V.L.Roche , New Version

Posted by: James Fernandes Posted Date : 21/09/2012

Respects to Mr. V. L. Roche With some Thoughts to Ponder

Respects to Mr. V. L. Roche
With some Thoughts to Ponder


Mr. V. L. Roche


I was perhaps four or five years old.  I used to take our milking cow for a graze now and then, along the paddy field bunds in my neighborhood in Moodahadu village.  I remember seeing a man wearing long pants walking towards us.  I had not seen this man in our neighborhood before nor did I see anyone wearing long pants covering both the legs to this day.  When my cow saw this man within 20 yards or so, it gave a panic grunt, and darted towards this man to attack.  The cow was too strong for me to restrain.  By the time, I could realize what was going on, this man jumped or fell in the muddy, water soaked rice field, got his shoes, well pressed pants, and even the coat/jacket mired with dirt.  Yes, he was angry and furious.  Who wouldn’t be?  He yelled at me saying, “hey thambdi kaasti chedo.. etc,,”, meaning, “Hey you stupid boy wearing red loin-cloth..etc.”  I wonder whether he remembers this incident.


The clothes I wore consisted entirely of a red 12”x12” loin-cloth lovingly called ‘kasti’ in Konkani my mother tongue, which was anchored by a thin red thread around my waist.  I was wearing a thin aluminum cross, tied to a red thread around my neck.  I had a 2 feet long thin bamboo stick, which helped me make the cow obey my commands without hitting her with it, like that of a mestro uses to produce music.  By the way, the cross, the red handkerchief, (for use as loin-cloth,) and the red thread were purchased in the church bazaar during the previous St. Peter’s annual Parish Feast and were given to me as a festive present.  Since I remember such gifts vividly even to this day, I guess such items were very precious and were my only cherished worldly possessions, then.  I did enjoy showing them off such earthly riches by wearing inside and outside of my house.  When I had a bath/swim/play in the Thirthabailu temple tank, wearing these precious gifts the first time, I noticed some bright red drips around my waist and neck.  I was perplexed and worried whether I was bleeding without knowing any pain nor could I see and cuts or wounds, however, a middle age woman who was washing her saaree and bathing at the same time, convinced me that the red color was the dye oozing from the threads upon getting wet.  I asked her how she knew.  She came next to me, gently lifted the front end of my loin-cloth and said, “Do you see this pale pink saaree I am wearing?  When I bought it, it was bright red just like this beautiful ‘kaccha’ of yours.  Why can’t they make the colors stick to the saree or to your thread?  What do they know what quality means?  Why people cheat us the poor and the ignorant ones?  God will punish them, don’t worry, and will bless us of course, someday.  Who knows when!”  Then to console me, she lifted me up in the air, pressed me against her blouse-less bare breasts for a long time, gave a prolonged breathless sigh and then left me alone.  It was customary then to wear red saaree for Brahmin women and shave their heads clean.  They could not even enter their own kitchens without taking a bath.  It did not matter how cold, clean or smelly the pond, tank or the river or well water was.


Not all children wore clothes just like mine.  Not all loin threads were made of cotton.  Some wore chains made of aluminum, copper, silver, and a few wore even made of gold or gold pleated, based on the wealth of their parents.  Some loin-clothes were much softer and larger too and were of different colors or designs.  It was then the thought had occurred to me that some day I will own a metal loin chain, and a golden heavy cross and a thick and heavy gold chain around my neck.  The desire to prosper was taking shape in me already, because I wanted to get out of poverty to wear better clothes like others, and especially long pants!  Desire to prosper was gradual starting from basic necessary day-to-day living needs.  There is no growth without ambition.


This agitated man was telling me how I should have restrained the cow.  I did laugh and must have said, “Neither I nor my cow have seen a man wearing such funny looking long pants before.  Don’t you understand that your long pants have frightened my friend the cow, my bread winning cow, my milk giving cow, therefore a holy cow?”  He just walked away from me!  I saw him cross the river.  That evening my cow had yielded much less milk than usual.


