This website is about the GOAN Christian Community of Pakistan. Every Goan has ancestral roots in Goa, India, formerly a Portuguese colony. All Goans of Pakistan are predominantly Catholic. Although the 'Christian Community of Pakistan' has contributed immensely to nation-building; this endeavor is solely dedicated to researching, highlighting and archiving the GOAN community's historical background, cultural heritage, significant achievements and contribution to Pakistan, before and after independence.

 
LIFE, AS IT WAS THEN... IN KARACHI
By Lt. Gen. EA Vas, PVSM


I was born on May 15, 1923 in Karachi, a small port with a cosmopolitan population: a majority of Sindhi Muslims, many Sindhi Hindus, some Hindus from elsewhere in India, a few Christians and Parsis, and a sprinkling of Jews.

The Christian elements consisted mainly of people from Goa who had begun migration to British-administered regions from the early 19th century onwards for economic reasons.

Whole villages under intrepid leaders would set off to East Africa, Calcutta, Bombay and Karachi in search of a better life. Males would form the advance guard. If things worked out well, they would be followed by others and then their women.

Goans travelled to Karachi in Arab dhows and the journey took a week. My grandparents moved to Karachi at the time of the Great Indian Mutiny (1857). When they reached Sindh, my grandparents could only speak Konkani.

Karachi was expanding rapidly. British trading houses and local government services needed reliable middle-men. employment was no problem provided one learnt English.

Goans who could not educate themselves became the cooks and butlers of the Raj. Goans are not exceptional cooks, but because they had no taboos about handling any type of meat or fish, they were welcome by the British memsahibs who taught them to cook the meals they liked. Goans soon became excellent professionals who dominated their occupations.

In most Goans, a natural tendency to religious piety, already established by their Hindu traditions, was greatly enhanced by Roman Catholicism.

Thus, a Catholic school, a convent and a church dominated areas where Goans resided. St Patrick's High School was a boys' school in a small town, but among those who passed out in my time were India's first Cardinal, one of India's Air Chief Marshals, and a president of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Along St Patrick's School was St Patrick's Church and St Joseph's Convent for girls. Pious Goans attended mass regularly on Sundays, kept Friday as a meatless day and fasted during Lent. Family members would sit together every evening before their supper and recite the rosary in Konkani. Young boys and girls were imbued with a desire to educate themselves and better their prospects.

They were ready to meet new challenges. There was a strong desire to modernize through the medium of the English language, and Christianity enabled the Goan to accept Westernization, without any inhibitions.

The community believed in, and practised, sound simple Victorian values: devotion to duty, the sanctity of a promise, all hard work and duty would be rewarded, justice and the rule of law must be upheld, truth would prevail, honesty is the best policy. There were maxims and epigrams to cover every aspect of life from waste to punctuality. As children, these values were drilled into us.

Goans were prudish about sex.

This was then a common Indian attitude which is surprising, as Hindu culture subsumed the concept of Shiva and Shakti without which men and women were incomplete. This concept was developed further in the dual presence of Rama and Sita, and Radha and Krishna.

Yet, like so many other human cultures, we have surrounded sex with myths and misconceptions which prevent the growth of healthy sex and sexuality. In the case of the Goan, these inhibitions were reinforced by vague notions of sin and hellfire.

Anyhow, the community was a small, compact one where almost everyone knew one another by sight if not name. Thus, clandestine liaisons were difficult. This is not to deny that there were frequent scandals which were discussed with great enjoyment by the gossipers. However, I grew up wise about many things except sex.

To begin with, Goan immigrants settled in the Cantonment area, which was referred to as "camp". When the influx from Goa increased, it became difficult to acquire housing in Camp. An enterprising Goan, Cincinnatus D'Abreo, acquired 1000 acres of land outside the cantonment. In 1908, this was developed into Karachi's first planned township, which was named Cincinnatus Town (today this forms part of Garden East).

[Cincinnatus D'Abreo migrated to Sind in 1846, was educated at St Patrick's School, rose to be Assistant Commissioner of Sind, and retired as Collector of Customs. He founded the Indian Life Assurance Co., was elected to the Karachi Municipality, and became Director of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation.

Cincinnatus Town developed an independent character with its own school, convent and church. Interestingly, the school was not established by the clergy. Jufelhurt High School was run on modern secular lines by Cincinnatus's talented grand daughters.

