The Ganesh festival has always been a happy festival for my family and me. For every Ganesh holiday, I would relocate to Neura, where my father used to run a century-old family bakery business. It was a forked junction where our bakery was located and my ancestors chose a prominent location (Nako), as the Konkani saying "Boro Nako zalear Boro Dhondo".
Next to it laid Cafe Bappa's Ramesh hotel, which had a common wall with Pequeno Corriea Bar. A common wall was one of the good signs of excellent community bonds that existed.
Opposite the road was a Barbershop owned by Rajan; further laid Shabu' soda manufacturing outlet cum general store, the two big business houses -- Alvares Sawmill and timber agent and Kamat General Merchant and stockist, and numerous fishermen at Mansher (sluice gate) but my special love was for the grocery shop (Gado) across the road, which was run by a couple -- Dharma and Goku. The couple's house was my favourite place to visit. I used to spend time at their house around the Tulsi Vrindavan, perhaps unintentionally aping Dharma Dada with the Surya Namaskar early morning. Whenever I was reprimanded for mischief by my parents, I used to take solace in their house. Goku Aiyee pampered me a lot and would fondly call me "BABU".
Today, I recollect the making of traditional 'Matoli' with bamboo sticks few days before the festival. The material - wild fruits and vegetables were sourced from nearby green hills. Although it was a tremendous task, we enjoyed sourcing betel nuts, coconuts, bhende, ghosalim, guavas, mauling, chiptam, bananas and various other herbs and vegetables. On the first day, a clay idol of Lord Ganesh was placed below the 'Matoli' and rangolis were drawn.
On the second day, Dharma Dada used to source fresh paddy shelves (Konoss) from verdant Khazan fields of Neura and to offer them to Lord Ganesha as a token of appreciation for good crops and he called it "NAVEM".
Ganesh festival has always been a happy festival for me. The sound of ghumots would reverberate from the temple with the bhajan, aarti and kirtans heralding the Ganesh festival at Neura. The immersions were carried with total devotion with the burning of fireworks like sursure, girgire, paus, bhann. These fireworks would raise the spirits. Those privileged would have toy guns to burst the "fogate" or gudi, but the underprivileged would fire by placing the "fogate" in between the two nuts and screwed to a bolt and unknowingly dropping from a height. Empathetically, I can vouch that the decibel level of noise was much louder in the screw bolt type, so underprivileged children had better fun, and I belonged to the nut category.
It was enthralling to see the beautiful "Fugdi" dance wherein the women would sing and dance while enacting varied formations -- in a circle or rows. The melodious sound would reverberate in the silent valley of Neura. It was a break time for women who usually take a breather from their daily routines.
The aroma of sweets like besan laddoos, xira, sweet pedas in addition to channa ross and mugha ghat bhaji, neureos would engulf the village ambience, and the Catholic brethren would eagerly wait for the exchange of dishes by their Hindu neighbours. The most relished dish by the Catholics was Chana Ross. The Catholics exchanged sweets at Christmas. This showed the perfect community harmony.
Today whenever I pass by Neura, I stop at Dharma Dada's house recollecting the good old sweet memories as to how Dharma Dada celebrated the Litany in May at the cross opposite their house. All the sweet dishes, and not forgetting the rasam and the bitter medicine too. Their old house still exists, the couple is no more, but my memories are fresh. I gathered that their sons have moved elsewhere for better prospects and so have the other Hindu families who have moved to the cities. The Catholics rode on a Portuguese passport to Europe. The once majestic lush green hills of Neura are landscaped for constructions, once verdant Khazan fields are now fallow, once the business hub of Neura is slowly taken by the businessman that came across the borders and those locals who still run are on shaky ground. The vacuum is filled by neo citizens who migrated beyond the border, and I wonder if the celebrations of Ganesh will remain as before with zeal and enthusiasm.
And the last thing that came to my senses is that our century-old family bakery stands still without any activity, abandoned, perhaps for prosperity, and time will take its toll thereby cutting my ties with the village of Neura forever. A family traditional occupation lost forever.