Saturday, October 3, 2009
WHISTLING A HAPPY TUNE, IN YESTERDAY'S GOA
WHISTLING A HAPPY TUNE, IN YESTERDAY'S GOA
BY DOMNIC FERNANDES
domvalden at hotmail.com
Writes Domnic Fernandes, the author of
"Domnic's Goa: A Nostalgic Romp Through A
Bygone Era" (Abbe Faria Productions, Goa
Music is the soul of the cosmos. It is found everywhere from
the rustling of the trees, to the playful streams, to the
pitter-patter of the raindrops, and in every human being.
Boy, am I glad I was born and bred in Goa? People keep asking
me: "What is it that makes you like Goa so much? What has Goa
given you so much that you write so much about it?" My plain
answer: "Don't ask what Goa has given you but ask yourself
what you have given to Goa!"
As far as I am concerned, Goa became part of my life the
moment I was placed on this planet and breathed the first
breath; since then I have breathed nothing but Goa's nature.
In my eyes, Goa was and still remains the same. I may be
writing on the past of Goa, but by the same token I move with
the times; anyone who does not move with the times and merely
clings on to the past is bound to have a tough time surviving
in today's world where 'survival of the fittest' is the norm.
Life in the countryside is always wonderful but it was much
more so during our childhood in the Fifties and Sixties! I
love to wake up listening to nature's sounds -- the birds
singing all around -- because that's the way I grew up. Yes,
I am talking about my childhood from over half a century ago.
In the good old days, nature formed part of our lives. There
was no alarm clock, no mobile alarms, no TVs with wake up
systems, and the like. We went to sleep and were awakened by
the nature. We woke up to the birds' chirping, squirrels'
singing, cats' meowing, dogs' barking, goats' bleating, cows'
bellowing.... everything around us bustled in a natural way.
The first sounds one hears in Goa at daybreak are the cawing
of crows -- caw-caw; caw-caw; caw-caw. This is followed by
cuckoos' cries -- ku-uu, ku-uu, ku-uu, ku-uu and
'kdd?'u-kdd'du, kdd'du-kdd'du, kdd'du-kdd'du, kdd'du-kdd'du,
kdd'du-kdd'du, kdd'du-kdd'du, kdd'du-kdd'du, kdd'du-kdd'du,
While we were asleep and watched adventurous dreams, suddenly
the sounds of nature would reach our ears and wake us up.
We would get up, sit on our 'bixeannem' (bedding), and say
our morning prayers while still rubbing our eyes, and then
step out in the balcony of the house to watch nature's wonder
in the form of birds and animals.
We would then reach for the leaves of a mango, cashew or
guava tree in order to prepare a rough and ready brush to
brush our teeth -- we brushed our teeth to the rhythm of
The only common musical instrument we saw during
our childhood was a 'rebek' (violin), which
Pedrinho Fernandes, mistir (mestre or choirmaster)
of Anjuna church held in his hand like a 'piddo'
(coconut leaf stem) and played every day at mass
and on every occasion, including a ladainha
(litany) whenever he was called to play. The
violin was like a toy for him.
The only musical instrument that children could lay their
hands on freely was a 'mouth organ', which was one of the
items we waited to buy from a 'festachi feri' (feast fair)
whenever there was a major church feast. Once we owned it, we
would go on playing it until our parents called out and
ordered us to stop breathing into it and turning them deaf.
Many of us played it with great perfection without having any
musical background or knowing music notes -- music came to us
naturally; maybe because it runs in our veins!
However, there was only one musical instrument that everyone
was naturally gifted with -- 'fionn' or 'xellani' (whistle).
No sooner a child reached the age of around 10, he would
attempt to whistle, and within a short time he was able to
whistle a few tunes.
It was an art every child was gifted with, which we rarely
witness these days. By the time we had entered our teens, we
would have mastered the art and become experts in whistling.
Nowadays, people use the term 'many moons' to refer to many
years. In the past, people used 'ek pavs, don pavs, tin pavs,
adi', referring to the number of monsoon seasons that had
gone by to refer to the passage of years.
Most children are able to whistle properly by the age of 13,
which happens to be the beginning of the teens. When the
elderly noticed teenagers whistle, they commented: 'Cheddo
toiear zalo; anik don-tin pavs vochonk zai uprant dhirieank
toiear zatolo.' (The boy has come of age; he will be ready
for bullfights after two-to-three more monsoons).
There are many types of whistles; I will mention a few.
HUMMING WHISTLE: Children always watch and follow. Every
time their relatives and friends whistled, they gazed at
them, imitated them and picked up the art of whistling.
Humming whistle is practiced slowly while a person goes about
his daily chores, walks or works -- it identifies his mood.
LOUD WHISTLE: Here again, this whistle is picked up by
following others. In order to blow a loud whistle one joins
the thumb and index finger of the right hand (or left hand)
giving it almost shape of a zero. One then places both
fingers under the tongue, folds its tip and breathes out air
forcibly through opening of the mouth thus producing a
whistle which can be distinctly heard over a long distance.
If repeated continuously, it can be quite irritating.
MELODIOUS WHISTLE: One is able to whistle melodious tunes
only when one has mastered the art of whistling. During our
teens, we mastered certain tunes and went about whistling
them proudly while we walked to school, or rode the bicycle.
