The Bombay Balchão walk with author, Jane Borges and Swapbook in Mumbai

24 Jan

Walking around in Mumbai, especially in the older parts of the city, is like walking through a treasure trove of the city’s history. In some instances, these treasures are hidden, just waiting to be unearthed. But in many cases they are in plain sight and all you need to do is pay attention. I love exploring my own maximum city and whenever I am not traveling and have the time, I join a group or some friends to walk around some of Mumbai’s old neighbourhoods. On one such weekend I joined a group of friends from Swapbook and author, Jane Borges, as she took us on a quick tour of the various locations featured in her recently released book, Bombay Balchão – talking about the old Christian neighborhoods of South Mumbai, their history, culture and the people.

Dabul, an old Christian neighbourhood of South Mumbai, Maharashtra

One early Sunday morning we met at the Kyani & Co and after a quick bunmaska and chai walked to the first stop of our walk. This was a statue of Dr. Accacio Gabriel Viegas in the compound of The People’s Free Reading Room and Library. Here Jane started with a quick overview of the old Christian neighborhoods of Cavel, Sonapur, Dabul and Kotachiwadi in the then Native Town of Bombay. Surprisingly, the only Christian neighborhood I had heard of before this walk in South Mumbai was Kotachiwadi. Jane then went on to talk about Dr. Viegas. Dr. Viegas, originally from Goa, was a medical practitioner and credited with the discovery of the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Mumbai in 1896. His timely diagnosis and inoculation of ~18,000 residents had saved many lives. He was also the first native Christian to become the President of Mumbai (then Bombay)’s Municipal Corporation. Dr. Viegas was a resident of Cavel for a while and the main street there is still named after him.

Statue of Dr. Accacio Gabriel Viegas, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Citation under the statue of Dr. Accacio Gabriel Viegas, Mumbai, Maharashtra

We then started our short walk through the narrow lanes of Kalbadevi towards Cavel and Jane kept pointing out to small landmarks, buildings and shops that used to be owned or run by Christians but have now either changed hands or become obsolete in their purpose. She spoke about a couple of pork shops that shut down as there was not enough demand. She also showed us an old Goan Kud or club (like present day hostels) , that was set up as an affordable place for people (majorly  sailors) to stay in temporarily when they came to Mumbai. This seemed like a theme common to the entire walk – people moving away (either immigrating or moving further to newer parts of the city) and leaving a gaping hole in the old social fabric and life in the neighborhood.

Grand Club of Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

After a short walk we reached Cavel and I was surprised to see a small neighborhood hidden in such plain sight in one of the by-lanes of Kalbadevi.  The lane looked like any other narrow Kalbadevi lane but opened into a nice sheltered compound with a school and old houses on one side and a church on the other. Jane’s book, Bombay Balchão, is a fictional tale of characters and people from this neighborhood.

Dr. Viegas Street, Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra

We first visited the Church Of Our Lady of Health. This was built by a Portuguese gentleman, Pedro Jose de Moura in 1794 as a private chapel and later opened to native Christians for prayer. It was initially built in a very Portuguese design but was rebuilt in 1812 and then remodeled in 1971. The altar is still the original altar and is beautiful with gold gilding work. Today only the central altar remains as the two on the sides were attacked by white ants and had to be removed. They are now at the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum in Goregaon, where they are trying to restore and preserve them. Even though the church’s structure is very modern, there are a lot of artefacts all around that are pretty old.

Church Of Our Lady of Health, Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra
The altar, Church Of Our Lady of Health, Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra

We then walked across the road and visited the beautiful compound, a small oasis in the mad chaos of the city. Jane explained that Cavel was originally a Koli village and derived its name from the Koli word Kolwar. She said that once the Portuguese lost Bassein to the Marathas, the Portuguese missionaries came to Cavel and settled here, thereby making Cavel the oldest Latin quarters in South Mumbai. They converted the locals of Cavel to Christianity and these new converts were called the Portuguese Christians. In later years, many Goans migrated to Mumbai looking for better opportunities and settled down in Cavel. All communities co-exited peacefully in a culturally cosmopolitan neighborhood. According to historian, José Gerson da Cunha – “In 1860 when I first visited Cavel…it was the centre of the largest Roman Catholic community on the Island, to which immigrants from Bassein, Salsette, Daman and Goa made their endless yearly additions.” In 1887, when Queen Victoria was celebrating the Golden Jubilee of her coronation, the Portuguese Christians (i.e. the natives in their own view) decided to differentiate themselves from the Goan and Mangalorean Christians (the immigrants in their view), by naming themselves after the English trading firm, the East India Company. And thus was born the term East Indians.  This was in their view their way of aligning themselves with the English and hopefully having better access to clerical jobs in the colonial government.

Old surviving houses of Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra

Jane introduced us to many interesting things about Christianity and Cavel – the Padroado propaganda controversy, Italian Carmelites taking charge of Mumbai’s Churches, the intra-Catholic rivalry and discrimination, changes in local churches, etc. We learnt about Vitorino Mudot and his first bakery in Cavel and Bernardo Xavier Furtado and the origins of St. Xavier’s High School in Cavel. Also many famous personalities had lived in the same building as Jane in Cavel – mayors, historians, sports personalities, singers, physicians, etc. I have included articles at the end of the post that provide detailed information on these topics. 

