My interactions with people of Goan
origin in Karachi- 1
had to visit a physician on the fourth day after I arrived in Karachi. I
went to Dr. Dolphy D'Souza's clinic. Like other Pakistanis he stumbled
over my name. This was news to me that someone called D'Souza should
find my name strange. And also, that I did not have a Christian name
even when I claimed to have a goan connection.
The next was a visit to Roland D'Souza's house. Roland is a social
activist, part of a group called Shehri, an organization that fights
against illegal constructions in the city. His wife Vicky grew up in the
US and two of their sons are studying in the US. The third one is
preparing to go there. All of Vicky's family is in the US.
They live in the Garden area where many upper middle class Goans live,
next to St. Lawrence's church. At their place I met Roland's Aunt and
Uncle. Roland has visited Goa several times. His aunt was a bit nervous
and embarrassed when Roland said, 'Aunty, here is someone who is looking
for some one to talk in Konkani..' She fumbled and said that she has
almost forgotten her Konkani, what with having to speak urdu etc. The
uncle only smiled.
All of them said that there were hardly any Goans left here and there
was hardly anything 'Goan' left in Karachi, starting from bakeries to
cultural programs. Aunty said it bothered her that people stared at
women wearing western dresses these days. Karachi was not like this
before. She asked me to visit her sometime. Then we went to St.
Laurence's Church next door to participate in the fete.
The atmosphere inside the church compound was strikingly different from
anything familiar in Karachi. There was music and women dressed in
western clothes. There were several stalls selling food and other
things. There were typical fete games and lucky draw stalls. Among the
food stalls there was one selling south Indian Dosas and some selling
Goan pickles and sweetmeats and sorpotel.
There were quite a few non Christians, even a few women in burqa and the
atmosphere was very vibrant despite it being a hot April afternoon. I
was dressed in a skirt and blouse. Ajmal and me both felt very relaxed
in that walled and protected free zone where everybody seemed to have
relaxed and let go of themselves.
That evening we went to the beach at Clifton. That's the first time I
went to the beach in Karachi. I was the only person in a skirt and was
being stared at much more than usual, on streets and in buses. It felt
like a 'foreigner'. Like how white skinned people are stared at on
Indian beaches when they are seen wearing bilikis. And despite the sea
breeze and water and all that goes with 'beach', the air didn't feel
free and I felt that everyone was tense as one always is in Karachi
about being 'proper'. (this was just an aside)
After that I regularly met some women wearing very short hair, sometimes
dressed in frocks or skirts or in salwar kamez with a dupatta thrown on
one shoulder carelessly, at the bhajiwalla's in Saddar. Seeing me in
western clothes or without a dupatta, and ofcourse my short hair... they
always smiled a smile of common sisterhood and then we exchanged a few
words. They always consoled me after hearing that I had only just
arrived from India. Most of them had no connection with Goa. Some said
that the Goan association was indeed an active organization; others said
that nothing much happened there. Almost all were a bit confused to hear
my name and that I wasn't a Christian but a Hindu.
In Indian cities no more do short hair, define ones identity as a
Agnes- One of the things I really miss here is walking on the streets by
myself without feeling self conscious. I have realized now that if I
wear really ordinary salwar kameez I can do it with minimum damage.
One day as I was walking on Abdullah Haroon road, one of the main roads
in Saddar,(where a majority of Goans live and I have found myself living
here too) as usual dominated with men in salwar kameez, I spotted a lone
figure of an old woman in a frock and short hair standing at a street
corner where I turned to go to a beauty salon. I walked to her, as if
mesmeraised ( I am unable to describe the emotion that is usually
generated while walking on streets full of almost only men and you see
someone you don't hope to find there) and introduced myself. She was
waiting for a particular shop to open. She said she was disgusted with
people here, who stared at her because of her clothes. But she was not
afraid, 'this is our national dress, she said, why should I wear Salwar
kameez. She was perplexed after I told her that I was a Hindu. Musharraf
, she said was trying to
change things but people wouldn't let him do it. She invited me home.
