“Growing up here in the 1960s, I remember Kyani teeming with young Goan men,” says Farokh Shokri, 55, co-owner of Dhobi Talao’s iconic Irani café.
“Speaking in Konkani, they would keep trickling in for breakfast, lunch and chai. Look around. That’s just not true anymore,” he adds, munching on his evening snack of minced dry fruit.
The Goan men Shokri is referring to were members of a unique system that came into existence in Bombay about 150 years ago, with the formation of ‘kudds’ or Goan clubs — dormitory-style spaces that would offer shelter and a little rough guidance to the Goan migrants flocking to the commercial hub in search of work.
At their peak, there were 450 kudds in the city, concentrated in Mazgaon, Dhobi Talao and Chira Bazaar. Only 160 survive, according to the Federation of Goan Club (Kudd), and most of them are in embattled buildings torn between the demands of what is now prime real estate, and the stubbornness of old tenants from the pagdi system.
But they are, intriguingly, still in use.
“My father stayed at this kudd too. He was a seaman, as were many other men in my village,” says Nalvey Fernandes, a 35-year-old from Goa’s Carmona village who works as a waiter on a cruise ship and has spent a week of his three-month layover at the Club of Carmona near Dhobi Talao before heading home.
The over 100-year-old Club of Carmona costs Nalvey Rs 100 per month.
“I have to stop in Mumbai to finish work-related formalities, since my office is here. I also buy medicines for my aunt and do some shopping from Crawford Market for our home in Goa,” he says. “Staying at the club is not only cheaper, it also allows me to catch up with fellow villagers who, like me, are sailing for most of the year.”
Nalvey first visited Mumbai in 1996, as yet another 15-year-old looking for work, and headed straight for his village kudd.
“When I first came here, my shoulders would graze against the shoulder of shippies sleeping on either side. That’s how packed the club used to be. Now, there is enough space for me to roll around on the floor,” he says, laughing.
This afternoon, in fact, there is only one other man in the 600-sq-ft dormitory of the 1,500-sq-ft club, a fellow mess-man named Jerry Dias, 30, who is in the midst of a two-week maritime crash course. Today, he’s ‘chilling’ in T-shirt and shorts, just like he would back home.
In Jer Mahal Estate, the same six-building complex as the Kyani & Co café, there are still 23 kudds, each named after the Goan village it serves.
Here, the daily 8 pm rosary is still compulsory. Lights out is at 10.30 pm. And every year sees a feast celebrating the patron saint of the village.
The luggage allowance is still only one trunk per member. These metal crates are lined along the walls in rows, storing the belongings of young men identified only by their first names — Noel, Freud, Wilbon. It’s a place where migrant workers can keep their belongings while they sail, a place they can come home to for some rest on their shore breaks.
Most members still come from low- and- middle-income families — kudds are open only to Christian men from the same village. They are armed with little education and few skills. While earlier most found employment as seamen, working on ships as waiters, mess-men, cleaners and cooks, with a handful serving as cooks and domestic help in the homes of rich Parsi and European residents of Bombay, now some hold senior ‘shippie’ positions like that of a chief cook, crew in-charge, officer and even a captain.
Read: Kudds for you
“Since most kudds came into being in the Colonial era, they have tenancy, not ownership rights. Now, with landlords striking lucrative deals with builders, we want kudds to register as charitable societies to avoid eviction and keep the tradition alive,” says Henry Fernandes, 69, treasurer of the Federation of Goan Club (Kudd), a five-year-old association that is attempting to unite and preserve kudds.
Henry also manages the Club of Ponda in Jer Mahal, which has 400 members but has not seen more than 20 members living here at a time since 1995, down from 40 members in the years before that.
It’s the same across the clubs. Despite rents as low as Rs 50 to Rs 150 a month, the number of residents is dwindling — mainly because there are now direct flights from Goa to most places where Goans work, so the need for an overnight halt, a stopover, no longer exists.
There are other reasons for the dwindling numbers too.
