By I. J. Saldanha Shet
Mangaluru, June 9, 2015: Mangaluru or Mangalore or Mangalapuram.....call it Kudla or Kodial.....this great city and it’s super citizens make their mark in hearts the world over. No doubt people hailing from Canara excel in almost all nations on earth; all spheres and paradigms are encompassed. Many enterprises serving rare fields and purposes can be found to have taken root in this region, the people behind intense industry had the deepest values of truth and quality, their sincerity, industry and integrity was unfathomable and their dedication and commitment unmatched. They attained and still continue to attain new heights and gain the affection and respect.
In past several decades, Simon & Co, was a household word in and around Mangalore. One branch of this respected business was the works where Statues and Catholic art are created, very high in quality, on Simon Lane, Angelore. A few years ago when business demands grew and specialised handling become the rule, Simon & Co first established in 1932, became ’Simon Arts’. It has been exclusively a church art creator specialist founded by the legendary Simon Sylvester Rasquinha. Now, proudly run by the third generation of the Rasquinha clan, son of Arthur Rasquinha the emeritus mentor, young, soft spoken, cultured fine arts and sculpture scholar, Ashwath Rasquinha, who continues services to Institutions and people at large with the very best in art. Renowned for custom-made statues for churches not only in India, but also abroad and many accessories; It even produces statues of statesmen from India in particular. Freedom fighter and politician U. Srinivas Mallya’s form was crafted and erected at the NMPT (New M’lore Port) gate and near Kadri park, while the famed Mahatma Gandhi statue at the famed ’Aloyseum’ – at St. Aloysius College – was sculpted by Simon himself. In June 2012, a 9ft-tall statue of Mother Mary found its way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolata in Nairobi. Due thanks to the clergy from Mangalore all around the world, numerous orders from abroad are generated. It is said that Simon often mentioned, in the church statues are only a reminder of God, to be respectfully ’venerated’.
THE CURRENT SHOW:
Arthur, the fourth of Simon’s 7 children, is the recent mentor of Simon & Co who took over from his father in 1973. In turn Ashwath the youngest of Arthur’s children; with advanced studies and degrees in fine arts and sculpture now is given the reigns of the modified ‘Simon Arts’ and is all set to take it to the modern age of the 21st century. Surely Ashwath will have to revolutionise the business as he is all set to acquire a life partner soon it seems to take forward the show hopefully for generations to come.
Arthur Rasquinha and Family (Ashwath is on extreme left)
It was amazing to see two attractive giant statues of Christ, one front piece for the new modern recently inaugurated Capuchin Friary Chapel in Kodialbail, this one now finished is majestically installed. The other is a royal one, set to crown the new Church at Perampally, Udupi which is imposing and is in it’s early clay form stage. To mention different requirements that get different processes and materials would be too long. The skilled workers are an asset and are selected from artisans with special family oriented skills from many parts of the India. There are also a wide range of trained technicians to meet the many peripheral operations involved in this minute art process of highest quality. A talk with the young, seasoned and enlightened artist Ashwath, can really educate on many aspects of Statues and Art - so was my experience. Yes, in recent times Catholic churches to some extent are cutting down on statues, so even though the business may be reduced it is not really so, Ashwath did mention that as of now he has a full years order book to fulfill. People in South India specially Goa, Kerala and Kanara rarely go in for modern art; they are keen on the traditional forms of the old versions of statues specially of Saints. So, the traditional forms of old which Simon had created are in vogue and one can see a few hundred of these samples lined up in the yards and factory. “During my grandfather’s time, there were at least 40 people working. Now, though the demand is there, we have about 15 workers. Advancing technology cuts down on labour, a 10-feet statue may take two months to finish,” he said. There is still a lot of interest on how it all works, people from far and wide who visit Holy Hill nearby, stop by and get a brief on statues they venerate.
A man’s fortune are his children, in the case of Simon there is absolute certainty that his seven children have been a blessing. His son Arthur who took on his mantle at the behest of all the family was blessed too and his life partner Merlin, is one only the Almighty could have designed, God leaves nothing to chance. Let us glimpse the good that is Arthur’s through art.
