The Migratory Goan
Bomoicar (Bombay Goan in Konkani), traces the life of the Goan immigrant from the susegad Goan soil to Bombay, the land of opportunity, between 1920 and 1980.
The book, compiled and edited by Reena Martins, a Bombay based Goan journalist over the last eight years, takes a close look at these immigrants joys and struggles through their lifestyle, culture, food, drink, prayer and song that they carried from home and kept alive in tight knit ghettoes like Dhobitalao, Byculla and Mazagaon. It documents the stories of few Goans who worked strenuously and took up both skilled and menial jobs with the railways, hotels, colleges and government institutions. The book is quintessentially a peek into the Goa life and culture in Bombay and takes one on a cruise from Goa to Bombay and vice versa and details their travel journeys.
Bomoicar, is filled with charismatic and interesting stories of Goans who travelled via the old decrepit steamers, Konkan Shakti or the MV Konkan Sevak. Philomena Fernandes, recounts how her parents travelled via sea (Mazagaon to Vasco) around 1918/1919 via Konkan Shakti and it was indeed a very memorable experience. On board, some would open up their lunch boxes to a feast of roast beef or chicken sandwiches, fish cutlets, vegetable samosa’s or even chorizo pao.
In coping with a world so different from their own, the Bomoicar arrived at creative housing solutions. They strung together rows of single tenement houses in old colonial style buildings in South Bombay and formed the Goan kudd or club. Bombay was home to some 400 odd Goan clubs then. These functioned as meetings places and there was at least one club (named after the patron saint of the village) for immigrants from each Goan village. Huddled together on aluminum trunks that served as benches by day and beds by night, residents were well updated on news from back home, often peppered with gossip too. This helped reduce home sickness in a city of concrete that had replaced paddies and coconut groves.
The clubs also dished out desi cooked food available at reasonable rates, some served finger licking tongue roast and xitt-kodi (fish curry and rice), fried Bombay Duck or Mackerel, etc along with the traditional banana. The Goan enclave at Dhobitalao in particular was well known for Antons' fish curry rice serving and many feasted on this routine diet. The meal was had standing, quietly and hurriedly to make way for the next set of amchem Goenchem brothers.
Frederick Noronha Goa based veteran journalist and now an alternative publisher notes that migration has always been a large part of Goan reality. In an e-mail exchange, Frederick shares that data available, in 1960, indicated that when there were approx 600,000 living in Goa, there were around 100,000 Goans living in Bombay. Hazel Fernandes another Bomoicar, and Bandra resident narrates how her Great Grand Father came to Bombay when he was just a young lad and began working with the British Baroda and Central India Railway (BB & CI), Indian Railways now. He gradually moved up the ranks, married a pretty Goan girl in her mid-teens and moved in to a petite cottage in Bandra’s Waroda Road. He bought the place for just five thousand then and was already the nineteenth owner of the place.
Staying and praying together were always part and parcel of community life. Daily rosary was recited at every club and during the months of September and October, the statue of the Virgin Mary made its rounds through the many Goan homes. The homes were festooned and prepared for the arrival of the statue, and yes every home had to be better ornamented than the next door neighbours. Bookings for the statue were made months in advance and near and dear ones were invited to little treats of chickpeas and some other light snacks over a cold drink. The older men usually stayed back for copachem- a shot of feni or beer, and extended family members were served pulao and chicken curry.
At Christmas time, a troupe of local Goan actors would be hired to perform the khell, which led to the tiatr or Konkani drama. The khell troupe lured people out of their homes and into the jam packed hall of the club, where they enacted the life of the average Goan through earthy dialogues delivered with a liberal dose of butler English by dithering men in drag- shadowy stubble dusted with talcum, flaming orbs above square-lined jaws and tobacco-stained lips painted in bright red lipstick.The Goan community also boasted of some renowned musicians like Anthony Gonsalves who contributed towards the Bollywood film industry during the 20th century.
The Prohibition days however, did not dampen the Goan lifestyle of fun, food and drink. Prohibition was introduced by Bombay’s Chief Minister, Moraji Desai in the Fifties, against manufacturing, buying, selling and drinking of alcohol, as he was a firm believer in urine therapy and considered alcohol immoral. To drink at home during prohibition, one needed a permit and a doctor certifying that alcohol was for preservation or maintenance of health for three months only. One was allowed one up to 375ml of brandy or rum or 750 ml of champagne and only a single family member could avail of such a permit at a given time. But the prohibition which was at its peak right up to the Seventies, presented a great opportunity for many a Goan woman popularly known as aunty, who in a small corner of her house served hooch accompanied by chakna or spicy snacks. It was available at the many Goan, ‘Aunty Liquor Bars or Eddie’s Bar type mini restaurant cum bars that emerged in the Goan neighbourhood. It was often smuggled into the city too in tyre tubes or with leprosy patients whom cops were afraid to check as they feared contracting the ailment.
As the effect of prohibition got diluted, country liquor showed up on shelves of liquor shops and the Goan aunty was eventually edged out. Thus ended the role of the legendary Goan Aunty, who had inspired many a Bollywood director to portray the Goan girl as loose and the man as a tippler. But the Bomoicar was a hardworking and sincere person who was both Bombayite and Goan at the same time.
Bomoicar took quite some time to compile because stories had to be collated, from a diverse and far-flung set of people too. Though the book is illustrated with fine line drawings, it may have come alive with a touch of colour. Even though the book has not been officially launched yet, it has already been widely circulated and has received positive reviews too. To compile all these short stories, Goa.net (Goanet, an online mailing list for Goans across the globe, now in its 20th year) served as the focal point, followed by a circle of friends and other online sources.