When you meet Cres and Chris Fernandes at Bernardo’s—their quaint Goan restaurant at Supermart 1—they seem like any other couple in their sixties, who’ve built a successful life together. It’s only when you get into a conversation with them over slices of delicious early Christmas cake and bits of pie, that you learn of their very eventful 18 years in Gurgaon. “We moved to Palam Vihar from Delhi in 1994, and lived in a pretty house there,” says Cres - whose full name is Crescentia, and who is originally from Kerala.
“At that time, MG Road was kachcha; I remember gypsies used to sit there and sell chicken!,” Cres exclaims. “When we were scouting for land to build our home, we used to ride to Gurgaon on our Java motorbike; there were mustard fields on both sides of the road – all the way from Delhi to Palam Vihar,” she says.
Cres’ Goan husband, whose full name is Chrysologus, recounts how the couple settled in Palam Vihar. They set up a pickle factory that employed women from a local self-help group; watched their two children—Carmen and Colin—grow; and adopted 22 stray dogs.
Back in the 1990s, the slaughter of street dogs, under instructions of RWAs, was rampant; and the Fernandes family soon became active in programmes to protect the animals.
Meanwhile, their pickle business—they stuck to traditional Goan recipes—was off to a roaring start; with the 4C’s brand flying off the shelves at outlets in Delhi, and orders pouring in even from faraway Japan. Life was good. Slowly, however, the business began sputtering. “The pickles sold very well, but somehow nothing much was being saved,” says Chris. “Partly because all our money was going to the dogs, literally,” laughs Cres, who had worked with the UNICEF before they set up the factory. “Actually, we had never run a business before, and making pickles is a very labour-intensive job, that requires a lot of investment in raw material,” she adds more soberly. Chris, a marketing man—who had worked with companies like Philips—believes the factory building, which was located on an old graveyard and abutted a temple, suffered from bad Vaastu; Whatever the reason, the factory was eventually shut down. The couple came to believe that even their pretty home, which was at a T-point, suffered from bad Vaastu; and in 2002, they moved to their current home, a farm house in the Chandnagar Dhani area of Farrukhnagar.
“Now, there’s a spacious four-lane road going all the way to Rohtak, where the CM lives; but when we went there, there was nothing in Farrukhnagar,” says Chris. Both electricity and water supply were erratic. Slowly, the couple—the children had by now left to pursue their careers in Delhi—converted their barren acre of land into a verdant patch, using only organic fertilizers and pesticides. Part of the farm has been set aside for the animal shelter, Bernardo’s—named after Chris’s father—that houses the army of 35 dogs that the Fernandeses have rescued off city roads. The couple also launched their next venture, the Bernardo’s Restaurant, that serves authentic Goan cuisine. An immediate hit when it opened in Delhi, the restaurant continues to be popular with loyal diners - who sometimes make the trip to its current location in Gurgaon, just to savour its vindaloos and balchaos. Again, life seemed to be coasting along for the couple.
However, the land boom had struck Gurgaon, and everywhere farmers were selling their ancestral plots to builders. The Fernandes’ well-tended plot too caught the eye of unscrupulous land grabbers; and one night, when the couple was driving home through the fields, their vehicle was waylaid. The three shots that were fired at Chris and Cres rather miraculously missed their mark, as they drove for their lives. Later, the henchmen of local land sharks made more attempts to intimidate the Fernandeses, but were eventually discouraged by the couple’s own connections within the police force - connections they had made, surprisingly, while helping out stray dogs in distress! Perhaps there is karma after all!
“So many things have happened to us, but I’ve realised that often the situation sorts itself out,” says Cres cheerfully. Indeed, the government has since declared that even plans for the development of the area will not be considered until at least 2021 – an announcement that had the immediate effect of discouraging all land grabbing.
Bankruptcy, bad vaastu, shots fired in the dark – Cres and Chris have faced all that in Gurgaon. But as you browse through numerous albums of the farm, and watch the couple bustling about Bernardo’s, preparing for the evening rush, you are left with no doubt that the Fernandeses have found their little paradise.