A tale of three villages

Updated: Dec 16, 2018, 15:08 IST | Meher Marfatia | Mumbai

The parishes of Sonapur, Dabul and Cavel around Kalbadevi are steeped in little-known history

DeMonte Building and Pius X Mansion of Pope's Town, Cavel, with Barretto School kids playing in the compound. Parked in the background is the 1991 Premier Padmini Fiat of Olga Collaco, Cantata Choir conductor and resident. Her father-in-law Dr Joseph Collaco was the Mayor in 1941 - first of three mayors from Pius X Mansion. Pic/Atul Kamble
DeMonte Building and Pius X Mansion of Pope's Town, Cavel, with Barretto School kids playing in the compound. Parked in the background is the 1991 Premier Padmini Fiat of Olga Collaco, Cantata Choir conductor and resident. Her father-in-law Dr Joseph Collaco was the Mayor in 1941 - first of three mayors from Pius X Mansion. Pic/Atul Kamble

Meher MarfatiaThe footfalls now thinning, the club lights are dimming. Climbing rickety stairs up Dhobi Talao's World War I-built Jer Mahal, I dodge loose wires and startle raftered pigeons in this chawl's maze of "coors", or "kudds". Rental rooms Goan villages reserved from the 1850s for their migrants to Bombay, these dorms sheltered scriveners, sailors, cooks and musicians.

Melody embedded in the Catholic DNA, Furtado's at over 150 years and CF Rodricks at 90 are Jer Mahal's music men. Behind, Castle Hotel in Jambul Wadi offers value-for-money fish thalis. "Kind club elders were our parents in these homes away from home," says Felix Dias. He directs me to more decrepit coors in labyrinthine lanes off Jagannath Sunkersett Road where his press, David & Company, has printed prayer books and wedding cards since 1953.

Alice and Floyd Gracious at the Viegas Pork Shop opened in 1940s Sonapur by their grandparents. The siblings have taken over from their father Gene who ran this family business for over forty years. Pic/Ashish Raje
Alice and Floyd Gracious at the Viegas Pork Shop opened in 1940s Sonapur by their grandparents. The siblings have taken over from their father Gene who ran this family business for over forty years. Pic/Ashish Raje

To explore the vicinity's villages - Sonapur, Dabul and Cavel - I dive into the Dickensian alleys of Sonapur, earlier cemetery turf, around Our Lady of Dolours Church. A colourful first stop is Wellington Terrace on the street saluting physician-mayor Simon Fernandes. Sniffing curry on the boil, I meet residents who miss neighbours moved to Orlem and Borivli. "This colony was packed, people slept in landing corridors," recalls engineer Simon Lobo. "Till the 1970s our wadi hosted Republic Day dances on a wooden floor and Church held Latin masses."

Down 1st Dhobi Talao Lane, Snowflake does serve Goan delicacies despite bare glass cases suggesting otherwise. On 3rd Marine Street, or Christmas Tree Lane, some soak in susegado and swigs of Aunty's rotgut. Most, however, kneel devoutly in Dolours Church, awaiting post-service banter at Edward Restaurant (though Paris Bakery is the stellar Irani counter of Sonapur Lane aka Dukker Galli, postally Cawasji Hormasji Road). Opposite, Viegas Pork Shop attracts Sunday throngs. In the 1940s proprietors Melanie and Victor Viegas rose with the sun in Bandra, reaching before the Dolours dawn mass ended at 6.30 am and churchgoers poured in for fresh chops.

Also growing up in Pius X Mansion, hockey champ Vivienne D'Sylva represented India internationally. She stands fourth from right, as Captain of the 1963 Sophia College team, whose members included the future Miss World 1966, Reita Faria, standing last row centre
Also growing up in Pius X Mansion, hockey champ Vivienne D'Sylva represented India internationally. She stands fourth from right, as Captain of the 1963 Sophia College team, whose members included the future Miss World 1966, Reita Faria, standing last row centre

At Kaizer Building, brothers Carey and Thomas D'Souza manage C D'Souza, the cafe-cum-confectionery from the 1950s introduced by grandparents Caridade and Maria Ruzai. Her name prompted Marosa Restaurant in 1947 Fort. The family trusted customers to pay only for savouries and sweets they consumed from a platter. Marosa shut, bestsellers in the Sonapur outlet are bibinca, bolinhas, dodol, doce, fruit tarts and plum cake.

