Many cultures in Mangalore live alongside each other, each with its own distinct religion, traditions, language, cuisine, music and culture.

Christmas mass at St. Lawrence church in Bondel, a neighborhood in Mangalore

Religion is the most common classifier people use to refer to each other.  It drives every aspect of life in Mangalore; language, customs, traditions, and the general way of life. The majority of Mangalore is Hindu, followed by Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. Each community has its own distinct language; the Tuluva Bunts speak Tulu, Gowda Saraswat Brahmins speak Kannada, Catholics speak Konkani and the Anglo-Indians speak English.

Four generations of women in my family

One of the cultural aspects I admire about Mangalore is how multi-lingual Mangaloreans are! Almost every child raised in Mangalore learns to read, write and speak at least four languages; Tulu, Kannada, Konkani and Hindi. And if you’re fortunate enough to get a good education, add English to that list! These languages are not enforced upon children in school; everyone just learns them from having friends from different communities. It’s a marvel to see people in Mangalore weave seamlessly between among different languages.

Fisherwoman at Kankanady market where my grandma would go everyday

Take for instance my grandmother Ena’s daily morning ritual of the trip to the local fish market. She would haggle in Tulu with the fisherwomen, then switch to Kannada with the guy at local bakery, and then chat in Konkani with a friend she met on her way back home. I didn’t quite care about all of this as a child, but now that I’m trying learn a new language (German) myself, I’m amazed and very envious!

My grandparents at church celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary!

I belong to the Mangalorean Catholic community — we are Catholic and our last names are mostly Portuguese because Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer landed here in the 15th century. He was followed by several traders, merchants and missionaries from Portugal and Spain, all of whom made Mangalore their temporary home and no doubt influenced the local culture, religion and language. This is the reason my last name is Portuguese. My mother’s maiden name was Fernandes, my grandmother’s was Sequeira, and so on. There are several Catholic institutions all over India, but especially in Mangalore; mostly schools and hospitals were founded by missionary priests and nuns.

I was born in Father Mueller’s hospital in Kankanady, seen in this picture below, which was founded by a German missionary Catholic priest named Fr. Mueller in 1880. Today, it is one of the most trusted, philanthropic healthcare institutions in Mangalore.

Fr. Mullers hospital in Kankanady, where I was born

And below is a picture of St. Agnes University, a Catholic educational institution for girls. Generations of Mangaloreans have studied here and it’s somewhat of a tradition for mothers, their mothers and their mother’s mothers to study here!

St. Agnes College, one of the major higher-ed institutions for women in Mangalore.