St. Lawrence Club: A home in Mumbai far away from their homes in Belle

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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Mumbai, 22 December 2010: On the occasion of the Centenary celebration of the foundation of the parish of Belle dedicated to St. Lawrence, it would be the right time to place on record the institutions that have shaped the lives of many of the parishioners in and outside Belle. Among these institutions, St. Lawrence Club that was established in Mumbai in 1918 stands out as an example of the efforts and determination of those veterans of Belle who provided for themselves a place of residence, a home in Mumbai far away from their own homes in their village and left a legacy where thousands of young men who had gone to the city of dreams and luck-Mumbai to live while working in different places till they could find alternate accommodation.


At the turn of the twentieth century, as the population of the undivided South Kanara district was on the increase and large families had to make a living primarily depending on agriculture, some young people decided to migrate to Mumbai, a fast growing city with ample employment opportunities. With the passage of time more and more people began to make their long journey to Mumbai as it became the chief centre of attraction.


As people left their homes and migrated to Mumbai leaving their families in their villages, they felt a need to live in cooperation. As they could not afford housing with their meager salary, a number of young people began to live together in small rooms known as ‘Kotris’ where they used to cook their own food and do their own household chores before going to work or after returning from work. As the number of inmates in these ‘Kotris’ increased, a need was felt to have rules and regulations to streamline the life in these groups and to enforce these rules and regulations administrators had to be chosen. In this way the prototype of the associations or clubs came into existences which were known as ‘kood’ in Konkani language meaning ‘room’. Gradually, such collective accommodations came to be known as ‘Clubs’. People coming from different parishes from South Kanara used to have their own associations or Clubs.


When the Belle parish was established in 1910, there was a considerable number of Belleans living and working in Mumbai. Among these, eight persons were living in the association named after Our Lady of Remedy in the Byramji Building at Byculla. However, due to differences of opinion, Paul Aranha of Belle was dismissed from the association. In order to show their solidarity the other seven members also resigned from the association. These eight members of Belle laid the foundation of an association in the name of the patron saint of their parish, St. Lawrence. Hence, the Original St. Lawrence Club was founded in 1918 in the Old Clock Building at Nagpada. The original rent of the accommodation was eight rupees.



The eight founder members of the original St. Lawrence Club were: Paul Aranha, Casmir Mathias, Nicholas Mathias, Gabriel Menezes, Simon Noronha, Louis D’Souza, Ignatius Mathias and Raymond Rebello. These eight founder members of the original St. Lawrence Club lived in the Old Clock Building for two years. As the number of members increased, they found the space inadequate and began to search for a larger accommodation. Charging each member a contribution of five rupees, in 1920, these members shifted to a larger place on the Sankli Street, Byculla for twelve rupees rent per month, each member paying one rupee per month. Here too the members stayed for two years and in 1922 as the number increased to forty they shifted to another larger place in the Mubarak building in front of the Sankli Street where the parishioners of Pangala (Shankerpura) and Shirva also had their clubs.


With an assurance of a living place in the strange city more and more young people from Belle began to migrate to Mumbai and sought membership in the original St. Lawrence Club. As the number of membership reached hundred, once again the managing committee of the club began to search for additional space and larger accommodation. This led to the shifting of the club to Pestomji Building in 1931 and from there to Ahmed Building in 1932 where the members stayed for seven years.


With the increase in number of members belonging to various regions with divergent views and opinions, differences between them was bound to arise. In 1931, due to differences on certain issues, twelve members left the association and founded their own club in the name of St. Lawrence in the Lakshmi Building on the Clare Road, Byculla. Eventually, these two clubs of Belleans in the name of St. Lawrence came to be known as ‘large club’ (Vodlem Kood) and ‘Small Club’ (Dhaktem Kood) respectively.



In 1939, in order to provided a larger accommodation to the increasing number of members of the original St. Lawrence Club, due to the efforts of Marcel Noronha and Balthazar Martis the full floor in the Pinto House on the Haines Road at Byculla was acquired. However, within six months of shifting to this new place, the British authorities ordered to vacate it place for the military purpose as the Second World War was in progress. Having no other alternative, the club was shifted to the Sajan Building at Nagpada. With the end of the Second World War in 1945, in 1946, the British Government allowed the members to shift back to the Pinto House on the Haines Road. From that time till now the original St. Lawrence Club is situated at this place.


When the Original St. Lawrence Club was shifted back to the Pinto House on the Haines Road in 1946, Marcel Noronha was the president of the club and continued till 1956. During these ten years of his tenure Marcel Noronha worked hard for the overall improvement of the club and led the members by his fine example of sincerity and dedication to work. He passed away on 28 October 1956 while still serving as the president of the original St. Lawrence Club.



The original St. Lawrence Club got another major jolt in 1959 on the issue of sending donation to the proposed building of St. Lawrence High School at Belle. At the monthly meeting in 1959 the letter from the parish priest of Belle at that time, Fr. Abundius D’Souza requesting donation from the members of the club was placed before the meeting. While the majority of the members approved a proposal to send donation, the vice president and his supporters objected to this proposal and the meeting ended without formally passing any resolution.


Having failed to pass the resolution in favour of sending donation to the new high school building unanimously, the president of the Club, Maurice Martis resigned from the post. The vice president objected to the election of a new president and took charge himself as the president without the approval of the members. In order to assert his authority, the new ‘president’ issued a notice saying that all the members should give in writing their permission to register the club and if they failed to submit these approval letters by the prescribed date, their names will be struck off from the register. He also appointed a committee comprising of ten members and began to administer the club.



Following these developments, on behalf of the majority of the members, Isidore Monis, Jerome Castelino and Francis D’Souza filed a case in the court which continued till 1962. In its order of 20 February 1962, the court decided that a general body meeting should be convened on 4 March 1962 and the members should elect new committee of their choice and the members should decide whether to register the club or not. In the general body meeting the members elected Babin Menezes as the president, J.B. Nazareth as vice president and Louis Lobo as secretary.


The new administrative committee issued a notice asking all those members who had not paid rent between 1959 and 1962 to pay the same within the fixed date. However, there were around forty members who were opposed to the new managing committee and they left the Original St. Lawrence Club and started their own club at Kurla, once again in the name of St. Lawrence. This was the third club of Belleans in the name of St. Lawrence.


It was quite a difficult task to normalize the administration of the Original St. Lawrence Club that was shattered during the three years of court battle. New rules and regulations were drafted in 1964 and the financial condition of the club was improved. Membership was provided to a large number of young men who had come to Mumbai in search of employment and the total number of membership crossed 500. However, all of the registered members were not residing in the club. Those who had married and could have their own accommodation did not stay at the club though they maintained their membership and attended regular meetings and paid monthly dues. Those who had retired and came back to Belle or their native villages also continued their membership in the hope of getting the ‘death fund’.



When I came to Mumbai in 1965, as I had no place to live, I became the member of the original St. Lawrence Club, where as my father and younger brothers were the members of the St. Lawrence Club at Lakshmi Building, Clare Road, Byculla. At that time the club was practically full with members finding it difficult to have a proper sleeping space. A number of members had wooden boxes lined in the main hall and the adjacent rooms which were used to keep their clothes, money and other valuables for security purpose. During the night these wooden boxes acted as beds. Many members used to spread their beddings on the floor, many even used to sleep on the terrace during summer. The club had its own kitchen run by some members where tea, coffee and meals were available at reasonable rates.


I still have vivid memories of my stay at the Original St. Lawrence Club between 1965 and 1971. Being the morning batch student of the KC College, Churchgate, I had to get up early in the morning and wait in the queue for the water to come at around 5 am for the bath. As soon as the water used to gush from the open pipe, three to four men used to rush into the bath-room and each in turn would wet their body, apply soap and have a final wash and rush out and make way for the next person. As I was working in the Metro Cinema, usually I used to come back to the club late in the night and many times finding no place to sleep, I used to find some gap between those who had already slept or in some corner to sleep. Though life was tough for everyone then, people were happy and cooperative and the club was the one place where everyone felt at home away from their home and family.


Members of St. Lawrence Club during Golden Jubilee


The Golden Jubilee of the original St. Lawrence club was celebrated on 19 January 1969 in the Gloria Church Hall, Byculla. At that time the managing committee comprised of Louis Lobo as president, Lawrence Castelino as vice president, Peter Paul Martis as secretary and Joseph Noronha as treasurer. Mr. Boman Behram, the Corporator of Mumbai Municipal Corporation was the chief guest for the Golden Jubilee function. On this occasion a skit titled “Haum Bomboy Paulom” written and directed by me was presented in which Edwin D’Souza, Joseph Mendonca and Henry Noronha and I acted.


