TRAINED in music but infatuated with literature, Reginald Fernandes, Patxai Romansicho, has left behind probably more books than any other known novelist. Reginald was not only a prodigious Konkani writer but also a proficient lyricist, musician and playwright.
The time for the vespers had arrived at the Church of St Anthony in Siolim but the cello player hadn’t. The parish priest, in panic, impassively inquired of a young boy whether he would could play the cello. The 10-year-old floored the Padr Vigar by nodding his assent. So, placed on a tall stool and the portly cello held by a parishioner, the boy nonchallantely played the musical instrument almost thrice his height.
Regionald Basilio Fernandes was the gutsy boy, who astounded one and all that evening. He was the third child of clarinet player Antonio Caridade Fernandes and Carmelina. The small family lived at Siolim’s Aframento Vaddi, the idyllic locale immortalised in Goa’s mandos as Siole, dongra sokolu. Reginald was born on a Sunday on June 14, 1914. The eldest child was Manuel, followed by Carmelina (Carvalho). The only living sibling now is Petornila Argentine Mendes, youngest of the lot.
Reginald never had a quarrel with anyone. The moment he returned home, he would vividly recount whatever he had come across on the way to school and back. This particular habit helped him record and relate events lucidly when he grew up and eventually became a prominent Konkani novelist.
Reginald loved reading the works of H G Wells and Alexandre Dumasand. He loved angling too. When there was no fish for lunch, he would slip away through the backdoor, and would soon return with at least some fish. Other anglers envied Reginald. He was a witty youngster, who possessed a melodious voice and a wonderful talent for writing.
When his father, Antonio Caridade, succumbed to a paralytic stroke, Reginald had to take over as the breadwinner of the family. His mother, Carmelina, loved him dearly and this reflects quite often in his writings. Enthusiasm and talent, however, hardly sufficed to keep body and soul together during the colonial times. Hence, at 18 Reginald boarded the coastal steam-ship to Bombay, leaving behind his doting mother, the serene green hills and the fish-strewn river, he loved fondly and drew inspiration from.
A V D’Cruz, a renowned Siolkar, published a popular Konkani weekly “Ave Maria”. D’Cruz spotted Reginald’s talent for writing, and encouraged him serialising Reginald’s romantic novel “Lindorf”. Though Reginald had already published his Konkani tiatr “Neketr Fuddarachem” along with the dialogue and the musical score for the songs, “Lindorf” proved to be his “open sesame” for emerging into the most sought after young Konkani writer.
His romantic literature, packed with wholesome nostalgia for rustic Goa, was lapped up eagerly by the Konkani reading public. His narrative would take the reader on a regal tour of exotic, sprawling mansions, peopled with princely aristocrats. The mood and tone of the narrative took off with the ominous hoot of the owl, the crackling of dry leaves along a lonely pathway, a dog howling in the distance, the soothing rustle of the swaying palms leaves, the bubbling brooks or the peal of the bell at Angelus time.
He put down the well conceived narrative in his neat and flowing handwriting. He hardly needed any other fair copy of the manuscript. His tenure as a compositor at “Ave Maria” printing press at Dhobitalao in Bombay (in 1948), taught Reginald how to avoid typographical errors and inadvertencies.
Reginald went on to write nearly 165, moderate sized, Konkani novels in the Roman script, and published many of these at his own cost. “A satisfied reading public was Reginald’s sole reward,” remarks Vicky Dias, proprietor of Vicky Bookshop in Mapusa.
Says John A Pereira, a former hockey international from Siolim, “The master story-teller’s modesty never allowed him to speak or even think ill of any one. Reginald was a specimen of humility, unaffected by fame. This very virtue drew spontaneous admiration from his friends and acquaintances.”
Despite being the hero for a vast fan following, few of his readers could say that they had seen the diminutive Siolkar in person. He lived in an age when awards and honours were sparse. The Kuwait Goan Association had honoured Reginald for his contribution to Konkani. He was also the recipient of the Goa State Award for 1992-93, for his outstanding performance in writing.
