Iraq Was a Magnet for Indian Workers Well Before Dubai
|June 20, 2014||Filled under Iraqi Feature Story|
Iraqi Feature Story -
The Gulf Rupees were used in the region for a number of years, before becoming redundant. While Iraq replaced the Indian Rupee with the Iraqi Dinar in October 1932, the circulation of the Indian Rupee continued in Iran until 1959.
Oil was first discovered in Abadan, Persian Gulf, in 1908. It was next discovered in Iraq in 1918, followed by Bahrain in 1932, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1938, Qatar in 1940, Abu Dhabi in 1958 (offshore) and 1960 (on shore), Oman in 1964 and Dubai in 1966.
By the late Thirties, Goans who were suppressed by the Portuguese regime, managed to leave Goa and find employment in Middle Eastern countries. Thus began the metamorphosis.
Initially, the two Middle Eastern countries where Goans found gainful employment were Iran and Iraq. By the middle of the last century, there were quite a number of Goans in these two countries. Simultaneously, Goans took up employment in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, followed by Abu Dhabi, Oman and Dubai.
Although many Goans were employed in these countries from the late Thirties to the Sixties, only one of these countries went on to become a significant name for Goans at the time. Iraq, with Basra as its focus.
Basra was the first name Goans had come across when they landed in the Middle East. As we know, anything that comes first is difficult to forget. It was also an easy name to remember. Basra is not just an ancient city for Goans; it means much more than that because of our initial attachment.
Getting new names
Today, too, a Goan working in a Middle East country is known to folks back home after a given colloquial name for that country. For instance, someone in Bahrain becomes a Barinkar or Barinvalo. Likewise for those in Kuwait (Kuvetkar or Kuvetvalo); Saudi Arabia (Saudikar or Saudivalo); Qatar (Qatarkar or Qatarvalo); Abu Dhabi (Abu Dabikar or Abu Dabivalo); Oman (Mascatkar or Mascatvalo, after its capital); Dubai (Dubaikar or Dubaivalo).
However, until the Sixties, regardless of the country in the Gulf where a Goan worked, he was known by one colloquial name. That was, Basurkar. By way of background information, this was an appellation which came because the city is located along the Shatt al-Arab (Arvandrood) waterway near the Persian Gulf. Basra is some 55 km from the Persian Gulf and 545 km from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital and largest city. Al Basrah is currently the second largest city of Iraq with a population (in 2003) of 2.6 million. The country’s main port, Basra played an important role in early Islamic history.
Even in the past, currencies linked our subcontinent with Basra.
Upon a Basurkar arrival in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East countries, he earned his salary in Indian Rupees. The Indian Rupee then served as the traditional medium of exchange in the Gulf States, the Trucial States, and in parts of Muscat, for long. (Before 1971, the seven emirates in the region were known as the Trucial States — Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain.) The Indian Rupee thus became the standard against which other currencies were measured.
Because of problems in smuggling gold from the Arabian Gulf to India, in May 1959, India introduced the ‘External Rupee’. It was meant for circulation in those areas outside India that used the Indian Rupee. Only the States of the Arabian Gulf used the Indian Rupee at this time, so the notes designated as External Rupees soon became known as ‘Gulf Rupees’.
The Gulf Rupees were used in the region for a number of years, before becoming redundant. While Iraq replaced the Indian Rupee with the Iraqi Dinar in October 1932, the circulation of the Indian Rupee continued in Iran until 1959. Indian notes did not circulate in Saudi Arabia but they were exchanged in the Kingdom for local currency, and holders of Indian notes in Saudi Arabia sent the currency back to India for conversion into foreign exchange.
The first Gulf nation to introduce its own currency was Kuwait, By the end of 1966, the Gulf Rupee had ceased to be legal currency in all states of the Arabian Gulf, with Muscat and Oman being the only country maintaining it as an official currency. Muscat and Oman introduced a national currency on May 7, 1970.
Talking about currencies, the first Indo-Portuguese currency issues of paper currency were the ‘Rupia’ denominated notes put into circulation around 1883. These were issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 rupias.
