In the heart of Mumbai’s satellite town Kalyan, commotion across the web of narrow alleys comes to a halt at about one’o clock in the afternoon. It’s time for the inhabitants, almost all of them Konkani Muslims, to head to the nearest mosque to offer prayers.
The Konkani Muslims of Kalyan form an indigenous community tracing its origins to the Arabian merchants that landed here in the 13th century. “Back then, Kalyan was a busy port that invited a number of merchants,” says Mohammed Ismat Abdul Qadir Bubere (77), one of the oldest inhabitants of the community and it’s sole Maulana.
Not many know of this largely mercantile community’s long history of maritime trade, and the existence of a vibrant and self-sufficient Konkani Muslim settlement in Kalyan. “A majority of the earliest inhabitants were involved in fish and spice trade. There were a few who cultivated and traded salt as well,” says Bubere.
Saad Kazi (66), a businessman, claims that the community’s history actually dates back to the 10th century. “Our ancestors were all businessmen, and our religious practices are similar to those of others along India’s western coast as well as in Indonesia. All these belts came under the influence of Arabian traders in the 13th century, and saw large-scale conversion,” he claims.
Circa 2016. About 100 such families continue to promote the community’s tradition. The areas not inhabited by them — Dudh Naka, Chaudhari Mohalla, Namak Bunder, Ghas Bazaar, Machchi Bazaar, Khaati Meethi Lane, Parsi Galli and Allama Iqbal Chowk — collectively form what was previously known as the Kalyan Kot, a fortress built by the Mughal minister who gave the town its name. These areas have around 15 mosques in all. While some locals claims that the Kali Masjid, built in 1605, was the first one to be built, Bubere contests this, arguing that the Baddu Ali Masjid came first.
“People have been offering prayers at the Baadu Ali Masjid since 1288,” he says, adding “Had history taken a different course, the Dargah of scholar Makhdoom Ali Mahimi (the famous Mahim Dargah in Mumbai) would have come up in Kalyan. He adds, “Mahimi, a Konkani Muslim from Kalyan, was taken away by his mother to Mahim after his father’s death. Later, the scholar, who wrote the exegesis of Q’uran, was buried in Mahim.”
But the place has its share of rich history. Some of the old houses, which have stood the test of time, depict the rich Mughal and Maratha heritage. Tanki Manzil, perhaps the most iconic of the lot, is about 200 years old. Nearby is another heritage structure, the Dhure Manzil. Stained glass windows and arched entrances, which draw inspiration from Mughal architecture, typify these houses.
The surnames of community members are unique. The commonly found ones include Tanki, Farid, Mirsinge, Sutar, Bubere, Phalke, Madni, Dhure, Don and Qazi. “The surnames are unique to our community and have been derived either from our ancestral profession or place of origin,” said Moin Don, another resident.
Over the years, community members have moved on to dairy and sand dredging businesses. Owning land in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region has also helped some members prosper.
The community’s biggest bane, however, is a high illiteracy rate. “There were no schools in Kalyan till 1956. Those of us who wished to study had to go to either Bhiwandi or Mumbai. The limited access to school meant several parents discouraged their children from taking up formal education,” says Bubere. Sharfudding Karte (60) cites another reason for the low literacy levels. “Earlier, there was a mindset that only those in need for a job need education. Since most of our families owned businesses, the importance of education was underestimated.” Karte is the President of Majlis-e-Mushavrin Masajid-Vo-Aukaf, Kalyan, a trust that looks after six mosques in the locality.
“It was only in 1956 when the area got its first school, which was built by the then corporator Hassan Tanki,” says Kashif Tanki, who is the belt’s current corporator. “While he (Hassan) set up the National Urdu High School, his son, Mohammed Haneef, expanded it later.” But better educational access these days has also meant that the community’s work profile is undergoing a transition. “Among the newer generations, we are seeing many engineers, doctors, chartered accountants and journalists,” said Moin Don, who is the secretary of a non-government organisation, Fallah-E-Aam.
The locals complain that the region suffers from the lack of infrastructure development. “When it rains, we have flooding and potholes everywhere. The roads are littered with waste,” says Saad. But he claims that the community may also have itself to blame. “Every time there is talk of development, citizens oppose it citing damage to their houses and graveyards,” he adds.
The area is strewn with graveyards, all family-owned. “We bury our dead in the family graveyards. These are private pieces of land donated by families,” said Sharfuddin. The trust also facilitates the burial of unclaimed bodies found between Kasara and Diva.”However, there is an acute shortage of burial land. We have to repeat the spots every three-four months,” adds Sharfuddin. He wants the municipality to allot more space to serve as burial grounds.