During the last world war, there were more spies in tiny Goa than perhaps the whole of India
22-Aug-2021 •Jay Dubashi
During the last world war, there were more spies in tiny Goa than perhaps the whole of India. There were British spies who never smiled, German spies who wore leather pants and a lone French spook with an eyepatch, who, had he been slightly taller, could have passed off as a pirate from the Caribbean. There were also Indian spies - Goa was not a part of India then - but they kept to themselves and rarely mixed with the foreign fraternity.
The spooks called themselves Consuls and had cars and flags to match. They gave few parties, but seemed friendly towards young men like us whom they plied with drinks - the Germans offered beer, the British whisky and the French eyepatch man gave away small bottles of Cognac. The Indians, from Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, gave nothing.
There was only one respectable cafe where we all gathered eying each other warily, drinking warm beer - as there was no ice - and munching tiny sausages. The Germans had a large stock of canned cheese and frankfurters which smelled awful when you opened the tin. But the local Catholics loved them; my mother, however, would not have them in the home at any cost.
Unknown to us, there were other things going on right behind our backs, on the high seas near the harbour where half a dozen German ships had taken shelter to escape British submarines on the prowl. Goa was a neutral territory under the Portuguese and the British had to keep their distance. With their noses under water like crocodiles, the submarines kept a watch from a distance, but it was all very peaceful.
Until, that is, about a score of British tourists descended on the small community and began sunning themselves on the beaches. They said they had come for a holiday from Calcutta where it was rather cold and would leave after Xmas. The British consul used to show them around and they often spent hours watching the ships lying peacefully in the harbour.
The sailors in the ships had an arrangement with the local merchants. Since they had no money, the sailors would sell them stuff from the ship's cargo, like tinned foodstuffs, German dyes, car parts, textiles, etc. The merchants, a shrewd lot anywhere, would supply them daily necessities like fish, vegetables, meat, flour and soups. It was an arrangement that suited both parties. Goa was soon flooded with German goodies, including Mercedes cars, and they became so popular they (the Germans) almost ran the place.
One morning as my friends and I were going to the German consul's place, we were flabbergasted to see him being driven out of his house in his own Mercedes to the jetty where a small ferry was waiting. The poor fellow could not wave his hand as he was apparently in handcuffs. On either side, sat a couple of those 'tourists', one of whom looked like David Niven with bad teeth. When we reached the consulate, we found the place ransacked. The cook told us that all the Germans had been arrested and would probably be shot.
Actually, the consul, who was not really a consul, but a secret service man, was running a transmitter in his office and was in constant touch with the ships in the harbour, some of which were actually gunboats with radio connections. The British had already lost dozens of ships in and around Goa. The so-called tourists were actually a crack regiment from Calcutta commanded by the David Niven look-alike.
I really don't know what happened afterwards, but the British were reportedly in high spirits and blew up the ships one after another until you could see only their masts. We do not know what happened to the Germans, but I must say I felt sorry for the German consul and also for myself. There was no more cheese and beer and the frankfurters now lay at the bottom of the harbour where the surmai and the katla would have a feast of a lifetime!
(The writer is a well-known columnist and economist.)