I had many questions to ask. I haven't been able to visit her as yet. On
Ramzan 1st Dear Alito, Even at the Indus valley school of Art, which is
an elite school ( where I am teaching) there is such strong air of
religiosity that it has started depressing me. Anyhow... One of the
brighter side is that the moment roza ends for the day, the streets
become empty and its nice to step out then. Its cool and quite and nice
to walk on the streets. On the first roza, Ajmal and I went to the
beach...as we were walking feeling upbeat, on an empty beach, I saw and
heard at the same time, Goans, a group of them returning to their car
from the beach. There was one old woman in a knee length dress ( this is
the usual sign of recognition) and they were speaking in Konkani. Its
difficult to describe how I felt hearing Konkani at the most unexpected
place (even at a site of a skirt I miss my heartbeat, this time I missed
two) So far I had never heard anyone speak it.
The Goan women I met at Lucky star corner were mostly by themselves and
we had always spoken in English. The use of Hindi/Urdu by the educated
class in Pakistan is much more than one would find in Indian cities.
Probably because one would rarely find a cosmopolitan group here; they
are mostly all Urdu speaking, unlike in Indian cities where you will
here many more languages and English too is commonly spoken in regional
accents by a large section of people. I get tired of hearing Urdu all
the time, or English spoken only in Anglo-American accent. This place
seems very far away from India at times I become conscious of this
All this is only to explain to you how startled I was to hear Konkani...in
a surrounding I associate with North Indian (meaning Pakistani), Muslim
Urdu culture. Time became still for a moment. I may have felt the same
hearing Bengali, Tamil or Marathi. Just a familiar, non Urdu language.
I don't deny that Konkani being Konkani has a special place.
(In a way its funny that western dress should strike a chord in my
heart, should remind me of home. It also strikes me that its always
because of women that I
recognize people as Goans, so far it has never been the men. Although
sometimes I do wonder looking at some old men, could he be a Goan, but
there is no way to find out unless you ask them. Certain men who wear
white shirts tucked in black pants, I don't know how to describe them
better, Alito, look like your uncle from Santacruz.)
I told Ajmal that they were speaking in Konkani. I was feeling shy to
approach them, but Ajmal pushed me and I introduced myself. The lady
spoke only Konkani. She tried to speak in English with me as she was a
bit confused, the youngsters told her that I could speak Konkani. We had
a small chat. They live near our place( our office cum shop cum
residence is in Saddar, which is where traditionally Goans lived, it was
a bit like Colaba, it's a very degraded area now, like Bhendi Bazar or
something, we live on the edge, which is still quite nice. They were two
families and one of them live in the next building. They were returning
from the beach after buying some fresh fish. It was already twilight and
streetlights were still off. Yesterday I went to visit the family that
lives in the
next building which is called rex centre after a cinema hall that stood
there called Rex Cinema. I met the young couple, Edward and Anita and
their Mother, the father was sleeping. She is from Pilar, she came here
after marriage. They speak in Konkani with each other, even the daughter
in law...... who grew up in PECHS colony dominated by upper middleclass UP
Muslims, which I found quite amazing. The father worked in Dubai, the
son worked for Standard Chartered Bank and now works for a Pakistani
bank. His wife teaches in a kindergarten school. They have three kids.
They seem really well off. I'd like to meet the father too some day,
also the aunt who I spoke to briefly at the beach.
The mother showed me their flat very proudly. It's a HUGE flat.
Something like two thousand square feet. I stayed there for more than an
hour returning only after Ajmal called me up. When I told them that I am
going to India in December, the mother thought that I am going with one
'Father D'Silva' on the pilgrimage! Then she said I should go with them,
for it would be cheaper than traveling on my own...I would like to do it,
to travel with the pilgrims, to talk to them. I told her that I am not a
Christian and she exclaimed that she had noticed that my Konkani was
Hindu but she thought that as I am from Ponda and there they speak like
that..Antruzi They had been to Goa two months back to see a cousin who
was seriously ill. The police visited them often to check on them they
They said they wouldn't like to move to Canada like many people are
doing. Many of Mothers friends have followed their children there. But
all three said that they don't like the idea. The mother had a
Portuguese passport earlier but when some kind officer who routinely
extended her visa left the country and there was some confusion, she was
in trouble but managed to acquire a Pakistani passport.
