|In the late 70s and early 80s, Tiracol was little known amongst the more affluent of Goan society. We were a wild bunch of college kids with little money but always looking for some great fun. We discovered this tiny Goan pocket on one of our hiking trips and soon found that if we had the time and patience (and we had both!), we could get there at almost no cost at all.
We bus-hopped from Panjim to Mapusa to Siolim, took a ferry to Chopdem, another bus to Arambol, or if lucky a direct one to Keri on this side of the Tiracol river. The ferry at Keri was usually ‘poltoddi’ – on the other side, and we would wait patiently not willing to call for a special trip that would have set us back a few rupees.
Keri was a fishing village, and if we timed our arrival to coincide with the return of the fishing fleet, we could bargain for a basket of lobster for as much as 15 rupees and have a few kilos of king prawns thrown in. We were made, and ready to feast at Alex’s Palm Bar in the heart of the village. We would check into the dormitory at the Tiracol Fort for a few rupees and immediately head down to Alex’s where our ‘reicheiado’ (a fiery red curry paste) prawns, lobster salad and prawn curry awaited us. And then there was some prime ‘cashew feni.’ What else could one ask for?
Eventually the fishing harbor moved away and the lobsters became a thing of the past. The fort was privatized and we didn’t give it a second glance. To our good luck, Babu had seen the need for relatively cheap accommodation and opened his little hotel on the hilltop overlooking the valley and the hamlet. It was ideal for us (to spend the night that is), but our hearts were always in the village and the great friends we had made amongst the simple village folk.
Then on an off-season monsoon trip, we landed in Tiracol on the eve of Sao Joao (the feast of St. John the Baptist). The village was buzzing with activity, the Bomboicars had arrived via the afternoon bus to Sawantwadi and preparations were in full swing. The menfolk were getting the ‘leitao’ ready while the women ground the curries and soaked the rice for ‘sannas‘ (steamed rice cakes sweetened with palm toddy). By that time I had become great friends with Agnelo Godinho whose father and mother would always welcome me with open arms. As I sat on the ‘pile’ (stone seat) in the dark, fighting the mosquitoes and the pungent smoke from the fire under the ‘modki’ (copper pot for boiling water) outside, I watched as our neighbor Salu worked on his ‘copel’ (floral head wreath). It had to be the best and Salu took great pride in his work. He had spent the best part of the afternoon scrounging for wild flowers and some green from someone else’s garden. He couldn’t leave anything for the next morning – he had promised to go fishing and guaranteed that he would bring back some fish for my lunch. In fact, I never ate ‘sourak’ (plain curry) in Tiracol, there was always plenty of fish when I visited.
Sao Joao was and (I hope) will be the greatest feast ever celebrated in the village of Tiracol. And after that first experience, I made it a point to return – alone or with friends, and later with my wife, and then with my family. Why wouldn’t I? Along the way, Agnel (now a family man) offered me the distinct privilege of being the ‘poddon’ (godfather) to his son Cannissius. That made me almost a ‘gaunkar!’
Today, I can picture the village elders (those who remain) gathering in the house next to the chapel. The little fire will warm the ‘ghumots’ (earthen drums with the skin of a monitor lizard stretched across) and the singing will go on through the morning. And the villagers will come and offer their prayers and make their vows. And a few hours after lunch the drummers from across the ‘shim’ (the village boundary) will come and the revelry will begin. I pray that it rains – and pours, you need the puddles to splash through. And then the whole village will gather on the shore, an adult will enter and ensure that all is well before the young boys and the old men wade in to remember a tradition that has been passed down generations. They will gather the newly-weds and to be weds, those with a newborn or whose wife is expecting a baby, and draw them to the centre of the circle, splashing as they move closer. And then they will carry this privileged group on their shoulders all the way to the chapel, where the long string of prayers will take place.
I have called and offered my prayers – and my only prayer is that the same St. John the Baptist who is believed to have saved the village livestock from wild animals, today saves the village from the greed of man.
Viva Sao Joao! Viva Tiracol!
(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my Sao Joao pictures)