Tucked away in a quiet corner of the concrete jungle is Matharpacady (pacadi means village in Marathi).
Back in the early 1900, this quaint little pocket, in the heart of Mazagoan, was called Saiba Gulli as 90 per cent of the residents were Catholics.
It has survived the ravages of time and today is close to disintegrating following the nexus between local politicians and the builder lobby that wants to construct apartment blocks here. Although it falls in the Grade 3 category of protected monuments, residents know it’s easy to find legal loopholes.
The place still has a very Goan-Portuguese feel. Most of the houses are more than a century old and cannot be demolished without government approval. However, a seven-storey building was recently built on the remains of a house whose inmates had all died.
The Demellos have also added two more floors to their ancestral property. Nearby is another four-level, modern-day structure built after an influential neta managed to bully the residents into selling out.
Still, despite these aberrations, the place still has a distinct identity. The 125-year chapel, Matharpacady Oart Holy Cross Oratory, stands tall. The feast of St Rock is celebrated here every year on May 1.
Explains brother Peter Paul who works in the office of the Blessed Sacrament Provincial Order, “Many people died in the 1875 plague. Our prayers to the saint saved the remaining few. Along with his two brothers, he is immortalised in this building that came up on land donated by the Edward Miranda family in 2006. Young and old still pray here. But a well, built by the original settlers, was sealed after the 1992 communal riots.”
Over the years, many residents have moved abroad. Says Martin Cardoza, “Maintaining these old villas costs a fortune. Many people have accepted generous offers and sold out.”
There are no commercial establishments in the area. The only exception is the decrepit shop of cobbler Ashok Karande, built by his forefathers more than 100 years ago. He has been managing it since the 1970s.
The early 19th century saw an influx of the working class from Goa. In need of accommodation, they came up with what they called the Kudd in Konkani. Presently there are about 13 of these of these clubs. Dongrencho Kudd is one of the bigger ones.
Home sweet home
Walking down the alleys, one comes across groups of teenagers in football jerseys. The smells of sorpotel and xacudi are everywhere. 92-year-old Saint John Villaeares has been to Goa only a handful of times but doesn’t miss his native land.
“Why should I, when everything here is like Goa? This has been our home for the last 100 years. I’ll never leave,” he says. The feeling is echoed by a 22-year-old Desmond Baptista: “All my friends and relatives have migrated to countriies like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US. But I can’t dream of leaving my birthplace.”
Further down the road, members of the Matherpacady Residents Welfare Association have just come out of a meeting. The organisation was formed in the early 1980s, during the rule of Chief Minister A R Antulay. It was a period of great turmoil and many residents were pressurised to leave. They fought back.. and are still fighting.
They narrate stories of threatening calls in the middle of the night. Dennis Baptista, a close relative of freedom fighter Kaka Baptista, is one of the founding members of this citizens group.
“Back then, five-star hotels would stack books on us. Europeans would often come on sightseeing tours and point out similarities between these streets and those in Holland or Spain. The only visitors we now have are builders looking to make a quick buck,” Baptista laments.
Anna Gonsalves at 102 is the oldest person in Matharpacady. She’s frail, has difficulty hearing, but recognises most. Her one-story villa goes back by a century and is still occupied. But there are many empty houses around. Let’s hope they are not a picture to the future.”