The East Indian Catholic community of Mumbai most certainly is not from the east of India, as the name suggests. The community was first recognised in the year 1896, but that was not the year of its origin. East Indians are indigenous to the heartland of what might be said to comprise the former Salsette Islands — including Bandra, Kurla, Thane, and Bhayandar. They are local Christians of long standing, who did not want the British Colonial government to confuse them with the Goans, the Mangloreans and other Christian settlers in the region. Hence, they decided to adopt a name that would make them stand out as a separate Christian identity, and adopted the name ‘East Indians’ to impress upon the British that they were the earliest Christians, Marathi speaking and very much sons and daughters of the soil of Mumbai (Mobai in East Indian Marathi). The community is based largely on a variety of sub-communities, or rather the amalgamation of five basic cultural groups, Samvedi Christians, Koli Christians, Vadval Christians, Sutars and Salsette Christians.
To trace the ancestry of the East Indians, one must take a step back into history over 500 years ago, to the advent of the Portuguese on these shores. Some like Dr. Elsie Baptista, who did a socio-cultural study on the community, takes her story even further back to the first century A.D. to apostolic times of St. Bartholomew, who first preached Christianity in North Konkan.
The East Indians do owe their origins in terms of a community to the Portuguese. The entire villages at a time were baptized in the new faith and given Christian names and surnames. It is not uncommon even today to find a village full of people bearing the same surnames even though the families may not always be related.
East Indians speak a blend of pure Marathi, Portuguese and English, and have a rich culture and cuisine.
East Indians love eating good food. Besides the vindaloo and the sorpotel made of pork, they also love kanji curry, prawn balchao, duck moile, khudi curry and roast meat (Look up the internet for these East Indian recipes).
The traditional dress of the East Indian women is called a ‘lugade’ or a ‘lugra’. It is a nine-yard hand woven cotton sari with faintly visible checks from afar, available in colours of navy blue, red and green.
(The latter part of the Diary will continue on Sunday.)
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)