Arthur Rasquinha’s wife Merlin’s special passion for art made her to work in tune with her husband’s line of business and is an exceptionally artistic and talented lady of Mangalore.Think of Pottery and beautiful terracotta items, paintings produced in Mangalore and the name of Merlin Rasquinha would surface. Having graduated from the famous J. J. School of Art in Bombay, she was keen to see the love of art in Mangalore develop; Merlin put her talents into clay pottery art. She trained at Regional Design and Technical Development Centre at Bangalore and selected girls for a one year apprenticeship Training sponsored by Govt. of India. She is instrumental in training handicapped girls from Cheshire Home and this craft helps them to earn their daily bread. She gave free training to poor girls not able to afford college and provides them both free tools and material and they work at home in their spare time. Even mentally retarded and alcoholics are working and it is a joy for her to be able to rehabilitate many through clay craft. Art pieces manufactured at her factory were sold at the exhibitions all over the country sponsored by the handicraft center of India. She has participated in tens of exhibitions all over India and this has given her a lot of opportunity to learn and teach. Merlin says, “My hard work and interests have given me full satisfaction in this craft. It keeps me busy and happy". A down to earth person, perhaps because she spends so much time creating master pieces out of good old earth, her attitude towards life and the crafts she produces is different from the ordinary. It no doubt has had an incalculable impact on Arthur and his work at Simon & Co and the whole family.
“THE ANGEL OF ANGELORE” :
The founder of ’Simon & Co’ Simon Sylvester Rasquinha, born May 22, 1910, of a simple background, as a youth worked for a local statuary absorbing the elements of art and statue production in the mid 1920s. He was fortunate to be mentored by famous Francis de Gama of Jeppu, a close assistant to Bro.Moscheni SJ, the renowned Italian artist of St.Aloysius College Chapel, Mangalore. In the course of Simon’s active working life spanning half a century (1925-1975), as an artist and sculptor he was the author of numerous church works in Canara and beyond. He was also a well reputed creator of scene backdrops and props for the stage, he was a well known Konkani stage actor and director of his time. Much of his talent was dedicated to the Konkani Natak Sabha which is the premier vehicle of the Konkani stage in Mangalore. Simon was the brain and brawn behind the entire art works and portraits in Don Bosco Hall at Mangalore. ‘Simon & Co’ came to be in 1932. The name of ‘Simon’ soon reached far and wide not only in the Indian subcontinent but also overseas.
Simon & Co team on the occasion of Silver Jubilee celebration on 7th February 1957
Simon Art Co’s Diamond Jubilee celebration at Angelore Church in 1st May 1992.
It is worth to glance a bit of what was written (in brief here) in the ’Souvenir of diamond Jubilee of Simon & Co -1992’, in the foreword by Rev. Msgr. Alexander F D’Souza a scholar and writer of fame who stated, that Simon Rasquinha: A versatile personality who contributed greatly to art, drama, music, literature and faith… Achievements of this admirable man will serve to inspire future generations. Mangalore is associated with many greats around the world from tiles, to the works of Simon & Co. Simon is a key figure and his gifts are deeply appreciated with his works of excellence and principles. “Simon Rasquinha” is a by word for the theater loving Konkani people of Kanara. His comedy roles are on par with the greatest comedians. He is one of the four pillars of “Konkani Natak Sabha, Mangalore” alongside Fr. George Albuquerque SJ, Fr.Philp Neri Ofm.Cap and stalwarts M P D’Sa, his brother John B Rasquinha and many more. Simon has a special place in Konkani music and literature too. Along with Denis Patrao, he produced gramophone records (obsolete today like cassettes etc) of songs and dialogues of mirth which had unimaginable popularity in the 1930s – 40s, even today their popularity exists. Later Simon worked hard on Konkani writings. What attracted all who knew him was his strong and lively faith which the multifaceted talents expressed. He was always a pillar of his area ‘Angelore’ and served many public causes. Simon is sure to have many friends among the saints in heaven whose statues he has been making for many years of his life. They are sure to receive him into their company joyfully. As an artist perhaps Simon’s hour of glory came when he was called upon to retouch the immortal art monuments of Bro.Moscheni in the St.Aloysius College chapel. His education came from his association with learned and large hearted people he rose to dizzy heights. He did his own business correspondence and expanded trade with clients in UK, USA, Italy, Belgium, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Africa, and all over India.
