April 24, 2017
Every evening from 5 pm to dusk three Kodialgar super senior couples, all above 70 years, take their seat on concrete benches with back-rest in the vast BPT (Bombay Port Trust) Garden close to the south tip of Bombay (now Mumbai). The English media in Mumbai abbreviates South Bombay as SoBo, about which more later.
Who are Kodialgars? The Catholics living in Bombay mainly comprise the native East Indians and migrated and settled down Goans and Kodialgars (or Konkani-speaking Mangaloreans) which term embraces people from the undivided South Canara (present-day Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts) and North Canara (now Uttara Kannada) with Karwar as headquarter. Before Independence the undivided South Kanara was part of Madras Presidency and North Canara part of Bombay Presidency. The common bond between the Catholics of these two districts was, and is, Konkani language. Perhaps the most prominent Konkani Catholic from Karwar was Joachim Alva who considered himself Kodialgar (Mangalorean and Konkani). More about him later. A little digression on Bombay and SoBo, the setting for this feature, is in order.
Historically, Bombay comprised seven islands south of Mahim on the west and Sion on the east. It was first under the British and later under the Portuguese. When in 1661 King Charles II of England married the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, as part of the dowry Charles received the seven islands of Bombay. In accordance with the royal charter of March 27, 1668, England leased these islands to the English East India Company for British Pound Sterling 10 per annum. Of these seven islands, present-day SoBo, also called Island City, comprises Colaba, Old Woman’ Island and Bombay – the main harbour and the nucleus of British port from which the modern city grew, stretching from Dongri on the east to Malabar Hill on the west. It was, and is, home to Reserve Bank of India, Mint, Port Trust, High Court, Government Secretariat, Gateway of India, the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel and, later, the Bombay Stock Exchange Tower – a modern landmark of SoBo. Even in the harbour there are colourfully named landmarks like Middle Island, Dolphin Rock, Oyster Rock, Butcher Island and Elephanta Island.
SoBo was, and is, home to many ethnic and linguistic groups, including Kodialgars who, in the absence of buses and taxis connecting Mangalore and Bombay until post-1960s, came by train via Kadur/Biroor or by passenger ship service of Scindhia Steam Navigation Company. They landed in Bombay docks or Victoria Terminus, now renamed Chatrapthi Shivaji Terminus. Most such Kodialgars arriving in SoBo found boarding and lodgings in “Coods” - self-managed community rooms with kitchen attached. The oldest of them was in Sitaram Building, near Crawford Market, the second oldest, St. John’s Club at Fort Market and the third St Paul’s Club, near Lions Gate - – all over 100 years old now. While many arrivals, with nominal education, worked for British expatriates on the home turf, with accommodation in the servant’s quarters of bungalows – popularly called “Cotris”. Others went as seafarers for low–end jobs with the Clubs/Coods as their Bombay anchors while exiting from and returning to their homes in Tulunadu..
From there to today it is a story of Prometheus, a titan in Greek mythology, the greatest benefactor of mankind who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind – inviting eternal punishment from Zeus – the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who ruled as king of gods of Mount Olympus. Prometheus was chained to a rock where his liver was eaten daily by an eagle only to be regenerated by night, due to his immortality. Years later, the Greek hero, Hercules, slays the eagle and frees Prometheus from the eagle’s torment. English author Percy Shelly wrote a four-act lyrical drama titled “Prometheus Unbound” in 1820.
A similar liberation took place among Codialgars who unbound themselves from their rural roots and cycle of poverty, either as farmers or farm-workers, and climbed the ladder of success in SoBo and elsewhere in Bombay. Some of them came equipped educationally and others educated themselves in night schools and colleges, hugging their jobs by day and supporting themselves and their families back home. And when the next generation came in, their education was supported on full time basis and as a matter of prime priority. With the result, for example, while the first generation Codialgars were engaged in low-end jobs on the ships, the present-day generation of shippies work as Captains and Chief Engineers. This is reflected in the brief overview of super-senior three Codialgar couples bonding together in the PBT garden on a daily basis.
Pascal Boniface D’Sa (b 1931) first of six children of Jacob and Cisilia, had his initial education at St Mary’s in Shirva and continued in night school in SoBo. He has been living in Naju Mansion, at the junction of Wodehouse Road (now Nathalal Parekh Marg) and Kitridge Road, since 1970. He married Juliana (nee Castelino - b 1941) in 1956 when she was 16 years. Pascal went to Soudi in 1950 and following the marriage returned to SoBo to start his life in general insurance consultancy with office at Arun Chambers, Tardeo. Though he has tapered off his business, he continues to be the Hon. Secretary of the building society and visits his office once a week.
Their eldest son Robert, a Chartered Accountant, started his career as lecturer at HR College and then went to Dubai, now owning and managing a chain of restaurants and bakeries. He is married to Myra Pinto. Their elder daughter, Premila is married to Dr Donald Fernandes who is a Cancer Specialist at Manipal. Their younger daughter, Priya, is married to Norbert Miranda and they are settled in Canada.
