Menezes - a glimpse
[ 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
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
"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
"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
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
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."
"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
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
"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
"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
"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)
June 19, 2002