Managing Committee - Golden Jubilee Celebrations


At the time of the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the foundation of the Original St. Lawrence Club, three of the members of the Club had become priests: Fr. Sebastian Sequeira of Belle, Fr. Charles Fernandes of Shirva and Fr. Daniel Lobo S.J. of Belle. Three members were studying in the seminary to be priests. They were: Br. Lawrence Lobo S.J. of Belle, Br. Albert D’Souza of Belle and Br. Francis Xavier of Palli. Among these seminarians, Br. Albert D’Souza, son of Emmanuel (Monnu Master) D’Souza, who had chosen Lucknow Diocese as his mission filed, first served as a priest and thereafter became the Bishop of Lucknow. Presently, Most Rev. Dr. Albert D’Souza is the Archbishop of Agra. Incidentally, the name of Archbishop Albert D’Souza is still on the list of the members of the Original St. Lawrence Club as the honorary member.


As the years passed more and more young educated boys from Belle who came in search of gainful employment in Mumbai sought the shelter in the club. Realizing the need to have proper status for the club, in 1981, the club was registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860. Thus, the Original St. Lawrence Club was renamed as ‘St. Lawrence Association of Belle’. By the time the St. Lawrence Association of Belle celebrated its Platinum Jubilee in 1993, there were over 1000 registered members in the association among whom more than 300 were working in the Gulf countries. At that time around 80 members were residing in the Pinto House at the Haines Road. In order to facilitate the continuation of membership of those who were unable to pay regular monthly contribution, the scheme of life membership for those who were abroad and native place was introduced in 1992.



The St. Lawrence Association of Belle celebrated Platinum Jubilee following the completion of 75 years of its foundation on 10 January 1993. During this celebration Remous D’Souza of Padubelle was the president and Wilfred D’Almeida of Padubettu was the secretary. In the same year, St. Lawrence Association of Belle became a member of the Federation of all Mangalorean Associations.


In 2010, the Original St. Lawrence Club is completing 92 years, eight years short of a century. Since the Platinum Jubilee in 1993 there had been a gradual downward swing in the number of resident members in the club. When I visited the club last year, I found elaborate security measures such as locks before entering the building at the ground floor and the entrance at the first floor where the residential area is located.


Last year there were only 20 resident members in the club. Gone are the days when every young man going to Mumbai was keen to have membership and residence in the club. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon. With better educational facilities available in native place most of the educated young boys try to go directly to Gulf countries or other countries where they can get better jobs. Since recent times many youngsters have made Bangalore their destination for employment and stay. Hence, the demand for membership in the clubs has been practically nil since few years.


Gilbert Nazareth - Present President


Gilbert Nazareth of Kalatthur, Shirva who is the present president of St. Lawrence Association of Belle says that as the maintenance and other expenses are more the existing resident members have to shell out more rent per month. Presently each one of the twenty members is paying Rs.225 as rent. He also lamented that a large number of non-resident members have not been paying even their nominal membership fees for years together. As a result it has become quite difficult to maintain the place. Gilbert Nazareth has made an appeal to all non-resident members that they can help in maintaining the club by clearing their outstanding dues as early as possible.


Anil Fernandes, who was the vice president of the club when I visited it last year, said that a time may come when the club may have to be closed down due to lack of support from the non-resident members. He feels that the club that was started nearly a century ago has given shelter to thousands of people from the native place when they required it most. In order to keep the club in existence the management has opened the doors of membership opened to parishioners from other neighbouring regions such as Shirva, Shankerapura, Pernal, Kanajar and Belman.



The present managing committee of the Original St. Lawrence Club is: Gilbert Nazareth-President, Herald Martis-Secretary and Loyal Aranha-Treasurer.


It is indeed sad to note that, St. Lawrence Association of Belle that had given shelter and succour to thousands of Bellenas in times of need in a strange and unfamiliar city like Mumbai is facing difficulties due to lack of resident members. This is the same case with many other associations and clubs in Mumbai. It seems that these clubs and parish association that were founded under particular circumstances have outlived their purpose now. As times have changed so also the importance and relevance of such institutions. However, as St. Lawrence Parish of Belle celebrates the centenary of its foundation, we should not forget those pioneer Belleans who took initiative and established an association for those young people coming from the native village in search of employment in Mumbai.