Born on July 5, 1932, Valerian Lawrence Crasto is the second of four children of Camil Crasto and Margarita (Nee D’Souza) of Balkunje where they had just a darkas (a small plot of dry land). After initial education in St. Paul’s School in Balkunje, he came to SoBo in1946 with his mother, popularly Maggiebai, who passed away in 1995 and lived in a tenement in WestView Building on Wodehouse Road and shifted north to a proper flat in Satya Bhavan in middle Colaba in 1977. Since landing in Bombay, he improved his educational status by doing his SSC attending night classes and BA through Jaihind College and also kept terms for one year for LLB. He got an opening in the then prestigious leading foreign firm ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) with head office in Ballard Estate, then Bombay’ main business precinct, with factory in Sewri, in 1948. He was a trade unionist holding various positions leading up to President of the All-India Federation. Despite his trade union involvement, he advanced in his career to the highest position of general staff – Departmental Head. He took VRS in 1990 at the age of 58 after a service of 43 years.
Valerian married Philomena (b 1945), daughter of George and Lucy Gonsalves of Madanthyar, on September 6, 1964 when she was 20 years under the traditional proposal system. She had done her teachers training course at Capitanio, Mangalore and, after marriage, from 1966 taught in Muncipal schools in Bombay until she, too, took VRS with pension in 1999 after 33 years of service.
The Crasto couple has four children. The eldest, Sandra D’Almeida, a BCom works for Board of Airlines, chaired by Air India head. Elder son, Cedric Joseph, Marine Chief Engineer, is working in Brazil – receiving and dispatching oil from tankers – with alternate months of work and leave. Their second daughter, Sarita Milred, a BCom, works for Emirates Airlines. Their second son, Selwyn Jude, is on a cruise liner (Celebrity) overseeing its catering function.
The last of the BPT Garden trio couples is Mark Francis Martis. Born on March 9, 1939, he is first of five children of Michael and Dulcine Martis of Kemman-Padukudru of Kallianpur. He did his SSC from Milagres-Kallianpur and came to Bombay in 1958 and trained himself under his maternal uncle in the dry-cleaning laundry service. Then he started on his own Dryman’s Drycleaners in south Colaba’s Hampton Court, with his residence close to his laundry, in Usha Sadan, moving yet closer to his business address to a modern high-rise named Jamuna Sagar in 1983. He is now chairman of the building Society. After running his laundry for55 years, Mark sold his business in 2014. Apparently he had garnered a lot of goodwill with his customers as reflected in the continued printing of an annual calendar in the same name of the laundry.
Mark married Monthi Castileno (b 1948) of Shirva on on October 28, 1965 at the age of 17. After her SSC, she did teachers’ training from Capitanio. She helped her husband in his business. The couple have a flat in Udupi and they spend three months in a year there. The Martis couple have only one son, Melson, born in 1968. He married Relma Soares in 1995. He has done engineering degree from Manipal, followed by MBA in finance in USA and has settled down there. He is married and has his consultancy in USA.The parents Martis go once in two years to USA for three months’ stay with their son’s family.
All the three families have nine celebrations collectively every year – six birthdays and three wedding anniversaries. The senior couples who meet daily evening in BPT Garden are part of senior citizens group which includes, Gujaratis, Maharashtrians and Parsees and they discuss at random anything under the sun. Some of them go to the garden in the morning as well. Ocassionally they hire a bus and go for a day’s picnic.
Alert readers would observe that the number of children per couples down the two generations has declined so that the next generation of children, progressively limited in number, can be better focussed on in terms of education. Also, in all the three Kodialgars cited, there is what has come to be known as “Empty Nest Syndrome”. Educated and made to manage on their own, the children fly off the nest to lead their nuclear families. All the three couples interviewed dismissed the situation as inconsequential. With the technology advancing every day, families can be connected across continents at the press of a button over mobiles, land telephones, E-mails and Skype at ridiculously low costs as also visit each other with ease. The three couples cited have not only their children visiting them and they visiting their children but also they jointly tour the world and have relaxed combined family holidays at exotic tourist destinations which are too numerous to detail here.
Among the Kodialgars in SoBo, as noted above, was Joachim Alva, leading freedom fighter and Parliamentarian who was a SoBo resident with his flat in Queen’s Court at the west of Oval Maidan and opposite the High Court complex. When I shifted to SoBo in 1970, the waiting list for telephones in SoBo was 15/20 years. I approached him, with Stany Rebello of Allied Publishers (We were working jointly to put together a special issue on Mangalorean Catholics for the Illustrated Weekly of India under the dynamic editorship of Kushwant Singh for which I wrote the cover story on Mangalorean Catholics) with my application as a journalist, which I was, for out-of-turn allotment. He readily obliged by signing the form and I was a proud owner of a telephone within a month.
I conclude with another incident narrated by Margaret Alva in her autobiography, Courage & Commitment, which was released in Mangalore on March 11, 2017: “A week later (after the death of Joachim Alva) at the dinner we had at home after the religious ceremonies, George Fernandes spoke movingly about his association with Bab (Joachim) during his early trade union days in Bombay. He recalled their first meeting – how Bab accidentally bumped into him on the footpath, and asked after him. When he heard that George had neither a roof over his head or proper food, he insisted that he have his meals at his house whenever he wished. ‘Joachim Alva was the only man who opened his door when I started my life on the footpaths of Bombay’, said an emotional George Fernandes.” (pp 124/25)
(Incidentally her autobiography is available at Biblio, Bunts Hostel Road, Mangaluru).
I also add a bit, on the basis of my own research, that George, in his early days in SoBo would sometimes go for lunch at St Paul’s Club and then take a nap there, sleeping on the row of trunks (steel suit-cases) of permanent members lining the main room walls before going off to his trade union activism.