Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Off To Goa!

On Wednesday (May 23rd) morning, Noel and family came to pick me up at the Shervani Hotel as scheduled (a little after 8:30 a.m.). We said good-bye to Louie and Margaret D'Souza at this point since they were flying off to Mumbai with Wayne Gonsalves for a few days before coming to Goa.

Checking in at the airport was pretty straight forward (since Noel was a veteran at doing this trip) other than the collective weight of our luggage being over the allowable limit and having to pay for the excess. Airport security was pretty tight (i.e. a lot more check-points than in North America). We had gotten to the airport earlier enough to have time for a coffee and to pick up some sandwiches for the no-frills flight to Goa. We also bumped into Wayne at the airport just before boarding since he arrived fairly early for his flight.

The flight to Goa was pretty uneventful and the few hours of R&R on the plane was very restful after the hustle and bustle of the last few days in Nainital and New Delhi. Landing in Goa was almost like landing in a different country because of the ocean, palm trees and warm tropical breezes. The temperature was not as hot as Delhi, but the humidity (apparently they had had rain the night before) made up for it.

As we waited for our luggage, my cousin Rosette Viegas with her husband George showed up to greet me. Shortly after, my cousin Lilia arrived with her children, Joaquim (Kim), Zubin and Thabitha. They all met Noel, Nayantara and Nicholas. Before parting ways, Lilia and Rosette updated me on their plans for me, and then we set off for Noel's house in two cars.

Noel very graciously invited my cousins to his house for tea even though he and the family had been away from home for almost two weeks (they had actually met up with us in New Delhi after vacationing in the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan). Only Lilia and her family took him up on the offer, and followed us to his house in Vasco da Gama.

On arrival at Noel's house which was only about 5 minutes from the airport, I was shown to my room, which was "super deluxe" with its own TV and air-conditioner. After dropping the bags in the room, I joined the family and my cousins in the kitchen for some tea. Here I met Noel's mother, Urminda, and two of his daughters, Tara and Nicole; Chantal was out at a friend's and Alisha was away.

After Lilia and family left, Noel showed me around the house which was both beautiful and extensive. We then simply relaxed and had a few drinks until dinner. It was nice not having anything planned for once. My first dinner in Goa was all one could have asked for, the highlights being mackerel racheiado (a.k.a. masala mackerel) and a great fresh mango curry.No matter how good the food in Northern India was, Goan food was what
had been waiting for and I was not disappointed on this night nor during my entire stay in Goa.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Good-bye Naini; Hello Delhi Again!

On Tuesday (May/22) morning, the remaining non-resident ex-SEMians (Noel, Wayne, Louis and I) and our families left the Balrampur House in Nainital promptly at 6:00 a.m., taking a route down the mountain that was different from the one we used to get up. We stopped for breakfast at a Service Centre, and then a few hours later in a little village to buy 10 kgs of lychees (courtesy of Noel) which were just coming into season and not readily available in Goa. After arriving in New Delhi, those in my car (Noel, Wayne, Nicholas and I) went to the Khan Market to do some shopping. The book prices in the Khan market, even for American-authored books, were amazing. I bought a copy of Age of Kali by William Dalrymple, recommended by a number of SEM alumni and relevant to this trip since it contains reference to the murder of Freddy Gomes (the son of our Senior gym teacher, "Stuffy Gomes).

After arriving at the Shervani Hotel, I took it easy while awaiting the arrival of Louie and Margaret, who had been in a separate car and gone on a different shopping expedition. Wayne was dropped off at the Delhi Gymkhana and Noel went on to the friends he and the family were staying with.

While waiting, I tried to use the hotel PC to update my travel blog which I was unable to complete while in Nainital due to lack of computer resources and time. Unfortunately, the Internet was acting kind of finicky and eventually crashed, so I thought it best to pick up on "the blog" while in Goa.

Louie, Margaret and I had originally planned to see the Sound and Light Show at the Red Fort the evening we got back from Nainital, since we had skipped the Fort previously due to the heat and since our driver had convinced us to see the show.

