eyeballs were deformed either at birth or as a result of a childhood accident. He could only see through one eye, but he’d have to turn his head at an angle and look through the corner of the eye to see where he was going. He was nicknamed “Dimlight” which was an expression used to describe a flashlight with low batteries.

Although we didn’t socialize with these characters, there was never a moment when we felt that they did not belong to Saligão. They were an entertaining part of the village scene, and they contributed enormously to the humour and folklore of Saligão.