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Keralites who made Goa home

The Keralite community in Goa dates back to the post liberation years. Fifty-eight years later NT NETWORK delves into what brought them here and more

Alisha Nicole Carvalho | NT NETWORK

The idyllic state of Kerala along the Malabar Coast is not without its share of locals who have left the State, many of whom moved to Goa several decades ago and now call Goa their home. Invaders, change of empires and rulers, the Portuguese regime, and finally the liberation of the tiny State, created a void that became larger with the expansion of public services of the government and to fill which there were not enough educated or qualified Goans. The need to take the state forward led many Keralites to move to Goa and take up jobs in various government sectors and educational institutions.

The statistics

As per the 2011 census, the total number of Malayalam speakers in Goa is 12983. Of this sum, North Goa has 6552 while South Goa has 6431. The figures vary in the various talukas and are as follows: Bardez 1550, Tiswadi 2327, Bicholim 457, Sattari 293, Ponda 1903, Mormugao 3579, Salcete 2293, Quepem 259, Sanguem 191, and Canacona 109.

The Keralite community is spread across the State based on their occupation. Those based in Vasco and Mormugao ran transportation businesses, particularly with regard to the transportation of iron ore. Those who worked in government sectors opted to stay in Panaji and surrounding areas. These days a lot of Keralities settled in Mormugao are part of the navy.

On coming to Goa

Dominic Francis came to Goa in July 1964 as a bachelor and joined St Francis Xavier Convent High School as a teacher. “Since it was a girl’s school I had a little problem socialising with them. I taught mathematics and science which the Goan students hated,” says Francis. He says that within a short span of time he did prove his worth and started to gain respect from Goan society at large. He became the headmaster of Shri Saraswati High School in Ponda in 1968 and continued to teach till his retirement in 2000.

Keralites who secured permanent jobs got married and settled in Goa. “Their wives too could get jobs as teachers and some as nurses. My wife Josamma joined as a mathematics teacher in my school. She too served for 35 years and became examiner, moderator, paper setter, chief moderator and then chief paper setter in mathematics for the SSC board examinations,” says Francis. The first generation of Malayalis in Goa found brides and grooms from Kerala with the help of relatives who were still living there, the age-old match-making activity. Some individuals from the second generation, who were born and raised in Goa married Goans.

The integration of the community in Goa was not very difficult. “Keralites are good at adjusting and mingling with other communities. Initially the Keralites who migrated to Goa were all well-educated and therefore they were broad-minded people which made it easy for them to socialise with any group or groups of people,” says Seema Nair who lives in Vasco.

Way of life

While Goans as a whole were very sociable, those from other communities were reserved and seen as orthodox in comparison. The Keralite women did not socialise as much with their Goan counterparts. They tended to remain aloof from the Goan social setup. The women were and are more religiously inclined and try to follow their family traditions. “In different towns in Goa there are Ayyappa temples and there is a Sree Narayana Guru Mandir in Ponda. Women are regular visitors here and offer pujas and prayers. The Ayyappa temples prepare devotees for the 40-day preparations of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala for Makar Sankranti,” informs Francis who adds that the Goa NSS unit works towards the upliftment of the Nair community in the State.

The children born in Goa received better educational opportunities. They became graduates, post graduates and professionals. But due to the scarcity of jobs since the mid 90s they have left Goa seeking employment in other States and even in other parts of the world. “My family has four children. My eldest son completed mechanical engineering and MBA (Buffalo University, USA), my daughter completed BEd and MSc and got married, my second son has a diploma in hotel management and works in the UK, and my youngest son is a veterinary doctor practising in Goa,” informs Francis.

Imbibing Goan values

After having lived here for close to five decades it is without a doubt that the community must have imbibed some aspect of the Goan lifestyle and the answer is that the third generation has assimilated into society seamlessly. “It is very difficult to distinguish them from Goans. They became Goan by birth. I feel that they may not think of preserving the culture of Kerala as we tried to,” says Francis.

Speaking the language

Language plays a key role in bridging the gap between people from different backgrounds, some may even call it a unifying factor. “I don’t think the language barrier exists now because everyone in Goa knows Hindi and English by which they communicate with each other,” says Nair.

Ramesh Babu from Porvorim who owns an electrical engineering company says that his family only speaks Malayalam at home but they are close to 90 per cent fluent in Konkani.

Food habits

Since Goa and Kerala share the same coastline the dietary habits of members from both communities are similar. “It is not difficult to get the raw materials for Keralite cuisine as there is always a Keralite’s shop in every city and they willingly transport items to Goa from Kerala,” says Nair, who also adds that there are such shops in Vasco da Gama. Most Keralites prefer seafood which is abundantly available in Goa, she says. There is even a ‘Kerala Shop’ at the Panaji bus stand.

Although Goa is a melting pot of cuisines, Keralite cuisine is not widespread as in the case of Udupi options. Some of the popular items like ‘avial’, ‘pachadi’ or ‘kaalan’ require a lot of time to prepare which could be why they are not readily available. However, there are restaurants that serve a few Kerala-inspired dishes. Gun Powder in Assagao and the Kerala Cafe in Panaji are places where one can relish ‘appams’ and stews, curries and fried chicken or beef dishes.

Views on Goans as
employees

As far as the work and services of the Keralites is concerned, they are hardworking, efficient and skilled. “Goans by nature do not like any physical work. They prefer government or private sector jobs, and are satisfied with what they get,” says Francis, and adds that 80 per cent of the jobs in factories are reserved for Goans but the industry finds it difficult to get skilled workers and so they recruit staff from outside the state.

Groups and associations

As Keralites settled in cities and suburbs there was a need to preserve their culture and thus they formed samajans and associations. These associations joined as members of the Federation of All Goa Malayali Association with its head office in Vasco.

At present there are several associations and groups in Goa, namely, Kerala Samajan, Kerala Cultural Association, Nair Service Society, Sree Narayana Guru Mission Society, etc. All of these associations and groups organise cultural programmes during the festivals of Onam, Christmas, and Sree Narayan Guru Jayanti. “The community celebrates and organises local and mega programmes like orchestras with local participants,” says Babu.

Laying the pookalam which is a floral arrangement and the Onam sadhya are important activities. Thus, it is through these events and activities that the second generation Goan-Malayalis are aware of the culture of Kerala.

Challenges they faced

Different lifestyles, languages and habits paves the way for suspicion and this was initially how the Keralites in Goa were looked at. “We were considered ‘outsiders’ and looked down upon with suspicion as intruders by Goans as they thought they would gradually lose their Goan culture,” says Francis.

Nair on the other hand has had a different experience and says: “The people of Goa are very friendly and happy-go-lucky which makes it easier for any community to mingle with them.”

Sectors they work in

While the first wave came in to fill up the government sectors, the latter wave in the 1980s carved a niche for themselves in different businesses. Babu is the proprietor of a company that takes on electrical contracts. He says: “After a decade or two and after certain developments in Goa, 50 per cent of the Keralites moved back. Those who came in after them saw the shortage of skilled technicians and setup shop.” These technicians included electrical handymen, plumbers, carpenters, AC repair technicians, fabricators and contractors.

These days the community is spread across various occupations. They are highly qualified doctors, engineers and civil servants. They occupy posts as executive engineers in the PWD water division, town planning, electricity department, etc. Less qualified people opted for small businesses and excel in their work. Some even became contractors for civil work and businesses concerned with iron ore transportation and export.

Right up to the year 2000, teachers from Kerala dominated the education field. “As they exited the field and due to wrong National education policy, the standard of education and students is deteriorating,” says Francis.

Contribution to Goa’s economy

When asked to name an individual from the community who has contributed to the Goan economy, Babu is quick to mention Joe Mathias, a builder who has many buildings and housing projects to his name.

Francis recollects how VG Pillai, who joined the school he taught at as a science teacher, along with the cooperation of the school’s staff and management raised the standard of the school to a respectable level.

Here to stay

The advent of the Keralite community definitely added to Goa’s social topography and has produced development in government sectors as well as in the field of education. It goes without saying that the cuisine has also made its way into the hearts of many a local by way of a few eateries that serve Keralite cuisine. The Keralite community is definitely here to stay.

Categories: Panorama
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