In 1906, the Portuguese-run overseas bank Banco Nacional Ultramarino was entrusted with the responsibility of issuing paper money in India for the Portuguese-held territories. New denominations of four tangas, eight tangas and one rupia and two-and-half rupias were introduced in 1917. The monetary system in vogue in Goa consisted of the Reis, the Tanga and the Rupia with one Rupia consisting of 16 Tangas. In 1959, the denominational unit was changed from Rupia to Escudos, with one Escudo consisting of 100 Centavos. New notes with the denominations of 30, 60, 100, 300, 600 and 1000 were introduced. These remained in circulation until the end of Portuguese rule in Goa in 1961, when they were replaced by Indian currency.
Long way home
By the way, in those times, communication between a Basurkar and his family was very difficult.
Once he left for the Gulf, a letter announcing his safe arrival took over a month to arrive. I would sit on a rock on the hill behind my house from where I could clearly see Marmagoa Harbour on my left, the Chapora Fort on my right and several sailboats in the horizon, and imagine my father’s letter in one of those sailboats.
When my mother would worry at not having received a letter from my father, who was an employee of the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), I would console her by saying: “Bhienaka maim, paichi chitt jerul hea satollean ieteli karann hanvem aiz dorieant zaiteo patmari pollelea; tantuntle eke tori patmarin paichi chitt asteli.” (Don’t worry mum; we will definitely receive father’s letter this week, because today I saw many sailboats in the sea. One of these must surely be carrying dad’s letter).
Much to our surprise, we would sometimes actually receive a letter during that predicted week!
In those days, there was no postal system in the Gulf States. Mail was collected from sailboats or ships and stored. Initially, mail distribution took place fortnightly; but later, in the mid-Fifties, it was distributed weekly.
One expat carried a gunny bag with the letters, while a local carried a wooden stool. Both arrived at a designated place, where several expatriates eagerly waited to receive letters from their near and dear ones.
The expatriate stood on the stool and read out the addressee’s name loudly. If a letter was not claimed, he put it aside and read out the name again, once he was through with the first lot. He finally read out the name for the third time. If nobody claimed the letter, it went back with them and they would bring it back on their next visit to the place. They did not mind handing in a letter to a friend, if he claimed to know the addressee.
The Basurkar of yesteryear lived a very difficult life in the Gulf, difficult times. It then was basically a desert, without any trees or greenery. There were no residential buildings. So, the Basurkar lived in tents in the scorching heat, and sometimes even suffered from heat-boils. There were then no de-salination plants; he drank raw unprocessed water. In short, it was a tough life, away from his family too.
The Basurkar sent his hard-earned money to his family every three or four months, through a demand draft which took a long time to reach home, because it came by the sea route via the Pakistani port city of Karachi. There was only one bank in Mapusa – the Portuguese-run bank, BNU Banco Nacional Ultramarino. But some shops in the town also exchanged Indian Rupee demand drafts for Rupia, and gave a better rate of exchange than the bank; the most famous among them was Loja Corpo.
The Basurkar left his place of work in the Persian Gulf or Middle East for vacation by ship, and arrived home via the Marmagoa Port. As public transport was minimal, it took almost one full day for an Anjunkar to travel from Marmagoa to his home.
Only one caminhao (an olden-type of bus visible in Goa till the Sixties) plied between Siolim and Betim; making two trips a day. He arrived home like a military soldier, carrying a khaki-colored, ready-made backpack bedding mounted on his back, a metal trunk in his right hand and a bundle of things in his left hand. He had to carry his bedding with him for use on the ship.
By the time he reached home, he was a very tired person. But the moment he was with his family, he felt rejuvenated and forgot all hardships. If he had small children, they would catch hold of mother’s kappod and gaze at their father, not knowing who exactly he was. He would then approach his children and try to hug them; but they would often run away from him. They thought he was a stranger — an uncle, perhaps, at best. But their mother would call them, and say: “Baba/bae, ho tumcho pai.” (Child, this is your father.)
Immediately upon reaching home, he would say a short prayer and thank God for making his a safe trip. His arrival home meant excitement for all, especially for his wife. She would immediately fill the bhandd (a large earthen or copper pot) with water and start a fire. Once the water was heated, she would call him and say: “Udok taplem, navonk ieo.” (Water is ready, take a bath.) A wife in those days never called her husband by his name.
In the meantime, she would hastily prepare dinner. Small children would follow their father everywhere, as if to keep a tab on him. Within a day or two, children would ask their mother: “Maim, to uncle anik kitle dis amgher ravtolo?” (Mother, how many more days will that uncle stay at our place?) To which, their mother would reply: ‘Baba/bae, toxem mhunnonant; to tumcho pai; to hangach amchea sangata ravtolo.’ (Child, don’t say that; he is your father; he will be staying here with us.) It usually took around a week for children to get acquainted with their father, but he could win their friendship faster if he gave them sweets and other goodies.
The Basurkar look
So how did one recognize a Basurkar, then?
A Basurkar wore a pair of gabardine trousers, a Terylene shirt, a West End or Roamer brand wrist watch on his left hand, a gold bracelet on his right hand and a gold chain in his neck with a cross pendant. He also had a gold finger ring on his right hand, in addition to the wedding ring on his left hand, Ray-Ban sunglasses, leather shoes, and a hat.
He brought home with him Capstan and 555 brand cigarettes in tins of fifties. The empty tin was used as a measure for rice; it was equivalent of an annatti (a wooden measure of old). He also brought with him Black Lion tobacco (locally, everyone called it Black Line) tobacco and Ritz mottal (rolling paper) packets. He smoked cigarettes at home and outside, as a symbol of his status.
He offered cigarettes to anyone who visited his house, including labourers. A visitor or labourer would pick up a cigarette from the tin, hold it in his hand, take it close to his nose, sniff it hard and say: “Ah-a-a, cigrettichea paleacho ekdom boro pormoll ieta!” (Ah-a-a, this tobacco smells very good!) The host would then pass a butane Ronson lighter with which he would light his cigarette and, apparently, give the impression of enjoying every single puff.
Sometimes, he would sit for a longer time and smoke two or three cigarettes in a row, and our Basurkar bhav did not mind it at all. If his wife smoked a pamparopamparo, the traditional cigar, she would switch to rolled cigarettes; she also smoked regular cigarettes. Some dedicated wives helped their husbands by rolling cigarettes during their leisure time, and keeping them ready for their use in a cigarette tin.
When the stock of cigarettes and tobacco was exhausted, our Basurkar would go down town and buy cigarettes from the local market. Remember, this was during the Portuguese regime when foreign items were easily available in Goa.
Whenever a Basurkar called workers to work to his place, they would immediately oblige him; because they knew that at the end of the day’s work he would offer them a drink or two and sometimes even three. He would also give them resanv (tips). Even if a Basurkar did not drink, he would still have an ample stock of liquor in his house. The norm for a Basurkar in those days was to buy a kollso (pot) each of caju fenni and palm fenni. This ensured that he did not run short of liquor or did not have to run to a taverna to fetch a bottle whenever guests arrived. They say: Goenkaranchea ghoran anik kiteim unnem assot punn nhoi soro! (A Goan house may run short of anything but not liquor!)
The scandal of bed-tea
His wife served him bed-tea while he still lazed in bed. When relatives or guests who stayed overnight noticed this behaviour, they couldn’t believe their eyes, and would say to themselves in disgust: “Xi, koslo burso saiba, tondd duvinastannam chav pieta!” (What a dirty guy, he drinks tea before even brushing his teeth!)
He shaved with foreign 7 O’ Clock blades. It was one of the common giveaway gifts at the time.
Since there was no electricity, he had to choose a place where he could see his face adequately in the mirror. He either chose the kitchen window or the balcão verandah. He placed a small mirror on the edge of a window, stood there and shaved. Or, he would place a mirror on a sopo (couch made of stones and plastered with cement), kneel on the floor and shave.
There was no shaving cream or spray in those times, but he used an Old Spice soap stick. He would collect water in a malttulo (small earthen container), dip the shaving brush in it and apply the brush continuously on the stick until it lathered sufficiently. As soon as he finished shaving, he splashed some after-shave lotion, also Old Spice, on his face, the fragrance of which instantly filled the home.
