Neeraj Vegas, 29, who lives and works as an office boy in Mahim’s St Michael's Church, can’t speak to anyone around him in his mother tongue. Originally from the seaside village of Korlai, 20 km away from Alibaug, Vegas knows that his mother tongue is incomprehensible to everyone except the 1,200-odd Catholics, who hail from his village.
Known as Kristi or Creole Portuguese, the language emerged 500 years ago during the Portuguese reign in the region, but now the number of fluent Kristi speakers has been dwindling rapidly.
“We still speak nau ling (our language) at home, but most young villagers choose to get educated and move to big cities, where they have no one to speak it with,” said Vegas. Korlai’s linguistic culture began to see changes around 100 years ago, as parish priests from outside started holding mass in Marathi and the church, once known as ‘Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte Carmelo’, came to be called simply 'Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church'.