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Goa Fair India

If you want to dance through the night and eat and drink your heart out, head straight for Mapusa

“Did you, perchance, see my husband?”

“Indeed! In the market buying pearls for the dancing girl”

Konkani folk song (anon)

That, obviously was a folk poet with a very fertile imagination. Not many lawfully wedded Goan husbands shop for gifts as brashly for their favourite dancing girl. But, yes, Goan fairs are unforgettable experiences. A traveller described them as “plays without a stage”. And so they are, audience participation being the key element.

Like any other fair,
Goan fairs
are polychromous and, since the last few years, it is not just the colour of the garments — all kinds of them — it is also the colour of skins ranging from black to white and all the imaginable mid-hues of brown. Gita Mehta, the celebrated author of Karma Cola, described Anjuna as “an anthropologist’s dream”. The sites of the fairs are also an etymologist’s delight. For you can speculate on the origins of the various name places. Was Anjuna once `Anjamana’, a guild of Arab traders? And nearby Chapora once Shahpur? Are they Islamic landmarks of Goa’s pre-Portuguese past when, Arabs in tandem with the Venetians, supplied Europe all the Oriental spices they needed to preserve their needs in those distant days when there were no refrigerators? Perhaps.

Every Friday Mapusa is the site of one of the most memorable fairs. Cereals were — and still are in Goa — measured in maaps made of wood, generally teak, with metal (brass in most cases) rims. For every maap unloaded in the shopper’s bag, the salesman uttered a throaty saa for the man, generally the owner, minding the till to take note of the sale and collect the cash. Hence, Maap-Saa. Clever isn’t it?

There were fairs that specialized in certain goods. One went all the way to Narve in Bicholim subdivision on Gokul Ashtami day to buy wooden furniture, some of it carved. For copper cauldrons, every Friday, to Banastari. The famous Calangute beach has a Saturday market for salted fish, pork and piglets.

May 31 is the day or purument, a Konkani distortion of purumento, an archaic Portuguese word meaning provisions. One fair is held in Panaji, the capital of Goa and the another in Margao, the capital of south Goa district.

Hawkers start assembling about ten days before the actual date and stay on till they finish their wares or decide they have had enough of it. Whether for turmeric or asafoetida and certainly for the most varied assortment of red peppers, that is the day and those are the places. Also for fish and meat preserves, pickles and jams that are home-made and guaranteed to last a whole year. And for herbs, barks, unguents and roots for all kinds of monsoon ailments. Because in Goa, after the SW monsoon had set in, the landed gentry would stay put in their mansions and the peasants would slave in the fields from dawn to dusk. They all had to stock up as best as they could for the duration of the rains.

But the oldest Goan fair is the Mapusa Friday Fair. It is huge, but not the biggest because that privilege belongs to the fair of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles) held on the first Monday 15 days after Easter. It literally spreads itself all over Mapusa city. Every pavement, lane and cranny of it. Late in the evening there is a grand open air ball in the municipal square with five or more bands in attendance, hundreds of dancers on the floor. Beer and liquor are sold and drunk by the barrel. It goes on till dawn breaks. The most charming feature of the festival is that it is celebrated with great gusto by both the Catholic and Hindu communities — Catholics for very obvious reasons and never ever has the Madonna disappointed believers seeking special favours. Hindus believe that the Virgin Madonna is but a twin sister of Lairai, a virtuous deity of their pantheon who resisted the demons who in vain tried to rape her.

The Mapusa fair is a mindboggling event. Robert Bradnok, Head of the Geography Department of London University, and Roma, his wife, a Bengali by birth, describe the fair in Goa Handbook (a Footprint Handbooks imprint) as “colourful and vibrant... a must since vendors come from far and wide and there is a lot of activity right into the evening”. The sun (for photography) is best early in the morning between 8.30 and 9.30 a.m. For Goan specialities try the stall with the signboard reading `Olivia Ferrao’. There is no better place for Goan preserves, pork sausages, parah (pickled fish), perada (guava cheese), mangada (mango jam), or the ingredients that go into the famous Goan specialities like balchao, vindaloo, xacuti. Dona Olivia hails from a distinguished Goan family of doctors, lawyers, musicians, bishops. Being now very old and infirm she has franchised her secret and centuries-old family recipes.

But the most famous worldwide is the Anjuna Flea Market held every Wednesday at daybreak till well into the evening when many of the sellers and buyers adjourn to the nearby Beach Bar for a rave party.

The ‘event’ which is the most apt de-scription one can think of was the brainwave of the “Peaceniks” as they styled themselves. They opposed the Vietnam war and sought refuge in Goa in the late 1960s. Anjuna then was a deserted and paradisiac beach. The “Peaceniks”, when they found themselves broke, started selling their belongings: music tapes, books, gadgets, perfumes... The Flea Market has grown manifold since then. It has to be seen to be believed. Lonely Planet (popularly known as Survival Kit), the very well written Australian guide, describes the Anjuna Flea Market very aptly: “It’s a wonderful blend of Tibetan and Kashmir traders, colourful Gujarati women, blissed out 90s style hippies, Indian tourists, Western tourists and travellers from around the world”. And goes on to state that you’ll find there whatever you need — from a used paperback to a new swimsuit... the best place to shop for souvenirs... day-glo coloured rave clothings... hammocks, handpainted T-shirts, joss stick holders, paintings...” The list goes on. And just in case ... a few further details: “There are makeshift shelters offering ‘western’ hairdressing, a multitude of women who will offer to decorate your limbs with henna’d patterns and at least a couple of places specialising in body piercing (tattoo)...” And there are barbers, beggars, jugglers, contortionists, monkey tricks and mercers, milliners, jewellers, hatters, hawkers of sweetmeats, snacks, cold drinks, cigarettes...

The Flea Market has been such a huge success that it has branched out. There is also, since the dawn of 2000, a Flea Market at Baga, the beach at the foot of Anjuna Hill. It is on every Saturday 8 a.m. onwards, rainy months excluded.