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A slice of Goa in 99-year-old dance
Peter and Noreen Rego in their central Calcutta home. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Calcuttans may be heading for Goa in droves for their winter holiday but for 500-odd families, an experience of the coastal state is closer home. Like every year, the families, all with roots in Goa, got together at Calcutta Rangers Club on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road on Christmas to dance the night away.

“There are generally two bands and people keep dancing till the morning,” says Maria Fernandes, the president of the Goan Association of Bengal which has been organising the dance for the 99 years it has been in existence.

The session of mando, a traditional Goan dance, was the best part of the Saturday night event for many couples.

Peter Rego and his wife Noreen, for example. The central Calcutta residents in their 70s have fond memories of dancing the mando together. “You take a handkerchief in your hand and wave it as you dance. Now of course I’m too old,” says Peter as Noreen looks on fondly.

Goans, even if they are away from home, do not have to wait till Christmas to start their festivities in winter. For the Catholics, the fun begins with the Feast of St Francis on December 3. There is a special mass at the Sacred Heart Church, followed by distribution of awards to deserving Goan schoolchildren.

Then comes Christmas Tree, an annual event a few days before Christmas. The children who do not shine at the awards night are generally the stars of this party with snacks, Christmas cakes and goodie bags. It all comes to a head with the Christmas dance.

New Year’s Eve is generally a family affair. But another religious festival ensures a meeting at the beginning of the year. Litany, celebrated on the first Sunday of January, is held to welcome the new year. “We ask Goan priests to conduct the mass, as some of the elderly members prefer the service to be conducted in Konkani,” says Fernandes.

Many believe Goans taught the city to shake a leg in style. For a long time, the Rangers Club get-together was the only dance in town, says Fernandes.

“Since our club does not have a dance hall, the get-together is held at Rangers Club. This is why, the event is often thought of as the annual Rangers dance,” she adds.

On the menu are cakes, snacks and drinks. “Drinks have to be there. It wouldn’t be a Goan party without alcohol,” laughs Peter.

This year, Goan speciality Sorpotel was also served at the dance.

“Goan specialities like Sorpotel and Xacuti are generally available at family get-togethers and not at events organised on a bigger scale. Even at weddings, most Goan families lay out a typical continental spread as caterers cannot prepare our dishes,” says Peter, an ex-president of the association.

But even though Pork Vindaloo and Chicken Cafreal are not on takeaway menus, Calcutta is home. “Sometimes when I run into families that have returned to Goa after staying here, we end up speaking in Bengali,” says Fernandes. And parshe, a fish common in the rivers of Bengal, has found its place in the Goan platter.

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