UNDERSTANDING THE GULFEE ... FOOTPRINTS OF A MIGRATORY STORY
By Domnic Fernandes
Goans have been migrating to foreign countries for over a century now. In
the late nineteenth century, many Goans went to British Africa in search of
jobs and built their careers there. When the colonies reverted to
indigenous rule, some Goans chose to stay behind while others shifted to
greener pastures in Australia, America, Canada, Great Britain, an so on.
The migratory situation took a different turn in the early twentieth century
when Goans began to take up employment on ships as 'tarvottis' (sailors) and
to the Middle Eastern countries. Thus, Goans working in foreign countries
were divided into three main categories -- Africanders, sailors and Gulfees.
While most Africanders were from Bardez, sailors were from Salcete, and
Gulfees were a mixture from all over Goa mainly consisting of Christians.
This article deals with the last category.
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 1930s, Goans who were suppressed by the Portuguese regime,
managed to leave Goa and find employment in Middle Eastern countries, and
thus began the metamorphosis.
First 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 1930s to
the 1960s, only one of these countries went on to become a significant name
for Goans at the time, and that was Iraq, with Basra as its focus. Why?
Because 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 be
forgotten. It was also an easy name to remember. Thus, Basra is not just an
ancient city for Goans but it means much more than that because of our
initial attachment to it.
Today, a Goan working in a Middle Eastern country is known to his 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, known after its capital); Dubai (Dubaikar or
Dubaivalo). However, until the 1960s, regardless of the Middle Eastern
country where a Goan worked, he was known by one colloquial name, Basurkar,
an appellation which of course came from Iraq's capital, Basra!
Upon a Basurkar's arrival in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle Eastern
countries, he earned his salary in Indian Rupees. The Indian rupee had been
serving as the traditional medium of exchange in the Gulf States, the
Trucial States, and in parts of Muscat, for a long time. 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' 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
The first Gulf State to introduce its own currency was Kuwait, which
introduced the Kuwaiti Dinar on Apri 1, 1961 (two years after the Gulf
Rupees had been introduced). Four years later, on October 16, 1965, Bahrain
introduced its own currency -- the Bahraini Dinar. In 1966 a monetary union
between Qatar and Dubai saw the introduction of the Qatar and Dubai Riyal on
September 18. The remaining emirates of the Trucial States, with the
exception of Abu Dhabi, followed the lead by Qatar and Dubai in response to
the devaluation of the Indian Rupee, and temporarily introduced Saudi
Riyals, subsequently adopting the use of the Riyal of the Qatar and Dubai
Currency Board. 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 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 4
tangas, 8 tangas and one rupia and 2 1/2 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 Cent avos. New notes with the
denominations of 30, 60, 100, 300, 600 and 1000 were introduced.
These remained in circulation until Goa's liberation in 1961 when
they were replaced by Indian currency.
Communication between a Basurkar and his family was very difficult.
Once he left for the Gulf, his family would only know that he reached there
safely when they received a letter from him which 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 Harbor on my left, Chapora Fort on my right and several
sailboats in the horizon, and imagine my father's letter in one of those
When my mother was worried at not having received a letter from my father
who was employed with 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 mother; we will definitely receive
father's letter this week because today I saw many sailboats in the sea and
surely one of them must be carrying father's letter).
Much to our surprise, we would sometimes receive a letter that predicted
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 1950s it was distributed weekly.
While one of the expatriates carried a gunny bag containing letters, a local
person carried a wooden stool with him. Both of them arrived at a designated
place where several expatriates eagerly waited to receive letters from their
dear and near 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 yesteryears lived a very difficult life in the Gulf.
It then was was basically a desert, without any trees or greenery.
There were no residential buildings. So, he lived in tents in the
scorching heat and sometimes suffered from heat boils. There were no
desalination plants; so, he drank raw unprocessed water. In short,
it was a tough life away from his family.
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 sea via Karachi. There was only one bank in Mapusa -- 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 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; it made two trips a day. He arrived home
like a military soldier carrying a khaki-colored, ready-made back pack
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 to use on the
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 the hardship. 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 run away from him because they
thought he was a stranger -- an uncle, perhaps. But mother would call them
and say: 'Baba/bae, ho tumcho pai.' (Son/daughter, this is your father.)
Immediately upon reaching home, he would say a short prayer and thank God
for making his trip safe. His arrival home meant excitement for all,
especially for his wife. She would immediately fill the 'bhand' with water
and start a fire. Once the water was heated, she would call him and say:
'Udok taplem, navonk ieo.' (Water is ready, come for bath.) A wife in those
days never called her husband by 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 mother would reply: 'Baba/bae, toxem mhunnonant; to tumcho pai; to
hangach amchea sangata ravtolo.' (Son/daughter, 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 more sweets and goodies.