However, we had subsequently made plans to have dinner later that evening with Wayne Gonslaves, Rajeev Singh (who had come in the night before, by train, from Nainital with his daughter) and Prabhakar Singh (who had been unable to make it up to Nainital). So, the three of us decided to visit the Dilli Haat, the famous crafts market in Delhi, since we had had few opportunities to shop on our trip, and I needed some beads for my sister-in-law. Since we needed a ride there and back, and then to dinner, we hired a car for the evening.

The Dilli Haat had a lot of neat Indian stuff in it (mostly cloth items), but nothing was marked with a price, so it was pretty exhausting haggling in the heat, although Louie became quite masterful at it after visiting a few stalls and figuring out everyone's bottom-line. After killing a few hours there, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Dinner was originally to be at the Delhi Gymkhana (famous for its Bloody Marys, although Noel had set a pretty high bar for these in Nainital), but Rajeev and Prabhakar wanted to take us to the Shack Seafood Lounge & Bar, which is we ended up after drinks at the Gymkhana. [Note: Bloody Mary's at the Gymkhana were very good, but Noel's were still best.]

Food at the Shack was superb, and we closed the place down.

After we arrived back at the hotel, I packed for my flight to Goa the next day.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Row, Row, Row Your Boat - NOT!

Monday (May/21) morning was departure time for Carl Keelor and Arjun Mehta (and entourage), but the rest of the us were invited to lunch by our class-mate, Atul Shah, who owns the Prashant Hotel in Nainital. It's at the Tallital i.e. bus-stand) side of the lake). But first, he is going to take us to the Naini Zoo (built after we left Nainital) which is not far from his place.
Among the zoo's inhabitants were monkeys, a Himalayan black bear, leopards, a Siberian tiger, a palm civet cat, wolves, silver pheasants, a rose-ringed prakeet, a hill fox , ghorals, barking beer, and a sambhar. The zoo is normally closed to visitors on Monday, but Atul made special arrangements for it to be opened especially for us, and had the head zoo-keeper lead the tour.

The zoo, which is actually called the Govind Ballabh Pant High Altitude Zoo, stands at an altitude of 2100 meters in a sprawling open area in the hills. The zoo walkway spirals upwards until you reach an amazing lookout point that is almost directly across from SEM (see following "foggy"close-up).
After another fabulous meal, we had the cars drop us off at the other (Mallital) side of the lake. The ladies then went shopping and the rest of us (Louie, Noel, Nicholas, Wayne and I) went for a boat ride, hiring two boats. For some reason, Louie who insisted on rowing himself (at least for a few minutes), chose 9-year old Nicholas for one or his boat-mates rather than me. If I was a sensitive guy ..... Anyway, Noel and I chose to take the easy option and let the boatman do the rowing, while we took in the many sights and sounds. We were also freed up to taking a few photos of Louie rowing before he threw in the towel. [This is our boatman, not Louie.]On approaching the other end of the lake, we had the boatmen pull in near the SEM Boathouse. The dock was no longer there, but there is a landing area adjacent to the boathouse. We walked around the building and verified, through cracks in the door, that the rowing sculls were still here (contrary to what we had been told by others). However, we are not sure where the two "spotting" launches were. We also verified through the boatmen that SEM still raced the sculls in the lake once a year.
Although we had hired the boats for a round-trip, we decided to disembark at this end of the lake, since I remembered (35 years later) that there was a Post Office at this end, and I needed to get some stamps. We also wanted to take an obligatory rickshaw ride back along the Mall road to the Mallital side of town. I was assigned my own rickshaw. Again, if I was sensitive guy ......
The rickshaw stand at the other end was =near the strip of shops that included Modern Book Depot (now called Modern Book & General Store). We popped in to give the owner, Vimal Kumar, Rui's E-mail address (as promised on a previous visit) and to get some post-cards of Nainital.

