The wooden dance floor is
covered with a film of dust. Giant Victorian arches line the walls, and the
ceiling - held up by rectangular trunks of thick wood - holds electric fans
dangling on fat, rope-like wires. The edges are taken over by spider-webs.
Decaying it may be, but the dance floor of the Karachi Goan Association Club
still smacks of splendour.
The energy and money
lavished on leisure and entertainment by this once-thriving Karachi community
manifests a certain commitment: the colossal structure, the princely arches,
the curved wooden panes forcefully remind you that the Goans of Karachi once
held this city as their own, and they meant to stay here for good.
Their number never exceeded
20,000 at any point in history, but the Goans of the city, who trickled to
the shores of Karachi from the Portuguese colony of Goa (the first immigrant
came in 1815) in search of better economic prospects, made Karachi their
home, and in many ways, helped shape what was once a small fishing village
into a throbbing mainstream city of British India.
“Our history goes back to
some 200 years in what is now Pakistan, mainly in Karachi,” said Menin
Rodrigues, an avid historian of the community, who lives in Karachi and runs
Rodrigues said that there
are many myths attached to the history of the Goan community in the country,
which is regrettable. One such myth is the premise that the Goans were mainly
missionaries funnelled by the British to propaganda the Christian faith.
“We never came to the shores of Karachi to propagate Christianity,” he
said. “The generation of our parents and the ones before them, came to
Pakistan equipped with nothing but the hope of better economic
It is interesting to note
that the community hails from Goa which was a Portuguese colony until 1961.
The generation that witnessed the birth of Pakistan were holders of
Portuguese passports. But they relinquished their European identity and
accepted Pakistan as their home. “They were so optimistic about their
future in this country,” said Rodrigues.
British Raj, the Goans, who were well-versed in European culture, which they
picked up from their Portuguese ancestors, and educated mainly in
missionary-run English schools, made their presence felt in the bureaucracy
of the British. They assumed important positions in the structure put up by
the British. Manuel Misquita is one shinning examples. He was the mayor of
Karachi from 1941 to 1942 and was elected again in 1954 - after Pakistan came
Since the Goans were
considered good at administrative positions and the whole community is
predominantly Cathloic, it is no wonder that they filled the important posts
of all the major Catholic institutions in Pakistan or even the whole of South
Asia for that matter.
“Since we had been
assisting the British during their rule mostly in administrative positions,
it is no surprise that when they left, the mantle to take care of their
institutions landed on our shoulders,” explained Rodrigues.
Because Goan women were
usually well-educated and more willing to go out to work, their were large
numbers working as teachers and secretaries across the city. The Goan
secretary, in fact, was a very familiar sight in offices in the 50s, 60s and
beyond. In the field of English
medium education, the role of the Goans cannot be overstated. As an
octogenarian Karachiite put it, “the Ms. D’souzas and the Ms. Gomes of
missionary schools, actually helped form an English-speaking middle class
Pakistani generation with an international outlook who governed the country
during its formative years in the bureaucracy of the new Pakistan and later
even became heads of states.”
In the 50s and 60s, when
the ways of the new state called Pakistan were still new, the Goans were at
the forefront of cultural life of the city.
“I can’t explain how
different Karachi was in the 60s,” said Desmond Vas, a 65-year-old
musician. Vas said that the Goans of Karachi know how to enjoy their lives to
the fullest. “Back in those days, every Goan household used to have a piano
or violin in their homes, and at least one family member would be a
practicing musician.” He added that music and dance run in Goan blood.
There was a sense of
security then that has now vanished. Young girls could walk on the streets.
The doors of households were mostly left open in the Saddar area, where a
large Goan community lived, as everybody knew each other. Nobody was singled
out as a member of the majority or minority community. Everyone minded their
“My family was never
rich, but I never felt that I missed out anything in life. That was a
completely different ball game,” said Vaz, who now lives a quiet life in
Garden East, which he fondly calls Cincinnatus Town, by the area’s
Talking about the culinary
delights of the Goan community, Vaz said that Goans, since that times of the
British, were known as great cooks. We were the ‘best at everything’, he
said. “The Bohris,
Ismailis and Parsis who were mostly our neighbours in the 60s would give it
away to our community when it came to food; we are food freaks.”
But the singing and
dancing, the openness, the pluralism that made Karachi interesting began to
fade in the late ‘70s as the Goans of Karachi began to leave their home
city and migrate to the UK and later to the USA, Canada and Australia. The
Zia years were particularly hard on the community, with restrictions on
alcohol, nightclubs and forms of female attire affecting their extrovert
According to Rodriques, the
numbers of Goans living in Karachi has not actually dwindled. Although he
agrees that many in the last generation have chosen to migrate,
this trend has not actually decreased the number of Goans living in
the city. “We are still around 20,000, in the city, but the influx may have
affected the pollination of the community that should have taken place after
all these years.”
Augustine Oliver, the
treasurer of the Karachi Goan Association said that the migration was not
entirely the result the radicalisation of Pakistani society as a whole,
although it played an important role. “The Goans were always
better-equipped for migration, as they are English-speaking, hard-working and
in those days Church institutions played a role too, as they always had
contacts in these western countries in need of a workforce from time to time.
There is not much of a cultural difference compared to other communities, who
also tried going West for greener pastures.”
Today the Goan
community in Karachi has visibly taken a back seat; at least from the
cultural life of the city. Whatever the causes for this shift, their absence
is sorely felt, particularly for people of a certain generation.
Demond Vas shares an
anecdote, which he said sums up the Karachi of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“I went for the first interview of
my life to a Muslim businessman. I spoke to him for a few minutes and when,
my future boss got to know that I am a Goan, he called his secretary and told
her to give me the appointment letter. I was hired.”
Later, when Vaz asked his
boss why he made such a split-second decision, he replied that he had hired
Vas as an assistant accountant because all he needed was an honest man. With
a smile, his boss added: “we know that Goans are honest people!”
Milestones of Goan
Joseph’s Convent School
in Saddar. Many Goans
Menezes is the
Karachi Goan to arrive
R deCruz becomes
of well-off Goans move out of Saddar/Garri Khata and builds a new township
the first in the city.
Mickey and Alec Correa
Lawrence’s Church is
in through contributions made by Goan families.
Janu Vaz Band
the ‘best jazz and blues’
creates a new state. Goans opt to stay back for economic, education and
X. Lobo takes part in the National Elections for a seat in the National
D’Souza becomes Pakistani first popular (pop) musician
Coutinho starts ‘Goekars’ Own Academy – GOA’ as a social group to
encourage Konkani language.
Pinto (Gumby) becomes the country’s most celebrated drummer.