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The school atop a hillock

Frederick Noronha

Lawrie, a friendly village businessman, had this last copy of a book which an author had asked him to sell. He was relieved when I willingly picked it up. For me, it would of course be a useful addition to my collection of Goa books.

Goa books, often published by their authors themselves for a number of valid reasons, tend to be hard to find when you want a particular one. Ironically enough, when just published, next to nobody notices a new Goa book. This, together with the fact that there are few to none channels to distribute local books in Goa – apart from a few prominent book outlets – makes it all the more difficult for the author.

Hail Monte! The Mount of Ages! turned out to be an interesting 164-page book about a prominent place, a well-known institution and a centre which has been contributing significantly to this part of Goa for decades now.

As any Bardezkar could guess, it deals with the Monte de Guirim, on the outskirts of Mapusa. Its Catholic priest-author John D’Silva refers to Portuguese and Goan authors (writing in Portuguese), Hindu lore and even a possible Muslim connect to dig up beliefs and facts about Guirim’s past.

D’Silva’s ability to access Portuguese and Konkani adds insight and colour. He quotes the Konkani saying which gets mentioned among the residents of nearby Parra village. They believe that “for a fistful of tamarind seeds, a Parra man sold the Guirim hillock away to the people of Gurim”.

D’Silva points out that Giri is a Sanskrit-derived word for hill. This being the case, calling it Monte de Guirim is meaningless, and repetitive. It’s an example of how local place names get distorted, by those who don’t know their origins and locals who forget their own history. Much like “Moti Dongor” in Margao.

D’Silva says that some people from Girvaddo (as Guirim is locally known) moved to Arambol in Pernem and settled there. Some elders in the area believed there was wealth buried in their village, awaiting someone who could decipher the secret writing on the stone!

But Guirim has created another treasure of sorts – its students and sportsmen created since the 1940s, when “Monte de Guirim” (as the St Anthony’s school there is often called, due to its elevated location) was set up in the locality, atop a 300-metres tall hillock.

But before school, came the Franciscans and their varied branches. They were among the earliest to come to Goa, though other religious orders such as the Jesuits or even the Salesians have perhaps been written about more widely in history. The Franciscans had a special role to play in Bardez, which was studied by the late historian Sharon D’Cruz, a creative and prolific scholar who passed away too young.

The late 16th century ‘Colegio’ of St Jerome was shifted from Guirim to Reis Magos. But in Goa’s complex colonial history, all Catholic religious orders were at one stage banished from here. This, and the subsequent information, could be of interest to village history buffs.

The school as we know was taken charge of by the Capuchins in the early 1940s. D’Silva pays tribute to educationists like Francisco Luis Gonzaga de Ataide, a priest who taught “for two generations at Corjuem (Aldona) and Guirim”. Among his pupils were great achievers like the polymath Gerson da Cunha and the ophthalmologist Claudio da Gama Pinto, who till this day has a hospital named after him in Lisbon. Educationist Ataide’s name is immortalised in the library run by the Mapusa municipality.

To complete the story, D’Silva takes us to Mangalore, the locality of Farangipet there (connected to Goa’s migration history too), Hyder Ali, and Tipu Sultan, and the earlier tonsured Capuchin lifestyle.

For the average reader with some connect to Guirim or the school, the meat of the book comes up around page 60. It is here that there’s more of a focus on the institution, though earlier too pages do look the structure and art found there.

In between the pages are stories of money raised from Goans in East Africa and Aden for the school. There are details about how the school had a hall, and even a shorthand and typing institution, bakery, poultry, dairy and piggery. At one time, this was one of the prominent boarding schools of Goa, with up to 800 boarders. Some students came in from as far away as AVC, the book suggests, perhaps as the Assolna-Velim-Cuncolim area which had a lot of parents working abroad.

The school was known for its music and sport. Fortunatus Andrade, a priest at the school, is remembered for being one of the best librarians in what was one of the largest school libraries in Goa.

Some recent headmasters of the school include fathers Joel Pinto (credited with starting the National Institute of Open Schooling for those who are academically disempowered), Godwin Lobo, Felix Ferrao, Paul B Alvares, Santan R Fernandes, and Domingo P Ferrao, among others.

To add some light touch to this book, D’Silva offers brief episodes in a lighter vein, of what happened at the school. Surely, those who went through the school’s portals might recognise some of the mostly nameless individuals mentioned here.

Some short profiles at the end of the book give it a further human touch. You learn of the Mass wine that Guirim was once famous for. Being in a nearby village ourselves, the pigeons from this school would once fly far and take up a welcome residence in our homes. As students of a nearby school, we simply hated “Monte Guirim” for being so good at football, hockey, and indeed all sport. They would invariably beat our team.

By the way, this is not the first book on the subject, though it’s timely. Edward D’Lima has also written a book on “Monte Guirim”.

The author of the `250 priced book, the Saligao-based John D’Silva, was earlier a Capuchin Franciscan Friar. He now is a diocesan priest. Like some earlier writer-priests, the late Moreno de Souza SJ and late Nascimento J Mascarenhas, D’Silva too has written considerably. In fact, he has authored nine other titles. To write is to serve, specially when it lengthens our memory and understanding of the past.

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