Dr. Juliao Menezes - a glimpse

Ben Antao


[ TGF foreword : Every 18th of June, the political humdums in Goa do their bit of speechifying and self glorification. In the process, they shower glory, gold and gum on the veteran Indian socialist leader, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia.  There is no doubt that Dr. Lohia was one of the sparks which led to the end of Portuguese colonialism. That he was.  But those who "gathered the wood" so that the spark would turn into fire......have been forgotten, we believe, very intentionally.  One such forgotten "gatherer of wood"  was Dr. Juliao Menezes.  TGF thanks Ben Antao for letting us remember ]

In 1959, I used to live in Bombay with Joe Fernandes, a first cousin of my first cousin from Zaino, Velim, in a two-room flat behind the Handloom House in the Fort area. At 40, Joe was still a bachelor and worked as a typist at the Sachivalaya, the Maharashtra government headquarters. I was 24 and worked in the accounts department of the Bombay Port Trust, while trying to break into journalism by doing freelance sports reporting for the Indian Express.

The next year I signed up for the M.A. program at the University of Bombay, thinking that my English specialty would help me become a better writer and also improve my chances of getting a job as a reporter. Because the post-graduate lectures were scheduled in the afternoon, I sought and got a transfer to the Docks section for the evening shift (5:30-11:30).

Joe liked to play cards after work and so did I. In the early years before I met Joe, I used to play rummy at the BPT sports club at Ballard Estate. Joe often invited me to play at the Sachivalaya cafeteria, which I did a few times.

And then he took me to meet a friend of his, Dr. Juliao Menezes.

As it turned out, Juliao also liked to play cards, mostly rummy. He too was a bachelor in his late forties and lived in a flat, opposite the Metro cinema, on the street leading to the Crawford Market.

The three of us played often at his flat and the doctor invited me to come any time I liked to play, even without the company of Joe. I was much touched by his gesture, especially as he was a doctor and I, a mere nobody.

"Come any time you feel like playing," he told me one day, after learning that I worked in the evening and was free during the day.

"Thank you," I said, "but I don't want to impose. You have to see your patients."

"Don't worry about that, I have no patients," he said.

That answer surprised me. While walking the kilometer or so back home, I asked Joe about his friend.

Joe filled me in on the doctor's background. Dr. Juliao was from Assolna and a friend of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist MP. It was Juliao, who had taken Lohia to Margao, Goa on June 18, 1946.

"I've noticed that Juliao has lost every time we've played with him," I said. "He seems bored. How can he afford to lose like that? How can he find the time to play? What about his practice?"

"He's got lots of money," said Joe. "He doesn't need to practise."

"And he doesn't smoke either," I said, noting that he didn't seem to mind at all Joe's and my chain-smoking during play.

"Yes, he's quite a character, unique that way," said Joe.

I took Dr. Juliao up on his invitation and played cards with him, just the two of us, several times after that in 1960 and 1961. At this time, I was doing some freelance work for the Goan Tribune, the fortnightly magazine edited by Lambert Mascarenhas, and published to espouse the cause of Goa's liberation.

Now since August, 1955 when I joined a huge morcha (march) to the Sachivalaya to demand police action on the Goa government for its firing upon the peaceful, unarmed Indian satyagrahis, who had crossed the border into Goa on August 15, I had been actively following the political movement in the city. Morarji Desai, then the chief minister, dispersed the throng of protesters by having his police use teargas.

I became curious to find out all I could about Dr. Juliao Menezes, especially since he had remained quite aloof from the freedom movement in Bombay.

I found Dr. Juliao to be extremely kind and polite. He had a serene angular face, with gray hair and intelligent eyes. When he played rummy with me, he seemed dreadfully bored and didn't care that card I picked. He would throw out cards that another player might not have, knowing the previous card I had picked. He played at a fast pace-drew a card from the deck, glanced at it for a second and discarded it. His style of playing was in contrast to anything I had seen at BPT over the previous four years. I thought of Joe and of what he had said -- the doctor was a unique character alright.

After a while, I got the sense that he was holding on to the cards that were dealt to him and if the card that he picked did not fit the pattern in his hand, he discarded it. This would be a formidable strategy in a game among five players, I thought, but not between two. So he lost most of the time.

"How much do I owe you?" he asked me one day.

"Nothing," I said, realizing that he was more often than not just suffering me because of his boredom.

"Oh, no, you've to take what you've won," he said and quickly counted the points. The stakes were a paisa a point, mere trifles for him.

Accepting the twenty-five rupees, I said casually, "Joe was telling me you are a friend of Dr. Lohia."

A kind smile lit up his face and sparkled in his dark eyes. "Yes," he said, "we were in university together in Germany."

"Now he's a member of parliament, a socialist. Are you also a socialist?"

He smiled again and paused, as if deciding whether to tell me the truth or not, for I had heard that he was a communist. "Yes," he said nodding his serene head.

"Do you keep in touch with Lohia at all?"

"Not anymore," he said.

"You did a brave thing, though, bringing him to Goa."

"I felt strong about politics then. He was a good friend of mine and I knew if anyone could disturb the peace in Goa, he could. So I invited him and he came with me."

"How did you manage to escape?"

"I went underground for a couple of days and then slipped out of Goa."

"By train?"

"Can't tell you that."


"It was so long ago, I don't care for it." Then he gave me his benign smile to indicate my self-initiated interview was over.

Dr. Juliao had an M.D. from Berlin University, but as far as I knew he didn't have a regular medical practice. Afterwards, I learned from Vasant Nevrekar, who wrote about Dr. Lohia in his memoir, that he was a dermatologist.

On another occasion, I said, "How come you're not married, doctor?"

He shook his head. "You lose your freedom that way."

I had to control my fit of laughter and I did, for he was quite serious. I wondered if he was trying to tell me something, but I didn't pursue it.

"You've a lot to contribute to the freedom movement. But I don't see you at any public meetings." I refrained from mentioning names like A. Soares, T.B. Cunha, Roque Correia-Afonso, Dr. Laura D'Souza, and J.M. D'Souza. Interestingly enough, in Bombay at that time, Goan Hindus were not in the vanguard of the freedom struggle; they were aligned with Maharashtra and they looked upon Konkani as a dialect of Marathi.

"That's not for me," he said. "Too much politics. I have done my part."

I took the hint that he didn't wish to continue this discussion. "That's some part you played, getting Lohia into Goa. You're a hero," I told him.

"No, no," he said, "there are no heroes." He paused and glanced at the window through which the afternoon May sunlight was streaking. "Want to play another game?"

"No, thanks. Think I'll leave."

"Bye now, come again," he said, straightening down the white undershirt he had worn that day.

c2003 by Ben Antao

(First written in Aug. 1999, and revised on June 19, 2003)

Ben Antao
June 19, 2002

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