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Old Goan bakeries in Bombay

Goan Bakeries of Bombay

It is really a matter of pride to know that the earliest bread-maker of Bombay was a Goan from Assagao–Vitorino Mudot. Goans retained the leading monopoly of the "pao" profession for almost a hundred years.

Modern Bombay was in the making during the early decades of the century gone by. The British administration had imparted a climate of stability that gave a vital boost to commerce and industry resulting in a large-scale influx of fortune-seekers from the coast and the hinterland. Among those who ventured forth were people from Goa, badly hit by the severe economic decline under the Portuguese regime. Initially a few Goans had straggled into city in the train of the Portuguese priests and officials.

The new migrants gravitated towards Cavel–a cluster of quaint little villas encircling a church, outside the fort of Bombay. This quarter was inhabited by the local converts, better known as Indo-Portuguese. As one Goan emigrant, Dr Gerson da Cunha recalled, "In 1860 when I first visited Cavel…it was the centre of the largest Roman Catholic community on the Island, to which immigrants from Bassein, Salsette, Daman and Goa made their endless yearly additions."

With the same cultural background of exposure to the western way of life, assimilation posed no problem. Culinary tastes too had been determined by that exposure; and so pao, or bread, was a daily necessity. Faced with the challenge to eke out an existence, the migrants utilised the skill they had acquired under the Portuguese and became bread-makers; and for almost a century this profession remained a Goan monopoly in Bombay.

The First: Old files of the Anglo Lusitano–the erstwhile organ of the Goan community–reveal some graphic pen-pictures of the conduct of this early and lucrative trade. Vitorino Mudot, a native of the village of Assagao in Goa, is considered the Father of Goan Bakers in Bombay! In 1819, he set up the first baker's oven in the locality. This enterprising individual had several firsts to his credit. In this home away from home, he was the first to celebrate with nostalgia the feast of St Caetano, the patron saint of his native village. After this, it became a tradition for each village saint to be honoured on the feast day, in Bombay.

Vitorino also set up a precedent by being the first to open his establishment to young Goans coming to Bombay to better their education or procure service. For board and lodging, they paid just Rs.4 per month! Gradually, other Goan bakeries followed his example. In this respect, Mudot anticipated the well-known system of Goan village kuds in Bombay which have also launched many a lad to better prospects, often even in the medical profession.

Mudot's household also accommodated his band of workmen hailing from Goa. Devoutly, at sundown, they all assembled at the foot of one of the nearest crosses in the little colony, adorned it with a fragrant garland of marigolds and recited the rosary. Once a week they also sang the Latin litany.

We are told that Mudot himself lived like a fidalgo or gentleman. His dress made his appearance "consequential": he wore knicker-bockers and a long black coat reaching down to his knees, and he went out only when carried in a stately palanquin!

But Mudot never forgot his birth place, and gave of his gleanings costly donations to the church of Assagao. Beautiful chandeliers and rich vestments visibly testified to the pious liberality of this wealthy pioneer merchant of Bombay.

Before long, the master baker amassed a considerable fortune; and as he grew older, he entrusted the management of his concern to his younger assistants. In 1843, three of them conspired against him and took over the business. In a short while, one of them, Salvador Patricio de Souza, also of Assagao, shook off his partners and stepped into the master's shoes. Despite competition from his rival compatriots, by sheer industry and dynamism, he not only attained remarkable success but also became a legend in his lifetime, inspiring others to emulate his drive. He was indeed known as O Padeiro poderoso de Bombaim, the powerful baker of Bombay!

Salvador Patricio made some significant changes, by engaging local Marathi women to assist his workmen. He expanded the business and gave himself publicity; his name features in the list of Bakers and Confectioners in the Bombay Almanac and the General Directory of 1865. Though at that time Goans still held the monopoly, four Parsees had stepped into the field.

Not content with staying just a baker Salvador Patricio became a banker too. Trusted as a man of integrity and sound business acumen, many Goans–probably seamen–deposited their savings with him or remitted them to their families in Goa through him. This security prompted him to dabble in investments.

In this urge, he was not alone. During that phase of time, all Bombay was infected with the Speculation Mania. Occasioned by the Civil War in America and a consequent blockade of its southern states, the cotton mills of Lancashire suffered an acute deficit of cotton staple. This compelled them to seek a supply elsewhere. Thus America's loss became Bombay's gain; and 1863 marked the heyday of Bombay's cotton, which turned into her White Gold! It was a golden year for all–from the ryot in the field to the merchant in the city. The plethora of capital that poured in wrought havoc with saner judgement of many and led to speculation on an unprecedented scale. Stimulated further by a Scam,like the one that hit us recently, the bubble had to burst. In March 1865, Bombay, therefore, experienced a rude awakening with the sudden and unexpected termination of the war in America. The lash in the price of cotton precipitated a colossal crash in the market, with widespread ruin to thousands.

The Baker's Castle: Salvador was one of those hapless victims. He had to sell out many of the houses he had acquired in Cavel during the Cotton Boom. But being resilient, he recovered as Bombay did. And in the hectic spurt of building that gripped Bombay after the crash subsided, with his new-found fortunes, he too put up one of the tallest structures in his part of the city, later known as the Patriarch's building. From the window at the topmost storey, one caught a breath-taking view of endless rooftops and swaying palms below. Soon, in the itenary of Goans, new to the city, this fabulous structure became a priority–one of the sights of Bombay! For until then no one in the community, "not even a baker had ever attained such a height"!

At the entrance sat the proprietor, proud of his calling, his lanky frame clad in a simple, striped cotton suit, and high glasses, coated permanently with a film of flour dust. Around him, the bakery was like a beehive, buzzing with activity. Men and women jostled past with loads. Amidst the resounding chatter of customers, the droning whir of the revolving grinding stones one heard the occasional plaintive chant of the Marashtrian women, who operated them. Beside little white hillocks of flour, more women squatted in groups separating chaff from the grain. On long tables were men pounding the dough with much alacrity. And in the ruddy glow one could see, at the mouths of the several ovens, which gaped like so many caverns of hell, men standing upright, sweat streaming down their almost naked bodies as they stoked the fire or replenished the empty metal pans. And all the while one inhaled the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread.

This was the great depot of bread–A Padaria de Cavel (The Bakery of Cavel)! An army of distributors carried thousands of loaves all over the city, not only to private families, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Parsee, but even to the ships in the Bombay harbour.

After this great baker passed away, his concern was merely carried on under his name till 1900, as is evident in the Times of the Indian Almanac and the Directory for that year. Goans held the reins right until the last decade of the nineteenth century but their position was undermined by the Iranis, who entered the field and pulled the rug from under them by intimidation: spreading false rumours of imminent wheat famines, which created panic and drew them into collaboration with outsiders, who ruined their independence. Soon more astute methods of business set a pace, which the Goan baker could not stand up to. Moreover, to a great extent also, the new generation of Goans had acquired education and turned to white collar jobs in a bid to raise their prestige. The nickname pao turned into a derogatory epithet, which they resented.

And so by the turn of the century the golden era of the Goan baker in Bombay came to a close and is scarcely remembered today.

 

gnDr Teresa Albuquerque


Besides research into the local history of Bombay, the author, Dr Teresa Albuquerque, has presented profiles of two villages in Goa: Anjuna and Santa Cruz; and has written "Goa: The Rachol Legacy" "Goans of Kenya" (released last month).