Don’t know if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, but when a non-Goan Indian uses the word ‘Soçegado’ and pronounces it “Sussaygaaadoh”, I feel a need, a burning need, to rip my arm off and whack the fellow across the head with it. It’s worse when they use the word “Goanese” to refer to all things Goan.
A relative who has made it big in the furniture business in Mumbai could not wrap his mind around the fact that the only dealer of wood in Goa he wished to use was not interested in keeping his shop open during the siesta hours. “But I am giving you business worth lakhs,” spluttered the relative. “Gentleman,” said the wood shop man politely, "my shop will be closed from 1 to 4.” “But that is the only time I can come to your shop,” argued the relative. “Sorry,” said the wood shop man, “try and come after 4, but before 7 because that is when I close my shop for the day.” My relative was shocked that the wood shop man had no business sense whatsoever. “He wouldn’t last a day in Bombay with that attitude,” he said.
I reminded the relative of the fabulous times we all used to have during our summer and winter vacations at our ancestral house in the village. The early rising, the days packed with doing things that gave us such joy. Settling down under a stationary bullockcart in the heat of the afternoon sun, watching a couple of butterflies winging lazily by. The wonderful food that tasted so good because it was cooked in earthen pots on wood fires by cooks who loved us and who began slaving over the meals at dawn. The amazing quiet, broken only by the twittering of birds and the soughing of the wind in the trees.
How we were welcomed by the villagers and given small jobs to do, like collecting fat kokum berries, spreading sour mango pieces on coconut mats to dry before being carefully stored for use in those heavenly curries. How we also danced on the cashew fruits crushing them under our dusty feet along with the men who ran the distillery up in the hills. How they laughed that soft high-pitched Goan laugh when we drank the neero in leaf cups made of cashew leaves. How we stole a few smoked sausages from the store room skewered them on sticks and roasted them over a small fire we made of sticks and leaves. How we ate the half cooked, burnt things and still feel nothing in the best restaurants in the world ever tasted as good. How we “borrowed” the fisherman’s canoe and paddled down the river. How one deranged cousin tried to look under the boat, tipped it over and sent all of us into the water. How we tried to turn the canoe back right side up, but our knowledge of physics was non-existent as was our muscular strength. How the owner of the boat waded out, turned it over and then whacked whoever his long wiry arms could reach. How he later taught us how to fish and even prised a catfish that had impaled itself on a playmate’s hand, before pouring feni on the wound.
I reminded him of the village feast, the food served to the villagers on banana leaves in our grandfather’s massive balcao, the pigs that had human names, the slow, measured rhythms of life in the village. That was socegado, I told him. It meant contentment, not laziness. Goans were not lazy, they were content with a little, but that little was so rich in quality. It was a quality of life that allowed them to live a healthy, happy and really long life. People hardly ever died of unnatural causes in the village. They were very fit. My grandfather could hurdle over a two foot stone wall to chase a woman who was robbing fruit from his trees. He was in his early eighties at that time. No one had cars. There was one Mercedez Benz taxi in the village, that was hired to bring us from the ship to the house and take us back to the ship when the school term was beginning. We used to be in tears as we left and our grandfather and his retainers would also be in tears. We were the privileged ones. Privileged to have lived and laughed in what I can only call Paradise.
The relative spent the siesta hours with me talking about those days that we realized were so special and went back to the shop at 4.30. “Let’s give him half an hour to get organized,” he said with a smile.
Socegado, I would like to tell my non-Goan friends, is the common goal in the traditional Goan ethos. All actions were aimed towards doing enough to get by, so that there was enough time for the things that mattered, like song and dance, fishing and feasting, conversation on the balcao with family and friends, family prayers, the laughter of little children and a sip of feni as the shadows lengthened. The pity of it is that all our actions today are resulting in socegado dying out, slowly but surely, and taking the traditional Goan away with it. Then “Goanese” will be the correct term for us. And I’m the idiot who will live out the rest of her life with only one arm.