Likening this precinct to the 1930s Bronx, Adriano Pinto has recorded how the Dolours priest placed a loudspeaker in C D'Souza's to drown conversation during sermons. "That resulted in coffee-talk rising many decibels, disturbing the vicar himself... Women with sleeveless dresses, without head scarves, were publicly berated. Khomeini must have learnt his statecraft from Sonapur priests."

Agnelo Rodrigues, president of The Goan Institute in Dabul. With him is sports star Alex Sequeira from the same parish, selected for the 1956 Olympics. Excelling at 400 metres sprint and hurdles events at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, too, Sequeira has had the privilege of meeting athlete legends Emilia Zatopek and Sir Roger Bannister, first to break the 4-minute mile. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Agnelo Rodrigues, president of The Goan Institute in Dabul. With him is sports star Alex Silveira from the same parish, selected for the 1956 Olympics. Excelling at 400 metres sprint and hurdles events at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, too, Sequeira has had the privilege of meeting athlete legends Emilia Zatopek and Sir Roger Bannister, first to break the 4-minute mile. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Past Joseph D'Souza's shop making Holy Communion candles, Tony Pereira points to where his father Camilo cut Johnny Walker and Mehmood three-pieces, and safari suits for tycoon Pranlal Bhogilal at St Mathias Tailors - Sao Mathias on Divar island in Old Goa was Camilo's village. Feet away, Rosario Alphonso of Vienna Hotel says, "We've sold great vindaloo, sorpotel and beef tongue." His grandparents from Aldona ran their restaurant with rooms from 1940. This currently provides six-room lodging alone.

Konkani tiatr stars Anthony Mendes and C Alvares lent Sonapur sparkle, while Chris Perry was Dabul's jazzman. Waking, he smoked a cigarette and tooted his trumpet before any ablutions. Goans, East Indians and Mangaloreans came to Dabul in Thakurdwar and Cavel in Chira Bazaar probably preceding Sonapur. They settled satellite-like around Bhuleshwar, site of the cathedral whose later avatar was Colaba's Holy Name Cathedral.

Band bops sounded daylong from Chris' home, facing 148-year-old Saint Francis Xavier Church with a mismatched 344-year-old bell. Cast in 1674 by Hiram Tavarres Bocarro, this seventh bell of St Joseph's Church, Bassein, fell silent with the Maratha siege in 1739. The British procured it from the subdued Portuguese and the bell then tolled for over a century in St Thomas Cathedral. Journeying to the Bombay Arsenal, the sole war survivor bell was gifted in 1883 to Dabul thanks to the Portuguese Vicar General of the North.

"Even suburbanites faithfully came to worship in Dabul," says crossword ace Joe Albuquerque. The octogenarian, in Hendre Building opposite, hears the bell ring twice daily. "My church and my puzzles keep me busy," he adds, jabbing an incomplete grid on his newspaper page.

The church abuts St Sebastian's Goan High School which Girgaum boys Jatin Khanna and Ravi Kapoor (Rajesh Khanna and Jeetendra) attended. Next door, St Anne's Girl's School overlooks undertaker BF Martyres' signboard "From 1926". Tumbling into the thin path separating St Sebastian's and St Anne's, I'm in Papad Gully. Sixty years ago, seven Lohana Niwas housewives spun a success story of sustainability, their kitchen skills birthing the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad co-operative.

Urban historian Deepak Rao and his knowledgeable friend CS Pereira, retired from the office of the Director General of Police, Maharashtra, lead the way to what used to be Jagannath Sunkersett's bungalow and the city's first Marathi school for girls. Tosa Bakery still kneads pao in Gomes Building from 1938. Chuffed at my rare chance to guide Deepak to a corner he doesn't know, we reach a wonderful home for the aged run by the 150-year-old Society of Our Lady of Piety - every inch the welcomingly clean facility it should be.

