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Flashback: From Goa with love

Published Sep 16, 2012 12:15am


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The 125-year old Karachi Goan Association (KGA) club with all wooden dance floors – Photo Courtesy KGA

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.

The Rhythm Quintet comprising the Soares brothers performing at the Intercontinental. - Photo by KGA

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

There were also very successful actors and playwrights who produced quality theatre throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s which were presented at the KGA, St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s, Adamjee auditorium, Ibrahim Alibhai auditorium, the Goan Union and the Loco (where Shapes stands today) and so forth. There were also theatre plays in Konkoni language in the Katrak Hall in Saddar. Goan teachers were also a great influence in the lives of young men and women of that time.

No account of the community would be completed without mentioning Goan food which is very spicy, pungent and delicious. Among many dishes, fish curry, white rice and fried fish (bangra with red-masala) is a popular delicacy. Around Christmas, Sorpotel, a spicy vinegary meat stew of Portuguese origin is served with Sanas. The traditional desserts are marzipan, Bebinca, Kulkuls, Wohrahs, swales, Carrabolla, cheese-bows and almond, walnut, coconut, pistachio and cashew nut toffees among others. The Pereira’s Restaurant & Bakery, Misquita and Lawrence bakery were popular places in the 1960s but are sadly no more; some bakeries, however, still sell Goan delicacies.

A very interesting religious event which deSouza mentioned was the procession taken out from St Patrick’s Cathedral in Saddar known as Christ the King Procession in which the members of the Goan community and other Catholics took part. It was nearly quarter of a mile long. However, it was stopped in the mid-’60s due to congestion on the streets and some reported cases of harassment.

Both deSouza and Rodrigues have given an interesting account of their childhood and the common denominator is the memory of a time blessed by feelings of benevolence and congeniality. Rodrigues mentions that he spent his childhood in Saddar in a mixed population and people spoke different languages like Gujrati, Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushto and Konkoni. “Such was the beauty of our bonding that all of us could understand, appreciate and converse in each other’s language,” he adds.

The KGA produced some of the most popular and enchanting musicals in the 1960s and 1970s. - Photo by KGA

The overall atmosphere of the city was very tolerant and accommodating in which all ethnic and religious communities coexisted amicably. However, like all good things in life this also ended in the 1970s. The real change for the community came after the Prohibition Act in 1976 after which many of their congregations and parties were spoiled by overzealous moral custodians. Strain and tension set in as the openness and pluralism which made the city congenial started to fade away and so there started mass migration to the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. As deSouza mentions, it is always the best brains that leave in the case of mass exodus and it happened here too.

Countries who value tolerance and diversity are among the most successful and developed in the world. Pakistanis who strive for democracy, poverty alleviation and rule of law should remember that democracy isn’t just about the will of the majority but is also intrinsically tied to the rights of the minorities. Our people and policymakers should build their legal infrastructure and cultural values along the lines of pluralism and the virtues of tolerance and diversity. A society which penalises people for being different is not one which the father of our nation envisioned or fought for. Before intellectual perversion sweeps us away like a storm, we need to give the Goan community, and everyone else,  some much needed breathing space.

