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My Friend Miku

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

MIKU. That’s what everyone in the village of Saligao called him. His neighbours would sometimes endearingly expand that to Miculo, but no one ever referred to him by his given name, Joao Baptista Coelho. In fact the nickname Miku was bestowed upon him by his grandmother Angelina, lovingly placing him in the care of St Michael the Archangel.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, this simple, cheerful man could be seen ambling around the hills and fields of the village Saligao in Goa, grazing cattle, singing happy songs and eking out a frugal existence from the land. His father left for Bombay when Miku was still a wee lad, followed soon by Miku’s two brothers, all three never to return. Miku stayed on in Tabravaddo with his sister Angela (Anju), his mother and his grandmother.

Those were very hard days for the family, and Miku and Anju were not afforded the luxury and privilege of attending a school. Instead they were initiated by their mother Romaldina into the art of Goan farming at an early age, and the family helped in cultivating the Palvem field in Mollembhatt.

Quite literally, like so many in Indian village tradition and true to their Goan heritage, Miku and his family lived off the land in Goa. He loved his herd of cows and bulls, the green and rocky hills of Aquem de Saligao, the fertile fields and babbling brooks, the dry wells in secluded areas of the village. As he grew older he took to grazing goats as a hobby, which soon also provided him a livelihood.

He would round up the goats from Mudd’davadi, Tabravaddo and Mollembhatt, and lead them up the Aquem Hill, dressed in khaki shorts and a black bush coat, always barefoot, his lingudd stick in one hand to ward off dangerous fauna, and a battered old umbrella in the other to ward off the weather. At noon he led them to the vau (stream) with its cool flowing water cascading down from the Aquem fountain in Saligao. The stream did an abrupt about-face near Caru Titiu’s house and then flowed past his own place on its way to the south-eastern end of Tabravaddo, separating his little abode from that of the Nightingale of Goa, Lorna Cordeiro.

Miku had names for all his goats–Somarlem, Buddulem, Shipru, Astulo, Kalu, Sukru, Rem, Rom and so on–and apparently could recognise and distinguish between each and every one of them. While they quenched their thirst from the brook, he would gulp down his simple lunch of a butti of rice and curry, sometimes embellished with a bit of bombil or para or lonnchem.

Miku shied away from using any form of transport, preferring instead to depend on his own two legs, even to take him as far away as Calangute or Mapuca when he needed to make some out-of-the-way purchase or the other. But on one occasion he seemed to have a sudden change of heart. “Rav re!” he shrieked in a piercing tenor, as the overcrowded local bus coasted past him on the main road running through the village. The surprised driver screeched to a halt. For a moment everyone waited. But nothing happened. Nobody got down, nobody got on. “Why have you stopped the bus?” yelled the conductor angrily. “So that the goats from outside can come and graze in our village of Saligao–we need more milk in the village,” replied Miku nonchalantly, quite oblivious to the commotion he had caused!

For almost 40 years Miku delivered milk to the people of Saligao and Sangolda, employed by Siri from Marodd of Mollembhatt. Whenever Bishop William Gomes from Sangolda returned home, the family insisted on getting milk delivered to them only by Miku. Gentle, kind, simple, happy-go-lucky Miku.

But delivering milk was not his only occupation. He would also go about hunting for frogs in the neighbourhood wells. This was an interesting and elaborate exercise, which, in my younger days, my friend Miku once allowed me to participate in. First came the selection of the “fishing rod”. From the bett (bamboo grove) nearby, he carefully selected a suitable xintem (tender bamboo stick), cut it and cleaned it. Then he attached some tans (string), drawn from the bil’lo madd (tree), to the flexible end of the bamboo. To the tans he tied bait (which he had ready, wrapped in cigarette paper). To the bait he then fixed some hair (collected from his sister’s last combing session).

Miku and I set out on our frog-hunting expedition, his empty poti (bag) in his back pocket-soon, hopefully, to be filled with frogs. We reached the well. “Ssshhh…” Miku cautioned me softly, index finger on his lips, fishing rod in hand, smouldering viddi in mouth, with the crafty look of a veteran frog-catcher about his face. He surveyed the well and quickly honed in on the plumpest frogs tucked away in the corners of the rocky holes and wedges. Miku readied his bag of tricks. He spat on the hair at the end of the bait and then dangled the rod tantalisingly over the frogs, urging them to go for the bait. Suddenly a couple of frogs jumped at the rod simultaneously. One gulped in the bait, hair and all. With a swift and skilful action Miku yanked up the bamboo stick and the hapless frog came flying through the air and at his feet. Losing not a second, Miku removed the bait from its mouth and stuffed the prize catch into his poti!

When the killing of frogs was banned by the authorities, Miku submitted himself meekly to the ruling. As an alternative occupation he took to cleaning and weeding the gardens of the villagers, supplying manure and fodder to the few who chose to rear animals and grow vegetables.

Come the last week of September and folks would sing “Sam Minguel bodvo paus ghall toddvo‘ while sowing the field of Bauteagelem with nachnnem (millets). Miku would join in lustily with the singing. He loved his nickname and he loved his family in Saligao and the Goan village culture too. He cried like a baby when his sister Anju died, followed soon after by the death of his grandmother, and, some time later, mother too. Then one rainy day in July, while carrying a basket of kuddu-chi bhaji down the hill, Miku took a huge tumble. He was found badly injured some time later by a good samaritan who rushed him to the hospital. But he succumbed to his injuries. My friend Miku died a bachelor, at the age of 69.

As I passed his empty house in Saligao a few days later, I could almost here his voice wafting along on the breeze, singing his favourite Goan folk song:

Khodpar ek cheddum boslam,

Tem mhozo mog korta

Turu…turu..turu…

5 comments on My friend Miku

  • Christine D'Mello Remedios

    What a beautiful article Fr. Nacimento! Miku was our neighbor too! He lived behind my grandmothers house. He was surely a kind soul and never harmed anyone. He certainly worked hard.

  • anthony de mello

    As a young boy, during extended holidays in Saligao, I recall with fond memories Miku, his sister, mother and grandmother. They live in close proximity to my family home. His singing at night time and his being a protege of St. Michael – which I had never realised before – made me think of the words of Josef Pieper: “Only the lover sings”.
    A fine tribute, Fr. Nascimento, to a poor and humble person, but nontheless a great soul.

  • Manuel Nunes

    Applause to Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas for remembering and writing on my old friend MIKULO. Really as a kid I would too be running around him poking fun whenever we were at church or grazing goats at a nearby field at Bonguinm. Also, I remember and Mikulo would really smile when the name of Mirian from Molem bhat was mentioned as he would gobble that she to be his fiancee and the latter chasing him with whatever she could find. Really that were the old good old days and cannot forget what the past was. A second thanks to Fr. Nascimento for all his lively writings which I read with a very keen eye.

  • Respectful Pe. Nascimento,

    It was so nice to read (as a matter of fact) any thing about Saligao.
    I have spent a great time during our childhood, as my
    mother comes from Grande Morod, and my father from Margao.
    You can be assured that I’ll never miss reading out the familiar words of Cotula, and of course, I do still remember
    Tipri, Patru, Mahdev the Barber, Sr. Roghovir Naik, Dr. Menino Machado, Exmo. Sr. Damaso Carvalho, and most of all my ever loving Grand Parents, Sr. Luis Jose and D. Angelica.
    Rev. Sr. Padre, do keep up this extemely missed-out-on topic, which will no doubt bring nostalgia to guys like me.
    Abracos
    Higino

  • FN

    This has always been one of my favourites. We must celebrate our simple folk… they make the village what it is. I’ll always remember his face, and long beard!

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