Thursday, July 2, 2009

When all the village was a stage

When all the village was a stage
24 Feb 2009, 0328 hrs IST, TNN

Decades ago, when there were no floats, no music systems and even no decorated vehicles blaring loud music, carnival entertainment was through skits
that would take place in the yard in front of the village VIPs' houses.

Groups of persons dressed in colourful costumes, men dressed as women, accompanied by the ghumat (Goan percussion instrument) and performing skits laced with sarcasm, are memories of carnival that residents of Goan villages still carry.

"The skits were sarcastic and there was a lot of song and music in them," remembers writer Joel D'Souza of Assagao.

The skits, called khell (literal translation: play), were usually enacted at villages. The bhatkar (landlord) with his aristocratic and domineering ways was often mocked and ridiculed in these skits, with the social divide between the bhatkar and mundkar (tenant farmer) often the theme.

Recalls Maria Coutinho, "I remember one where the mundkar's daughter used to cook at the bhatkar's house, which resulted with the bhatkar's son falling in love with her and the opposition to the marriage."

"In the traditional khells, there would be at least three partes' to the khell. There was one parte which was called the Gaudiam parte' about the Gawda community, another called Raksa parte', about a monster and a third that could be the Bomboichi parte' where the scene shifted to Bombay," explains tiatr writer-director Roseferns.

There were no curtains, sets or props. Not even a stage. So the khell earned the synonym of being a zomnir khell (a play on the ground).

"I don't remember any props. They would say atam bomboi chollon' (Now I am going to Bombay) and the scene would change just like that," recalls D'Souza.

"The songs were written, but the script was not often written. One person would describe the scene, for instance if it was Bombay, he would say there are so many big buildings and cars on the roads. The khells were done that way," says Roseferns.

Yet, the khells didn't just happen. There would be songs and a script and the actors and musicians, always an all male troupe with men enacting female roles, would rehearse before they took to the streets.

"The troupe would move from house to house in the village and go to the homes of the richest people, who would in a way sponsor the khell. It was enacted in the compounds of the wealthy families," remembers D'Souza.

The beating of drums announced that a troupe was ready to perform. The audience would form a circle, those in front squatting on the ground, the others standing. A whistle would announce the beginning of an act and everybody would quieten down to watch the skit.

The first performance, befitting his position, was at the house of the village regedor (headman) and out of deference he would not be charged. From there the troupe would move to the homes of other landlords, who could afford to pay for the performance. The number of skits, or acts of a longer play, performed in the courtyard of each house, depended on how much the troupe was paid.

Over the decades the khell evolved and in the middle of the last century the khell's presented in Panaji were more sophisticated. "They would set up a small stage and a bed spread would serve as the curtain, which was held at the respective ends by two men. One of them had a whistle which was blown to mark the beginning of the act," says Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues, a researcher and writer on Goan history and traditions.

There are few carnival khells happening now and Salcete is the only taluka where these can still be found.

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A big e-welcome to you. Tumcam Maie-mogacho ieukar. Enjoy Life - This is not a rehearsal! Konkani uloi, boroi, vach ani samball - sodankal. Hich Goenchi osmitai ani amchem khalxelponn. Goenchi amchi Konkani bhas! Ekvottachem saddon Goenkaranchem. This is Gaspar Almeida from Parra, Bardez, Goa, based in Kuwait and am connected with the website created by Ulysses Menezes, and as Moderator of the famous first of its kind Gulf-Goans e-Newsletter (since 1994) and The Goan Forum and several Goan and Indian associations and forums and e-forums in Goa, India, Kuwait, The Middle East and worldwide.