By Malavika Neurekar
Victor Hugo Gomes used to be an artist. He did his masters in Print Making, and studied restoration of manuscripts and paper paintings at INTACH. When it came to researching and archiving the collection at the museum, he found himself in uncharted territory. In an impromptu speech delivered at the inauguration of Goa Chakra in 2014 Victor launched into a series of old Konkani sayings. “harroithamhunn gaindol ghelo, ani chirddun mello”, he said. If the earthworm imitates the method of the python, it will get trampled and die. And so he established his own method – he started translating all the Konkani dictionaries published 1897 onwards. He compiled his own glossary of thousands of forgotten Konkani words, travelling across Goa to interview village elders and double check the meanings of the Konkani words he had noted.
Languages develop intimately with the lifestyle of the people who speak them; they breed familiarity with the customs of the land. Thus, in English, a plough is a plough. The word for plough in the Konkani dictionary is nangor, but Victor traced other ploughs called pane, kosso, dongri, and loconddi, depending on the build, the design, the material, and the type of land on which it was used. The plough collection was almost complete when Victor was travelling with his friend Russell Murray in the Sattari taluka, documenting farming practices related to nachne and rice production. Bad weather conditions forced them to retreat to Ponda for the night, but in the morning they set off to meet another close friend Kanta Gawde. The three men then decided to hike up a hill, as Kanta Gawde wanted to show them a shrine of the local mountain gods. It was during the hike that Victor’s eyes fell upon a curious object sitting on the roof of a Dhangar house. It was a dongri nagor, a three-piece wooden plough designed specifically to be used on laterite soil in the valley. The roof had grown slippery from the rain, but after much persuasion and at a modest price, Victor was able to retrieve the now extinct dongri nagor, completing the plough collection at Goa Chitra.
Another interesting incident unfolded at a scrapyard in Curchorem, from where Victor Hugo retrieved a huge roller with a wooden frame and metal spikes. The implement lacked a history as nobody seemed to know anything about it except the fact that it was originally from Bicholim. With no idea of its story or its function, Victor named it ‘the spike roller’. He inspected the type of wood, the kind of soil stuck to it, the mud on the spikes, and whether there was any pollen embedded in it – all in an attempt to gather clues about its function. The object was shown to many agriculturists in Goa but no one could identify it. He set it aside, often spending long hours staring at it and wondering about its origin. It was during a chance encounter with the Gaonkar family in the jungles near Kanapur that he spotted a similar instrument of a smaller size. Victor often travels to Maharashtra and Karnataka to meet families of Goan origin that fled during the Goa Inquisition. The Gaonkar family traced their origin to Bicholim, and continue to make annual trips there for the religious festival Jolmidevacho Utsav. Victor inquired about the implement that resembled his ‘spike roller’ and was told that it was used to break or pulverize the ground to be brought under cultivation. The pieces were all falling in place. Once again, it was the dictionary that came to the rescue and filled in the final piece of the puzzle. Victor learned that the description of the spike roller fit that of a farming implement called pocruncho roll, a word found in a 1931 Konkani- English dictionary. It was described as a metal roller with spikes held by a wooden frame, and attached to a yoke and a rope to be drawn by bullocks and used to break the soil.
“Xendlolea boilache rakandareche kananth ghanto vazot ravta”, was another Konkani saying that Victor explained that day. When a farmer loses his bullock and hears any sound of cow bells he thinks it is his own bullock. This had become Victor’s condition – he saw the material culture of Goa everywhere and in everything. He may not have had a name for it then, but observe the trajectory of Victor’s life and all his actions seemed to be of a man attempting to retrace his roots, a man trying to capture the essence of the land. Much the same way a child runs around with a jar to catch fireflies.