Book Review of “Rendermam Ani Tachem Jivit"
Author and Publisher: Fr. Ave Maria Afonso
By: Walter Menezes
I met Fr. Ave Maria Afonso at Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, Alto Porvorim on a day when Fr. Mathew Almeida, SJ was celebrating his birthday. The book release ceremony of Fr. Almeida’s Romi Lipient Konknni Kurs was over and we were helping ourselves to a piece of cake and a cup of tea when Fr. Ave Maria presented me with a copy of his book, Rendermam’ ani Tachem Jivit.
This book was released in Margao a couple of days earlier at a function organized to celebrate the first anniversary of the Konknni magazine, Jivit, and although I was present for the same, I had to leave the function half-way through, without buying a copy of the book, whose seeds were sown when Fr. Ave Maria was pursuing his post-graduate studies at TSKK, Alto Porvorim.
I finished reading Rendermam’ on a relaxed Sunday when the nation was celebrating the triumph of good over evil and realized how little I knew about the toddy-tapper who, like the poder and the pagi, (baker and traditional fisherman) has been an essential part of every Goan household. For who can imagine a life without our daily bread, our fish-curry and a peg of feni? Or our feasts without sannas and our mouth-watering dishes like sorpotel, sausages, vindaloo, fish parro and mol without vinegar?
My father-in-law had a bar in Kepem and, on days when he was indisposed, I was the one who was summoned to help him out on such occasions. We normally catered to the aam admi who would flock to the bar in the afternoons and the evenings and help themselves to their favourite drink. I had the opportunity to interact with some of the rendermams, and in one case the wife of a rendermam’, who would come from as far as Sanguem with their kollxo (earthern pot) of feni and deliver the same to Ruzar-irmao, as my father-in-law was respectfully called. He would then measure the grau of the feni by dipping the alcohometer in the bottle, nod his head when it showed 18 degrees, and then make the payment.
A kopin of feni is what I normally had in the night just before supper was served. And on days when I was too tired after a hard day’s work, my wife would not mind at all if I had some ‘extra’ ones! What she never knew was that sometimes I would join my friend at a village bar, where dukhsiri, a strange combination of feni and medicinal roots, was a great hit at that time. Meant for those who labour and sweat it out in the fields, dukhsiri is a soothing drink and like vodka, there is not a trace of smell at all. But just to be on the safer side, once the bill was settled, my friend would remove a couple of cloves from some secret chamber of his trousers and off we would go, munching them merrily on our way home. We were happy and so were our better halves!
Fr. Ave Maria’s book is a treasure of information. The tools that the rendermam’ uses, the sign of the cross that he makes on his forehead before the risky climb to the coconut tree-top and the process of distilling feni, these and other details make the book interesting. It is a male-dominated world, but, strange as it may sound, Fr. Ave Maria reports of the only lady-render from Verna who once did the job. With a colourful ‘dose’ of photographs by Egidio Fernandes and a cover designed by Willy Goes, Rendermam’ ani Tachem Jivit is a great offering in Romi Konknni.
There is one chapter dedicated entirely to Rendrachim Gitam-Kantaram. The toddy-tapper leads a lonely life, hopping from one coconut tree to another, three times a day. Seated on one of the palm fronds high above the ground, sharp-edged kati, dudinem to collect the sap and the clay pot, damonnem, firmly in place, the poet in the rendermam’ awakens and he
Yes! Life is a hard grind for the rendermam’. And very risky too. Fr. Ave Maria informs that the All Goa Toddy-Tappers’ Association, headquarted in Margao and established in 1961,
has been in the forefront to protect the interests of the render community. A few welfare measures are in operation and a “Pension Scheme” formed by the Goa Government for
toddy-tappers above 60 years of age, awaits implementation.
The rendermam’ is a fascinating person and Fr. Ave Maria has observed him from close quarters. Even going to the extent of spending a night and a day with his family. The rendermam’ is a god-fearing man. There is rosary in his house every day and once a year, villagers gather at his residence for the ladin (litany) in honour of the patron saint. On the last
Sunday of February every year, he attends, along with his entire community, the Thanksgiving Mass at the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Like any niz Goenkar, he loves football, khell-tiatrs and tiatrs. His breakfast consists of pez with kalchi koddi and kharem nustem and his house is full of Konknni cassettes. He gambles a lot, plays the moddko and has, on many occasions, squandered his hard-earned money on such vices.
Arthur Hailey, best-selling author of such ‘subject-specific’ novels like Airport, Hotel, Wheels, Overload and Final Diagnosis, who used factual research to his advantage, once said, “I don’t think I really invented anybody. I have drawn on real life!” Perhaps Fr. Ave Maria’s next ‘stop’ should be a novel, with characters drawn from real life.
Prof. Jose Salvador Fernandes, in his foreword, shares his own experience of maddar choddpachem when he used to assist his father in ‘toddy-tapping’ whenever the manaim-render (helper) used to be absent. Both, Prof. Jose’s father and the rendermam’ where Fr. Ave Maria spent a night, felt that this is not only a tough job but one where there is no respect at all. “Ami tras-koxtt kaddtat te puro. Amchea bhurgeank tem naka”, they said, expressing in a way, the sentiments of the entire community.
Such a view may just be the reason why the population of toddy-tappers has reduced drastically from a strong force of around 22,000 in 1964 to only around 1100 in 2006. The death-knell has already sounded for many such ancient traditional occupations, Prof. Jose laments in his foreword. In the distant future, books like Rendermam’ ani Tachem Jivit will become a rich repository of information and a window to our fascinating past.
As a critic “par excellence” you have done great justice to Fr Ave Maria Alfonso and his fascinating book “Renderamam ani Tachem Jivit”. You’ve crafted an glowing overview within a lovely idyllic setting, exquisitely framed with folk lore and consuetude. While focusing on the toddy tapper your remarks are astutely enriched with also discussing cognate trades.
This added feature gives a robust, well-rounded picture of rural Goa in its pristine glory.
Although an expatriate native of the Konkan coast, it’s the first time I’ve been introduced to the indigenous word “Renderamam”. Recalling rustic Mahim, Bombay of yore, I’ve scaled quite a few coconut trees in my salad days. I knew professional palm climbers fairly well too. But we referred to them as Bandaris. We had high reverence
for them as they could scramble up tall trees in a jiffy while we struggled even with mid-sized ones. Of course our climbs were mainly juvenile pranks to purloin a couple of the fruit to share among mischievous comrades. As part of the cult of amateur tree-hugging stegophilists, we not only had a lot of fun but were part of the culture and traditions of the littoral scene in the shadow of the Ghats. I’m highly obliged for stirring my deep visceral feelings with heartwarming nostalgia of my halcyon days of naughty innocence.
I’m surprised you’ve not yet autogenously undertaken writings of your own within our Motherland’s ambit of geography and ethnography. You seem to dynamically live, breathe, sweat and adulate our native soil’s ethos and topography so endearingly. Shades of the
genre of my eminent Goan writer friends-in-correspondence, Messrs Valmiki Faleiro and
Edwin Fernandes !!! So why not document this treasure from your seminal perspective? In conclusion, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your elegant tribute to Fr Ave Maria’s impressive work. Your generous cachet should make a big difference to its circulation and
special place in our libraries. Regards Arnold
mog asum di, walter
Comment by Arnold Noronha, by way of Walter Menezes and FN — September 7, 2008
& Walter Menezes