A fat tomcat is enjoying a siesta on the spiral staircase in Dhobitalao’s Jer Mahal building, which houses Kayani, one of Mumbai’s best-known Irani cafés.
The tomcat, however, belongs to another section of the building — Our Lady of South Chorao, one of the 200-odd Goan clubs or ‘kudds’ (Konkani for rooms) in Mumbai. Upstairs, in the South Chorao club, Merwyn Aniceto Dias has just woken up from a much-deserved rest after a night shift at a BPO.
There is hardly any furniture in this room.But there are many metal trunks, sporting locks with the names of their owners written on them. Stuffed away in these trunks are the worldly belongings of the club’s members — their passports, identity cards, documents, clothes and a bedroll — all that they need to survive in Mumbai.
Dias and the five other club members, belong to the same Goan village — South Churao. This club is run by their village parish and they know as well as anybody else that the Rs 20 a month they pay as membership fee to this club would not get them even a full breakfast at the Irani café downstairs.
Ask Dias, who has been living here for the last three years, if he thinks of moving into a flat some day and he replies, “Not unless I get married in Mumbai. Why should I? This is a very convenient place to live in, I pay next to nothing for it. Plus. we members come from the same village in Goa, we have a lot in common.”
BETTER THAN HOME
First set up in the latter half of the 19th century by Goan village parishes, these kudds are dharamshalas of a kind, meant to make life a little easier for generations of Goan men who came to Mumbai in search of a job.
Some, like Thomas Fernandes of the Original Club of Quepem, continue to visit the kudd even after they have retired. This 60-year-old Indian Oil company employee, who lives in Goa but was in Mumbai on a personal visit for a couple of days, says, “This place is better than home. These doors are always open to club members.”
The place he refers to is an 80-year-old building behind the Chandanwadi crematorium. It is a huge hall lined with the ubiquitous metal trunks displaying locks and members’ names and registration numbers. .
Till some decades ago, most of those who stayed in these kudds were men working in the shipping industry, either waiting to sail out of Mumbai or transiting via Mumbai to Goa. But after Goa got itself better air links as a result of its growth as a tourist destination, and employment opportunities rose in the Gulf, the number of Goan men looking for this very basic accommodation in Mumbai dwindled.
Because of falling membership to these clubs, the landlords of some of the buildings that house them have been evicting members. And the clubs have formed a federation to fight collectively for their rights.
The kudds are, after all, a facility not to be given up easily in Mumbai. And there is but a small price to be paid for their convenience and camaraderie. Besides the membership fee of Rs 20, there are a few rules that are strictly enforced: lights have to be out at 10pm; the 8 am rosary is a must for all members, and every day one member (in rotation) has to get up at 5 am to fill water for the others.
The floors are scrubbed every Saturday and as in any Catholic home, Sunday is the day for feasting. And some traditional Goan fare, too, we guess — a much-thumbed book of Goan recipes sits handily on one of the metal trunks in the corner.
This weekly column examines the diversity of urban communities