Common to Camp and Cincinnatus Town, and the centre of Goan social activities, was the Karachi Goan Association (KGA, which was housed in a large double-storied stone building. This still stands opposite the Grammar School.

Founded in 1886 as the Goan Portuguese Association (GPA), the present building designed by Moses Somake, was formally opened in 1905, after which the name was changed to the KGA.

The KGA had a library, card and billards room, and an auditorium with a dance floor, stage and a pit for the orchestra. Goans are a happy, musical people who love singing and dancing. Educated Goans were expected to learn to play some Western musical instrument as a matter of form. The Goan Orchestra in its time was of a high standard. It was customary for the KGA to organise an annual children's concert, a play and a musical extravaganza once a year.

* * *

Goans, who established themselves in Karachi, ran their own professions or small businesses, joined trading firms or government services and prospered.

A few trickled northwards to Hyderabad (Sindh), Quetta, Lahore and Delhi in search of adventure or better prospects. Some who did well for themselves in north India grew ashamed of their less fortunate brethren who had also moved northwards to accompany their sahibs as cooks.

Rather than be mistaken for, or be associated with, those "Goanese cooks", they changed their surnames and began calling themselves Anglo-Indians. But those who stayed in Karachi and Bombay took pride in their Goan heritage, maintained their love for Goan food (and feni), celebrated their village feasts, sang Konkani songs and enjoyed performing their traditional dances. A few who knew Portuguese considered themselves a cut above the others.

The Goan community kept to itself socially, but maintained good working relations with the ruling British, and the other religious communities. Initially, bachelors were forced to look to Goa for their mates. It was normal for a prospective bride to travel in a dhow from Goa to Karachi with a large truck containing her crockery, jewellery and clothes, and an upright piano as her dowry.

Later, when the community had grown in numbers, young women and men found their partners in Karachi, but a continual trickle of ladies continued to enter Karachi from Goa. Some took pride in their Brahmin genes and looked with disdain on lesser breeds of Goans; they wanted to arrange their children's marriages only with Brahmin Christians. Our family, though supposedly of Brahmin stock, had taken a typically contrary Vas stance by breaking with the "Brahmins".

My paternal grandfather, Anthony Cajetan (AC) Vas, was from Saligao, a village situated half-way between Panjim and Calungate (sic). Enthusiastic descendants have tried to trace the Vas roots beyond this, in the hope of digging up a venerable ancestor. Alas, their efforts have proved fruitless.

However, what the Vas tradition lacked in distinguished lineage is more than made up for in numbers. The family had a reputation of being difficult: for one thing, it spelt the surname with an S when most others wrote this as Vaz.

AC's elder brother was an accepted leader in the village and was renowned for his wise decisions for which he was nick-named 'Solomon'. AC was born shortly after Lord Macaulay, one of those extraordinary Victorian savants and high priests of European humanism, who had issued his celebrated Minute on Education in 1835.

Macaulay proposed that an English education would create "a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect." It was a bold and clearheaded vision. The impact was far-reaching in three fields: politics, language and sports.

In politics, founding fathers of India and Pakistan, Gandhi, Nehru, Radhakrishnan, Jinnah, Liaqat, best symbolise the Anglo-Indian encounter. In language, Tagore, VS Naipaul, Nirad Chaudhuri, and many others are examples of a rich literary harvest. In sports, especially in that quintessentially English game, cricket, many Indians havegained an international reputation.

AC reached Karachi in 1857. He at one started learningEnglish. By dint of hard work, he was able to join theKarachi Customs Service at the bottom of the ladder.


He must have been a remarkable man because over the nextthirty years he married and produced twelve children and was eventually promoted to the appointment of Chief Appraiser Karachi Customs.

AC was remarkable for two other reasons: first, he realized the value of education and how the lack of this had handicapped him. He therefore encouraged his children to read, study and think for themselves. Thus, an outstanding characteristic of most Vas males and females is a stubborn independence and a reluctance to become involved with associations which might limit one's freedom of individual choice.

This detachment was particularly marked in its relation to the acceptance of formal religions, including Christianity. The Vas approach was liberal in its acceptance that there were many different paths to God, and secular in its concept that religion and morality should be separated.

Second, his eldest son, Joseph, became the first Goan to enter the Indian Civil Service (ICS).

Joseph Vas studied at St Patrick's School. He did not distinguish himself when he matriculated. When asked by his father why he had fared so poorly, he replied, "How can one's talents be developed in Karachi? Send me to England and you will see what results I produce."

