Travelers spent most of their days on the beaches in Goa, but I wanted to find out what else the small Indian state had on offer. I hired a bicycle, headed inland and found a new world. The bike was a decrepit old bone shaker with no brakes and an unbelievably small saddle. Mr De Sousa hired it to me assuring me that it was in what he described as tip top condition, just the right size for me. It wasn’t, however I persevered and things were fine since there were no steep hills to ride down.
Mr De Sousa also tried to point me in the direction of countless Portuguese Churches, but that’s not exactly what I was looking for so I smiled and nodded for a while then left with his itinerary happily forgotten. What I did find was much more interesting to me, though admittedly not necessarily to others, and maybe not to you, whoever you are reading this.
Out along the road from Mapuça I saw chimneys rising up from a very large clump of bushes. I cycled closer and got off the bike, as much to give my backside the chance to recover as to investigate. What I could see from the road was the ruin of what must have been a large Portuguese residence. The Portuguese only left that small part of India in the 1960s, and it was a mystery to me why no-one had commandeered such a grand house for themselves. What a great pity that such grandeur should go to waste. I didn’t venture into the ruin or even walk too close to it because the surrounding bush had colonised it, with trees growing through the roof and windows, and I was sure it would be infested with snakes. However from a short distance it was clear to see that at one time this had indeed been quite a place. I let my imagination fill in the gaps and pictured similar occupied Portuguese houses that I had visited in Mozambique. I imagined the lawns and flower beds laid out with an approximate rather than an exact geometry. There would have been dinners on the wide veranda with children chasing each other and climbing trees, businessmen with thick cigars bringing the local Priest up to date with what had been happening back in Lisbon, and a grandmother dressed in black standing in the doorway supervising the servants. The Portuguese colonisers never seemed to suffer from the pretensions of a “civilising mission” as did the French and English. There were there for the good life and to make money. They were up front about it.
Further inland the road started to follow an embankment that ran between fields that were as green as Ireland in the month of May. I was surprised at seeing such lush vegetation given the heat of the sun and the dry air, but the fields were divided from each other not by hedgerows but by deep irrigation channels filled with running water. The water was further distributed by smaller, shallower channels that crisscrossed the area taking precious water to every part of every field.
A fair bit of ingenuity had gone into the creation of this verdant paradise, but the burning question in my mind was where the water was coming from. The nearest hills, the Western Ghats, were far away so I thought it unlikely that rivers from there were feeding the channels. Further along the road I got my question answered. The water was coming from a well, drawn out by a shaduf. Yes a shaduf, okay? One of those contraptions I had spent hours drawing in geography class in 4B thinking to myself “Who cares”? Now I cared. Thank you Mr Barr. This was geography come to life.
A shaduf is basically a big bucket on the end of a long pole balanced on a frame of other poles. The bucket is lowered into a well and the weight at the other end of the pole levers if up full of water. Then the bucket is swung over to the irrigation channel and emptied. The process is repeated and the channel carries the water into the fields and the crops grow. Now I can tell my old school friends if I ever meet them (which is unlikely) that shadufs really do exist. They won’t have a clue what I’m talking about – it wasn’t that kind of school.