Saturday, February 2, 2019


Hello!, God bless you sons…. Deo borem korum ! I am Julius Rebello, Father Julius Rebello. Not to be confused with Julio Ribeiro, the feisty policeman, the…what do they say, Paadma Bibusan Ribeiro. But names apart, there remains one more bond of mine with the old man. Both of us were in the police force, he before his retirement, and I before my ordainment. Only one alphabet distinguishes our ranks held last. He was a DGP, and I, a DSP…

Lest I forget, a word about what brings me here. I met this precocious Catholic girl of seven who is apparently a writer of some consequence…better than me, may the Lord bless her. I think Maria D’Costa, or perhaps Maria D’ Silva, some Maria to be certain….as our Bishop the Reverend Mario Castelino assures us, Maria along with her male and female variants Mary, Mario, Mariah etc. etc. is the commonest given name on the planet. Makes remembering less of a pain at my age…This young lady mostly writes in the vein of Dame Agatha Christie, but with a Biblical moral at the end, and one day, after the Children’s Mass, somehow held me with her query, two queries to be precise. One, why is there no organised crime of the Sicilian variety in Goa, rather in India for that matter, and two, why are names like Brasi, Sollozzo or Gonsalves, names which lend a rare menace to crime fiction, so rare in the annals of Crime in Bharatha, that is India. God bless her! Pertinent queries, well-meaning, not meant to offend the priestly order. After all they were put to an ex-cop…Moreover a priest cannot refuse to address a human query just because it is outrageous, he must measure it up against the Lord’s word.  It is certainly the right of every writer to seek fertile pastures for his or her prose, and of course as the Latin proverb goes, ut sementem feceris ita metes- you reap what you sow…

But first I must address the question that should now be uppermost in the attentive reader’s mind. Is it not oxymoronic- a policeman-priest? Agreed, ‘tis a bit tricky, a policeman becoming a priest. But in today’s world there is a tragic resonance between the two professions, if I may say so. As the Jesuit Post succinctly puts it, both are today “mistrusted groups with accountability issues”. Take that!

Aside from the philosophy of it, two practical issues stand out. One is the working language, the essential tool of trade. The two worlds, one, that of the Lord’s Law, the other of Man’s Law, work on entirely different planes. The simplest way to put it, one tongue was created by God, the other…could you guess it?! The police vocabulary has by now been largely banished from my processes. As they say, cum ianuam claudit Dei opens a fenestra - id est, God closed a door and opened a window, or still better, the other way round. In the ultimate analysis, aside of prepositions, articles and conjunctions, I’d say the only word common to Churchese and the police lingo is Son!

The other conflict is more daunting, touching upon the difference between ethics, Christian and Secular. Suppose someone from the flock approaches the confession box and admits, within the Sacrament of Confession, to a murder. The Lord’s commands are crisp and clear.  If the subject is contrite and agrees to the penance decided by the priest, the latter is bound to forgive the confessor in Jesus’ name. Of course the confessor as a Catholic must abide with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. No exception is made, whether you are an ex-DSP or an ex-DGP or an ex-Sheriff or a Police Chaplain. I have myself spent sleepless nights on the horns of one such dilemma, wondering whether the fact of my being a recipient of Government pension would have any bearing on God’s expectations from me. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, particularly 13: 1-7 is quoted by many as the Bible’s word on obedience to earthly powers, but according to many authorities, the interpretation is taken out of context to ‘bolster the bourgeois attitude of later Churches’, especially the Lutheran, God bless the Lutheran brothers ! Commonsense would ordain that as Jesus made such a huge sacrifice for us, civic rules should be held subservient to His Gospel.

My referee Fr. Kunnankal of Our Lady of Remedios Parish, Betalbatim,  locally called the Malate Church, also must have wrestled with the selfsame dilemma, vicariously, before the Parish sponsored me for my ordainment at the Patriarchal Seminary of  Rachol.  The first question he asked himself was cur vis faciam?  Why should he want to do it, that too abdicating a respectable Government service? Basically my own father had always wanted at least one son of his to serve the Lord. Father Kunnankal adored the sentiment, citing a…a Malay-alee proverb which roughly translates to “you will earn equal dignity if you have a priest or an elephant in the family..” Yes, an Elephant! I had faithfully attended the Mass, participated in Prayer Services, received Sacraments, which helped. So, with His blessings, at Rachol I did the three-year Philosophy course, with the Government of India chipping in with a degree from IGNOU of Delhi, which I took as a good omen. From thence to my parish at comely Betalbatim for my year-long Pastoral Praxis, ending with the four-year Theology Course, finally emerging as a priest, sure, after a diaconal stint at parishes, some near, some afar.

