Unlocking a secret

WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG with a product in the UK, it is usually simpler and cheaper to discard it and buy a new one. In my experience of visiting India many times since 1994, I have discovered that there is often someone, who can mend what would normally be thrown away in the UK. Only recently, I spotted a poorly dressed man sitting by the side of MG Road (in Bangalore). He was painstakingly repairing what looked like totally decrepit umbrellas.

We use combination locks (‘number locks’ in Indian English) to secure our baggage whilst travelling. In December 2022 when we were in Panjim (Goa), we found one of ours, which would not open, even when using the correct combination. It looked as if it had become corroded.

Because we have great faith in the ingenuity of Indian craftsmen, we took it to a locksmith in Panjim. He was unwilling to work on our lock, and another lock seller advised us to throw it away. Undeterred, we carried the defective item to Bangalore.

In the Commercial Street district of Bangalore we approached a couple of locksmiths, who were unwilling to spend time on our lock. A third one accepted it, and said he would have a go. We told him the combination, and left him whilst he fiddled with the lock as if it were as enjoyable as a Rubik Cube. On the 2nd of January 2023, we set off on a long trip, returning to Bangalore on the 15th of February 2023.

A few days later, we visited the locksmith, who remembered us and fetched our lock from a glass-fronted cupboard. He had managed to open the lock, but could not remember which combination allowed him to unlock it. He said:
“You take it home and try a few numbers.”
He refused to accept any payment for his efforts.

Back at our accommodation, I tried what I remembered had been the lock’s combination, and discovered that the locksmith had rendered the once useless lock fully functional. As the tourist board slogan (Incredible!ndia) suggests, the country is truly incredible.

PS These locks are cheap to buy new in India. It was not to save money that we visited so many locksmiths, but it was for the enjoyment of the challenge to find someone to do the job that we spent the time going from one to another. Some people enjoy passing time playing games on their phones. We choose to have our timepass (Indian English) in other ways

Everything is available …

EVERY FEW MINUTES, a ferry traverses Goa’s Mandovi River between Panjim and the village of Betim. This free river crossing is for the use of pedestrians and those riding two-wheelers. The ferryboat is loaded via an elevatable ramp.

As soon as the ramp touches the concrete landing stage, a wave of pedestrians and motorbikes surge from the boat onto the shore. As they do so, the waiting pedestrians and vehicles swarm on to the ferry.

On arrival at Betim, we walked away from the landing place along a busy country road lined with shops, shacks, and much tropical vegetation. It was not long before we reached the small restaurant set back from the road, which had been recommended to us.

Although it was nearly noon, the eatery seemed rather lifeless. Eventually, we saw a man emerging from it. He showed us a menu. We asked him if all the dishes were available. He replied:
“Everything is available.”
After a pause, he added:
“Today kitchen is closed.”

Art for all ???

I HAVE ATTENDED many art festivals. These have included the biennales at Cochin and Venice, and the trienniale at Folkestone. At each of these, the visitor is made to feel that the event is planned to encourage his or her interest in artistic endeavours.

This December (2022) we happened to be in Panjim, Goa, during the Serendipity Arts Festival (‘SAF’).

At the SAF, each event is swarming with volunteers wearing orange jackets. Attendees are required to complete an online registration in addition to registering for many of the various events in the programme. The poorly trained, often ill-informed, volunteers are obsessed with checking visitors’ registration passes (on mobile phones). Yet, we discovered that many of the visitors to the exhibits and shows have neither bothered to register nor been stopped from entering the SAF venues.

Yesterday, having made an online booking for seats on what promised to be a pleasant musical cruise on the Mandovi River, we turned up at the embarkation point well in advance of the departure Time, only to discover that the bookings were irrelevant and it was ‘first come, first served’. Furthermore, despite the boat being full to capacity, so-called VIPs and the ubiquitous volunteers were permitted to come on board. By force of personality, we managed to board the crowded vessel. I am not sure that after the struggle to get on board that I derived much, if any, enjoyment from the cruise.

It appears to me that unlike what we have experienced at Cochin, Folkestone, and Venice, the arts festival at Panjim seems to be mainly for the benefit of the organisers and the numerous volunteers, rather than for the members of the public who have travelled all the way to Goa to experience it.

However, I wish to conclude this on a positive note. We were fortunate to have been shown around one of the exhibitions by its curator, who seemed very pleased that we had come to see her show.

My uncle and his joke

MY MOTHER’S BROTHER, my Uncle Felix, told a joke that goes like this. A man is told that eating ‘poy’ was the secret to having a good life. So, he travelled the world in search of poy. He visited each continent and many countries, but to no avail.

Eventually, he reached a remote monastery in the highest Himalayas, and asked one of the monks for poy. The monk invited him into the kitchen, and said to him: ”Today, we have Shepherds poy, cottagepoy, fish poy, steak and kidney poy, apple poy … just choose which you want.”
Thus, the joke ended.

