If you visit the ruins of Cabo de Rama fort in Northern Canacona, chances are you will run into Subhash Naik. Our initial acquaintance was quite dramatic. As we were making our way into the fort across the moat, he appeared theatrically at the mouth of the fort warning us to watch our step. Once in, my eyes tried to size him up. But my nose gave me a different clue. He was smelling of spirits. It was afternoon.
As we headed past St. Anthony’s church, he led us on towards the ramparts of the fort. We gave the precarious rocky steps from the ramparts to the sea a miss. Instead Subhash told us to come away and led us to another spot from where we got spectacular views of the Arabian sea. All the while he was talking in his high-pitched loquacious way. Sometimes he spoke English, sometimes Konkani and often Hindi. Desperate to strike a chord by speaking the same language he thought we did, he alternated between languages.
He plied us with questions hoping for answers to sum us up. At one point he proceeded to tell us his life story –of how, owing to circumstances in life, he had been reduced to a bhikari (beggar). His voice broke at this point and he added that he survived on what people gave him. He kept repeating that he meant no ill to anyone. God after all sees everything.
But Subhash was no guide. Through his mental meanderings he hoped to target unsuspecting visitors to the fort and earn a quick buck. He was quite the entertainer though. When a group of young visitors from North India swayed in, he hovered obsequiously around them before shooting his question, ‘You, Punjabi?’ They laughed and asked him to dance for them on a tune that was playing on the stereo system they had brought along. I imagine he did.
He proudly showed us his photo identity card which proclaimed him a resident of South Goa. This was to reassure us that he was no tramp. When I asked what his name was, he replied grandly, ‘Subhash -- as in Subhash Chandra Bose.’
In some ways Subhash in his mendicity symbolized the fort itself. Like the fort which had a chequered history, Subhash too had seen better days. Today he was forced to pirouette to the gallery to earn money for a morsel. The momentous state of neglect and disrepair that has befallen one of the most picturesque forts of Goa has to be seen to be believed. At the entrance we did not even see details of when the fort was constructed – a must for all sites under the purview of the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI). Cannons lie strewn around the fort and there is no official assistance whatsoever.
The fort is believed to have been built around 1598 by the Karwar Desai’s and the Soundekar kings. The Portuguese wrested this fort in 1763. They abandoned it later.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, on 22 April 2018. Pix taken in the precincts of Cabo de Rama fort on 15 April 2018. St. Anthony's church appears in the background.