Takeaway

A village by the river

Sharon Fernandes | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 20, 2015
God’s green earth: The Nossa Senhora de Bom parto, one of the many kopels in Raia. Photo: Sharon Fernandes

God’s green earth: The Nossa Senhora de Bom parto, one of the many kopels in Raia. Photo: Sharon Fernandes

Holy of holies: Built in 1565, Our Lady of Snows Church at Raia is the oldest church in Salcette, where the first ever Indian language dictionary was compiled by the priests

Holy of holies: Built in 1565, Our Lady of Snows Church at Raia is the oldest church in Salcette, where the first ever Indian language dictionary was compiled by the priests

When you step into sleepy, verdant Raia, it’s a bit like entering Goa through a different door

When you step into sleepy, verdant Raia, it’s a bit like entering Goa through a different door

A typical day in Raia, a village in south Goa, usually moves with the languid sultriness of a saxophone solo... far from the Instagram pictures of the Goa of beaches and beers, Baga pubs and monstrous mechanised crabs on a Republic Day float.

Mornings here start early, thanks to some very persuasive birds, and after you’ve convinced yourself it’s a whistling Malabar thrush teasing you out of bed at 6am, it’s not easy to spot your natural ‘alarm’ in the foliage. The hide-and-seek continues till you are wide awake and have probably stumbled upon a red-whiskered bulbul, a starling or a blue flycatcher instead. As you stir your coffee, and the mist lifts itself from the sal and coconut trees in the garden, you can hear the church bells till for the morning mass.

The next sound to rouse you is the poder’s (vendor) squeeze-horn as he makes his way through the narrow lanes on his bicycle. He carries a basket of pao (freshly baked country bread) piled high with kankons (bangle-shaped bread), soft chewy poies and khatre paos (scissor bread, a hint at how the dough is snipped before baking). When you hear another tintinnabulation, you’ll know it’s the poder selling fish for the nustiyachi koddi (fish curry). His big ice-box, which has long replaced the baskets woven from palm fronds, is packed with the basics — bangdas (mackerels), talle (sardines), muddashi (ladyfish), some crabs and prawns. The poders have seen houses around them shift shape from small hutments to multi-storied bungalows, watched majestic villas crumble to the ground and hotels rise on paddy fields.

This is the land that is still holding on to its past, living with it day in day out, even if with a few additions of modular kitchens, solar water heaters and Facebook church groups. Raia has a rich history that dates back to the Kadambas and the Vijayanagara empires. It is also one of the first regions of the Salcette district to be evangelised by the Portuguese way back in the 1560s. It is unsurprising then, that most of this verdant hilly village’s cultural timetable revolves around the church.

For the Sunday mass, grandmothers bearing rosaries occupy the front rows and lead a distended mid-section teeming with the middle-aged — praying to keep their sons away from alcohol and the girls away from the ‘bad boys’. The pews at the rear find those who want to avoid the disapproving gaze of relatives, and make furtive eye contact with their WhatsApp friends. In these backbenches, the phones buzz silently, and hope floats that the priest would deliver a short sermon. The older folk look forward to the notices read out at the end of the service, a perfect ‘news wrap’ of all the important events in the village.

As the sun ambles through the weekday sky in Raia, you can spot the young ‘soccer moms’ with their straightened hair, zip by on their scooties to drop off their kids at schools in town and then go to the market for supplies. Dressed to the nines every day, their evenings too are spent taking their wards for music or football lessons. With “Godfrey’s dad being on the cruiseliner” and “Ashberg’s uncle making money in Saudi” or “Daisy’s husband working in London”, it’s the women of the village who bring up the kids and take care of the elderly.

The other constant here, where there is no dearth of novenas or feasts to be celebrated, is the religious calendar. Travels plans are chalked around the feast days of the patron saints of the village kopels (chapels). The traditions of worship are an amalgamation of rituals old and new, with the conversion to Christianity by Portuguese colonisation. And one of the biggest highlights is the concept of the transformation of the Earth Goddess to the Devi to ‘Saibin Mai’ or Mother Mary. This devotion spikes from September to November, when a statue of Mary from the kopel is carried in a procession to each house in the locality and placed at the ornate altar for a night. The next day she is taken to the next household. The Ladainha is another celebration that lasts nine days at the kopel followed by the feast of the patron of the chapel. Many of these rituals are guided by agricultural cycles — like first sheaves of paddy are carried to the church in a procession — and many of these feast days are followed by both the Hindu and catholic communities.