The old surviving houses of Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra

After a group photo, I asked Jane what does Balchão in the title of her book mean. Jane explained that Balchão is a Goan spicy prawn masala but can be made with fish too. Well, being a vegetarian, I can’t taste this masala 🙂

Dabul or Thakurwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra

We then walked to Dabul or Thakurwadi to see the St Francis Xavier Church. This was a beautiful church built in 1872 in a very Goa Portuguese style church design. Here we learnt that possibly Dabul comes from the word “two churches”. Story goes that when this church was to be built, two plots of land were acquired on either side of a road and the hope was that the Municipal Corporation will give the church the in-between road strip to build one big church. But the Municipal Corporation, despite repeated requests, did not give them the strip of land. People then built two churches on these two plots of land and prayers were simultaneously conducted in both churches. After many years of prayers and requests, the church finally received that strip of land and one church was built.

St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul or Thakurwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Interiors of St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul or Thakurwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra

I loved the interiors of the church, all the color, figurines and the beautiful altar. They also have relics of St. Francis that are kept locked in a box and only put on public display during the time of the Feast. There used to be profession specific masses here such as mass for musicians, doctors, sailors, tailors etc.  But most interestingly we learnt about the Portuguese Church bells. The Portuguese used to control many areas around the coast from Daman to Salsette and had built churches with 2 bells in each church. When the Marathas started attacking these Portuguese settlements, they destroyed everything but kept these church bells as war trophies. The Maratha chiefs carried these bells back to their villages and these bells still exist in many village temples across Maharashtra. Also one of these original bells was gifted to St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul.

Altar at the St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul or Thakurwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Interiors of St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul or Thakurwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Interiors of St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul or Thakurwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra

We also learnt about the current difficulties of the church. With people migrating from the area, there are not enough people to fill the church for a service. Not enough people also means less collections and not enough funds to maintain the churches and the philanthropic activities it supports. This seems to be a common issue across churches in South Mumbai.

We finally finished the amazing walk at this church and I now can’t wait to read Jane’s book to follow the lives of her characters around Cavel. Will read it and share a review soon 🙂

Further Reading – I found these articles / research online about some of the topics Jane spoke about. You can read these for additional information –

Books

  • Bombay Balchão by Jane Borges
  • The Taj Mahal Foxtrot (on the jazz culture in Mumbai) by Naresh Fernandes
  • Old Ambassadors of the New Era  by Father Francis Correa (on the Portuguese bells).

This is not a paid or advertising post and all the views here are my own 🙂

17 Responses to “The Bombay Balchão walk with author, Jane Borges and Swapbook in Mumbai”

  1. Deepti Kc January 24, 2020 at 19:06 #

    Such a detailed post about Mumbai. One of my favorite cities

    Like

    • getsetandgo January 24, 2020 at 19:07 #

      Thank you so much… I love this city too despite all the flaws but then it’s home 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. www.corneliaweber-photography.com January 25, 2020 at 09:53 #

    I have not been to Mumbai yet, but I truly enjoyed following your walk in literature, churches and images. Thank you so much for sharing, it’s been a highlight of all the posts I am reading tonight. Have a great weekend. As always ” Minds together” from Cornelia

    Like

    • getsetandgo January 27, 2020 at 15:14 #

      Thanks so much.. Words like these make all the effort worthwhile.. I hope you can visit Mumbai sometime soon 🙂

      Like

  3. Urban Suburban Girl January 26, 2020 at 04:39 #

    Beautiful architecture and photos. I can’t wait to visit Mumbai. The old surviving houses of Cavel, Mumbai, Maharashtra were particularly intriguing. Thanks for sharing these stories!

    Like

    • getsetandgo January 27, 2020 at 15:00 #

      Thanks so much.. Mumbai has many more unique sites and I hope you can visit soon 🙂

      Like

  4. vacationsforcouplesonly January 29, 2020 at 00:25 #

    I loved Mumbai. I got to study at IIT in Mumbai, and tour the city. It was an incredible feast for the senses. I loved the Jain temple we visited, and I still remember the scent of the spices growing around the IIT Campus as it was in a nature preserve.

    Like

    • getsetandgo January 29, 2020 at 11:55 #

      Wow.. the campus of IIT Powai is one of my favourite parts of Mumbai.. so glad you had a good time here 😊

      Like

  5. Miriam January 29, 2020 at 16:21 #

    What a fabulous post, full of detail and inspiration.

    Like

  6. Bharat Taxi February 8, 2020 at 11:00 #

    Really very nice blog. Thanks for sharing this post with us.If you have any requirements for a cab then you can book a cab from Bharat Taxi.

    Like

  7. Sanjay Kukreja February 21, 2020 at 16:57 #

    I had missed this walk as I was on a photo walk the same day around GOI which went on a little longer, after reading your post I do realize that I missed out on quite a lot of stuff that day. Very good and informative post nevertheless. I had been to Kotachiwadi once and now look forward to visiting these places very soon.

    Like

    • getsetandgo February 24, 2020 at 16:39 #

      This was an awesome walk.. Before this I had only known Bandra and Kotachiwadi as old Christian neighborhoods of Mumbai.. The surviving structures in Cavel and Thakurwadi were such a surprise…

      Like

  8. yogiepangestu March 13, 2020 at 21:04 #

    Awesome! I wish i could go to Mumbai next 🙂 hello from Indonesia

    Like

    • getsetandgo March 15, 2020 at 10:28 #

      Hey, thanks for visiting my blog and we hope you can make it to Mumbai soon 🙂

      Like

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