Among the many communities who have made Mumbai their home over the decades are the Bhagnaris, who originate from Balochistan and date their presence in this city to the Partition. With a majority of this community, comprising around 150 families, settled in Kataria Colony in Shivaji Park, the Bhagnari community, which was displaced during the Partition, is often lazily clubbed together with the Sindhis.
“Kataria colony is named after Takandas Kataria, who built the colony in 1961 and was instrumental in helping the community settle in Mumbai,” said Ramesh Poplay, the 64-year-old vice-president of the Shree Bhagnari Panchayat. According to Hari Nasta, one of the members of this community, they were originally inhabitants of twin villages Bhag and Nar in the plains of southern Balochistan. Being very involved in trade and business activities in a Muslim-dominated region, many from this community migrated to other regions including Punjab and Sindh in search of better opportunities.
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Many eventually settled down in the port city of Karachi at least 100 years before Partition. “Among the ones who migrated after Partition, many community members came to Mumbai,” said Poplay. The community’s panchayat has its first recorded history going back to 1930. The panchayat, currently headed by president Lachu Gehi, works for the welfare of its members, matrimonial network and is involved in bringing the community together. Poplay says that the language spoken by the community is Saraiki, a common dialect in Pakistan.
“Elder members of the community speak the language. Youngsters can understand it but they mostly do not speak it. We are making attempts to retain it in our youth. We have put up a dictionary on our website with common words and usage with an English translation. We also recently launched a mobile App called the Bhagnari dictionary. The language does not have a script and can be written in Arabic or Devanagri,” explained Poplay.
Another recent project of the community was put together by youngsters like Rishika, who works as a teacher. “While we love the food cooked by our elders, not many of us know how to make it. I had drawn up a list of members of the community who made the best of our signature dishes and recorded the process for a cookbook,” she says. The book, available on their website, has 44 dishes including Khatti Dal, which the members say is a unique offering by the community.
Poplay says that visits by any of its members living across the world to their ancestral abode in Karachi still evokes nostalgia. “We know of localities including Bhagnaripada, Mithadar and Kharadar, where our community members lived in the past. Much of it has changed since then and we are told the areas have been converted into commercial spaces,” he said.