We also stopped in at the electronics store next door (major source of LPs in our day) and had a lengthy conversation with "Pummy" Singh (George Figueiredo class-mate) about the current state of SEM and related Alumni initiatives.
We then stopped in at Sakley's (the pastry/cake) shop for a coffee. I believe that this is where our birthday cakes used to come from, courtesy of our parents and Mr. Frietas.

We then met up with the ladies and the cars and headed back to the hotel, for one last meal in Nainital. We settled up our bills that night and starting packing since we planned to leave at around 6:00am in order to avoid traffic down the mountain as well as the heat in Delhi.

In hindsight, there are a still a number of things in Nainital and SEM that I missed seeing perhaps due to all the meals and group activities that we had to fit in, but maybe next (?) time.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hiking in Kumaon

On Sunday (May/20), Rajeev Singh organized a picnic for us at a beautiful wooded area just past Kilbury. Although it was a bit cloudy, the rain stayed away and we had a superb time. The view across the foothills into the Himalayans was a bit foggy, but here (with artistic licence) is what we would have seen on a clearer day. Rajeev's henchmen laid out some blankets, and we devoured the fantastic lunch (tandoori wraps, puris and potatoes, etc.) that the hotel had packed for us. After a few short walks to explore the forest and the mandatory group photos, we set off back down the mountain, stopping along the way to soak in more scenic vistas and to take some short hikes off the beaten trail that were conducted by Rajeev's children.

We also stopped along the way to eat some barbequed "bhutta", i.e. corn, that was slathered with lemon juice and spices. Although not as good the the "bhutta" on "the Flats" in town, we weren't sure when we would get the next opportunity, so eat them with great gusto. That evening we had dinner at Rakesh Ahuja’s place. His wife is a master chef, but at this point we all felt we had been eating endlessly. Entertainment (songs, stories, general clowning around) was provided by the usual suspects, Millie and Rajeev, but the highlight was Nayantara da Lima Leitao, Noel's wife, who could easily be a professional singer. She sang Goan (Kokani) as well as English song without any musical accompaniment. Her rendition of Don't Cry For Me Argentina would have to wait for another time, when we had a guitar.

Back at the hotel, we had our usual nigh-cap session, trying once again to solve the world's problems.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left!

We woke up early on Saturday, May 19th, so that we could leave at 8:30am, by car, in order to be up at SEM before 9:00 a.m. when Sports Day was scheduled to start. Some morning drizzles made us a little concerned, but the rain stopped by the time we arrived.

We had actually been woken up by a bunch of monkeys that had taken shelter on our veranda and in the hotel hallways. I tried to take some pictures, but panicked when one of the monkeys hissed and charged.

Most of us wore the House shirts we had bought from Dua’s shop the day before.
Classmates (and others) who were present for Sports Day (as shown in above photo from left to right) were:

Victor Figueiredo
Noel Da Lima Leitao
Ashok Chandra (lower step)
M.S. Bhandari (lower step)
Amul Mehrotra
Louis D’Souza (lower step)
Rakesh Ahuja
Arjun Mehta
Carl Keelor (lower step)
Wayne Gonsalves

Neville Keelor
Rajeev Singh (lower step)

Despite all the negatives that we heard from other local alumni about past Sports Days, the Principal actually looked after us and gave us VIP treatment: a teacher met us in the quad and escorted us to a special VIP area on the second floor balcony; we had tea and snacks with teachers and other VIPs during the intermission; special mention of our presence was announced; one of our donated trophies (for Best Athlete) was given out by Brigadier R. K. Kohli (a class-mate of my brother George), who was the Chief Guest-of-Honour.

We were pretty raucous throughout the day as we cheered our respective House-mates. Everyone will remember that the Batch of 1974 attended this Sports Day !!! The other odd thing (or maybe not so odd) was that the most vivid memories of my classmates about Sports Day, besides their own final year achievements, were those of my brother Rui Figueiredo and his achievements (College Captain, 100m hurdles, etc.).

