07 Jan 2018 05:49am IST
When we meet in Portugal from time to time, my friend Homem Cristo and I remember our childhood years, lived in the neighbourhood of the Poço do Padeiro in Panjim, during the decades of the 1940s and 1950s. This small neighbourhood, with perhaps less than two dozen Catholic and 3 Hindu families, lived harmoniously around the illustrious, huge and deep well, whose precious water quenched the thirst of its inhabitants.
Only one family in that locality had a radio and since children didn’t have even four annas to spend, could eat the bhaji-puri at Café Tató only when accompanied by the parents. Yet they developed creative capabilities and used the incalculable wealth of their imagination to have fun.
The neighbourhood was teeming with joy, because the numerous kids, who had total freedom of movement, enlivened their space by inventing entertainment and exploring the surrounding environment.
Located far above the well and concealed atop the hill above the neighbourhood was the deactivated lighthouse of the Alto dos Pilotos and its access was a challenge that the children craved to face. Boys, some less than ten years old, preferred to risk their lives and climb through slippery and unsafe slopes rather than to climb the endless steps of the stairwell. The aim was to have the courage and boldness to leave the house alone and reach the lighthouse, through more difficult and secret paths, and then climb the dozens of rusty stairs and stand on top, and boast loudly, proclaiming: I am no longer a child.
On weekdays in the evenings, life got more exciting, as the number of young people increased, coinciding with the end of the tuitions given by the well-known teacher Lina. Then began the crazy running down the stairs, from the house of the teacher to the improvised football field: the largest space on the street.
A few barefoot, others with sneakers, all did shoot the ball made of old socks enrolled around a stone, in the opposing goal, demarcated by two tall stones. Anyone who hurt his toe would tie it with a cloth and continue to play. To balance the teams, the partners were chosen as follows: two players stayed at a certain distance and then advanced to each other, alternately placing one foot after the other. Anyone who first set his foot on top of the opponent’s foot chose the ‘Ronaldo’ of the group. The other had to be content with the second best footballer, and so forth until the turn of the smallest who was usually chosen as goalkeeper.
What is more curious is that the birds and the rooks sprang from branch to branch, as if they wished to observe the movements of the players, and the Arabian kites circulated in the firmament, releasing regularly their characteristic cry that even sounds today in our ears.
Other childhood activities included picmand (with cashew nuts), folé (with two sticks of different sizes), ring and sometimes scenes of films recreated, with long sticks to simulate swords, or tip of the index finger to imitate the pistol of Roy Rogers, the idolised singing actor cowboy, screaming: hands up!
When the heat heightened and the parents rested, two or three boys opted to make a quick game of goddes.
Since only one house had a tennis table and candidates wishing to play could reach a dozen, it was decided that all rotate in a row around the table, each player having the opportunity to place the ball on the opposite side of the net. And if someone eliminated one of the most feared opponents, by passing the ball in an irrecoverable way by hitting the corner of the table, the triumphant and deafening shouts echoed down the street.
Two annual occasions often remembered are the nightly street races and the carnival, with the famous cocotadas that were combats between neighbourhoods throwing paper cartridges stuffed with soft earth and lime. There were fighters who came forward, full of pride, armed with a cardboard shield.
Homem Cristo reminded me that one day we went to an evening movie. Since the eight annas we accumulated was sufficient for only one ticket, one of us watched the first part of the movie and the other the second after which we recounted to each other what we had seen. Full of enthusiasm, we let the time pass and we returned home late. Cristo’s father forced him to undress and presented him with a monumental thrashing with a branch of guava tree. His cries came to my mother’s ears, who thought it best to do Solomonic justice, which made me also scream loudly.
While the monsoons poured out the water and filled the well, the younger ones were filled with envy as they witnessed the boldest jump into the well to commemorate St John the Baptist’s Day.
On one occasion in the dead of night, a hunter broke the respectful silence and brought the sleepers to a start. With the help of a head torch and a twelve-calibre gun, he killed two or more huge bats, who slept safely in the huge banyan tree. Their meat made a tasteful “xacuti” the next day.
The green that enveloped us not only embellished but also provided healing. The hot water bath from the infusion of green ordoxó leaves containing quinine taken from one tree in our neighborhood was a holy remedy for the high fevers caused by malaria.
In conclusion, I mention only four people from that neighborhood.
The water bearer Helena, wearing choli and gaghró with her clay jug, tied to a rope, pulled the water out of the famous well and distributed it to the neighbours. Even when a public water fountain was introduced, she remained faithful to her well water customers; the tailor Master Menino, famous specialist in shirts and suits and whose house today is abandoned; Dona Joaquina, who made the delicious miskut of mango that made the neighbourhood famous; and Peténce, whose real name I am not allowed to mention, and only known among friends by this nickname. He got this epithet for having imitated the sound of the machine, where his father worked: peténce, peténce, peténce!