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Karachi’s Once Illustrious Citizens

Published in Jan-Feb 2021

Zohra Yusuf, CCO, Spectrum VMLY&R, reviews "Goans of Pakistan" by Menin Rodrigues.

When I arrived in Karachi from Dhaka in 1970, I was delighted by the diversity around me. In Saddar or Bohri Bazar, women freely moved around in miniskirts that were the rage at the time (I found out later that they were Goan). One also came across Parsi women in saris and sleeveless blouses, shopping without any fear of harassment. While the first exodus of Goan Christians and Jews – among other non-Muslims – began shortly after Partition in 1947, the Islamisation policies of General Ziaul Haq led to a second exodus and the end of the cultural and religious diversity that made Karachi unique.

In compiling Footprints on the Sands of Time, Menin Rodrigues has done a service not only to his community of Goans, but to Pakistanis, making them aware of the rich tapestry of cultures and beliefs that once were an integral part of this country and to which the founder of Pakistan was committed to upholding.

Rodrigues’ focus is primarily on the people that made up the community and the significant part they played in enriching their respective fields of talent. The people listed comprise an enviable gallery of outstanding achievers. However, he has also brought to attention the lasting legacies left behind in the architecture of some of Karachi’s most well-known buildings, such as the Karachi Goan Association’s elegant structure.

Rodrigues’ account of his visits to Goa brought back delightful memories of my own visits. Goa struck me as very different from the other parts of India I had visited. For a start, in Goa, no one seemed particularly curious about visitors from Pakistan. We were as welcome as the tourists from other countries who flocked to Goa to enjoy the laidback lifestyle and its beaches, plus the cuisine and music. I recall the sharp contrast in the attitude of the police officers when we went to report our presence. In Panjim, Goa, they were slow and friendly. In Bombay, swift and suspicious.

Although the book is primarily about Goans in Pakistan, the writer has chosen to include some illustrious non-Goan Christians as well. They include the highly respected, Justice A. R. Cornelius, who is even today remembered as a principled and outstanding member of the superior judiciary. He served as the first non-Muslim Chief Justice of Pakistan, from 1960 to 1968 and was later appointed law minister.

Goans of Pakistan makes the reader realise that there is scarcely a field in which Goans were not represented and to which they did not make a significant contribution – politics being an exception. Two journalists also stand out as well for their courage. The better known today is DAWN’s award-winning former columnist, Cyril Almeida. However, it is another Goan reporter – the now forgotten Neville Anthony (Tony) Mascarenhas of Morning News, Dhaka – who showed exceptional courage in smuggling out his notes on the army action in the then East Pakistan in 1971, from right under the noses of the military and had his eyewitness accounts published in the western press. And though Rodrigues has mentioned two other well-known Goans from Karachi – Father Arnold Heredia and Roland D’Souza – the writer is possibly unaware of their work for human rights. Both were council members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at different times and were resolute in their commitment.

In compiling Footprints on the Sands of Time, Menin Rodrigues has done a service not only to his community of Goans, but to Pakistanis, making them aware of the rich tapestry of cultures and beliefs that once were an integral part of this country...

The two main areas in which Goans’ unique achievements stand out are: firstly, in serving Pakistan through professionalism in education, healthcare and administrative services; secondly, through the arts and culture whether it was music, architecture or simply the best baked goods in town – between the fifties and seventies, Saddar was not only the centre of Karachi but the heart of Goans’ lives and their lifestyles.

Rodrigues quotes from an article (A Pedestrian Saddar, July 26,1986) by town planner, Arif Hasan, on the essence of Saddar: “As Karachi grew, Saddar became the centre of the city and by the 1940s, boasted cinemas, restaurants, bars, billiard rooms and bookshops, in addition to markets, churches, community halls and libraries. Its architecture, built of Gizri stone, was human in scale, in the Gothic and Renaissance styles… Saddar was also a residential area. Above the shops were apartments and in the side lanes, rows of three-storey houses with wrought iron or wooden lattice-work balconies. The eastern end of the Quarter was inhabited by the Goan community and in the evening, small groups of young men and women would gather at the street corners to talk and children would come out to play in the open spaces. Old people would sit in their doorways and watch the world go by.”

This compilation of Historical Recollections & Reflections covering two centuries (1820-2020), includes many evocative narratives of the Goan experience of Karachi as well as the diaspora’s life in the West. Some of these accounts were written for a website managed by Rodrigues; others are extracted from various publications. The author himself divides his time between Canada and Pakistan. Acutely aware of the uncertain future of his community in Pakistan, he writes: “…identity crisis is one of the major issues for Goans in Pakistan today. Since there is not much to talk or write about a Goan in mainstream Pakistan today, other than a few isolated cases; no one really knows much about a D’Souza, Rodrigues, Fernandes, Lobo, Periera or a D’Mello – we are like foreigners in our own country.”

Older citizens of Karachi, however, would surely be able to associate the contribution of each one of the names mentioned to the city. Many have been taught by a Fernandes or treated by a Lobo or danced to a band led by a D’Souza. In fact, Goans are an integral part of the nostalgia citizens feel for their city and its swinging, yet gentler, times.

Rodrigues himself has proven his calibre in several fields – from working as a journalist to joining the hospitality business as well as being a public relations professional. His detailed compilation of prominent Goans and their contribution to Pakistan should be seen as a starting point. It should be an inspiration to others (and not necessarily Goans) to explore the lives and times of this industrious community, whether they continue to live in Pakistan or have sought homes elsewhere in the world.

Footprints on the Sands of Time – Historical Recollections & Reflections: Goans of Pakistan 1820-2020
by Menin Rodrigues
Published by SHAMROCK Communications

389 pp; Rs 1,200

Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.