“The kudds played a great role at a certain time, so the older members are obviously nostalgic about them,” says author Jerry Pinto, who makes a brief mention of kudds in his book Em and the Big Hoom. “But for the later generations of educated Goans coming to Mumbai, living in a dormitory came to be seen as a sign of failure, especially when they could afford better and when they saw little dignity in living out of a suitcase or a trunk, in a place which didn’t traditionally allow them to build a social network outside the kudd.”
The kudds’ greatest appeal now lies in the fraternal atmosphere it offers bachelors back from months at sea, and the inexpensive family quarters it offers members, depending on availability.
“Last time I returned from the ship, my wife and four-year-old son joined in from Goa. We all stayed in one of the three family rooms at the kudd at no extra cost,” says Nalvey. “The money I saved on hotel stay was spent on sightseeing, shopping and food.”
Adds Dias, a bachelor: “We can cook, laze and just be in the midst of co-villagers. It feels like a home away from home, something you desperately need after spending months on end in the middle of the ocean.”
In her 1958 thesis, The Cudd System: A Study of Goan Club life in Bombay, former journalist Olga Valladares writes how kudd members would return from work in the evenings and go for walks or sit around ‘smoking, chatting with fellow-members, till it was time for Rosary and bed’.
Most kudds still have a carom board.
“Back then, members would also play football, and wait in queues to play carom or the noisy traditional Goan game tabblam, where you flip sticks in the air,” says Antonio Barretto, 65, a chemical engineer who lived at the 136-year-old Club of St Anthony’s (Deussua) in Mazgaon from 1973 to 1976, and who now manages its affairs.
“Skipping the rosary would invite punishments like cleaning the toilet and watering the huge flower pots that sat there,” says the club’s chairman Cyril Leitao, pointing to the porch. There are no vases anymore, but the porch, like the rest of the 10,763-sq-ft club, was painted last year, with contributions from its 800 members.
With eight airy dormitories, six family rooms, three toilets, three bathrooms and a kitchen, this club that has each member pay Rs 50 a month is among the few kudds left that is standing firm.
But the memberships, contributions and upkeep are fuelled more by nostalgia than relevance.
“Kudds have offered a landing to many Goans in an expensive city like Mumbai. Staying in clubs, people have made their careers, and they should remember that,” says Francis Rebello, 40, a third-generation member of St Anthony’s Club. Coming from Denmark, he’s packing up after a week-long stay at the club, and is now en route Goa.
Stickers saying ‘Do not be afraid. I am with you’ and ‘Jesus gives you eternal life’ are pasted on the inside of his trunk.
“No one person can be credited with the setting up of kudds. If anything, kudds emerged and evolved as a necessity, a system and a way of life at a time when landlords would just put up ‘To let’ signs and wait for tenants to show up,” says Henry. “Now when real estate values have shot up, people are eyeing kudds for profits. While some members are active and interested in keeping them up and running, others are indifferent. But we will continue the fight.”
FINDING FRESH PURPOSE
“Kudds have done an excellent job when they were needed,” says adman and activist Gerson Da Cunha, who grew up in Mazagaon, not too far from Matharpacady, a gaothan that is still home to a handful of kudds. “Kudds have had a great day. Now its evening, and soon it will be night.”
Valladeras, in fact, refers to kudds as ‘unofficial employment exchanges’ in her study. It was where people began hunting for jobs in packs; and members were considered duty-bound to help newcomers find work.
But as journalist Reena Martins points out, “the Goan immigrant of the mid-19th century was very different from the Goan migrant or immigrant of today.
“Today, kudds are all about nostalgia,” adds Martins, editor of Bomoicar, a book on Goans living in Mumbai, which has a chapter dedicated to kudds. “Nothing is happening there, but a lot could happen. Culturally, kudds need to be put to better use. The space can be used for book readings, for theatre, or it could be even hired out for community feasts.”
Until then, and for now, members who use the facility seem content, in a susegad way, with what’s on offer.
