Pune, October 5, 2020: It has been more than a year and a half since I visited Goa. I am missing what I loved the most during my Goa visit – swimming in the sea. I was a 16-year-old lad when for the first time, I stood at Miramar beach, watching in awe the waters spread before me reaching right up to the horizon. “Oh, what a huge river !” I had exclaimed, only to be shot back with an answer .. “River..? This is not a river, This is a sea, the Arabian Sea!”
The answer had left my mouth wide open…I had studied geography in the school but had never imagined that I would be at the seashore during our vocational tour to Goa. This was in May 1977. I had appeared for the 11th standard examination at Tilak High School in Karad in Satara district and had joined this vocational tour organised by the Goa-Pune-Belgaum Jesuit Province for the young prospective candidates for the priesthood.
Watching the Arabian Sea for the first time, I held my breath. It was a sight I had never imagined. Yes, there were waves crashing at the shore, making roaring noises at regular intervals of a few minutes. Yes, that explained it. There were many ships (iron ore carrying barges actually) in the long-distance, moving speedily in the deep sea waters. The fresh air was really soothing in that hot season. Standing there with my mouth wide open, little did I realise that the very site and the area where I was standing would be my home soon for the next several years!
And so, within a month, just before the monsoon, I was back in Miramar, staying at Loyola Hall, the pre-novitiate the Jesuits had opened that year for higher secondary and college students who may wish to be priests after their graduation. The one-storeyed tiled-roof building with traditional Goan style architecture and balconies was located along the Dayanand Bandodkar Road and only a few meters away from the beach. The nightmares began within a few days. The monsoon had set in and the loud roaring of the rough sea, especially at night, kept me awake for a few days. Soon, I got used to the roaring and it became a part of me. Dhempe College of Arts and Science where I had taken admission for standard XII is located right-facing the Miramar beach.
The sea turned friendly around October. And thus began our football playing sessions. The higher secondary section in our college had morning session classes. Therefore, every afternoon, after the mandatory an-hour-long siesta and the 4 pm tea, all of us Loyolites pre-novices would move towards Miramar beach to play football. There was fun playing football in the white clean sand. None of us wore shoes as there were no risks of injuries after falling into the smooth sand.
Goa is one of the few states in India where football is a popular sport. In this tiny state, gold-coloured paddy fields turn football grounds after the harvest in September-October. In every village, you will find young boys every day honing their football skills under the guidance of a tough youthful coach. This was for the first time that I was playing football but soon learnt the rules of this game and was often chosen by my team for the goalkeeper’s role. It was during these years that I watched a huge gathering of football fans welcoming Goa Football team captain Brahmanand Shankwalkar and his team members in Panjim after they had won the prestigious national-level Santosh Trophy.
While playing football, sometimes someone would have a long shot and the football would land in the sea waters. One of us would run towards the sea and take a dip in the waters before returning with the football. By this time, I had lost the fear of the sea. Now I knew where it was safe to enter the sea waters, how far to go inside the sea and learnt to judge whether it was low tide or high tide and to check whether the tide was receding or coming in.
And how can I forget the day when the road leading towards Dhempe College near Miramar traffic island was literally painted with my name with chalks during the prestigious college students council elections. There was a tie in the Class Representative election with me and my rival- who was aiming to be the General Secretary – securing equal votes. There was a frantic re-campaigning with huge posters with my name on the first floor for the repoll held in which I lost by a couple of votes. But there was so much excitement in Dhempe College that week and I became famous among all college students and teaching staff for the next three graduation years in that college.
Two years later, Loyola Hall moved to its own present spacious building near Dhempe College and thus our residence moved much closer to the beach. (At the site of the old Loyola Hall premises today stands the office of The Times of India, Goa edition.) It was great fun living so close to Miramar, known for its clean, white sand. After the supper, around 8.30 pm, we boys would come for a night stroll at the beach, some would sit at the benches. A few people would light candles near the holy cross altar at the traffic island and recite prayers and the rosary there.
One of our Loyolites, Benedict Faria, was a guitarist, and sometimes during those post-supper walks, he would come to the beach along with his guitar. Sitting on the benches facing the sea, Benny would strum the guitar, singing those popular sings, ‘Can you hear the drums, Fernando?’ or ‘Country roads, take me home’, ‘The Bachelor boy’ and some of us would join the chorus. Writing these lines, I have really turned nostalgic as I realise that I remember words of these songs now even 40 years later!
Fr. Teotonio R de Souza, founder of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, who then had the institute premises at Loyola Hall building, sometimes would join us for the night walk and there would be very interesting philosophical thoughts sharing. Fr. Teo who would end his sharing with an anecdote and a loud laugh left a deep impact on us, especially on the majority of us who did not continue religious life. Looking at the space which we occupied at the Miramar traffic island, I am often reminded of Fr. Teo.
The family of Remo Fernandes had their bungalow near Miramar traffic island bus stand. Sitting at the bus stand, sometimes we could listen to Remo and others singing at his house.
On Sundays and other holidays, we boys would go for a swim at Miramar beach. It was great fun to swim when the high tide was nearing its peak and most risky when the tide was receding. The people in the sea are pushed towards the shore when there is high tide and there is a forceful pull towards the deep sea when there is low tide. But one also needs to take precautions even during the high tide. During those days, there were no lifeguards or security personnel at Miramar or at any other beaches in Goa. But we learnt to take the necessary precautions.
Entering the sea during the monsoon season was strictly NO, NEVER. I also knew never to venture into the shallow, ankle-deep waters during the low tide, even when one sees raised sand ground in the middle of the Mandovi river towards Panjim. There was no way to know when the water around one would suddenly rise to an alarming height as the high tide set in. The four years at the Jesuit pre-novitiate at Miramar were adequate enough for me to fall in love with the sea.
During the summer season, buses with senior citizens – male and female- would arrive in the morning at Miramar beach. The elder persons would sit in the shallow sea waters, allowing the water on their feet and thighs. After basking in the sun and sprinkling the seawater on their legs and hands for nearly two hours, they would return to their buses and homes. The salty seawater is believed to be good especially for those suffering from arthritis and other bone ailments.
After graduation, I chose not to be a priest and instead turned a journalist. Staying at Taleigao, I travelled from my home to The Navhind Times in Panjim Market by bus, thus daily crossing Miramar beach. My association with Miramar beach thus remained strong for the 13 years I spent in Goa and has also continued to this date.
A visit to Miramar beach and a long stroll in the shallow waters especially at sunset is a MUST for me whenever I am holidaying in Goa or visiting my sister who is based in Goa.
(Camil Parkhe is a senior journalist based in Pune. He started his journalism career in Goa and worked various newspapers in different capacities.)