Comments on this Article
Francis Johnson Sanctis, Kinnigoli,mangalore Wed, October-27-2021, 8:51
I am an old member of your association(17years back).I just want to knw if i am still a member or been dismissed because i have not paid the minimum rent suppose to be paid.Can i get membership back if i pay the due? Please let me know.Thank you
William Nazareth, Permude Sun, August-10-2014, 8:11
A thought came to me of St Lawrence Club and I went on internet and came across this page.Very interesting read and I thank you for the time and effort you have spent on this emotional place of abode for numerous of our Mangalorean brothers. However, as I went through it, I did not find mention of St Lawrence Club which is at Jer Mahal, Dhobi Talao. My father and uncles were members of that St Lawrence Club. I used to visit that Club along with my father in early 1950 s. I was wondering why no mention is made of that Club. Was it independent of the clubs you have mentioned? Thank you once again.
WILFRED ALMEIDA, BELLE\BANGALORE Wed, February-23-2011, 9:30
St.lawrence Club was my first home when i landed in mumbai dream city. I learn lot of things in life from Cood.(discipline). I was got a opportunity to celebrate platinum Jubilee (75years). I wish all the best to the management to carry the good things. I have three suggestion one is please give one more chance to all dismissed members from club due to not paying their dues. Secondly please stop giving life membership to the members. So you can solve financial burden on residing members. Please appoint one representative in Belle(Boliye) to collect dues with latest due list. Koodachi ktliyi hoglik kelar pavana. SArvank Bore magtha. Thanks to DR.Eugine
IVAN, YEDMER Thu, December-23-2010, 8:22
Dr Norbert, Kattingere/ Mangalore Thu, December-23-2010, 8:14
Congratulations Dr Eugene. It is a very interesting article. It also made me nostalgic as I am also a member and was a resident in Dakte Kood for a brief stay. Koods have played a very significant role in the lives of thousands of aspiring and daring youth of parish and neighboring villages. But for them migration to Mumbai and then onwards to Gulf and other countries and consequent empowerment of hundreds of families in DK would not have possible. Happy to see my student and promising composer and musician Prashanth enjoying the Kood’s life. Let these Koods remain as a testimony for the vision and sacrifice of ealier migrants to Mumbai.
Edward Barboza, Kanajar / Auckland Wed, December-22-2010, 7:39
Thanks to Dr. Eugene for finding all the information. Very interesting to read the article and history of St. Lawrence Club.
Benedict C Menezes, Belle/Boston, MA USA Wed, December-22-2010, 7:26
Dear Dr. Eugene, I am very pleased to read almost a century old story of St. Lawrence Club, as it was called by that name during my stay between 1962 and 1971. Until today I didn\ t know That my grand father, Gabriel Menezes was one of the founding members of St. Lawrence Club. I am very thankful to you for bringing the history of St. Lawrence Club. Happy Holidays. -Benny
Philip Mudartha, Qatar Wed, December-22-2010, 9:12
After 40 years, I see my eldest brother Antony' s visage, of 28 yrs then, one among the managing committee members of Golden Jubilee Celebrations. It is an emotional gift to me, Dr. Eugene. I held a dim view of these clubs and vowed never to be a member, resident or non-resident, during the four years I was based in the city. Let me explain. The , koodam rendered matchless service. It secured a roof over shelter-less, penniless and often jobless emigrant youngsters. In 1974, advised by Cha. Fra, I toured dozens of them, including all three Bellean Koodam, to write a cover story for Udev . While researching for that story, I had some insights into the emotions, values, vices and behaviors of young men living in cramped and, I would say, unhygienic spaces. Most acquitted themselves well. Some didn' t. Those failed biased me. Looking back, as they are dying, I view them favorably as part of our history and tradition in the city. That is why I was waiting for this story. To be frank, months ago, a thought came to my mind to request you to publish a story on the subject. My untold wish is fulfilled.
IVAN, YEDMER Wed, December-22-2010, 8:48
Dear Gilbert we love you all as a presedent in Belle St.Lawrence Association. It is with my great pleasure to announce that i am a old member and brother of Maurice,Bostu,Vally and Dennis.keep it association id 901.You know iam in gulf U.A.E.just let me know about my fees in association.I wil pay by on line.Ivan. united arab emirates.00971507134960.
Francis L. Lobo, Belle Wed, December-22-2010, 2:02
The Saint Lawrence clubs has provided @ providing comforts for lot of Boleagars who used to come fresh from village .Yes it is worth remembering during the time of centenary celebrations.But the time has been changed now still clubs will continue by the grace of God @ St Lawrence our patron.Thanks for coverge from Belle vision Dr. Eugine.
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