Comments (35) Closed

Gerry D'Cunha Sep 16, 2012 11:03am
the goan community in karachi who migrated from india are slowly dwendling - most of them have migrated to canada;australia and england.the goan communities were known for their honesty and sincerity, some of them hold high posts in pakistan and are recognised for their services even today.Some of our elites in pakistan were taught by the goan teachers.
Rakesh Sep 16, 2012 09:55pm
This is a fabulous story by itself! I loved reading it and was amused that the lady did not know of the two Punjabs,(and her presumption that all Punjabis wear a turban) despite being half Indian and half Pakistani. I however find her ignorance very sweet. Thanks for sharing this story Mr. Zeeshan. Good luck to you, Rakesh, Andhra Pradesh, India :-) :-) :-)
urawal Sep 16, 2012 10:30am
Lovely to know this.........Goa is indeed a beautiful place. For us it the name itself invokes a "HOLIDAY" mood. For Mumbai residents it is the easiest accessible quick vacation. The rich and poor ...all enjoy it. It is brilliant in rains as well. A historical city with heavy Portuguese influences. The articles brings a fresh air for the outsiders who normally visualize Pakistan with Bearded gentlemen ,ready to kill at the drop of a hat. The last para is brilliant and captures the essence of human coexistence. God never made boundaries on the earth........
Abdul Malik Sep 16, 2012 01:44pm
What a thought provoking article full of nostalgia. I for one was taken down the memory lane. I was raised, educated and trained by Goan educators of 60's & 70's. They were, and still are, the real Pakistanis. You are bang on when you state that Goan educators played an all too important role in the education sector of Karachi and Sindh in general. Memories of our school annual functions at KGA Hall are still as fresh as yesterday. Thank you an excellent article.
Jane Noronha Sep 16, 2012 03:50pm
Loved the article. Thanks Jane
Bobby Srinivas Sep 17, 2012 01:01am
Lovely story! Having been brought up and lived in 'Goan' locality in my home town Nagpur, India have many cherished Goan friends. Lively, Lovely, fun loving, caring and traditional are some of their attributes!
AHA Sep 17, 2012 05:59pm
We actually lost
Razzaq Sep 16, 2012 02:47pm
Thank you very much Moniza for taking me back to sweet memory lane. sadly, all that is no more because of evil designs and high jacking of a beautiful ERA.
Saqib Syed Sep 17, 2012 02:58pm
Well structured article to evoke nostalgia of golden era Pakistan. Today's children would read it as a fable, may not be treating it as a whole truth but it was a Pakistan. A vibrant Pakistan with immaculate tradition of respect for diversity. I have yet to come across a single person who can quot any incident of religious violence before partition episode in the areas which constitute today's Pakistan . We lost ...... we really lost.
Peter Rego Sep 17, 2012 01:39pm
G O A N = Greatest Of All Nations
Dr. Wali Sep 16, 2012 10:19am
Yes, Excellent this was Quad-e-Azam's Pakistan. I admire this, We Voted for that Pkistan, not of now a days Pakistan. Alas! we lost "The Pakistan" in 1971. All gone with the wind. What is left now, at least is not the Quad-e-azam's Pakistan
Fida Sayani Sep 16, 2012 09:12am
correction. 50's was the golden period for the karachi christian's. the exodus started in the beginning of 1961. Today the goan community is restricted to to few elderly people.
HINDU Sep 16, 2012 11:41am
oh goa is an out of the world place, I was there in 2009 thanks to my college which brought me here for industrial visit, yes goa is now a days also industrial hub for many big MNCs, but mainly it is known for beautiful beaches, exotic night life, outstanding greenery,small rivers and canals, churches and temples and last but not the least the most wonderful goan culture.
EmMoosa Sep 16, 2012 08:53pm
My Karachi is killed by so many elements. Every body knows them. Thanks for the flash back.
Jamourah Sep 17, 2012 01:58am
Hi I belong to this community too and lived in Lahore and Karachi. Could you please have this translated into Urdu , and have it published in Nawai-waqt, and regional nespapers ...You are telling us what we already know....the same is the case with Ardeshir Cowasjee, when he wrote,... those features in Dawn.
Unis Sep 17, 2012 11:16am
Ohhhhhhhhhhh those were the good old days, I had the best time of my life with christian friends, we treated each other with RESPECT, KGA was the place for good music and dances. Narrow minded politicians have messed up that beautiful country. every country in the world have moved forward with time, Paksitan has moved backward. it just makes me mad thinking about about it. YM
Anand Sep 17, 2012 03:50am
And the point is? The layers and connections between India and Pakistan are centuries-old and woven through and within communities, cities and professions. And now they are being lost, naturally.This article seems to be about something else altogether. Goa, and this article points this out very well, is a touchstone for what life in the 60s used to be like in India for a western-educated Indian. Their culture was something we, non-christians, could easily relate to and did. What I did not know was that this was true for Karachi as well during the 60's and I enjoyed hearing about it. In hindsight, of course Karachi was part of it, as it was part of all currents that ran through the large metropolises of undivided India. I can picture it all quite vividly, because in the large Metros of India, there was a similar scene. Nostalgia at its best.
Zeeshan Sep 16, 2012 12:28pm