I told my mother that the cow was afraid of the long pants, thus perhaps it gave less milk.  She would not buy that, but blamed me for not letting it graze until its stomach was full.  She asked me whether I was afraid of long pants!  I asked her who that man was.  “He is the son of Ignatius Roche, the rich man in Kudru, who lives in the tiled house across the river.”  This was an enormous house roofed with thousands of tiles.  Our house was thatched with many thousands of paddy grass stems, which we had to replace every year with new paddy.  I said, "Oh yea, that house who never replace their roof, whereas we put new roof every year, and yet we are not rich!”  I retorted.  Yes, a large house got into my ‘things to achieve’ list.


Mr. V. L. Roche, a great personality of Fort Nandaraj, Barkur 576210, a freedom fighter was born in Moodahadu (Pandeshwar Kudru) Village on the 15th of February, 1924.  He passed Metric examination in 1943 at Milagres High School, Kallianpur.  During the Second World War in the year 1943, he joined the Army and was involved in the freedom movement.


He joined the construction industry in 1947 as Surveyor in M/s Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd., at Igatpuri Tunnels for the former G. I. P. Railways. Many mega project constructions were attributed to his credit.  The following are a few of them:


1.    A mile long Pipe-line formation in the sea and other allied Sea Erosion Protection works for the Bombay Port Trust connected with two refineries.

2.    As Works Manager for M/s Canara Construction at Gandhi Sagar Dam in Chambal Hydel Project in Madhya Pradesh.

3.    As Works-in-charge for Patel Engineering Co. Ltd., in connection with the first underground power house in Koyna Hydro Electric Project.

4.    As Sub-contractor to M/s R. J. Shah & Co., Talai Tunnel in Khandwa Hingoli Railway Project for Central Railway.

5.    The work of Malali Tunnel at Sharavathi Valley Project in the year 1960-1962.

6.    Kulshekar Tunnel in Mangalore Hassan Railway Project, Mangalore Panamboor Harbor line & the first tunnel of Konkan Railway.

7.    Sea erosion protection work on west coast at Sasi Hithlu at Mangalore Taluk, Kasabakodi in Kundapur Taluk, Kodi Bengre, Hoode etc in Udupi Taluk.


Yes, Mr. V. L. Roche is a very hard working person.


He became the President of Barkur Education Society (Regd) in the year 1978 which is running 2 Primary Schools, 1 High School, 1 Junior College and an I. T. I.


He is also involved in almost all inter and intra-religious and educational or sports activities in and around Barkur.  His presence, his profound encouraging words, and his blessings are highly sought after.  “Vallyaba Dee thujen Besavn Jemink ani somesthank!”


During the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of St. Peter's Church Barkur he served as the Honorary President of the Jubilee committee.


At the occasion of his 78th birthday, he was felicitated in public, in Barkur by several Educational Institutions, on 15th of February 2002, and by the Parish Priest and the Parishioners of St. Peter's Church, Barkur, wishing him good health and comfortable retired life.  He is a true honorable man, indeed.


In 1962 or 1963, I had the unique opportunity to see Mr. Roche’s tunnel building work site at Kulshekar near Mangalore city.  I saw quite a few people from Barkur, Kundapoor, or Gangolly, working as electricians, draftsmen, drivers, machinists, accountants, engineers, etc.  He (like the biblical Moses) placed quite a few Barkurians to fertile occupations, or contract/sub contract work programs.  Believe me, some of them have become quite rich, if not, at least found some livelihood.  They are grateful indeed.  He paved the way to find employment thus helped many to get out of poverty.  Yes, he is a charitable man.


The employees were not very qualified professionals, nor highly educated nor were they well trained, nor Mr. Roche was an Oxford or Harvard return, or a MBA qualified.  The work environment was not getting healthy causing the company’s growth to diminish.  Well, Mr. Roche tried they say.  He would have been the Tata or Birla of Barkur; however, he is still the Rockefeller of Barkur, anyway, in his own rights.  One’s own wealth is one’s own personal matter anyway.


Why we cannot learn to get along?  Why are we jealous of someone else’s beauty, intelligence, or justly earned prosperity?  Why do we take pleasure in some one else’s misfortune or ignorance?  Why, some of us are still the basket case crabs?  We all have seen live crabs in a basket.  I have caught them in thousands by the time I was sixteen and I left the crab basket.  Have you noticed that if one crab tries to climb out the other crabs grab it and pull it back down?  You know, folks, Mr. Roche took all those crabs and got out, worked hard, and returned to Barkur basket with wealth and experience.  That is achievement, and that’s why he is blessed.  Let us be like those crabs that got out and returned to share their catch.  He is an achiever and a path finder for sure.


