Story of an early Goan book seller in Bombay

An Early Goan Book-Seller

In Bombay's Early Goan series, DR TERESA ALBUQUERQUE throws light on one of the most popular book-stalls of Bombay set up a pioneering Goan book-seller from Chinchinim.

Swept by the early wave of emigration, Bernardo Xavier Furtado came to Bombay around 1848 from his native Dramapur in Chinchinim, Salsette, Goa. He came at a tender age, with little more than the basic education in Portuguese.

During this phase the Catholic Church in Bombay was in the doldrums on account of the disgraceful Padroado-Propaganda controversy, which had created much disunity and had staggered any progress in the educational field. On the other hand, schools run by the so-called "Protestant" missionary agencies were making great strides, particularly of the Scottish mission headed by Dr John Wilson which made a tremendous impact on the heart and mind of Bombay.

B.X. Furtado, therefore, had little option. In order to make a proper living he joined the Robert Money school, where he soon acquired a working knowledge of the English language. He must have been a good learner for he was soon absorbed into the teaching staff and taught at the primary level.

Furtado was a keen observer and was galled at the ease with which the authorities were indoctrinating pupils. He had already begun selling exercise books, pencils and erasers to students as a side-line. Now he threw in copies of elementary catechism to strengthen the little Catholic minds. This probably meeting disfavour, he went a step further and left, taking along with him all the Catholic pupils in the school.

With the blessing of the Jesuit, Fr Meurin, on 19 March 1860, he set up the St Francis Xavier Boys' Day-School, in Cavel–the very hub of Goan Catholic activity! The infant school soon picked up; and this prompted the Jesuits, after two years, to take over the institution keeping it at the same venue, retaining Furtado as the Writing Master. Later, on the erection of a fine building, this little school was incorporated into St Xavier's High School. B.X. Furtado is, therefore, openly acknowledged by the Jesuit Fathers in several anniversary brochures as the founder of St Xavier's High School and the College, which evolved later. Needless to say, these institutions marked the turning point in the resurgence of the community and added considerably to the general progress and advance of the city of Bombay.

Furtado's interest in education did not slacken and, as the college magazine reports, "When in 1882 a difficulty arose, in admitting grown-up boys from Goa into the lower classes of St Xavier's School on Carnac Road, the two brothers (B.X. Furtado and L.M. Furtado) came forward, and started what was afterwards known as the St Xavier's Branch school, which lasted until the completion of St Xavier's High School and enabled the authorities to incorporate this branch also with the school proper." The book-seller

While engaged in teaching B.X. Furtado continued selling stationery, holy pictures, rosaries and scapulars. As the Jesuit Fathers gave him much patronage, he set up a little shop in Cavel when the school moved away. This was the nucleus of the firm B.X. Furtado. The shop flourished, so B.X.F. started importing big porcelain statues for churches as well as solid gold chalices and ciboriums and gorgeous silken embroidered vestments for religious, ceremonial use. He even began selling music scores for sacred services.

In 1886, the firm B.X. Furtado, Kalbadevi Road, wass listed in the Times of India Calendar and Directory. Apparently, at some point its venue was changed. For some years, his younger brother, Luis Manoel, collaborated till he established himself independently as a neighbouring firm, in friendly rivalry. In 1914, the firm B.X. Furtado & Sons moved to its present site in the newly-constructed Jer Mahal Building at Dhobie Talao where, though under a different management, it continues to be an important landmark in the city of Bombay.

Leader of the community

Despite his thriving commercial responsibilities B.X.F. devoted much time and energy towards the social betterment of the community and has been acknowledged in his time as "one of the promoters and founders of most of the institutions, which today do credit to the Goan name". Among the numerous organisations, in which he played a decisive role, are the Associacao Goana do Mutuo Auxilio, the Instituto Luso Indiano, Sociedade de N.S. da Piedade, Igreja Nacional de Dabul, the Goan Union and the Indian Navigation & Trading Co. Invariably called to the Chair at mass meetings of the community, he was highly respected for his concern and integrity.

On one occasion, when a protest memo was sent in the name of B.X. Furtado as the chairman of an assembly of Bombay Goans to the Portuguese minister for colonies, it was rejected as coming from "a book-seller". Quick came the outraged formal response: "That a book-seller was unanimously considered competent to preside over an assembly consisting of distinguished physicians, journalists, merchants, employees holding high positions in important firms, clerks and others, in itself proves the esteem and regard in which Mr. B.X. Furtado is held."

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 and Goans of Kenya (released recently).