AC had faith in his first born. Joseph went to Cambridge, England, graduated in the arts and law, sat for the entrance examination for the ICS, was selected and assigned to the Bengal cadre.

Joseph, on his return to India, became the economic and intellectual driving force for his family. Thanks to his support, his four younger brothers and sisters were given the best education possible.

His sister Matilda became the first Goan lady to graduate from Dayaram Jethmal (DJ) Sind College. His brother, Alec, was sent to England to study law. Most of Britain's top barristers then worked with a quarter square mile section of London, in one of the four Inns of Court which are much like colleges at university that provide barristers with dining halls and libraries.

Alec joined the Middle Temple. The First World War (1914-18) broke out before he could finish his final examination. He joined the volunteer army and was killed in the Battle of the Somme (1916). His name is inscribed on the Roll of Honour tablet displayed at the beautiful Temple Church, one of London's historical treasures. Joseph's two younger brothers, my father Cyril and Fred, graduated as doctors from the Grant Medical College, Bombay.

Fred, unlike my father, was casual about medicine, he only practised as a doctor when he needed the money. He otherwise preferred to play the piano. I enjoyed Fred's company. He was a true eccentric and was always annunciating some bizarre bit of information or quoting interesting verse to illustrate a point under discussion.

He was a confirmed atheist and remained a bachelor. My father married his cousin once removed, Sophie Vaz (that side of our family spelt the surname with a Z). They had three children, Kenneth, myself and a daughter Teresa.

When I was born, AC and Joseph were no more. The paternal side of the family had moved from Camp to Cincinnatus Town. But my parents continued living in Camp with my maternal grandparents at 7 Native Infantry (NI) Lines in a large bungalow with a huge compound located directly opposite the KGA.

My father was a general practitioner with his dispensary near Victoria Market. There are great differences in an individual's capacity to remember his early days. Sammuel Becket said, "I have a clear memory of my foetal existence." I have a very poor recall of my first seven years. I am told that this is probably because I had a happy childhood.

My mother had one married sister, who along with her four children was also living at 7 NI Lines. I vaguely remember being fussed over by my three girl cousins and being taught Konkani and English songs which I had to sing at family parties.

Birthdays were the common occasion for uncles and aunts to meet and exchange gossip, and for the younger cousins to eat, play and perform for their elders. Attending a party in Cincinnatus Town, which was some eight kilometres away, was treated as an expedition into the countryside; this entailed travelling there in father's Studebaker car.

As most of the twelve brothers and sisters on my father's side were married and many were in Cincinnatus Town with families ranging from three to six children, a birthday party could often see a collection of some twenty or thirty noisy children.

Gandhi's Dandi March in 1930 ushered in the first Civil Disobedience Movement. It was a sequel to Gandhi's eleven-point ultimatum to Viceroy Irwin which concretized national aspirations with a list of specific demands.
The movement saw the picketing of wine shops, processions and public meetings in Karachi. It culminated in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact which resulted in the release of political prisoners by the government and the suspension of the Civil Disobedience Movement by Gandhi.

I have a personal recollection of the Movement. My mother and two of her nieces had taken me with them on a shopping spree in the car. We were gheraoed (surrounded) by surging crowds. Our Muslim driver's cap was removed and torn up, and he was told to drive home. I was terribly frightened and pissed in my pants. Years later, in 1985, when I saw the film 'Gandhi' and a reconstruction of scenes from that Movement with the surging crowds and khaki-clad policemen, I was vividly reminded of my experience in 1930.

My paternal grandparents died before I was born. But I can remember both my maternal grandparents with whom I lived.

My grandmother spoke little English and would converse with us in Konkani. I remember one morning when we were sitting in the porch and were approached by a British sergeant in uniform. He walked up to us and said, "Gimme a lime" or so it sounded.

We had a lime tree in our compound which was always laden with fruit. My grandmother, believing the man wanted a lime, told the servant to pluck a few for him. When these were handed to the sergeant, he grew indignant!

In fact, he was part of the Cantonment anti-malaria squad which, once a week, on alloted dry days, checked whether residents had emptied their water tanks in the garden, so that mosquito larvae were killed.

He had discovered that our tank had not been properly drained and was asking for our name, which he had pronounced "nime" and we had mistaken for "lime".

He had wanted to record a formal complaint so that the house occupants could be fined. The sergeant now assumed that the old lady was trying to bribe him with limes to avoid a fine. After some exhilarating cross talk, the confusion was sorted out, name given, and in the due course, the fine was paid.