On a Sunday afternoon, in the main dormitory at the Club of Paroda in Matharpacady, some clothes hooks and a letter box jut out of a flaky wall, a TV and a discoloured model of a tanker ship lie in one corner, and the club rules, in Konkani, hang by a rusty frame. Two members wile away their time reading newspapers. They would have played cricket, they say, if there were more members around.
IN A NUTSHELL
WHAT IS A KUDD?
* The word kudd, also spelt ‘coor’ or ‘cudd’, literally means ‘room’ in Konkani. Kudds are also referred to as clubs.
* Simply put, these are dormitory-style accommodation spaces that first cropped up in the late 18th to early 19th century, to house Goan migrants who were flocking to the commercial hub of Bombay in search of work.
* Each kudd is named after a Goan village and is open to Catholic men from that village only. Members can stay at the club indefinitely, for a monthly rent that now ranges from Rs 50 to Rs 150.
* The kudds evolved from rooms let out by landlords under the pagdi system and, as such, have no owners. Instead, they are run by a committee of older members.
* Most kudds are concentrated in the Mazagaon, Dhobi Talao and Chira Bazaar areas. (The city is also home to a few Mangalorean clubs formed on the same model.) Since these areas are now prime real-estate, many kudds are finding themselves embattled as landlords seek to sell out to builders.
LIFE IN A KUDD
* Structurally, all kudds more or less the same — a common room with a large altar in the centre, dormitories, family rooms (used when wives, parents and children visit), shared toilets and a kitchen.
* Members still follow the same rules — the daily evening rosary is compulsory, bedding must be rolled up by 8 am, lights must go out by 10.30 pm. Drinking is allowed as long as no nuisance is created, and most kudds allow card games on certain days.
* When the kudds were set up, most Goan migrants came from low-income, agrarian families and had little education and few skills. The kudds helped them find their feet, offering a home away from home while they looked for work, and helping them network with other Goans in Mumbai.
* Most Kudd inhabitants ended up working as seamen, waiters, mess-men, cleaners and cooks on ships. They would halt at their kudd in Mumbai before starting each voyage, or would spend a few days of shore leave there before heading home to Goa on breaks. Often, they would leave belongings behind in a trunk with their name or membership number written on it.
* In their heyday, kudds were so crowded that members jostled for place to spread their mats out and sleep. Today, most Goan migrants are educated and skilled and prefer not to join kudds or use their dorms.
* Shippies from lower-income families still drop by, though, and even today the functional kudds have trunks piled up against the walls — though only one crate is still allowed per member.
* Of the 450 kudds in the city, only about 160 remain, according to the Federation of Goan Club (Kudd).
* Most members still while away their time playing music or carom, though the traditional Goan games like tabblam have been replaced by TV.
* As they always have, members either get their meals at local eateries or pool their cash and cook fish curry and rice or vindaloo. Today, pasta and pizza also make an appearance.
EXCERPTS —The Cudd System: A Study of Goan Club life in Bombay
In 1958, former journalist Olga Valladares studied the kudds as part of a reseach project called The Cudd System: A Study of Goan Club life in Bombay. Goa-based publishing house Goa 1556 is set to publish the study in the form of a book later this year. Here are some excerpts:
* “Goan clubs? What are they? Are they like the Bombay Gymkhana or the Yacht Club, you mean?” my non-Christian friends would query, for beyond the Christian community in Bombay and other places where ‘cudds’ have been established, the cudd was little known.
* The ‘uniqueness’ of the system interested me… Here it seemed was an organisation that had emerged naturally and spontaneously from the social consciousness of a migrant people, in contrast to the scientifically formulated, deliberately planned and organised associations like the community centres in the USA, which served the same purpose nevertheless – the rehabilitation of the immigrant, and the prevention of social and psychological disintegration that such displacement sometimes brings in its wake.
* The Goan club, however, has very little in common with the ‘aristocratic’ version, covering as it does only the very elementary needs of the poorer migrant… cheap accommodation, food and the companionship of like.
WATCH: A film on kudds by students of Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences