3 - 5 Palace Gate in 1975, Photo: London Metropolitan Archives. © City of London.
By Navyn Naran
it was home away from home
the only place you could plant your feet
and know you belonged;
5 Palace Gate, 1970s
before ’57 it was at Kensington Court
Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah’s memoirs
a photo with young Ismaili children
and parents who envisioned
a better life for them
now, for us,
usurped from our ‘homes’ and familiarity,
a strong building, white columns outside.
a plaque on one, i think it read;
“HH Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Center”
Ah, this is the entrance -
here in a new country,
this is the entrance
this is our space…
a wide hallway,
doors to the right to enter the main jamatkhana hall,
broad stone stairs rising infront,
to the left a hallway, rooms,
in back a place for nandi
and to go downstairs.
you could imagine…
a young Mawlana Hazar Imam
going up those stairs
to the third or fourth floor
quickly, as was his gait
greeting everyone by name in that council office.
I imagined it.
Because it was ‘Mawlabapa’s house’,
and our jamatkhana.
And imagine the scene.
Mawlana Hazar Imam phones,
a volunteer at reception picks up;
her surprise was a story
the council president of the time
may still share,
as Mawla shared
at the president’s house when He came for dinner
- delighted to have surprised His murid
to communicate His visit in 1979
Ismaili children are seen greeting their 48th Imam, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, during his visit on July 18, 1953 to the Ismaili Cultural Centre located at Kensington Court. The centre was at this venue until the late 1950s, when it moved to 3/5 Palace Gate. Please click photo for enlargement. Photo credit: Ilm magazine
It was Mawlana Hazar Imam’s home
as all jamatkhanas are,
and it was somewhere good
as a girl of eleven, you knew you were safe there.
it was a place of belonging,
in the new land, we gathered here.
6:35 du’a time as i remember,
in the main hall.
happy to have caught the buses
the 49, 159,137…
and reached on time.
jamatkhana was full:
overflow across the hall
many a weekend eve
eyeing a heart throb
perhaps able to connect.
adults buzzing around
to us, not a concern
but to respect
and from whom to learn
It was the strict volunteers
like Baby Bai, and others
keeping our behaviour a model,
the respect for the time and place
for which we had gathered
Thursday mornings, safai committee
brushing the carpets, spic and span
for if Mawla came through,
not a speck you’d want Him to see.
I don’t remember when Fridays at
But it was not home.
5 Palace Gate was home.
The above block, 3 - 15 Palace Gate, pictured in 1975 includes the Ismaili Jamatkhana at the near end. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives. © City of London.
Saturday morning: religion classes upstairs,
on the second floor in a room by the window.
Mrs M – strict, her big glasses,
skirted and bloused, trying her hardest
to keep us quiet and attend.
Jokesters teased, ducking heads to desk;
her back to us, she wrote
on the blackboard.
“Class!” i can hear the giggles -
but not name the boys:
they are in leadership now!
If you paid attention,
it was where basic religious education
cemented in this noggin.
Du’a meanings, ginans, majlises, firmans,
history of Prophet Muhammad, Bibi Khadija,
the Hijra. Hazrat Ali, the Imam’s family…
we’d come down laughing
for everyone teased how strict she was
and who were her favorites.
IYO practices, ping pong after jk,
meetings in the council chambers,
majlises and mayats…
5 Palace Gate was central.
they said you could stay in rooms upstairs,
if you came from out of town.
in the heart and life of individuals
these spaces, integral -
now memories -
an inner foundation
Date reading posted on Simerg: April 20, 2011
Date updated: April 27, 2011 (Photos as received by Simerg from London Metropolitan Archives. Previous versions were temporary – they had watermarks)
Photos of Palace Gate reproduced with the kind permission of City of London. Copyright. Not to be reproduced without permission from the City of London Corporation.
About the writer: Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar and Badrudin Naran. After beginning her high school in the UK, her family immigrated to the USA where she has lived since.
Dr. Naran went to medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. She currently works in Paediatric Critical Care in New York State.
She has been an active volunteer in various organizations, medical and otherwise, including Doctors of the World, the Aga Khan Education and Health Boards in the Northeastern United States. Navyn has also offered short term services as a primary care physician in Philippines and also at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam.
Amongst her other endeavors, Navyn enjoys her spare time in nature and in literary and creative pursuits such as writing poetry, from which she finds a certain contentment and inner happiness.
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