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Going Back to Our Roots (Brenda Rodrigues, BombayKala)
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Going Back to Our Roots (book excerpt)

Brenda Rodrigues
***@gmail.com

There are too many tales of old
Bandra families being forced to
part with their ancestral
properties for a song. This is
an excerpt from a book called
The House at 43, Hill Road. It
is published by BombayKala and
is priced at Rs 550 $17.99.
ISBN 978-81-938353-2-6. See the
cover at http://bit.ly/43HillRoad
The book is expected to soon be
on sale via amazon.com
--------------------------------
This book is being launched on
Sunday, August 26, 2018, at
4-5.30 pm at the Morello Hall,
Holy Family Hospital, Bandra.
The function is open to all.
--------------------------------

At the entrance to the sanctuary of Mumbai's most famous
Catholic shrine, the Basilica of Mount Mary, you will see a
marble plaque engraved with the words: "This Buttress is
Erected in Memory of the late Mr. & Mrs. Braz Rodrigues, Hill
Road, Bandra." My story opens with Braz because it was he who
built the family house on Hill Road, around which the events
recounted in this book revolve.

Braz, the eldest son of Luiz Rodrigues of Parwar (or Pacura),
Bandora (as Bandra was known then), and Maria Xavier of
Ranwar, Bandora, was born on 19 May 1811. The ancestors of
Braz Rodrigues were Christians who were either converted by
the Portuguese or intermarried with them and belonged to the
clan of kunbis (farmers), the original land-owner inhabitants
of Bandra. They lived in Parwar, one of the 25 villages that
comprised Bandra.

Parwar nestled on the eastern slopes of Calvary
Hill which was to the north of Pali Hill. Few in
modern-day Bandra would have heard of Parwar, and
most even in the Rodrigues family, would not be
aware that this was where their ancestors had their
homes. In 1850, the entire village of Parwar was
burnt to the ground by the British administration
because it was infested with the plague, this being
the standard procedure they adopted to contain the
disease. As there was no way to prevent the loss of
their homes, the inhabitants of Parwar migrated to
other villages in Bandra like Palli and Boran. In
those times the trauma when families had to uproot
themselves and move away to a new location was not
all that earth-shattering, as houses were quite
easily available at monthly rents of just a few
rupees. In fact, those were the days when landlords
prayed for tenants to come. A century later they
would pray for them to go!

The probate of Braz Rodrigues' will refers to him as a
"Bandra Portuguese inhabitant." Braz had adopted the dress,
manners and customs of the Europeans and belonged to the
elite class of westernized Indians. He, his children, and
even his grandchildren were fluent in Portuguese, which was
considered the language of sophisticates. In fact, his last
will was written in Portuguese. All his children too could
read and write this language fluently.

Braz married Luiza Catharina D'Abreo, of Palli Village in
Bandra. They had one son who died in infancy but I was unable
to locate any record of this birth. He was probably buried in
a separate cemetery in which unbaptized children were
interred in those days. Luiza died on 21 April 1853 at the
age of 38. Without any records to go by, I presume that she
died in childbirth, at the same time as her infant son. Her
grave, with inscriptions in Portuguese, is in the centre
aisle of St. Andrew's Church in Bandra, right up front -- in a
place of honour normally given only to prelates or
dignitaries. Luiza was an only child, and her bereaved
parents, Jacinto and Monica D'Abreo, willed all their movable
and immovable property to their son-in-law, Braz.

Soon after, Braz tied the knot again, with a 20-year old. The
age difference between them was 22 years. I wonder if his
choice was influenced by her name, which was also Luiza --
Luiza Antonia Alvares of Thana -- who brought him a dowry of
Rs300, a tidy sum for those days.

