New Resources for the Christian Community in Bombay

Bombay Brides

 

If you are a bride about to get married in Mumbai, you probably understand the need for a website that will tell you where to look for the perfect gown and the right venue, among other things. Bombay Brides shares the stories of the beautiful Christian brides who have planned their wedding or plan to celebrate their wedding in Mumbai.

Brides from every Christian community – East Indian, Mangalorean, Protestant, Anglo Indian, Goan, etc. and from every part of Mumbai – Vasai, Thane, Mumbai proper, Vashi, South Bombay are featured on Bombay Brides. As well, there is a section dedicated to curating the wedding photos from the old days and another towards interviewing wedding vendors like photographers, flower artists, etc.

Have a look at the beautiful Bombay Brides blog I created to know how you can be a Bombay Bride or a bridal vendor.

Bombay East Indian Books

A long time ago, I had written about two books very pertinent to the East Indian community of Mumbai – Trace and the Salsette Vasai East Indian Cook Book I. Due to public demand, these books ran out of print very quickly.

This year, September saw the republication of the second part to the Late Dorothy Rodrigues’ cook book as well as Trace by the Late Teddie Rodrigues. More information on purchasing both these books can be found on the website I created under the moniker Bombay East Indian Books with help from Teddie and Dorothy’s daughter, Cassia who is married to my cousin brother.

Do visit the website to know more about this remarkable East Indian couple from Vile Parle and their contribution to documenting the East Indian way of life and cuisine.

Who are these East Indians you speak of?

General confusion over our origins is something every East Indian is intimately familiar with.

For a community with roots planted firmly in Bombay, it is difficult explaining people that we are not – as the name points out – from the East of India. We are not (well, most of us at least aren’t) descendants of the employees of the East India Company – British or otherwise.

Two ladies from Uttan wearing lugdas

The East Indians of Mumbai are essentially the native residents of Bombay (of course, it wasn’t known as Bombay back then) converted to Christianity many years ago – back when St. Bartholomew himself visited the Western coast of India (2nd Century AD).

Our Lady of the Sea Church, Uttan

It is to the Portuguese however, who came much later, that we owe much of our traditions, architectural styles, cuisine and various dialects. It was the Portuguese after all, who gathered the Christians already thriving in the area and were responsible for ensuring the continued existence of parishes and churches.

Had the British not been such a dominating influence on Indian politics and society, the East Indians would have probably continued using the moniker Portuguese Christians.

A selection of the traditional 9-yard East Indian sarees called lugda

Over the years, the East Indians have kept alive the traditions that were carried out before Roman Catholicism and Latin took over our religion and language. Coastal Konkan foods like sanna (soft rice flatbread), bombil (Bombay Duck) fry and rural Maharashtrian foods like dried mango fish curry and cucumber cake, to name a few, find their way on to our tables.

The caste system exists in our community and while it no longer holds as much power over modern East Indian society, it does help differentiate the various dialects, cultural traditions, customs and even the kind of masalas and pickles we make!

East Indian pork Indyaal (vindaloo) cooking over a slow wood fire

Marathi however, is considered the mother tongue of our people and for written communication we use the Shudh (pure) Marathi prevalent in the state of Maharashtra. The dialects however, differ from region-to-region and caste-to-caste.

Making foogyas – deep-fried balls of flour fermented with palm toddy

For instance, in Vasai (Bassein) alone, there are the Valkar, Vaadval, Kaado, Koli, Paanmaali, Maankar, etc. – each with their own dialect and with subtle but definite differences in wedding customs, cuisine and jewellery among other things.

I shall use my own people (Valkar) and my husband’s (Vaadval) as an illustration of this difference.

Differences of dialect: 
English – Where have you been?
Valkar – Kaila gelti/gelta?
Vaadval – Katey geli/gela?

{The East Indian Kolis, to mention another group, have a more lilting way of speaking and the sibilant sounds are more stressed.}

Jewellery:
The Valkar gold jewellery is more reminiscent of delicate floral and geometric patterns, while Vaadval gold jewellery is chunkier and heavier in design and pattern.

Aanjelanchi Kaadi – a traditional headpiece made from gold foil, pearls and coral

It is taboo these days to get into details about the caste divisions, and rightly so. But just to illustrate a point, back in the days of the British, the Valkars tended to pursue clerical/office jobs while the Vaadvals were landowners and farmers – these occupational details further shaping the dialects and certain customs.

Wearing the traditional poth (long chain) made of gold and coral over a shawl and a lugda

Our homes were all built the same way though – cow dung-floors, tiled roofs, wooden beams supporting the roof, a proper hearth in the kitchen, a verandah with enough space for a wooden swing and a pit or two in the floor to pound spices. These homes are rare now and are uninhabitable, except for ones in the deepest gaothans (villages).

Today, the East Indians are just one of the many minorities living in their home state and largely forgotten by the rest of Mumbai.

The traditional morlis are still in use for slicing onion, grating coconuts and cleaning fish among other things.