How did one recognize a Basurkar?
A Basurkar wore a gabardine pair of trousers, a terelyne shirt, a West End
or Roamer brand wrist watch on his left hand, a gold bracelet on his right
hand, a gold chain in his neck with a cross pendant, 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 50s.
The empty tin was used as a measure for rice; it was equivalent of an
'annatti' (one of the olden wooden measures.) He also brought with him Black
Lion (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 laborer 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 cigarette
tobacco smells very good!) The host would then pass butane Ronson lighter
with which he would light his cigarette and enjoy every puff.
Sometimes, he would sit for a longer time and smoke two or three cigarettes,
and our Basurkar bhav did not mind it at all. If his wife smoked a
'pamparo', 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
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 things were easily available in
Whenever a Basurkar called workers to work to his place, they would
immediately oblige him because at the end of the day's work he would
offer them a drink or two and sometimes even three, and also give
them 'rossanv' (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 and
palm fenni so that he did not run short of liquor or did not have
run to a tavern to fetch a bottle of liquor whenever guests arrived
at his home. They say: 'Goenkaranchea ghoran anik kiteim unnem assot
punn nhoi soro!' (A Goan house may run short of anything but not
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, drinks tea without
washing his face!)
He shaved every morning without fail with a razor or with a shaving machine
using 7-O'Clock blades; it was one of the common give away gifts at the
time. Since there was no electricity, he had to choose a place where he
could see his face in the mirror. So, he either chose the kitchen window or
the balcao (verandah). He placed a small mirror on the edge of window, stood
there and shaved, or he would place a mirror on a 'sopo' (couch made of
stone and plastered with cement), kneel on the floor and shave.
There was no shaving cream or spray at that time but he used an Old Spice
soap stick. He would collect water in a small container, dip the shaving
brush in it, and apply the brush continuously on the stick until lather was
produced. As soon as he finished shaving, he splashed Old Spice after-shave
lotion on his face, the fragrance of which instantly filled the house.
Instead of sleeping on the floor on a 'dali' (a mat made of bamboo,) he and
his wife slept on a wooden bed which he bought from 'Milagres fest' church
fair at Mapusa, or 'Tin Raianchem fest' fair at Ponjje, or 'Sant Khursachem
fest' fair at Calafura (Santa Cruz,) or 'Spirit Santachem fest' fair 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
floor of the house with leather sandals. By the 1960s, he replaced the cow
dung floor with red cement and made it 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, he also carried an umbrella with him.
Speaking of hats, if he was home in September or October, he would buy a
handmade hat made of grass by cow-herds. Grass grows on our hills during the
monsoon season. By August, it is fully grown. Cow-herds used to take their
cows and buffaloes on the hills for grazing as soon as the rains subsided.
While their cattle grazed, they would pick thick grass, hold the grass blade
in the left hand and remove fluid from it by placing it in between the index
finger and thumb of the right hand and press the fluid out with the thumb
nail. They would first weave a round base and gradually come up with various
items like a hat, hand bag, small basket, pencil or pen holder, etc. This
was a small side-business for them. As children, we joined cow-herds on our
hill and many of us learned to weave grass items through them.
Since transportation was rare in Goa until the 1950s, a Basurkar
bought a 'biciclet' (derived from the Portuguese word 'bicicleta'
[bicycle]) for himself on his first vacation home and proudly
pedalled his way to the fish market or to the town and brought home
groceries, fruits, and the like, filled in cloth bags hung on the
If he was a married man, his wife accompanied him to the market on his
biciclet. She sat on the cross bar, placed her hands on the handle bar and
chatted with her husband throughout their journey, looking behind every now
and then in order to have a glance at his face, and, 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?).
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 'bhattkars'
(landlords) supervise their tenants doing work for them with a
cigarette or cigar in their mouths, but here was one the 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
protect his head from sunshine, or wore a cap or hat. Owning a house
was a huge success for him especially because he could then send his
children to school without a 'bhattkar' restricting him from doing
it. 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 from his neighbors and relatives and the people
from the area. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to belong to him. As soon as
he arrived home, all of his relatives would pay him a visit, including the
ones who never even knew him well. But the Basurkar did not mind it; he just
entertained them all.
