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East Indians: The Original Mumbaikars

India is a land of many religions, cultures and communities and one of the most colourful communities is the East Indian community. The East Indians are a community of Catholics who are the original inhabitants (people) of Mumbai. The word ‘East Indian’ has been derived from the East India Company of the British that converted a large section of the local Marathi-speaking people to Christianity. Since the East Indians did not want the British Colonial government to confuse them with the Goans, the Mangaloreans and other Christian settlers in the region, they decided to adopt a name for themselves that would make them stand out as a separate Christian identity. Like the Goans of Goa and the Mangaloreans of Mangalore, the East Indians of Mumbai are a jolly lot too.

East Indians speak Marathi, but their Marathi is quite different from that of the Maharashtrian community. It is very similar to Dynaneshwari. East Indian Marathi is a blend of pure Marathi, Portuguese and English. The cuisine of the East Indian community is rich. A day before the wedding during the ‘Umbracha Pani’ ceremony, all those attending it go about in a procession around their neighbourhood singing East Indian Marathi songs and dancing in pure East Indian Koli style with a handkerchief swung in the air in order to draw water from the well, which is used by the bride-to-be or groom-to-be to bathe. Since there are no wells in Mumbai, people go to one of their relative or friend’s house to bring water. The water is then poured on the bride-to-be or the groom-to-be in his or her respective home.

On the day of the wedding, the groom-to-be sends a car to pick up the bride-to-be and waits for her outside the church. After she arrives, the best man of the groom-to-be welcomes her with a bouquet of artificial or fresh flowers. Then the couple walks down the aisle along with the bridesmaids, flower girls, best man, page boy and other family members to reach the altar where they are given a special place to sit. There, the priest shakes hands with them and offers them his best wishes. The Mass is then celebrated and the priest reads passages from the Holy Bible, which is followed by a sermon called the ‘homily’ on the sacredness of their wedding. The couple then makes promises to stay with each other during good and bad times and sickness all through their married life. Rings are then exchanged which are blessed by the priest.

The East Indian Marathi word for Mumbai is ‘Mobai’. The traditional dress for East Indian women is the nav vari lugra (nine-yards saree). These sarees are worn in colours of navy blue, red and green. Currently, East Indian Marathi is the fastest dwindling language in the metropolis of Mumbai. Though it is the mother tongue of the East Indian community, it is only spoken in a few villages like Uttan, Bhayandar, Dongri, Juhu, Marol, Culvem, Manori, Kharodi (Malad), Gorai and in some parts in Vasai. With the ever changing surroundings of the cosmopolitan lifestyles in Mumbai, most East Indians prefer to speak English, some tragically do not have the least knowledge of East Indian Marathi since they have been brought up in an English-speaking environment. It has to be noted that even within the East Indian Marathi, there are (minor) dialects, that is to say a person speaking the language in Bandra may pronounce some words differently to those in residing in Versova or Vasai.
Here are some East Indian Marathi words so that you may be familiar with the language: Vartee (Above), Hisaab (Account), Parat (Again), Ambat (Curry), Ambotic (Sour), Kader (Chair), Taap (Fever), Varaad (Wedding), Kolbi (Prawns), Mavra (Fish), Kumjao (Communion), Navra (Bridegroom), Navri (Bride), Kumari (Godmother), Kupari (Godmother), Mahitee (Know), Pora (Boy), Pori (Girl).

Some of the well-known East Indian Marathi songs are ‘Galyan Sankli Sonaychi’ ‘Sakalche Para’, ‘Ambache Dangliwar Basli Mor’, ‘Erangalcha Sann’, ‘Vailankanni Mavli’, ‘Mary Tuze Kes’, ‘Khandalacha Ghatat’ and ‘Gara Varti’.
Goans and Mangaloreans have a special bangle-wearing ceremony during their weddings for girls called the ‘chuddo’, which consists of a set of fifteen bangles of green, brown and yellow colours on each wrist. The boy or the girl getting married is also drenched in milk. Coconut juice and a paste of turmeric (haldi) are also applied on the boy’s or the girl’s hands and face. Goans and Mangaloreans call this ceremony, ‘roce’. This signifies the last bath that the bride-to-be or the groom-to-be will be taking in their bachelorhood/spinsterhood.

With the ceremony of ‘roce’, the wedding celebrations begin. Both, the bride-to-be and the groom-to-be have to undergo this ritual in their respective homes. This ceremony also signifies the mother’s love towards her son or daughter.
The Goan Konkani word for Jesus is ‘Jejus’, for Godmother is ‘Madrin’ and for Godfather is ‘Padrin’. Mangalorean Konkani is quite different from that of the Konkani spoken by the Goans. The script for Goan Konkani is English and for Mangalorean Konkani is Kannada; while East-Indian Marathi can be written down in both Marathi and English.

Jubel D’Cruz

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