Instagram series pays homage to the rustic centuries-old bungalows in Vasai

Aug 04, 2018, 10:02 IST | Benita Fernando

These homes — some of them centuries old — belong to a community of East Indians, the people who are widely recognised as the original inhabitants of Mumbai

Instagram series pays homage to the rustic centuries-old bungalows in Vasai
Reena Almeida

When one of the youngest and smallest Catholic parishes in Vasai turned 100 last year, parishioner Reena Almeida, who now lives in Brisbane, thought it was time that people got to know her village. Soon after, Almeida launched a calendar, which pays homage to the old houses of Giriz. These homes — some of them centuries old — belong to a community of East Indians, the people who are widely recognised as the original inhabitants of Mumbai. Of them, 12 have been featured on Almeida's Instagram account too, garnering a lot of curiosity and love for her East Indian heritage.

Almeida, 32, attended St Xavier's College in Dhobi Talao, at the other end of Mumbai. She was often asked why she would bother to travel 77 km daily between home and college. But, Vasai never seemed like a tedium — it was home. Her attachment to her roots led her to initiate East India Memory Co, a culture and history platform. It is through this initiative that Almeida decided to bring out The Old Houses of Giriz Parish Calendar. "It is a starting point to get people to engage in conversations about our East Indian heritage. These houses have passed down among families, which have been part of this area for more than a century," says Almeida, who now works in quality control for an alternative fashion label.

Almeida left for Brisbane in 2010, after she got married. The habit of marking important dates manually on calendars stayed with her, especially on newer shores, and she extended the tradition to commemorate the houses. For her research, she had help from two trusted sources — her father, Bernard Pereira, and her late grandmother, Grace — who led her to the owners of these houses. From the calendar, we picked five of Giriz's architectural gems.

January: Colaco House

Colaco House
Built in 1818, Colaco House is amongst the oldest of the lot. The well-preserved home has a storage space — an attic of sorts, called a pothmala — that was elaborately carved by local carpenters. The house belongs to a family that hails from the Vadval community, a group among East Indians, who were mainly farmers. The pothmala, therefore, was important as it was used to store their grains and other produce.

March: Pereira House

Pereira House
Almeida belongs to an East Indian group called the Valkars, traditionally employed as clerks or carpenters. Thus, they didn't need wide porches to tether their cattle as the Vadvals did. The Pereira House, built in 1849, is one such. It is compact, but housed, at one point, enough children to form two cricket teams, as the joke goes.

June: Dabre House

Dabre House
Close to the Pereira House, this particular residence was built in 1923. Its unique feature is that it has four entry doors, each of which look distinct from the other. The story behind these doors, says Almeida, is it was occupied by Thomas Dabre's four sons, and partitioned to accommodate them accordingly.

July: Sequeira House

 Sequeira House
Built in 1928, but only occupied in 1951, this is a beautiful Valkar house, says Almeida. The Sequeira House has a balcony on the first floor and the interiors are dotted with several vintage objects, such as porcelain pendant lights.

December: Coutinho House

Coutinho House
The Coutinho House is a young addition by a family of farmers to the veteran bungalows of Giriz. It was constructed in 1953, but is today used mainly as a storage space. However, when cousins from the family need a place to meet annually, they seek out their ancestral home, making sure that it is used in some way or the other.

The next time you are in Vasai, ask Bernard Pereira to show you around Giriz. He can be contacted at 7777085036. You can follow the Instagram series on @eastindianmemoryco

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