I meet a very sweet Konkoni saleswoman in an old book shop in Abu Dhabi. I asked her for the books by Pakistani or Indian authors and She ended up bringing a book by Khalid Husseini. I smiled and assumed that perhaps she has understood that I want to read books that I can relate to, books that are more closer to my culture. Since there were very few books available by south Asian writers in the shop when she couldn
Khalid Sep 17, 2012 04:11am
Karachi had been lively and all cheerful during Ayub's Martial Law era!
anand singh Sep 17, 2012 04:12am
Where have all the good times gone ?
Nadeem Sep 17, 2012 05:25am
Excellent article, its very valuable additon for me to know about Goans community their petriotic contribution for foundation and building of Pakistan, here we all have the same sufferings either we belongs to majority or minority, smelling the blood of innocents but believe me Pakistan is our home and we never vacate it for terriorists, oppurtunists. we will remain over here with the golden memories attached with this metropolis and our beloved Pakistan.
Majeed Sep 17, 2012 05:26am
Thank you Moniza for wonderful flash back of golden era of coexistance, respect and understanding. I weep and wonder when i see today's saddar area of Goa community occupied by auto mechanics, chicken stands and other land mafia. Just read the other article in today's paper : Land mafia is trying to demolish a 200 year Hindu tample under the Nutty jetty bridge.
Dr Dang Sep 17, 2012 10:37am
Thats Quite a story !!!! You should write for this newspaper. Respect India
jackson Sep 17, 2012 12:00pm
its the people thinking and behavior which makes a state. you cannot put the entire blame on the government or mullah's.
Ghalib Khan Sep 17, 2012 05:55am
Loved the article, Please try to promote the good things also , I have been to Karachi recently and believe me there are lot of positive things happening, i remember sometime back you had beautiful articles of flowers growing on the suburbs of Karachi , That was the the thing I loved about Dawn was their always used to be positives with Negatives highlighting small beautiful things. I remember I followed the News of Benazir Bhutto assassination on Dawn news channel just because along with that you were also giving news of some cultural shows going on in Lahore. But now i feel that Dawn is loosing that touch which kept it apart from all the other newspapers and channels, You post this comment or not does not matter but just ask your seniors to think about this, you do have a responsibility also you know.
Syed Zafar Kazmi Sep 16, 2012 05:16pm
What beautiful insights into a Pakistan that unfortunately has forever been lost. We can only reminisce the lost glory of a cosmopolitan society that prided on its lovely culture primarily based on tolerance. I can only wish through some magic and by the hand of a magician, those wonderful times could come back. Why not, many a times most impossible wishes come true. I pray. Thank you for reminding us who we were. Syed Zafar Kazmi New York, USA
Collin Aranjo Sep 17, 2012 05:07pm
Glorious, heartfelt, and a compassionate article , Moniza. You've reminded me of what I've loved about my community and country, and what we need to re-embrace. thanks Collin
Zeeshan Sep 17, 2012 06:07pm
Glad that you have liked it and pardon me for the grammar mistakes that I have made.
Zeeshan Sep 17, 2012 06:05pm
Yes Anand I know this article is about something else. I only came to know about Goan community in Karachi after reading this article. The women that I met in Abu Dhabi flashed in my mind because she tried to tell me about her relatives in Karachi. She talked about this culture and these people when I visited her shop later. Her innocence and carefree nature impressed me a lot and when I read the following lines ,from the article, I found them to be very true and wrote about her without even thinking whether its related to Goans of Karachi or not, or in wider sense about the culture that is disappearing. "the Goans are by nature laid-back people who like to relax, enjoy themselves and avoid social pressures and controversies"
AlS Sep 17, 2012 12:14am
I attended Christian English language schools in India run by "Anglo-Indians". But among them were lumped people of Goan ancestry with last names like D'Souza, Rodriques, and Gomes. Some of the top schools and colleges in India are still places where Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Goans continue to make a difference to people's lives and asiprations. No other community is so dedficated!
ali Sep 16, 2012 12:16pm
Now the city is the same, but only addition to the beauty is IN-tolerance...
Feroze A Ursani Sep 16, 2012 08:02am
The Goans' not only gave Sindh its cultural vivacity, but were great educationists. Majority of teachers at my alma mater, St Bonaventure's in Hyderabad Sindh, were Goans, who were all esteemed teachers and great character builders. I want to take this oppurtunity to pay particular homage to my teachers', Ms Julie Dickona, Mr Ronal D'Souza, Ms Majumdar; amongst many others. Mr and Mrs Bertram and Angela D'Souza still carry on the noble Goan tradition of imparting education in Hyderabad @ St bonaventures'. I loved the well written article. FEROZE A URSANI St Bonaventures' High School, Class of 1967. SWANSEA, IL, USA
EmMoosa Sep 16, 2012 08:54pm
We are here in Canada because our beautiful city is hijacked by devils.
Anthony D'Souza (Tony) Sep 16, 2012 06:46pm
A beautiful article. Myself being a Catholic of Goan origin, I felt proud to know that persons of my State of Goa have contributed to enrich Karachi culturally. I also felt sad that most Goans from Pakistan were forced to immigrate to foreign countries due to Islamic fanaticism which started to envelope Pakistan since 1970s.
Dil Sep 16, 2012 06:58pm
Too late....Pakistan can never recover from the culture of intolerance. Very Sad.