His poor wife had to do triple duty! While he was away, his family usually
ate rice, curry, fish and vegetables, and beef on Sundays. Chicken was
prepared whenever they had guests; pork and mutton were prepared mostly on
feast days or occasions. However, as soon the Basurkar arrived home, he
would bring meat (beef, pork, mutton, chicken) regularly, and everyday
turned into a feast day. He also slaughtered a pigling on every Sunday.
Children were the happiest lot because they got plenty to eat and this also
brought 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 father is at home. If you need anything, ask
him now; don't trouble me afterwards.)
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, lipstick, etc.
A Basurkar's wife could be singled out from the lot because of her status.
She would either put on a colorful '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 would then pass
on her Calico brand handkerchief to the person and ask him or her to wipe
the extra powder on her face. Since the Basurkarn was just coming up her
life, everything was new for 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's was the case in the old saying:
'Dekonk naslelem deklem kalum khuimche kailin ghalum?'
For a Goan wife, glass bangles are a sign of 'surungar' (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, and 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' -- offering a kind of announcement to let the women
know that he was in the village. He knew each and every Basurkar's house in
a 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.
There were other ways one could differentiated a Basurkarn from the others.
She wore a pair of Ray-ban sunglasses; high heel shoes; carried a colorful
umbrella and the most distinguishing thing was the wear 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 'jog' (necklace) with matching earrings, a finger
ring and a thick bangle with the same design. She applied the famous Patra
scent from a 'sinsli' (a small bottle) -- opened and tilted it on her dress
and then on her right index finger. She then applied the finger to her neck
and earlobes. At the very first glance and smell of the Patra scent, one
knew that this had to be a Basurkar's wife!
A Basurkar in those days usually did not buy gold jewelry from the Middle
East but instead brought home with him small gold bars concealed in his
bedding, which he gave to the goldsmith and asked him to make ornaments of
In those days, the Sonarvaddo (goldsmiths' ward) in Gaumvaddy, Anjuna, was
very famous for making gold jewelry. I believe there were many goldsmiths in
the ward but to my knowledge I have known only five from the ward from one
family, the head of which was Shridar.
Besides being a goldsmith, Shridar gave tuitions to Portuguese primary
school children in 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 a.m. and return at around 2 p.m. carrying a black umbrella which
had turned whitish due to continuous usage. Although his sons bought
bicycles, then motorcycles and cars, he never traveled 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.
Whenever a Basurkar came home on vacation, he would summon a goldsmith to
his house with a pattern book. The husband and wife would go through the
book and select a pattern either for a chain, bangles, earrings, or 'jog',
including a 'fatracho jog' (a necklace with three rectangular blocks, two
small, one on each side and a big one in the middle -- with green plastic in
the background fixed to a thick chain). They would then discuss the price or
making charges. 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 gold-smith's face would brighten with a smile because a gold bar meant
very good profit for him.
There was no electricity in most parts of Goa until the 1960's. Each
room in a house would 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
Next, he bought an Aladin 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 too many
guests in his house. The Petromax light was a real blessing to children as
it enabled them to play freely at night. Once father left for the Gulf, we
would use the Petromax for 'vhallan nistem dipkavunk' (to catch fish in the
creek by light reflection.)
He also brought home from abroad a Winchester or Everready searchlight which
he proudly used whenever he visited neighbors 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. Whenever visitors stayed overnight, they were disturbed by the
hourly strike of the clock and commented: 'Kitem baba hanger sogllo vell
igorjechi ghannt koxi ghodial vazta; matso dollo lagtanch portun ttanv,
ttanv, ttanv zata!' (What nonsense, the clock keeps on striking all the time
like a church bell; when one is about to fall asleep, it strikes yet again).
Initially, it was the same with home people but they became immune to the
sound over the years.
By the late 1950s, the Basurkar introduced a battery-operated radio in the
house and filled the home with music. The most common brand at the time was
Phillips. The famous 'Binaca Hit Parade' program 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
lighting lots of firecrackers. The more the firecrackers and variety
of drinks, the better a function would be. A christening, laying a
house foundation, a litany and a birthday were some of the common
functions at the time.
When a Basurkar held these functions, it meant a better treat for everyone.