I remember this incident not only because of the accompanying humour, but because of this display of efficient "no-nonsense" Cantonment administration. Karachi was kept clean and hygienic by a small squad of civilians supervised by British soldiers who ensured that anti-malaria precautions were implemented, garbage was cleaned systematically,l roads were watered by sprinklers everyday to keep down the dust, stray dogs shot by an old soldier with a 12-bore gun who
never missed his quarry; the carcass was then dumped in a mule-cart which followed him.

Cyclists had to have lamps lit after dark and were not allowed to carry a pillion passenger; defaulters, if caught, were fined on the spot by strict honorary magistrates who were periodically positioned at strategic points. The Cantonment authorities not only made good laws but ensured that these were obeyed without fear or favour...

* * *

Whereas my father was alert to current and international affairs and was drawn to Gandhi and nationalism, I doubt my mother was interested in such things. She was very fond of music. She had a gramophone which had to be wound up to reproduce sound from a 78 rpm record through a tin trumpet; a copy of teh one depicted on the famous His Master's Voice trade mark with the "Nipper" dog listening to the trumpet.

I grew up familiar with popular Western classical and semi-classical music, specially those songs which were sung by my mother. I remember seeing many silent movies: Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. I must have been seven years old when the cinema in Karachi moved out of the era of silent films to sound movies.

My mother died of cancer in 1932 at the very early age of 37. I was then nine years old yet do not remember her long painful illness, nor her death. People tell me that my parents were opposites. My father was temperate; my mother was passionate. She was demanding, beautiful, out-going and a law unto herself. He was kindly and withdrawn. She was found of music, singing, dancing and outdoor games. Her favourite sport was tennis. She played the piano and took an active part in the annual plays that were staged at the KGA.

She was also an active member of the Goan Choral Society. I had an old HMV 78 rpm record on which her voice could clearly be heard in solo roles singing popular Konkani songs. This unfortunately broke during one of my numerous military postings.

My father was not unduly fond of music. He was fond of indoor games: bridge and billards. The KGA was the centre of my mother's social life. My father preferred to spend his time at the cosmopolitan Karachi Club. Yet, as so often happens in marriages of opposites, they seemed to have been very attached to each other. He was young when she died. He must have missed her a great deal. He never married again. After mother's death, father was faced with a problem on how to raise three young children. His sister, my Aunt Matilda, who then lived in Cincinnatus Town, was a widow with one son Vincent (Bude). Matilda had lost her husband some years earlier, had vast properties and a large house. She was living alone with her son, who was a gentle loving young man. He was studying for a degree in civil engineering.

This widower brother and widow sister living together was an ideal situation. It worked out well because Matilda was educated, kind and a loving foster mother to the three of us. My aunt disliked formality and asked us to call her Aunt Mitty. Even this was considered too formal and was further reduced to aunt Mit; we soon converted this into Amitt.

She had a large collection of of music books of Western songs, popular ballads, American folk songs and Negro spirituals. She sensed my love of music and would play the piano for me every day, and encouraged me to learn the tunes and the words, and to sing with her. I did not have a good voice but had a natural sense of harmony. I soon learnt to pick out the tunes I liked by ear and add a base harmony on the piano. Amitt began to teach me to read music; she had all the material needed for a beginner and I learnt fast.

I also acquired a taste for Jazz.

The best dance band in Karachi was the Goan group run by Mickey (saxophone) and Alec (drums) Correa. I would endeavour to attend every monthly dance organised at the KGA in order to hear the Correa brothers play my favourites: 'Tiger Rag', 'In the Mood', 'Tea for Two', 'Lady be Good' and so many others.

Later, I wanted to hear these numbers played by top US performers Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Fats Waller and all the old greats. Unfortunately, radio receptions were still of poor quality. I had to purchase records to hear what I wanted. I look back nostalgically to the days when I saved my pocket money for months to buy one gramaphone record. And di so after listening critically to four or five other records in a little private cubicle at Hadyn's Music Shop.

Thus, buying a record was an occasion to entertain myself with a short musical recital. Today, one can buy a wide choice of orchestras playing the same music and get what one wants by merely quoting a catalogue number... This somehow takes all the fun out of purchasing gramaphone records....

Received from Marilyn Correa, Toronto, Canada
August 24, 2009


 

back to articles..

 

This site is owned and operated by Menin Rodrigues, Karachi, Pakistan. For feedback, please write to: menin100@gmail.com