Old Mumbai at Marve

Mumbai's original inhabitants, the East Indians, are fighting for recognition, and their latest idea is a live museum at Mobai village in Manori where community members offer demonstrations of traditional cooking methods and artefacts are displayed. Jump into a ferry for a slice of life that's incomplete without potato chops and toddy

On a scorching afternoon in May, Alphi Dsouza is surprisingly cheerful. He quickly waves me into a waiting ferry at Marve Village, headed towards Manori. "The next one will come along only after 20 minutes."  Fifteen minutes later, we are offloaded on the other side, where Dsouza looks for a tonga gaadi. No luck. Disappointed, we settle for a mundane autorickshaw, accompanied by two locals, who squeeze themselves and their vegetable baskets next to the driver. A short, bumpy ride later, we are at Mobai Village, a museum situated right across the road from Manori Beach, that seeks to preserve and pique interest in the culture, community and life of Mumbai's East Indian community.

A local demonstrates the use of a traditional East Indian kitchen at
Mobai Bhavan. Whole pigs would be baked in the massive handi
(in foreground) while mud and coal stoves would be used to cook
everything from Potato Chops to handmade rice breads that would then
be served for dinner. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

"The purpose is to unify East Indians across the city and preserve our heritage, because the younger generation knows little of our way of life," Dsouza tells me, as we settle into a cottage that functions as the temporary headquarters of the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat, where Dsouza holds the unlikely position of CEO.
An initiative of the Panchayat, Mobai Bhavan is planned as a sort of museum-cum-tourist attraction for Mumbai's original inhabitants to discover their roots. Other communities are welcome too. "We'll only be too happy if a wider cross-section is keen to find out more," says Dsouza.

The pitacha gharat used to grind rice flour.

This desire for self-preservation and promotion stems from the belief that although they are the oldest settlers of the city, their heritage precincts are gradually being bulldozed to make way for high-rises, and that unlike the Aboriginals in Australia or Native americans in the United States, no special laws are accorded for the preservation of their culture. "If you go to Australia, aboriginals are treated as the first settlers of the land and given privileges and special attention. Sadly, that's not the case here. We realised it was time to do something on our own, and create something we could call our own," Dsouza explains.

The museum holds traditional East Indian artefacts in sheds, from in kitchen items and retro kerosene lamps to banners that describe famous recipes. "On the day of the inauguration (last Sunday), we even had local women come and prepare hand-made rice bread that was once a staple dinner item in most East Indian homes," explains Rossi Dsouza, Sarpanch, Gorai.

The kurbee is used as a bird feeder and kept in balconies.

Theresa Villa, the house that's functioning as the temporary office of the Panchayat, will be let out as a hotel for tourists who might want to visit the museum. "In another six months, we want to make it fully functional and display every kind of East Indian artifact that we can possibly lay our hands," Rossi adds. Later, the plan is to generate employment for the fisherfolk in the area, who are out of business during the monsoon months. "At the moment, they make well-known food items like the bottle masala and carrot and papaya pickle in small quantities for themselves. But we want to generate income by selling the products to consumers," Alphi explains.

All this will be undertaken under the aegis of the Panchayat, which publishes the Gaothan Voice, a monthly bulletin circulated among 92 gaothans across the city. The Panchayat has appointed 36 sarpanchs for each such gaothan in the city, and plans to reach out to all 189 (in Mumbai, Vasai and Thane) in a year's time. "The sarpanch functions like a mini-corporator -- he represents the people to the civic body and tries to address their problems. Of course, he is not officially recognised by the corporation, but we will have to work on that," admits Alphi.

Items found in a typical East Indian home:The wooden prayer altar is
usually housed in a cosy nook

Recognition may also come from the candidature of Rossi for the upcoming BMC elections as an independent. "The Mobai Gaothan Panchayat will support him. We need to be represented at the civic level too." For now, though, the MGP is content to have its people come and visit the museum, take a walk along Manori Beach, and, if given sufficient notice, offer them a spread of locally-prepared delicacies like baked pig and phoogyas.

To:arrange a visit to the museum,
Call: Rossi Dsouza on 9820087771
or Alphi Dsouza on 9892844354.

East Indians are called so as they were employees of The East India Company during the British Raj. They were the original inhabitants of the seven islands that made up Mumbai. St Bartholomew converted them to Christianity in the sixth century. Later, when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, the East Indians were baptised again.



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