While playing for the Konkani tiatrs and being prodded by tiatrists, Reginald scripted a play “Pirjent Festacho”. “Lorsu ani Forsu”, “Unddeacho Kuddko”, “Tuka Zai Tem Teka Di”, were his other plays, and celebrated tiatrists like M Boyer, Jacinto Vaz, Alfred Rose and others staged the plays.
Famous Goan band leader, the late Joaozinho Carvalho (Johnson) once said, “Reginald Fernandes was like a khoddop (rock) on the music scene. He excelled on the violin as well as the trumpet.” The vast mass of his fans were hardly aware that Reginald was not merely a “Patxai Romansicho” but also a consummate musician-a trumpeter and a violinist, who was born when music was taught at parochial schools in Goa’s villages and with the added advantage of learning it under the music maestro, Zefferino D’Cruz.
His own band “Reggie and his Melodians” were a rage in the mid-forties and fifties in Poona. He had also regaled audiences as a key performer for outstanding bands like “Nellie and her Dance Band”, “Vincent Carmine and his Orchestra”, “Mickey Correia” and “Johnny Baptist and his Band”, and Alfred Rose’s “Rose Buds”. He also figured among the Goan musicians playing for the Hindi film industry. He had performed for Alex Correia and Lahore’s “Billday Becks” in Karachi, at the palace of the Mysore Maharaja, and at the dance halls of Delhi, Mussorie and Simla. His golden trumpet was autographed by the legendary reedman Louis Armstrong.
Reginald took to writing in 1932 to get over homesickness. At that time he was performing for the Maharaja’s band in Gujarat. His last novel “Perdidada” was published less than a year before his death in 1994. The moment he published a new book, he would send a copy to his wife, who would read it aloud to all the neighbours, who would gather eagerly at his house to hear it. He had three children-Philoo (Gaydon), settled in Aurangabad, Carmen (who expired) and the only son Salvador.
Recalls Salvador,”We had hardly any savings and when the ancestral property was divided, life became a burden for my dad, who then worked for the Emissora de Goa (now All India Radio) band. He wrote the lyrics and scored the music for three songs and had to produce one radio play month after month. Following Liberation, Reginald had an option to migrate to Portugal but the very thought of missing his daily glass of caju feni convinced him that there is no place like home.
Every evening he methodically left the house at the stroke of four, to go for his daily stroll. Quite often, he would suddenly rush home to note down a sudden flash of inspiration. He maintained a careful log of every event in the family: the time, day and date of every birth, death or any other occasion. His son Salvador says that the writer would be in a mood to write particularly after returning from any interesting place.
He would pen the lyrics as well as the musical score. This began with duets “Rautelim Tuka” and “Rauchina Ghovachea Ghara” but the most famous is his sentimental ballad “Adeus Korchea Vellar”. The moment the band struck it, particularly Johnson and His Jolly Boys, the folk knew that it was time to part. Foxtrot and waltz tempo were particularly common in his composition.
Reginald Fernandes breathed his last on Sunday, November 13, 1994, at 11.00 am at St Anthony’s Nursing Home in Anjuna. The devout Siolkar, would wake up at the first peal of the morning bell, and would never miss St Anthony’s novena every Tuesday at the Siolim church. A helpful little girl, Milagrina Perpetua Aneca, was his constant help and companion during his last days. Milagrina recalls that he was extremely fond of his songs “Sorvbhoumtim Uzvadd Charneancho” and “Adeus Korchea Vellar”.
“Adeus Korchea Vellar” was the tune that the band struck when the romans writer and musician’s body was lowered into the grave on a sad Tuesday, a day he considered so precious. On his death anniversary on November 13, 1994, the entire community of Konkani tiatrists gathered, for the first time anywhere in history, at the St Anthony’s Community hall in Siolim, to pay a tribute to the great writer-musician in song, dance and drama.