[An observation I made while working on the family
tree was that many widowers married twice or even
thrice. This was understandable because when women
died either in childbirth or of other ailments, the
men needed someone to take care of the children, or
else to beget children if they did not have any
from the first wife. These multiple marriages
complicated the family trees no end, especially
when the men married widows who already had
children from a previous marriage. What I found
rather uncanny was the fact that when the men
remarried, their second wives often bore the same
names as those of their first wives. Braz's father
Luiz Rodrigues first married a Maria Xavier and
then a Maria Henriques, while Braz married two
Luizas. It was a common practice to keep the same
first names running in families by passing them on
to grandchildren. And it was also a custom for
grandparents to stand as godparents for their
grandchildren, and because of this, when I first
started working on the family trees, I would get
quite confused and had to keep drawing diagrams to
trace the connections. 'Braz' seems to have been
the popular name of those times. Looking at Church
records of the early nineteenth century you will
find the names Braz, Anthony, Joseph (Jose), John
(Joao), Dominic (Doming) and Nicholas (Nicholao)
recurring very often for men, and many a Francesca,
Domingas, Maria or Mariana, Catharina and Paula
among women.]

With the inheritance from his first wife and the dowry from
his second wife swelling his own resources, Braz Rodrigues
was indeed a rich man, and occupied a position of prestige in
society. This scion of the Rodrigues family appears to have
lived in grand style, with a retinue of butler and other
servants and his mode of transport was a 'dogcart' -- a
two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with seats back to back.

For all that, Braz was far from being a man of leisure and
engaged himself in at least three distinct streams of
business. He owned and ran an aerated water factory called B.
Rodrigues & Sons. The lemonade he produced was very popular
and regular supplies were made to Government House. He also
owned and managed a chemist shop in Meadows Street, in the
heart of the business district in Fort, Bombay. However, his
main focus appears to have been real estate for which he
developed a discerning eye, going on to add to the properties
he had inherited by acquiring several more.

Fortune continued to smile on Braz and reward his industry.
Just how much he multiplied his wealth may be gauged from the
schedule of assets in his will. The bulk of his estate
consisted of immovable assets, with the list of his
properties covering three foolscap sheets. Jewellery, cash in
banks and loans to others made up the rest. The sum total of
his worth in 1871 was recorded as Rs46,212. Certainly an
immense fortune for that day and age! Consider this: just one
of the listed properties, the shop in Meadows Street, Fort,
Bombay was valued at Rs3,000. At a conservative estimate,
such commercial premises in the heart of town would be worth
over Rupees 50 crores today!

Among his assets were two houses in Pali village, three
coconut groves in Juhu, one mango grove on Pali Road near
Calvary hill, some 50 rice fields in Pali-Khar, where T.P.S.
III (Town Planning Scheme III) has now been developed, and
also, grasslands known as batties, containing brab and date
trees. In addition, he purchased from Braz Fernandes, the
Portuguese Vice Consul, two houses on Mount Mary's hill,
jointly with Daniel Ignatius de Monte. At that time, neither
Braz nor Daniel could have guessed that one day Daniel's
granddaughter (Agnes Esperance deMonte) and Braz's youngest
son (Dominic Bonaventure Rodrigues) would be united in
matrimony -- and live in the very house I am writing
about....

The house at 36 Hill Road came to be called burra
ghar (Big House). Visiting priests, bishops and
religious were known to have stayed there and
several wedding celebrations were hosted there. In
fact, in preparation for one such wedding, a large
quantity of liquor (no doubt a local brew, commonly
referred to as ‘country liquor') was stored on the
loft. For some reason, the wedding was called off
and the liquor was forgotten. When somebody
stumbled on this cache about 14 years later, a
celebration followed, and the quality and potency
of the spirit was declared the best ever sampled.

It was either Braz or one of his sons who built an oratory
with a cross inside it near the junction of Boran and Bazar
Roads, where the Rosary was recited and the 'cross feast' was
celebrated once a year with the traditional distribution of
boiled gram (chickpea). In time the pious practices petered
out, the tablet bearing the inscription vanished and the
place became a convenient station for fruit and vegetable
vendors to store their baskets and a spot where vagrants and
destitutes congregated. Then, some good Samaritan took it
upon himself to restore some of the original dignity. He made
a collection from interested Christians, had the place
cleaned and painted and he also installed a gate to keep
vagrants from desecrating it. Every year, come summer, I used
to buy Rajpuri mangoes to make pickle from a couple who still
sit in front of this prayer nook.

