Tales from a school
“What’s this?” my daughter asked me, when I sent her a photo via WhatsApp. She is at college some 800 kilometres away, studying fashion design. The advert which I had photographed on my smartphone and sent, read: “Athayde’s College of Arts, Saligao, Bardez, Goa. Branches at Mapuca, Pangim and Aldona.”
From the spellings, it would be apparent that this ‘ad’ came from another time and another age. Yet, something seems odd. If it came from decades in the past, how is it possible that a set of modest villages in tiny Goa could think of a ‘college of arts’ at that time, however modest?
The institution went on to further announce: “This is the only up-to-date Institution in Goa, where tuitions are imparted in Ladies, Gents, Juvenile, Civil and Military tailoring, Embroidery, Glass decorating, Ladies Hats and artificial flowers, Photo frames, Picture dressing, etc, on modern lines & by easy scientific methods. Thorough training, maximum individual attention and moderate fees are the special features of this institution.”
Turns out that A F Athayde was a “First Class London Diploma holder” and designated himself the principal of this probably small institution which thought big and promised a lot. It held classes in Pangim on Mondays and Thursdays, in Mapusa on Wednesdays and Saturdays, at Aldona on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in Saligao, night classes every day.
But the story of this starts elsewhere. By chance, I happened to run into the priest-manager of a local school. It’s not just any school. St Joseph’s at Arpora happens to be among the first — if not the first — English medium schools to be opened in Goa over a century ago. It has since mentored hundreds or thousands of young men. While it has seen better days, many of its alumni have gone on to great positions in life across the globe.
The novel ‘Just Matata’ by Braz Menezes gives a fictionalised account of the life of a young Africander (Goan from East Africa) boarder in St Joseph’s. And yes, the school, like many other bigger schools from Bardez at the time, had a vibrant boarding house for children whose parents were then working outside Goa, often abroad. In those times, migration from Bardez was also very high, and parents preferred to send their children back to boarding schools in Goa for their education.
Something prompted me to ask the priest, Urbano Menezes, whether they had thought of a book on this historic school. To my surprise, he told me they already have one.
In the field of difficult-to-locate Goa books, I take pride (unjustified, it would sometimes become apparent to myself too) in keeping track to quite some extent on what has been published, when and by whom. Of course, Goa books come out in varied languages. That includes Konkani, English, Marathi, a handful still in Portuguese, the odd one in Hindi. I’ve seen one in Bengali, or Kannada. My collection has an entire book on Goa in Japanese, of which I can understand maybe a total of five words in all.
This makes keeping track of the books difficult. In addition, many are self-published (which is definitely not a bad thing in itself) or less promoted, and often not catalogued even in the local libraries. So one never knows what all is available out there.
Anyway, it was a present surprise to see this modest but very informative book called ‘Colegio-Liceu Diocesano de S. Jose’. The recently-published book (date not mentioned) reproduces the writing of the school from another era. It goes back to 1937, when the school was completing its 50th anniversary.
Someone dismissed such nostalgia and the Goan tendency of going down memory lane as nothing more than being akin to “wedding albums”. These are interesting to the family involved, but boring to everyone else who is forced into going through it.
But this is definitely not the case here. The 1937 work from Arpora tells us so much about the times, its people, what happened then, the aspirations, and achievers of another era.
One comes across some familiar names too. Patrocino de Andrade, MA, LL.B, was Professor of Philosophy of Elphinstone College in Bombay, while India was still in colonial times. We are proudly told that he was the Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Latin Scholar at St. Joseph’s in 1904.
He writes how “old and dingy” the school was in his times, with three higher classes functioning from the main building and the other classes in “separate sheds erected outside”. Classrooms were “bare and far from attractive”. The only decent room was the hall, but it was seldom used. The principal slept in the matriculation classroom, on a hard bed which during school hours turned into a bench for boys to sit on!
Yet, the teaching was very efficient. Its founder, Fr Lyons (some records suggest he was a Jesuit scholastic, not a priest) himself “had the reputation of being the greatest mathematician and Latin scholar in Goa”.
Already, in 1937, the alumni of Arpora included professors, poets (like Manuel C Rodrigues, from nearby in Bardez), school principals, and other to-be achievers.
At some point, this story also intersects with the Goan community in Karachi and the Konkani magazine ‘Rotti’ published there. Young scholars from Goa were commenting on weighty events like the peace treaties after World War I. There was an active literary and debating society then. They debated quaint issues such as ‘The publishing of newspapers is not beneficial to us’, ‘Aircrafts should be prohibited in war’ or ‘Modern civilization has turned the world morally worse’. We might find it odd that issues being debated then also included whether “Goan girls” should be “sent up” for higher education, and whether penance in class is a more effective form of punishment than caning. Eight boys had the dubious task of debating among themselves whether woman has done more good to society than man.
Besides its focus on sports and religion, this institution of another generation obviously encouraged its students to write — some even being as young as from the third standards. One of the articles is in Latin, and the school calendar is an insightful record of how educationists tried to build the young then.
All in all, these few pages (via the Nagoa, Bardez, church) took me back in time and opened up a different understanding of the Goa we are so quick to forget.