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Missing Mapusa

Frederick Noronha

The other day, by some chance, one reached Mapusa at around eleven in the morning. All of a sudden, while going past the road near the old Asilo Hospital, feelings of nostalgia overtook me. It reminded me of schooldays almost exactly four decades ago.

Actually, school and the lessons taught there, were eminently forgetful. One cannot remember much of what was taught in class. This is true, even if we routinely use certain subjects in our daily life – like English, basic arithmetic, science, even

Hindi and Marathi and

history-geography.

There were quite a few memorable teachers, who had unusual approaches to education. Our English teacher once brought a cassette-player, then a rare object, into class to ‘show’ us what the language was all about, by playing a recording from the musical My Fair Lady.

Our Scoutmasters made the subject fun and taught us in very practical and innovative ways. We built rope bridges and pitched tents stitched together of bedsheets. They held memory-filled camps at Salmona. Some of us got so engrossed with the subject that we would write to remote corners of Karnataka to buy books on scouting, or asked relatives abroad to send us the same. I collected scout stamps and had quite an enviable collection,

till the white ants put paid to that dream.

Our French teacher was a charming elderly lady from Colvale. The Marathi teacher wore a traditional pudvem (loin-cloth wrapped in the Goan style) in pure white, standing out in a sea of blue that the school uniforms comprised of. We had memorable principals and a very encouraging librarian.

But it was the lessons we learned outside of the classroom that really made a life-long difference. Mapusa, those who know it would agree, is a compact (if now, cluttered) small town. It has almost all its shops neatly packed into a small space, placed in an easy-to-find

manner. It is quite unlike spread-out Panaji.

If class left early, as it usually did on Saturdays or exam days, it was pure bliss to saunter through part of the town. Even walking down to the bus stand was enough to encounter many a delightful outlet, and to indulge in quite a lot of window shopping and some hobby-building.

The first attraction was the Dalal bookshop near the demolished Casa Bela (a happy watering-hole for returned ‘Africanders’ on Fridays, the town’s market day). This place had tonnes of options, or so it seemed to us then.

Growing up with the JS magazine was pure bliss. This was the 1970s, and India then still had some British iconoclasts who ran the show editorially. The JS in the masthead stood for Junior Statesman and came in from Calcutta.

JS was everything a teenager-focussed magazine should be. It had articles on rock and pop music, pull-out posters of musicians or racing stars, a ‘swap-shop’ where one could place ads free-of-cost provided you offered to swap something for something else without any money involved, articles written by young people, and much more.

If the JS decided to write about Kathmandu or Goa, they would not send a photographer down. Instead, they would send in an artist with a writer. Till date, one can recall the watercolours of a Latinised Fontainhas on the pages of that magazine, plus temples and churches of Goa. Wonder if these images are still available somewhere on the net.

There were just a handful of magazines to read in those times, but still it looked like a lot. I think the children’s Chandamana was available. You could also access the reprinted-in-India Indrajal comics featuring Phantom

and Mandrake.

Compared to today’s news-stands, where there are a plethora of magazines on almost every subject under the sun, those were days with scant options. When we were in school, the Sun magazine came up from some North Indian newspaper group. It had a mix of pop culture, was oriented to the youth, and carried some amount of exposure of feminine skin, which is bound to attract testosterone-fuelled adolescent boys.

Sunday magazine came out soon after the Emergency. The Illustrated Weekly had been long on the stands, and was doing well under Kushwant Singh; Pritish Nandy would become its editor only much later. Magazines like Onlooker and Mirror were available too. Someone in our school decided that we should get access to the anti-Establishment Himmat’, which Rajmohan Gandhi published from Bombay (1964-81). But one is not sure whether that was during the Emergency or just after.

Apart from the newsstands, there were a range of shops to attract every taste. My tech-oriented friend Venacio Cordeiro mentioned how he would help a shop with electronic repairs from the time he was in the eighth standard. He earned pocket-money; but that also led him to a career, and much more, in life. There were others in this field too, all popular with the youngsters. Dalal made three-in-one Tricity gramophones that were the size of a trunk. Armand was also considered to be a whiz in electronics, though one

might have got some names wrong now.

My own bias was in favour of stamps and photography. For the latter, we would continually peep into the ageing photo studios in the heart of Mapusa. Some are still around.

The Jhansi-returned Goan founders of Remy Studios seemed to be the most knowledgeable in the field, and were particularly popular in clicking class photographs in schools across Bardez in those times. If not mistaken, they had their outlet originally in the Aldona bus-stand (praca) area. Some of these path-breakers have

probably passed on.

For what seemed like more affordable deals, one would continually pop in to studios like Kalakar and Jyoti. Life was tough for them though, and so was earning. If the elderly gents running it were in a good mood, they would allow you to peek into their dark-room, which was a mystery we were dying to then understand.

As pesky school kids always short on money, we would repeatedly ask them for prices and about technology. Finally, I never got down to buying that cheaply-build rough aluminium flash priced at `15, which had a bulb filled with curly filaments that would enable you to take exactly one photo before needing you to change the bulb! Would our smart-phone generation appreciate this?

Even more fascinating were the stamps that were sold in those times. Janaki book stall, if the name is right, had all kind of colourful, pictoral theme-based stamps from countries like Bhutan and the tiny Sultanates of the Middle-East.

The most attractive were the three-dimension stamps, though triangular and round stamps were also considered rare and therefore pricey. Just looking at all these stamps, wishing to buy some, and never having enough money was enough to give one a high and create a longing.

There were the sports shops too. And libraries, both affordable public ones and well-stocked privately-run libraries.

One can remember buying records at Mapusa, which came in 33-1/3, 45 revolutions per minute and even the rare 75 rmp formats. These came from the then unchallenged media capital of India, Bombay, and sold at a shop near the entrance to the market alongside the old Cafe Ashok.

Ashok was itself a major attraction along with others like Cafe Xavier with its quaint style of serving snacks.

The market itself was filled with all kinds of knick-nacks, but the coin-vendors

(Portuguese and older coins were still available then) were sure to attract a schoolboy.

One generation later, Mapusa isn’t the favourite town of my school-going son. He finds it too dirty and crowded; though one reminds him that parts of hilly Mapusa were in our times used as an open toilet, by families which didn’t have access to a lavatory. Of course, there were pigs then, which cleaned up the place to some extent. The young lad sometimes calls Mapusa the “armpits of Goa”, which is perhaps a tad unfair.

In a word, Mapusa has changed. Maybe it still holds out its charms to the adolescents of today,

ones which are not so obvious to our generation.

At the same time, it is also true that we ourselves have changed. Our expectations are different, and our approaches have changed with time.

Yet, is there any attempt,

conscious or otherwise, to keep up the uniqueness of the town of a famed Friday market and much more?

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