Frederick Noronha (FN)
2003-12-19 10:26:29 UTC
It was early morning. In the grey sky, a flock of rockets were shining high up in the sky, like dazzling stars. It was about 7 am. I was going to fetch bread for the day?s breakfast. Suddenly, I noticed these slowly moving stars. I pointed it out to some friends I met along the way. Even they were astounded. In turn, they showed it to their parents and their friends.
It was strange to us. I sensed that something was going to happen. That was December 18, 1961. The air was loaded with stories that pressure was sought to be put on Salazar. People in a village like Paliem were openly discussing that Nehru would free Goa soon. I liked this idea of getting free. Though there was not much tension; there was a feeling of anticipation that something was about to happen.
At that time, I was studying in the segundo grau. About four to five days earlier, the then Portuguese Governor-General Senhor Vassalo e Silva had been to Goa-Velha, to inaugurate the Casa do Povo, the term used then for a community hall. I saw him there, the representative of the capital Lisboa, in stature short and small but a fine-spirited personality. I liked him and he spoke nice things; through his speech, he did not give the picture of being a representative of the Portuguese dictator. The Casa do Povo building was very close to the Escola Primaria (primary school) of Goa-Velha; so he had brought along with him a lot of sweets for the students. Naturally, the students too were very happy with the Governor?s advent.
A day later, at around 6 p.m., one black Volkswagen came from the slope leading to Siridao and slowed down. I was near the doornem (the stone structure of the Goa of the past, meant for persons carrying headloads to temporarily rest their burden). So were some friends. It was the same person, who was at the inauguration a day before, this time with a smiling visage. He waved his hand towards us, and we too imitated in the very manner.
He took a turn slowly and went back, the way he had come. This, to me, was the second appearance of the Governor. When I go back to chase the fleeting moment in my mind, I see an evening which has lost its warmth and brightness, and was turning dark and deep, with unknown anxiety. Though the fag-end of the day turned gloomy, I still feel the grace and spirit of the smile on the counternance of the Governor.
This may have been somewhere on December 15 or 16, 1961. He was found coming out of his car, at the side of the Paliem Santeri temple, where a Marathi school used to function. His face was loaded with a smile, and eyes captured the scenic sight of the green hamlet. He slowly stepped further. I was on the way to my school. This was an opportunity for me; there was none to speak to him. The personality and representative of Portugal was visiting my place, and I felt like welcoming him. So, I went ahead and did just that, by saying a Boa Dia. His face shone like a golden sun. His hands extended to clasp a small child. It was great joy to meet this great soul then. I always remember this incident because neither was this meeting planned, nor was it fabricated. It happened.
I did not go to him, but he came to me. Putting his hands on my shoulder, he walked up to the front of the temple. He looked at it carefully, and sat in front of the stone-built stage covered as it was with dust. I felt a bit helpless. Students were gathering in the temple. In the meanwhile, along came regidor (village official), who brought a bundle of school-bags and some note-books. Then, the regidor called out to the students, and the Governor handed over these bags. He also passed out sweets. He inquired about my studies and my future plans. He gave some sweets, and then departed.
Now, in hindsight, when I recollect these reminiscences, I feel the last Governor was experiencing even the dust of Goa, as if he was getting immersed in this beautiful land.
On December 18, when I saw the rocket-stars, I simply felt the thin layer of Portuguese sovereignty was getting melted. I could also sense a new life and a new spirit. Life, which was dull and uninspiring, was getting on a strange and new spark.
After a little while, there ran two jets with what seemed to us youngsters as terrific speed, cracking the sky and almost giving a jerk to the early underneath. People started gathering in small groups. Some sense of fear prevailed. Somebody came along to announce that the Bambolim radio station had been bombed. The only shop in the village was promptly closed by its owner. People saw military trucks on the roads, loaded with soldiers. Of course, there was none of today?s traffic in those days. It was just a car on the road in every hour or two. But, on that day, it was only military trucks that the people saw.
In the afternoon, at about 4 p.m., people told us that one could see the war being fought by sitting on the sea-shore at Siridao. One friend, a boy, came to call me to go to Siridao. My aunt didn?t allow that. We saw some cannons passing nearby. There was some eagerness to go closer. This was a chance in a lifetime, and I missed it. Somebody said that those who had gone to see the action had returned home, for fear of getting caught in the cross-fire.
Late in the evening, I went to the neighbouring village of Zuari, to get some rice, since the shop in the village was closed. Near the shop there, I found some crowd gathered near a country-liquor shop. There were two Portuguese soldiers there, and had apparently ran there to take shelter. The people were helping them. I saw them by the light of a kerosene lamp. They appeared crestfallen; there was no grace which we had normally seen on their Lusitanian visage.
By eight at night, the whole village was wrapped in darkness. There were no street lights in those days. People used to get themselves back to their homes somehow, to be locked behind the safety of their doors. There was the sound of a vehicle passing by very slowly, sending out information on an autofalante. The voice asked the people not to get disturbed, and informed that the Indian Army had taken hold of the Palacio in the capital.
As soon as I heard the announcement, a shudder of happiness passed throughout my body. What I had sensed early in the morning was getting to fruition. That night, I did not sleep till late. Though those December nights were chilly, it felt very warm, happy and dreamy that night. It was a night of fulfillment of a dream and also a night of new dreams.
That night, I could not express my feelings to anyone properly. I could surely not speak to my father; of course I could say something to my aunt, but for no longer than a few minutes. I wanted my classmates and my friends, to talk to. I felt like running out of the house, but it was night. I badly wanted to talk to them, to express my joy and excitement.
Again and again the announcement kept on coming to my ears. I went ahead in creating pictures of victory. Victory over 450 years of a foreign power. Suddenly, there came a song on the tongue. Vande Mataram. This was a song sung at the end of every village drama, and I used to love this song very much. This was a song in every village at the end of the drama. This was a national anthem then in the oral spirit of people in Goa. I went on singing the song alone. A song of freedom. I didn?t know who wrote the song; I knew not which book it came from. But I sensed the freedom in it.
That night, I saw a number of dreams. Thousands of people had fought for the country, some even sacrificing their lives. What could I do for my country, which was free in the full sense now? That was my own question to myself. There appeared a bright ray on my mind, which said: teach your fellow-people. That night I could not sleep at all.
Early in the morning, I got up, went out, and lit a fire. The morning was chilly, and that was the custom too then. Other friends came. That day, we shared the fire of freedom. We discussed the change, the transcendentation.
December 19, 1961, was a remarkable day. For the first time, I was allowed to go to Panjim on cycle with my friends. This sort of freedom I never had before, where I was always accompanied by my father or other elderly people.
There was festivity in Pangim. Thousands of people were roaming the city. There was the tricolour fluttering on the Palacio. It was a great moment to see this expected dream coming true. That day is not merely stamped on my heart, but choreographed on every drop of my blood, and has built there a living memorial.
When I churn these old memories it?s like gaining a number of gems. Memory is something grand in this world; without that, we are none.
Writer Ramesh Veluskar is a teacher by profession, and much of his work in creative writing and poetry is in Konkani. He can be contacted on telephone 2219052.