Silence filled the air as he spoke. His deep, captivating voice had people’s eyes and ears glued to the podium that the former army officer stood on. Even if just for a brief moment, the invincible man lent the audience an experience of Goa through his spectacles of nostalgia.
The Goa Arts and Literature Festival, which was inaugurated on January 19, 2023, at the International Centre Goa, witnessed a keynote address from military hero and writer Major General Ian Cardozo (Retd).
Major Cardozo fought in the Indian Army in the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 with the Gorkha Rifles. Following the fall of Dhaka, he lost a leg after stepping on a landmine. But pain was just another word in his lexicon when it came to matters of his country.
After amputating his leg himself, without the help of any medication or drugs, today he stands tall as a true epitome of resilience.
It was in the summer holidays of the months of April and May that Major Cardozo and his family (Bombay Goenkars as they called themselves) would set sail to Goa in their preferred ship, the San Antonio.
Their favourite place was the deck of the boat. Once settled, the strumming guitars and mandolins would come out of hiding, making the trip from Bombay to Goa one full of joie de vivre – the music, laughter, singing and the smuggled booze! After which the ship’s engines would substitute the music and act as a lullaby as everybody on board dozed off.
No shadow was cast on the boat as it passed by the river since the Mandovi Bridge that we see today was not standing then, and a gasoline-run ferry boat was the only mode of transport across the river.
Upon reaching the point of disembarkation, a camião (taxi) would receive the passengers.
“We would soon reach Candolim, my hometown. We had a beautiful villa there, and our house was called Moto Khuris. It was in the boundaries of Bhamon Wado and Dando. I understand that a big hotel has come up there now, and I feel very sad to know that our house does not exist anymore,” said Major Cardozo.
Although Goa was full of life and light, facilities like electricity, lights, fans and refrigerators were not available yet. For illumination, they used pontyos (lanterns) and the breeze from the sea provided a cool breeze. A breeze so pleasant, surely even the fans today cannot compete.
The Cardozo house, like many other Goan houses at the time, had a well. Part of which was in the kitchen territory and part of which, outside.
MARIANE & BEBINCA
“The back of the house had earthen pots which had khare, parra and pickles. And on the floor, coconuts and firewood. For in those days, our food was cooked on wood fire. The kitchen was our favourite room. It used to be filled with the aroma of Mariane’s beautiful cooking. Mariane was our caretaker, and before we arrived, she would make sure that there were cakes of mangad and bebinca waiting for us,” he added.
“Dinner was had in the kitchen, but before that, dad would give us small glasses filled with cajel, sugar and hot water. Part of the kitchen housed the bathroom. But, the bathroom was just a wall with a small square window and on the side was a huge metal container called a bhand. There used to be a girl who would put in the khodso in the bhand and hand it over to us through the window. We would have a hot bath, and I understand that Goans all over the world, irrespective of the weather, are used to having hot baths,” laughed the army man.
FOOD & BRANDY
Praying the holy Rosary in Konkani after dinner was part of the routine and was joined in by everybody in the house – including Marianne and the other servants.
“Food in Goa was outstanding, but breakfast was a bit of a disaster. We were forced to eat pez (rice gruel) which we didn’t like but were told was good for us. Scotch whisky, Macieira brandy… and everything was dirt cheap in Goa. In fact, I remember seeing Mercedes Benz’ being used as taxis in Panjim and Margao,” he said.
After a good night’s sleep, the outfit the following morning was swimming costumes. The beach was standing right outside the back door, covered in its alluring white sand.
“The other side of Candolim stretched to Calangute and Baga. The beach was empty, except for us and the fishermen, who used to cast their nets in a unique way. I remember being so excited to see the fish jump into the nets. Often, the waves would throw lines of sardines onto the shore, and all we had to do was run along and pick them up before the next wave took them back in. Fish was so plentiful that we used to use it as manure. On returning from the beach, we would wash away the sand before having a hot bath,” he reminisced.
“I could go on and on but that would be at the risk of boring you. However, what I wanted to share with you is the Goa of long ago. The Goa that I remember, a different Goa of what it was then, and what it is now.” He further added.
Reflecting on this, only people like Major Ian Cardozo, who have witnessed the beauty of Goa in the past themselves, have to live with the bittersweet feeling of being so close, yet so far from the Goa that he remembers so fondly.
“It is the Goa of scintillating beaches, wide, open spaces, coconuts trees and cashew plants growing wild at the back of the house. The Goa of different aromas, particularly the rooms at the back of the house that stored khare, parra, pickles and mounds of coconuts from our trees; sounds of the waves that crashed on the shore; the hens about to lay eggs, the poder with his cycle with his ponk-ponk and the squealing pig being taken off for slaughter. I don’t know if those types of sounds or aromas exist in the Goa of today, but we have to accept Goa for what it is - because this is where we belong,” he concluded.