But we are present in Vasai, Uttan, Gorai, Mazagaon, Mahim, Vakola, Kalina, Marol, Chakala, Bandra, Parel, Parla, in every ‘Galyan saakli sonyaachi‘ sung, in the beats of the ghumat at weddings, in piping hot, soft foogyas, in spicy pork indyaal (vindaloo) made using the East Indian Indyaal Masala, in the famous Bottle Masala, in the weave of vivid, bright lugdas and in a lot of Fernandes’, Pereiras, Mirandas, Almeidas, Sequeiras, Rebellos, Lopes’, Furtados, D’mellos, Gonsalves’ and D’souzas.

These last names may be shared by a lot of Goans and Mangaloreans as well, but look closer and you just may be able to tell an East Indian from the other Christian Indian ethnicities.

Note: While I am no scholar on East Indian lore, I have tried my best to present a legitimate summary of my community from everything I’ve learned growing up as a girl in Vasai. If there are any points you feel must be included or corrected, I invite you to email me at almeidareena at gmail dot com. I would appreciate your inputs towards presenting a more accurate picture of the East Indian community of Bombay.

EI Alert: East Indian Exhibition

Terencia Kinny, a student of architecture has been working for a while now on her Design and Research thesis on East Indians. An East Indian herself, she contacted me a couple of months back inquiring about Teddy Rodrigues book on East Indian history and culture – Trace.

The reason she was seeking the book caught my attention and I couldn’t be happier to speak about it here.

Mark out Saturday, 16 April 2011 as a day to soak in some of the best East Indian culture has to offer. The Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP) is organising the East Indian Exhibition – the first of its kind to be held in Mumbai – with the theme, ‘Amhi Mobaikar‘.

The exhibition commemorates a community regarded as one of the original occupants of the city and promises artifacts, photographs, articles, cuisine and information on the rich culture and tradition of the East Indian people.

A must-visit event for East Indians in the city curious about their roots and traditions, I strongly recommend other communities have a look-see about a culture steeped in Old Bombay and the group of islands once known as just Salsette-Bassein.

Don’t forget to bring your cameras and questions!

My grandma (second from left) with her sister and friends

Event
East Indian Exhibition

Date
Saturday, 16th April 2011

Time
2:00pm to 8:00pm

Venue
Veneration Hall, Opposite Irla Church

Organisers
Mobai Gaothan Panchayat

For more information, contact
Alphi D’souza, CEO and Spokesperson for MGP +91-982-008-7771

Prem Moraes, MGP Exhibition Spokesperson +91-986-736-8669

Terencia Kinny +91-992-099-7944

* The exhibition aims at creating awarenesss about East Indian culture and traditions *

* Various artefacts used by East Indians will be on display *

* Pictures will be used with descriptions on their specialty *

* Families who donate East Indian artefacts will have their family name tagged on them. These articles will then be permanently displayed at the special East Indian Exhibition space at Mobai Bhavan, Manori *

Of Walls that Speak and Shout

15th August 2008: Wake up, attend mass & flag hoisting ceremony, watch prize distribution kaaryakram for the little Marathi paathshaala affiliated with our church, go home, laze around, eat chicken curry, sleep, wake up, go beaching, come home, eat, sleep.

The BMC crew pose with our motley crew

15th August 2009: Wake up at the crack of dawn, chow down a ginormous breakfast with Aditya while hustling him for graphic novels, catch up on conversations with Rehab, head to The Wall Project at Mahim, spend an entire day painting crazy-whacked graffiti on the walls running parallel to the station, have a smash time painting them with crazy-whacked people, experience culinary nirvana with fun company, come home bone-tired, eat, crash out senseless on the bed.

But oh, I had fun. On Independence Day too!

I have never ever participated in anything quite like The Wall Project. Not on Independence Day, not ever. Come to think of it, I had never heard of the BMC participating in something like The Wall Project either, EVER.

In Front of my Wall. Top L-R: Jai, me, Aditya, Shirley. Bottom L-R: Idea Smith, Shawn

During those two paint-streaked, madly exciting days I saw and viciously thanked my stars for things like:

1. India and Bombay in particular,  is cool enough to think about community efforts like these and actively encourage them.

2. I experienced the BMC, children from the neighboring shanties, social workers, activists, hard-core artists, vandals and hit-and-run drivers up close, most of them in their element. Some of these folks turned out to be realities that really bite. The things I saw and the people I experienced meeting and observed that day boggled me.

Social awareness on display

3. I can haz fun too. Sometimes trudging all the way to that end of town from this end is more than worth it.

4. I am finally getting myself to experience whatever Bombay is throwing my way by way of culture. My last few months in this Burning City are months I am going to experience to their utmost and so far, they are turning out to be utterly fantastic!

5. Best part? I got to go berserk with people like Idea Smith, Rehab, Aditya, Jai, Wanderblah, Shawn, Jhayu, Aniceto, Moksh, Alpana and some more fun people whose names I can’t remember but really loved meeting!