January 24, 2014

THE MANDOVI MEMORIAL CROSS


REMEMBERING THE SOULS OF MANDOVI



Located on the southern bank of the River Mandovi, the town of Panjim is one of the most scenic urban centres in the country. Dubbed as the 'Queen of the Arabian', it was made the capital of Goa in the mid 19th century after the Portuguese abandoned Goa Velha, the former seat of administration. The cobbled streets with grand villas painted in bright shades of blue, yellow and red - hallmarks of the colonial era, the sprawling promenade overlooking the serene Mandovi and the Goan brand of hospitality make Panjim a magnet for tourists. In fact, the city or as I like to call it - the town is petite, similar to those in Europe which I had the good fortune of visiting last December. While it may be small in size, one has to admit that there are numerous secrets that it holds deep within and numerous mysteries surrounding it. Though I have stayed in the Goan capital and in its vicinity for eight years, I am myself unaware of the many stories that the city has to tell. In fact, about two years after we shifted to Bangalore, I came across this article (Link) regarding a tragedy in Goa that took place at the turn of the 20th century. What caught my attention was the picture at the centre -  a white cross erected on a pedestal about 8 feet high, along the Riviera. It looked familiar and it took me less than a minute to recognize it. While I have walked past the Mandovi Memorial Cross a hundred times, I had never known the sad story it commemorates.



The tragedy, the worst ferry disaster in the history of Goa dates back to 3rd December in the year 1901. It is indeed an irony that so many lives were lost on a day when Goans celebrate the Feast of our patron saint - Francis Xavier. It was on that fateful day that a launch 'Goa' going from Verem to Panjim, carrying about 160 people, most of them on their way to Old Goa, capsized and sank into the river, with nearly half of the passengers reported missing. The city police chief Manuel Pedro Rodrigues led the rescue operation which lasted for four days. Seventy five bodies were recovered; the bodies of six unfortunate people were never found. A majority of the victims were form the villages of Bardez namely Saligao, Calangute, Reis Magos and Candolim. The launch was later pulled out of the waters in the following days. A report in the Times of India attributed the tragedy to the fact that the ferry was filled beyond its capacity. The Goan diaspora in Aden collected funds and built a memorial to honor the dead in 1904 after getting the necessary permission from the local government. The modest landmark has two plaques, one facing Panjim and the other facing the Mandovi.



The English translation of the southern plaque is as follows: "In the memory of the 81 victims of the tragedy of the launch Goa that occurred on 3-13-1901.  The landmark is dedicated by Goans in Aden requesting all those who pass by to say a pray for their eternal rest. Dated: 3-12-1904." The other plaque reads: "In memory of the 81 victims of the tragedy of the launch Goa on December 3, 1901 - dedicated by the Goan diaspora of Aden." 

The article which I mentioned earlier was a revelation. Having seen this cross so many times, I wondered as to how could I have missed the story behind it. Isn't it true that in our 'busy' lives, we end up over looking so many things. Meanwhile, I was determined to go to the memorial and pay my homage to the Souls of Mandovi the next time I went to Goa. In fact, after having visited the Reis Magos fort with my friend Niketh on December 22 last year, I insisted on taking the Betim - Panjim ferry on the way back. Although it would have been more convenient for him had we taken the bus to the Patto bus stand, Niketh agreed to accompany me. Thanks Nikz, you are awesome! In fact, our ferry took more or less the same route that the fateful launch 'Goa' would have taken on its final journey. Looking at the Mandovi Memorial as we approached the capital city, I wondered what the scene would have been on that day, 113 years ago. Once we reached our destination after a journey of about 15 minutes, Nikz boarded the bus at the Ferry Boat stop and I headed to the cross. After clicking some pictures, I said a silent prayer for the people who lost their lives in that tragedy. At the same time, I also prayed for something else... I prayed to the souls of Mandovi to protect Panjim, the town which is extremely close to my heart from unplanned growth and commercialization. While I am not against development, there is an old world charm about the capital and I hope it remains to hold on to it forever. I spent the rest of the evening roaming around the streets of the city and then returned to Bhabi's place.