The two taxis were 1928 Fords, with a canvas top and no roll-up windows.When it rained, the driver would pull out two canvas panels with clear celluloid centres and attach them to either side of the vehicle between the top edge of the door and the metal frame supporting the canvas top. The taxi had a folding platform in the rear to which luggage was tied with a sturdy rope.
The caminhão was the most popular and fastest means of public transport… and that’s only after it left the bus terminal. Until then, one sat in the bus for at least an hour until the ‘turn boy’ and driver were able to round up enough commuters to fill the bus to its licensed maximum capacity. A full bus, however, did not prevent the caminhão from stopping on its route, away from the watchful eye of the Police, to squeeze in a few more passengers. The turnboy managed this by urging everyone to slide forward along the wooden benches that ran the length of the bus, or by pulling out car battery casings from under the benches and getting others to sit on them in the aisle.
The bumps in the road or the swaying of the bus did not shake up the passengers; they were packed in the bus like sardines in a can, leaving almost no room for them to be jostled around.
The driver, too, would try to squeeze in a few more passengers next to him on the front seat. And with clever planning he’d sometimes get himself wedged between a buxom woman and the driver’sside door. The squeeze made it awkward for him to manipulate the clutch and brake pedals, but the thrill of steering the bus with his elbow nudging a bosom more than compensated for the hindrance.
If it was necessary to make a trip to a village that was not served by the caminhão, villagers either walked or rented a ghadi.
The ghadi, or ‘matchbox’ as it was affectionately called, was a colourful two-wheeled covered carriage drawn by two bulls on a yoke. Tied around the neck of each bull was a collar of brass bells that jingled whenever the bulls broke into a trot. The yoke was attached to a shaft that ran under the floorboards of the cab. The cab had two benches that seated three people on each bench, facing each other, their knees almost touching. The ghadiwalla sat on the shaft outside the cab, and steered the bulls with coir ropes tied to their horns. He held a cane in his hand, but it was used only if the bulls were acting up. Otherwise, he got the bulls to keep up the pace by periodically twisting their tails at the base, or by prodding them with his toes in a sensitive spot between the hind legs. To him, it was like a car’s gas pedal… and the bulls responded with good acceleration.
A matchbox ride was usually bone-jarring. But it never seemed to bother the passengers, particularly if they were older women. They just pulled out their rosaries and kept praying until they reached their destination. The fact that they got to wherever they were going without mishap is a testimony to the power of prayer. Then there were the bicycles. The local goldsmiths and barbers each maintained a ‘stable’ of three or four bicycles that were rented out on an hourly rate of four annas (a quarter of a rupee) to anyone who needed to run an urgent errand or make a trip to Mapuça, the district’s trading centre, for the Friday market.
The nicest thing about village transportation in the old days was its slow pace. It helped us see and enjoy Goa’s rural panorama in slow motion instead of the dusty blur offered by modern transportation.