Waves of change

The village is the perfect example of how Goa has always imbibed change yet held on to its past, notwithstanding the many rulers — from the Mauryas, Chalukyas, Kadambas and Devagiri Yadavas to the Vijayanagara dynasty, Bahamani Muslims, Bijapur Sultanate and the Portuguese. The mother tongue, Konkani, has been the cultural glue that has kept all the communities here living harmoniously through centuries.

But while the community stays strong together, there are annoying mutations that shake the ecosystem of the village. The litany of these woes includes petty panchayat politics, the lack of a proper garbage collection system (and consequently, litter on the streets), no major industries apart from tourism and mining, forcing the young to leave for the cities, and the fear of losing comunidade or community land to the many land sharks who wish to build what Goa seems to never have enough of — hotels.

On a walk down Raia, you see the once resplendent villas in neoclassical and neo-Gothic styles of architecture with large ornamental windows and stucco mouldings; the balcoes (covered porches) at the entrance of the house, the huge sala (living room), where once music flowed as a large family laughed and sang together, are gone; the grand padlocked Portuguese villas now only boast a watchman standing guard to the treasure trove of furniture, crockery and art of the original wealthy inhabitants of the village. The new owners are the bhailles (outsiders) — mostly from Delhi or Rajasthan.

It is the marketplace, a small village square of sorts under a huge mango tree, that offers shade and comfort to the old timers discussing how lovely life used to be and how everything has become too marog (expensive). This spot for selling wares hasn’t changed in decades. The ladies in bright dresses sell vegetables from their fields. “Bai, these are tasty. They are grown in our own red mud. No chemicals” — goes their sales pitch. The fisherwomen tempt you with a wet rock slab before them heaped with fish still red behind the gill. The potter’s stall of pans, candlesticks and piggy banks does brisk business as a Goan kitchen still prefers the earthen pot for ‘taste’ and a coconut shell with a wooden stick to ladle out the curries.

As the day winds down, the children who are kicking a football in the playground stop mid-play and cross themselves when the church bells sound for the Angelus or evening prayer. The birds return to the trees, the streetlamps throw little puddles of light on the snaking red mud lanes, the tangy scent with a promise of feni rises from the cashew trees and the monkeys huddle together to watch from the darkening canopies a landscape and a quiet calm that, as time marches on, is bound to be shattered.

Sharon Fernandes is a Goa-based writer

Travel log

Get there

By train, the closest stop is Madgaon station, 10km away. Dabolim airport is 30km away.

Eat

Chef Fernando’s Nostalgia, a well-known eatery, serves authentic Goan fare in a sprawling house, with beautiful vintage utensils and artwork, a garden, a huge bar and a live band on weekends.

Another well-kept secret in Raia-Rachol is Esperenza’s. This is a tiny restaurant with only two tables, and a tiny ‘help-yourself’ bar. But the big draw is the food made with the catch of the day from the Zuari river.

For a light bite, there are plenty of places, such as Nicolau Bakery, Lourdes Cafe and Snow’s Bakery, which sell delicious puff pastries stuffed with piquant sausage or beef fillings, chicken and sausage rolls, and freshly made butter biscuits and tarts.

Tip

The best feni in Goa is brewed by the priests at Raia. At the SVD seminary, ensconced in acres of cashew trees, the priests oversee the making of the potent liquor. In summer, the cashew apple is pressed for its juice in wooden barrels churned by hand. The first press is called neero, a non-alcoholic, refreshing juice. The rest of the juice — the second and third press — is kept to ferment in clay pots, some of which are even stored underground, to mature into heady, cloudy urrak and finally crystal clear feni.

Mornings here start early thanks to some very persuasive birds

Published on February 20, 2015
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