Whenever Goan singers explain the tune of their songs to a
music director or writer, they usually whistle and convey the
tune and the pitch, which are repeated until music writer
grasps the tune and writes down the music in the form of
'solfas' or music notes.
The only public entertainment half a century ago was either a
'zagor' or a 'tiatr'. The moment people left the 'mattov',
male members of the audience whistled their favourite tunes in
various pitches, which they had just picked up from the zagor
or tiatr, making it sound like a symphony. They continued to
whistle the tunes until they reached home. Some even whistle
in their dreams!
The only vehicle a few could afford to buy in the
Fifties was a bicycle. Anyone who rode it,
whistled while he traveled on it.
The Goan 'render' (toddy taper) is always in jolly mood; he
is gifted with music. He is at his best when playing the
traditional band consisting of 'ghumott', 'madhiem' and
'kansaiem' (traditional Goan drum and other instruments).
Besides murmuring tunes he also whistles as he climbs up and
down a coconut tree. It's wonderful to watch him sing and
whistle at work!
Many times, the late Alfred Rose began the introduction of
his songs on the stage by whistling the tune; he also
whistled during interlude of a song.
The theme music of many Western movies of yesteryears,
especially those which feature Clint Eastwood, begins with a
whistling tune. Oh, I just love whistle music!
Half a century ago, females did not enjoy freedom
in the society; they were controlled by chauvinist
males. As such, riding a bicycle or whistling was
considered a manly act. However, times have now
changed -- man and woman are considered equal. A
woman now rides a bicycle and motorbike, drives a
car, steers ships and aircrafts, including fighter
jets, and also whistles as good as or better than
They say a person cannot be good at everything. I have had
an adventurous and mischievous childhood but I also missed
out on some aspects of life. I was and am extremely good in
whistling tunes but I never learned to whistle the 'loud
In 1970, my father came down for good from Kuwait. One of
our relatives, a girl from Salcete, visited my place. She
had lunch and was ready to depart by the 2:30 p.m. bus, which
plied between Siolim and Betim. Somehow, the girl was slow in
leaving the house. As a result, the bus passed by our house,
which is only about four meters away from the road.
My father looked at me and said: "Fionn ghal ani bosik
thamboi re!" (Whistle and stop the bus!) I just kept quiet
and bowed my head in shame because I couldn't whistle the
loud whistle. My father the placed his fingers in his mouth
and whistled as loudly as he could, but the bus had by then
crossed over three hundred meters; so, it was in vain.
My father didn?t say anything but gave me a surprised look as
if to say: "What a shame; my adult son doesn't know how to
whistle?" Finally, I ended up reaching the girl to her place
in Benaulim on my Honda motorcycle. My daughter is an expert
in whistling the loud whistle -- where father failed,
the daughter has picked up!
In the past, there were special whistle tunes which were used
to call out to girlfriends or to send them signals. Lovers
also used a looking mirror to send out the sun's reflection
from a boyfriend's bolkanv to a girlfriend's! Wasn't that
cute, instead of a mobile phone?
Music is a balm of sorts, they say -- it helps soothe the
pain. Whistling is a sort of relaxation to the mind. It
indicates the mood of a person -- whether happy or sad.
Practically, everyone on his way to work and back, whistled.
The 'pageli' whistled as good as the 'render'. They whistled
throughout their journey from Baga or Calangute to Xapora and
We were so obsessed with whistling that we even
went to the extent of having pet birds. Many of us
raised birds like the 'buchunddi' (bulbul),
'sanvor' or 'maina' (megpie), 'kir' (parrot), and
the like. We taught these birds to sing tunes,
which they did with little variation. They became
part of our lives, so much so we would feed them
with our mouth. We would munch 'bazlele chonnem'
(fried grams), gather it on our tongue in the form
of a 'gulli' (ball), open our mouth and make the
birds eat by pecking at it!
That reminds me of an African grey parrot. Many Africanders
brought with them back home African parrots, which I think
were called Casacu. One was donated to the Anjuna church in
the early Fifties.
We all know that African Greys are among the best mimicking
parrot. They are alert, highly intelligent, gentle and
affectionate. African Greys have been referred to as the
perfect mix of brains and beauty!
The parish priest and the curate taught the Casacu different
types of whistles as well as Konkani greetings like "Dev boro
dis dinv" (Good morning); "Tum koso asa re?" (How are you,
man?); "Padr Vigar ghara nam; faleam ieo" (The vicar is not
in; come tomorrow); and the like. At the same time,
church-employed pede or bhaia taught the parrot Konkani
greetings full of bad words, which the parrot picked up
faster and better and used them more often than the polite
greetings. The result? Every visitor to the church was
insulted, and the parish priest had no other alternative but
to dispose of the parrot!
Till today, when my favorite numbers are played on FM radio,
or when I listen to Konkani songs on Konkani Radio Goaworld
from Kuwait [http://www.goa-world.com/goa/music], or play
Konkani song cassettes or CDs, I whistle along simultaneously
and derive double pleasure!
That's all for now from Dom's antique shelf!
"This is my last article on Goanet/Gulf-Goans e-Newsletter
before I retire and return home for good at the end of this month (October 2007).
I am looking forward to returning to my beloved Anjuna where I shall once again
enjoy nature and make it part of my life." Goanet looks forward to many more
articles from Goa.
Incidentally, October 4 is Domnic's birthday, so warm greetings to him. The
author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
(as archived by gaspar almeida)