The Dawoodi Bohras and the Khoja community generally speak Gujarati language and have a long legacy behind them. Both are rather tightly knit communities, who enjoy keeping to their affairs private, though we got to speak to a Dawoodi Bohra, Zehra Chhapiwala, a researcher who currently works with the Goa State Department of Archaeology.The Gujarati speaking Muslims
The Dawoodi Bohras first set sail from Yemen to Gujarat, in concurrence with the Parsis and from there they moved to Mumbai and then Goa, thus they speak Gujarati, with an Arabic influence, and are a trading community who are into construction, mining, manufacturing, printing, boutiques and restaurants. “I know of an aunty who is in her 60’s now, she had come here when she was a child, we consider her the first family who settled in Calangute,” says Zehra.
In the last survey conducted, the Bohras numbered about 1.2 million people worldwide with their Indian spiritual leader based in Mumbai – the commercial capital. “My husband had been living in Chhapi in Gujarat and I come from Sidhpur. Upon a visit to Goa, he realised the potential of trade here and since then he has been living here for close to 19 years. I joined him 16 years ago,” says Zehra.
The Bohras making it convenient to meet during Ramzan and Muharam, decided to gather and settle in one place. “When we have a few houses together, there is someone who is an administrative head, now we have our Goa head and many families living in a colony in Succoro. Four building there belong to the Dawoodi Bohra community where one building has been turned into a residence for our head, place of worship and community centre to congregate,” says Zehra. The Bohras are a progressive community, where women are given equal rights and they don’t wear the black burkhas.
The tightly knit community believes in community dining. “I think down the line there has been a lot of Gujarati influence in our food with local spices, and ingredients. We do eat a certain dish, dal chawal palidu – a vegetarian dish, from the tur dal and gravy, a staple dish; and the sojinu – a rice and dry fruits dish. We often eat together in a thaal; we first wash our hands, eat a pinch of salt to clear our tongue and prepare our tastebuds for what is going to come,” says Zehra.
They have even set up a community kitchen, so that everyone can have access to good food, whether you are rich or poor.
About adapting to the lifestyle, Zehra says that apart from the parties and nightlife, the Bohras have adapted themselves quite well to the Goan lifestyle “It is a Gujarati thing to adopt, they are flexible but they keep their culture and flavours. We all have a way of life that is ‘aman pasand, jaman pasand’ peace loving and food loving. We want peace to carry on our trade and are loyal to the country or place that we live in.” And Goa has given them this freedom and made them feel so much at home that Zehra says it is very difficult to find a person who wants to leave the state.