Braz had six children by his second wife (three sons and
three daughters, one of whom died in infancy) and he was very
keen that his family should continue to all live under one
roof. His will even mentioned that the house on Hill Road was
not to be divided and was to be home to all the members of
the family who wished to stay there. This noble intention
could not be sustained for more than one generation. (The
family later grew to 29 grandchildren and a greater number of
great-grandchildren.)

A regrettable trait which Braz seems to have passed on to
quite a few of his descendants (and which we are not proud
of) was his hot temper. One day he reportedly beat his
coachman so severely that the man eventually died. Nothing
came of it, perhaps because of his influence and affluence. I
don't know about Braz's other sons, but he certainly passed
on this short temper to his son, Dominic as illustrated by an
incident I shall narrate later. Dominic's son, Anthony, also
inherited this trait and passed it on to his children (three
of them were red-heads, and this supposedly was why they had
fiery tempers).

On 4 June 1871, Braz Rodrigues signed his Last Will
and Testament. It contained these words: "... being
of perfectly sound mind and in sound health, but
fearing death and not knowing the day or hour." Was
it a premonition? Because the hour struck just
three and a half months later on 24 September 1871.
In his will, he left Rs150 for his funeral
expenses, which included the price of his coffin,
Music Master Musicians, and a hearse to be drawn by
two horses. He also stated he desired to be buried
in the grave of his deceased first wife. We have no
clue why this wish was not honoured. Instead, Braz
was interred in a fresh grave inside St. Andrew's
Church, on the right side of the aisle, near the
midway door (now covered by pews). The inscription
in Portuguese records that his second wife Luiza
Antonia who died on 31 January 1886 at the age of
53, was also buried in the same grave.

When Braz Rodrigues died at the age of 60, his widow, just 39
years old was left with five young children ranging in ages
from 14 (Nicholas) to just 1 (Dominic Bonaventure). The
children were of course too young to carry on the businesses,
so the chemist shop was sold and the aerated waters factory
fizzled out to die a natural death.

Braz Rodrigues came five generations down the line from the
patriarch Joseph Rodrigues.... Another four generations
later, came another Joseph Rodrigues (my husband Joe), with
whom this branch of the Rodrigues family ends.

* * *

While Braz prided himself on being a Portuguese
inhabitant, his descendants were proud to be known
as ‘East Indians'. To understand how this came
about requires a foray into the demographics of the
seven islands of Bombay in the last decades of the
19th century. The region had a fair sprinkling and
some enclaves of Indian Christians whose ancestors
had been converted to Christianity perhaps three
centuries earlier. Conventionally, these had
adopted the surname of their godfather or of the
missionary who had baptized them. This accounts for
their patently Portuguese surnames like Rodrigues,
Pereira, Henriques, D'Souza, D'Cruz, D'Mello, etc.
Another stream could trace their ancestry to one or
other of the noble Portuguese families which had
settled in Salsette, Bassein and Thana.

The Portuguese footprint in India was not confined to the
region of Salsette but had extended all along the Western
coast, and conversions and intermarriages had spawned a host
of Pereiras, D'Costas, Silveiras and other Portuguese
surnames, also across Goa, Mangalore (Karnataka) and even
Kerala (Travancore). Here too, the Christian community had
access to good education and could speak English.

As people from the southwest coastal regions began
trickling, and later streaming into Bombay, they
competed with the locals for jobs which required
English speaking skills. This irked the
sons-of-the-soil Bombay Christians who were called
Norteiros as opposed to the immigrant Christians
from the south. So one can see how this competitive
attitude among East Indians, Goans and Mangloreans
started and continues to this day!

The land-owning Kunbis were keen to project themselves as a
distinct community of superior standing, but their numbers
were too small to merit recognition from the Government. They
then took into their fold Kolis (fisherfolk who sometimes
also worked as palanquin bearers), Bhandaris (toddy tappers
who also worked as peons or men-at-arms), Agris (salt pan
owners and workers), Kumbars (potters), and Sutars
(carpenters).

At a historic meet convened on 20 May 1887, the community
leaders resolved to call themselves 'The Bombay East
Indians'. This is how they finally got recognition from the
Government as a distinct ethnic entity. Thus, the family of
Braz who formerly considered themselves 'Portuguese
inhabitants' now classed themselves as 'East Indians.'

The sons-of-the-soil Christian community in Bombay was not
homogenous -- some were of purely Hindu origin, and there were
those of mixed blood (which fact accounts for the red hair
and fair complexions in quite a few families, including the
Rodrigues, Henriques, DeMontes and Alphonso clans). The
latter group had assumed the dress, manners and customs of
the Europeans and there were many who could trace their
ancestry to one of the noble Portuguese families which had
settled in Salsette, Bassein and Thana.

Being rich property owners, they could well afford this more
expensive way of dressing while their poorer counterparts
could not afford trousers and continued to use a large
triangular cloth called the langotti. This traditional
costume left their backsides exposed and this led to a lot of
jokes among the educated class. These native Christians were
allowed to change their class and become elite 'East Indians'
by acquiring wealth and property and by adopting European
customs and manners. [It does not make me proud to know some
of our ancestors were so snooty.]

William D'Souza's article on the East Indian Christians
(Golden Jubilee Souvenir) says that as the East Indian
population increased towards the end of the nineteenth
century, their manners, customs and standard of living set
them apart from the other Indian Christian communities, and
they decided to segregate themselves. First, they called
themselves 'Eurasians,' but in 1911, this was changed to
'Anglo-Indians,' and the Europeans who were living in India
on a temporary or permanent basis, and who were earlier
called 'Anglo Indians,' were now called Europeans. He adds:
"The native Christians of Bombay and the suburbs then
discarded all differences and retained the original name by
which the upper and educated class was already known ..." The
highly educated and westernized people among them chose to
speak only English or Portuguese in public. It is this
educated group that wielded influence and went about creating
an identity for themselves.

The obvious question that arises is: Why did a people with
roots in the West of India choose to be known as 'East'
Indians? The glaring misnomer did not appear to faze our
ancestors, and later generations have not been able to come
up with a single cogent explanation that enjoys universal
acceptance. I am grateful to Dr. Fleur D'Souza, former
Vice-Principal (Faculty of Arts) and retired Head, Dept. of
History, St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, who is an outstanding
research scholar, particularly on the subject of 'East
Indian' identity, for consenting to provide me with this
write-up from The East Indians of Mumbai: Identity, Icons,
Issues:

"Till some documentary evidence presents itself, we
have to be content with informed guesses as to the
reason a community on the west coast of India chose
to organise themselves under the banner of the
'Bombay East Indian Association.' William D'Souza
offers this explanation eighty years ago. As India
was referred to as the East Indies in the Charter
given to the East India Company, "East Indian was
adopted by all classes in India to distinguish the
descendants of the Europeans and native mothers."
The term that referred to this section of the
community came to be adopted by the entire group
who did not have European ancestry.

Was the name chosen to honour the East India
Company as many authors have alleged?

The East India Company was bankrupt by the end of
the 18th century and consequently lost power.
After the Great Uprising of 1857, the British
Crown and Parliament took over the administration
of India. The Company armed forces, territories
and possessions were the legacy inherited by the
Crown. The East India Company was formally
dissolved by the Act of Parliament in 1874 which
marked the commencement of Crown Rule in India.

The East India Company did not exist in 1887 when
the Bombay East Indian Association was founded."

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