We were invited to participate in the closing March Past as a separate group behind the current students and other alumni. We actually marched (left, left, left, right, left) and even did an “eyes right” in front of the Chief Guest’s enclosure; all done very correctly and in step. The Brigadier was very impressed, as he told us later.

We even “convinced” the Principal to give add an extra day to the school holidays (that began today) by yelling the loudest for a “holiday” along with the students and he finally agreed.

Final Sports Day Results (Rui and Neal will be very pleased):

- Gandhi House (BLUE, nee St. Peter's): 955 points
- Pant House (GREEN, nee St.Patrick's): 952 points
- Tagore House (RED, nee St.Paul's): 837 points
- Nehru House (YELLOW, nee St.Francis): 784 points

After all was over, we walked around the school premises and reminisced, taking in the bogs, the box-rooms and dormitories, the showers, the study hall, and Tuck-shop where we had bum-cakes (a lot sweeter than remembered).

Before we left the school-grounds, we visited Stonecross (i.e.the infirmary) where many of us used to go everyday for our daily dose of Geritol and where we actually got a decent meal if we were happened to stay there overnight due to illness.

After we left the school, we visited the nearby Governor's House (the "govies"), where we toured the main building (finally opened to the public in 2000) as well as the grounds where we had picnics on many occasions and played all kinds of games. Some of us had also caddied for Br. Comber at the golf course here during the summer holidays.
We hosted a party for everyone at our hotel that evening and had invited the Principal, Bro.Fitzpatrick, Bro. Murray, "Zinc" Shah (our biology teacher) , P.L. "Peloo" Shah (our chemistry teacher), and Mr. & Mrs. Tahir (the art teachers), but only Zinc and Peloo finally came.

We were joined at the hotel by class-mates who could not make to the Sports Day. These were:

- Atul Shah (left in photo below)
- Samir Shah (centre in photo below)
- Vivek Shah (right in photo below)
- Ashutosh Shah
Another great time and more good food was had by all. Rajeev Singh brought along his autograph book from his final year (1974). It was a hoot to read through it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Back to The Past At Last!

After our late night, we all slept in and/or took it easy in the morning, trying to conserve our energy for the days ahead. We were also awaiting the arrival, from New Delhi, of class-mates Carl “Kullu” Keelor, Arjun Mehta and M.S. “Bhunto” Bhandari before heading up to the school.

Our objective in visiting the school today was to:

(a) do an initial tour of the school since Sports Day (tomorrow) would be pretty hectic;

(b) to give the Principal, a lay-person named Mr.Emmanuel, three permanent trophies and related individual trophies that the “Batch of 1974” had purchased for the school;

(c) to meet Brother Fitzpatrick (yes, the Principal from 1960-1965) who was back at SEM as one of the last three Christian Brothers who were still at the school.

Our purpose in meeting with Brother Fitzpatrick was to ensure that our presence and related contributions to SEM were indeed welcome after some preliminary overtures were resisted by Mr. Emmanuel (long story that pre-dates our arrival).

Unfortunately, our class-mates from Delhi only arrived (with the trophies) in the late afternoon, so we got up to the school (in cars) at 4:30p.m. fearing the worst, i.e. that no one would be around.

Entering the school gates (now protected by a guard) was so familiar that it felt like yesterday rather than thirty-four years ago.Everything looked the same except that the front of the school (including the towers) was painted a light blue rather than the white that we all remembered.
Luckily, after hanging around the front for a few minutes, we espied Br. Fitzpatrick in the quadrangle ("the quad") through the junior dormitory doors and rushed around to meet him and
introduce ourselves. His memory was pretty sharp and he remembered the Figueiredo boys.

We then went up to the Principal’s office with him and gave Mr. Emmanuel the trophies that we had purchased, one for Best Athlete of the Year, one for Best Footballer, one for Best Student.

