Moniza Inam relates how the Goan community brought a unique touch of exuberance and vivacity to the Karachi of the 1960s
The lively strains of a popular jazz number filtered into the streets of Saddar and passers-by would stop for a moment to hum the tune and smile as they went on their way while a band of jovial merry-makers danced the night away in the grand hall of the Karachi Goan Association. This was the Karachi of the 60s — a cheerful, vibrant city, that owed much of its joie de vivre to its Goan Community.
Goa, the coastal city distinguished for its breathtaking scenery, picturesque beaches and lush coconut groves, is familiar to us through Bollywood which has long capitalised on its natural beauty and vivacious culture.
Located on the west coast of India, the state is the smallest in India in terms of size. Surrounded by land on three sides and the Arabian Sea on its west, the Goan state enjoyed an important geo-strategic position throughout history, which turned it into an epicentre for maritime trade, a hybrid cultural centre, and the platform for diffusion of colonialism in the subcontinent. In 1510, it was captured by the Portuguese, which paved the way for an idiosyncratic blend of Indo-Hindu and Luso-Christian culture.
In the 18th century, the Goans started to move out of their state to avail greater economic opportunities in British India, and the quest took them to Bombay (Mumbai), Karachi, Africa and other destinations. The port city of Sindh was among their favourite destinations as the British decided to develop the metropolis as a future hub of trade and commerce. When Charles Napier conquered Sindh, a large number of Goans began to migrate to Karachi.
This marked the beginning of a long drawn journey in which the community established itself in the city and took active part in its development with its hard work and diligence, specifically in the areas of education, healthcare, community service and sports. The Goan community also brought a unique touch of exuberance and vivacity to their adopted city through their rich cultural traditions in music, drama, theatre and dance.
Mary Dias, an 83-year-old Goan who moved to Karachi with her parents before the Partition, states that “we are hardcore Karachittes; we came here while the city was still evolving and made valuable contributions to make it a vibrant and culturally aesthetic metropolis as well as an economically viable city. Many of the people who chose to live here had Portuguese passports, which they surrendered to become Pakistani citizens.”
According to Ronald deSouza, a principal electrical consultant and a human and civil rights activist, at the time of the Partition the aggregate population of Karachi was almost 400,000 of which the Goan community numbered around 12,000 to 15,000, about three to four per cent of the total population.
The 1960s were quite a revolutionary period as the generation of ‘baby boomers’ was coming of age and new ideas were being generated in every walk of life and on the global level there was an atmosphere of bonhomie and camaraderie. This spirit and culture also made its way into Pakistan, especially in the Goan community where the ’60s are considered the golden period.
Menin Rodrigues, CEO of a communication and marketing firm, explains that the Goans are by nature laid-back people who like to relax, enjoy themselves and avoid social pressures and controversies. Luckily, at that time there were more opportunities to enjoy life. “The Karachi Goan Association (KGA) club, which is now 125 years old, gave its members umpteen opportunities for recreational activities such as dance, music, theatre, opera, etc. The several rooms were always full of people engaged in playing bridge, tombola, whist-drive as well as table tennis or merely reading quietly; the in-house bar was another popular attraction. For outdoor games, there was the KGA Gymkhana on M.A. Jinnah Road with its large sports ground for cricket, hockey, football as well as tennis and badminton courts,” adds Rodrigues. No wonder the people from the community excelled in these sports.
“Goans have a natural disposition towards music and dance and many families owned a piano or a baby piano and from a young age, children found themselves indulging in music. There were many talented musicians and singers in the community that formed Karachi’s first westernised music bands who performed to live audiences at consulates, embassies, night clubs, hotels and discotheques, New Year and Christmas parties and charity balls. The first all-women band was formed by the Goan girls known as ‘Xavier Sisters’ and they were immensely popular for their live performances.”
Talking about the party scene during the period, Dias’ eyes sparkle with joy and excitement as she relates how it was always party season, especially around Christmas and Easter, and parties meant music and dance. “I was the best dancer of my time and always the last one to leave the floor,” she recalls, nostalgically