For example, if he held a litany to a cross, he would paint the cross with
'koiear' (whitewash made of baked sea shells), decorate it with lots of
'aboleanche jele' (garlands made of local flowers), light more firecrackers
than others, serve cake, 'bolinhas' (sweets made of wheat flour, sugar and
coconut) and other biscuits, serve 'kabuli chonne' (chickpeas), serve
Maceira brandy in addition to local liquor, and please 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, and he made sure that he more than justified the
people's choice. In fact, feast celebrations became a competition over the
years between the Gulfees and sailors; sometimes Africanders, too, joined
Speaking of firecrackers, we had a person called Lazarus (Lazar) Fernandes
from Sorantto, Anjuna, who was employed at Aramco in Dhahran in the 1960s
and 1970s. 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 Assagao boundary and entered Anjuna, he would light up
each firecracker packet with his cigarette and keep throwing them out
through car window until he reached home. When this happened, everyone in
Anjuna knew that Lazar had come home!
He died last year. May his soul rest in peace!
During the days of the Basurkar, sweets were a rarity. So, he brought home
with him dried fruits like figs, apricots, peaches, raisins, 'khajur'
(dates), etc. 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' 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 them to neighbors. Half of the bundle would go for
distribution and the remaining half would remain for us. The neighbors in
turn would give us whatever fresh fruits they had like bananas, mangoes or
even vegetables like drumsticks, cucumber, etc.
There were no air-planes in those days. So, the Gulfees traveled home by ship
via Karachi. It took around three weeks for them to reach home, but nothing
would happen to dry fruit. Some of the houses in Goa have date trees 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 'posorkars' in Goa.
Most Basurkars were nice, generous and helpful.
One of our ward members, Antonio Joao Fernandes, worked in BAPCO from the
1950s through the early 1970s. 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 ankol' (Thank you, uncle)!
We used those balls to play cricket with a'piddeachem' (coconut leaf stem)
bat. We would use only one ball at a time and replace 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 in those days they were brand new, and to receive
a ball as a gift was one of the greatest things.
I am grateful to Antonio Joao uncle to this day, and I mention this fact to
the children in Gaumvaddy every time I am home on vacation.
Just like a tarvotti who passed on a 'nolli' (scroll of certificate) to his
son and secured a job for him on a P&O (most people called it 'Piano'!)
ship, the Basurkar also arranged for a visa and brought his son(s),
relatives and friends to the place of his work and provided them with
employment. Thus, right now we probably have the fourth Goan generation
working in Gulf countries!
The Basurkar and his generations have contributed vastly towards
overall development of Goa. Every time he visits Goa, he creates
temporary jobs for his fellow Goans as masons, carpenters, painters,
laborers, etc., and helps them as much as he can.
But life for him has not been a bed of roses as many may think.
Everything has a price tag on it, and many Goans in the Gulf have
had to pay a heavy price for their long stay here. 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. As a result, he has had to make a new
beginning many times. What does he do in this case? Hang in there
Goans are spend-thrifts -- a happy-go-lucky people! This being the case,
over the years they never gave a serious thought to saving. As a matter of
fact, they really didn't get the hang of savings until after Goa's
liberation in December 1961, as the norm for most Goans during the
Portuguese regime was: 'Haddli podd, khal'li podd,' which roughly translated
means 'Live for the day'.
Until recently, they also believed in: 'Bhurghim zoddit, bhurghim khait'
(let the children earn and support themselves). Goans love entertainment, so
when it comes to parties and celebrations they are always in the forefront.
Goans believe in keeping their relatives and friends happy and do not mind
spending large amounts of money on them. They will even go out of their way
to borrow money in order to keep them happy. The result? No savings!
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 1970; they are
more cautious. Of course, they have learned from previous generations'
Many Goans working in the Gulf invested their entire savings in building
palatial houses. Those who managed to pay for such projects are now trying
to save for their future, and others continue to pay for such projects,
which mean they have to hang in there until they pay for the house and then
begin to save for their future.
Until the 1980's, education was quite cheap and did not warrant any fund
planning. It is altogether a different ball game now, as we have to make a
provision in lakhs of rupees and sometimes in millions just to give adequate
education to a child. So, what does a Gulfee do? Hang in there!
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 have practically everything that is available back home and
much more -- club entertainment, drinks, nightclubs, 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. Well, it is
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
The above are only a few reasons why Goans have prolonged their stay in the
Gulf, but considering the present circumstances in the region, is he going
to be able to hang in there in the near future? The need of the day is
tenfold more compared to the past, and it doubles with a single earning
In the late 19th century Goans found jobs in British Africa and in the early
20th century in Middle Eastern countries. If the Gulf closes its gates to
the expatriates, where do we head next? 'Dhonia Deva Tum amkam pav!' (God
That's all for now from Dom's antique shelf... for today!
The writer is from Anjuna/Dhahran, KSA and dedicates this article to Goans
in the Gulf. His widely-appreciated nostalgic writing has been appearing on
Goanet in his 'Dom's antique shelf' series.