When churches across the city closed doors during the pandemic years, a Catholic priest from Malwani, Malad, gave voice to the anguish of the faithful who were denied access to a refuge they had always sought during life’s vagaries.
Father Victor Dalmet's unique mission
Father Victor Dalmet is an assistant priest at St Anthony’s Church in Malwani, an institution that can trace back its history to AD 1630. While his main job is to tend to the spiritual needs of church members, he writes sings and composes songs in the East Indian dialect of Marathi, a language spoken in villages around Vasai, Manori-Gorai in Mumbai, and some parts of Raigad district. The dialect is influenced by the Portuguese who had established Roman Catholic missions and churches in the area in the 16th century.
One of Father Dalmet’s songs, Devlachi Dar, was composed during the epidemic when doors of most churches were closed and public religious services were banned. Father Dalmet’s voice represented the anguish of the faithful who could not attend the church. The song was about people longing for the Eucharist, a Christian ritual that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, said Father Dalmet. The Eucharist is one of the sacraments in the church and is usually a public service.
“The song talked about the importance of the Eucharist and how people missed it,” said Father Dalmet. “We get energy when we enter the church. The church is a refuge during difficulties in life. During the epidemic you could no longer go there and take part in the services. A disease should not force us to close the church. The song was a people’s prayer for churches to open,” said Father Dalmet, who has served as a priest for nearly 25 years.
The East Indian dialect
Preserving the East Indian dialect as its habitat gets absorbed by surrounding cities is Father Dalmet’s passion – a work that has been recognised by the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP), the apex organisation of the community, which recently gave him the ‘East Indian Priest of the Year’. A native of Uttan, near Bhayandar, Father Dalmet attended a college in Vasai before joining the seminary. He said that he sang at college festivals and even entered a singing competition that was conducted online during the pandemic. Most of his songs have a religious theme and are available on YouTube.
Gleason Barretto of the MGP said that the community was grateful to Father Dalmet for his efforts in promoting their culture and traditions. “When religion is used to protect culture it has more effect. Father Dalmet’s melodious and meaningful East Indian songs strive to keep the authenticity of our community alive,” said Barretto, who added that their dialect was facing a decline with many families switching to English and other languages, but there has been recent efforts to revive it. The MGP is currently working on the second edition of a dictionary that will document the dialect’s grammar and vocabulary.
Singing for services
Bosco Patel, MGP village coordinator of Malad said that Dalmet often uses his singing skills during religious services. "He uses his singing skills in the church by singing the parts on Mass," said Patel.
Zenobia Gracias, Kharodi Gaothan coordinator of MGP Malad Unit, said, "Father Victor has been a versatile entertainer and is a testament to his unwavering passion for music. He continues to captivate audiences with his mellifluous voice. He has inspired a generation of aspiring singers, leaving an indelible impact on the evolving landscape of East Indian music"