Nearly 100 and going strong

Arvind Gadvi

Four years from now, the retail outlet M/s Dundappa Ishwarappa Gadvi turns 100. Nudging it is the Hotel Mandovi, one of Panjim’s old-world landmarks; across the road, the State Bank of India, Delhi Durbar and a cluster of other business enterprises. This is the heart of Panjim’s commercial hub and the Gadvis are very much a part of the trade history that created it.

It is assumed that over two lakh Kanna­digas have settled in Goa or are emplo­yed in this state today. The Gadvis are one of the earliest pioneers of that trend. It beg­an with Dundappa Ishwarappa Gadvi’s older brother Basappa trading in goods from Daddi, near Belgaum to Goa. Owners of over 100 bulls, the Gadvi family had an obvious edge over the competition bringing supplies by bullock- cart from Karnataka to Portuguese Goa. By the turn of the 20th century Dundappa’s Goa business was up and running. Grains, oil, sugar, flour and tobacco came via Daddi, coconuts, betel nut and salt went from here.
They settled first in Bicholim, and as Arvind Gadvi recalls, his grandfather
donated half the house to start the Shanta Durga High School there. “The school’s only teacher had to be brought in from Sawantwadi and was paid in kind, with accommodation and a year’s worth of rations,” he says

The proximity of the city docks became crucial to the business, and by 1915 the Dundappa Ishwarappa Gadvi company found a permanent address in Panjim. “Till the Liberation (in 1961) we and the Baddappa Palekars were the only two Kannadiga families here. Now there are more than two lakh Kannadigas settled in Goa,” Arvind Gadvi says, disdainful of newcomers who have profited from Goa’s real estate boom with little regard to business ethics.

Behind Arvind Gadvi sits a huge Godrej safe. At the height of India’s economic blockade against Portuguese Goa, the  Indian safe had to be imported from Singapore. Like all traders in Goa, the Gadvis’ supply lines were disrupted by the Indian action.

A history of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry says: “The Goan
business community had to, all of a  sudden, face a supply crisis, when the Government of India, in August 1954, imposed an economic blockade against Goa. The Chamber had to take an immediate action in the matter in order that the supply of essential commodities which were, till then, imported from neighbouring markets was maintained through imports. The Chamber also put in strenuous efforts to find suitable alternative markets for export of local commodities like coconuts, areca nuts and salt. A shipping service was arranged to ply between Mormugao and Karachi. When Bombay dock workers boycotted steamers carrying goods destined for Goa, the Chamber had to arrange with Portuguese shipping lines to touch Aden from where they could collect goods in transit to Mormugao.”

“Even potatoes were shipped in from Holland in slotted wooden crates, maida was brought in from Canada and tea from Sri Lanka,” Arvind Gadvi remembers clearly his father Bassappa getting the goods through the Vasco clearing agent.

As diplomatic relations between India and Portugal collapsed and the freedom movement accelerated, Portugal placed restrictions on the entry of Indians into Goa. On March 26, 1954 Nehru imposed visa restrictions on Goans traveling to the rest of India. A thick file in Gadvi’s Godrej cupboard imported through Singapore bears testimony to this India-Portugal diplomatic stand-off over Goa.

The Gadvis had to acquire passports and visa documents both from the Portu­guese authorities and the Government of India. And all they wanted was to travel between here and their ancestral home in Belgaum occasionally. The journey back had to be made via Karwar and on to Sadashivgad ferry crossing. A taxi would bring them to the Goa border at Polem which had to be crossed over by foot.

“We were very well treated by the  Portuguese. On the contrary, it was the
Indian side that gave us a lot of trouble,” says Arvind. With Goa’s Liberation came the tide of “deputationists” (government officials deputed to Goa from other states) and the Gadvi residence in Fontain has turned into a sanctuary for new Kannadiga arrivals desperate for vegetarian food in Goa. Though Arvind Gadvi feels “far more Goan than Kannadiga,” Goa has not converted him to fish curry. His Great Dane too remained vegetarian till the end.

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