The term “crab mentality” is used to describe a kind of selfishness, which runs along the lines of “if I can't have it, neither can you.”  This term is especially widely practiced amongst every community in the world, who use it specifically to refer to people who pull other people down, denigrating them, rather than letting them get ahead or to pursue their dreams.  As a rule in general, an accusation of having a crab mentality is a poor reflection on someone's own personality.  I still remember a high school teacher telling, “You will amount to nothing more than walking behind your plowing buffaloes.”  Not many could afford buffaloes then.  Thank you, sir for your good wishes.  What do we lose if we wish others success?


Sometimes, the crabs seem almost malicious, waiting until the crab has almost escaped before yanking it back into the pot.  All of the crabs are undoubtedly aware of the fact that their fate is probably not going to be very pleasurable, so people are lead to wonder why they pull each other back into the bucket, instead of congratulating the clever ones who escape.  I learned by practical experience, never to startle my buffalo from behind!  Most of my learning, if any, was practical anyway.


The crab mentality is a reflection of the famous saying “we all like to see our friends/relatives get ahead, but not too far ahead than us!”  Learning to recognize the crab mentality in your-self is a very good idea, especially if you work or live in a highly competitive environment especially during this globalization era. 


With the permission of Kishore Gonsalves of Nagarmutt, who gave birth to a website called Barkuronline.com, who had arranged and published an interview with Mr. Roche, with the help of Ms. Shiney Lewis of Bennekudru and myself, the interview outcome is presented below.  The interview questions consisted of obtaining mature reflections in relation to the “Stupendous changes taking place in Barkur since the last 60 years.”  ‘In days bygone Barkur used to be a sleepy village but today it is a tiny township buzzing with activities.’ prides V. L. Roche.  Further reflections are as follows:


1.    In relation to farming, mills, or labor problems:

Farming and its yields are satisfactory, even though some paddy fields are converted into plots for residential units.  Mills, unseen then are now springing up everywhere.  Labor problems have cropped up after the implementation of ‘Land Reforms Act’.  Farming laborers have become the Landlords overnight, thus creating a shortage of laborers.  All forms of liquor have become expensive.  On an average a farm laborer earns a wage of Rs. 100/day out of which a big portion of it is paid for alcohol at the end of the day.  The rest of his family has to survive on much less than Rs100/day, which is practically impossible, thus this poverty is likely to stay.  It hurts to see some rice plots left unplanted.


2.    In relation to availability of food on the table:

Poor people continue to eat frugal meals of ‘Congi’ & Chutney.’  The middle class consumes rice, fish & vegetables and the rich are likely to eat well & drink well too.  It appears no one is starving in Barkur.


3.    Availability of money in hand, get fair price for local produce:

Money seems to be rolling somehow.  The price for coconuts is satisfactory while the price for areca is poor.  The farmer does not get fair price for his produce because the midleman makes a huge profit.  The mite disease has badly affected the coconut crop for the past few years.  Since, practically at least one person in a family is earning from away from Barkur, hence, money seems to be rotating throughout.


4.    Living standards, nice clothes, furniture, houses, electricity, phone, cooking appliances:

Living standards are improving satisfactorily.  People dress well & live in well-furnished homes with electricity, telephone, and lot of gadgets to make life easy.  In Barkur, we have 50:50 ratios of those who live well and those who are living below the poverty line.


5.    In relation to morals, respect for each other, mayamog, helping each other, etc, and/or morality is declining.

Most people are educated and morality is good.  However, every society has its share of rotten apples.  Mutual respect and ‘mayamog’ comes to the fore, especially in times of crisis.


6.    In relation to religious practices, attendance to church, respect for elders, teachers, priests, or pundits:

Attendance in church/temples is good.  Respect for the Priest, Pundits, teachers, elders etc., is instilled in everybody, mainly because of education, food habits, and upbringing.


7.    Schools, Colleges:

There is no dearth of educational institutions in Barkur.  It boasts of 4 higher elementary schools, 2 high schools, a P.U. College, an Industrial training institute, a first grade college and an English Medium school is started last year.