A look at the Genealogy of the Rasquinha family that Simon compiled with the help of his elders and people who knew is very interesting. He goes back to the eldest of 3 Rasquinha brothers whose name he bears ‘Simao’, they returned from Tipu’s captivity after 1799….Simon traces his father ‘Bonaventure’ the second son of Gaspar. Simon’s mother was Rita nee’ Pinto who had 8 sons and 4 daughters of whom Simon was third. At present only the last two- Albert (Retired Officer of RBI) and Fr.Denis SJ (Retreat House. M’lore) are alive, members of the further generations are too many to count. Simon was married to Alice on 2nd May 1938 and in their happy married life, they had 4 daughters and 3 sons. He had his residence at Simon Lane, Angelore which was named “SILALIS” a rhyming combination of his and his wife’s name, which reads the same backwards too! He never shied from expressing hard facts sincerely even if not pleasant, that done he would always revert to his cordial loving self. Simon S Rasquinha, the legendary persona died at the age of 77 years, on Sat Aug 29, 1987 and was laid to rest at the Angelore parish cemetery on August 31.
Simon S Rasquinha was awarded a phenomenal number of awards and felicitations that have no count. Among numerous awards and recognition’s; In 1965, he was awarded the coveted “Benemerenti” Papal honour for service to the community, in particular the Konkani stage. Other prestigious awards are the Gold Medal in 1938 in the ’Diocesan Eucharistic Congress Exhibition’. ICEEDA (Indian Christian Economic & Entrepreneurial Development Association, Bombay) awarded posthumously the ’Pioneer Entrepreneur’ certificate to Founder Simon S Rasquinha for pioneering ventures in Statuary Industry in 1995. Among his favourite plays, fifty one have been counted though sure to be more. Starting with his first one at School in 1920. Most popular ones that he acted /Directed: Our Lady of Fatima 1951 & 52, St.Francis of Assisi 1954, Passion Play from 1955 (15 shows), Birth of Christ 1961 & 62 (9 shows), The Passion Play 1964 (12 shows); Well the list is long and there are Kannada and Tulu plays too! His Music / Songs: There are at least forty hymns and songs which are listed and a Konkani Gramaphone Record (Colambia) 1936. Simon’s Literature in Print: At least 45 are listed from 1939 when he started to contribute to ‘Raknno’ and other periodicals in Konkani. As many as a dozen translated from English to Konkani on a variety of subjects. He has penned at least 15 poems, the first recorded in 1968 is on ‘Konkani Natak Sabha’ published in it’s Silver Jubilee souvenir. Many have been published in Raknno and other Konkani periodicals. There has been much that has appeared about him from 1954 and often thereafter on his many activities and enterprise in the local press and in publications of then Bombay. He has been affectionately often termed as “The Angel of Angelore”. A legend in his life time and ours. "His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up, and say to all the world, this was a Man!” - Shakespeare.
One will have encountered numerous statues and paintings in all kinds of places over the years, most of them with a history attached. Recently, an encounter that raised a question in my mind has lurked within for at least 60 years, which prompts this little information box. Even when aged less than 10 and serving the mass with many companions, I recall the Capuchin Friary at Kodialbail, M’lore. Always was awe struck to see the impressionable big picture over the alter depicting Francis of Assisi and monks kneeling before Christ and his divine Mother, thought it may have come from an Italian artist of old as many may have thought. I was just surprised pleasantly to know that the artist is none other than our great persona Simon S Rasquinha. The old friary has gone to eternity and an ultra modern chapel was inaugurated on Feb.17, 2015.
Just as I speculated what happened to the lovely picture, I discovered that the Capuchins had thoughtfully mounted it on the wall of the upper gallery in the new chapel. Take a look at the picture here, it may need a retouch soon. It yet will remain a nostalgic blessing for a long time to come and an honour for Simon Rasquinha and his clan.
Compiled by: I. J. Saldanha Shet