After photos with Mr. Emmanuel, we began our tour of the school, starting with the Church, the classrooms, 1st field (where they were re-marking the field because of the rain, in same manual manner that they had done it 34 years ago ... amazing), “the bogs” (still as stinky as ever, but where they now have a wall across the front, making the actual cubicles pretty dark).

Note: There were no students around since they were all watching a movie in the auditorium (it was Saturday after all).

We stopped in at Duo & Co. (the sports store next to the gym, or the bogs depending on one's point-of reference) to find that old man Duo was still there. He remembered the Figueiredos since Dad must have spent a bundle there for Sports uniforms. We each bought a House shirt (Red for me and Louie, Yellow for Noel and Carl , etc.). We also checked out the gym where everyone tried out the equipment to see if they still had it.

From there we went down the steps to the junior fields (5th and 6th ) and 2nd field as well as Donaldabad (the lay teachers’ residence). The empty land just in front of the teachers' residence, where the “monkey-bars” had been, is now a basketball court (although the original money bars were still there in a corner), the handball courts are now squash courts (i.e. the front is walled off except for an entry door and there is a net across the top. There is a large water cistern where the 2nd field cricket equipment shed used to be.

There were some young kids playing football on the 2nd field, mostly teachers' and servants’ children. We had a quick pick-up game with them, ending with penalty kicks to see if we still had it. Of all the former football stars we had with us, only Louie actually scored a penalty kick on these young lads. No one attempted to kick the ball from 2nd field to 1st field since it was still pretty high and no one felt they had it in them anymore. '

One other change of note was the addition of classrooms on top of the corridor that connected that main buildings to the junior classrooms (and gym). It was well designed and blends right in.

We then ventured back up the quadrangle where Br. Fitzpatrick was waiting patiently for us, wanting to show us out. We stopped by the swimming pool again and took some more photos.

Since we were to have dinner at Rajeev "Jeeves" Singh's home in the hills, we hurried back down to the cars, but not before we stopped to buy mulberries from some of the local kids (huge risk but no ill effects suffered.

Later than evening, Rakesh Ahuja and Atul Shah, along with their spouses, came to the hotel and we then all made our way by car to Jeeves' house.

Rajeev Singh's house was huge (41 rooms of all shapes and sizes), and he was a most generous host providing us with great atmosphere, hospitality and food.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

We'll Be Coming Around The Mountain When We Come

A car with driver was hired for us for the Nainital leg of our trip. We had planned to leave Delhi at about 7:30a.m., but ended up leaving by about 9:00a.m. since we stopped for coffee at the Delhi Gymkhana Club where Wayne Gonsalves was staying and where we also met up with Noel da Lima Leitao and family (Nayantara and Nicholas). En route to Naini (on the outskirts of Delhi) we also met up with Amul "Millie"Mehotra and his wife Bharti and made further seating adjustments. We then set off in a convoy of three cars.

Along the way we continued to catch up and reminisce, stopping twice, once for brunch at a roadside "dhaba" (a.k.a. diner) which served up the greatest Indian omelets, and once (nearer to Nainital) at the Corbett Museum in Kaladhungi.

The 1-1/2 hour ride from "the plains" up and around the hills into Nainital was not as treacherous as I remember, but we had hired experienced "hill" drivers for a reason. I had taken Gravol just in case, so there were no ill (excuse the pun) effects.

We arrived in Nainital at about 4:30p.m. and checked into the Balrampur House which is near the Swiss hotel for those who know Nainital.

Our rooms were all different sizes since this was once a Maharaja's home, so the larger units went to those with families; Wayne and I (the only single people) each took a smaller room. Nevertheless, everyone was on the same floor (second) and shared the huge veranda, which became our regular meeting place before meals and excursions.

That evening, we met a couple of our former "day-scholar" classmates, Rakesh Ahuja and Atul Shah, at the Nainital Boat Club for drinks and appetizers. It was really neat to see the lake all lit up at night. We then returned to the hotel with our local friends for dinner and a very late night solving the world's problems. Some of us would pay for that the next day when another batch of folks would be arriving and we would be making the first trek up to the school.