Stanislaus Cool (This is an extract from the book 'Bomoicar: Stories of Bombay Goans 1920-1980')

Stanislaus Cool 

by Tony Noronha

When I first arrived in Bombay in 1937, it appeared too vast to my nine-year-old head. I had never been in a city that was well-lit and abuzz till 8.30 pm.

I was brought to the city by our Goan vicar, Fr Jose Remedios, after two years of kindergarten at the Fatima Convent in Grande Daman. But it was really my mother, a nanny to some British and American children in Bombay, who had set the tempo for my life when she'd got me admitted me to St Stanislaus School in Bandra.

I arrived in school on April 30, 1937, at the start of summer vacations. There were only about 50 of us left in the boarding; the rest of the 600 boarders had gone home. The very next day, I set out on my first holiday on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway to the Jesuit house in Lonavala. We climbed hills, and marveled at canals that supplied water to Bombay below.

A month later, we were back in school and plunged into a schedule packed with prayer, class-work, study time, recess, meals, hockey, football, cricket and non-stop disciplining from 6 am to 9 pm.

Brother Benovent, a Spanish seminarian, whipped us if we broke rules or dodged our books. But our mischief always found a channel, especially in coining nicknames.

In a bungalow at the southern tip of the school, lived kanya (squint) with his two pretty daughters, pets and fowls. Our senior boarding prefects, Armando Menezes and Joaquim, were dubbed as Romeo and Juliet, and our principal and Chemistry teacher -- the short and round-faced Fr Ribot -- was nicknamed Cobalt for the undue stress he laid on the word. Our choir master was the ancient looking Fr Irach. I enjoyed being lead soprano with Joe Verhoven, an Anglo-Indian boy, but hated having to stay back for Christmas or Easter midnight Mass while the other boys were holidaying at home.

On Sunday mornings we swam in the school pool, and in the evenings strolled around Juhu Beach, Pali Hill, Land's End, Santa Cruz and Khar. These places had acres upon acres of greenery and only a few houses. It was a bit like revisiting Goa.

Then came the war that changed our lives.

We were forbidden from reading the newspaper, yet names like Hitler and Churchill kept cropping up in conversations. Vegetables had gone missing from the plate and meat was served on-the-bone in curries. Ten of us third-class boarders had it even harder; we could eat only after polishing spoons and serving the rest of the children in the refectory. But since my mother was a widow, I received a 50 percent concession in fee. I paid five-rupees -- half the Bombay-Goa train fare at the time.

Our boarding cooks, in a hurry to feed 600 hungry boys, dumped sacks of grain directly into cooking vats wheeled around in trolleys, making roach wings and rat excreta regular accompaniments with our meal. Sooner than later, we paid the price.

In February and March 1944, Bombay was hit by a typhoid epidemic. About 200 of us boarders were down with a fever. Dr Silveira, who normally attended to us, said it was malaria. It was only after 20 of us -- mostly Goan boys preparing for the eighth standard or matriculation exam and waiting to join
their parents in East Africa -- had died at the infectious diseases hospital on Arthur Road, that we found the culprit. It turned out to be a dead rat in the school well.

When I returned from hospital, I did not see my friend, Rui, in the next bed at the boarding. A week later, I heard that he too had been killed by the rat.

Life after School

After passing my matriculation exam in 1946, I swam every morning at public pools in Dadar, Bandra and Colaba with my close knit gang of boys and girls. My best friends wereDesmond D'Penha and Gilbert Abreu. In the evenings, Alexandra Terrace opposite Byculla Railway Station, was the place to be. I joined the Evergreen Club formed by Nap D'Souza, a bank employee from the building, and rubbed shoulders with teens like Julio and Edgar Ribeiro and their pretty sister. Little did we imagine that Julio would become a supercop and Edgar, a national name in urban planning.

We savoured murder mysteries, cowboy and war movies at Strand, Regal, New Empire, Eros and Bandra Talkies; but our favourite was Metro. Weekend picnics to Juhu, Versova and Madh Islands; and get-togethers on neighbourhood terraces were a common affair. We danced to Chic Chocolate, Maurice Concessio, Mickey Correa and his orchestra -- all these had Goan musicians and Anglo-Indian crooners and dancers.

Those were peaceful times, whether you were Parsi, Gujarati, Mangalorean, Anglo-Indian, Goan or East Indian. We were disciplined and law abiding, and politics didn't interest us one bit. It was also easy to get a job those days. Robert Cruickshank, my mother's employer, knew JRD Tata personally and sent me to meet him with a reference letter.

Unfortunately, I handed it over to the Tata manager at Fort and walked away, not knowing I had to appear for an interview. But help was at hand from an uncle in Byculla, who got me hired as a clerk at the GIP office in Parel. Not one to take to files and paperwork, I lasted there only six months.

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Hipoldo D'Souza, a gentleman in his fifties, who had helped many an Alexandra boy get a job, I applied to the Indian Naval dockyard and was offered an apprenticeship in the electricity department. I worked there for five years, and alongside got a diploma in electrical engineering from the Victoria Jubilee Training Institute (VJTI), Matunga, in 1952.

Eager to grow professionally, I left for Brazil, and chose Goa over Bombay when home beckoned about a decade later. The rot in Bombay had set in with Morarji Desai's Prohibition, leading to gangs feuding over the city. The common man's tram had been derailed, and tracks along which it trundled were fast ejected.

For all these decades, I've considered Goa my place in the sun. But it still takes a visit to Bombay to recharge my batteries.


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