They moved into this flat, six years ago. Before that they lived in
different houses in Saddar. My conversation with the daughter in law was
also quite interesting. She was trying to show me the brighter sides,
like how Goans despite or along with their western clothes and manners
are respected at workplaces. Which she said in few words, conveyed it
more though nods and looks, she told me how one of her relatives 'never'
ever wore Salwar Kameez. Always wore dresses.
It was only yesterday evening that I went there but I have a feeling
that I am forgetting some details of the conversation. Must keep a
diary. I will visit the church with this family perhaps on next Sunday
and also visit the goa association the Brahmin one. The other one is
still functional, they told me, only a few old men gather there, that's
close to our place and a more humble building. I wonder if through the
church I can involve and engage college students in some filming.
At the Church on a Sunday morning I went to St. Patrick's Church the
following Sunday a little before 8'o clock mass ended. It's an old
church, situated near Empress Market, again an old market, elegant and
impressive in its architecture. This is heart of Saddar (which itself in
Arabic means heart) the priest barked at the congregation like they were
erring children. After the mass I met Edward and family. The father
hadn't come. They greeted a few friends; the conversation was mostly in
Konkani. There cousins whom I had met at Clifton beach, two women,
joined us in Edwards car.
We drove in Edward's smart new car, to 'Lucky Star' corner, an area
called after a restaurant there. There are a couple of vegetable, meat
and fish vendors at a corner of a lane. Around that place many goans
live and that's where I had always spotted women who I identified as
Goans. This was a Sunday ritual, Edward and family always came here
after the mass.
As the car pulled out of the church compound, Anita pointed to the
street dotted with Goan ladies dressed in skirts and frocks and said,
look, they are not wearing Salwar Kameez, or a dupatta...you have to
ignore stares and wear what you like. But this was a neighbourhood
recognized as dominated by goans, so here it should be easier to be as
you like... At lucky star, there were many such people doing their
vegetable and meat shopping and catching up with each other. Some of
them lived in cantonment which is not very far.
One lady from cantonment updated information about 'who has left already
for Canada, and who is leaving soon. I was introduced to her. She has
two kids, college going, her brother had just left for Canada and she
told me that she has no intentions of leaving Karachi. The children may
decide to leave but she and her husband wouldn't want to.
Edward's mother went to buy fish and chicken. While waiting for her in
the car Anita commented that her mother in law liked eating fish curry
rice for every meal. That was not so in her 'maiden' home. She commented
that when she went for the pilgrimage in India, while traveling to
Velankani, she noticed that people ate large quantities of rice.
After the shopping was done the two cousins left to go home, this is in
the next lane. We dropped Anita and kids home and after changing Edward,
Mom and I went to buy Atta from a mill they know. Anita said she hates
to move around in Saddar for shopping because of the pollution and the
grime, generally. I agreed with her. She said that her parent lived here
once and moved out a few years ago to PECHS colony. She said Muslims
should not have been allowed to
Edward and his mom seemed to enjoy introducing me to the old part of
town. I asked Edward if he studied at St. Patrick's. He said yes, all my
education was at that place. The mother said in a slightly bitter tone
that he hasn't chosen that institute for his children. Edward said that
it was not the same any more. The mother asked me about Ajmal's family.
Then she said in Konkani, my situation is like hers, that none of her
relatives are here etc....
So far they haven't figured out much about me. They haven't probed much
and have chosen to neglect that I am a Hindu who converted to marry a
Muslim man. I have given tentative answers about the kind of marriage we
had. They don't know that I am almost forty and was happily unmarried
till now. Anita was cooking Biryani at home and I had an invitation but
I did not go with them as I had to do some work.
I went to Lucky star around 9.30 Am the next Sunday hoping to find
Alfonso family there but I didn't see them. I didn't recognize any
faces, but there were some Goan people shopping veggies and meat. I did
not introduce myself but I was all ears and staring at them as much as I
could. A couple stood there for quite some time buying meat but they
didn't talk at all. Then two fat women appeared wearing salwar kameez
and spoke in goan English to the couple. They seemed extremely relaxed
with the meat vendor and one could make out that this was 'their area'.
