“Namak” and “Navi” Visitors of Mumbai

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On lazy Sunday evenings when the crimson sun is setting, you may find a few cars lolling leisurely around the salt pans of Wadala, Dahisar, Mankhurd or Ghatkopar in Mumbai. These “Navi” or new visitors would invariably be accompanied by their children.

Moving here and there in the “Agar” or salt pans where you find heaps of “Namak”, these well dressed ones with their smart kids are totally misfit among the half-clad salt makers and their bare bodied children. Yet, they are integrally associated with them.

These “Navi” visitors to salt pans, as Agaris term the NRI’s, comes to Mumbai every year from different parts of the world. It is a necessity for them to come to salt pans in search of their roots with their children. Their ancestors were all salt makers. The Agris!

Those who migrated abroad after 1992-93 mostly are software/hardware specialists, MBA’s and medical professionals. But those Konkani Agris migrating in early 1970’s took up their ancient business: salt trade. In fact, salt trade is in their blood.

Why not? Centuries ago, the Agris living in Palghar, Rai, Pen, Wadala, Thane and Raigarh areas in or around Mumbai traded salt with ancient Romans, Arabians and Egyptians. Some of them still run salt-business from their “Navi” countries where they migrated decades ago.

The overseas migration pattern of Agri community is very interesting. While the highly educated, technically qualified and professionally adept  migrated mostly to USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and Germany, those spreading over to Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Malaysia run salt-trade.

In fact, the Agri migration had started way back in 1880 from Konkan belt (Mumbai, Goa, Gujarat, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Haveli mainly to the East Africa during European colonial period. They were migrant labourers working in railway construction sites, orchards, plantations and road construction.

During Idi Amin’s rule in Uganda, they were forced to leave for other African and European countries. The UK and Canada attracted a large number of them.

The Arabian Sea of Mumbai means much for Agris. For them, it is not simply a vast bucket of saline waters but an everlasting source of  molten “Chandi” (silver). It is the saline water that crystalizes to produce salt. And they trade the salt gfor “Chandi”: money.

The Agri-NRIs may have settled overseas for decades with their children cannot even speak or understand Konkani Marathi, but they show extreme inclination towards the salt pans. One can find the parents telling their smaller ones about the mythological sage Parashuram that concerns the Agri-clan.  

The little NRIs are told about the Mumba Devi, the ancient village deity of Mumbai. The elder Agri-NRIs would tell the children about how their clan once was spread all across the Seven Islands that later on came to be known as Mumbai.

Most of the Konkani Agris who migrated abroad are from Ghatkopar, Chembur, Wadala, Kanjurmarg, Turbhe, Dahisar, Mulund, Mira Road, Bhyander and Nahur of Mumbai.

The Agri salt traders settled abroad still take pride in saying that India received a salty-salute from USA in December 2002 when the country dispatched 32,500 tonnes of common salt to USA: the world’s largest producer of Sodium Chloride or salt. Though USA is one of the main producers of salt, in 2002 the country’s salt production had fallen down suddenly.

Every Agri NRI takes pride is saying that they are proud to be associated with mighty sage Parashuram. Parashuram once had grown angry with the Arabian Sea and wanted to throw it back. The Agri women appealed him not to do it.

The sage’s anger melted. He agreed to throw back the sea by 27 miles. This particular area came to be known as Konkan.

Another legend says the sage Agasti had two sons: Agla and Mangla. The sage Agasti told Agla to support him and his family by manufacturing from waters of the Arabian Sea. The Agris claim they are the descendants of Agla.

The Agri marriage ceremony is really a fun with the women and men dancing in their traditional centuries old Konkani style. It is an unwritten constitution for the Konkani Agri NRIs to come to Mumbai in particular and Maharashtra as a whole to join such marriages from wherever they are.

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