The Quintessence of Belgaum
by Late Ollie D. Oliveira
Generations of us have passed through its environs and tasted the lasting imprint of its ethos. Is there anyone, whether still living in the good place or relocated to other climes who can truly say that they bear the marks of their early formation from our Alma Mater and our home? Indeed, even those of us who, as boarders, considered this a home away from home?
Dictionaries define quintessence as the pure and concentrated essence of a substance, the most perfect embodiment of something but primordially the fifth essence or element, ether, besides air, fire, earth, and water that constitute the heavenly bodies. Generation after generation can testify to the ethos assimilated during our formative years in this lovely haven. The salubrious climate was also a great deciding factor in people relocating to our early “Hometown”. Belgaum has been a melting pot of so many different cultures and races and this has contributed to the ethos of Belgaumites.
Many of my generation and earlier will remember the Chinese vendors who used to cycle around Belgaum peddling their silks, brocades and miscellanea of particular interest to the ladies. They used to enter our parlours and unwrap their bolts with a flourish on our floors. Prominent among these was Tung Ming Kee who alone remained and later ran the Chinese Emporium on Church Street. Church Street also boasted so many one-of-a-kind individuals. I wonder how many remember the only Jew in town – Halley, the inveterate gambler whose favourite haunt was the Catholic Club on Picket Road.
Who can forget M. K. Swamy, baker & confectioner to generations of Belgaumites, right from the days of the Raj? There was Kukreja who ran the only sports shop in town, The British Sports, and old Mr. Noronha who ran the only Dairy Shop selling butter, cheese, etc., of which my father was particularly fond. Then there was old Mr. Vasudeo of Vasudeo & Sons, who were the Sole Agents for “The Times of India” and allied Bennett & Coleman publications, as also Mirajkar and Jawalkar our fancied tailors. There was The Green Shop owned by a Muslim (I don’t recall his name) who also owned the Billiard Saloon opposite and our Irani selling the usual chai, pastries, bun-maska, etc.
High Street (and its bylanes), of course, saw the same mix of castes and creeds which ultimately contributed to the richness of our upbringing. Right from Dr. Kamat at one end passing by Himalaya Ice Factory of the Barafwallas, Sikander and the Bandukwallas, the two cloth shops (collectively known as the Marwadis) the only Udipi restaurant on this street, the two barber shops, Novelty Book Stall (the belonging to Ismael, if my memory serves me right (but later bought by Oliver Fernandes), Tejmal Kothari, Purohit, Augustine the grocer, Kattaya the cobbler, Siddick’s cycle shop, the one Irani on High Street, with a generous sprinkling of Catholic homes ending at the gates of St. Joseph’s Convent with Goje Building. Here, we mustn’t forget the only Sikh in town, Grover, who also ran a grocery store, and whose son went on to become a Sub-Inspector in the Bombay Police.
The Parsi community was adequately present in Boyce & Co., Ruttonjee, Rex Theatre, the Kapadias and Davars, et al. The medical fraternity had the Sanjanas, and of course, their Dastoorji, Beevox Bhadha whose children have been and are very dear friends. There was also our friend Adi Patel and his sisters, the former a regular at the Billiard Saloon on Church Street. Some of you will also remember the only bhaiya, Pandey, a Sales Rep for Burmah Shell with a penchant for ballroom dancing often seen flitting around town in the only MG Convertible in town.
Besides the variety of inhabitants from various origins and cultures, there was a generous input from the Christian community. Goans, Marathas, Karwaris, Mangaloreans, while the Raj and the Railways contributed their share of Anglo-Indians. This rich mix contributed largely to our broad-minded approach to the human race in general and helped us all to put aside any vestige of bigotry or parochialism.
A great contributor to leveling our playing field was the sports and games in which we all participated, to a greater or lesser extent. The traditional sports of football, hockey, cricket, volleyball, basketball and athletics coupled with the more mundane pastimes as marbles, cowries, gilli-danda, seven tiles all contributed to the moral.
One cannot forget the scouting and the NCC which molded us into bodies irrespective of our origins, colour caste or creed. Right from the cubs and juniors to the Scout Masters and troop leaders to the seniors and officers, these activities molded us into men and women who could face the world and all its disparities with an equanimity born of facing and ignoring our racial differences.
While the Camp formed our immediate world, our schoolmates came from the city and its environs as well as from all over India and abroad, particularly Africa. So many of our schoolmates came from the City, Tilakwadi, Shahpur and Hindalga. Besides, there were boarders who came from Pune, Solapur, Kolhapur, Miraj, Sangli, Mumbai, Goa and even from abroad, principally Africa.
This article centres on the Camp which held our Alma Maters (St.Pauls & St.Joeshps) and hence, our world.
The City, Fort, Hindalga, Tilakwadi and Shahpur held their mix of castes and creeds. Hindus, Muslims, Jains, who hailed from various parts of India with a sprinkling of Christians. Boys and girls from these parts of Belgaum also contributed to the making of us men and boys with a unique formation of our attitudes and “world-view”. The absence of bias created a strange melting pot which really spelt out the unique blend that has made Belgaum; Belgaum.