Instead of sleeping on the floor on a dali (a bamboo mat), he and his wife slept on a wooden bed, probably bought from the Milagres fest church fair at Mapusa, or Tin Raianchem fest at Ponjje, or Sant Khursachem fest at Calafura (Santa Cruz), or Spirit Santachem fest at Margao. He placed a thick kulchanv (cotton mattress) on the bed, which was a big luxury at the time.
When he went to bed, he wore a night-suit and walked the cow dung covered floorcow dung covered floor of the house with leather sandals. By the Sixties, he replaced the cow dung floor with red cement, made to look like tiles by pressing a tile form on it.
If our Basurkar happened to be home during the monsoon season, he would step out of the house with a good quality raincoat, a plastic hat on his head, and gum-boots; sometimes, carrying an umbrella.
Speaking of hats, if he was home in September or October, he would buy a hand-made hat made of grass, hand-made, made by the cow-herds.
Since transportation was rare in Goa until the Fifties, a Basurkar bought a biciclet (bicycle, derived from the Portuguese word bicicleta) for himself, often on his very first vacation home. He proudly pedalled his way to the fish market or to the town and brought home groceries or fruits, filled in cloth bags hung on the handlebar.
If married, his wife accompanied him to market on his bicycle (biciclet). She sat on the cross bar, placed her hands on the handle bar, chatting with her husband throughout their journey, looking behind every now and then to glance at his face. He, in turn, smiled at her at every look. If he had a child, he would make him or her sit with legs crossed on the bracket fixed above the hind wheel. While the couple passed by on their biciclet, people would halt and look at them with awe and murmur: “Saiba, kednam amkam biciclet favo zateli ani kednam ami tacher bosteleanv?” (God, when will we get a bicycle, and be able to sit on it?)
A plot of land
One of the first things a Basurkar did when he came down on his first vacation was to buy a plot, dig a well and gradually build a house on it. Until then Goans were used to seeing only the bhatkar (landlord) supervise their tenants doing work for them with a cigarette or cigar in their mouths. But here was a tenant himself standing on a site, with his left hand on his hip, and a Capstan or 555 cigarette in his mouth, and issuing instructions to workers.
Like a bhattkar, he also held an umbrella in his hand to avoid the excessive sunshine, or wore a cap or hat. Owning a house was a huge status-symbol for him, especially because he could then send his children to school without a bhattkar restricting him from doing it. Then, the law allowed only children of home-owners to get school admissions. He was altogether a satisfied man with a happy family.
Once the Basurkar settled in his new house, he became a popular person. He earned a lot of respect locally. No sooner he arrived, all of his relatives, including ones who never even knew him well, would pay him a visit. But the Basurkar did not mind it; he just entertained them all.
His poor wife had to do a triple-duty of sorts! While he was away, his family usually ate rice, curry, fish and vegetables. At other times, beef was for Sundays, and chicken for guests. Pork and mutton were prepared mainly on feasts. But, as soon as the Basurkar arrived home, every day would become a feast day. He would bring beef, pork, mutton and chicken regularly. He also slaughtered a pigling on every Sunday.
Children were the happiest; they got a lot to eat, this bringing them closer to their father. In fact, a mother would say to her children: “Pai ghora astannam, pott bhor khait ani jeiat, ani tumkam kiteim zai zalear atanch tache lagim magat; uprant mhaka bejear korinakat.” (Eat to your heart’s content while your dad is home. If you need anything, ask him now; don’t pester me later.)
A Basurkar brought a few cosmetics for his wife like Ponds cream bottles (he sometimes concealed gold coins in it), Cuticura or Yardley powder tins, Patra perfume bottles, and lipstick. A Basurkar’s wife could be singled out from the lot because of her status. She would either put on a colourful xedacho vistid (silk dress) or gagro ani bluz (skirt and blouse) and tie a matching ribbon bow on her head, or wear a sari and blouse made of taffeta material and tuck fresh flowers on her xenddo (hair-bun).
She would apply Ponds cream and powder to her face which sometimes exceeded the limit, making her look like a clown, and people questioned her: “Mari, aiz Carnaval kitem gho?” (Mary, is it Carnival today?)
She then handed over her Calico-brand handkerchief to the person and asked her to wipe the extra powder on her face. Since the Basurkarnn was just coming up in her life, everything was new to her, including fashion. The poor woman did not even have a looking mirror in her house. So, how could we blame her for applying too much powder or lipstick? Her case reflected the old saying: Dekonk naslelem deklem kalum khuimche kailin ghalum. (Height of excitement)!
For a Goan wife, glass bangles are a sign of surungar (the husband’s existence). Therefore, like any other married woman she, too, wore glass bangles in pairs on her arms; but unlike other local women she was able to replenish them from time to time. This was no problem for her as in those days a vollar (glass bangle supplier) visited villages on foot, with a huge bundle of glass bangles mounted on his back.
As he walked the streets of a village, he would give a loud continuous shout: “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” He knew each and every Basurkar’s house in the village and got very good business from their wives. Some Basurkarni bought extra pairs of glass bangles and kept them in stock, just in case they had to attend a special occasion.
Gold chains, colourful umbrellas
There were other ways, too, in which one could differentiate a Basurkarn from the others. She wore a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses; high heel shoes; carried a colourful umbrella and the most distinguishing thing was the wearing of holdulem (gold). She wore as many thick gold bangles on her right hand as she could afford. On her left hand, she wore a tiny elegant wrist watch. Around her neck, she wore a thick, long gold chain with a cross-pendant.
During a feast or an occasion like a wedding, she wore more ornaments, including a well-crafted jogh (necklace and jewellery) with matching ear-rings, a finger-ring and a thick bangle with the same design. She applied the famous Patra perfume bottles scent from a sinsli (a small bottle). At the very first glance and smell of the Patra perfume bottles, one knew that this had to be a Basurkar’s wife!
A Basurkar in those days usually did not buy gold jewellery from the Middle East. He instead brought home with him small gold bars concealed in his bedding, to be given to local goldsmiths to work on. Sonarvaddo (goldsmiths’ ward) in Gaumvaddy, Anjuna, was very famous for making gold jewellery. The ones I knew were five from one family, the head of which was Shridar Anjuna, goldsmith Shridar.
Besides being a goldsmith, Shridar gave tuitions to Portuguese primary school children in the Portuguese language and Math. Shridar had four sons: the eldest, Laxman, lived in a separate house of his own just across the road.
He went to Mapusa daily on foot. He would leave his house for Mapusa at around 7 am and return at around 2 p.m. carrying a black umbrella, turned whitish due to continuous usage. Although his sons bought bicycles (biciclet), then motorcycles and cars, he never travelled in their vehicles; he continued to walk to Mapusa and back home on foot every day. He walked with leather sandals which always made a squeaking sound, which we could hear from inside our kitchen as he passed by my house.
Shirdar’s second son was Govinda and he was the one who mainly got the Basurkars’ business. The third son was Narayan, who gradually shifted to Guirim and established himself there. Bhaskar, the fourth son, gave up the ancestral profession and took up a job in Vasco. There were also some goldsmiths in Chinvar, Anjuna. I remember two names, Ramnath and Intesh; the latter was a classy goldsmith and he happened to be our family’s goldsmith too.
On vacation, the Basurkar would summon a goldsmith to his house with a pattern book. Husband and wife would select a pattern either for a chain, bangles, earrings, or jogh, including a fatracho jogh.
The fatracho jogh was a set made of rectangular stones, perhaps named after the rectangular laterite stone used in construction. The necklace consisted of three green or red coral stones — one in the middle, about 2-1/2″ long and 1″ thick, and two smaller stones, one on either side. The end of each stone was covered with beautifully crafted gold caps; the middle portion of stone was left uncovered. Similar earrings formed part of the set. These sets formed part of the gold given to a girl at the time of her marriage in the 19th and 20th century, and can be seen on some of our ancestors’ wedding photos.