Goan poyie

During our visit to Goa, we have really discovered poy. Actually it is spelled ‘poyie’. It is not a pie as is suggested by my uncle’s joke, but a circular bread with a hollow interior. So, unlike the man in the joke, we have truly found ‘poy’. My uncle died many years ago. I would have liked to have been able to tell him about our discovery.

A Fiat car in Goa

MY MOTHER WOULD ONLY drive Fiat cars. Because they were made in Italy, a country with many hills and mountains, she believed that they must have been built with powerful engines. So, we owned first a Fiat 600, then an 1100, and lastly a 1200. These memories were stimulated by seeing a Fiat 600 on the heart of Panjim in Goa.

Fiat began licencing car making factories outside Italy long ago. In 1964, the Premier Company began manufacturing an Indian version of the Fiat 1100, which was marketed as the ‘Fiat 1100 Delight’, which was renamed the ‘Premier Padmini’ from 1974. These cars looked almost identical to our old family Fiat 1100. Padmini means ‘she who sits on the lotus’.

The Padmini remained a popular purchase until the mid-1980s when the more modern Suzuki Maruthi came on to the market. Decline in Padmini sales was accelerated by liberalisation of the Indian economy in the 1990s, which allowed other foreign car manufacturers to enter the Indian Market. By the late 1990s, the Padmini was manufactured no more.

The owner of the Fiat 600, which we spotted in central Panjim, told us that his vehicle had been imported from abroad by a relative some years ago. Although it looked in immaculate condition, we noticed that after it had been driven a few yards, it had stopped and its owner was tinkering about in the car’s rear engine compartment.

Original Fiat 600s are rarely seen in the UK. After more than 50 trips to India, this 600 in Goa is the first I have seen in the subcontinent.

Roosters on the roof

ALL BUT THE MOST unobservant visitors to Goa will notice that some houses are decorated with models of roosters or saluting soldiers. These models often adorn roofs, but can also be found attached to other external parts of a house.

The roosters/cockerels were commonly added to houses, which were built in the Portuguese era (before 1960), and indicated that either their inhabitants were Catholic and/or pro-Portuguese.

The saluting soldiers (‘soldados’ in Portuguese) might indicate that someone in the house had been in the military. Alternatively, some people, who had been in favour of Goa becoming independent of Portugal, added these after India had ‘liberated’ Goa from Portugal.

In addition to poultry and soldiers,so.e houses are decorated with lions. I have seen it suggested that these are in remembrance of the Kadambas, who ruled Goa during the 3rd to 5th centuries AD.

Despite many modern buildings sprouting up in Goa, there are still plenty of picturesque old edifices to enjoy. And some of these display the decorative features described above

A tree and two shrines

WHILE TRAVELLING AROUND India, I have seen many trees that serve some kind of Hindu religious purpose. Often they are peepul trees, whose leaves are heart-shaped. Frequently, there is some kind of shrine next to the trunk, and often there are fine threads wrapped around the circumference of the trunk.

Near the middle of the market place in 8the Goan town of Mapusa, there is an old tree next to which there are two shrines. The tree’s leaves did not look like those of a peepul tree. What interested me was that at first sight both of the shrines, which resemble small huts, looked similar.

On closer examination, it could be seen that one of the shrines was, as I expected, Hindu, and the other was, to my surprise, Christian.

Whether this close proximity of the two shrines was pure coincidence or related to the fact that the tree provides good shade, I cannot say. Another possible explanation of the closeness might possibly be a symptom of inter-religious tolerance in this small Goan town. Who can say? Whatever the explanation for the closeness of the two shrines, it was heartening to see.

Baby Jesus with bangles

DURING SEVERAL TRIPS within the ex-Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India, we have visited churches and other Christian religious establishments built under Portuguese rule. The Portuguese arrived in India several centuries ago, and finally left their colonies in 1961 when they became incorporated (or annexed) into India. One of the aims of the Portuguese was conversion of their Indian subjects to Christianity. Many of the conquered people became Christian, and many churches and seminaries sprung up in the occupied territories. We have visited quite a few of these.

In most of the churches we have seen in Goa as well as in the recently opened Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa, we have noticed that depictions of angels saints, and Christ himself have facial (and other) features that are typical of Indian physiognomy. This is not too surprising as many artefacts in the churches of Goa were created by Indian artists.

When we visited the Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa, we saw two depictions of Baby Jesus lying on what looked just like typical Indian ‘charpoys’ (traditional Indian beds). The Holy Child in each case is a tiny doll. What fascinated me is that the dolls were wearing the sort of tiny bangles that are often worn by small Indian babies. One of the tiny models of Jesus was also wearing earrings.

Moving away from Christian sculptures and paintings, which have incorporated Indian characteristics, day to day Christian worship in India often incorporates features with origins in Hindu ritual practice. One example is the use of flower garlands (‘malas’), which is just as common in Christian settings as it is in Hindu settings.

Christianity was introduced to India not only by the Portuguese, but by others including St Thomas (apocryphally), and various European invaders. However, despite its foreign origins, India was not only affected by the Christian religion but has also made its mark on it.