Getting to Assagao early morning for a heritage walk seemed a purposeful way to begin the day. Moreover, when this walk is conducted by an energetic livewire like Felly Gomes, a proud son of this ‘Fullyanchem Gaon’, you don’t need a caffeine dose to stay awake. DEEPA GEORGE meets him to understand the various initiatives of his LIVE HAPPY NGO and comes away partly amused yet fully impressed.
As I meander through the slopes of Assagao, taking in the beauty of this village with its grand houses, the variety of fruit-laden trees, historical spots and scenic beauty, I get what it must have been for the legendary prince who lost his way and was relieved to hear the cock crow at dawn, revealing the village to him. “Assa Re Ganv,” is what he joyously discovered with a sigh of relief! Even if this mythical tale is untrue, the joy of discovering this quaint village is just as euphoric.
Felly Gomes who conducts the Assagao Heritage Walk, as one of the activities of his LIVE HAPPY NGO is only too happy to introduce everyone – foreigners and locals alike – to Goa’s heritage. He takes us through the houses of some of the historic people who make this village proud – Dr Rodolfo Sebastiao Dalgado who published the first ever Konkani-Portuguese dictionary and Lucazinho Rebeiro, who wrote and directed the first Konkani tiatr, “Italian Bhurgo”.
Euphoria, however, gets a reality check when piles of garbage and plastic are seen floating in the Assagao canal, making many foreign tourists in the group question why local authorities aren’t doing anything to keep the village clean. Even as I squirm, Felly taking ownership, tells us of his NGO’s initiative – LIVE CLEAN. Elaborating, he says, “We can’t rely on authorities. For me, Assagao is my home and I wanted to create a sustainable village model. We began a waste management initiative and have tried to make people aware of the importance of segregation. My team collects dry waste from nearly 200 homes in Assagao and our target is to reach another 100 homes. We have collaborated with Sahas Zero Waste from Bengaluru and they monitor and assist us.”
If simplicity is a virtue that people aspire for, Felly seems to have been born with it. An ardent yoga practitioner and proponent of living a simple, happy life; his solutions often seem too simplistic and yet it is these simple ideas that have worked.
Seven years ago, Felly had an epiphany to ‘live happy’. He says, he felt a strong call within him to spread this message and all he did was make LIVE HAPPY stickers and distribute it widely. These could be seen everywhere and the message was perhaps even more accepted given that there was no ulterior motive behind it and no brand endorsement either. It spread like fire. Adds Felly, “I was amazed at how the message took wings. We created so much curiosity. Happiness is our fundamental nature. The problem is when you look for it outside when it’s right within you.”
In 2015, he officially formed the NGO, LIVE HAPPY with seven members and coincidently works out of Dr Sebastiao Dalgado’s erstwhile house, which is now called ‘Happy Home’. Together with his Spanish wife, Beatriz Contreras, they run various projects. Through LIVE HEALTHY, they conduct yoga and meditation classes to help with overall well-being and health. Recently, they also held a free diabetes camp for locals. LIVE ORGANIC aims to create awareness about going back to our roots and grow our own vegetables. They have conducted sessions by organic farmers, Peter and Rosie who live in Assagao. Besides, they also sell local organic produce at their premises. They also run other projects that help children of the village make products from recycled bottles and cloth, which are also sold at their events.
LIVE GREEN hopes to restore, preserve and protect indigenous medicinal plants. The heritage walks are also conducted with an aim to raise funds for other initiatives. Happy Home has become a hub for training youth and acts as a community centre for the people of Assagao. Given Beatriz’s Spanish origins, lately they have also introduced an online cross-cultural exchange programme between students from Spain and India.
I wonder if he ever feels low and Felly chuckles, “That’s when yoga comes handy.” He adds, “We want people in authority from the local panchayats and community to support us. Assagaon has many wealthy people moving in and many of them give us lip service in terms of support. If they all come together, there is so much we can do. This is a model that can be replicated in every village which in turn spurs tourism too.”
It isn’t surprising that the walk is interrupted by Felly’s quick wave and hoot to many who pass us by. He is an entertainer to boot as he live streams this walk on YouTube and breaks into song and dance. His popularity in the area is visible and his passion for his village is evident. While political parties may falter and backtrack on Goenkarponn, this man hits it spot on.