They would talk money. Finally, the Basurkar would tell the goldsmith that he had a gold bar, and ask him for a fresh quote. At the very mention of the gold bar, the goldsmith’s face would brighten with a smile, because each gold bar meant a tidy profit.
There were other changes brought in by the Basurkar too.
There was no electricity in most parts of Goa until the Sixties. Each room in a house would then be lit by a small flickering kerosene lamp. But, when the Basurkar arrived home, he would buy a kerosene-based hanging lamp with a glass shade, both of which rested on a metal frame. He hung the lamp frame to the main wooden beam in the middle of the hall.
Every evening, before saying the Angelus, he would fetch a stool, remove the chimney, pass it on to someone to hold, raise the wick a little by turning the knob, and light it. He would then place the chimney back in the round groove and reduce the flame by adjusting the wick with the knob. He also hung similar small lamps in bedrooms.
Next, he bought an Aladdin table lamp which provided bright light to his house. This lamp was the pride of every upcoming family then. In addition, he bought at least one Petromax and made use of it whenever he had guests in his house. The Petromax, and the light it offered, was a real blessing to the children, as it enabled them to play freely at night. Once father left for the Gulf, we would use the Petromax for vhallan nistem dipkavnk (catching fish in the creek), by attracting them with the reflection of light.
He also brought home from abroad a Winchester or Eveready searchlight, which he proudly used whenever he visited neighbours at night, or went for a tiatr. He bought a wall clock and hung it either in the main hall or in the master bedroom.
Small though these may seem by current standards, these items made a major difference to life then.
When visitors stayed overnight, they were disturbed by the hourly strike of the clock and commented: “Kitem baba hanger sogllo vell igrojechi ghanntigrojechi ghannt koxi ghodial vazta; matso dollo lagtanch portun ttanv, ttanv, ttanv zata!” (What nonsense, this clock keeps on striking all the time like a church bell; when one is about to fall asleep, it strikes again.) Initially, it was the same with the family members, but they became immune to the sound over time.
By the late Fifties, the Basurkar introduced a battery-operated radio in the house and filled the home with music. The most common brand at the time was Philips radio. The famous Binaca Hit Parade programme from Radio Ceylon became a regular feature in almost every house with a radio.
Celebration of any function at a Basurkar’s home was marked by the lighting of lots of firecrackers. Christenings, laying a foundation stone for a home, a litany, a birthday… these were some common functions of the time. When a Basurkar held these functions, it meant a far better treat for everyone.
For example, if he held a litany to a cross, he would paint the cross with koiear (whitewash, made of sea shells), decorate it with lots of aboleanche jele (garlands of local flowers), light more firecrackers than others did, serve cake, bolinhas (biscuit-like sweets made of wheat flour, sugar and coconut) and other biscuits, serve Kabuli chonne (chickpeas), Maceira brandy in addition to local liquor, and treat children with a small glass of wine.
A Basurkar was often nominated to be the president of a church or chapel or community cross feast. He made sure that he more than justified the people’s choice. Feast celebrations became a competition between the Gulfees and sailors; sometimes the Africanders, too, joined the fray.
Speaking of firecrackers, we had a person called Lazarus (Lazar) Fernandes from Sorantto, Anjuna, who was employed at Aramco in Dhahran in the Sixties and Seventies. Whenever he came home on vacation, he would buy many cartons of firecrackers, open them and keep loose packets on the seat of the car, and as soon as he crossed the Assagao boundary and entered Anjuna, he would light up each firecracker packet with his cigarette and keep throwing them out through the car window until he reached home. When this happened, everyone in Anjuna knew that Lazar had come home! He died recently. May his soul rest in peace!
During the days of the Basurkar, sweets were a rarity. So, he brought home with him dried fruits from the Gulf like figs, apricots, peaches, raisins, and khajur (dates). Khajur was packed in bundles. It was wrapped on the outside with date-tree leaves and secured with a sutli (gunny thread).
