Who is Phond Sawant?
I must have posted a query to the Goanet list in 1998 as I researched a rebellion against the British on the border between Goa and Sawantwadi. It was the first time I had used an archive and encountered the archaic Anglicised spellings that British officials used for names unfamiliar to them. What was Tuppeh Banda? What was Munneree? Did anyone else know of Phond Sawant and his seven sons, who aquired legendary proportions in my mind as I traced their story. I may have sent out a general query, and to my delight, received two postcards.
One, dated November 10, 1998, answered all the questions I vaguely remember posting.
‘Phond Sawant was a very shrewd Raja of Sawantwadi in the late 17th century.’ An explanatory list responding to my queries followed: Pednah was Pernem, in Goa. Malapem was Malpem, Saturdeh was Satarda Taluka, Sanklee was Sanquelim and Tuppeh Banda was Sindhudurg. There was another entry on Tuppeh – the distance travelled on horseback in half a day.
M. N. Sirdeshpande of Panjim had filled out two postcards and mailed them to my hostel room in JNU.
The second one was puzzling.
It began with rhetorical questions, whose direction was not quite clear to me. ‘Who were these people? Diogo Rodrigues, Miguel Vaz, Estevam Rodrigues, 15 July 1583? What happened on that fateful day?’
I was new to the history of Goa and the events that were impassioned and problematic touchpoints in the popular imagination.
‘1654 Rev. Don Braz do Castro, Lakhem Sawant, 1666, Keshav Naik Desai, Raulu Shenvi Desai, Chanda Rane Desai, 1667., 17th December 1531, 23rd May 1536 – 1560 to 1774 Inquisition, Rewade, Manode, Piln, Satroji Rane. 1741, Parode, Melay, Talwade, Desai’s Revolt, 20th September 1772, Kodal Taluka…Govind Sinai Borkar, Gulele Desai, Rayajee Naik Borkar’
…Should you need to know more about the history of Goa, please write to me..’
I don’t know if I ever wrote back to thank M. N. SirDeshpande and I still don’t know the import of all the names, though some have become familiar over time. I was delighted, however, to get a response from someone I didn’t know and to have communication from another person interested in the field I had just discovered, appear in my mailbox. It is another matter that the rigours of academic writing meant that most of what I would write would remain alien and distant from the people I most desired as readers. A combination of fascination with older books and fear of people meant that I never looked up M. N. SirDeshpande on my research trips, though the postcards were stored among my papers and carried wherever I went.