In appearance they were like typical lower middle class catholic women
in Goa. This was the first time I was seeing Goan women standing and
talking so freely in a public space. It could be a neighborhood in
Bombay or Goa and not an alien, orthodox Muslim area. This time I chose
not to introduce myself though I was staring at them all the time while
Ajmal bought meat and veggies.
Three days ago, Ciprian Philip, from the admin. Section at the Indus
Valley School stopped me to ask if I had any connection with Goa. I had
spoken to him once before and had suspected that he was a Goan from his
accent but hadn't asked. His father was an Anglo Indian and mother is a
Goan. He lives next to Empress Market. He is married to a Punjabi
Christian woman. His mother was a teacher and still does 'tuitions' at
home. He showed me tattoos on his arms which he had got done in Goa
twenty four years ago. He had gone to Canada he told me but returned as
he found life too tough there. He wants to move out of Saddar because of
pollution and general degradation but real estate prices in localities
he prefers are unaffordable. He said Christians, specially Goans, Anglos
had good job opportunities because of their command on English. He gave
me names and addresses of two Goans who were principals at two renowned
schools in Karachi.
I asked him if he knew of one Rose D'Mello who was the principal of St.
Joseph. I had met her at the airport when I was traveling to Bombay in
June. She came to me and introduced herself taking me to be a Christian
because of my short hair and clothes and 'something' about me as she put
it. We had spent about an hour together before boarding the flight. She
sounded very sad about being in Karachi. "just bad luck, she said, ..I
was born here, my siblings were not". She was traveling to Bombay to
visit her sister. Ciprian knew her well and promised to put me in touch
Yesterday, Nov. 3, 2005, last day of Ramazan, Ajmal and I decided to go
for a walk on the only quite street in Saddar. It has an apartment
complex, a club house, one side of the street has part of Avari Towers a
five star hotel and the rest belongs to the army. Further on the street
there are army bungalows. Hearing two middle-old men speak in English I
told Ajmal that I suspected they were Goans. Ajmal was amused. He said,
Karachi seems full of Goans ,all of a sudden. My suspicion was correct.
Two more men joined us while we were still introducing each other. They
too were goans. They lived in Cantonment.
They asked me if I liked it here. When I replied in negative, one of
them laughed and said of course if you have lived in Bombay you will not
like it here. Then they asked me about my visa status. I told them how
difficult it has been to extend my visa and how the authorities have
been advising me to apply for nationality from the very first time I
requested for a visa extension. The tall man from cantonment said that
it should be so as I was married here. I said I didn't agree. There was
some confused talk. Someone said he knew two couple who were going
through similar problems.
Then I told them that I was a film maker and wished to make a film on
the Goan community in Karachi. We discussed Canada and also Goa as a
possible destination of immigrants. The tall man said he wouldn't like
to go live in Goa as he was a city man and life in Goa was very slow.
Then I said that we who don't like living in each others territories
don't seem to mind living in a western country. To which he replied
clearly that if he had to choose between the two, he would choose Goa.
He said it was the young generation that was going away, not the old
ones. I said I would like to meet them again. They said that I would
always find them here.
On our way back Ajmal said, this is amazing that four and a half out of
the only five people on this street at this moment are goans... Later we
went to lucky star to buy water and groceries. The shop was 'full' pf
goans.... One heard only goan English and only the shop staff, were
speaking in Urdu. I stood there, waiting for the water cans I had
ordered, looking, listening and absorbing, comforted by familiar
expressions, gestures, clothes, accents and language, aware of a certain
sense of feeling relaxed, different from how I feel usually in the shops
and any outdoor space in Karachi, very self conscious, tense and alert
and lonely, a bit hostile maybe (not very different from how I feel in
Delhi). People were shopping for the long Eid week end and there was a
great hustle bustle.
I want to contact the priest who is organizing the pilgrimage. Must ask
Anita her experiences of the pilgrimage she took.
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