Ahead of these cool courtyards, across Dabul's 100-year-old Church Restaurant, The Goan Institute presents exquisite architecture outside and in. A cantilevered balcony with perforated wooden balustrade skirts first-floor Loyola Hall, hired for social functions. The Institut Lusitano Indien here is supposed to have started as a credit society.

And then comes Cavel, derived from Kolvar, hamlet of the Kolis. In a half-hidden, marvellous microcosm simply dubbed "191" - the quarter's plot number - chatty Isabela sells eggs and vinegar, ensconced in the J M Rodrigues stall. Beyond the fish market, logistics expert Pierre Menezes shows where Julio Ribeiro's colonial-style childhood home was and Pedru's ruled as a Goan goodies and gossip adda.

Discovering the bubonic plague of 1896 and inoculating 18,000 residents, Pierre's great-grand uncle Dr Acacio Viegas has his statue near Metro. On the street naming him, less than 200 parishioners left visit the Church of Our Lady of Health, flanked by Pope's Town and Bishop's Town compounds. Pierre grew up in Pope's Town fronted by 1782-opened Barretto School, one-time feeder nursery to St Xavier's School. His cinematographer brother Andre ushers us into their mother's interestingly restored ancestral Bishop's Town house, Rosary Cottage, once the first Carmelite convent.

Browsing, I find a 1938 handbill for "Belle of Cavel" performed at Bhangwadi's Princess Theatre. Cavelites like Phantom Revival bassist Claude D'costa rocked in jam sessions on verandas. Carol crooning done, post-Xmas brought jousting to jollity, rivalry to revelry. Fierce feuds at New Year's Eve judged which compound stacked more hay local lads stole from passing Victorias, to burn an "old man" effigy. The campfire highlight was the parody of a song by Vaudeville and Broadway comedians Edward Gallagher and Al Shean. Every original stanza closed with a punchline by Gallagher, after which Shean sang "Absolutely, Mister Gallagher?" and Gallagher replied "Positively, Mister Shean!" Compound residents like musician Ernie Flanagan substituted topical verses to that tune, ribbing residents about their year's goings-on.

Vernon Valladares of Pope's Town's DeMonte Building became the first Indian Navy officer elevated to Commodore rank. In Pius X Mansion live Olga Collaco, whose baton the Cantata Choir follows with her soprano daughter Natasha. Olga would direct the church adult choir and Maureen Stanton, from adjacent Catholic Library Building, the juniors. Today, Kevin D'Souza of Dabul conducts the popular Singspirators, drawn mainly from all three parishes plus
Khotachi Wadi in Girgaum.

Two floors above the Collacos, hockey champ Vivienne D'Sylva played for India from 1967 to 1974. She describes the annual 13-hour Adoration venerating the Holy Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament was led in a procession from the church. Flower girls in white dresses with red velvet sashes walked alongside the Holy Eucharist the priest carried under a canopy. On their arms hung basketsful of petals they kissed and threw towards the monstrance - "Each 'town' created altars to hold the monstrance. My Mum worked on the beautiful brocade altar cloth with Mrs Chaves."

Former banker Myrna Chaves smiles recollecting the scene of her mother sewing companionably with Mrs D'Sylva. Both sets of grandparents in Pius X Mansion sparked her parents' building romance. Her maternal grandfather, Dr Joseph Alban D'Souza, mayor in 1945, co-founded Catholic Gymkhana and the Bombay division of St John Ambulance Brigade. A member of the Constituent Assembly representing Bombay to write the Constitution of India, he was among the free nation's first MPs. His son, Dr Joseph Leon D'Souza, the 1967 mayor, was the first Goan in the Maharashtra cabinet, appointed State Minister for Health and Protocol.

"Small things spelt excitement - vendors trundling in from Vasai on bullock carts with watermelons and strung onions, the lovely yellow carpet of dry flowers our compound datura shed in May," says Myrna. "We were a middle-income locality with progressive spirit. But need more cohesiveness for community strength."

Author-publisher Meher Marfatia writes monthly on everything that makes her love Mumbai and adore Bombay. You can reach her at mehermarfatia@gmail.com/www.mehermarfatia.com

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