|Neville traces the word ‘Queimada’ from Spain to North Konkan; Albuquerque focuses on the migration of Goans to Mumbai during the 19th century
I doubt there are many books on Bombay/Mumbai which give the city quite such a dramatic beginning. (Given the way we’re going, I suspect we’ll end the same way). Neville Gomes writes in Viva, Queimada, (2011) “Today’s East Indians may not, perhaps realise that their early prosperity owes a great deal to the volcanic eruptions some 66 million years ago.
The upheavals ripped away the North Konkan region and gave the area a commercial harbour which was not shared by other parts of the Indian mainland. The islands thrown up between the Dantivra Creek and the Trombay Strait helped to turn North Konkan into a confluence for merchants and traders from all over the world.
The earliest to call at the East Indian port of Sopara were the Egyptians…” The central focus of the book is the East Indian community, the original inhabitants of the region. Gomes wished to raise “a toast to those glorious 500 years which changed the history of the world and gave the Mumbai East Indians wings to fly.”
For instance, he traces the word “Queimada” which refers to a traditional community celebration from Ireland to Scotland to Spain to Portugal to the North Konkan where the word turned into “Keemadh,” a “bubbling hot concoction prepared in a special earthen “koopta” and downed in cozy shot glasses or “chaunis.”
It was Neville Gomes’ wife Sandra who started work on the project. After her death, he decided to continue to commemorate her memory. It’s a coffeetable book, with some lovely drawings and illustrations, details of the history of the East Indians in the context of what was happening in the rest of the world, photos of and notes on prominent East Indians, details of customs, cuisine, clothing and jewellery.
The book is available only at three of the NGOs to which the proceeds will go. Teresa Albuquerque’s Goan Pioneers in Bombay focuses on the 19 th century. She writes, “It was mainly the simple, unlettered mundkars, or bonded labour, who first broke the shackles of a threatened existence and ventured out in search of a living….it was to Dhobi Talao that most newcomers from Goa invariably gravitated.”
Later migrants tended to be educated, and were often the sons of bhatkars, or landowners. Poor, new immigrants found refuge in “kudds.” Albuquerque describes them as “the unique bedrock of Goan emigration.” It may interest readers to know that Jer Mahal, diagonally opposite the Metro cinema complex has housed the highest number of Goan clubs since it was constructed in 1914.
The architect Abha Nariman Lambah is quoted as saying, “The building is quintessential Mumbai and represents the finest example of a whole style of vernacular Indian architecture.” Among the jobs many illiterate migrants had to take were of the “ayah-butler- cook” variety.
In fact, this phrase was often used as a term of contempt for Goans in general. I can’t imagine why it should have been a term of contempt: can you imagine what life would have been like for memsahibs (foreign and Indian) without them? There was also shock and horror if anyone wanted to marry a Goan/East Indian man, a “boy,” as they said, the word used even for elderly butlers.
But notes are also given on those who “made it,”— doctors, musicians, jewellers, educationists, among both Hindu Goans and Catholic Goans: Dr Bhau Daji Lad (1822-1873), Dr Gerson J da Cunha (1844-1900) and many others. In 1831, Mensageiro Bombayense emerged as the first Goan paper in Bombay, written in Portugese, started and edited by Antonio Phillipe Rodrigues. Both books are useful additions to the growing corpus of books discussing the contribution of East Indians and Goans to Mumbai, and to culture in general.
Art is in born
This refers to ‘Selftaught artists’, (PM, June 28). I think no art school can produce a genuine artist. Formal training simply helps an interested person acquire technical know-how of an art form. I would call them professionals because I believe that a person can be an artist only by birth.
To put forward my argument, I would cite the example of a friend who showed the qualities of an ace painter since childhood. Although he never took up formal training, he became an expert in playing with the colours. On many occasions he would surprise our school teachers and peers. However, he belonged to a generation of jewellers and the pressure to join family business killed the artist in him.
- Felroy Rodrigues