Mem­ory of cen­tury-old virus springs back to life

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - PAGE ONE PLUS - Ger­ard de Souza ger­ard.des­ouza@htlive.com

PANAJI: Out­side the ex­pan­sive ceme­tery at Raia vil­lage in south Goa stood a stone struc­ture cov­ered in moss, over­grown by weeds and creep­ers, and due to be de­mol­ished to make way for road widen­ing as part of the ex­pan­sion or a high­way be­tween the towns of Mar­gao and Ponda.

Lit­tle was known or spo­ken about the stone struc­ture, but its en­graved in­scrip­tion bore tes­ti­mony to its true pur­pose. “E M (Em Memória) das ví­ti­mas de gripe de 1918” (in Mem­ory of the Vic­tims of the Flu of 1918) read the plaque.

Un­til ear­lier this year, the stone mono­lith that once con­tained a cross at the top, which

col­lapsed for lack of care, was long for­got­ten and re­ceived lit­tle at­ten­tion. It all changed in July-Au­gust, when peo­ple be­gan flock­ing to the memo­rial as soon as Covid-19 cases be­gan to emerge in the vil­lage, pray­ing for the sur­vival of their rel­a­tives and friends. On Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 11, work on restora­tion of the cross was com­pleted, and it was re­con­se­crated in a sim­ple cer­e­mony, af­ter which the memo­rial has been re­ceiv­ing a steady stream of vis­i­tors who light can­dles and pray for the re­cov­ery of those ail­ing from Covid-19. “The Regi­dor (vil­lage ad­min­is­tra­tor), with Olivo Costa and vil­lage el­ders, got to­gether to build the memo­rial in mem­ory of those who had died,” re­called Mar­garida Ta­vora e Costa, whose family traces back to Olivo Costa.

Leg­end has it that the vil­lage of Raia and the neigh­bour­ing vil­lage of Ra­chol, which is host to a Por­tuguese-era fort and mil­i­tary gar­ri­son, were hit par­tic­u­larly hard by the Span­ish Flu of 1918, and as the bod­ies be­gan pil­ing up, filling the ceme­tery, the vil­lagers had to ex­pand the burial grounds into what re­sem­bled a mass grave. The cross was built atop that in the mem­ory of those who had per­ished. Lo­cals say that 318 peo­ple are be­lieved to have died in and around the vil­lage on ac­count of the Span­ish flu. “If not for the events of this year, who would have thought about this memo­rial? Even I didn’t know it ex­isted,” Mar­garida, in her 60s, said, adding that she was in­spired to take the ini­tia­tive to re­store the memo­rial with help from her ex­tended family.

Fig­ures of how many suc­cumbed across the former Por­tuguese colony are hard to come by and all that re­mains of the 1918 pan­demic are two memo­ri­als that have stood the test of time.

HT

A memo­rial for vic­tims of the 1918 Span­ish flu in Goa.

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