Mumbai: Efforts Underway To Preserve Declining East Indian Or Vasai Marathi Dialect

Mumbai: Efforts Underway To Preserve Declining East Indian Or Vasai Marathi Dialect

The group, mostly composed of amateur researchers, hopes to publish the second and revised edition of the East Indian Dictionary by the end of this year.

Azhar Khan Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Thursday, March 14, 2024, 09:20 PM IST
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Efforts Underway To Preserve Declining East Indian Or Vasai Marathi Dialect |

Mumbai: Long before Mumbai became a metropolis, the region where the city expanded had fishing and farming villages, many of which spoke a dialect of Marathi influenced by Portuguese, Konkani, and English. The dialect, called East Indian' or Vasai Marathi, is now declining, if not in danger of extinction altogether.

A group from Mumbai is documenting unique words and phrases in the dialect as the number of speakers, now mostly senior members of the community, declines. The group, mostly composed of amateur researchers, hopes to publish the second and revised edition of the East Indian Dictionary by the end of this year.

The dictionary is part of the project by the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat, a group representing the original inhabitants of the Mumbai region, to preserve and document their culture and language. The group also plans to petition the government to nominate a representative in the government.

Amarylisa Gonsalves, a journalist and a student of media, is editing the dictionary. Much of the research is based on interviews with senior people who are often the only East Indians fluent in the dialect.

The Portuguese influence in the dialect is explained by the fact that the community, originally Koli, Agri, Bhandari, and other castes, were converted to Roman Catholicism by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Vasai, now the community's main hub, was part of a Portuguese colony before it fell to the Marathas.

The book will have a glossary of East Indian words and phrases, in Roman and Devanagari scripts, and their translation in English.

The dialect has many words that have roots in Portuguese. For instance, the community uses 'Ramacha Pass' to describe the Palm Sunday processions before Good Friday. Gonsalves said, "I have heard the words as a child and wondered if it had any connection to Hindu God Rama. As I researched I found that the Portuguese word for branches is Ramo. And the Portuguese word for steps is pass, " said Gonsalves, referring to the biblical episode where Christ is welcomed with waving branches of the palm tree by residents of Jerusalem.

Another word that is peculiar to the dialect is 'sukhala' used by old speakers when they raised a toast. Gonsalves said it is the East Indian word for 'cheers' or 'to health/prosperity'. In this case, the word is similar to the word for happiness in Marathi, Hindi, or Sanskrit.

Like many other languages and dialects spoken by relatively small populations, East Indian Marathi, which is spoken in the coastal villages of Palghar, Thane, and Raigad districts, and Mumbai, is declining in use. Community members said that the younger generation is not very familiar with the dialect, preferring to use English, Hindi, or standardised Marathi to converse. Royston D'Silva, an events manager who writes and sings songs in the dialect, is an exception. D'Silva learned it because his parents conversed with him in the language. "I was more responsive when they spoke to me in the dialect. Otherwise, they used English to talk to each other," said D'Silva. Also, the use of standard Marathi words has nearly obliterated their East Indian counterparts. For instance, while younger generations call a chair 'kursi', older East Indians use the word 'kadair', derived from the Portuguese 'cadeira'. While a 'window' in standard Marathi is 'khidki', the East Indian equivalent is 'zanel' from Portuguese 'janel'.

"The East Indian Dictionary release has been planned to promote and preserve the East Indian language. The experience with the first edition has helped us to plan the second with more features which will be a great reference to all who want to learn the dialect," said Gleason Barretto, ideator and founder editor of the dictionary. The words for 'mother' and 'father' in East Indian are 'mai' and 'pai', compared to 'aai' and 'baba' in standard Marathi.

Gonsalves said that while the dictionary is being compiled by a group of amateur researchers, there are plans to involve linguists at a later stage. There are plans to teach the dialect to young people.

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