So why no Sicilian mafias in our Nation? Let me don my old police hat for a moment then…Well!  In our great nation, thievery has been practised more as an Art, not as a Science. The University of Chicago once commissioned a study of urban drug syndicates of America, and were delighted, what else, to discover that they were organised exactly like the McDonalds franchises, and in India one won’t be surprised to be told that such and such McDonalds outlet is run like a Pa and Ma store. That’s the West for you! The Orient, whether it is the spiritual walk or the artistic sojourn, relies on Individualism. That interesting gentleman Rabi Sankar could be sitting alone on the top of the Everest practising his ragas, and enjoying himself in fullest measure. But a Western Classical presentation works like giant clockwork, every cog and chime playing its part without the isolated performer having a clue about the symphony as a whole! And seriously I am sceptical as to the omniscience of the gentleman who waves so frantically at the head of the whole caboodle…

Now permit me to lead you unto anno domini 1961. The year of the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese yoke, or the liberation of the Portuguese from the white man’s burthen, there are always two opposing views. I hark back Maria  D’ Sa, seven years of age, to this year of turmoil. Here I plan to narrate my little story which as the papers of today put it eloquently, ‘showcases’ the milieu dear Maria yearns for.  

So this happened in 1961, in the twilight period when India was rushing in to reclaim the Goan bride, and the Portuguese were leaving Indian shores in haste. To give an illustration of the scramble, on 9th December 1961 the ship MV India arrived at Marmugao on her way from Timor to Lisbon : in spite of the instructions of the Government of Portugal to the contrary, 700 European Portuguese broke into the ship even as the Governor General Manuel Vassalo e Silva watched helplessly..

I was about the same age as Maria is today. It was a great upheaval, when the old order changed, yielding place to a new order, disorder, as many of my Catholic friends would aver. The mantle of western superiority our anglicised set dons is matched only by the xenophobia the Brahmin community of Goa glories in... The last word in this acrimonious discourse is what a perceptive Hindu Goan writer notes: I argue for a more layered understanding of the concepts of mimicry, hybridity and resistance in relation to identifications from these two communities, so he proposes. I don’t know what sense this makes to a non-Goan though..

Returning to our story, I don’t know what charm this childhood memory holds for me, but I can never walk past it. Perhaps the brattiness of the kid in the story strikes a chord, perhaps it has to do with the old Portuguese-Goan mystique, combined with the insecurity and peril that pervaded the times. Not that seven year old Julius had so much as an inkling of the issues, he was a contented lad growing under the benign shade of his grandparents.

Senhor Santiago Rebello and Senhora Ines Rebello were the parents of my dad, my Vovo and Avo, all the three of Portuguese stock, while my mother was a converted Brahmin. That makes me a Luso-Indian. The marriage ended in a separation, and I, sole product of the marriage, went on to live with my grandparents at Betalbatim, now known best for the Martin’s Corner. Grandpa and Grandma didn’t hanker after Portugal’s hospitality and now rest peacefully side-by-side in the cemetery at Our Lady of Remedios Church.

My Grandmother that is Avo Ines’s fond possession was a priceless set of exquisite  Portuguese filigree gold jewels, complete with a viana pendant, which was supposedly now serving the fifteenth generation in her female lineage, come to her as dowry. Pretty much of Betalbatim knew of its existence. In an unguarded moment, given the troubled times, the set was alas, stolen. The Police sergeant visited us suo moto but Grandpa, offered help, politely declined. The moment the police left, he made a couple of calls on the phone, and the phone replied soon enough. Grandpa spoke in Portuguese, which was alien to me, to my generation in fact, such was the schooling. He smiled grimly, donned his jacqueta and sombrero, and kissed Avo goodbye as he hurriedly stepped out.

The phrase he uttered as he hung up the phone sounded to me like “tram-carra-pour”, which rang quite exotic and amusing in my mind, and, as a kid would, I kept repeating it to myself, noisily wheeling and carting a little metallic tramcar that was part of my toy collection. The words had their own connotation for my Avo in the given situation and they apparently made her tense. She asked me to cease that bratty chant of mine. In return I asked what the words meant, she said “Lock the door”. 

I discovered the significance of those words years later when my Dad unravelled the tale to me. When the phone had rung back that day, a friend of Grandpa had called, informing him that he was now swigging feni at this small Portuguese café, and was witnessing noisy bargaining between two men over Avo’s famous jewellery, spread-out on a corner table. The exact words Grandpa muttered were “trancar a porta” which, intoned in his rustic dialect, sounded like “tram-carra-pour”... The friend had been instructed to lock the door of the café from outside.

The fate of the jewels became known to me forthwith on the evening of the theft itself. Grandpa had returned home with the missing jewellery in half-an-hour.

Hope that story assuages your curiosity to an extent, Maria, though I am sorry I can’t detect a moral in the story the way you so admirably spot in yours!

No comments: