Matharpacady: An East Indian Enclave

Matharpacady is a quaint East Indian village (gaothan in Konkani) where time stands still and the rich tapestry of East Indian culture is meticulously woven into its laid-back lifestyle, typical of a Goan village. Once spread over a large area west of the Mazagaon dockyards, Matharpacady has shrunk considerably in size, as the fecund paddy fields and mango groves surrounding it have disappeared in an ever-expanding urban sprawl. What has survived is a roughly triangular plot of land, housing approximately 50 bungalows, squeezed between R. Naik Road (to the north), Dr Masceranhas Road (to the west), and Champsi Bhimji Marg (to the south).

Origin of Matharpacady

Mazagaon was one of the seven islands of Bombay, which were acquired by the Portuguese in the Treaty of Bassein, signed in 1534 with Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. By the mid-18th century, the paddy fields surrounding Mazagaon were acquired by the British East India Company and leased to various stakeholders. In 1749, a portion of the paddy fields west of Mazagaon was to be allotted “to the mhatara for his pay” and was leased to DN Rustamji and Dhanji Punja. Mhatara in Marathi means ‘respected elder’. Over time, the village was named Matharpacady or ‘quarter of the elders’, which is the most likely origin of its name. The land was leased out to the East Indians, who were long established in Mazagaon, having lived there for centuries since its days as a Koli fishing village. Matharpacady also had strong links with Goa, which was a Portuguese colony for 450 years until its liberation in 1961 when it became a part of India.

The East Indians

The history of the East Indian community is a complex tapestry, reflecting centuries of diverse cultural interactions, historical events, and migration patterns. The community traced its origins to the beginning of European colonization in the Mumbai Islands, which marked a significant religious and cultural shift among the indigenous communities. During Portuguese rule, Catholic missionaries converted local populations (Kolis, Bhandaris, Agris, Kunbis, etc.) to Christianity, which gave rise to a new community, predominantly Catholic in religion and European in language, dress, and manners, but also influenced by older customs, beliefs, and traditions.

However, Portuguese rule ended in 1661 as the islands of Bombay were handed over to the British Crown as part of the marriage dowry of Catherine of Braganza. Not interested in governing the sparsely populated islands, the British Crown, in turn, leased them to the British East India Company in 1668 in return for a nominal yearly rent of 10 £. In 1887, the Golden Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, the Portuguese-speaking Catholics of Bombay petitioned the British government to recognize them as East Indians, having their own distinct identity, language, and origin. The community felt this was necessary to separate them from Christians who had migrated to Mumbai from the rest of India or were newly converted Catholics who didn’t speak the Portuguese language.

A unique blend of Architecture

Though they were constructed in different periods by different families, the continuity of design and use of common building materials created a cohesive and harmonious streetscape in Matharpacady. The old bungalows reflect a harmonious blend of East Indian and Portuguese styles and influences, designed to protect from the monsoon. Some of the distinctive features include the use of Mangalore tiles on gable roofs, a street-facing veranda, an entrance porch, a balcony supported on brackets, arched doors, stone plinths, and staircases running from the outside. The interiors have wooden flooring and showcase antique wooden furniture. Other decorative elements, including finials, ornate windows, coloured glass, ceramic tiles, name plates, and metal balustrades, contribute to the overall charm and individual character of each home. Painted in bright hues of blues, yellows, and reds, they are reminiscent of Goan villas featuring European forms mixed with vernacular elements that add a local flavour. For example, the presence of a street-facing veranda may be rooted in East Indians and Kolis sharing a common ancestry. The front veranda is also featured in Koli homes, where the open space is used for repairing fishing nets. In the past, such quaint bungalows were common in East Indian villages, like Bandra and Mazagaon, but many have been demolished and replaced by eyesore structures of glass, steel, and concrete.

Notable residents

The East Indian community became an integral part of the city's social and economic fabric and made significant contributions to Mumbai's development in various fields, including education, business, and social work. The personal histories of families who have lived here for generations are indicated by bungalow names like Lopez House, D’Mello House, Miranda House, Pereira House, and Baptista House, to name a few long-time residents. The village’s most famous son, Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista, was born here in 1864. He advocated for the rights of the community and was a key figure in the formation of the Bombay East Indian Association in 1887. During the Indian Home Rule Movement, Kaka Baptista was a close associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Kaka Baptista Gardens, the site of the demolished Mazagaon Fort, near Dockyard Road station, are named after him. Another illustrious resident was Dr Ubaldo Mascarenhas, whose family reside at Marian Villa. Born in Bardez, Goa, Ubaldo Mascarenhas was also a freedom fighter and served as the 19th Mayor of Mumbai (1948–49). He was evicted from Goa by the Portuguese authorities and settled in Matharpacady. Dr Mascarenhas Road, which borders Matharpacady on the west, is named after him.

Goan community

Matharpacady also had a sizable Goan Catholic community that migrated to Mumbai in search of better job opportunities. They got employed as sailors and cooks on ships or did sundry jobs in Mazagaon. To save money, Goan migrants preferred to stay in clubs run by the Catholic community, which were affiliated with their native villages in Goa. These clubs (called kudd) provided long-term stays to bachelors at nominal rates. However, most kudds in Matharpacady have closed due to a lack of patronage. Among the historical kudds still operational is the Association of Paroda, established in 1900.

Outward migration

Over the years, there has been an exodus of old-time residents who have migrated to other parts of Mumbai or settled abroad. Many bungalows have been replaced by soulless high-rise apartments. Even the house of Kaka Baptista was not spared. A high-rise apartment now stands on its plot, behind the Holy Cross Oratory. The arrival of new migrants has also changed the demographics of the village which was predominantly Catholic in the past. Matharpacady is more multicultural now, with diverse communities living there in peace and harmony. It is not unusual to find Hindus, Parsis, and Muslims staying as tenants in the same building, on different floors, with an East Indian landlord living on the ground floor.

Conservation efforts

In response to redevelopment pressures, residents have formed the Matharpacady Residents Welfare Association (MRWA), which lobbies for the preservation of the historical village. In recent years, MRWA’s advocacy has raised awareness, and efforts have been made towards the conservation of Matharpacady. The village has been listed as a Grade III precinct under Mumbai’s urban heritage laws (which comprises buildings and precincts of importance for townscape; that evoke architectural aesthetic, contribute to determining the character of the locality, and can be representative of the lifestyle of a particular community or region, and may also be distinguished by setting, or special character of the façade and uniformity of height, width and scale). However, the lower-grade listing provides the area with no protection from land sharks and encroachment remains a threat. Despite financial challenges in maintaining the Grade III buildings, the residents are determined to preserve Matharpacady, where each house contributes to the timeless allure of this hidden gem in the heart of Mumbai.

Matharpacady is a historic village (or gaothan in the local language) in Mazagaon, wedged between R. Naik Road and Champsi Bhimji Road. The Gaothan was settled by the East Indian community more than two centuries ago, or possibly even earlier. Over time, due to the original East Indians migrating to other parts of Mumbai and emigration to foreign countries, various other communities have moved in and made Matharpacady their home.

Matharpacady has a network of lanes and alleys where children play games and have fun with neighborhood cats. The idyllic setting of the gaothan, away from the din and chaos of the city outside, is reminiscent of susegad, typical of the Goan culture. Derived from the Portuguese sossegado (meaning 'quiet'), it is used to describe the relaxed, laid-back attitude towards life that defined the lifestyle in the former Portuguese territory.

The region around Matharpacady was renowned for mango groves and paddy fields. As mentioned in the book “Bombay: The Cities Within”, in 1749, a portion of the paddy fields west of Mazagaon was leased to DN Rustamji and Dhanji Punja. Over time they came to be known as mhatre, meaning ‘respected elder’ in Marathi, thus the neighbourhood came to be known as Matharpacady, meaning “quarter of the elders”. The mango groves are now long gone but the green cover has survived in some parts.

Lawrence D'Souza, an East Indian, is undertaking renovations at 11 Matharpacady. The East Indians have lived at Matharpacady for more than two centuries. The East Indians—as recorded in history—are the original inhabitants living in the seven islands of Bombay, Salsette, and Bassein (Vasai). Belonging to various native communities, they were converted to Catholicism by missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries, when Bombay was governed by the Portuguese.

Most of the bungalows at Matharpacady are double-storey with balconies on the first floor, supported by rows of wooden brackets. Additionally, columns on the ground floor may also support the balcony above. Most of the bungalows have wooden flooring and gable roofs covered in tiles. Such details are typical of Indo-Portuguese architecture found in other East Indian gaothans in Mumbai, like Khotachiwadi.

Typically, staircases are located on the outside. This saved space inside the houses and allowed independent access to tenants living on the first floor. Originally, balconies were open and had a wooden or metal balustrade running around. Over time, some balconies have been enclosed with metal grilles fitted from outside, which allow the space to be utilized for storing plants or serving as an extension of the living quarters.

The metal balustrade on the balcony at Mi Casa, 20A Matharpacady, features portraits of Queen Victoria, clearly installed in the late 19th century during her rule. The name Mi Casa means ‘My Home’ in Spanish. Like Mi Casa, most of the 40-odd surviving heritage bungalows in Matharpacady are painted in bright colours, a feature of Indo-Portuguese architecture, seen in neighbourhoods like Fontainhas in Panjim, Goa.

A bread seller ferrying his goods on a bicycle in front of D’Silva House, 24 Matharpacady, the house of Mr Trevor D’Silva, and his sister Joan Saint-Prix, grandnephew and grandniece to Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista (1864-1930), Indian freedom fighter and a prominent member of the East Indian community. Kaka Baptista was born in Matharpacady in 1864 in his ancestral house which has now been demolished and replaced by a high-rise building. Kaka Baptista was a barrister at the Bombay High Court and was closely associated with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. In 1925, he was elected as the mayor of the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

Bounding Matharpacady on the west, Mascarenhas Road is named after Dr M. Ubaldo Mascarenhas, who hailed from Bastora village, Bardez, Goa. An Indian freedom fighter who was evicted from Goa, he later became the 19th Mayor of Mumbai (1948–49). The descendants of his family still live at 16 Matharpacady. The family includes Dr Gerald Mascarehnas and Dr Allwyn Mascarenhas (D. Ubaldo’s grandnephews), who serve the community as medical doctors. Another descendant, Vincent Mascarenhas, is the current president of the Matharpacady Holy Cross Committee.

Marian Villa is among the better-preserved Portuguese-style bungalows in Matharpacady, home to the Mascarenhas family. Azulejo tiles are used for the nameplate, similar to those used in Goan homes. Arabic in origin, these blue and white tiles were produced by the Spanish from the 14th century onward to decorate their churches and monasteries. The Portuguese imported the tiles from Spain and, in the 17th century, started exporting them to their colonies, from where they reached Goa.

A coconut vendor outside Mary Lodge, commonly referred to as David and Stanny’s house. The ground floor of the bungalow still has vestiges of classroom numbers from the time St. Isabel’s Primary School was established here to promote female education. The school was set up by the Ladies Charitable Association, Mazagaon Circle, and the first class took place on 9th November 1887, with 40 students and two teachers. Later St. Isabel’s Primary School relocated to Tank Square, and thereafter, Mount Road (39, Dr Masceranhas Road), where it stands now.

22 Matharpacady was the ancestral residence of the Miranda family. Among its members, Peter Miranda was the former principal of St. Isabel School. Under his charge, St. Isabel won accolades as one of the leading Christian Schools in the neighbourhood. He was also a piano virtuoso and the house was a venue for theatre, singing, and dancing. In 2006, Edward Miranda generously gifted the house to the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, and it was renamed Eymard Cottage.

Atmaram is the village mochi (cobbler), plying his trade in the footsteps of his father, who also worked in Matharpacady. His tiny workshop is a hole-in-the-wall located below a staircase at 31 Matharpacady. His customers wait on stools as he goes about repairing their bags and shoes. This is among the rare shops inside Matharpacady, which is otherwise entirely a residential zone.

This old home, at 9 Matharpacady, has batwing doors (double swinging doors) at the entrance, preserving its historical character and charm. The lintel above the door is decorated with colourful tiles with floral motifs, each different from the rest.

Tuition classes taking place inside 9 Matharpacady.

The interiors at 20A Matharpacady are furnished with antique wooden furniture. The eclectic collection of curios displayed inside the vitrine were acquired from various corners of the world, reflecting the family's extensive travel history and maritime activities. The vitrine was meticulously crafted by a Chinese craftsman, specially summoned for this task, who made it in the confines of this home.

Stained glass artwork on the windows at 22 Matharpacady, depicting Mother Mary and infant Jesus (on the right panel), and the Holy Communion (on the left panel). The house was donated by the Miranda family and was renamed Eymard Cottage, and opened as the Provincialate (HQ) of the SSS Order, on September 14, 2006. It has a Blessed Sacrament Chapel and offers a daily Mass for senior citizens of the gaothan.

Despite its proximity to the sea, Mazagaon had an abundant freshwater supply. Wells were the only sources of drinking water before tap water was made available inside homes. This is the central well of Matharpacady, located in a circle known as Brahmin Chawl. This was the only source of fresh water in the past but is no longer used and remains covered up. Other than this public well, there were also private wells inside houses.

Matharpacady has a strong historical connection with Goa and Goan Christians. The neighbourhood has several kudds; dormitories that provide accommodation to migrant workers from Goa at a nominal fee. The kudds are managed by clubs linked to villages in Goa, which patronize them. This kudd, 21/B Ground Floor, Matharpacady, is run by the Association of Paroda from Paroda village, in Salcete taluka, South Goa district. It was established in 1900.

Kudd in the Konkani language means 'room'. In the 1950s Matharpacady housed dozens of kudds, which catered to expatriate Goans working as sailors or in the dockyard in and around Mazagaon. Kudds offered them a home away from home. However, migration from Goa declined with its integration with India in 1960 and the rise of tourism from the 1980s. Many kudds have closed due to a fall in occupancy and the ones remaining are run-down. Seen here, at the end of the street, is the Paroda kudd, at 21/B Matharpacady.

The Lion’s Den bungalow is named after the twin lion-mounted gate posts. The lions are associated with the Biblical story of Daniel, who was thrown in the lion's den by Darius the Mede, King of Babylon. Pleased by Daniel’s blameless character, the God of Israel sent an angel to close the jaws of the lions. Thus, Daniel survived the lion's den unharmed and was released by Darius.

Lion’s Den is the home of the Leao family. Built-in 1892, the yellow-painted, two-storied house is located at 85 R Naik Road. It has a sprawling open balcony running along the perimeter of the first floor, with decorative metal grille balusters. The staircase to the first floor is located from the outside (to the left). It is one of the best-preserved houses typical of Indo-Portuguese architecture and has changed little in over 130 years of existence.

Lopez House, at 23D Matharpacady, was the residence of Lt Cdr Eric Lopes and his daughter Dagmar Lopez. On Sundays, Dagmar played Western music on the musical saw (a popular vaudeville instrument, which looks like a flexible carpenter’s handsaw, played with a bow drawn across the non-toothed side by holding the handle between the knees and bending the blade while bowing along the flat edge) accompanied by his brother Ian Lopes on the guitar.

Ladies strike a conversation on the veranda at Keep Sake, 20 Matharpacady (built in 1928). The tightly spaced bungalows enable residents to interact with each other and socialize on the veranda. The long veranda is a typical feature of Koli villages where the open space at the front is used to repair fishing nets. This common characteristic is also seen in the bungalows of the East Indian community, whose ancestors were Kolis and other native communities before they were converted to Catholicism.

The six-pointed Star of Bethlehem is associated with the Nativity story. The star served as a navigation aid for the three wise men who visited the manger where Jesus was born. It represents the divine light and hope brought into the world by the birth of Jesus Christ. This star of Bethlehem, stored in the open veranda at 20 Mataharpacady, will be hoisted during Christmas.

The Holy Cross Oratory is the most notable religious landmark in Matharpacady. This small chapel was built on land donated by Mrs Buthello and constructed in response to a devastating plague that struck the city in 1875 (another plague struck in 1896). The residents came together to collectively build the chapel, praying for the plague to spare the village. Miraculously, not a single death occurred at Matharpacady in the plague and the community has maintained the tradition of holding yearly feasts, now in its 148th year.

The patron saint of the Holy Cross is St. Roch, who is especially invoked against plague, cholera, and epidemics. Traditionally, every year, the Managing Committee of the Holy Cross Oratory organizes the nine-day Novena Services, which are held in the late evening from April 22 to April 30. This is the stained glass portrait of Jesus Christ on the rose window of the chapel, illuminated during Christmas.

The distinct East Indian character of Matharpacady is best experienced during Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Cross. The gaothan becomes a hub of activity from early December in preparation for Christmas and continues till New Year’s celebrations. During Christmas, the Managing Committee of the Holy Cross Oratory and the Residents’ Welfare Association ALM work in unison to decorate the lanes of Matharpacady Village with decorative lighting.

Every year new installations are made by the residents of Matharpacady during Christmas, entirely handmade by them. The sleigh is pulled by the reindeer Rudolf and Dasher, and driven by Santa Claus across the night sky. The sleigh was very popular with the neighbourhood children who were thrilled to take a ride on it and get their pictures clicked.

During Christmas, Matharpacady comes alive at night. Every house is given a fresh coat of paint and the Star of Bethlehem is hung from the balcony. The lanes are decorated with lights and illuminative symbols of reindeer, candy sticks, bells, stars, snowflakes, and fairies. Christmas is celebrated by the entire gaothan, irrespective of community and religion. Inside the homes, families come together to decorate Christmas trees and install miniature nativity scenes.