8.    Job opportunities:

Jobs are easy to come by for the boys of the I.T.I.  For others, employment opportunities are poor except for the scheduled caste and tribal people.  Hence, the youth have to migrate to cities or elsewhere.


9.    What can be done about roads:

The main road from Kalchapra is like a path.  The roads are congested all the year round and not wide enough at all.  Main road to Barkur needs a by-pass for thorough traffic.  Other roads are satisfactory.


10.  Reflections in general on life, and/or the future of Barkur, etc.

Barkur is open to rail traffic.  The Konkan rail is a blessing to both the rich and the poor.  A fast passenger train halting at all stations can halt the exploitations of luxury bus owners between Bombay to Mangalore.  Barkur will regain its past glory.


11.  Inter-religious harmony; how people of different religions get along.

There is no caste or religion consciousness among Barkurians.  Christians, Hindus & Muslims live very amicably.  Places of worship are open to ‘one and all’, regardless of one’s faith.  ‘Live and let live’ is inborn in any Barkurian.


12.  Do you think that religions should help create jobs?

Religions cannot help create jobs.


13.  Just life in general:  Are the poor getting rich?  Are the rich getting richer?  Are more people getting educated?  Do you have any advice to youngsters?

The poor shall remain poor at least they are not getting poorer.  The rich should not get richer, never at the cost of poor people.  More and more people understand the value of education and pursue it whole-heartedly.  Education is the basis of all round development.  My advice to the youngsters is simple: “Eat well and work hard.”  Happiness and prosperity will follow automatically.


I remember eating a memorable meal in his house.  One of his brothers was getting married.  It was customary then for all the village people to get together and catch fish to serve at the wedding meals.  By suspending nets at the water entrances during high tide the fish that go into the back waters or rivulets used to get trapped.  Large fish used to get entangled, an easy and a cheap way to catch.  At the very low tide, people used to catch the fish using various nets, and devices such as kutthali or mokkeri.   Since the end of the low tide was at about six in the morning, I had an hour before heading to high school.  I, using my basket like mokkeri, caught quite few large shrimps, and large size mallets, and of course tiny fishes too.  I am still upset with a man because he confiscated all my large fish saying these are for the wedding house!  He was supposed to leave a few for my house!  In the evening when I got home at about 6:30 PM, after school, there was no food for supper.  Because, my mother was too busy cooking in this wedding house, a usual charitable hobby of hers.  I went to Mr. Roche’s house.  I located my mother who found a banana leaf for me.  Just as she was getting ready to serve me, a self-appointed gurkar objected saying, “Let him join the last supper, the fourth serving {Pongoth}, all the food is out there.  I found a seat between Mr. Thimmappa, and Mr. Koraga, who had come to collect the left over food by cleaning the used banana leaves.  The middle seat was empty because Mr. Thimmappa did not want to sit next to Mr. Koraga or vice versa.  When I am hungry, I, even to this day do not care who sits next to me.  There was no ‘Laudate’ because, except me, all the rest were non-Christians.  I helped this Koraga to clean up a few disposable, and biodegradable banana dinner plates, tied about 40 such leaves into a bundle, and carried home to feed my milking cow.  This saved my grazing exercise for next two days.  I have no embarrassment to brag about my unique childhood.  ‘Learn to cook’ was added to my ‘Things to Achieve’ list.  Yes, I can cook now.  My dog too loves my cooking!  Well, others may like my cooking when and if they go hungry!


After returning to Barkur Mr. Roche nourished our Barkurian culture, I mean agriculture.  His model, modern coconut farm, yields coconuts not in hundreds or thousands, but in hundreds of lorry loads.  Did his cocknut over-oaded lorries cause damage to Barkur-Matpady bridge?   I cannot fathom that he does not count his coconuts.  Yes, that is progress, the fruit of his hard work.  If he can grow, why can’t others locally and export?

Hard work will never go un-rewarded.  Mr. V. L. Roche let your light shine all the more.  Barkur will not forget you for a very long time.”  Happy Birthday to you and many more to come.”

Read our earlier version

James Fernandes, Chicago, USA, 10/06/2009




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