January 13, 2006

At Willy's place in Khotachiwadi

Willy Felizardo sitting outside his house in Khotachiwadi in Girgaum, Bombay. Willy works at Bothello's garage, and 'enjoys' his drink, and plays the guitar in impromptu singing sessions at birthday parties, and church programmes.

Behind him on the wall is the tilework he did, as also the floor in the small courtyard inside his house where he stays with his brother's (John Felizardo) family.

To one corner of the courtyard is a fish tank. He pointed out to me a biggish bloke swimming inside. "He's been with me for 14 years," Willy said while I looked on trying to comprehend what it means to have a fish for a companion for 14 long years. Behind us in the courtyard near where a door opened into his house, a sloping roof dwelling dwarfed by tall buildings, his friends lazed out in the warm afternoon sun, sipping beer and liquor, an East Indian couple among them.

Away from Goa for a long time, "born and brought up here, in Bombay," Willy's konkani is hesitant though he tried gamely to match mine. "I hardly get to talk the language here," he told me.

He invited me into his house, introduced me to his friends settled in a circle around a low table, sipping drink from glasses, and then went out to fetch me a cold drink from the shop around the corner. I sure needed one in the sun that day.

Seeing me trail my eyes over some artifacts, he showed me his driftwood collection that he had fashioned out into interesting forms from driftwood he had collected from various locations on his trips around the city. "I found this one near a construction site once. I hired a taxi, lashed it down to the taxi roof and brought it home," he said showing me a largish artifact at the far end of the courtyard.

A low wall with a gate opening into his courtyard runs along a narrow path that separates his house from James Ferreira's, the well known fashion designer before passing by a small church on its way out of Khotachiwadi on the Girgaum side.

Khotachiwadi was a settlement started by the Pathare Prabhus, a brahmin sub-caste, its earliest history dating back to the 1700s. Eventually East-Indians made it their home, followed by Goan Christians, quietly settling into the rhythms and colours unique to their communities, culture, and lifestyle, until now that is.

Lately, moneyed businessmen have moved in, apparently reveling in changing the wadi's decor of old-world style houses and comely balconies to shiny granite exteriors, replete with modifications more in tune with the crowded apartments of Mumbai than the heritage of Kotachiwadi. Turning those quaint balconies into rooms brings Bombay into the house. It's happening nonetheless. Willy is not happy with the "kind of people ('mostly marwaris, bhaiyyas, and the new local rich') buying their way into the locality from widows and families whose children are settled abroad, and with no one around here to look after them or their property."

"These people (the new occupants) have no understanding, appreciation, or aesthetic inclination for the architecture or the culture of the place that's survived centuries," he said as I photographed him against the cheery lemon-yellow backdrop.

Then we walked to the small church.

On a cardboard display, Willy pointed out the families signed up for the Family Saturday Rosary at the cross.

"We gather here each saturday with the family praying a Rosary, and pray together," he said, pointing out a family listed in the table against their scheduled Rosary date.

Usually, the Rosary begins with the invocations of the Apostle's Creed, followed by one Our Father, then the three Hail Marys (offered for the family praying the Rosary, for increase in faith, hope, and charity). Then Glory Be ('Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.') , concluding with the Hail Holy Queen. The sequence or the number of prayers are open to change. Willy gets his guitar on Rosary days. "I play for the kids, and for everyone," he said.

"Then I distribute chocolates. The kids love it," he smiled. We sat down, and talked. He spoke about his days growing up in the area. His youth. And now. In the serenity of the narrow lane, the story took on a poignancy of worn cobblestones on fading paths, their history passing with them. I listened mostly. His presence abutted my thoughts in a melody of its own. Then it was time for me to leave, I had kept him from his friends for some time now. We stood up and shook hands.

"Come again," he said, his ponytail swaying side to side, when I thanked him for the time at his place. "The next time I'll introduce you to some of the old families around here."

"I sure will," I said and waved back before retracing my path past the small church, and into the hustle of Girgaum. The next time I'll ask him to play the guitar, I thought, as the first sounds of the traffic on the road outside swallowed me.


Unknown said...

i am a final yr. student of architecture doin research on khotachiwadi, girgaum, mumbai. my basic intention is to analyse the village. i hav some drawings of the community bt i need to get the plans( ground flr, 1st flr, roof) of each house of the wadi 4 doin d same. i cud do the documentation myself bt if d drawings r already prepared, i wud save a lot of time and cud directly focus on analysis which is my basic intention. if ne1 cud temme ne source by which i cud get the drawings, it wud b very helpful 4 me. if the drawings r used in my thesis then d credits would be given to the source.

Anonymous said...

hey devashree,
i m a fourth yr architecture student, n intend to work on khotachi wadi for my thesis. i have started a certain research on the topic too. it would be great to get into contact with you n have some discussions over the same...


Unknown said...

hi apurva.. nice 2 c ur comment.. so wat kinda research u doin on khotachiwadi ? and y khotachiwadi ? i mean hw did u rch dis topic ?

Anonymous said...

hey devashree cud u leave ur email id here? it would be great to discuss with you on mail...

Unknown said...

i hav 2 make a new email id.. some prob wit d existin 1.. wud b convienient if u gimme ur id..catch u as soon as i mak 1.

Unknown said...

hi devashree and apurva, i am in the final year now and studying khotachiwadi as one of my case studies for thesis. it would be a great help for me if i could see and know how you both went through with you projects.