Life as it was in Poinsur – An East Indian Village

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My mother’s mother, mama was a Rebello from ‘that village’ who married papa who was a Fonseca from ‘this village’ and Mom a Fonseca from ‘this village’ married Dad a Rebello from ‘that village’. Where were these East Indian villages? In Poinsur, in Mumbai, India.

We didn’t grow up living in the village itself, but a few meters away from it. But we always visited ‘Papa’s House’ or ‘Home Sweet Home’ until it made way for a building. It was fun visiting and staying there, playing games and treasure hunts all over and around the house, and also on top of it. There were a lot of trees and plants in the compound on all sides. Moringa or Drumstick tree, Custard apple trees, Jambu tree (you know the ones we make love apple pickle with), Ashoka trees, Portia tree, Papaya and Banana trees, Lime trees, Curry leaf trees and so many more…

Outside view of a bungalow and some trees
Papa’s House
Outside picture an east Indian bungalow in Poinsur.
Home Sweet Home at Poinsur
A man and woman on the balcony of an East Indian bungalow.
Christmas at Home Sweet Home

We used to climb the Drumstick tree and Custard apple tree to get onto the roof and collect the Portia flowers and buds. Sometimes we even used the staircase and cling to the wall near the ledge to get there. The buds were then used to make ‘rasna’ and offer our guests other than the chapatis made of leaves. Fun times!

3 kids on the roof of an East Indian bungalow.
Us playing on the roof

Our parents and grandparents grew up in Poinsur village. This is where we belong. In school, I remember being asked where’s your native place and I would say here or Bombay. And would get a strange look from the other kids, because they were all from other areas of the state and their reply usually was – you don’t have a native place?

This village and that village is how we address it in conversations about people or houses from either side of the river. It’s basically the same village with the ‘Poinsur river’ flowing through it and has East Indian bungalows and houses on both banks. The village is not the same as it used to be as most of the old bungalows have been re-developed into buildings, but parts of the village still remain.

This is a pic of our grandfather Leslie Fonseca or ‘Papa’ as we called him standing under the Poinsur bridge way back then.

A young Boy standing next to a river and bridfe.
Papa at Poinsur or Poisar river bridge

And here he is swimming in the Poinsur river. See how clean it was!

A young boy in a river with trees around.
Papa swimming in Poinsur river

Even dad says that when he was young they would go fishing and swim in the river too. Dad, his brothers’ uncles Rolly and Romeo, and granddad Felix would fish in Poinsur river with circular nets. After the monsoons, the first fish you would get is mori (shark), then mashias, then chunas, shingala (catfish), also varas and carcutlas.

And my Aunt Mary says she and her cousin (Auntie Muffy) would go to the river to play and collect tiny fish with handkerchiefs in glass jam jars and aunties from the village would also come to wash clothes. That sounds so different from the way things are now. I guess the river was pretty clean until the late 60’s or early 70’s. Nowadays, it’s more like a large gutter because of all the filth that’s in it. Look at the river now and you wouldn’t dare enter it.

A lot of the Poinsur East Indians had land around Kandivli. My grandfather was an agriculturist or farmer or ‘Kunbi’ or ‘Kulbis’ as they were known. He owned land and had huge fields and would grow paddy or rice crops and also vegetables like onions and so on. His fields also had a lot of Mango and Targola trees and had bullocks to sow the fields. Mom remembers they used to play around the hay bales when they were young. I remember going to the farm for picnics and drinking toddy, or seeing my brother and dad swim with the frogs in the well. Those were fun times!

Below is a pic of my uncle Alroy at the erstwhile farm in Kandivali East with bullocks. This was back in the 80s. This area is now the famous Thakur village and Thakur Complex. And nope, one would think they got rich by selling all the land, but they didn’t. My grandparents and many other Kulbis had to sell their land because of our government’s Land Ceiling Act in the 1960’s and they barely got anything out of it. If only they had managed to hold on to the land a little longer, our lives would have been quite different.

2 men and a bullock cart on fields with targola trees.
Uncle at the fields in the 80’s

Ariel from the Poinsur village also tells of how he remembers the Poinsur home the veranda, the swim in the River Palm wine at the fields with Ally. He says our Papa and his Dad would share the bullocks to plow the fields. His dad would also work part-time for our Papa sometimes. A lot of wonderful memories.

A young couple standing in front of some trees and mountains.
Mama and Papa at the fields circa 1950s
A young couple on fields with targola trees.
Mom and dad at the fields circa 1970s

A lot of family picnics were had there, those were the good old days. Below is a pic of mom’s and dad’s family at Papa’s fields after they were married.

A group of people posing for picture with targola trees in the back.
Family picnic at the fields

The church feast was a really big event back in the day. Our church is Our Lady of Remedy in Poinsur. My great grandfather Joseph Braz Fonseca or ‘Braz Patil’ as he was called, who was the Patil of the village would have a grand feast. People from Bandra and surrounds would come by Bullock carts or Horse carriages to celebrate our church feast held on the 1st Sunday of May every year.

Mom and her cousins would all gather at Papa’s house to help with the food preparation. All yummy East Indian dishes. Mom tells of how they – her, Auntie Chrissy, and other cousins used to help by cutting the stir-fried pork into cubes for sarpatel, while also munching on some.

A Horse carriage with a rider and a passenger and another person.
Papa in a Horse Carriage

Did you know it is a Padroado church built by the Portuguese in 1555 and it is now 466 years old. It should technically have a heritage status as one of the oldest churches of Bombay. Apparently, this is a newer structure, and there was an even older church in the 15th century which was located where Punit Nagar now is.

A plaque with information about Our Lady of Remedy church.
Our Lady of Remedy Church, 466 yrs in 2021

Mama (mom’s mom) used to tell us that as an infant she was very sickly and they didn’t know if she would live or not. So when she turned 1 year old, her Grandfather Anthony Rebello donated some land to the church, and that is when the Our Lady of Remedy School began in 1926. Here’s her in the 1950s in front of the Remedy church, Poinsur with my Uncle Denzil circa 1952.

A woman and baby outside a church.
Mama outside Our Lady of Remedy Church 1952

Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, and a lot of the villagers too have since then attended school here, including us.

My other Great grandfather Joseph Frank Rebello was secretary to Kaka Baptista and he also did his part in helping India’s Freedom struggle against the British. Since he was well-versed in English, he used to draft and write the letters that were sent to the British.

He had built a big grotto opposite the parochial house in 1933. It was huge and made of boulders that the kids of that generation used to play and sit on and around.

Below is a pic of uncle Trevor in front of the old grotto in February 1958 at 6 yrs old during the Lourdes Centenary celebrations; you can see the celebratory banner above and a recent pic in front of the re-built grotto.

Picture of a kid and a man in front of a grotto in Poinsir.
Then and now in front of the grotto
A plaque of an inscription on a grotto in Poinsur..
An enlarged image of the plaque on the grotto

Below is a pic of his wife, Hilda Josephine Rebello, my great grandmother in a traditional East Indian Saree. She was born in Persia (now Iran) as her father Dr. Sebastian Rebello was a doctor working there for many years. They moved back to India when she was around 7 or 8 yrs old.

A woman in an Eeast Indian Saree near a window,
Great-grandmom in an East Indian Saree

This post is still a work in progress. I’m going to write more about great-grandmom Hilda, and about the grandparents on dad’s side of my family, and about life in Poinsur as and when I can. But if you want to share any stories about your life in Mumbai of Old, just email me at [email protected]

Pinterest image about life in Poinsur village, Mumbai, India.
Pinterest image about my life in Poinsur village, Mumbai, India.

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