As soon as my father reached home, he would pass on dried fruits to my mother to store in a container, except the bundle of khajur (dates), which would remain in the main hall. He would cut open the bundle and remove chunks of khajur with a knife. He would then wrap the chunks in newspaper and send us to distribute it to neighbours. Half of the bundle would go for distribution and the remaining half would remain for us. The neighbours in turn would give us whatever fresh fruits they had with them like bananas, mangoes or even vegetables like drumsticks or cucumber.
In the absence of aircrafts, the Gulfees travelled home by ship via Karachi. It took around three weeks for them to reach home; but this did not affect the dry-fruit.
Some of the houses in Goa have date-trees, in Goa in their compounds. These trees are the result of date seeds which were thrown away in those days. A couple of times, the khajur smelled like petrol, and I guessed the packer must have been packing and selling petrol simultaneously, like our old time posorkar (shopkeeper) in Goa.
Nice and helpful
Most Basurkars were nice, generous and helpful.
One of our ward members, Antonio Joao Fernandes, worked in BAPCOBAPCO (Bahrain Petroleum Company) from the Fifties through the early Seventies. Whenever he came home on vacation, he brought tennis balls and distributed one ball to each child in the ward.
As soon as we received the ball, we would jump with joy, thank him and say: “Dev borem korum ankolankol (uncle)!” (Thank you, uncle.) We used those balls to play cricket with a piddeachem (coconut leaf stem) bat. We used only one ball at a time and replaced it only when it was broken.
The stock of balls he gave us would last for a year, when again he would bring us more. I came to know later that the balls he gave us were collected from tennis players in his company, who usually changed balls after every two sets. But, for us, it was a gift that brought great joy. I am grateful to Antonio Joao uncle to this day, and I mention this fact to the children in Gaumvaddy, Anjuna, every time I am home on vacation.
Just like a tarvotti who passed on a nolli (scroll or certificate) to his son and secured a job for him on a P&O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, most people called it ‘Piano’!) ship, the Basurkar also arranged for a visa and brought over his sons, relatives and friends. Thus, right now, we probably have the fourth Goan generation working in the Gulf countries!
The Basurkar and his generations have contributed to the Goan economy vastly towards the overall development of Goa. Every time he visits Goa, he creates temporary jobs for his fellow Goans like masons, carpenters, painters, or labourers.
But life for him has not been a bed of roses, as many may think. Everything has a price tag on it. In the process of providing a better life to his family, the Basurkar lost a lot on his home front. Prolonged absence from his home and family has resulted in many family separations. Many of his family members, relatives and friends took undue advantage of his generosity and duped him time and again.
Goans are spend-thrifts — a happy-go-lucky people! Over the years, many failed to give a serious thought to savings. They really didn’t get the hang of savings until Portuguese rule ended in 1961. The norm for most Goans during the Portuguese regime was: Haddli podd, khal’li podd. (Roughly, live for today.) Until recently, they also believed in: Bhurghim zoddit, bhurghim khait. (Let the children earn and support themselves).
Goans love entertainment. They spend money on relatives and friends. Or they will borrow money to keep them happy. The result? No savings!
In such a context, what do you do? Hang on in the Gulf endlessly! However, there is a big change in this regard among the new generation born after the Seventies; they are more cautious. Of course, they have also learned from previous generations’ mistakes!
Until the Eighties, education was quite cheap and did not warrant any funds-planning. It is altogether a different ball game now, as we have to plan to invest lakhs of rupees and sometimes millions just to give an adequate education to a child.
So, what does a Gulfee do? Hang on there, of course!
Life in some of the Gulf states is like being in paradise so good that many Goans get themselves drowned in it and are never able to come out from it. These States offer all that is already available back home, and more. Club entertainment, drinks, night-clubs, dances, hops, jam sessions, all sorts of celebrations, parties, gambling, you name it. There are many Goans who fell prey to such a lifestyle and returned home empty-handed after decades of service in the Gulf.
Many of us thought that the Gulf was our permanent home. Not so any longer; most of us might have to leave this region pretty soon – the writing is already on the wall! So, make hay while the sun shines!
In the late 19th century Goans found jobs in British Africa and in the early 20th century in Middle East countries. If the Gulf closes its gates to the expatriates, where do we head next? Dhonia Deva Tum amkam pav! (God help us!)
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